Photo by Chana Guy
What exactly is the North Coast 500?
Scotland’s ‘Route 66’ is a 500 mile (800 km) journey around the Coastline of The Scottish Highlands, which became popular in 2015 due to the efforts of the North Highland Initiative.
The drive will take you through 6 of the most remote regions of Scotland.
Here are 7 answers to the most commonly asked questions that will help you plan effectively for your trip of a lifetime!
1. How long will it take to complete the NC500?
Driving an average of 100 miles (160 km) per day, you can expect to finish the route in around 6 days with an approximate drive time of 2 hours daily.
This will give you time to stop off at all of the popular hot spots on the way whilst taking in the beauty of your surroundings.
Check out my 15 must-sees that will ensure you don’t miss any of the main attractions the NC500 has to offer!
2. What’s the best way to get around?
There are many options available when it comes to rentals and in the case of the NC500, smaller wins!
Although the route has become popular in recent years, there are many single lane dirt tracks throughout, and any attempt to navigate these with a caravan or motorhome will make for an arduous ride.
Opt for a compact set of wheels and enjoy zipping past the crowds, or if you’re feeling up to the ride, you can always cycle the route!
3. What route should I take?
The NC500 starts and ends in Inverness, the capital of the Highlands.
The majority of travellers choose to drive anti-clockwise so consider changing things up. Driving clockwise means less traffic congestion, particularly in peak summer months.
Less time in traffic means more time to explore!
4. Are there any signposts and what does it cost to navigate the roads?
The NC500 is a route that has always existed and it’s free to drive the ‘B Roads’ and dirt tracks that take you around the coastline.
As a somewhat new initiative, this is a DIY route with no signposts to highlight that you are on the right track.
There are plenty of signs to towns and villages, however, and with your route planned out in advance and a handy map or GPS when available (note, some of the remote areas won’t pick up signal) you can be sure to stay the correct path.
5. What should I see on the way?
Check out my handy guide to the 15 must-sees ensuring you take in all of the hot spots the route has to offer!
If time is of the essence and you need to stick to a strict schedule, It’s imperative you choose the locations you want to visit in advance.
Many spots are in remote parts of Scotland so a thorough plan to ensure you start and end your day in a larger town will take away any need to worry about where you’re sleeping or eating each night.
6. Where should I stay?
The larger towns on the route are equipped with various hotels and BnB’s as well as campsites for those that prefer to be at one with nature.
Make sure to book early as due to the popularity of NC500 many of the hotels get booked out far in advance, particularly over the summer months.
If you’d prefer to go at your own pace and not book ahead, you can always take advantage of Scotland’s outdoor access code, which permits camping on almost all unenclosed land across the country.
This is definitely one for the adventurous and a great way to save on accommodation costs!
7. What time of year is best to complete the route?
You can expect peak crowds in summer leading to long line-ups of traffic on some of the single lane dirt tracks, but there is lovely comradery between fellow NC500 ‘routers’ and you’ll find yourself socialising with others in bars and pubs throughout the drive if you opt for a summer adventure.
If you prefer to get away from the crowds, October-April are quieter months and worth consideration.
The weather in Scotland can be unpredictable so be prepared for rainfall with a high chance of snow in winter.
With fewer people around you will get a sense of the vast remoteness of Scotland and see it in all of its untouched beauty!
- Make sure to bring a detailed map of Scotland with you. GPS can be hard to come by, particularly in the more remote areas of Scotland
- Pack layers. Scotland can be chilly, even in summer when the sun has gone down so make sure to bring lots of warm layers with you so that you stay comfortable while you’re out and about.
- Bring waterproofs! Scotland has a tendency for rain so make sure your waterproofs are on hand to keep you dry when exploring.
- Don’t forget your hiking boots. There are many stunning hikes to choose from but the rainfall in Scotland can lead to muddy and slippery ground. A good set of hiking boots is necessary for those choosing to tackle those hills!
- Stock up on Pounds Sterling, the local currency. There are also cash machines available in most towns and most locations accept Visa and MasterCard.
- Take an adapter. Scotland’s outlets use the standard UK 3 pronged plug and with so many beautiful sites to capture, you’ll want to ensure fully charged cameras and phones before you start your day!
- Be prepared to drive on the left. This can be tricky to get the hang of if you’re used to a right-hand drive. Please familiarise yourself with the UK Highway Code which will enable you to get a feel for the rules of the road and familiarise yourself with some of the more common road signs.
- Automatic cars cost more to rent than manual cars in the UK! If you’re able to drive standard you will save on paying premium prices to rent an automatic vehicle.
- Stock up on snacks! Most of the hikes and sites along the route are in remote areas so make sure to have a handy bag of snacks available to keep energy up throughout the day.
Are any of you planning to drive the NC500 route? What top tips would you like to see added above?
Comment below to let me know and don’t forget to check out my 15 must-sees to help you plan the finer details of your trip!
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Happy exploring! 👣