The famous North Coast 500 is home to one of the most beautiful road trips in the world. Here’s the perfect 10 day North Coast 500 itinerary.
How To Get Around The NC500
There’s only one real way to travel the NC500 and that’s by campervan.
With some unbelievable free park up spots and breath taking coastal scenery to wake up to, the NC500 is known for being one of the best road trips in the UK.
Some people also choose to do it by car with a tent or just any vehicle they can sleep in.
There is of course the option of driving and doing hostels, hotels or Airbnb’s along the way.
However taking public transport just isn’t an option when planning your NC500 itinerary.
Best Time To Visit The NC500
Starting and ending in Inverness, this route takes you along the beautiful north coast of Scotland. You can choose to go clockwise or anti-clockwise – we went anti-clockwise.
For the warmer weather you need to go between May and September, although this doesn’t always guarantee good weather!
Also, this will obviously mean that the main attractions will be busier during these more popular months.
Furthermore, the infamous midges are ‘full-on’ during the summer months. So don’t forget all the midge deterrent gear if going then!
During the colder months, you will find that some of the attractions, restaurants etc will be closed. As well as some of the roads and hikes impassable without specialist equipment.
Remember to take a whole range of clothing as temperatures vary immensely, even during the summer.
What To Pack
10 Day North Coast 500 Itinerary
This stunning Loch Morlich is located in the centre of the beautiful Cairngorms National Park and is a great way to start your 10 day North Coast 500 itinerary.
Not only is this loch fringed by soft sandy beaches but also surrounded by the thick green fir trees of the Glenmore Forest. It also has the, sometimes snowcapped, Cairngorm mountain range as its stunning backdrop.
Situated at the end of the loch is the award winning Loch Morlich Beach. Famous for being the highest beach in Britain, this is the only freshwater beach in Scotland to have a Rural Beach Award.
Also, located on the beach is a Watersports Centre. This offers a range of activities including kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, paddle boarding and more.
Furthermore, there is a good choice of scenic walking/hiking and cycling routes that you can take around Loch Morlich.
Dores Beach is located on the east shore of the famous Loch Ness and has one of the best viewpoints of Loch Ness.
Hence, this beach is a favourite hang-out for anyone trying to catch a glimpse of the legendary Loch Ness monster ‘Nessie’.
The most famous of all ‘Nessie hunters’ is Steve Feltham, a full time Nessie hunter since 1991. Steve lives in his converted van next to Dores Beach and says that he has never regretted his decision to devote his life to searching for Nessie.
Whether looking for Nessie or wanting to visit a beautiful little beach with great views, this definitely needs to be on your 10 day North Coast 500 itinerary.
Located in the Highlands, Rogie Falls are a series of waterfalls on the scenic Black Water River.
From the car park, there are a couple of short scenic walks to choose from, to take you to the Falls. The easier yellow route or the blue route which is a bit more rugged.
The waterfalls are really pretty and the recently built suspension bridge makes a great centrepiece. This, along with the beautiful scenery surrounding the falls make for some great photo opportunities.
Furthermore, if you visit after heavy rain fall, with the water gushing down from the slopes of Ben Wyvis, the waterfalls are even more sensational.
Also, if you visit during August/September, you have a good chance of spotting the amazing sight of wild salmon leaping upstream!
Rogie Falls is certainly one of the best waterfalls on the NC500.
Tarbat Ness Lighthouse
This stunning, traditional red and white striped lighthouse stands proudly at the end of the Tarbat Peninsula on the east coast.
Although Tarbat Ness Lighthouse is now privately owned and you cannot view inside you can still get quite close.
Moreover, the scenic views of this remote but beautiful part of Scotland make the visit worthwhile.
From its position on the peninsula, it offers spectacular 360 degree views across northern Scotland and Aberdeenshire.
There are also some beautiful walks around the light house with interesting cliffs and rock formations that will catch your eye.
Harry Gow Bakery
The Scottish ‘Harry Gow’ bakery was highly recommended and if you include it in your 10 day North Coast 500 itinerary it will not disappoint!
