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Updated June 2024

Want To Plan The Most Epic NC500 Adventure From Inverness To Thurso? Use This Guide With Insider Knowledge To Help You!

The North Coast 500 is a 516-mile route around the Highlands of Scotland, typically starting and ending in Inverness.

Part of the North Coast 500 will take you along the east coast from Inverness to Thurso or vice versa, depending on your direction. The east coast is considered by some as less interesting than the west coast and I would agree to some extent but there is still lots of things to do on this section.

On your route up the east coast, you will drive by numerous castles, towns, beaches and distilleries before finally reaching the most northerly point of mainland UK. If you are lucky, you may even be able to see the Northern Lights on your travels!

A couple of moons ago, I actually used to live in a town on the North Coast 500 route, which allowed me to gain great insider knowledge of things to do and see, and where to eat and stay around the area. All of which I've put into this detailed guide to help you plan your own North Coast 500 road trip!

This post is all about a comprehensive guide detailing the route from Inverness to Thurso.

What Is The Distance From Inverness To Thurso?

From Inverness to Thurso is roughly 111 miles, which will take around 2 hours 20 minutes to drive.

If you were to veer off at Latheron on to the A99 road, which will take you past Wick to John o'Groats, and eventually, to Thurso, it's roughly 140 miles and will take just over 3 hours.

Whichever road you take, it will most likely take you a lot longer than 2-3 hours to get to Thurso as I'm sure on your NC500 trip you will want to stop off along the way to do a bit of sightseeing.

Ardross Terrace In Inverness
Ardross Terrace In Inverness

How To Get From Inverness to Thurso?

How To Get From Inverness to Thurso
How To Get From Inverness to Thurso

Inverness to Thurso by Car

The easiest way to get from Inverness to Thurso is by car, camper-van or motorbike. If you don't have a vehicle, there are loads of car hire places in Inverness, where you'll be able to pick one up. Driving from Inverness to Thurso on the A9 will only take roughly 2 hours.

Inverness to Thurso Train

It is possible to take the train from Inverness to Thurso. It will take 3 hours 50 minutes and a single ticket will cost about £27. Along the way, the train will make 22 stops.

Inverness to Thurso Bus

You can take the X99 bus from Inverness to Thurso. It takes around 3 hours 30 minutes and should cost roughly £15 for a single ticket. This bus also makes stops at Tain, Brora, Dunbeath and Wick.

The Road From Inverness To Thurso

The A9 is a major road, which means it's generally well-maintained. You can expect single or dual carriageway all the way up to Thurso. If you veer off at Latheron onto the A99 to John o'Groats, you'll notice that the roads start to deteriorate and there will be a lot more pot holes!

There used to be a really notorious hairpin bend called the 'Berriedale Bends'. They have since improved this section of road, but I'd continue to approach it with caution as it is still quite a tight bend.

Just remember that the UK drives on the left-hand side of the road.

Things To Do Between Inverness and Thurso


On your North Coast 500 road trip, you will start in Inverness and drive north on the A9. Along the way, you will pass through a lot of towns on the east coast including Tain, Dornoch, Golspie, Brora, Helmsdale, Wick and Thurso.

Even though these towns can be quite quaint, they are still worth stopping off in to do a bit of sightseeing, or even, just to grab a bite to eat from one of their lovely cafes or restaurants.

Keiss Harbour Near Wick
Keiss Harbour Near Wick


Inverness Castle

Situated right in the heart of Inverness and overlooking the river Ness, Inverness Castle is regarded by some as the real starting point of the NC500.

The castle, which you see today, was built in the 1830-40s. It is not open to the public and is now primarily used as a court house, but it's worth a walk around.

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Dunrobin Castle

Over the whole NC500 road trip, this castle turned out to be my favourite! You just need to look at it to know why - it's absolutely beautiful.

Located 1-mile north of Golspie, the castle is designed in a French renaissance style. It was remodelled in 1845 and now, has 189 rooms making it the largest stately home in the Northern Highlands.

The castle has been occupied since the 1300s and was once home to the family seat of the Earl of Sutherland and the Clan Sutherland.

