The North Coast 500 Unveiled
The North Coast 500, often referred to as “Scotland’s Route 66,” is a 516-mile scenic route that meanders through the mesmerizing landscapes of the Scottish Highlands. Commencing and concluding in Inverness, the capital of the Scottish Highlands, this journey promises an unforgettable road trip. Here, we present a comprehensive guide to assist you in planning your perfect North Coast 500 adventure.
Designed to attract more traveller’s to the sparsely populated region of Scotland, the NC500 route offers a diverse range of experiences. Whether you seek rugged landscapes, sandy beaches, encounters with wildlife, visits to museums and heritage sites, stays in castles, sips of whisky, or a taste of the local produce, the NC500 has it all. This scenic road trip is a remarkable success story in promoting the Northern Highlands.
Laurence and I have traversed the entire NC500 route multiple times, and we’ve crafted this guide to assist fellow traveller’s in planning their own North Coast 500 road trip. Our guide will unveil the route, highlight the attractions you can expect to encounter, provide insights into the best time to embark on this adventure, suggest the ideal duration for your journey, recommend places to stay and dine along the route, offer packing tips, and provide a plethora of advice and recommendations for driving the North Coast 500.
The North Coast 500 was conceived in 2014 by the North Highland Initiative, a non-profit organization established by Prince Charles in 2005. Its mission was to stimulate economic growth across the North Highlands. Following its inception, private investment was garnered, and a for-profit entity, North Coast 500 Ltd., now promotes the route. This company offers invaluable resources for both visitors and local businesses.
The North Coast 500 route traces the primary roads along the coastal fringes of the North Highlands. Inverness, with nearly 50,000 residents, stands as the largest city along this route. Beyond Inverness, you’ll venture through charming towns and villages like Ullapool, Durness, Dornoch, Wick, Thurso, and Lochinver, each with populations of fewer than 2,000 people. Prepare to immerse yourself in the tranquil ambiance of small villages and rural settings.
The crowning jewels of this journey are the breathtaking coastal views and the sensation of escaping the everyday hustle and bustle. The landscapes unfold with rugged coastlines, pristine beaches, rural farmlands, marshes, winding rivers, enchanting forests, serene lochs, and formidable munros, Scottish mountains rising above 3,000 feet. Keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife, including deer, squirrels, pine martens, birds of prey, seabirds, dolphins, whales, and seals. And don’t forget the iconic Highland coos, grazing peacefully in the fields.
Beyond nature and wildlife, the NC500 offers an array of activities and attractions. Hike through breathtaking trails, tee off at world-class golf courses, explore historic castles, delve into heritage sites and prehistoric wonders, discover geological marvels at a geological park, visit museums, unwind on pristine beaches, and savour the rich flavours of whisky distilleries and local cuisine. Your journey can be as adventurous or relaxed as you desire.
Experience the true essence of the Scottish Highlands by staying in a variety of accommodations. From cozy B&Bs and charming inns to grand family country homes and luxurious castles, the NC500 presents an array of lodging options. Each offers a unique glimpse into Scottish hospitality and culture.
For a more detailed look at specific places to visit, check out Laurence’s post highlighting the North Coast 500’s key attractions and our comprehensive North Coast 500 itinerary.
NC500 vs. Route 66 – A Road Trip Comparison
The comparison between the North Coast 500 and Route 66, often dubbed “Scotland’s Route 66,” is a common one, particularly in mainstream media. While they share some similarities as epic road trip routes with scenic beauty and attractions, the differences are equally striking.
If you’ve ventured down Route 66, don’t anticipate the diverse landscapes, the spectrum of urban to small-town settings, quirky roadside attractions, or historic diners. The NC500 is more akin to Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, showcasing its distinct personality and charm.
Opt for Route 66 for a taste of American roadside culture and embark on the NC500 to delve into the rich culture, historical sites, and captivating coastal vistas of the Scottish Highlands.
The North Coast 500 is more than just a road trip; it’s an exploration of the heart and soul of the Scottish Highlands. As you plan your journey, remember that this adventure offers not only a visual feast of landscapes but also a cultural immersion into the northernmost reaches of Scotland.
Embrace the scenic marvels, savour local delicacies, and create lasting memories along this iconic route. The NC500 beckons you to embark on a road trip unlike any other, where the rugged beauty of nature converges with the warm hospitality of the Highlanders. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a history buff, a culinary connoisseur, or simply a wanderer at heart, the North Coast 500 welcomes all to partake in its enchanting tapestry of experiences. So, gear up, hit the road, and let the NC500 unveil its treasures, one mile at a time.