We visited the one in Dornoch but, with 17 bakeries across the Highlands and Moray, you should definitely come across one on your road trip.
Famous for using local ingredients to create ward winning flavours, Harry Gow bakeries craft all their tasty bakes from scratch. Moreover, using recipes that have been perfected over six generations.
With freshly made bread, cakes, pies, sausage rolls, pizzas, soups, filled rolls, salad boxes and much more, you are sure to find something to tempt you.
Although they are particularly renowned for their ‘dream rings’ which are fluffy sponge rings with a creamy smooth filling and sweet iced topping.
Just a mile from the town of Dornoch in the Highlands is the beautiful, award winning, Dornoch beach.
This Blue Flag beach has miles of beautiful sands, backed by low soft dunes and a large area of grassland.
With its gentle shallows, this beach is very popular with families who paddle, picnic, swim and relax on the golden sands.
This dog friendly beach is also a popular place for dog walkers who enjoy the long stretch of sand.
Furthermore, the area adjacent to the beach apparently have some interesting plant and bird life. Hence, it has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The spectacular Dunrobin Castle is located on the east coast of the Northern Highlands. There is a charge to visit this attraction but it has lots to offer.
Resembling a large, French chateau, with its towering conical spires, this is a stunning building.
With 189 rooms, this is the largest stately home in the Northern Highlands. Hence, there is plenty to see in the castle including antiques, cases of memorabilia and historical artefacts.
The rooms all have information boards that tell the story of the castle. So, wandering around these lavishly decorated rooms, you can really get an idea of how people used to live.
In addition, it has stunning landscaped gardens, including formal and wild gardens, that are a pleasure to walk around.
Also, visitors can enjoy displays of falconry out in the gardens, which we didn’t see but are highly recommended.
Big Burn Falls
Tucked away in woodland, close to the seaside village of Golspie, are the stunning Big Burn Falls.
Following the burn, which you cross over and back a few times via footbridges, we followed a well maintained pathway.
There are information boards along the walk and signs to keep you informed. As well as benches here and there, to allow you to relax or picnic along the way.
You actually hear the roar of the falls before you see them. Then, as you walk round the corner, you see the spectacular sight of water cascading over jagged, grey rock formations.
This hidden gem is a great little stop off on your 10 day North Coast 500 itinerary. Not only can you stretch your legs on a scenic walk but also see the beautiful Falls.
Located close to the town of Wick, Whaligoe Steps zig-zag down the side of a cliff to a natural harbour.
The views as you descend/ascend are breathtaking. There have even been occasional sightings of minke whale and sea-eagles from here.
The flagstone steps lead down to a grassy bank. Here you will see the remains of an old salt store, a fireplace and a winch, as well as, old metal rings that the boats would have tied to.
At the height of the herring industry, this little harbour was used to land fish. These fish would be gutted and then either cured and packed in barrels or taken to be sold fresh at the local markets.
Nowadays, locals work hard to maintain the Whaligoe Steps so that visitors can view this amazing piece of history.
John O’Groats is a small village, located on Great Britain’s most northerly coast. However, it is more well known for its famous landmark – the John O’Groats signpost.
This iconic signpost is always used as a start or end point for people that want to undertake the challenge of covering the length of Great Britain.
This event is usually undertaken by walkers or cyclists and very often as part of a charitable event. The opposite end of the length of Britain being Land’s End in Cornwall, some 876 miles away.
Apart from the signpost, this fantastic, unspoilt location has dramatically stunning scenery. As well as a massive array of birdlife, seals, dolphins and whales in the surrounding waters.
If you are really interested in the wildlife the 90 minute Wildlife Cruise from John O’Groats is a great option.
Anyway, you just have to include this in your 10 day North Coast 500 itinerary to get the obligatory photograph with this legendary signpost!
The towering Duncansby Stacks are located just off the shore at Duncansby Head, the most north easterly part of the Scottish mainland.
This is wild Scotland at its breathtaking best and you won’t be disappointed with the amazing views.
