The North Coast 500 only launched im 2015 but it has already become a cultural phenomenon. Following a 516-mile route around the most northerly coast of mainland Scotland, it has proved a hit with tourists and Scots alike, who have been enchanted by the wild beauty of the landscape. If you get time to complete the route – or if you just fancy doing part of it – we have rounded up 15 things you may wish to do along the way.

1. Drive over the Bealach na Bà, Applecross Peninsula

Whether you follow the North Coast 500 in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction, you should brave the Bealach na Bà. Holding the title of the greatest ascent of any road in the British Isles, the hairpin bends and average 7% gradient are not the easiest to drive on (and are not suitable for camper vans) but are undoubtedly worth it for the views of Skye and beyond. Like all of the roads on the route, you should approach it with care and make use of any passing places to avoid any tricky moments. But if you aren’t the one driving, make sure and stop for a drink at the Applecross Inn to steady your nerves. It has one of the best beer gardens in the country, as well as an impressive seafood menu that would be at home in any highbrow restaurant.

2. Wander around the village of Shieldaig

Shieldag might just be the most photogenic village in Scotland. It almost looks like it was made for postcards, with small white cottages strung along the shoreline and the Torridon mountains rising majestically behind it. Take a stroll along the front of the village and take in the views across the loch to Shieldaig Island, a National Trust owned area that is covered in Scots pine trees. Once you’ve exhausted all the photo opportunities, grab something to eat in Nanny’s Café or the Coastal Kitchen (which offers the option to eat on its roof terrace).

3. Inverewe Gardens, Poolewe, Wester Ross

Inverewe Gardens is a natural phenomenon. Species that shouldn’t grow in this part of the world – like Himalayan blue poppies and Indian rhododendrons – are flourishing, thanks to the warm currents of the Gulf Stream and some clever planting design. As well as admiring the flowers on display, the position of the garden on the banks of Loch Ewe means that you might also be able to spot coastal birds, seals and otters while you are there. A truly peaceful way to lose a few hours.

4. Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve, Auchindrean, Ullapool

Corrieshalloch Gorge means ‘ugly hollow’ in Gaelic: but don’t let that put you off. In fact, the gorge is one of the most impressive the country, a mile-long canyon through which the River Droma weaves it way towards the coast. There is a short (but steep) hike down to the gorge itself, where you will find a beautiful suspension bridge which allows you to soak in the spectacular views. A word of warning- if you don’t like heights, give this one a miss.

5. Stac Pollaidh

As one of the only ridges in a relatively flat landscape, the views from Stac Pollaidh are something to behold. It isn’t too big -although by no means easy to climb- but if you have a reasonable level of fitness then it should be a ‘must’ on your North Coast itinerary. If you can, it is best to wait for a sunny before you climb it, but the small car park fills up quickly when the weather is good so try to get there early.

6. Stay in the Batbox, Lochinver

Inverkirkaig, Lochinver

£210 for 2 nights

01571 844 272

There are plenty of traditional B&Bs and country hotels to stay in along the route of the North Coast 500. But if you want to do something a bit different, try spending a night in the self-catering Batbox: a compact, glass-sided cabin that sits on the side of a hill overlooking a picturesque glen.

7. Sango Bay, Durness

Thanks to the large, otherworldly rocks that pepper its shoreline, Sango Bay wouldn’t look out of place in a scene from Game of Thrones. Even with the popularity of the North Coast 500 -and the fact that it has a campsite directly above it- it never gets too busy with tourists or picnickers. The views are striking, the beach is clean and its dog friendly, so there’s really no reason to miss it out.

8. Cocoa Mountain, Balnakeil, Durness

Open every day, 9am-6pm

Let’s be honest, the chances of you getting wall to wall sunshine on a trip round Scotland is probably pretty slim. If you do instead face a typically cold sea wind, there is no better way to warm up than with one of the famous hot chocolates from the Cocoa Mountain. It was founded by two chocolatiers who produce their own truffles on site, and the hot chocolate is one of the highest quality, most indulgent that you are likely to find.

9. Kyle of Tongue, Tongue

You can drive across the bridge that crosses the Kyle of Tongue sea loch and enjoy some excellent views of Ben Loyal and the Rabbit Islands. But if you want to really savour the unspoilt scenery, take some time at the stopping point halfway across, where you can park up and have a picnic. Particularly glorious at sunset.

10. Eat at Captain’s Galley, Scrabster

Open Thursday- Saturday, 6.30pm- 9pm

01847 894999

You can eat at the Captain’s Galley and feel good about yourself- it is one of the most sustainable and environmentally friendly restaurants in the country. Their extensive range of environmental policies includes composting all coffee grounds and vegetable waste, reducing water consumption and using renewable energy. And the food on offer is phenomenal.

11. Dunnet Head Lighthouse

If you have made the trip up to Sutherland then you might as well go the whole hog and visit Dunnet Head. Despite folklore outlining John O’Groats as the most northerly point on mainland Britain, it is in fact the Dunnet Head Lighthouse. It doesn’t feel quite as remote as you would expect, with the Orkney Islands in clear view across the sea, but it is still worth a visit- if for nothing else than the photos.

12. Glenmorangie Distillery, Tain

01862 892 477

Tours every day, various times

£8 for original tour

There are plenty of distilleries in the Highlands, but Glenmorangie’s claim to fame is that it boasts the tallest stills in Scotland. A tour of the distillery will give you the chance to see them up close, as well as the mashing, fermenting and maturation that is involved in making the whisky. There is of course a dram offered at the end, so if you are the designated driver then try taking along a flask to pour it in to for later.

13. Dunrobin Castle

Golspie, Sutherland

01408 633177

Open every day 11am-4.30pm

Adult £11.50, Child £7

While much of the North Coast 500 consists of rugged coastlines and unforgiving hills, the Germanic Dunrobin Castle looks straight out of a princess storybook. Its conical spires and pristine stonework will impress both kids and adults alike- with falconry displays featuring owls, hawks and falcons also included in the entry price.

14. Wildlife watching at Chanonry Point

Seeing wildlife is never guaranteed on the North Coast 500, but Chanonry Point might be your best bet. Bottlenose dolphins, which are among some of the largest in the world, can often be seen leaping in and out of the Moray Firth. If you want to increase your chances of spotting them then make sure to head out around one hour after low tide, as the tide turns and the dolphins begin to chase fish in towards shore. A full list of the tide times can be found online.

15. Castle Cruises, Loch Ness


01456 450695

Tours run daily, various times

Adults £14, children £9

Provided you are following the North Coast 500 in a clockwise direction, then what better way to finish in style than with a boat tour around Loch Ness. Castle Cruises, which boasts a rare five-star rating on TripAdvisor, will take you out on a reasonably small boat with a local guide who knows the loch inside out. Sadly, sightings of Nessie are not guaranteed.