The castle is open from the 29th March to the 31st October. Adult tickets cost £14.50 and that includes entry to the Castle, Museum, Falconry and Gardens.

Dunrobin Castle
Dunrobin Castle

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

This castle is situated just 3 miles north of Wick. The parking situation isn't great as you'll need to either park on the side of the road or at the lighthouse. From there, you'll have to walk through fields to the castle but it is worth it!

The castle was occupied in the 14th century by the Sinclair family, who became the Earls of Caithness and Earls of Orkney. There are lots of signposts around the castle informing you of its history.

Despite the look of it, the castle is quite safe and the most dangerous parts of the castle are fenced off. It's free to visit the castle and for parking.

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Castle of Mey

The Castle of Mey is located 6 miles west of John o'Groats and is actually the most northerly inhabited castle in Scotland.

In 1952, the Castle of Mey was purchased by the Queen Mother, who subsequently saved it from its rather run-down condition. She then continued to return every October to spend some time staying at the castle.

To visit the Castle, Grounds and Gardens, it costs £16.00. For a more unique experience, you could opt to stay at the Granary Lodge bed and breakfast on the grounds of the Castle of Mey.

If the weathers good when you visit, you may just be able to see over to the Orkney Islands!

Castle Of Mey
Castle Of Mey


Dalmore distillery

Located in Alness, just 20 miles north of Inverness. This distillery sits on the banks of the Cromarty firth overlooking the Black Isle. It has been crafting whisky here since 1839, but the legend of Dalmore whisky actually dates back to 1263.

The distillery is currently closed to visitors until late 2024, but they are going to be opening a new experience which has limited availability. So keep your eyes peeled on their website for any updates!

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Glenmorangie distillery

The legendary Glenmorangie whiskey is one of the most famous whiskey companies in Scotland.

The Glenmorangie distillery is near Tain and offers a range of different tours from the Classic Tour (£23pp), the Innovation Tasting (£35pp), the rare cask warehouse tasting (£75pp), or if you really want to go all out, the wonder tour (£95pp).

If you want to turn your NC500 trip into pure luxury, then book to stay overnight in the Glenmorangie House.

Dunnet Bay Distillery

Differing from the whiskey distilleries above, this one makes the famous Rock Rose Gin, Holy Grass Vodka and Mapmaker's Rum.

It only opened its doors in 2014 and is a small family run business, which makes it even more charming!

The tours of the distillery are cheap and cheerful with the express tour only costing £10 and the premium tour costing £18pp. They also host a cocktail workshop at £25pp.

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Old Pulteney distillery

The Old Pulteney distillery can be found in the small harbour town of Wick. It was established in 1826 and at that time, the distillery was only accessible by sea.

It used to hold the title of being the most northerly distillery on mainland Scotland, but that title has since been claimed by Wolfburn distillery in Thurso.

They offer a range of tours from the taste of Old Pulteney tour for £20 to the staggering £125 flagship experience.

I went on the taste of Old Pulteney tour and found it really interesting and informative. You even get a dram of the 12 year old whiskey at the end of the tour - I'd highly recommend it!

Old Pulteney distillery
Old Pulteney distillery


Dornoch beach

Located on the Dornoch firth, this golden sand beach has been given the Seaside Award status as a clean bathing beach. If you are feeling brave, why not take a dip?

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Dunnet beach

Dunnet beach is the most beautiful sandy beach in Scotland (in my opinion). If you are in Dunnet and the weather is nice, you NEED to head to Dunnet beach for the sunset. The picture below is a sunset I witnessed at Dunnet Beach and it was incredible!

The bay is also quite sheltered, which means it's perfect for sunbathing, swimming and even, surfing!

Dunnet Beach
Dunnet Beach

Golspie beach

An award-winning beach offering views over the Moray Firth. Grab a chippy from the Trawler's Fish and Chip shop in Golspie, and then head to the beach to eat it whilst enjoying the sea views.

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Fyrish Monument

This quirky looking monument was built in 1782 on Fyrish Hill, not far from Inverness. In the 1700s, when unemployment was high in the area, the locals were ordered to build this monument to give them some much needed employment.

