North Coast 500 Itinerary: Our 6-Day Detailed Road Trip Plan

North Coast 500 Road Sign in Scotland

Beaches. Some red and rugged and others with Caribbean white sand paired with turquoise water. Castles, both ruined and regal. Cute fishing villages. Narrow and winding roads along jagged cliff edges. Daisy-coloured lighthouses and quirky independent bookshops. Seafood, lochs and mountains. Plenty of thistles and the odd Highland coo. We found all of this (and more) on our six-day North Coast 500 itinerary in summer 2021.

There is no reason why you can’t either.

Officially named in 2015, the NC500 is the ultimate and most popular Scotland road trip. Starting and ending in Inverness, it is a road trip approximately 500 miles long around the Northern chunk of Scotland. Whereas once upon a time, tourists might drive up to John O’Groats for the classic photograph with the sign, nowadays people explore the whole coastline.

As they should, because it’s epic. There’s a reason the NC500 was on my bucket list and it’s one of the best trips I’ve ever had.

Glen Nevis in Fort William, Scotland
Fort William, on the way to the North Coast 500

Using this North Coast 500 Route Planner

Depending on personal interests and time available, one North Coast 500 tour could look very different to the next. I travelled with my parents so we spent less time (read: zero) hiking mountains and more time admiring the incomparable North Coast 500 scenery nearer sea level. We also awoke with the chickens at around 8:30 each morning and spent our evenings relaxing (read: recovering from so much adventuring).

Our trip filled eight days and seven nights in total; Friday to Friday. On the first day, we drove up to Fort William and stopped over there. And, of course, on the eighth day, we drove all the way from Inverness back home to Cumbria, England.

We didn’t hire a camper van. Instead, we stayed in local hotels and Airbnbs and mostly ate out at restaurants.

Normally, I write about filming locations. But if our style of travelling aligns with yours then you may find my North Coast 500 itinerary and North Coast 500 map useful. It’s complete with our activities, stops, parking information, accommodation, some food and drink choices, estimated driving time per day, and my top tips. And if you have any questions at all, I’ll try and help if I can.

Let’s explore Scotland, shall we?

Our 6-Day North Coast 500 Itinerary

North Coast 500 Itinerary: Day One

Eilean Donan Castle as seen in Highlander (1986) and Made of Honor (2008)

After staying at an Airbnb in Fort William the night before, we stopped again before we could even begin our official North Coast 500 itinerary on the route itself.

Eilean Donan Castle is a 20th-century reconstruction of a 13th-century castle that sits on a small islet in the Kyle of Lochalsh. I’d witnessed it first back in February 2020 out of a murky coach window on my way to the Isle of Skye, but this viewing felt no different than the multiple times I’ve seen the castle on shortbread boxes and postcards.

It is one of the most photographed, recognisable castles in Scotland and we couldn’t miss it out on our Scottish road trip. Not when it was so close by!

It was 100% worth it.

The castle can get busy on weekends and in school holidays so our visit on a Saturday in early July was a double whammy. We booked the very first timeslot we could and I fully recommend you do the same. We almost got the castle to ourselves and I have photos to prove it.

You can either buy tickets to go inside the castle or just to walk around the outside. I can understand buying tickets to only the outside if you are on a budget as the interior isn’t that great. However, I liked finding out about the Macrae family who still owns the castle and uses it for private events. Plus, it’s a filming location for Highlander (1986) and Made of Honor (2008) so I wanted to see everything.

For the most up-to-date information on opening times and ticket prices, head to the Eilean Donan Castle’s website.


Read next: Highlander Filming Locations in Scotland | Made of Honor Filming Locations in Scotland


Eilean Donan Castle in the Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland
Eilean Donan Castle
Baked goods on a stand in Manuela's Wee Bakery in the Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland
Manuela’s Wee Bakery

Plockton as seen in The Wicker Man (1973)

We stopped for an early lunch at Manuela’s Wee Bakery, a mere few minutes drive north from Eilean Donan Castle. Parking options were slim but we managed to street park near the entrance. Describing this place is difficult because it sounds fictional. It essentially looks like someone has opened three small businesses in their backyard; a gin distillery, a bakery and a pizzeria. Oh, and they’re all housed in a collection of fairytale-esque huts. Yeah.

