15 must sees on the route of Scotland’s North Coast 500!

Image © Chana Guy

Scotland’s North Coast 500 is scenic drive awash with a multitude of beautiful and interesting sites throughout and below are 15 that you won’t want to miss when making your way to this stunning part of the world!

1. Culloden

Memorial Cairn, Culloden Moor, Scotland, Photo by Chana Guy

Located close to the city of Inverness, Culloden Moore is the site on which The Battle of Culloden took place, the final event of The Jacobite Risings of 1745. 

The museum at Culloden explains events leading up to the battle and life in its aftermath, with artefacts from the battle on display throughout. 

An audio guide will take you around the battlefield, providing context into the timeline of events and highlighting multiple points of interest.

Hauntingly serene, Culloden leaves a strong mark and is the location at which the last battle on British soil took place. 

2. Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle, Photo by Ben Alexander on Pixabay

Founded in the 13th century, Urquhart castle played a large role during the Scottish Wars of Independence changing hands many times throughout the years before falling into disrepair in the 1700s. 

Less than 30-minutes from Inverness, the drive to Urquhart Castle will allow for mesmerising views of Loch Ness and if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a certain, famous monster rumoured to live beneath the loch’s shores!

A self-guided exploration of the castle ruins is preceded by a detailed exhibition at the visitor’s centre during which you can get a feel for the history of the castle and a snapshot of how it would have looked in its prime. 

3. Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland; Photo by Anita Kolibri on Pixabay

Situated less than a kilometre from Dornie, Eilean Donan Castle is one of the most recognised and photographed castles in Scotland.

This 13th-century castle is accessible from the mainland via a footbridge, and a self-guided tour will allow you to navigate through permitted rooms at your own pace whilst subsequently providing both a detailed history of the castle and a fascinating look into its modern day uses.      

The viewpoint from the top of the main turret allows for stunning views over Loch Alsh, Loch Duich and Loch Long which add to the romance of this stunning location. 

4. Inverewe Garden

Inverewe Gardens, Photo by Valeria Cantone on Dreamstime

Constructed in 1862, Inverewe Garden sits on the banks of Loch Ewe near Poolewe.

Due to the presence of the North Atlantic Drift, the garden plays host to an array of exotic plants and trees that are uninhabitable elsewhere in Scotland.     

The original house to which the garden belongs has been transformed into a museum providing a fascinating look into the life and times of the creators of the garden.

The nearby trail allows for a beautiful glimpse into the untouched beauty of Scotland’s Highlands. 

5. Scoraig

Scoraig Peninsula, Scotland, Photo by Chana Guy

The Community of Scoraig is located on a remote peninsula west of Ullapool and was founded in the ’60s by a small group of people in search of an off-grid lifestyle.

Scoraig can be accessed from Badluarach either by boat or on foot, the latter requiring a 5-mile walk to the location itself!

A friendly welcome from the resilient community of Scoraig awaits and visitors will leave in awe of its inhabitant’s resourcefulness. 

6. Corrieshalloch Gorge

Corrieshalloch Gorge, Photo by Moreno Pinato on Dreamstime

Located south of Ullapool, Corrieshalloch Gorge is a wonderful reminder of the power of nature, its formation a culmination of many years of erosion dating back to the Quaternary Ice Age.   

A 25-meter suspension bridge constructed in the 1800s allows for spectacular views over the River Droma. 

Once across, a viewing platform enables visitors to capture the magnitude of the gorge and its main waterfall and acts as a starting point for a trail that will allow you to get a feel for the remoteness of the surrounding land. 

7. Handa Island Wildlife Reserve

Handa Island, Scotland, Photo by Chana Guy

Handa Island is accessed via ferry from the village of Tarbet, 3 miles north of Scourie. 

Upon arrival to the island, you will discover a multitude of trails available to navigate, each passing an array of wildlife and ending on the clifftops of the Island.

With the option to explore the whole of the island available, wardens on had to answer any questions you may have and breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean, be sure to factor an unforgettable trip to Handa Island into your plans!

8. Smoo Cave

Smoo Cave, Photo by Liam Ring on Dreamstime

Smoo Cave boasts the largest entrance of any sea cave throughout Britain and is located on the North Coast of Scotland, near the town of Durness.

The backdrop to the cave allows for mesmerising views and the walk to the cave will see you take in an array of Scottish wildlife en route.   

A guided tour will show you the highlights of the cave and its surrounding area, including a 20-meter high waterfall, while the visitor’s centre will give you a brief insight into the history of the area. 

