The North Coast 500, or NC500, is a road trip route that leads you just over 500 miles around Scotland’s Highlands, starting and ending at Inverness Castle.
With the Coronavirus still having some restrictions and putting people on edge when it comes to holidays abroad, the NC500 is an amazing staycation for Scotland – all you need is a car and camping supplies.
While you can do the traditional route that crosses through Inverness, Applecross, Torridon, Ullapool, Caithness, John o’ Groats and Dingwall – it’s sometimes worth going off track to get some truly amazing sights.
Here are some of the best places (that we visited) in the Scottish Highlands.
The destination for day one was The Isle of Skye, a little island off the north-west coast, connected by bridge. Skye has many amazing sights, such as the Fairy Pools, but the island itself is worth the visit alone. With many medieval castles and small fishing towns, Skye is best known for its history, nature and landscapes. With campsites as close as Broadford, you won’t be stuck without a place to stay in Skye.
On the way to Skye, we passed Loch Duich which is worth the stop. Loch Duich itself has its own legends about sea-maidens and its beautiful views, but our target was the castle – Eilean Donan. This castle is said to be the most photographed fortress in Scotland, and was seen in several famous movies, including ‘The New Avengers’ (1976) and James Bond – The World is Not Enough (1999).
The castle itself is situated on a small island, connected to the land by brick bridge. The island is at the point where three great sea lochs meet – Loch Duich, Loch Alsh and Loch Long. Standing since the 13th century, the history, fame and views of this castle make it well worth the stop.
Applecross was our next destination. Infamous for its tricky, winding roads the Applecross Pass is found north-west of Kyle of Lochalsh. The pass itself is 11.4 miles long and consists mainly of twisting, narrow roads climbing a steap incline.
While this may sound like a nightmare to the one driving, if you can stomach it then the views pay off completely. Looking over the water to the Isle of Skye, there are several parking places for you to stop and take in the sights.
The name ‘Applecross’ is at least 1,300 years old, and the tv show ‘Monty Halls Great Escape’ was filmed here, as was an episode of ‘Top Gear’.
After Applecross, any road seemed like a piece of cake so our trip to Smoo Cave was smooth sailing. Smoo Cave is a sea cave in Durness, Sutherland, the name ‘Smoo’ is believed to have come from the Norse word ‘smjugg’ which means a hole or hiding place.
The cave is a marvel worth seeing, with a long stretch of beach running up to the mouth of the cave and a wooden bridge that takes you into the ‘waterfall chamber’ you won’t be stuck for photo ideas.
While the waterfall room is free of charge, you can also pay to get a more in-depth tour of inside the cave which is accessed by boat. The tours cost £10 for adults, £5 for children and run from April to October. While the tours don’t run all year round, the cave itself is accessible 365 day of the year. Just remember to bring a good pair of wellies, you’ll need them!
On our last day in the Highlands, we of course had to visit Loch Ness. More specifically, Urquhart Castle. This castle is sat on the edge of Loch Ness and is rich with history, helpful signs posted around the site to engross you in the tales of the past. Here you can find several historic items such as a trebuchet, the Grant Tower, a dungeon-style prison cell and many more.
A one-hour cruise is also available for £18 per adult which lets you see the castle from a different perspective while also exploring the great Loch Ness itself. Admission to the castle is £9.60 per adult and once you’re in you are free to look around alone or talk to the tour guides for a more in-depth history lesson. There’s also a beautiful café by the castle which overlooks Loch Ness if you prefer to have a drink and a bite to eat while you soak in the atmosphere. Who knows, you might even catch a glimpse of the legendary Nessie while admiring the views.
Of course, there are many more sights, such as John O Groats, Wick and Ullapool as well as random castles and views dotted around the trip. All in all, the best way to describe the North Coast 500 isn’t through reading, writing or even words at all. You just need to go and see it for yourself, it’s worth the trip, promise.