North Coast 500 highlights aren’t easy to choose. In 500 miles of Scotland’s most dramatic scenery filled with whopping waterfalls, astonishing views, brilliant hills, and picture-perfect beaches, where do you begin?
And that’s before we even mention the pubs, shops, and cafes you can’t miss either. One crucial piece of advice is this: take some time to get off the North Coast 500 itself and explore the areas nearby. This is because half of our highlights aren’t technically even on the NC500 itself (whoops), but mostly because you’ll really miss out if you don’t.
Although some of these highlights are easier to reach than others, every single one that we’ve mentioned is worth your time. If you only visit these brilliant spots, then you’re sure to enjoy an unforgettable trip.
- Our North Coast 500 Highlights
- Oldshoremore Beach
- Driving the Bealach na Bà
- Wailing Widow Falls
- A Pint at the Badachro Inn
- Kearvaig Bothy
- Wilds Camping at Sandwood Bay
- Stac Pollaidh
- Ben Hope
- Handa Island
- Assynt Viewpoints
Our North Coast 500 Highlights
Planning any road trip can be difficult, let alone your North Coast 500 adventure! Whether you’ve got a whole month or just a few precious days in the north, we’ve pulled together our North Coast 500 highlights so that you know the things you absolutely cannot miss.
Without a doubt, Oldshoremore is our favourite beach along the North Coast 500 – it was probably the highlight of the whole road trip. It’s always appearing on Best Beaches in the UK lists, and it’s easy to see why.
Maybe it’s because we were lucky enough to visit on a rare scorcher of a day in Scotland. Maybe it was the fact there were only a few other lucky people there. With shockingly turquoise water and the softest white sand, this is the Highland beach you’ve been dreaming of.
WEE TIP: Oldshoremore isn’t technically on the official North Coast 500 route. If you don’t make it there, Clachtoll Beach in Assynt was a close contender for our favourite beach along the NC500.
Driving the Bealach na Bà
The Bealach na Bà – Pass of the Cattle – is the poster child of the North Coast 500, so there are no surprises that we’ve included it on our highlights list.
The twisting mountain track is not for the faint-hearted, but it offers one of the best views along the North Coast 500. Climbing over 2000ft, it’s the third-highest road in Britain, and on a clear day, the views are phenomenal. Pack some lunch and see how many islands you can count.
There’s the Isle of Skye, Raasay, Rona, Scalpay…you get the point. After your drive (or before – depending on your direction), make sure to stop at the Applecross Inn for their famous, freshly caught fish & chips.
Wailing Widow Falls
Just south of Unapool in Sutherland lies the hauntingly beautiful Wailing Widow Falls. For us, this was one of our top North Coast 500 highlights and the best waterfall we’ve ever visited in Scotland. Yes. That good.
Just look at the picture! It’s even better in real life, from either of two viewpoints. For the first one (at the top of the falls), park at the small car park near Loch na Gainmhich and follow the faint path.
To reach the viewpoint at the bottom, drive the short distance down the winding road until you reach a small car park. After a 5-10 minute walk along the stream, The Wailing Widow (also referred to as the Weeping Widow) isn’t difficult to spot. It takes an effort to reach, but it’s oh-so-worth-it.
A Pint at the Badachro Inn
We’re Scottish…so of course a pub is going to feature as one of our North Coast 500 highlights! The Badachro Inn lies on the shores of Loch Gairloch and is the perfect place to spend a few hours on your NC500 trip. The food is good, the beer cold, and the view is even better.
On a minor technicality, this one’s also just a few miles away from the official North Coast 500. But trust us, after a sizzling day on Gairloch Beach or Red Point Beach, there’s nowhere better to watch the day turn to night.
Ah, lovely Kearvaig. We reckon the pictures of this bothy speak for themselves; this is wild Scotland at its very, very best. Bring firewood and whisky for the bothy, and a camera to snap wild deer and even puffins. Be sure to support the Mountain Bothy Association (MBA) that does a brilliant job of upkeeping these mountain shelters.
Again, not technically on the North Coast 500 (c’mon, it’s close enough), we recommend combining your visit with a trip to the UK’s most north-westerly point of Cape Wrath.
To get there, take the ferry from just outside of Durness and prepare to be amazed by the sheer beauty of Kearvaig. You’ll be amazed by what is also officially the Bumpiest Road in Britain.
Wild Camping at Sandwood Bay
It may be a four-and-a-half mile walk to get there but take our word for it: Sandwood Bay is worth the extra effort. Make the most of your time like we did and spend the night on this special beach.
We wild camped the full stretch of our North Coast 500 trip, and the night at Sandwood was one of the highlights.
Park up at Blairmore Car Park, and make sure you have everything you need for the night. There are absolutely no facilities on or around Sandwood Bay: just some friendly ghosts and the wild expanse of Scotland’s most beautiful beach.
As always with wild camping in Scotland, please leave no trace. Take your litter with you – there are no excuses.
Small but mighty Stac Pollaidh (Polly) is a must-do hike when you’re in the Ullapool area. Clocking in at only 612m, this short hike suits people at most fitness levels and you’re rewarded with some cracking views of the Assynt hills.
For those feeling brave (and with suitable scrambling experience), be sure to complete the scramble up to the true summit on the Western side of the mountain.
It’s not as famous as North Coast 500 sweetheart Suilven. However, Stach Pollaidh is a fantastic reward-for-effort hike that most people should be able to enjoy.
Another hill walk! This time it’s Scotland’s most northerly munro: Ben Hope. We combined this with an overnight in Achnanclach Bothy near Tongue. Standing at 927m, Ben Hope is a relatively small munro. But the views from the top make it a worthy climb – you can see all the way to Ceanabeinne Beach along the north coast of Scotland.
There are also plenty of wild swimming spots and waterfalls near the bottom of the route, which are perfect for cooling down after your climb.
Handa Island is a Scottish Wildlife Trust nature reserve off the west coast of Sutherland, and a great day trip on any NC500 trip. It’s one of Western Europe’s largest seabird breeding grounds and a true paradise for bird watching.
Not into birds? Don’t worry – the walking route around the island is stunning, taking in spectacular sea cliffs and views over towards Assynt. Find out more about this cracker of an island in our full Handa Island guide.
WEE TIP: if you’ve come this far, don’t miss out on some of the freshest seafood you can get at Shorehouse! The catch of the day is caught on the very same morning. With quirky interiors, local crafts, and outstanding food, it’s one not to miss.
The impossible-looking landscapes around Assynt and Lochinver allow you to appreciate the true beauty of the Scottish Highlands. We’re huge Norman MacCaig fans, and it’s clear to see why Assynt is widely regarded as one of Scotland’s most impressive areas.
It’s viewpoints a-plenty around here, but we chose some of our favourites (along with the all-important Google Map locations) in our guide to the area. Take your time and enjoy the drive – you’re going to be stopping to take an awful lot of pictures!
And there you have it – these are our North Coast 500 highlights.
Remember to let us know if you make it to any of the places on our list in the comments below. We love hearing about your experiences!
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