NC500 in a Week – Ultimate Guide

Dunrobin Castle

If you’re reading this then you’re probably considering Scotland’s finest road trip, the NC500. We recently completed the NC500 in a week and have been questioned as to whether or not a week is long enough to complete the NC500. In short, if you’re happy to take on a couple of long drives the NC500 is very doable in a week, and gives plenty of time to see some of the trips most impressive attractions. Read on as we provide an itinerary for completing the NC500 in a week, driving anti-clockwise.

Day 0 – Travel to Inverness

Depending on where you are travelling to Inverness from, this is likely to be a long day of travelling. Arrive at Inverness and check into a hotel / B&B. We recommend staying at Ness House. Be sure to book somewhere to eat in advance as the nice restaurants along the River Ness fill up very quickly. If you arrive in Inverness in good time, take a walk down around the city to soak in some of the sights. If not then not to worry, you’ll have time to see Inverness when the NC500 officially commences on Day 1.

Day 1 – Inverness to Castletown

Spend your first morning of your trip taking in the sights in the city of Inverness before heading to Castletown, stopping off at Dunrobin Castle, Whaligoe Steps, Duncansby Stacks, and John O’Groats. This is a long day of driving on an action packed day 1, however, it is worth it as the East Coast has less to do/see than the West Coast.

Take a walk down the River Ness, taking time to admire the Inverness Cathedral and Inverness Castle. The Castle is unfortunately closed for refurbishment currently, but it is still worth a visit for photography purposes and a view of the city. The Castle was first said to have been constructed in the 11th century, and a series of castles have stood on the site having being destroyed in battles. After visiting the Castle, the nearby Inverness Museum & Art Gallery is a great place to visit to learn about the history of the Castle and the city as a whole. From there, take a walk to the historic Victorian Market for some lunch. Finally, visit Leakey’s bookshop to experience real life Harry Potter before embarking on your journey to Dunrobin Castle.

Dunrobin Castle is by far the finest attraction on the East Coast of the NC500. £12 entry grants you access to the Gardens, the Castle and a Falconry experience – very good value for money. The stately home is the family seat of the Earl of Sutherland and the Clan Sutherland, and is visited by hundreds of people on a daily basis. Take a walk around the Castle and marvel at the architecture, admire the view of the sea from the Castle, and then take a stroll around the Castle’s Gardens.

Next, take a drive up to the Whaligoe Steps. Unfortunately when we visited the steps were closed for construction, however, it wasn’t a wasted trip as we took a walk along the coastline near the steps. This was a good chance to admire the rock formations on the coast, and take some stunning pictures and drone shots. Hopefully when you visit you’ll be able to take the steps down to the Whaligoe Haven, where you’ll be in amongst the 250ft cliffs. Make sure you’re feeling energetic though, as you’ll have 365 steps to take back to the car!

On the way up to the Duncansby Stacks, stop off at Tesco in Wick. Areas of the NC500 are very remote so you’re going to need plenty of food and drink in reserve for the times where there isn’t a shop in close proximity. From Tesco the Duncansby Stacks are a 25 minute drive. Park at Duncansby Head Lighthouse, the most north easterly point of the mainland UK, and then take a walk through the field to the Stacks. Marvel at the natural landscapes before heading to the famous John O’Groats signpost located just 5 minutes from the Duncansby Stacks. The commercialised John O’Groats is often mistaken as the most northerly point of the mainland UK, but the nearby Dunnet Head is the true northern tip.

The drive to Castletown from John O’Groats is very short. Stay at the Castletown Hotel, which is located on the official NC500 route. The rooms are comfortable, the food is great, and it is walking distance to the beach. After dinner at the hotel, take the short walk to the beach to watch the sun go down over Orkney, then rest up ready for another action packed day.

Read about our Day 1 on the NC500 by clicking here.

Day 2 – Castletown to Durness

We took the time to go straight to Skerray Harbour from the Castletown Hotel. Although this was a nice stop off, we wouldn’t recommend it as part of the NC500 in a Week itinerary. Head straight to Castle Varrich in Tongue from the hotel. Park up at the Ben Loyal Hotel and then make the walk to Castle Varrich, a ruined castle that boasts unbelievable views over the Kyle of Tongue and the village of Tongue. The short, steep walk to the Castle is worth it for the panoramic views. After you’ve completed this walk head over to the nearby Tongue Hotel, for a delightful spot of lunch.

After enjoying your morning in Tongue, head straight over to Durness, where your first stop will be at the Durness zipline. The Golden Eagle zipline sends you down to one of the most beautiful beaches on the NC500, and is the most northerly zipline in the UK. It costs £12 and is said to be a fantastic experience on day 2 of the NC500. When we were in Durness the zipline was closed due to high wind speeds, but if it’s open when you drive past you’d be silly to not give it a bash! After the zipline it’s time to head to Smoo Cave. Smoo Cave is a large combined sea cave and freshwater cave in Durness and is a fantastic place to visit on the NC500. For more information read about our Day 2 on the NC500.

