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NC500 Bucket List: 27 Best Things To Do On The North Coast 500

The North Coast 500 is a road trip of just over 500 miles that takes you around the stunning north coast of Scotland in Great Britain.

There’s only one real way to travel the NC500 and that’s by camper van. With some unbelievable park-up spots and breath taking scenery to wake up to, it’s easy to see why this is known as one of the most beautiful road trips in the world.

From white sandy beaches to highland glens and rugged mountains as well as waterfalls, castles, caves fishing villages and more, the NC500 is packed full of hidden gems.

So here’s the 27 best things to do on the North Coast 500.

1. Rogie Falls

Located in the Scottish Highlands, Rogie Falls are a series of beautiful waterfalls on the scenic Black Water River.

A new suspension bridge has recently been built across the impressive Black Water River. This bridge actually allows you to get quite close up to the waterfalls.

The waterfalls are really pretty and the suspension bridge makes a great centrepiece. This, along with the beautiful scenery surrounding the falls make for some great photo opportunities.

Also, if you visit during August/September, you have a good chance of spotting the amazing sight of wild salmon leaping upstream!

Visiting these beautiful Scottish waterfalls is definitely one of the best things to do on the North Coast 500.

Rogie Falls Bridge In Scotland
Crossing the bridge at Rogie Falls.
Rogie Falls In Scotland
Rogie Falls was a little murky the day we visited.

2. Tarbat Ness Lighthouse

Tarbat Ness Lighthouse, with its stunning views, is located at the end of the Tarbat Peninsula on the east coast of Scotland.

This stunning, traditional red and white striped lighthouse stands proudly on the coast of this remote but beautiful part of Scotland. Definitely one for the NC500 bucket list.

The lighthouse is now privately owned and sadly you cannot view inside. Nevertheless, you can get quite close and it’s worth the visit just for the scenic views and some great photo opportunities.

From its position on the peninsula, it offers spectacular 360 degree views across northern Scotland as well as Aberdeenshire.

Furthermore, the Tarbat Ness area is also known as a place of special interest for bird watchers to see the many migratory birds and, if you are very lucky, you may well get to see some dolphins!

Tarbat Ness Lighthouse In Scotland
Exploring Tarbat Ness Lighthouse with Will.
Tarbat Ness Lighthouse In Scotland
Sunset at Tarbat Ness Lighthouse.

3. Harry Gow Bakery

The Scottish ‘Harry Gow’ bakery was highly recommended and did not disappoint. We therefore had to include it as one of the best things to do on the North Coast 500 itinerary!

We visited the bakery 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.

Harry Gow Bakery Best Things To Do On The North Coast 500
Grabbing a snack at Harry Gow Bakery in Dornoch.
Harry Gow Bakery Best Things To Do On The North Coast 500
Enjoying a cake at the beach.

4. Dornoch Beach

Just a mile from the town of Dornoch in the Highlands is the beautiful, award winning, Dornoch beach which has to be on the NC500 bucket list.

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.

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.

This really is a stunning beach and definitely worth a visit, especially if you love a beach day.

Dornoch Beach In Durness Scotland
Heading out to check out Dornoch Beach.
Dornoch Beach In Durness Scotland
An overcast day but warm never the less.
Dornoch Beach In Durness Scotland
Leaving our mark on the NC500 trail.

5. Dunrobin Castle

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 and undoubtedly worth being on the bucket list of things to do on the NC500.

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.

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.

Dunrobin Castle Best Things To Do On The North Coast 500
Quick pit stop at Dunrobin Castle.
Dunrobin Castle Best Things To Do On The North Coast 500
Dunrobin Castle is one for the historians.

6. Big Burn Falls

Tucked away in woodland, close to the seaside village of Golspie, are the stunning Big Burn Falls.

There are some information boards on 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 for your bucket list of things to do on the NC500. Not only can you stretch your legs on a scenic walk but also see the beautiful Falls.

Big Burn Falls In Scotland
The boys exploring at Big Burn Falls.
Big Burn Falls In Scotland
An underwhelming waterfall but a beautiful walk.

7. Whaligoe Steps

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. Another one for the NC500 bucket list.

Whaligoe Steps In Scotland NC500
Heading down Whaligoe Steps.
Whaligoe Steps In Scotland NC500
A secluded view from the bottom.

8. John O’Groats

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 have to include this on the list of things to do on the North Coast 500 to get the obligatory photograph with this legendary signpost!

John O'Groats Signpost In Scotland
Quick snap with the John O’Groats signpost.
John O'Groats Entrance In Scotland
All smiles at the entrance to John O’Groats.

9. Duncansby Stacks

The towering Duncansby Stacks are located just off the shore at Duncansby Head, the most north easterly part of the Scottish mainland.