Towering over 60m above the turbulent waters of the North Sea, these sea stacks make for a dramatic view and offer up some amazing photo opportunities.
In addition, on your walk over to the stacks you will see an abundance of birds. As well as Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots, Gannets, Gulls and Rock Doves, also look out for seals.
These spectacular remnants of the former coastline, act as a reminder that this area is constantly changing.
Located on the north coast, Dunnet Head is considered to be the most northerly point of mainland Great Britain.
With it’s wild landscape of sea, cliffs and sky, as well as incredible birdlife, it is definitely worth the drive off the beaten track.
In addition, Dunnet Head is actually an RSPB Nature Reserve. Home to numerous species of birds including Puffins, Guillemots, Kittiwakes and Razorbills.
Therefore, if you’re a keen birdwatcher, you will definitely love visiting this amazing place.
There are also some exhilarating walks (the wind here can be quite bracing). Walking along the top of the spectacular sea cliffs that will give you stunning views and some great photo opportunities.
Puffin Cove is home to the UK’s largest Puffin colony. This hidden gem is on the north coast, not far from the town of Thurso.
When you reach the edge of the cliffs you will see a coastal inlet. In the middle is a small, steep sided island called Wester Clett.
This small island is more commonly known as Puffin Island. This is due to the thousands of Atlantic Puffins that visit here to breed from April to August.
In addition, you may see a few Puffins nesting on the steep slopes on the mainland side near the cove. Remember that these should only be viewed at a distance too, so as to not disturb them.
Don’t forget if you’re a lover of wildlife then the 90 minute Wildlife Cruise from John O’Groats is a great option.
It’s possible to walk down to the pretty Puffin Cove with its scenic views and shingle beach. It is a little steep and could be slippery when wet, so good foot wear is recommended.
The secluded Melvich Beach is set at the mouth of the River Halladale on the north coast.
After a short walk through the dunes, you will reach a beautiful, crescent shaped expanse of golden sands.
This stunning beach is popular with dog walkers, surfers and swimmers. Also, with its pristine, soft sand its a firm favourite with families, offering all the beach activities that children enjoy.
With the Halladale River to the east of the beach and rocky outcrops to the west, there are some far reaching, scenic views.
Furthermore, this is another beautiful Scottish beach that offers up amazing sunsets.
Situated close to the village of Durness, Balnakeil beach is a beautiful, white sandy beach, backed by grassy sand dunes.
With its soft white sand and turquoise blue water, you feel as if you are visiting a tropical beach. Although a dip in the sea will remind you that this is not the case!
A great place for a peaceful beach walk as well as being perfect for a family picnic. Furthermore, children would definitely enjoy playing on the soft sand and hilly sand dunes.
If you fancy something a little more active you could always try surfing with Dunnet or Balnakeil Beach Beginner Surf Lesson.
In addition, Balnakeil beach is famous for spectacular sunsets that reflect off the turquoise waters and white sands.
Furthermore, walking along this beach at night during the autumn/winter will apparently sometimes allow you sight of the famous Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights.
Balnakeil Craft Village
Balnakeil Craft Village is currently home to a diverse range of local businesses, artists and produce.
These include art galleries, paintings and prints, ceramics, woodwork, glass work and more unique crafts.
Moreover, don’t miss the Meet and Greet, Cafe/Restaurant. They offer a tasty range of filled ciabattas, soups, homemade cakes and more and are open in the evenings.
You are sure to find something to take away with you, which might well be memories of a new experience or some newfound skills/ knowledge.
Therefore, Balnakeil Craft Village is definitely worth putting on your 10 day North Coast 500 itinerary!
This famous luxury chocolate company was the creation of two Scottish university graduates, Paul Maden and James Findlay.
Opening their first shop in Balnakeil Craft Village in 2006, their business soon became a global success.
With customers as far afield as Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, America, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Switzerland, France, Austria and even Australia.
Said to be inspired by the extraordinary Scottish landscape, Cocoa Mountain produce a range of delicious, beautifully crafted chocolate.
