Planning a trip to Scotland? We are sharing our Scottish highlands road trip itinerary with you! Scotland was such a mystery to us. When our New Zealand trip fell through we really wanted to go on a road trip. We booked flight up to Inverness and decided to go on a Scotland road trip! We researched Scotland’s North Coast 500 and decided this was our trip!
Scotland’s North Coast 500
The North Coast 500 or the NC 500 is Scotland’s route 66. The route leads around the coast of the Scottish highlands. The route takes you from Inverness to Fort Augusts and north towards Applecross, from there it continues east along the coast until John O’Groats and then back down to Inverness. We decided to take the north coast 500 route backward and make our way to John O’Groats from Inverness. Our goal was also to make it over to the Isle of Skye if we had time. If you are nervous about a road trip through Scotland then read our tips for driving in Scotland.
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Our Scotland Itinerary
Day 1: Chanonry Point
Our first day we arrived in Scotland and picked up our truck from WildTrax and headed to Chanonry Point. This point is where you will find a pod of dolphins that come in every time the tide rises. Unfortunately for us we were tired and cold so we didn’t have the patience to sit around for too long. This whole area is well manicured and beautiful, you can’t pull over and sleep in your van but there is a camp site nearby where you can relax and wait to see some dolphins here! Since wild camping was more our thing for this trip, we left Chanonry Point and found a hidden away wooded area where we parked up early and made camp.
Day 2: John O’Groats
Our second day consisted of us drinking whisky in the morning and exploring a castle in the afternoon before driving all the way up to John O’Groats for some evening fish and chips! Our random distillery stop was at Glenmorangie distillery, one of Scotland’s largest distilleries! After Glenmorangie we made a stop off at a castle! We paid 12 pounds each to visit Dunrobin Castle which was well worth the price. This castle is definitely a stop we would recommend on your Scottish Highlands road trip because it was massive and so beautiful!
The coastal drive from Dunrobin Castle to John O’Groats was stunning, it easily took us about 2 and a half hours as we kept stopping for pictures! We arrived at John O’Groats around 4pm and went straight to Seaview Hotel for some fish and chips because the weather was so cold and windy! There was a little camp site located close to the point so we opted to stay there for warm showers and some sort of shelter from the crazy winds that night.
Things to Do:
Visit Glenmorangie Distillery
Visit Dunrobin Castle
Eat fish and chips at John O’Groats
Visit Duncansby Head
Day 3: John O’Groats to Tongue
Our morning in John O’Groats started a lot better than our first night ended! It was sunny but still pretty chilly and windy. We started with some breakfast and then a walk to Duncansby Head, the most north easterly part of the British mainland! As you look out to sea the most iconic part of this location is the stacks out in the water!
The north coast of Scotland was just filled with beautiful bay and amazing cliff views that we ended up driving so slowly through this part! Take your time and explore as many of the bays as you can, our favourite was visiting Dunnet Beach which is apparently home to lots of dolphins (we didnt see any!) and seals! Keep your eyes peeled as the seals like to sunbathe on the rocks!
We ended up making camp around a small area named Tongue we found a quiet spot off the main road and made camp there, we spent the evening seal spotting and listening to the water lapping against the rocks!
Our top tip would be to make sure you fill up with gas at Thurso as some gas stations further along may not be open depending on the time of year!
Things to do:
Visit Dunnet Beach
Make camp around Tongue
Day 4: Tongue to Ullapool
The scenery got more and more wild as we left Tongue the next morning. We had gone from beautiful lush green sheep farms over on the east and north, but now it truly felt like we had reached the Scottish Highlands. As we made our way along Scotland’s infamous single lane roads we noticed a tea shop and decided to grab a coffee! The shop was run by this sweet old man! We decided to also grab a snack and they had the best gluten free brownie ever!
After a few snacks and scenic stop offs along the way, we stopped at the very touristy and busy area called Smoo Cave. We didn’t do much research before we came so we just figured we’d check it out!
Ullapool was our next big town we would reach so we made our way to the nearest gas station and grabbed some much needed snacks and some gas! That evening we ended up sleeping in a layby along the side of the main road, but a bit further on there are some lovely parks that are off the road and a lot more scenic!
Things to do:
Have tea at Eriboll
Visit Smoo Cave
Camp outisde Ullapool
Day 5: Ullapool to Isle of Skye
As we left Ullapool, we came upon Corrieshalloch Gorge, we knew nothing about this spot and it was a crazy cool hidden gem! Definitely a must see if you are driving the North coast 500! Corrieshalloch gorge is basically a gorge about 1.5km long and 60m deep! There is also a swing bridge that you walk across to a viewpoint further down! This impressive gorge is also home to the stunning Falls of Measach. You can find this spot about 20km south of Ullapool and we highly recommended this stop off!
The next highlight of our day was the best fish and chips we’ve ever had at a little food truck in Applecross! After lunch we decided to drive over to the Isle of Skye and explore a bit so we found a great camping spot just outside of Portree and we decided to spend the next day exploring a bit of Skye!
Things to do
Visit Corrieshalloch Gorge
Camp on Isle of Skye
Day 6: Isle of Skye
Our day on Skye started with bright beautiful sunny weather, so we drove to the Old Man of Storr for a hike! This hike takes about 2 hours and it’s mostly uphill to get the view point. It was definitely worth it. Our top tip would be to get there super early, we arrived around 8.30am. The traffic and buses tend to pile up after that time!
After an early morning hike, stop in Portree and take a walk around the town. We unfortunately got a bit of rain when we pulled into town so we hopped back in the truck and left.
As we were leaving Skye we opted for a bit of a detour to go and visit Dunvegan Castle, just know that this castle is all the way at the northern tip of Skye and its not just a short drive! We ended up driving quite a way but decided to commit and find the castle. It was a 12 pound entrance fee which we decided not to bother with. Follow the road past Dunvegan Castle and you will find a great view of this medieval castle and you may even spot a seal or two in the bay!
Things to do
Hike Old man of Storr
Visit Dunvegan Castle
Day 7: Skye to Glenfinnan
If you didn’t know, Scotland is home to Harry Potter and Glenfinnan is home to the famous Hogwarts Express! Glenfinnan is a small town just north of Fort William, and this is where you will find the famous bridge from Harry Potter, also known as the Glenfinnan Viaduct! Definitely worth a visit if you have time, the train passes around 10am and 3pm. A lot of roads are blocked off, so just park in the small car park area just before the visitor center and walk down to the visitor’s center.
Things to do
Drive to Glenfinnan.
See the Viaduct
Day 8: Lochness
I never thought I would say this, but I really enjoyed the little tourist town of Fort Augustus! It sits right on Lochness, so of course you can go and look for Nessie. They have lots of boat tours and all kinds of fun things happening. We were mesmerized by the lochs and we sat and watched a boat make their way through a few of them! Of course in good old Scottish fashion, it poured on us so we hit the pub and had a couple drinks and lunch before heading back to Inverness to drop off our vehicle!
Things to do
Explore Fort Augustus and Lochness
Drive around Scotland safely!
Our top tip for planning your Scottish highlands road trip would definitely be to do it how we did it, backwards! The scenery got better and better with every turn and we were able to cover Skye because we had extra time! This also gives you more practice on the Scottish roads before being thrown into narrow single lane roads through mountains passes like Applecross! Make sure you check out our guide to driving in Scotland as well so you can prepare yourself!