Check into your hotel/B&B and then finish of the evening by taking a walk down Balnakeil Bay. There are a number of airbnb’s in Durness Art and Craft village which are perfect. For dinner there are very few options in Durness, we would recommend heading to the Smoo Cave Hotel for your evening feed.

Day 3 – Durness to Lochinver

Day 3 of our NC500 road trip provides you with a great opportunity to visit Handa Island, a Scottish Wildlife Nature Reserve. From Durness, head to the village of Tarbet where you’ll be able to get the ferry over to Handa. The ferry is a short 5 minute journey from mainland to Handa, and costs £20 pp. Remember your cash, as this is cash only! Take the well marked out 6km walk around Handa, and be sure to spot the puffins that live on the island. Once you’ve completed your walk, head back to Handa Beach where you’ll be able to get the ferry back to Tarbet. Head to the Shorehouse for some dinner, the Handa crab and prawn salad is one of the finest dishes you can get on the NC500. Read more about Handa on our Day 3 of the NC500 post.

Following on from your once in a lifetime visit to Handa Island, head to Lochinver where you can spend the night. Stay at the Tarradh Cabins where you’ll have an unbelievable view of the bay and the nearby Suilven mountains. For your evening meal there really is only one place where you need to go in Lochinver, and that is the Lochinver Larder. The selection of pies are incredible with meat, fish, sweet and vegetarian options all available. It is clear to see why the Lochinver Larder is so popular!

Day 4 – Lochinver to Ullapool

In our opinion, Day 4 is one of the best days on the NC500. The West Coast of the Scottish Highlands boasts magnificent landscapes and scenery, so even just the drive is very enjoyable. You’ll also travel through Inchnadamph, a great place for spotting deer.

From the Tarradh Cabins, make the short drive to Ardvreck Castle. The castle can be seen from the road, park up nearby and make the short walk over to the castle. The castle was originally constructed in 1590, and now only the ruins remain. The views over Loch Assynt from the castle are superb, making great photography and videography opportunities. There are information boards near the castle for those wanting to understand the history of the ruined castle in greater detail.

Upon departing the castle, head to Knockan Crag Nature Reserve. You’ll come away knowing all about the ‘Moine Thrust’ which causes older rocks to sit above younger rocks in some areas of the Crag. If geology is your thing then the Crag is an absolute must visit, but even if geology isn’t your thing the Crag is still well worth a visit, as the short but very steep walking trail features magnificent views and a range of plants and wildlife. We were lucky enough to get close up to three red deer when we were leaving the Crag. There are a whole host of walking opportunities on the NC500 given the amount of mountains, hills and different landscapes, but the Crag is right up there with the best.

From the Knockan Crag Nature Resrve, make the drive to Ullapool. The village of Ullapool is much more densely populated than a lot of the villages on the NC500, and has a good amount of shops, supermarkets and cafes. If golf is your thing, head to Ullapool golf club for 9 holes alongside the sea. Ullapool is a great place to try some other outdoor activites such as kayaking, fishing or mountain biking. There are several boat trips from the harbour in Ullapool where you can see lots of wildlife, and the tours include commentary. Alternatively, if you arrive in Ullapool early, take a day trip to the Isle of Lewis via the ferry. The options are endless in Ullapool, so arrive as early as you can! For dinner you have to go to the Seafood Shack, where the menu is tailored based on whatever is caught on the day. We were lucky enough to sample the langoustines on our visit.

Stay at the Broomview Cottage B&B where you will be made to feel welcome by the hosts. They will prepare you a full Scottish breakfast to fuel you ready for Day 5.

Day 5 – Ullapool to Torridon

Day 5 on this itinerary sums up everything that the NC500 is about, magnificent landscapes, views over the sea and lochs, waterfalls and delightful grounds. When you depart Ullapool, head to the Falls of Measach, a 46 metre waterfall located at the head of the Corrieshalloch Gorge. The Gorge has a purpose built 2km path which makes for a great walk, and there is a viewing platform that has been built where the waterfall can be viewed in all it’s glory. After visiting this waterfall, hop in your car and drive to another one, Victoria Falls. Named after a visit from Queen Victoria, the waterfall overlooks Loch Maree and offers yet another stunning view. You can walk over the top of the falls but be careful, as it is very slippy! See some pictures by clicking here and reading our Day 5 post.

After your day of driving and seeing waterfalls, head to Torridon. The Torridon Estate is a fantastic place to stay after Day 5 of the NC500. It’s grounds are spectacular and the rooms are spacious. However, if budget allows you should stay at the Torridon Hotel when you visit. The Torridon Hotel is one of the most prestigious hotels on the NC500 and staying there is a once in a lifetime experience, although it is extremely costly! If you’re not staying at the Torridon Hotel, then be sure to go there for your evening meal. The top end 1887 restaurant should be your first choice, but for a more cost effective (and still delightful) meal then you should head to the hotel’s Bo & Muc restaurant.

