11 top tips for the NC500 by Away from the Ordinary

13th August 2021

By Sarah Johnson

The North Coast 500 is a driving route around the most remote and northerly part of Scotland boasting truly breathtaking views of our beautiful country. Each section of the route has different scenery and activities to offer; mountainous vistas in the west, wilderness and moor in the north, with sea cliffs and castles in the east – you will not run out of things to see and do. Here is a list of Away from the Ordinary’s favourite spots on the NC500 to help you decide where you would like to go when you visit.

Our top picks of places to visit:

Image by Sarah Johnson

1. Wester Ross

The Wester Ross area is home to beautiful mountains, glens, and beaches. Pictured above is the view from Gairloch, looking toward the Torridon mountains. The mountains in Wester Ross make for challenging climbs and are spectacular to view from both the road and the peaks. There are beaches there too; Mellon Udrigle beach on a sunny day could be mistaken for the Caribbean. 

Image by The Torridon

2. The Torridon 

Located in Torridon, Wester Ross, The Torridon is a world class destination to stay, eat and drink. Their rooms are exquisitely decorated and their whisky and gin bar is the perfect place to sample all of the spirits of Scotland. The 1887 restaurant, with Chef Paul Green, serves up local game and produce from the kitchen garden; keeping it seasonal and local for flavours as rich and fresh as they can be.   

Image by Sarah Johnson

3. Coigach and Assynt

Slightly further north than Wester Ross, Coigach and Assynt has a more rugged and remote feel, with stand alone peaks separated by lochans and moorland. The feeling of being both on the edge of the world and yet completely at home is a feeling that can definitely be found in Coigach and Assynt. The coastline is, again, scattered with beautiful white sand beaches and cliffs, with views out to the Summer Isles, which can be explored by boat from Achiltibuie.

Image by Sarah Johnson

4. Achmelvich

Achmelvich Beach is another wonderful beach on the west coast. While yes, there are hundreds and it would be impossible to write about them all, Achmelvich really deserves its own mention. With views of Suilven to the east and the Minch to the West, the water at this beach near Lochinver is clear as day and so blue, it’s green. There are lots of little headlands you can walk around to other little coves as well, which are perfect for swimming, kayaking, and much more.

Image by Kylesku Hotel

5. Kylesku Hotel

The Kylesku Hotel is right on the water’s edge and the seafood they serve in their restaurant is from the waters you see as you eat it. With breathtaking views down the loch you can both enjoy delicious Scottish cuisine and rest up in comfort to recharge your batteries for the next stage of your NC500 trip.

Image by Sarah Johnson

6. Sandwood Bay  

Worth the hour and a half walk each way – Sandwood bay is a mile long white sand beach with views of stunning sea cliffs and Am Buchaille sea stack. The crashing of the waves on the shore provide the perfect soundtrack to a mid-day nap on the beach for tired walkers, or a playground to jump or surf in for lovers of wild swimming and water sports.

Image by Sarah Johnson

7. Balnakeil Church and Bay

While visiting Smoo cave, you learn that an infamous contract killer and highwayman, Domhnull MacMhurchaidh, who killed at least 18 victims and tossed them in the waterfall of Smoo Cave, was so hated by the people of Durness that he had to pay for the construction of this church to be allowed to be buried there. The church is in ruin now but incredibly beautiful and situated right next to Balnakeil bay which is, you guessed it, another stunning white sand beach.

Image by Aeneas O’Hara

8. Whaligoe Steps 

Moving over to the east coast, the towering cliffs will leave you in awe. The Whaligoe Steps are a set of zigzag steps down a cliffside that lead to an old harbour where fishing boats once moored. It is a snapshot into days long gone and an amazing sight, especially when picturing fisherwomen of days of old carrying baskets of herring up and down them on windy, wet days.

Image by Brora Distillery

9. Brora Distillery

The Brora Distillery produced some of the finest whisky in Scotland from 1819 to 1983 when it was closed. Since it’s closing its surviving bottles of malt had become some of the most exclusive and sought-after whisky for collectors. In 2017, work began on restoring the distillery back to its original state brick by brick and in May 2021 it opened again for the first time in 38 years. A tour of this remarkable distillery is an exclusive experience not to be missed.

Image by Aeneas O’Hara

10. Dornoch and its Royal Links

The Royal Dornoch is widely considered one of the best golf courses in the world. It is its unique and challenging holes, paired with history and awe-inspiring views that make it so special. It is on every golf lover’s bucket list and always a favourite with our clients. But, it is not all Dornoch has to offer. There’s not only Dornoch Beach, but also Dunrobin Castle very nearby. Dunrobin is one of the most unique Scottish castles in its architectural style, and its vast gardens are a joy to stroll around. 

Image by Sarah Johnson

11. Channory Point

The North Coast of Scotland is teaming with wildlife, and the waters surrounding are no different. There are many opportunities for seeing dolphins from boat trips around the country, but Channory point gets a special mention as you can see dolphins feeding on wild salmon right next to the shore. It is quite the spectacle and at only a few metres away from the shore, it is a show not to be missed.

Bonus tips for the NC500:

1. Don’t Rush

While it’s true, the route can be rushed through in a matter of days – where is the fun in that. Take the time to get out of the car, go for a walk, enjoy a relaxing stay and delicious meal at a luxury hotel in the middle of the wilderness.

2. Don’t feel you have to do the whole route

Different people like different things and depending on what you want out of the trip, the whole route may not be the best choice – feel free to slow it down and really enjoy the full extent of the places you are visiting. If you are a golfer for example – perhaps doing a section of the east coast and stopping for a round of golf at all the world famous courses such as the Royal Dornoch or the Brora Course would suit you. If you are an avid hiker, kayaker, or you just love views of wild craggy mountains and islands – the west will be more to your taste.

Accommodation on the NC500 is always in high demand – get in touch to book a trip with Away from the Ordinary to ensure the best trip for you.