From dark chocolate, to white chocolate and even dairy free, you are sure to be spoilt for choice.
So, if you are a chocoholic or even just like a little taste of chocolate, Chocolate Mountain needs to be included in your 10 day North Coast 500 itinerary.
Sango Sands Beach & Sango Bay Viewpoint
Sango Sands is an area near the village of Durness that has a beautiful beach and a great viewpoint.
Relatively quiet, with soft, clean golden sand and clear blue waters, Sango Sands beach is perfect for a family day out, a relaxing stroll or some great surfing. ,
At the back of the beach you will find large sand dunes, covered with machair grass, as well as the steep cliffs of Creag Thairbhe to the east.
Located towards the left side of Sango Sands beach is the Sango Bay Viewpoint that offers superb, panoramic views out across the Atlantic Ocean and the Minch.
The waters of the Minch are full of wildlife in the water as are the surrounding islands. You may get to see, amongst other creatures, gannets, seals, otters, dolphins and occasionally you might even spot a Minke Whale.
Therefore, if you are a keen on birdwatching and wildlife, bring your binoculars, sit back and enjoy!
As you approach the cave you can’t help but be amazed by the impressive entrance that looks like a 50ft high, giant mouth. In fact, this cave entrance is one of the largest in the UK.
Once inside, there is a covered wooden pathway and bridge that take you to a spectacular waterfall, cascading into a deep, subterranean pool.
The cave is quite unique in that it is composed of three main sections – a large sea cave entrance chamber, a waterfall chamber and also a short freshwater passage.
If you want to venture further into the cave, there are guided tours that start with a short boat ride.
The views and scenery at Smoo Cave make for some great, dramatic photo opportunities as well as a scenic place to stop and enjoy a picnic.
Another stunning beach on the north coast, Ceannabeinne Beach is located at the base of Beinn Ceannabeinne mountain.
To get to the beach from the clifftop, you head down quite a steep, narrow, grassy path until you reach some uneven steps that take you onto the beach.
Once on the beach you will be amazed at the beautiful, soft white sand that, on a sunny day, contrasts beautifully with the sparkling blue sea.
You really feel like you could be somewhere tropical, although a dip in the sea would probably soon let you know otherwise!
Also, the views from the beach are just as spectacular as the ones from the top of the cliffs.
Golden Eagle Zip Line
Located at Ceannabeinne Beach, if you happen to be an adrenaline junkie, the thrilling Golden Eagle Zip Line experience has to be included in your 10 day North Coast 500 itinerary.
Starting at the top of the 37m high cliffs, you will get spectacular views as you fly along at up to 40 mph over this beautiful beach and alongside the Atlantic Ocean.
No booking is required and the ride is available from 10am to 6pm daily.
Although this ride is weather dependent and I would advise that you check the company website, Golden Eagle Zip Lines, before visiting.
Located on the roadside near the village of Lairg in Sutherland, Assynt viewpoint gives you breathtaking views across this beautiful and wild region of Scotland.
In fact, this area has often been referred to as ‘the last great wilderness of Europe’ and when seen from this viewpoint you can understand why.
With its stunning vistas of Loch Assynt, lush green hills and snow capped mountains this wild landscape really does take your breath away.
Looking across the waters of Loch Assynt, you will be see the rugged mountain summit of Beinn Gharbh reaching up towards the clouds. Also look out for deers roaming the hillsides.
Another must for your 10 day North Coast 500 itinerary.
The stunningly curved Kylesku Bridge crosses over Loch a Chairn Bhain, in the beautifully scenic area of Sutherland.
The views as you cross the bridge in either direction are beautiful, however some will say that they are better as you head north in the direction of Kylestrome.
There is also a pathway available that goes across the bridge. Great for if you fancy parking up and enjoying a safe stroll across this amazing structure.
There really are some amazing photo opportunities here especially at sunset. Visiting this unique bridge should definitely be on your 10 day North Coast 500 itinerary.
With its soft, white sandy beach and stunning turquoise blue water, it’s easy to see why it is so highly spoken of.