Day 6 – Torridon to Lochcarron (Via Skye)

We took the drive from Torridon to Skye, and then onto Fort William on Day 6 when we went on our NC500 road trip. However, as this is a 7-day itinerary based solely on the NC500 we have revamped it for you guys. If you’d like to read on about our road trip then click here, to continue with the NC500 in a week itinerary, read on!

In our opinion, it would be silly to head up to the Highlands and not take in the Isle of Skye. You can be in Portree in an hour and a half from Torridon, so to not visit Skye would be a wasted opportunity. Head to the Isle of Skye from Torridon via the Bealach na Bà, a road that you will never forget. If you’re not a confident or experienced driver we wouldn’t recommend taking on this road, but if you are confident then you should definitely do so. The Bealach na Bà viewpoint is a great place to gaze over the twists and turns of the single track road.

On the Isle of Skye we went Canyoning, which is a super fun activity if you’re more of a thrill seeker. Alternatively, if you’re after a more relaxing time on Skye, there’s a whole host of things to do. The Isle of Skye website features 50 things to do on Skye, there really is something for everyone. Be sure to visit Portree’s colourful harbour, and if you’re feeling up to another walk head to The Old Man of Storr, a group of mysterious rocks on the island. After your day on Skye head to Lochcarron where you will spend your final night. There are a number of places to stay in Lochcarron.

Day 7 – Lochcarron to Inverness

Many people don’t choose to complete this leg of the journey eastwards to Inverness, as it is easier to travel south back home. However, if you choose to do so then spend the morning in the picturesque village of Lochcarron. You could even pick up some Scottish tartan from Lochcarron Weavers, a fabulous place to learn about the weaving process. Lochcarron is a popular holiday destination itself given the wonderful scenery around the village.

From Lochcarron there are a number of options, we would suggest stopping in the small village of Garve. Garve is home of the Black Water Falls, which is a waterfall that is easily accessible with a short walk. The chances are you’ll be tired by this point, so a nice short walk should be just right at this point! Alternatively, you could head to Ben Wyvis Natural Nature Reserve and complete a hike of Ben Wyvis, but note that this is a challenging walk.

After this head back to Inverness to officially complete the NC500 in a week. There are some great things to do on this road trip, and in our opinion it is the best road trip in the UK. If you’re looking for more to do in Scotland be sure to check out our A Day in Edinburgh, A. Day in Glasgow, and Hike Up Ben Nevis posts.

Where to Stay

Many people opt to camp when they go on the NC500, but for those that prefer to stay in hotels, we have found the best 7 hotels/B&B’s for your week on the NC500.

1 – Inverness – Ness House

In close proximity to Ness Walk and the city centre. Inverness Castle and the Cathedral are both within walking distance and there is a free car park. Ness House is the perfect place for starting your NC500 road trip.

2 – Castletown – Castletown Hotel

You aren’t spoiled for choice around this area, but fear not as the Castletown Hotel is lovely. The hotel also has a great restaurant for your evening meal and breakfast and is directly on the NC500 route.

3 – Durness – Fashven B&B

Again, there’s not a great deal of places to stay in Durness. You may be better off driving further on and staying in Tongue if you can’t get checked in anywhere in Durness. There are lots of options for places to stay near Tongue.

4 – Lochinver – Tarradh Cabins

Tarradh Cabins is the perfect place to stay in Lochinver. The cabins have a great view over the bay and the nearby mountains.

5 – Ullapool – Broomview B&B

Broomview B&B is a great place to stay in Ullapool. It is on the NC500 route and the hosts are very accommodating.

6 – Torridon – Torridon Estate

If money is no object then you must stay at the Torridon Hotel, for a more affordable stay the Torridon Estate is excellent.

7 – Lochcarron – Rockvilla Guest House

There are a few places to stay in Lochcarron, we like the Rockvilla Guest House.

Where to Eat

A worry of many people undertaking the NC500 is the lack of restaurants or places to pick up an evening meal. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Here are the best places to eat each evening.

1 – Inverness – Prime Steak & Seafood

Make sure you book this restaurant as the nice restaurants in Inverness fill up very quickly.

2 – Castletown – Castletown Hotel

The Castletown Hotel is not only a great hotel but a great restaurant too.

3 – Durness – Smoo Cave Hotel

You won’t be spoiled for choice around here, especially if you arrive fairly late on. Head to the Smoo Cave Hotel, you can’t go wrong with the menu in there.

4 – Lochinver – Lochinver Larder

By far the best pie you’ll ever have in your life. Make sure you try their dessert pies too.

5 – Ullapool – Seafood Shack

Don’t go to Ullapool if you’re not planning on going to the Seafood Shack. Everything on offer is caught on the day, so the food is as fresh as you can get!

6 – Torridon – Torridon Hotel

The Torridon Hotel is one of the most prestigious hotels on the NC500. It has two restaurants, 1887 and Bo & Muc. The more cost effective Bo & Muc is a great place to get a nice meal.

7 – Lochcarron – Rockvilla Guest House

The Rockvilla Hotel is a good place to get your feed. Alternatively, head to the Carron Restaurant for some venison!

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