There weren’t a lot of food options as we hoped, but I’m glad we stopped here for the sheer novelty of the place. Plus, it has picnic benches, a loo (aptly named “The Wee Room”) and sells coffee, so it’s still a great road trip break spot.

We continued on to yet another town that is not on the North Coast 500. I wanted to stop at Plockton, one of the filming locations in The Wicker Man. It’s a very pretty little fishing town and there is a free car park next to the beach.


Read next: The Wicker Man Filming Locations in Scotland


Plockton Harbour in Scotland
Plockton

Bealach na Bá Road, Applecross & Shieldaig

Finally, we joined the North Coast 500! And what a rude awakening my dad had to the route, as he had to drive up the infamous Bealach na Bá (“Pass of the Cattle”) road with no preparation. I think, in the end, it was better my Mum and I didn’t warn him about this particular North Coast 500 highlight first.

It’s essentially a ridiculously steep, narrow, windy (not to mention busy, in the summer) mountain road to Applecross with approximately 569 warning signs before you ascend. Honestly, I recommend MOST people shouldn’t drive it and you cannot drive on it in a camper van. Plus, all those pictures you see of the road on Instagram are not from an official viewpoint. There is nowhere to stop, especially with cars both in front and behind.

And so, we arrived in Applecross (my dad having gained a few more grey hairs) and spent a short while walking around. There’s the Applecross Inn if you wanted to stop for a swift one (not the driver, of course!) and it looks like a great place to kayak.

The same could be said for our next stop just up the coast, Shieldaig. I really loved walking around this place. If there was time, I’d have loved to sea kayak here. Pretty, peaceful, perfection.

Bealach na Bá in Applecross, Scotland
Top of Bealach na Bá
Applecross coastline in Scotland
Applecross
Shieldaig coastline in Scotland
Shieldaig

Red Point Beach

The last of our North Coast 500 stops on day one was Red Point Beach. It was technically a detour off the main route, but a road trip without detours is a meal without adding extra garlic. You might’ve followed the recipe but you didn’t improve it when you easily could have, you know?

I would only realise the most interesting thing about this beach later, after experiencing other North Coast 500 beaches. Whereas this beach is, quite literally, a red sand beach embellished with wild bracken bushes and dunes, most of the others had fine white sand and clear, untouched blue waters.

It amazes me that one small sliver of coast in one country could have such abundance and variety of beauty.

Then, after our longest day on the NC500, we checked into our hotel and ate dinner at The Old Inn in Gairloch. We enjoyed the unseasonal warm Scottish summer and the sound of English tourists watching the Euros on a TV outside the restaurant.

Day One Total Drive Time: Five hours and 10 minutes (from our Airbnb in Fort William)
Day One Accommodation: Gairloch Highland Lodge in Gairloch
Red Point Beach on the North Coast 500 in Scotland
Red Point Beach

North Coast 500 Itinerary: Day Two

Hillbillies Bookshop and Coffeeshop in Gairloch

After checking out of the first of three North Coast 500 hotels that we stayed in on this trip, we didn’t have too far to drive to our first stop. Hillbillies Bookshop and Coffeeshop in Gairloch was one of the best NC500 highlights for me. If you’re in the area, it looked like a great place to go for breakfast and there is free parking right out front.

This reminds me of my favourite travel planning tip: never, ever blindly follow someone else’s exact itinerary. Always plan one or two stops that align with your specific interests. My mum and I love to read, my dad and I like beer and we all love ice cream (like, you know, normal people). So, I made sure to research cool bookshops and ice-cream sellers along the route. If you can include your particular passions in your trip, it makes it so much more personal and memorable.

I bought Women of the Dunes by Sarah Maine which is a Scottish mystery/mythology book and I 100% recommend it.

Top Tip: Always bring tonnes of road trip snacks! I know you know this, but especially bring them on the NC500 before you start your trip. Of course, there are supermarkets and corner shops along the way, but not always when you need them. Personally, I like dried fruit, bananas, Pringles and Tunnocks caramel wafers.
Hillbillies Bookshop and Coffeeshop in Gairloch, Scotland North Coast 500
Hillbillies Bookshop & Coffeeshop

Road on the North Coast 500

Corrieshalloch Gorge Nature Reserve

The first proper stop on day two of our North Coast 500 itinerary was Corrieshalloch Gorge Nature Reserve literally right on the NC500. We might not have climbed any Munros, but we still made sure we saw some nature and did some walking.