As the turbulent North Sea battered away at the surrounding cliffs, the softer parts of the cliffs were gradually eroded.

Consequently, these two impressive geological formations, standing 60m high like giant pinnacles, were created.

Moreover, these spectacular remnants of the former coastline, act as a reminder that this area is constantly changing.

This is wild Scotland at its breathtaking best and that’s why it has to be on the bucket list of things to do on the NC500.

Duncansby Stacks Scotland
A windy day at Duncansby Stacks.
Duncansby Stacks Scotland
Some impressive coastline and formations.

10. Dunnet Head

Located on the north coast, Dunnet Head is considered to be the most northerly point of mainland Great Britain.

This spectacular peninsula faces out towards the North Sea and on a clear day you will having stunning views all the way across to Orkney.

With it’s wild, untamed landscape of sea, cliffs and sky, as well as incredible birdlife, it is definitely worth the drive off the beaten track to visit this unique place.

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 and seeing so many different species of birds.

Dunnet Head Scotland
The most northerly point of mainland Great Britain.
Dunnet Head Scotland
Lauren enjoying the fresh sea breeze.

11. Puffin Cove

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. A NC500 bucket list must for all puffin lovers!

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.

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.

Puffin Cove In Scotland
Our first glimpse of Puffin Cove.
Puffin Cove In Scotland
Didn’t spot any puffins but a super cool spot.

12. Melvich Beach

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 and one for the bucket list of thing to do on the NC500.

Melvich Beach In Scotland
A perfect day for a swim.
Melvich Beach In Scotland
Enjoying some down time at Melvich Beach.

13. Balnakeil Beach

Situated close to the village of Durness, Balnakeil beach is a beautiful, white sandy beach, backed by grassy sand dunes. If you love a beach day, this is perfect for the NC500 bucket list.

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.

Also, 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 Beach In Durness
Up early for a morning swim at Balnakeil Beach.
Balnakeil Beach In Durness
Frozen but worth it.

14. 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 bucket list of things to do on the NC500.

Balnakeil Craft Village In Durness
Arriving at the Balnakeil Craft Village.
Art Gallery Balnakeil Craft Village In Durness
One of many interesting shops.

15. Cocoa Mountain

Located in Balnakeil Craft Village, this famous luxury chocolate company was the creation of two Scottish university graduates, Paul Maden and James Findlay.

Opening their first shop in the Craft Village in 2006, their business soon became a global success. With customers as far afield as Kuwait, America, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Switzerland, France 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 on the bucket list of things to do on the NC500.

Cocoa Mountain Balnakeil Craft Village In Durness
Ready for the famous Cocoa Mountain hot chocolate.
Cocoa Mountain Balnakeil Craft Village In Durness
It was tempting to buy it all.
Cocoa Mountain Balnakeil Craft Village In Durness
It lived up to expectations.

16. Sango Sands Beach

Not far from the village of Durness, Sango Sands is a relatively quiet beach with soft, clean golden sand and clear blue waters.

Perfect for a family day out, a relaxing stroll or some great surfing. On a warm summers day it definitely feels and looks like you are somewhere tropical.

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.

With its sheer cliffs, rock formations, sand dunes, and stretch of golden sand , this is one of the most spectacular and varied beaches in the Highlands.

Sango Sands Beach In Durness
Overlooking a beautiful Sango Sands Beach.
Sango Sands Beach In Durness
A couple exploring the sands alone.

17. Sango Sands Viewpoint

Located towards the left side of Sango Sands Beach is a headland viewpoint that offers great, panoramic views out across the Atlantic Ocean and the Minch.

The southern extension of the Minch is a channel of water that separates the Outer Hebrides Islands and the mainland of Scotland.

Furthermore, the Minch is actually full of wildlife that include swooping Gannets that feed on fish from the ocean as well as seals and otters that reside on the surrounding rocks off the islands.

Therefore, if you are a keen on birdwatching and wildlife, bring your binoculars, sit back and enjoy!

Sango Sands Viewpoint In Durness
An easy walk up to Sango Sands Viewpoint.
Sango Sands Viewpoint In Durness
Will taking in the scenery.
Sango Sands Beach In Durness
The intense coastline at Sango Sands.

18. Smoo Cave

Smoo Cave is a large, spectacular combined seawater and freshwater cave, located about a mile from the village of Durness.

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. So for a unique experience Smoo Cave should be on the bucket list of things to do on the NC500.

Smoo Cave In Durness Scotland
The stairway leading down into Smoo Cave.
Smoo Cave In Durness Scotland
The last bit of light before it gets dark.
Smoo Cave In Durness Scotland
A hidden waterfall within the cave.

