America has Route 66. Australia has the Great Ocean Road. Iceland has the Ring Road. Scotland has the North Coast 500. When it comes to epic driving routes, the North Coast 500 is right up there! The ultra-scenic route snakes for more than 500 miles across the country, starting and finishing at Inverness Castle.
If you’re looking for a route that promises breathtaking coastlines, stunning countryside and history in spades, the North Coast 500 is the ultimate Scottish road trip. As well as meandering through the Scottish Highlands, expect to see everything from charming towns and centuries-old castles to long sandy beaches and shimmering lochs.
So, how long does it take to drive around Scotland? The short answer is five to seven days, if you stick to the North Coast 500. Of course, there’s loads more to say about this legendary driving route. Read on as we take a closer look at what to expect.
A brief history of the North Coast 500
Compared to other bucket list driving routes around the world, the North Coast 500 is relatively new. The route was officially crowned in 2015 by the North Highland Initiative Tourism Project Board and wraps the crème de la crème of scenery, attractions and experiences into one neat package.
It’s regularly voted one of the top coastal driving routes in the world by high-profile travel brands and publications, including a mention in Lonely Planet’s Ultimate United Kingdom Travelist guide.
“We are at the start and the finish of the NC500 and Inverness will surely benefit from its success,” said Graeme Ambrose, chief executive of Visit Inverness Loch Ness. “The route has had a massive impact on the local area since its launch and it has become an iconic trail.”
How many days for the North Coast 500?
Now you know more about the North Coast 500, let’s take a closer look at itinerary planning. How long does it take to drive around Scotland on the North Coast 500? The route is more than 500 miles long, which means you’ll need multiple days to explore the entire loop. Most tourism boards recommend allowing between five to seven days to drive the North Coast 500. This allows for plenty of stops along the way to take in the scenery. Of course, you can definitely make your trip longer if you have more time.
Regions featured in the North Coast 500
The North Coast 500 passes through six spectacular regions in Northern Scotland.
This region is home to Inverness, the largest city on the route. It’s a great place to stock up on supplies and of course, snacks. Don’t forget Scottish classics like oat cakes and shortbread. This is also your start and end point for the North Coast 500. Allow some time to tour mighty Inverness Castle and take a scenic cruise on Loch Ness. Keep an eye out for Nessie!
- Black Isle
Black Isle is best-known for the rugged peninsula that juts into the North Sea. Rolling farmland frames the coast and adds to the picturesque setting. Look for dolphins splashing in the waves whenever you’re on the coast.
- Easter Ross
This section of the North Coast 500 takes you through some of the prettiest seaside villages in Scotland. You’ll also pass a handful of distilleries where you can try premium Scottish whiskey.
Caithness marks the midpoint of your North Coast 500 road trip. Stop for lunch in John o’Groats, the northernmost village on mainland Britain.
It’s worth spending at least a night or two in Sutherland, one of the most dramatic regions featured on the North Coast 500. If you’re a golfer, pencil in a tee time at one of the iconic courses in the area. There are ancient castles to visit, and some beautiful historic monuments peppered across the region.
- Wester Ross
This is your final leg of the North Coast 500, but it doesn’t scrimp on scenery. Beaches are the star of the show in Wester Ross, though you’ll also see towering peaks and sparkling lochs.
Unlike other iconic drives like Route 66, the North Coast 500 isn’t a single stretch of road. Instead, it’s made up of several different roads that skirt the coast. Don’t worry, there are plenty of signs along the way to help you stay on track.
As for your itinerary, there are some signature sights and experiences to tick off. But don’t stress too much about your itinerary. The entire North Coast 500 is gorgeous, and you really can’t go wrong.
Accommodation on the North Coast 500
One of the best things about the North Coast 500 is the variation when it comes to accommodation. If you’re on a budget, you’ll find some beautiful campsites strung along the route. Midrange travellers love the cosy inns and B&Bs, while well-heeled road trippers can splurge on luxury hotels and boutique accommodation. There really is something for everyone on the North Coast 500.
Clockwise or counter-clockwise on the NC500?
The North Coast 500 is a loop trail which means you can do it in either direction. However, for this article, we recommend travelling in a counter-clockwise direction. How long does it take to drive around Scotland on the North Coast 500? Around five to seven days.
Preparing for the North Coast 500
With so much to see, do and experience, we don’t blame you if you want to hit the road ASAP. But it’s important to brush up on a few safety basics before driving the North Coast 500. Conditions can get wet and slippery, so it’s important to check your tyre tread and pressure before you depart.
Drive times can be long, which makes regular breaks a must. This is a blessing as it gives you an excuse to explore hidden gems or enjoy a cheeky afternoon tea break in a chocolate-box town. Ideally, you should take a 15-minute break for every two to three hours you spend on the road. Even better, tag team with another driver and share the responsibility.
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