The gorge is around 10,000 – 13,000 years old and formed at the end of the ice age. It’s 1.5km long, 60m deep and 10m wide and is the home of the Falls of Measach, a 46m waterfall. You can walk over this suspension bridge to get the full effect and there is a viewing platform on the other side, too. The whole circular walk around the woods is around 40-minutes and parking is free.

Bridge at Corrieshalloch Gorge on the North Coast 500 in Scotland
Bridge over Corrieshalloch Gorge
Corrieshalloch Gorge in Scotland
Corrieshalloch Gorge

Ullapool

If I had to live anywhere on the North Coast 500 (because I generally have problems as wonderful as that in my day-to-day life), I’d live in Ullapool. In particular, I’d live in the ultra-modern, Scandinavian-style, waterfront home with the upper-level terrace. But I digress.

Ullapool was the perfect place to stop for lunch; plenty of pubs, restaurants and fish and chip shops. I ate at The Seafood Shack and I’m so glad I did. Their menu adapts to the day’s catch which sounds like a sustainable way to run a business. There are one or two independent gift shops and ice cream shops here, and definitely do not skip a short walk along the waterfront.

We parked at the Tesco here and stocked up on food for lunch tomorrow, too. Not a lot of dining options on day three of this trip!

Ullapool on the North Coast 500 in Scotland
Ullapool
The Seafood Shack in Ullapool, Scotland
The Seafood Shack

Coastline off Ullapool in Scotland

Knockan Crag Nature Reserve

Oh, you thought there was only one nature reserve on this leg of the NC500 Scottish road trip? Lol, that’s cute.

Also right on the road trip route is Knockan Crag Nature Reserve. A crag is a steep rockface, like a cliff but not on the coastline. There are tonnes all over the British Isles, but this one is particularly special. Its seemingly impossible geological features had scientists stumped for years until 1907 when they finally figured out how older rock could sit on top of younger rock.

Aside from the small exhibit and information cards about the phenomenon, the walking route up and over the crag took us less than an hour to trek around and offered some gorgeous views.

Knockan Crag Nature Reserve on the North Coast 500 in Scotland
Knockan Crag Nature Reserve

Almost Ginger blog owner at Knockan Crag Nature Reserve in Scotland

Ardvreck Castle

A fantastic place for a quick pitstop and one of the most popular North Coast 500 Highlights is Ardvreck Castle. Why? When it’s just a ruined castle and there are literally thousands of them in Scotland?

That might be true, but it’s right on the NC500. And, again, there is free parking. The question with places like Ardvreck Castle isn’t “why” but “why not”?

It dates back to 1590 and the nearby Calda House (erected in 1726) both stand in ruins in a particularly quiet and peaceful part of the country. Loch Assynt looked like a wonderful place for wild swimming if that’s your thing.

Ardvreck Castle on the North Coast 500 in Scotland
Ardvreck Castle

Achmelvich Bay

Our “end of the day” detour consisted of not one, but two items on our North Coast 500 itinerary. The first was another beach, Achmelvich Bay.

This is a super, super popular beach on the NC500 with many bloggers and Instagrammers (that I follow) who call it their favourite of all the North Coast 500 beaches. It’s not my personal favourite (keep reading to find out what is!) but it’s incredibly beautiful. It’s one of those clear blue, white sand beaches I mentioned earlier that almost seem run-of-the-mill in this part of the country.

Oh, and we spotted our very first Highland coos on the way from Achmelvich Bay to our final stop! Though they were in their pen eating their tea, it was amazing to finally see them in real life. This was my fourth trip to the Highlands, after all, and I’d still not seen them.

Always keep your eyes peeled for Highland coos. You never know where they might be.

You may have noticed that, so far, most of the things to see and do on a typical North Coast 500 itinerary are free and open 24/7. Heck, most of the parking is free. This is why it’s so important to give back to the local economy where (and if) you can. Stay in hotels, eat in local restaurants and buy at independent shops. At the very least, don’t be a nuisance.
Achmelvich Bay in Scotland
Achmelvich Bay
Highland coos near Achmelvich Bay in Scotland
Highland Coos!