From the Fyrish Monument car park, it will take you about 2.5 hours to reach the monument, where you'll be rewarded with stunning views over the Cromarty firth.

Fyrish Monument
Fyrish Monument


Rogie Falls

Rogie Falls is a series of waterfalls on the Black water. They are only a short walk from the car park and you can get a good view of the waterfalls from the suspension bridge.

During August and September, you may even see wild salmon leaping upstream!

You can either visit this on your way up the A9 towards Thurso or you could visit it when you are venturing from Applecross back to Inverness - it's six and half a dozen!

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Most Northerly Points

Dunnet head

Don't be fooled by all the pictures you see of the famous John o'Groats sign post claiming to be the most northerly point. Dunnet head is actually the real deal!

Dunnet head is the most northerly point of mainland Britain, in fact it is 2.35 miles further north than John o'Groats!

It's quite a long desolate road up to Dunnet head, just keep going until you reach a large car park. When you get there, you will find a lighthouse, and a plaque stating that it's the most northerly point of mainland Britain.

There are also old army stations, which were used during WW2, and nice walks that you can go on which have incredible panoramic views. See if you can spot some orcas!

Dunnet Head
Dunnet Head

John o'Groats

I thought I may as well include John o'Groats as it's worth a visit to see the famous sign post.

People often cycle from Land's End (most southerly point in the UK) to John o'Groats, so you might see some complete this amazing achievement when you are visiting.

John o'Groats is quite touristy, so you'll find lots of souvenir shops, cafes and accommodation here. You can also catch the boat to Orkney from John o'Groats too!

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Other attractions

Whaligoe Steps

The Whaligoe steps are 330+ manmade steps, which zig zag down the cliffside, to the natural harbour at the bottom.

The harbour is surrounded on all 3 sides by 250ft cliffs. It was very popular during the 1800s, where fishing boats would arrive and drop-off their catch.

The fisherwomen would then carry the baskets of fish all the way back up the steps and walk 7-8 miles to Wick on foot to the fish market. Talk about a workout!

Whaligoe Steps
Whaligoe Steps

Camster Cairns

The Camster Cairns are a pair of neolithic tombs originally built over 5000 years ago, making them two of the oldest stone monuments in Scotland. They are free to visit, but the parking situation is a bit tricky.

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Duncansby Stacks

Situated on the furthest northeast corner of mainland Scotland are the incredible Duncansby stacks. They were formed 6000 years ago when the North Sea eroded away some of the rocks.

To get to Duncansby Stacks, park at the lighthouse at Duncansby Head and follow the signpost, which will point you in the right direction.

On the way, you will pass by a large dent in the cliff, which is inhabited by hundreds of birds. From late-spring to early summer, you may even spot puffins!

If you continue to walk a little further past this, you will get amazing views over to the Duncansby Stacks. This is one of the must-sees on your NC500!

Just be careful as at some point there are no fences at the cliff edge.

Duncansby Stacks
Duncansby Stacks

Caithness Seacoast

Why not see the coastline from a different perspective? Caithness Seacoast offers exhilarating tours on their boats to see castles, sea stacks, caves, wildlife, lighthouses or even, harbours, depending on the route you pick.

Caithness Seacoast is open from April to October. For a 30 minute trip, an adult ticket costs £25 or for a 1.5 hour trip, will cost £40.

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Additional Places You Could Visit Off The NC500 Route

The Black Isle

The Black Isle is around 30 minutes away from Inverness and only a short distance from the official NC500 route. The Black Isle includes the towns of Cromarty and Fortrose.

Whilst visiting the Black Isle, you should go to the Fairy Glen Falls, or see if you can spot any whales or dolphins from Chanonry Point.

Fairy Glen Waterfalls
Fairy Glen Waterfalls

Orkney and/or Shetland

If you are planning a longer NC500 trip, then why not consider going to Orkney or Shetland.

You can go on a day trip to Orkney from John o'Groats. I went on one organised by Jog Ferries and I'd highly recommend it!

Their tour includes return ferries (40-mins each way) and a bus with a guide to take you to all the main tourist attractions in Orkney. It's worth noting that this tour only runs from the 1st May to the 30th September.

