Distance: 516 miles
Time scale: 5 – 7 days+ recommended
Suitable for: everybody (families, couples, solo travellers)
Accommodation: Campsites and wild camping available
We are often asked about the best destinations to take our motorhomes. Depending on how far you want to go we can recommend places all over the UK and Europe but one of our favourites, and arguably the best UK road trip, is the North Coast 500 in Scotland.
This road trip has it all: beautiful scenery, fun activities, lots to see, incredible wildlife and ample food and drink. What’s not to love? It’s also perfect for everybody: couples, families, solo travellers alike. We recently did this trip (in May 2018 and we had beautiful weather) so we wanted to compile an ultimate guide to the route from our own experiences so that you know where to go, what to see, and where park up your motorhome!
The North Coast 500 route
The beauty of the North Coast 500 is that it allows you to see the wonders of the Scottish coast and drive through beautiful small villages and towns that you might have otherwise missed. On the official website for the North Coast 500 the route is describe as follows:
‘The NC500 starts in the northern city of Inverness, weaves along the west coast to Applecross and then northwards towards the towns of Torridon and Ullapool. From there, you’ll venture to some of the most northerly coastal points in Scotland, passing by Caithness and John o’ Groats before heading south again through Dingwall and finally back to Inverness.’
When we ventured up to Scotland for this road trip, we decided to start south of Fort William, driving up the A82 past Loch Lomand and then through Glen Coe which was is absolutely beautiful, and a definite must see. When you drive through Glen Coe for the first time you can’t quite believe this type of scenery is on our doorstep!
Then we got the little ferry at Corran across Loch Linnhe (no booking required, just turn up) and drove to this campsite. It’s right on the loch and is really pretty – we would definitely recommend this stop. And if you have dogs there are lovely walks up the hills behind the campsite. After this we travelled up the coast and stayed in a beautiful campsite right on the beach.
The next leg of our journey was another ferry from Mallaig to the Isle of Skye, (you need to book this ferry as it’s very popular) stopping on Skye at the Am Praban Bar for lunch in the sunshine and had a table right next to the loch. Then, we drove up the coast to Sheildag (for another lovely lunch, there’s definitely a theme to our travelling) and wild camped right by the edge of the loch. It’s easy to miss little villages like Sheildag but it’s well worth exploring some of the coastal towns and villages not listed on the N500 route they almost always have hotels/pubs and shops and can be lovely places to stop.
Lots of people wild camp near to beaches and in little villages in Scotland but you must remember to be mindful when doing so; we always try to leave early if we are parked in a little village so that people don’t wake up to the view of our motorhome from their bedroom window instead of a beautiful Scottish loch!
We then drove up to Gairloch and stayed in probably the most beautiful campsite we’ve ever visited, it’s next to a long white sandy beach but has a bar, restaurant and shop and is big enough to be able to turn up without a booking. Then on to Ullapool and finally round to John O’Groats. After the breath-taking scenary of the west coast the East coast can seem a bit tame in comparison, but it’s worth venturing off to have a look at some of the smaller towns. It’s also compulsory to drive round Loch Ness and there is a lovely new campsite in Drumnadrochit which is walking distance of all the restaurants and shops.
The route you take depends on you and your preferences but it’s well worth exploring all the little towns and villages along the way. There are some highlights of the trip that are thoroughly recommended but the beauty of the trip itself is that you can meander the beautiful roads, find wild places to camp, and enjoy the nature and wildlife and probably the freshest seafood you’ve ever eaten.
What to see and do on The North Coast
Now you know roughly where the road trip takes you, you will need to know a little bit more about what makes it the ultimate UK road trip for motorhomes goers.
The beautiful landscapes are an obvious pull factor. The west coast of Scotland is home to some of the most incredible landscapes and views. The lochs are vast, the beaches are sandy, and the mountains are breath taking.
Whilst it’s hard to pinpoint the best scenery Wester Ross, which is full of secretive lochs and stunning views, is one of the main areas to explore on the route and was our favourite part. If you are feeling brave you can also drive the Bealach na Ba, meaning pass of the cattle, a single track road which goes over the mountains of the Applecross peninsula but it’s not for the faint hearted! You can find out a little more information about what Wester Ross has to offer here.
There are even caves on this road trip, right at the northern tip of Scotland there’s Smoo cave which is a mystical limestone sea cave with a 50ft entrance.
Amongst these beautiful scenes you will find all sorts of wildlife. If you’ve ever wanted to see dolphins, puffins, seals and highland cows go on this road trip.
If the wildlife is a big pull factor for you, you might want to plan some excursions. Visit the Ecoventures website for some inspiration, the Dolphin Watching Trip is particularly well-recommended!
The food and drink
Food is an essential part of any holiday. This area is rich with fantastic hotels and pubs that use the ample local ingredients to provide some delicious food and as most are on the coast they also provide a beautiful backdrop to your meal. We found our ordnance survey map and Trip Advisor the best way to find the places to eat on our trip but do bear in mind that it’s not always possible to get a phone signal.
No trip to Scotland would be complete without a distillery tour so if you’re into Whiskey you might want to get yourself over to the Glenmorangie Distillery and do their tour, it’s got great reviews and is a must-do for whiskey-lovers.
If whiskey’s not really your thing, then why not try a gin tour instead? We did this at the end of our road trip and it was a great experience. The Dunnet Bay Distillery has some pretty good gin and is an official partner of the North Coast 500 itself.
As far as restaurants go, they can be few and far between so eat local wherever you go. The beauty of the Highlands is that most places will locally source their ingredients so even the remotest places serve great food.
Whilst all the views, wildlife, and food makes for a great holiday, sometimes you might want to actually get out and do something. You’re in luck, because the area lends itself to watersports and other outdoor activities. Well, you are surrounded by mountains and the sea after all!
There’s a huge range of activities along the way such as:
Kayaking or canoeing
There’s also a lot of golf courses along the way, so if you’re into golf, you’re in luck! If you’re looking for a real golf trip, check out this itinerary.
A bit of history
Another big pull factor for this area is the history and there are castles dotted around, quite literally, along the route. Aside from the big names, there are some other great buildings to spot and visit.
Dunrobin Castle in Sutherland is also a must-see. It’s a beautiful French-style chateau that has been around for almost 800 years (and was used as a hospital in the First World War).
Of course, we are unlikely to recommend a holiday that’s not suitable for our furry friends. There are loads of restaurants, bars, and campsites along the way that are suitable for your dogs. But when walking be aware that there’s lots of sheep about, in some places along the route they are loose on the road, so keep your pets safe on a lead at all times!
Doing the route with your motorhome
If we haven’t sold this road trip to you yet, you might want to hear about how motorhome friendly it is and why it is one of our favourite motorhome trips. Despite all the above reasons, we love this route for the vast choice of places to park up your motorhome. If you’re into wild camping, this is a great place for it but if you’re not, there are loads of great places for you to stay the night. Remember that this route is very popular so it is wise to book some campsites in advance in areas that you particularly want to visit. We always book our the campsites on our first couple of nights so that you know you have somewhere to stay after the long drive up to Scotland.
As the route has got increasingly popular it is best to have a look at campsites along the route before you leave home and there are plenty of websites that will help you do this but we found this one particularly useful.
The beauty of travelling in a motorhome is having the ability to change and adapt your plans as you go along, just make sure you have a map which shows campsites so you can plan your trip en-route….as phone signal can be very elusive!