Stoer Lighthouse

We saw four lighthouses on this trip and Stoer Lighthouse was, by far, my favourite. As I said at the top of this post, all of the lighthouses in this part of Scotland are daisy-coloured and share certain architectural similarities. This is likely because one lighthouse family (no, not the RnB lounge band) built many of the ones that are still around today.

Robert Louis Stevenson might’ve been a famous Victorian-era author from Edinburgh who wrote classics like Treasure Island, but his father and namesake grandfather built lighthouses. I find this so fascinating and I hope you do too! No need to thank me for the inevitable Wikipedia rabbit hole you’re about to fall down.

Anyway, it was stunning and in a stunning setting. Plus, the lighthouse is now available to rent as North Coast 500 accommodation rental so you could actually stay in it, too!

We stopped off at Lochinver Larder for dinner which included pies and the best black bean burger of my life. You can either eat them in their little courtyard bar area or take them to go.

Day Two Total Drive Time: Three hours and 45 minutes
Day Two Accommodation: The Altnacealgach Motel in Lairg
Stoer Lighthouse in Scotland
Stoer Lighthouse

North Coast 500 Itinerary: Day Three

Kylesku Bridge

Day three began with just a short stop at the Kylesku Bridge Viewpoint. I don’t have a lot to say about this. It’s an impressive, curved bridge, you know?

Kylesku Bridge on the North Coast 500 in Scotland
Kylesku Bridge

Oleshoremore Beach

Every good holiday needs a beach day, and day three of our North Coast 500 itinerary was ours. The first beach was my favourite of the whole trip, Oldshoremore Beach. I’m not completely sure why it was my favourite – the sand and sea shared a lot of similarities with Achmelvich Bay. But it did feel more secluded with the dunes and hills lining the edge.

This beach also had free parking (a small reminder to check out the Google Map at the top of this post for all of our parking spots) and a public toilet, if I remember correctly.

Oldshoremore Beach in Scotland
Oldshoremore Beach

Oldshoremore Beach on the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Sandwood Bay Beach

By far the most impressive beach we visited (on a detour just off the NC500) was Sandwood Bay Beach. It is the so-called most remote beach in the UK. The nearest car park (Blairmore car park) is 4.5 miles away, meaning you have to walk nine miles in total to see it.

We were so lucky on this trip that the sun shone down on us and we enjoyed a dry, yet lengthy, walk to the beach. It’s not hilly, just long. Though you’ll have to engage your leg muscles when walking through the silky smooth sand so you don’t sink. We ate our lunch on the beach that we bought the day before in Ullapool and after around 45 minutes to an hour, we turned around and walked back to the car.

Top Tip: Three of my favourite plants found in Scotland are gorse (or “whins” in Scotland), heather and thistles. Gorse is a striking yellow-flowered bush that you can find in the Highlands during spring. Find enough of it in one location and the air will smell of exotic coconut oil. Head up there late summer for Heather and visit in July through to September for thistles.
Sandwood Bay Beach in Scotland
Sandwood Bay Beach

Almost Ginger blog owner on Sandwood Bay Beach on the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Balnakeil Beach

How many beaches are too many beaches? Hopefully not four, because that’s how many we saw on day three. Beach number three was Balnakeil Beach. It was a very serviceable, white-sand-clear-waters beach. It was only slightly off the North Coast 500, so not a huge effort to get to but I personally wouldn’t go out of your way to see this beach. Skip if you are short on time, which you might be after your nine-mile walk!

Especially considering all of the other beaches on this itinerary; you’re not exactly missing out.

Balnakeil Beach on the North Coast 500 in Scotland
Balnakeil Beach

Sango Bay Beach & Viewing Platform

The fourth and final beach of the day was Sango Bay Beach. Technically, we didn’t set foot on the beach itself but witnessed the coastline via the viewing platform. The view to our right was so wild and rugged with hefty black boulders strewn along the shore. And the view to our left was a more serene beach with the words “it’s coming hame” etched into the sand.

