North Coast 500: Why Scotland’s answer to Route 66 should be your next family break
The North Coast 500 is a one of Scotland's hidden gems. Whilst it's gaining more fame, it's still relatively unknown and, dare we say it, quiet. The North Coast 500 is Scotland's answer to Route 66 in America and is a coastal route taking in the most northern part of Scotland. If you fancy taking on the whole of the route, which we'd 100% recommend, the North Coast 500 is expected to take 5 days based on travelling a little over 100 miles per day. Don’t try and rush the drive either, if anything take a little longer, sit back and enjoy the scenery and all the other wonderful experiences the trip has to offer. The route takes in six regions of Scotland with a taste of what they all have to offer.
The NC500 as it is affectionately known is one of those experiences that many families return to again and again. But if you’re planning your first trip, here’s an overview to get you salivating.
The North Coast 500 is a circular route beginning and ending at Inverness, the largest city in the Scottish Highlands. Inverness has an airport, train station and bus station so if you don't fancy driving there it's well connected and there are plenty of places to hire a car when you arrive. If you're arriving into Edinburgh and want to drive up the Inverness, the journey will take you around 3 hours and there are plenty of places in Edinburgh to hire cars.
Once you've reached Inverness, the route is really easy to follow, by utilising the helpful NC500 brown signs. But it’s well worth collecting an official route guide from the Inverness visitor centre and programming your sat nav ahead of time just in case you do take a wrong turn. Phone signal in North Scotland is pretty good, but there will be areas where you won't be able to get a signal.
Before travelling decide how long you want to spend on the trip. Whilst it can be done in 5 days, consider whether you want to stop off and enjoy places along the way or if you're happy to just look and dash? A seven or eight day itinerary is highly recommended with setting up a base for a couple of nights in places along the way.
Along the route there are accommodation options to suit different requirements and budgets. Whatever you are looking for there are family friendly hotels, guest houses, B&B’s, Inns or self catering and it’s definitely advisable to book in advance to ensure your chosen accommodation has space at busy times and is open during quieter months. Most locations have easy parking with the exception of Inverness itself where you may need to use one of the car parks.
As well as the stunning scenery, beautiful beaches and fantastic wildlife there are also a number of attractions that you may choose to take in on the route. Inverness itself has some fantastic things to see and do and is worth a couple of days sightseeing either end of your journey.
The route takes you through many incredible towns and villages with plenty of opportunities to divert from the main route to enjoy things that interest you or to find an out of the way place for refreshments or to explore. The area has a lot of fascinating history, opportunities to stop and take a hike to famous landmarks or to visit places that featured in the Harry Potter films. There are plenty of distilleries, museums and castles to view or visit. There are also far too many lovely beaches to mention them all, but one that comes to mind is the west facing Porthamock Beach on the east coast making it a great location to watch the sun set whilst listening to the gentle sound of lapping water.
As well as the natural beauty that the route has to offer there is an abundance of wildlife. There are opportunities to see four different species of deer, dolphins, leaping wild salmon and rare breeds of bees. You'll also have the opportunity to see or visit plenty of waterfalls, many of them quite spectacular including the “Falls of Shin”, one of the best places to observe salmon leaping upstream. There’s a viewing platform to watch from a cafe and a gift shop. Or it’s well worth taking a hike to visit the highest waterfall in Britain – Eas A'Chaul Aluinn that has a sheer drop of more than 200 metres. Eas A'Chaul Aluinn is more than three times the height of Niagara Falls. Another waterfall not to be missed is Clashnessie Falls, not quite as large as Eas A'Chaul Aliunn but you could easily misplace this for somewhere in Jurassic Park.
To anyone contemplating driving the NC500, yes, go for it, you won’t regret it. A small word of caution though, there are many single lane roads so make sure you practise your reversing, otherwise you may get some glaring looks from the locals trying to get past.
Because you will be staying in or near residential areas there are plenty of shops and playgrounds. If you chose self-catered accommodation you’ll also see plenty of cafe’s, pubs and restaurants. By planning your itinerary in advance to suit your family you can ensure a family friendly trip that gives memories you will all cherish.
By using the route as a guide you’ll enjoy all that the North Coast 500 has to offer and more.