Experience one of the world's most scenic driving routes on this 5-day journey along Scotland's North Coast 500. Beginning and ending in the Highland capital of Inverness, you'll follow the loop counterclockwise as you wind your way past mist-shrouded mountains, hidden lochs, and rugged coastlines. A relaxed pace allows you to take your time and explore plenty of sandy beaches, charming fishing villages, and unspoiled nature.

Highlights

  • Drive Scotland's famed North Coast 500 Route
  • Discover the UNESCO-listed North West Highland Geopark
  • Visit mainland Britain's most northerly point at Dunnet Head
  • Explore sweeping beaches, dramatic cliffs & seaside villages

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Inverness, Drive to Poolewe Poolewe
Day 2 Drive to Lochinver via Rock Route & North West Highland Geopark  Lochinver
Day 3 Drive to Durness via Kylesku  Durness
Day 4 Drive to John O'Groats via Dunnet Head  John O'Groats
Day 5 Drive to Inverness & Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Inverness, Drive to Poolewe

Torridon Loch
Pass the spectacular Torridon Loch on today's drive

Welcome to Scotland! Upon arrival in the Highland capital of Inverness, you'll pick up your rental car and prepare to set out on one of the world's most scenic drives: the North Coast 500. Your first day of driving takes you northwest of Inverness, where you'll pass through a spectacular tableau of rugged mountains and hidden lochs to reach Poolewe, a small, picturesque village on the sheltered shores of Loch Ewe and your destination for the night. 

Day 2: Drive to Lochinver via Rock Route & North West Highland Geopark 

A lochside road near Lochinver

Today you'll make your way north towards Lochinver, passing through a remarkable area known as the North West Highland Geopark. This protected natural reserve is one of the most sparsely populated areas in Europe, and you can detour deeper into the jaw-dropping scenery by taking your time and following some of the lesser-traveled roads and trails by car and on foot.

Follow the famous Rock Route which guides you to great views and informative panels explaining the stories behind the remarkable landscapes. Branch off onto one of the many Pebble Routes to take in quaint communities and hidden gems including postcard-worthy mountains, the most remote beaches in the UK, and a hamlet that holds the record for Britain’s coldest temperature.

In the afternoon you'll reach your base for the night in Lochinver, a picturesque fishing village on the shores of Loch Inver

Day 3: Drive to Durness via Kylesku 

Durness Beach

Continue traveling north today to reach windswept Durness, the most northwesterly village in Scotland. You have the option of two routes: if you are an experienced driver and enjoy a challenge, take the very remote and extremely narrow B869. Along the way, you'll encounter 22 miles (35 km) of single-track roads, steep hills, and unexpected hairpin bends as you experience some of the west coast's most spectacular white sandy beaches and turquoise waters. If you prefer a more laidback, less challenging route, follow the A894.

If you feel like seeing the coast from a different vantage point, stop en route at the idyllic fishing hamlet of Kylesku (approx. 50 minutes from Durness). Here you can join a guided coastal boat tour to the coastline's uninhabited islands, see native wildlife and seabirds, and take in dramatic natural landmarks like the Old Man of Storr

Day 4: Drive to John O'Groats via Dunnet Head 

Dunnet Head Lighthouse

Today's drive takes you past the amazing scenery of Ben Loyal, Ben Hope, and Loch Eriboll. Make sure to keep a sharp eye out while driving, as you'll often share the road with friendly sheep and Highland cows.

Pass the dramatic and untamed landscape of Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of mainland Britain, where impressive sea cliffs and coastal grasslands are home to a rich variety of birdlife, including puffins, razorbills, guillemots, fulmars, and kittiwakes. Between April and August, you can join a seasonal guided walk every Thursday to search for puffins and other birds nesting in these seabird colonies. Historically Dunnet Head also has significant World War II importance, and you're likely to spot the remains of old military buildings.

Take your pick from a dazzling array of beaches to explore en route, such as Melvich Beach, Strathy Bay, Armadale, and Torrisdale Bay, and stop for a walk along the remote golden sands. After you've explored the coastline to your heart's desire, continue to your destination for the night—the famous village of John O'Groats, situated on Scotland's northeastern tip.

Day 5: Drive to Inverness & Depart

John O'Groats to Inverness (passing through Tain)
Stop at Dunbeath Castle to view its world-class gardens

Before you start today's drive down the east coast, take some time to explore a local hidden gem. Situated close to the North Sea, Dunbeath Castle Gardens is home to over 1,600 plant varieties, and tours of the grounds and walled gardens are booked in advance. Driving south, stop to visit historic Dornoch, and continue to the small fishing village of Portmahomack—home to a unique microclimate and one of the driest places in Scotland. Unearth the east coast’s ancient Pictish past with a walk on the Pictish Trail, and pop into Tarbat Discovery Center to discover Scotland's only Pictish monastic site and the local heritage museum.

Continue to follow the NC500 through the villages of Beauly and Muir of Ord, where you can stop for a private tour of Glen Ord Distillery, one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. Watch their distillers at work as they create a magical malt whiskey that is sweet, fruity, and subtly spicy on the palate. Don't worry if you're the designated driver—you can bring a sample back to enjoy later! If you prefer beer, collect your very own commemorative NC500 beer from the Black Isle Brewery and find out how the world-class organic beer is produced by taking a tour of their distillery.

After a final day of magnificent scenery and memorable driving, you'll arrive back in Inverness in the afternoon, where you'll drop off your rental car and continue your onward journey. Safe travels!

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Map

Map of The North Coast 500: Road Trip through the Scottish Highlands  - 5 Days
Map of The North Coast 500: Road Trip through the Scottish Highlands - 5 Days