19. Ceannabeinne Beach

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.

Ceannabeine Beach Best Things To Do In Durness
Ceannabeinne Beach from the road side.
Ceannabeine Beach Best Things To Do In Durness
It was a little too cold to sunbath on the day we visited.

20. Golden Eagle Zip Wire

Located at Ceannabeinne Beach, if you happen to be an adrenaline junkie, the thrilling Golden Eagle Zip Line experience has to be included in the bucket list of best things to do on the NC500.

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.

Golden Eagle Zipline Best Things To Do In Durness
Golden Eagle Zipline located at Ceannabeinne Beach.

21. Assynt Viewpoint

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.

Assynt Viewpoint Best Things To Do On The North Coast 500
Looking across the waters of Loch Assynt.
Assynt Viewpoint Best Things To Do On The North Coast 500
Exploring off the beaten track at Assynt Viewpoint.

22. Kylesku Bridge

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 included on the bucket list of best things to do on the NC500.

Kylesku Bridge In Scotland
Quick stop for a photo before crossing Kylesku Bridge.
Kylesku Bridge In Scotland
You can even walk across the bridge.

23. Achmelvich Bay

Situated on the west coast, the beautiful Achmelvich Bay is known as being one of the best bays on the North Coast 500 route.

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.

This lovely, family friendly bay, with lots to keep children happy, is a beautiful place to have a picnic and definitely has to be on the list of things to do on the North Coast 500.

Achmelvich Bay In Scotland
One of the most picturesque beaches on the NC500.
Achmelvich Bay In Scotland
Unfortunately it was raining when we visited.

24. Ullapool Town

Ullapool is a picturesque fishing town on the shores of Loch Broom. Also known as the Gateway to the Northern Highlands.

This pretty little town with its fishing history is a popular tourist attraction and holiday destination due to the wealth of things to do in and around the town.

Its fact, it makes a great base for exploring the local, unspoilt wild environment including some great coastal walks, wild swimming and mountain climbs.

With Ullapool having museums, galleries, a golf course and much more it is easy to see why this small town attracts so many visitors. Hence a stop at this little gem is a certain for things to do on the North Coast 500.

Ullapool Village In Scotland
Exploring the cute town of Ullapool.
Loch Broom Ullapool In Scotland
Loch Broom in Ullapool.

25. Ullapool Hill

Located close to the town of Ullapool, Ullapool Hill is definitely worthwhile climbing for the amazing views it provides.

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 would be a good option.

Ullapool Hill In Scotland
Layers from the top of Ullapool Hill.
Ullapool Hill In Scotland
A fairly easy hike with rewarding landscapes.

26. Corrieshalloch Gorge

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.

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 should be on the list of things to do on the North Coast 500.

Corrieshalloch Gorge Best Things To Do On The North Coast 500
The entrance to Corrieshalloch Gorge.
Corrieshalloch Gorge Best Things To Do On The North Coast 500
Taking a stroll around Corrieshalloch Gorge.

27. Bealach Na Ba Pass

The Bealach Na Ba Pass is a breathtaking mountain pass on the Applecross Peninsula in Wester Ross in the Highlands.

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.

I would recommend every hair-raising moment of this pass as one for the bucket list of best thing to do on the NC500. One you certainly won’t forget in a hurry!

Bealach Na Ba Pass In Scotland
Getting the van ready to attack Bealach Na Ba Pass.
Bealach Na Ba Pass In Scotland
Stunning views every direction you look in.

Where To Stay In Scotland

Luxury

exploreNESS Apartment

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.

Mid-Budget

Loch Earn

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.

Budget

Inverness Youth Hostel

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.

Planning Your Trip

Book Your Flight

Use Skyscanner to find a cheap flight.

They search websites and airlines around the globe to find you the best possible routes and prices.

Book Your Accommodation

Use Booking.com to find the best accommodation deals.

They consistently return the cheapest rates on everything from guesthouses to hotels for all of your budget needs.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Use SafetyWing to find the best travel insurance for you.

They provide travel and medical incident insurance built specifically for digital nomads.

Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations.

Book Your Tours & Activities

Use GetYourGuide to book your activities in advance.

They sell the best tours, excursions and activities to attractions around the world.

Conveniently book, download and access your tickets on the move all from your mobile.

Book Your Rental Car

Use RentalCars.com to find the best deals on rental cars in the area.

They compare all major car rental companies and allow you to easily book the perfect vehicle for your trip.

Buy Those Last Minute Bits

Use Amazon to buy everything you need for your adventure.

They offer next day delivery and you can use my travel packing checklist to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.


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Best Things To Do On The North Coast 500