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23 Must-Do Things on the NC500 route

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About The NC500 route

The NC500 route is a 516 mile circular road trip in The Scottish highlands. The route takes you along the coastal line, right to the north of the highlands and starts and finishes in Inverness. The official route is known to be clockwise heading up the west coast, along the north coast and back down the east coast. However, both directions can be done, it’s down to personal preference. Many say ‘West is Best’ so going anti-clock wise can be a good incentive to save the best until last. But personally we enjoyed the whole route, so either way is just as spectacular as the other in our eyes.

So, we’ve put together a detailed list of 20 of the Must-do things to add to your itinerary on your road trip around the NC500 route.

1. Admire Rogie Falls, First stop on the NC500 route…

First on the list is the very popular Rogie Falls, a short distance away from Inverness and a great way to start the official NC500 route. The route to the waterfall is a short walk from the car park along beautiful forest paths. What’s more, salmon can be spotted jumping upstream at certain times of the year, making this a popular destination. 

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the Salmon on our trip in April, however, if you are planning your trip for August or September, these are the best months to spot the salmon, so be on the look out!

2. Wander Around the historic Eileen Doran Castle…

Eileen Doran Castle isn’t along the official NC500 route, but it is worth the slight detour. Scotland has many great castles to visit but Eileen Doran Castle is one of Scotland’s most famous. Positioned at the heart of the Scottish Highlands, it offers fascinating history and breathtaking scenery. What’s more, Eileen Donan castle was used to film James bond; The World is Not Enough. So, add this one to your list as it is one of Scotland’s most popular tourist destinations.

3. Drive the Balac Na Ba from Applecross…

Drive the famous Balac Na Ba from Applecross. The Balac Na Ba pass claims the steepest ascent in the United Kingdom, when it comes to roads you can drive on, at 2,054 feet at the summit. But as you can imagine, the views are spectacular, making the terrifying hairpin twists and turns seem worth it.

However, please note, the pass is not recommended for new drivers and/or motorhomes and caravans. Although we did see a motorhome coming up when we visited. Further, we managed it in our small campervan, and I don’t think we would attempt it in anything bigger. The single-track road has a turn known as ‘the devil’s elbow’ so if that doesn’t explain why we wouldn’t risk it in a big vehicle, I don’t know what will. What’s more, the road is approximately 11 miles from Applecross to Tornapress. Therefore, known as ‘The UK’s toughest climb’ due to its length as well as it’s gradient.

4. Visit Callum On Beinn Eigh Car park…

On passing through Torridon, you might be lucky enough to bump into the amazing red stag who’s known as ‘Callum’. While, Callum is a wild stag, he is unusually friendly with the public who visit Beinn Eigh car park. As well as Callum, other wild deer can be spotted around this area if you are lucky. Alternatively, there is a deer park, where you can see lots of deer, but I can’t help but feel like they should be running free in the wild.

5. Stroll along Big Sands Beach…

Big Sands beach is what it says on the tin, a big sandy beach. The golden sands go on for miles, while looking out across the sea boasts a view of Skye and Torridon’s Mountains. Sand dunes surround the entrances to the beach, keeping the wind out, therefore making it the perfect spot for unforgettable sunsets. 

What’s more, the beach was awarded Rural Seaside Award in 2004, this beach is a must, on your NC500 road trip. Plus, the facilities here include toilets, showers, and free parking. The beach is attached to a caravan park, making it perfect for a night’s stop over.

6. Explore Knockan Crag Top Trail

Knockan Crag Trail was one of our favorites on this trip. The short walk of only 2km has some of the most spectacular views of all the hikes along the NC500. The walk is also the most fun and interactive, not to mention well kept.

The trail is easy to follow with signposts throughout… What’s more, Knockan Crag trail includes poetry and sculptures along the route, as well as sitting areas. There is even a treasure hunt for the little ones, or anyone with a childlike vibe really. Although a short walk, it can be tiring as the route takes you up many rocky steps as you incline towards the top. But, as a bonus, we spotted some beautiful wild stags here.

7. Hike to Bone Caves…

Bones Caves is an easy stop off along the route, making it a must on your NC500 itinerary. What’s more, the walk to the caves and back is just under 5km from the carpark. The trail is mostly flat with rough terrain, until reaching a steep incline as you get closer to the caves. Not going to lie, if heights isn’t your thing, be warned when I say steep, it is steep! However, on reaching the caves, it is all worth it, with huge openings and spacious interiors. you can walk right in. What’s more interesting is that polar bear remains were apparently discovered here.