This sheltered bay is favoured by those who enjoy swimming and water sports such as water skiing, windsurfing and kayaking.
However, if water sports are not your thing, then there are also some lovely walking trails, with stunning views, around the bay.
This lovely, family friendly bay, with lots to keep children happy, is a beautiful place to have a picnic and definitely worth visiting as part of your 10 day North Coast 500 itinerary.
Located close to the town of Ullapool, Ullapool Hill is definitely worthwhile climbing for the amazing views it provides.
Starting on the outskirts of Ullapool town, the trail is well signposted. There are various paths you can follow with benches along the way to stop and have a rest if needed.
This moderately challenging climb, over fairly rough terrain of some stone paths and some muddy areas is worth the effort.
Once at the top you can enjoy the breathtaking views out across Loch Broom as well as across Ullapool and further inland.
A loop from the centre of Ullapool to the summit and back again can be completed in roughly 1 hour 30 minutes.
If you love hiking, the Northwest Highlands: Private Tour with Hike is a good option.
Just a short drive from Ullapool is Corrieshalloch Gorge, created by glacial meltwater and one of the most spectacular gorges of its type in Britain.
The River Droma rushes dramatically through this mile long canyon that takes its name from the Gaelic for ‘unattractive corrie’. However, there really is nothing unattractive about this stunning area.
In fact, Corrieshalloch Gorge is designated a National Nature Reserve in recognition of the gorge and surrounding woodland.
On the edge of the steep gorge is a suspension bridge that takes you across to a viewpoint. From here you can get views of the Measach waterfalls crashing down into the gorge.
Unfortunately, when we visited the suspension bridge was closed. However, it was still worth stopping and definitely needs to be included in the 10 day North Coast 500 itinerary.
Bealach Na Ba Pass
The Bealach Na Ba Pass is a breathtaking mountain pass on the Applecross Peninsula in Wester Ross in the Highlands.
This is quite a challenging, 11 mile (17km) drive along a single track. Hence, you need to take it slowly and use the many passing places when needed.
The views of the mountains and lochs as you climb up the side of this mountain, definitely rival views that can be seen on many of the beautiful Swiss mountain passes.
Once you reach the top of the pass, you will find a parking area which provides a superb viewpoint. This also gives the driver a chance to relax and enjoy the views!
The scenic views from this parking area stretch out across most of Wester Ross, the Isle of Skye and the Outer Hebrides. On a clear day, there are opportunities for some great photos.
The Bealach Na Ba pass has to be the most incredible drive in Scotland and once done, you really won’t forget it in a hurry!
I would recommend every hair-raising moment as definitely worth having on your 10 day North Coast 500 itinerary.
Where To Stay In Scotland
Offering free WiFi and free private parking, exploreNESS Apartment is located in Inverness, just 0.8 miles from Inverness Castle.
The property is less than 0.6 miles from Inverness Museum and Art Gallery and 1.6 miles from Caledonian Thistle.
The apartment features 1 bedroom, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, an equipped kitchen with a dishwasher and a microwave, a washing machine, and 1 bathroom with a shower. Towels and bed linen are provided.
A buffet breakfast is available daily at the apartment.
Located 1.7 miles from Inverness Castle, Loch Earn provides accommodation with free WiFi and free private parking.
There is also a kitchen in some of the units with a dishwasher, a fridge, and an oven.
A continental breakfast is available daily at the bed and breakfast.
Guests can relax in the garden at the property.
Just 10 minutes’ walk from Inverness Rail Station, Inverness Youth Hostel offers free private parking and bicycle storage.
Eastgate shopping centre is a 10-minute walk from this hostel. Hootananny, a popular music venue, is just 15 minutes’ walk away.
Culloden Battlefield and its visitor centre is just a 10-minute drive away. The banks of Loch Ness and the country village of Dores are both a 20-minute drive away.
All rooms have a shared bathroom. Packed lunch and luggage storage is available on request.
For more places to stay in Scotland, you can check the latest prices on Booking.com.