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Updated May 2024

This post covers the North Coast 500 Road Trip.

The North Coast 500 (a.k.a NC500) is an iconic 516-mile route around the Highlands of Scotland. Since its launch in 2015, it has became wildly popular due to the magnificent scenery you'll find around every corner.

The route will take you on a proper Scottish adventure! Picture single-track roads, rugged hills, beautiful white sandy beaches, fairytale castles and quaint towns.

I spent a week driving the NC500 with my two friends in 2018. At this time, I was actually living in Wick, which is a town situated on the NC500, and I spent a large amount of time exploring the local sights.

By talking to locals and living in the Highlands, I've gained a lot of insider information on things to do on and around the NC500 and even, additional trips you can take just off the route, if you have time to spare.

This is one of my many blog posts covering the NC500, all of which will provide you with a comprehensive guide of the route, and help you to plan your own trip.

You'll find other NC500 blogs linked at the end of this article.

This post is all about getting you better acquainted with the North Coast 500 Road Trip.

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Where Does The North Coast 500 Start (and End)?

The North Coast 500 is essentially a loop, which typically starts and ends in Inverness. Some say the route officially starts at Inverness castle, however, there is no rule of thumb that says it has to start there. In fact for me, it started at a pub in Inverness!

Inverness is probably the most convenient starting point for the North Coast 500. You can easily get to Inverness from Glasgow or Edinburgh by bus or train, and Inverness even has its own airport, which is ideal if you are coming from further afield.

However, that being said, it doesn't mean you can't start somewhere else on the route. Technically, you can start the route anywhere you want as it is a loop. Wherever you start is, where you will end!

Inverness, typically the starting point for the North Coast 500.
Inverness, typically the starting point for the North Coast 500.

North Coast 500 Route Map

I've made a map of the North Coast 500, which you can see below. It includes the official route but also, some additional trips or shortcuts you can take if you want to lengthen or shorten your trip.

You don't have to stick to a specific route on the North Coast 500, that's the beauty of this journey - you can go wherever you want!

I would highly recommend visiting the beautiful Eileen Donan Castle. It's not far off the route at all and it is an iconic Scottish landmark.

As you can see from the map, the main route hugs the coast all the way around, which is perfect if you want to take a trip to one or a couple of the nearby islands including Isle of Skye, Isle of Lewis and Harris, or Orkney. Fun fact, Scotland has over 900 offshore islands... just don't expect tropical weather!

The map below shows the official route and the main towns on NC500 in blue, and the orange pins are additional places you can visit off the route.

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Which Direction Should I Drive The North Coast 500?

You can either go clockwise or anti-clockwise on the North Coast 500. If you go clockwise, then you'll go from Inverness to Applecross first. However, if you go anti-clockwise, then you'll go from Inverness to Thurso first.

Whichever direction you take, you will still end up in the same place you started, so it's not a huge dilemma and it's really up to you which direction you go!

If you want my recommendations, then I'd suggest you take the anti-clockwise route and here's why...

  1. Views - The west coast of the North Coast 500 has the best views. So, by taking the anti-clockwise route, you'd save the best views for last.
  2. Roads - Another thing to consider is that the East Coast is main roads (A9) and a large majority of the West Coast is single-track roads. So, by taking the anti-clockwise route, you'd get used to the main roads first, which will help build your confidence to tackle the single-track roads later.
Sunrise over the sea stacks at Sango Bay in Durness
Sunrise over the sea stacks at Sango Bay in Durness

How Long Does The North Coast 500 Take?

I would personally recommend that you take at least 7 days to do the NC500 route by car. The views on the NC500 are stunning, so the longer you can spend on the route to soak up the scenery, the better.

I took 7 days to complete the North Coast 500 and that included an overnight stay on the Isle of Skye. I thought this was a great amount of time to really enjoy the trip.

If you have 5 or less days, I would choose only a section of the route as otherwise it would feel like quite a rushed trip. I would personally travel up the west coast from Applecross to Durness, as in my opinion it has the best scenery on the NC500.

However, if you have more than 10 days, this would allow you to spend a good amount of time visiting other places just off the route like Isle Of Skye, Isle Of Lewis and Harris, or Orkney.

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Seilebost, Isle of Lewis and Harris
Seilebost, Isle of Lewis and Harris

Best Time To Do The North Coast 500

The best time to do the North Coast 500 is undoubtably the shoulder season, during the Spring and Autumn months. I did the North Coast 500 in April during the Easter holidays, and I personally think this was a great time to go as it wasn't overly busy.

The summer season (June-August) is the busiest time on the NC500. You can expect the sightseeing spots to be packed, the roads are also much busier which can be a bit annoying especially on the single-track roads, and accommodation will get booked up much quicker.

However, everything is also open for the tourist season in summer, there are also longer days which are perfect for sightseeing, and a higher chance of better weather (emphasis on 'chance' as it is Scotland we are talking about here).

I wouldn't recommend the winter months from November to March. As quite a lot of the businesses have reduced business hours or are shut all together and the winter weather can be quite harsh with snowfall being common up in the Highlands.

Loch Assynt
Loch Assynt

What Is The Weather Like On The North Coast 500?


Temperatures range between 9-14°C and the days are starting to get longer during Spring. A mix of all weather should be expected - rain, sun and clouds, the lot! It's not very warm, so wrap up. You'll definitely need to pack a jacket and a couple of jumpers.


The average temperature in Summer in the Highlands is between 16-19°C. This isn't very warm, so I'd still recommend you pack some warmer clothes.

