North Coast 500 – The Ultimate Trip Guide to Scotland’s Epic Drive

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Gairloch makes for a great base when exploring the western portion of the NC 500. You can go up and down the coast in both directions.

There is a lot to see and do here and you can cover a lot of ground.

gairloch map scoldand nc500

Map around Gairloch

Gairloch is an extremely important town in Scotland. It was founded by the McKenzies as a safe destination for Scottish Highlanders to wear their kilts and continue their Scottish traditions when the British weren’t allowing them to do so.

Gairloch sign Scotland

Dave goes back to his roots in Gairloch

Dave has ties to Gairloch. We found out about it when we had our Ancestry DNA done just before leaving. See our story here. 

When it comes to the North Coast 500, the scenery is the star attraction so take your time to stop, go for hikes, enjoy the trails, book a trail ride (the Highlanders were great horsemen), go kayaking, sailing and search for wildlife.

The sky is the limit here. We spent two days weaving back and forth looking for lochs, ocean viewpoints and gardens to explore.

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Suggested Stops

Inverewe Gardens

Inverewe Gardens is an interesting stop filled with exotic plants that simply shouldn’t be able to grow in this corner of northern Scotland. In 1860 Osgood McKenzie created this carefully sculpted garden out of a few scrub willows and bare rocks.

Inverewe Garden Scotland

Inverewe Garden

The 50-acre garden stands on the shore of Loch Ewe and exotic plants from around the world thrive here because of the warm currents of the Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic

Drift. In 2016 the house was opened to the public after undergoing a £2million restoration by the National Trust for Scotland.

Isle of Ewe Smokehouse

Fishing is a huge part of the economy in Northern Scotland and while you may have visited the Wick Heritage Centre to learn about the history or gone to fishing villages or even a boat excursion, it’s interesting to stop and see what happens to the fish after the catch.

isle of ewe smokehouse scotland

Esle of Ewe Smokehouse for fish and snacks

This family-run shop smokes all their fish in traditional stone kilns using whisky barrel staves & local Larch to give their fish its own unique flavor.

They have a gift shop where you can pick up supplies for your road trip or grab a gift box for someone special at home.

You can even order online! 

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Loch Maree

There are so many lochs in Northern Scotland it is difficult to choose where to stop, but Loch Maree is definitely a beautiful place to visit at sunrise.

loch maree scotland sunrise

Sunrise at Loch Maree

Campervans park overnight on the shores of this loch but you can drive in for a view as well. It’s not highly traveled and can be difficult to find.

At first, we parked at a logging road and started to walk the distance to the loch, but luckily we decided to move on. Just a couple of kilometers down the road we found the cut off to the beach and were treated to a spectacular view.

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Watch our video showcasing the best of Northern Scotland

Walk the trails of Beinn Eighe 

Beinn Eighe is Britain’s oldest nature reserve and a premier hiking destination. There is 48 Square km to explore with trails as short as 1 1/2 km.

Hiking is popular in Scotland and you can’t visit the country without doing a proper trek. The main access is from Loch Maree near the village of Kinlochewe and trails leave from either the visitor centre here or the Coille na Glas-Leitir car park also on the shores of Loch Maree.

For full trail maps and information visit Scotland’s National Nature Reserve website.

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Klinlochewe Viewpoint

Picking up a coffee at the newly opened Klinlochewe Coffee Shop at the gas station we chatted with the owners who gave us some pointers on the best viewpoint in the area. I can’t believe we almost missed this!

Klinlochewe Viewpoint Scotland

Stunning Klinlochewe Viewpoint

Many people miss this view because they take the coastal scenic route to Applecross. But be sure to at least drive up to the viewpoint.

Top Gear named it one of the great drives of the UK.

We were lucky because we had a couple of days in the area so we drove the coast the day before and could take the shortcut through the mountains today. Both are highly recommended.

Diabag Viewpoint

Another incredible view that we stumbled upon was Diabag Viewpoint. Driving from Torridon we heard that this was a great place for panoramic views and whoever gave us that advice was right!

Diabag Viewpoint Scotland

Diabag Viewpoint

The road is an incredible thrill of one lane switching back and forth up a steep mountain. There are several stops to see views to the east, to the west and over the water.

It’s worth the drive and to do the entire route to Lower Diabag took us about an hour each way. (we do like to stop for a lot photographs though)

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