8. Stop off at Ardvreck Castle and Waterfall

Ardvreck Castle is right along the NC500 route, making it another easy stop. This one is especially a must for history lovers, built in the 15th century, Ardvreck castle has some interesting history. Meanwhile, the ruins now stand on a open green landscape, pretty much at the side of the road. But not only are there the ruins of Ardvreck Castle, you will also find Calda House and a lovely little waterfall across the road. Therefore, visiting all 3 of these attractions has easy access with roadside parking between them all.

9. Visit Hermets Castle & Achmelvich Bay…

Achmelvich needs to be added to your itinerary as this is where you will find the white sands and blue waters of Achmelvich beach. But, when visiting Achmelvich bay, you also have the hidden treasure of Hermit’s castle. Hermits Castle was built around 1950 by David Scott and is known as Europe’s smallest castle. The story is that the architect brought the materials in by boat from Norwich. After that he then single-handedly built the ’castle’ within 6 months.

The structure still stands almost complete today, with the exception of the glazed windows and the door that were once there.  To visit the castle you’ll take a short walk over some grassy and rocky areas just by the beach. There is also a campsite here, right by the beach, making it the perfect stop on your road trip.

10. Get Splashed at Clashnessie falls…

Clashnessie falls is one of our favourite waterfalls along the NC500, although we love all waterfalls big and small. This 50ft one is special because of how up close and personal you can get to it… So do wear your waterproofs even if it isn’t raining, or if you are lucky enough to get hot weather it’ll cool you down nicely. The walk from the road to the waterfall can be quite boggy, so we would recommend good footwear. Not to mention, you do have to cross the stream, along stepping stones. There is free roadside parking across from the beach at Clashnessie and the nearest postcode is below.

11. Visit Old Man of Stoer and Stoer Head Lighthouse…

The walk to the Sea stacks starts at the Stoer Head Lighthouse where you can park before heading off. The route follows the wet and rough terrain along the coastline cliffs. Therefore, whale and dolphin spotting has been known along the route, so, don’t forget to look out to sea on the way there and back. However, on reaching the 70 meter high sea stack you will see why it is called ‘Old Man of Stoer’… It does kind of look like a big head of an old man.

The whole walk from the car park and back is approximately 4.5mile. So although not a very long walk, I would recommend wearing good footwear here, as it can be a bit boggy… We both slipped and fell at least once each! (It is funny now, don’t worry).

12. Drive Across Kylesku Bridge…

Kylesku bridge is one of the famous landmarks on the NC500 due to its striking appearance. The 1984 bridge is officially known as ‘Drochaid a’ Chaolais Chumhaing’ in Gaelic. The striking bridge joins kylestrome to Kylesku or vice versa depending on which way round you do the NC500 route. Either way, there is a carpark to stop and admire the views. Zoom in on the bridge below to spot us driving along.

13. Look Out For The Northern Lights or Enjoy Some Star Gazing along the NC500 route…

The nights skies are absolutely amazing along the NC500 route. Due to the fact most areas along the route have very little light pollution making it the perfect place to star gaze. But even better, the perfect place to spot the Northern Lights if you are lucky. For a better chance, we recommend getting an Aurora app or joining some Facebook groups. This way you will know when Aurora is high and when might be best to be on the lookout.

14. Enjoy The Views of Sango Sands Bay at Durness Beach…

Another must see beach along the NC500 is Durness Beach at Sango Sands Bay. The views are picturesque, the sand is golden, and the water is blue! What’s more, there is a viewing point that gives a 360 view above the beach! Whether you just visit here as you pass through or stay for a couple of nights… We would definitely recommend a visit during your road trip. We were lucky enough to spot a pod of Orca’s passing by when staying at Sango Sands. So don’t forget your binoculars! You wont feel like you are still in the British Isles, that’s for sure!

15. Visit Smoo Caves and Take a Tour Underground…

Smoo Caves is a natural sea cave, located just down the road from Durness Beach and Sango Sands, making it a perfect addition to your itinerary for sure. Not to mention, Smoo Cave is the main tourist attraction in Durness, you will see why when you visit. The spectacular heights of the cave should be seen for yourself. What’s more, there is even an underground waterfall just to make it even more special.

In addition, tours can be taken by boat and go to parts of the cave that can’t be seen on foot. Tours run daily from April to October but are weather dependent. However, you can check the website here or call them to check if tours are running on the day of your visit. However, even if the tours are not running access to the waterfall chamber is free of charge and is open all year round.

