What’s so special about the N500?
Named the ‘Route 66 of Scotland’, the NC500 is a jaw-dropping 500-mile/800km (ish) road route that naturally follows the rugged coasts of the North Highlands – one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets. This makes it the ultimate road trip for those wanting to experience the beauty of Scotland.
Along the NC500 you’ll spot much of Scotland’s iconic wildlife species: red deer, otter, pine marten, red squirrel, wildcat, golden eagle and white-tailed eagle. Numerous seabird colonies occur around the coast and the wet moorlands are important for waders, so wildlife watching is plentiful here.
NC500 in spring
What’s the best bit?
It all depends on what you’re after! Think stunning coastal
scenery, white sandy beaches, rugged mountains, remote fishing villages and
plenty of unforgettable experiences. Some of our favourite places include Sheildaig,
Duncansby Lighthouse and Stacks, Ullapool Harbour and Castle Varrich. All these
places feature in our recommended walks below, taken from the North Coast 500 and Northern Highlands Pathfinder Guide.
How long does it take to travel the NC500?
Every bend in the road opens up a new view to take your breath away. Although VisitScotland recommend at least 5 to 7 days to tour the NC500, nearer 10 days are needed if you are going to have time for short walks and stop-off to look at sights along the way – which we highly recommend doing! There’s no need to tackle the whole thing in one go and it’s often nicer to explore in-depth a section at the time, stopping off for a few days in one or two villages on route.
Naturally, the roads are far from straight and many are single-track, including main A-roads in the west and north. Those factors mean that driving and cycling times are much longer than might be expected.
Scenic sight near Bealach na Ba viewpoint
10 best NC500 walks
Whether you’re sitting in a vehicle or on a bike, it’s a good idea to stop regularly to admire the view, get some fresh air and stretch your legs. We’ve picked 10 great circular walks from the North Coast 500 and Northern Highlands Pathfinder Guide for you to enjoy whilst exploring the NC500. Most of these routes are on well-surfaced paths and can be completed in one hour to half a day, allowing time for travelling or sightseeing. More information, including turn-by-turn directions for each walk, can be found in the North Coast 500 and Northern Highlands Pathfinder Guide.
1. Shieldaig Peninsula walk
South section: Inverness to Braemore Junction
- Distance: 3.5 miles (5.6km)
- Height gain: 560 feet (170m)
- Start/finish: Shieldaig (car park at the far end of the waterfront, by the public toilets)
- OS Maps: OS Landranger 24 and OS Explorer 428
Starting in the charming seafront village of Shieldaig, this walk explores the rugged peninsula that extends northwards into Loch Torridon. Parts of the route are rough walking, but can be avoided by staying on the track that weaves between rocky knolls to the tip of the peninsula. Here the view extends over Upper Loch Torridon to the dramatic Torridon mountains. Seals, otters and seabirds use the bay and white-tailed eagles nest in the treetops of Shieldaig Island, which is covered in native woodland of mature Scots pine.