Oh, Scotland. Don’t ever change. (If you’re wondering what that means, it was Scotland’s appropriation of the England football team’s “it’s coming home” slogan during the 2021 Euros).

You can find the viewing platform through the Sango Sands Oasis caravan park. We parked at the restaurant/bar there because there isn’t technically a car park for this beach. But it was free, very quiet, and we didn’t hang around long because by that time of the day on the north coast it was windy AF.

Top Tip: So, the Scottish weather. Yep. It’s unpredictable and fickle and the only way to prepare for it is to prepare for every eventuality. We had days of sunshine, rain and wind on this trip so we needed sun cream, jumpers, and raincoats in equal measure. And don’t forget about the midges that plague the Highlands in the summer. Wear long clothing when you can and (light) bug spray when you can’t.
Sango Bay Viewpoint on the North Coast 500 in Scotland
Sango Bay Viewpoint
Sango Bay Beach on the North Coast 500 in Scotland
Sango Bay Beach

Smoo Cave in Lairg

Our last stop of day three was just a short drive down from the last beach, Smoo Cave. It is a sea cave nestled into the limestone cliffs with a wooden walkway built in so you can explore inside. There are boat rides you can take deep into the belly of the cave during the day, but otherwise, it is open 24/7 and free to visit.

The car park does get a little full, though.

We ate dinner at our hotel and honestly, it was my favourite accommodation. Beautiful breakfast and dinner, friendly staff, and I absolutely adored the decor.

Day Three Total Drive Time: Two hours and 45 minutes
Day Three Accommodation: Ben Loyal Hotel in Tongue
Smoo Cave in Lairg on the North Coast 500 in Scotland
Smoo Cave

Smoo Cave in Lairg on the North Coast 500 in Scotland

North Coast 500 Itinerary: Day Four

Dunnet Beach

Just in case you were worried that we didn’t see any more beaches, don’t fret. We saw one more during our trip: Dunnet Beach. It wasn’t on our original itinerary but the small car park was literally on the NC500 and I remember my friend Robbie recommending this beach to me.

And it was a nice beach! So, 10 points to whichever Hogwarts house Robbie is in. Probably Slytherin.

At this point, we were driving along the north coast of Scotland and couldn’t predict just how stark and swift the switch between the west and east coasts would be. It was like teleported to somewhere hundreds of miles away.

Dunnet Beach on the North Coast 500 in Scotland
Dunnet Beach

Dunnet Bay Distillery

Another North Coast 500 stop motivated by my pal was Dunnet Bay Distillery. He bought me a bottle of their Rock Rose gin for my 27th (lockdown) birthday. I am no gin connoisseur, but I thought it was bloody good. We browsed around their onside shop and I bought a bottle of their limited edition NC500 gin for my bestie but they also make and sell whisky, too.

Then we got back in the car and continued our way. But not before spotting our second herd of Highland coos down a side road from the distillery!

If you can, book a whisky distillery tour and tasting while you are on your North Coast 500 road trip. It was a logistical impossibility for us because there aren’t many distilleries in the towns where we stayed and most close at 16:00. And since my mum doesn’t like whisky and my dad was driving… Well, it would be a bit selfish to make them wait for an hour while I knocked back a few glasses, wouldn’t it?

Kyle of Lochalsh on the North Coast 500 in Scotland

Highland cows in a field in Scotland
Highland Coo: Part 2

Dunnet Head Lighthouse

For years, the general consensus was that John O’Groats marked the most northerly point of mainland Britain. In actual fact, it is Dunnet Head and Dunnet Head Lighthouse. So, this is a North Coast 500 stop you simply cannot miss.

There’s a little plaque here that explains more about the Stevenson lighthouse family too which, again, is fascinating. We found it a bit tricky to park here so try and arrive as early in the day as possible.

Dunnet Head Lighthouse and Sign on the North Coast 500 in Scotland
Dunnet Head Lighthouse

John O’Groats Signpost

Despite being stripped of its prestigious title, you should still visit the John O’Groats Signpost as we did. It’s free and everyone seems to wait patiently for their turn to get a photo of themselves in the iconic shot.