Prices for the tours are:

£10 for adults and £5 for kids. Please note: they don’t allow children under 3yrs or dogs on the tours.

There is a pay and display car park for Smoo Caves at the side of the road right on the NC500 route with toilet access.

16. Fly From Cliff to Cliff at Golden Eagle Zipline…

As you drive along the NC500 route you will see the most beautiful golden sand and blue Atlantic Ocean and then a little further up the road you realise you can zip line from cliff-to-cliff across the spectacular view. The 37-meter-high coastal cliff offers a unique zip line experience with speeds of up to 40mph.

The best bit is you don’t even need to book, just turn up and see if you are brave enough to take on the thrilling ride. Opening hours are 10am-6pm but operations are of course weather dependent for safety reasons. What’s more, you will find Golden Eagle Zipline down the road from Smoo Caves and Durness Beach, along the official NC500 route.

Price for the Zipline

Prices are £15.00 per person and there is a minimum weight limit of 20kg and maximum weight limit of 110kg.

17. Visit the John O’Groats signpost and send a postcard home…

18. Stroll Along The Coast to See The Spectacular Duncansby Stacks…

The lighthouse car park for Duncansby Sea Stacks is a 5-minute detour off the NC500 route from John O’Groats, making it the perfect addition to your itinerary. The impressive natural sea stacks are about a 20min walk away from the car park. Reached by walking across the fields along the cliff top, with spectacular sea views all the way. Additionally, Look out for puffins and seals along the way too! What’s more, the Sea Stacks are said to have stood protruding from the North Sea for over 6000 years and were naturally created by tidal erosion over time.

19. Explore The Ruins of Castle Sinclair girnigoe…

Located on the East Coast of the route, in Caithness stands Castle Sinclair Girnigoe. Interestingly, the complex ruins are a combination of two castles, these being the 17th century Sinclair Castle, and the 15th century Girnigoe Castle. Furthermore, there is a car park with a picnic area and the castle is a short walk away. This is an impressive ruin to see during your NC500 road trip, as there is something magical about the surrounding of the old castle ruins.

20. Wander Down Whailgoe Steps…

Take 300+ steep steps down to sea level via Whailgoe steps. Although, there used to be 365 steps one for each day of the year, over time the steps have been vandalized and now there are around 330 steps. The scenery when you reach the bottom is quite spectacular with huge waves crashing against the tall cliff walls. What’s more, there is some history to see down there too. Including, remains of some of the old equipment dating back to 1793 can still be found here.

21. Visit Golspie Burn Waterfall & Gorge… AKA The Big Burn!

This is the perfect place to stop and stretch your legs as you head down the east coast towards inverness. This 2.6km circuit is a pretty little walk that includes a beautiful waterfall, wooden bridges, and dramatic woodland, giving this walk a mysterious vibe to it. What’s more, the waterfall has easy access being approximately a 20minute walk away from the car park.

22. Admire ‘The Fairytale’ Dunrobin Castle…

The 13th century fairytale castle, located on the north coast of the route, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited houses in Scotland. Dunrobin Castle is popular along the NC500 route as it offers a captivating experience for visitors. What’s more, you can visit the stately homes gardens, interior rooms; including the grand ballroom and the library, where a collection of rare books can be found. I’m not going to lie to you, our pictures don’t do this castle justice, as we took them from the back, when the castle was closed… so, if you add this one to your itinerary, you are in for a treat.

23. Go Dolphin Spotting at Chanonry point

Last but most certainly not least is Chanonry point… Chanonry point is well worth a stop on your NC500 road trip. This is one of the top dolphin spotting destinations in Scotland and for good reason. Not only can you spot dolphins here, but they can be pretty close to the shore as well. You will need to research the tide times, when you visit, for the best chance of seeing the dolphins. We were very lucky to see many of them on our visit… Although catching a picture was quite difficult as they tend to pop out every time we put the camera down. I am pretty sure they knew and did this for a laugh!

PLAN YOUR TRIP…
Book your accommodation:
Use Booking.com to find the best accommodation prices.
They consistently find the cheapest rates on everything from hotels to full apartments and even provide a price match service.
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Thank you for reading! We hope you find this useful when planning your NC500 road trip… If you visit any of the places on this list, please let us know what you think, in the comments section below!

We would love to hear from you :)

Lu & Ad

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