9. Castle Varrich

Castle Varrich, Photo on Richard Mechen by Pixabay

Located in Tongue, Castle Varrich is one of Scotland’s oldest castles, dating back to the 1100s. 

The walk to the castle from the village of Tongue is well signposted and an easy access staircase will lead you to the viewing platform at the top of the ruins. 

The tranquillity of the castle’s surroundings and its stunning views over the Kyle of Tongue make for a wonderful stop on your trip!

10. Castle Of Mey

Castle of Mey, Stefan Serena, Flickr

Located in Thurso and built in 1566, the Castle of Mey is most famously known as the once home of the Queen Mother. 

Tour guides provide a fascinating look into daily life in the castle, and an assortment of the Queen Mother’s most notable possessions can be found on display. 

The beautiful gardens equipped with an Animal Centre add a unique touch to the castle, and the viewing tower offers spectacular views of both The North Sea and the distant Island of Orkney.

11. Duncansby Head

Duncansby Head, Adam Court, Flickr

Located in the North Eastern tip of the Scottish mainland, Duncansby Head lies 10 minutes east of John O’Groats and is home to Thirle Door and the Stacks of Duncansby.   

A 15-minute walk from the edge of the head will lead you to the breathtaking Stacks themselves, and the seals and nesting birds surrounding the area will allow you a glimpse of nature at its finest.

12. Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, Photo by Adrian Szatewicz on Dreamstime

Located near Wick, Castle Sinclair Girnigoe combines the ruins of Castle Sinclair and Castle Girnigoe, two castles dating from the 1400s which were joined by the drawbridge in their prime. 

Although in ruins, visitors have the opportunity to explore the castles internal and external foundations with multiple information boards proving a detailed understanding of what visitors can see today alongside what would have been once stood before them.   

There are several beautiful cliff-top walks around the castle, which allow for stunning views of Noss Head lighthouse on the opposing shore. 

13. Whaligoe Steps

Whaligoe Steps, Photo by Adrian Szatewicz on Dreamstime

The Whaligoe Steps were used by fisherwomen in the mid 18th century to haul herring from harboured boats at the foot of the steps to the town of Wick some 8 miles away.   

365 spiralled steps will lead you to the desolate harbour port where you can take in the roar of the sea and get a feel for an age gone by. 

A somewhat secluded location, the Whaligoe Steps are a unique experience in this remote and beautiful part of Scotland. 

14. Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle, Photo by Michael Drummond on Pixabay

Located outside the town of Golspie, guided tours of Dunrobin Castle offer a glimpse of historic life in carefully curated and furnished rooms. 

Dating back to 1845, its fairy-tale-like exterior and stunningly kept gardens make for a magical setting. 

Beyond the gardens, visitors are able to partake in the castle’s falconry demonstration, and with the North Sea as its backdrop, this is an opportunity you won’t want to pass up.

15. Tarbat Ness Lighthouse

Tarbat Ness Lighthouse, Photo by Christoph de Haar on Pixabay

Located near Portmahomack and designed by Robert Stevenson, the Tarbat Ness Lighthouse dates back to 1830 and was constructed to aid vessels traversing the North Sea at the time. 

The lighthouse stands within private grounds, meaning that visitors are unable to get right up to its entrance, however, the stunning landscape makes for a glorious walk and the surrounding area offers clifftop views and frequent dolphin sightings. 

Top tips

  • Bring loose change!  Parking lots at many of the sites have Pay & Display stations installed, and the ferries and boats operate a cash-only policy

  • Check opening times and dates!  Lots of sites follow a seasonal schedule so be sure to check timings before arrival

  • Plan for an early start!  Most of the popular locations are very busy, particularly in the summer months.  Parking can be limited so ensuring you’re first in line will save on waiting for space to open up  

  • Bring layers! Most of the locations listed are outdoors and Scotland can get very chilly, even in summer.  Ensure you’re equipped with layers to make your trip as comfortable as possible

  • Prepare for rain!  Scotland is known for its large amounts of rainfall so make sure to pack waterproofs to keep you dry!

  • Bring hiking boots!  Lots of locations on the NC500 are remote and require walking through unpaved land.  A sturdy pair of hiking boots will ensure a successful passage from one location to the next

  • Don’t forget snacks! Although the larger attractions are equipped with visitors centres, many of the smaller attractions are remote so be sure to stock up on snacks and drinks to keep energy levels high throughout the day

Anything I’ve missed that would be an absolute must have on your agenda? 

Please comment below and let me know!

Don’t forget to check out my 7 Practical Tips for driving Scotland’s North Coast 500! 

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Happy exploring!👣

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