What you cannot see in the photo is that the whole area is quite commercialised, which I expected. In the complex, there is a huge car park, tourist shops, takeaways, cafes, a hotel, glamping pods and even a brewery. And it is also so much busier than Dunnet Head. This is crazy to me because why would you travel all this way to see the fake most northerly point and not see the real one 20 minutes drive down the road?!

I found this experience a bit jarring after days of driving along the rugged western and northern coasts in the sunshine and relative peace. Yes, we saw other people around, but not tonnes. The NC500, even in early July, wasn’t the rowdy rave of English nutters that the news makes it out to be. But with the mist descending on a crowded John O’Groats as we headed south down the east coast, the vibe was definitely different.

Before setting off, though, we had lunch at The Storehouse which served classic lunch fare like soups, sandwiches, and some hot meals. Fully recommend the scones.

Almost Ginger blog owner at John O'Groats Sign in Scotland on the North Coast 500
John O’Groats Sign

Duncansby Head Lighthouse and Sea Stacks

Two lighthouses in one day! Weren’t we lucky? Though visibility was a joke at this point, I’m still glad we made the effort to see Duncansby Head Lighthouse and Duncansby Sea Stacks. What we could see of them, anyway. The car park was free and only the slightest of detours off the NC500.

It was another delightful, daisy-inspired lighthouse (Wes Anderson would love this road trip) and the sea stacks were only a five to 10-minute walk along the cliff.

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Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

There are three castles in close proximity to each other that many people make an effort to see on their North Coast 500 itinerary: Wick Castle, Keiss Castle and Castle Sinclair Girnigoe. They are all ruined castles on the coastline that are 100% free to enter and park at, 24/7.

We tried and failed to get to Keiss Castle as Google Maps led us towards a private road. Old Wick Castle looks like it’s in a nice area, but neither of them seems to hold a candle to Castle Sinclair Girnigoe which is the one we visited. Thanks to the fog it wasn’t too visible, but what an amazing place. I cannot believe they built the castle so close to the cliff edge and the way they stacked the rock is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

Apparently, the same family that owned this castle also owned Rosslyn Chapel outside of Edinburgh which is a great place to visit, too.

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Ebenezer Place AKA The World’s Shortest Street

The last place we visited on day four was a wild card. My Mum had found out that the Guinness World Record-holding shortest street in the world is in Wick of all towns. It is Ebenezer Place and it is a whopping 2.06m wide. Incredible stuff. Refer to the map at the top of this post for the nearest free car park, which is very nearby.

Wick itself is not that nice, from what I’ve seen. It reminded me of a neglected, oppressive town in Northern England like Preston where they have too many abandoned Mecca Bingo halls and stray shopping trolleys down back alleys.

Day Four Total Drive Time: Three hours
Day Four Accommodation: Airbnb in Keiss
Ebenezer Place in Wick, Scotland
Ebenezer Place in Wick, the Shortest Street in the World

North Coast 500 Itinerary: Day Five

Dunrobin Castle

On our penultimate day, we headed straight down the east coast towards Inverness, only making a few stops along the way. So far, we’ve only paid to enter the Eilean Donan Castle and in fact, we only paid for three attractions throughout this whole trip. That’s not bad going.

The second paid-for attraction was Dunrobin Castle. Like many castles in Scotland, many older iterations have occupied the same spot but the one that sits today dates back to 1845. It’s the seat of Clan Sutherland and the comparisons to Disney castles are very evident It’s on a high perch, the turrets are impractically tall and sleek and the exterior paint job is a creamy shade of vanilla white.

The interior is just as fabulous (think Downton Abbey and you wouldn’t be too far away) with wonderfully preserved furniture, wallpaper and period costumes. There’s even a grand portrait of Queen Victoria, who visited the castle back in 1872.

It’s a must-visit in my book and provides a stark contrast to the other, ruined castles you’ll see on the North Coast 500. Visit the Dunrobin Castle website for updated opening times and ticket prices. We also ate lunch at the castle, too.

Dunrobin Castle exterior on the North Coast 500 in Scotland
Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle interior in Scotland

The Wee Pink Ice Cream Shop in Golspie

After Dunrobin Castle, we drove not 10 minutes down the road to our next North Coast 500 stop. Apparently, The Wee Pink Shop in Golspie is the best ice cream shop on the route and, if you remember, I bloody love ice cream.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the best. It’s certainly the cutest. And they serve tons of flavours in a variety of old school cones. They even had nougat ice cream wafers for my mum.