If you want to go to Shetland from Orkney, take a ferry from Kirkwall to Lerwick. It takes approximately 8 hours.

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Where To Eat Between Inverness and Thurso?


  • Milk and Honey, Dornoch - This lovely little cafe serves options for breakfast, lunch, or even, just a coffee and cafe. It's also highly recommend!
  • The Pier, Lairg - A wee bit off the NC500 route but I couldn't not include this cafe with a panoramic view over Loch Shin. That in itself is worth the visit!
  • Thyme and Plaice, Helmsdale - This cafe uses locally sourced produce to make delicious, homemade dishes. I'd recommend you check the opening hours for this restaurant, sometimes it's open to 4pm, other days it's open to 8pm.
  • The River Bothy, Berriedale Bends - This little tearoom is right next to those hairpin bends I mentioned earlier. But a trip to this cafe will certainly perk you up! It serves delicious lunch options and cakes and there is also an option for afternoon tea. Highly recommend!
  • Wickers World, Wick - I used to visit here often when I lived in Wick, the food is down-to-earth, but delicious. So much so, they pride themselves on having the best food in town!


  • Luigi, Dornoch - Cafe and Restaurant in Dornoch serving options for lunch and dinner, including pizzas, burgers, and seafood dishes.
  • Trawlers Fish and Chips, Golspie - You can't do the NC500 and not have a chippy! I stopped off here many a night driving the A9 when I lived in Wick. Cheap and cheerful!
  • Bord De L'Eau, Wick - Delicious and authentic French restaurant in Wick. I went here a couple of times and the food is incredible!
  • Capilla Tapas, Scrabster - Within a little chapel in Scrabster, you'll find this restaurant serving up Spanish Tapas - you won't want to miss this! The most delicious patatas bravas, thank me later!
  • Forss House, Thurso - This is the only restaurant in Caithness with 2 AA Rosette. It is quite pricey, with the dinner menu costing £70pp or the tasting menu coming in at £95pp.
Lunch at Berriedale Bends
Lunch at Berriedale Bends

Where To Stay Between Inverness and Thurso?

All the options below were chosen with peak season in mind and two people sharing.

It's worth noting that accommodation for the NC500 books up months in advance, so make sure you book your accommodation early.

Budget (£0-£100 per night)

Shandwick House, Tain, UK
Set in Tain and only 44 km from Strathpeffer Spa Golf Club, Shandwick House offers accommodation with sea views, free WiFi and free private parking.
The Ben Bhraggie Inn, Golspie, UK
Situated in Golspie, 1.5 km from Dunrobin Castle, The Ben Bhraggie Inn features accommodation with a restaurant, free private parking and a bar.
Harbour quay, Wick, UK
Offering free WiFi Harbour quay is an accommodation located in Wick.

Mid (£100-£200 per night)

★★★★ Kincraig Castle Hotel, Invergordon, UK
Just 20 minutes from Inverness, Kincraig Castle Hotel is a period property with magnificent views, and boasts a central location for exploring the north of…
★★★★ Royal Marine Hotel, Brora, UK
Royal Marine Hotel in the Highlands of Scotland is set against a backdrop of coastal scenery with Sutherland beaches right on the doorstep and has easy…
Burnside Cottage, Wick, UK
Featuring a garden, Burnside Cottage is situated in Wick in the Highlands region, 19 km from Sinclair’s Bay and 3.6 km from The Castle Gardens of Mey.

High-End (£200+ per night)

★★★★★ Links House at Royal Dornoch, Dornoch, UK
Situated in Dornoch, Links House at Royal Dornoch has a restaurant, bar, terrace, and free WiFi. Private parking is available at the property.
North Coast 500 Pods - Brora, Brora, UK
North Coast 500 Pods - Brora features a sauna and free private parking, and is within 9.1 km of Dunrobin Castle and 28 km of Carnegie Club Skibo Castle.
The Granary Lodge Bed & Breakfast, Thurso, UK
Set 23 km from Sinclair’s Bay, The Granary Lodge Bed & Breakfast offers accommodation with a shared lounge, a terrace and a 24-hour front desk for your…

This post is all about Inverness to Thurso.

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Kirsty x

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