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The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your NC500 Route Trip

It’s no secret that Under The Stars Campervan Hire is a big fan of the NC500 Route. We absolutely adore this road trip and everything it has to offer.

But it’s a long route (500 miles plus a little bit more) and to make the most of it, you do really need to plan ahead. This ultimate guide to planning an NC500 Route road trip will tell you everything you need to know.

What is the NC500 Route?

The North Coast 500 (a.k.a. NC500) is a 516-mile route that takes you across the north coast of Scotland, pretty much Scotland's Route 66! It takes you across 6 regions:

  • Black Isle

  • Caithness

  • Easter Ross

  • Inverness-Shire

  • Sutherland

  • Wester Ross

The NC500 Route is so popular because it offers visitors a unique glimpse into Scotland’s north. Touring along this road will show you different landscapes, wildlife, tastes, and adventures.

You can travel this route by car, by bicycle, or by motorcycle, but we love NC500 campervan holidays. The North Coast 500 for campervans is a beautiful open road with so many wonderful places to stop off and stay the night.

What are the best sights and activities on the NC500 Route?

There’s no way we’d be able to cover all of the amazing sights and activities on the North Coast 500 in just one article, so here’s a condensed list of some of the highlights…

  • The West Coast Snorkel Trail

  • Grey Cairns of Camster

  • Meet some Highland Cows with Farm Buggy Tours

  • The Pictish Trail

  • Spot Bottlenose dolphins in Moray Firth

  • The Whaligoe Steps

  • Shieldaig Penininsula Walk

  • Dunrobin Castle (the fairytale castle!)

  • Canoeing & kayaking

  • Inverness Castle

  • The North Highlands

Is the North Coast 500 child friendly? Yep!

You absolutely can bring your kids along for the trip! There’s no shortage of activities for children, whether that’s adventure activities, nature & wildlife, arts & crafts, history, or even play parks. You can even go sea glass hunting on the beaches across the NC500, there’s plenty to be found and it’s a great activity for little ones.

Places to Eat on the NC500 Route

Believe it or not, the North Coast 500 Route is home to loads of excellent places to eat and drink - a foodie’s dream. Here are some of the most-loved restaurants and eateries on the northern Scottish coast:

  • John O’Groats: Stack’s Coffee House & Bistro

  • Balnakeil: Cocoa Mountain

  • Ormiscaig: The Isle of Ewe Smokehouse

  • Inverness: The Mustard Seed Restaurant

  • Ullapool: The Seafood Shack

  • Doornoch: The Courtroom Bar and Brasserie

Plus, if you like a tipple, this route has plenty of breweries and distilleries for you to whet your whistle.

You can take a tour of some of the breweries and distilleries on the route, or just stop off for a drink or two. (Psst! These could be great souvenir stops, too!). Here are our recommendations:

Planning Your Trip

To really make the most of your NC500 road trip, we recommend giving yourself at least 7 days. You can do it in 5 days if you’re stuck for time, but the longer the better (or at least we think so!).

  • There’s no one way to do the route - you could go clockwise or anticlockwise. It’s up to you.

  • Research in advance to find the activities and sights that are most exciting to you. And you don’t just have to stick to the NC500 Route! There will be so many fantastic attractions off the beaten path.

  • Make sure you allocate enough time for driving each day. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in all the adventures you’re having out of your vehicle, but it can be really stressful if you’re racing against the clock to get to your next location.

  • Similarly, don’t always rely on your SatNav for journey times. Single-track roads can take a while to drive through.

  • Pack mindfully. The weather in Scotland can turn on a sixpence, so make sure you have plenty of layers, waterproofs, and clothes for all weathers. Comfortable shoes are a must and, if you’re going in the summer, remember to pack insect repellent.

When to Do the NC500 Route

There isn’t really a bad time to visit Scotland. Throughout the year, it’s a strikingly beautiful country and there are pros and cons to visiting in each season.

If you choose to go in the spring or summer months - especially during the school holidays - then you can expect it to be busy and crowded at times. But the weather will be on your side and you’ll have longer periods of daylight to go out to explore.

If you choose to go in the autumn or winter months, you’ll have shorter days and colder weather, but it will be quieter.

In whichever season you visit, the views will be spectacular (including amazing views of the Isle of Skye). The most popular time to do the NC500 Route is between May and September.

Advice For Campervans & Motorhomes

The NC500 Route is a fantastic travel destination for campervans and motorhomes. You get to experience the sights and sounds of northern Scotland in a much more intimate way.

Whether you're choosing to bring your own campervan or choosing campervan hire from a reputable company (click here to see our VW Campervans for hire) there are some things you should be aware of.

  • Not all roads will be accessible for you. Instead of driving along the Bealach Na Ba, take the A832. And instead of driving the B869 Drumbeg Road, take the A894.

  • Wild camping legally for campervans and motorhomes can be tricky in Scotland, so we recommend staying at designated campervan and caravan sites.

  • Make sure you dispose of any waste/litter responsibly.

  • The legal alcohol limit for driving is lower in Scotland than it is in the rest of the UK. We highly recommend that the designated driver doesn’t drink any amount of alcohol before driving.

We hope you have an excellent trip.

If you'd like to hire a campervan for driving the North Coast 500, we have some fantastic options for you. Our gorgeous VW Campers are comfy, with fully equipped kitchens (featuring gas hobs), a fridge or cooler, a sink with running water, and a radio with Bluetooth speakers.

We offer expert and reliable hire for campervan holidays in the UK, including the Lake District, North Wales, Scotland, the Peak District, and more.

Thanks for reading, we hope you found this useful. The Under The Stars Campervan Hire Team x


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