Naturally, it started raining heavily at this point so we ate them in the car and not by the beach as I planned. Ah, a quintessentially British summer experience.

The Wee Pink Ice Cream Shop in Golspie on the North Coast 500 in Scotland
The Wee Pink Shop

Black Rock Gorge in Evanton as seen in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

I don’t recommend this stop to 99.9% of North Coast 500 road trippers. The 0.1% is for huge Harry Potter fans and filming location bloggers. I visited Black Rock Gorge in Evanton because it appears, very briefly, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when Harry fights the Hungarian Horntail. It wasn’t very far from the NC500 at all and I’ve seen all of the others so I wanted to tick this one off my list, too.

It’s a lovely woodland walk for people in the local area and the nearby caravan park and campground. The trail was well signposted but there wasn’t really anywhere close by to park the car. Oh well, onward to glory!


Read next: Harry Potter Filming Locations in Scotland: A Complete Guide


Almost Ginger blog owner on a bridge at Black Rock Gorge in Evanton in Scotland
Black Rock Gorge in Evanton

Chanonry Point Lighthouse and Beach

Our last beach and lighthouse of the trip were situated on the Black Isle, which isn’t really an isle but more of a peninsula just above Inverness. Chanonry Point Lighthouse and the beach next to it is a popular dolphin-watching spot. In fact, people spot the Moray Firth dolphins here more than they do anywhere else.

Well, we didn’t. But you may have better luck.

I do have it on good authority that on many days, they are huge pods of dolphins swimming and leaping in the air just off the coast of this beach. But after waiting a decent period of time, we left keen to get to our last stop before Inverness.

Chanonry Point Lighthouse on the Black Isle in Scotland
Chanonry Point Lighthouse

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Black Isle Brewery

Black Isle is one of my favourite breweries. Their Scotch Ale? C’est Magnifique. And their brewery is, naturally, on the Black Isle and only a short detour from Chanonry Point, which was also a short detour off the NC500.

Black Isle Brewery normally host tours of their facilities but discontinued them due to COVID-19. I cannot believe that is the first time I’m mentioning the pandemic, but since all of the activities are outdoors it’s not really been relevant. But I still enjoyed visiting their shop and chatting to the staff, and my dad and I also enjoyed filling one of their 12-beer gift boxes to take home with us. Sorry, you didn’t see much of your half, Dad!

Black Isle Brewery on the Black Isle in Scotland
Black Isle Brewery

Black Isle Brewery on the Black Isle in Scotland

Leakey’s Bookshop in Inverness

Finally, we arrived in Inverness! This is normally where the NC500 begins, but we skipped a small chunk by starting at Fort William instead. Inverness is the 13th biggest city (by population) in Scotland and the unofficial capital of the Highlands. It sits just outside the Cairngorms National Park and the top of the famous Loch Ness.

I separated from my parents for these last two nights as they stayed in a hotel on the outskirts of Inverness so they had a place to park the car. Me being me, I opted to check out one of the local hostels.

Before we went to dinner, I paid Leakey’s Bookshop a visit. It is Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop and it’s housed in a former church which means it looks unbelievable inside. There is some semblance of order but it’s mostly a multi-story, hodgepodge of literature, maps and music scores. Don’t go in looking for any particular title; you won’t find it. Let a book find you.

Then, we ate pizza made at Black Isle Bar and drank some of their beautiful beverages. I’ve visited their brewery, stayed in their hostel, visited their bar in Fort William and now their bar in Inverness, am I the biggest Black Isle fan girl ever?

Day Five Total Drive Time: Three hours and 15 minutes
Day Five Accommodation: Black Isle Hostel in Inverness
Leakey's Bookshop in Inverness, Scotland
Leakey’s Bookshop
Almost Ginger blog owner holding lots of beer in the Black Isle Bar in Scotland
Black Isle Bar

North Coast 500 Itinerary: Day Six

Culloden Battlefield

You would think it would be something of a novelty, this being the only day of our trip that we didn’t actually continue on anywhere. We stayed two nights in Inverness, so there would be far less driving on our last day, right?

Erm, not exactly.

I started the day with breakfast at The Rendezvous Cafe in the city centre and it was perfect. It had a weird silent movie theme which I dug and a great breakfast menu.

But most of the things we did on our last day were slightly outside of the city, starting with Culloden Battlefield and Visitor’s Centre. It’s the site of the 1746 Battle of Culloden, the last battle of the Jacobite Rebellions against the British. It was short, bloody, and tragic. The British outlawed Gaelic, tartan, and destroyed Highland culture as it was after this battle.

The battlefield is 100% free, 24/7, but the visitor’s centre and historic exhibition requires a ticket and a pre-booked timeslot in peak season, too. I loved the exhibition and thought it was so interesting and well laid out. Check out the National Trust’s website for information on ticket prices and opening times.

Don’t forget to say hello to the Highland coos (and the regular cows) in the pen next to the Battlefield as you leave…


Read next: Outlander Culloden Battlefield Location: A Complete Guide


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Clava Cairns

We made a short side trip to Clava Cairns from Culloden Battlefield as it’s only a 10-minute drive away and 100% free with a car park out front.

Clava Cairns are a group of three stone circles dating back to the Bronze Age. They are around 4,000 years old and people built them to house the dead. Nowadays, they are popular with Outlander fans (like me!) who want to pose next to the tallest, most rectangular standing stone as it resembles an important stone in the TV show.

Clava Cairns near Inverness in Scotland
Clava Cairns

Falls of Foyers by Loch Ness

By this point, we were hungry and were expecting a lovely light lunch at The Cameron’s Tea Room in a beautiful, modern building with high ceilings and a farm shop next to Loch Ness. We turned up and it was closed as a precaution against Covid-19. Oh well. Good job we had an abundance of car snacks, right?

We continued on to our next stop, the Falls of Foyers viewpoint. It’s essentially a very big waterfall that was, unfortunately, a mere trickle when we visited.

Signs to the Falls of Foyers near Loch Ness in Inverness, Scotland

Falls of Foyers near Loch Ness in Inverness, Scotland
Falls of Foyers

Loch Ness

Many people hop on boat rides to see Loch Ness up close and they spend all day exploring its banks and driving around the area. However, we only had one day in Inverness and were on a bit of a whistle-stop tour. So, we drove up the right bank of the loch from the Falls of Foyers and pulled into two different viewing places for a closer look on our way back up to the city.

Scotland’s second-biggest loch (after Loch Lomand) looked a little misty and moody but at least it wasn’t raining. And no, we didn’t spot the elusive sea creature Nessie. Maybe if it was sunny she’d be more inclined to pop up and say hey?

Loch Ness near Inverness in Scotland
Loch Ness

Inverness Castle

We had a couple of hours to see more of the city before heading off to dinner and then finishing our North Coast 500 trip. We visited Inverness Castle or, at least, the outside of it because the interior is currently closed for renovations. But there’s a nice viewpoint over the river, so it’s definitely worth walking up to it regardless of whether it is open or closed.

We walked over Grieg Street Bridge and admired Inverness Cathedral from the outside. There are a few things to love about Inverness, but not tonnes. I’d personally struggle to fill another day here.

After we’d killed enough time, we walked to Macgregor’s Bar for dinner where I sampled a Scottish dessert called cranachan for the first time (also the first time I’d ever heard of its existence). Cranachan is very sweet but you’ve got to try traditional delicacies when they’re offered, you know?

I went back to my hostel room, and after staying up too late chatting with a new friend until the wee hours the night before, I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. Could have been staying up until 2:30 that made me so tired, or it could have been the 1027+ things we saw and did over the last week. There’s no way of knowing for sure.

Day Six Total Drive Time: Just around Inverness
Day Six Accommodation: Black Isle Hostel in Inverness
Inverness Castle in Inverness, Scotland
Inverness Castle
Grieg Street Bridge in Inverness, Scotland
Greig Street Bridge

And that was our 6-day North Coast 500 itinerary! Have you travelled along the North Coast 500 or are you planning to do the road trip? Let me know in the comments below!


Read next: Doune Castle: Outlander, Monty Python and Game of Thrones Location Guide


North Coast 500 Itinerary: Our 6-Day Detailed Road Trip Plan | almostginger.com

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