It's very common to experience four seasons in one day in Scotland. It might be sunny one minute, stormy the next, so prepare for everything! Pack some sunscreen, just in case you happen to be blessed with some sunshine! The days are lovely and long in the Summer, perfect for lots of sightseeing.


The average day time temperatures in Autumn are 9-16°C. Bring some jumpers, layers and a comfy jacket as it starts to get really cold again. The days also start to get shorter as we are on the run-up to winter.


Daytime temperatures are typically between 5-7°C, but they can go much lower than this towards freezing.

There's a high possibly of snow in winter in the Highlands, so pack your thermals, lots of layers, a big comfy jacket and scarf, hat and gloves.

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Harbour At John O'Groats
Harbour At John O'Groats

7 Tips For The North Coast 500

Remember That The UK Drives On The Left-Hand Side Of The Road

This is so important! The sad fact of the matter is that traffic accidents in this region of Scotland has increased exponentially since the NC500 as people don't know or forget what side of the road they should drive on.

Scotland Has Zero Tolerance On Drinking and Driving

The doesn't mean the limit is zero, but it is very low in Scotland to discourage people from drinking and driving. This means even one alcoholic drink can send you over the limit.

Be Mindful Of Your Speed

The single-track roads and hairpin bends are not designed for high speed, so make sure you have reduced speed on these roads.

Try and also be mindful when you are driving too slowly as this can also cause annoyance for the drivers behind you. Pull into the side and let them by, it'll also allow you to enjoy the journey much more too!

Beware Of Animals On The Road

It's a common occurrence to have cows, sheep and deer on the road. Slow down if this happens and wait for them to move before driving on.

Use Passing Places

It's common to meet other cars on single-track roads. Use the passing places provided to allow the other car to pass.

If you are closer to the passing place, it's common courtesy that you would go into yours. However, if the other car is closer to a parking place, they should go into theirs.

It might also be the case that one of you will have to reverse into a passing place.

Book Your Accommodation Months In Advance

As previously mentioned, I did the NC500 in April and by the time I came to book the accommodation, a lot of it was already sold out. This was a massive factor in us having to take the clockwise direction on the route.

I can only imagine it's worse trying to book accommodation for the NC500 in the summer, so you should book your accommodation way in advance. This means you'll have the best pick of places to stay at and you'll also get to decide what direction you want to go on the NC500.

Dress Appropriately

I decided it would be a good idea to wear a crop top in April, this might seem fine if you are in a warmer part of the world. In Scotland, April is still absolutely freezing and by no means, crop-top weather! I was baltic! Whatever you do, don't be like me and dress appropriately for the NC500.

Always be prepared for rain and cold temperatures in Scotland, even on the sunniest days, and no matter the season!

Highland Cow On The North Coast 500
Highland Cow On The North Coast 500

Vehicles Suitable For The North Coast 500


Really any car can manage the NC500. I managed to complete the road trip with my two friends in my little FIAT 500. However, it definitely wasn't the comfiest for a 7-day road trip. A bigger car would allow for a much more enjoyable trip!


You could also take a small campervan, this would mean you wouldn't have to book accommodation on the route round.

The reason I'm suggesting a smaller campervan is because the roads in the Highlands are quite narrow, especially on the single-track roads.

A bigger campervan would make it a bit more difficult to navigate these single-track roads, plus it restricts you going on the 'Bealach Na Ba' road, which is one of the highlights of the trip.

Motorbikes or Bicycles

You can also complete the NC500 by motorbike or by bicycle. You'll just have to be very careful on the roads as there are some blind corners, hairpin bends and also, a lot of single-track roads.

It is not possible to travel the whole NC500 route by train or bus.
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North Coast 500 By Car
North Coast 500 By Car

Vehicle Hire In Inverness

If you don't have a vehicle and need to rent one to do the North Coast 500, don't worry there are lots of places in Inverness to pick up one.

Inverness is the best place to pick up a rental vehicle on the NC500 as there aren't many options anywhere else along the route. I've included the highest ranked rental places for each vehicle below:

Car Rental Places In Inverness

  1. Arnold clark Car and Van Rental
  2. Jack's Self Drive
  3. Focus Vehicle Rental

Campervan Rental Places In Inverness

  1. Highland Auto Campers
  2. North 500 Motorhomes
  3. WilderNess Ventures

Motorbike Rental Places In Inverness

  1. North Coast 500 Moto Experience
  2. Haggis Tours

Bike Rental Places In Inverness

  1. Ticket to Ride - Bike Shop
  2. Inverness Bike Hire
Campervan By The Water
Campervan By The Water

Petrol Stations and Electric Charging Points On The Route

There are lots of petrol stations and electric charging points along the NC500, so you don't have to worry too much about not having enough fuel or charge to make it round.

However that being said, I found there can be quite some distance between stations. I'd suggest making it a rule of thumb that if you're below half a tank to fill up at the next station you come too.

The map below shows the locations of petrol stations (in red) and electric charging points (in green) along the route.

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This article has covered the ultimate guide to the North Coast 500 Road Trip.

If it has helped you to plan your own NC500 trip, please consider subscribing to my blog to be kept up to date with new posts or sharing it to help others!

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog post.

Kirsty x

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North Coast 500: From Inverness to Thurso
This is a comprehensive guide detailing the route from Inverness to Thurso including the road, things to do, places to eat and places to stay.
North Coast 500: From Thurso to Durness
This is a comprehensive guide detailing the route from Thurso to Durness including the road, things to do, places to eat and places to stay.