Taking the high road: Scotland’s North Coast 500

From mountain passes to whale-watching, these are our highlights of the already iconic driving route.

The USA has Route 66; Australia, the Great Ocean Road; and South Africa, the Garden Route. And Scotland has its very own epic road trip in the shape of the North Coast 500.

The official route begins and ends at Inverness Castle; from there it goes across to Kyle of Lochalsh, the gateway to Skye, up the magnificent west coast to Durness, along the north coast to John o’ Groats, then down the east coast to Inverness again.

Here we list some of the top sights to make your North Coast 500 tour as memorable an experience as possible:

It was here on April 16, 1746, that the Hanoverian army crushed the Jacobites in what was the last battle to be fought on mainland Britain.

Culloden Battlefield

It was here on April 16, 1746, that the Hanoverian army crushed the Jacobites in what was the last battle to be fought on mainland Britain.

With its cluster of mountain peaks and ancient pinewoods, and the prospect of seeing golden eagles soaring above, it’s clear why Beinn Eighe was chosen as Britain’s first National Nature Reserve.

Beinn Eighe

With its cluster of mountain peaks and ancient pinewoods, and the prospect of seeing golden eagles soaring above, it’s clear why Beinn Eighe was chosen as Britain’s first National Nature Reserve.

This is one of Scotland’s greatest botanical attractions. It was created out of bare rock and a few scrub willows in 1862 by Osgood Mackenzie and is full of exotic plants from around the world.

Inverewe Garden

This is one of Scotland’s greatest botanical attractions. It was created out of bare rock and a few scrub willows in 1862 by Osgood Mackenzie and is full of exotic plants from around the world.

The ‘pass of the cattle’ on the Applecross Peninsula is one of the highest roads that can be negotiated in the UK and offers breathtaking views from the summit.

Bealach na Ba

The ‘pass of the cattle’ on the Applecross Peninsula is one of the highest roads that can be negotiated in the UK and offers breathtaking views from the summit.

Rising out of the ancient Assynt landscape, Suilven is a stunning sight with its distinctive two peaks. The climb to Caisteal Liath – the Grey Castle – is steep and unrelenting, but you are rewarded with an awesome view of the lochans and moors far below.

Suilven

Rising out of the ancient Assynt landscape, Suilven is a stunning sight with its distinctive two peaks. The climb to Caisteal Liath – the Grey Castle – is steep and unrelenting, but you are rewarded with an awesome view of the lochans and moors far below.

Uninhabited Handa Island is one of Britain’s most important breeding grounds for a range of seabirds including puffins, guillemots, fulmars, razorbills and skuas.

Handa Island

Uninhabited Handa Island is one of Britain’s most important breeding grounds for a range of seabirds including puffins, guillemots, fulmars, razorbills and skuas.

There are superb, unspoilt beaches along Sutherland’s west, north and east coasts, but one of the very best is at Sandwood Bay.

Sandwood Bay

There are superb, unspoilt beaches along Sutherland’s west, north and east coasts, but one of the very best is at Sandwood Bay.

From Durness, the most northwesterly village in mainland Scotland, take a short ferry trip across to the peninsula of Cape Wrath, home to an operational lighthouse built in 1828 and an abundance of wildlife.

Cape Wrath

From Durness, the most northwesterly village in mainland Scotland, take a short ferry trip across to the peninsula of Cape Wrath, home to an operational lighthouse built in 1828 and an abundance of wildlife.

Take a walk across Duncansby Head to see jagged sea stacks, deep caves and natural arches. It’s an ideal location for whalewatching and the red sandstone cliffs are packed with seabirds during the breeding season.

Duncansby Stacks

Take a walk across Duncansby Head to see jagged sea stacks, deep caves and natural arches. It’s an ideal location for whalewatching and the red sandstone cliffs are packed with seabirds during the breeding season.

Resembling a French chateau with its conical spires, Dunrobin stands above a magnificent garden that took its inspiration from the Palace of Versailles.

Dunrobin Castle

Resembling a French chateau with its conical spires, Dunrobin stands above a magnificent garden that took its inspiration from the Palace of Versailles.

If you’re lucky, you may be able to see the wild bottlenose dolphins of the Moray Firth. There are several boat trips or you can opt to stay on dry land and watch from Chanonry Point.

Moray Firth

If you’re lucky, you may be able to see the wild bottlenose dolphins of the Moray Firth. There are several boat trips or you can opt to stay on dry land and watch from Chanonry Point.


More information on the North Coast 500

If you want to read more on the North Coast 500 route and all of Scotland’s Highlands & Islands, check out the Footprint book, now part of the Bradt Guides imprint: