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CoolStays' guide to the North Coast 500

Published: 11th August 2020

The North Coast 500 is the road trip of a life-time. And what's more it's pretty much right on our doorstep. It's a 516-mile expedition taking in the wild and glorious scenery of the Highlands of Northern Scotland - rugged mountains, moorland, blue seas and white sand beaches. You can keep Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway, for our money the North Coast 500 is even more breath-taking.

The North Coast 500 starts and ends in the city of Inverness and follows the road around the rim of the north eastern Highlands, taking in the coasts of Wester Ross, Sutherland, Caithness, Easter Ross, the Black Isle and Inverness-Shire over its 516 mile course.

The route can be driven in about a week, but it isnt a race. The North Coast 500 is a journey that deserves to be taken slowly, with time to pause and drink in the incredible views, taste the mountain air and watch the sunsets over the Western Isles.

You can make your own itinerary explore castles and ancient ruins; spot seals, eagles and dolphins; sample some of Scotlands finest seafood and whisky; climb a munro; kayak across a loch. You can drive, take a camper van, cycle or even walk it.

However you choose to do it, the iconic North Coast 500 is one of the worlds most spectacular road trips and an incredible adventure.

Where should you go?

Theres so much to see and do along this 516-mile route - here is just a small selection of highlights:

Dolphin spotting, the Black Isle
Colonies of Bottlenose dolphins live in the brisk and chilly waters of the Moray Firth off the coast of Eilean Dubh, the Black Isle, which isnt actually an island but a peninsula on the east coast. Slightly off the North Coast route, it's worth taking a detour to this world famous dolphin spotting location. North Kessock and Chanonry Point are two prime places to get a look at these amazing creatures, especially during spring and summer. Chanonry Point is probably the most well known place on the Black Isle to see dolphins and has its own dedicated dolphin shuttle bus service running from Inverness. The best place to see them is from the strip of shingle beach beside the lighthouse and the best time is when the tide's coming in and they start surfing the incoming waves on the hunt for food. Less crowded than Chanonry Point is the village of North Kessock, where you can settle on one of the waterfront benches and spot dolphins and maybe other local wildlife like orca, pilots whales, otters and seals.



Keiss Castle, Caithness
Built in the 16th century, Old Keiss Castle has been a dramatic ruin since the 18th century, when the Earls of Caithness abandoned it for a newly built mansion house a safer distance from the clifftops. Perched on the very edge of a sheer cliff face, overlooking Sinclairs Bay, Keiss looks permanently on the verge of slipping into the sea. Needless to say it's much too risky to go inside and is best enjoyed from a panoramic distance. Also keep a look out for seals bobbing in the waters below this beautiful site.



Smoo Cave, Sutherland
One of the largest sea caves in Europe, Smoo, near Durness, on the northern coast, is a huge 50ft high space carved out of the limestone rock by both the sea and freshwater. Inside youll find a magical waterfall, created when the Smoo burn overflows and pours from above down into the caves. The best time to see the waterfall is after periods of heavy rain when the burn above is in full spate.



Sandwood Bay, Sutherland
On the north western tip of Scotland, the remote Sandwood Bay beach bears the full brunt of the wild Atlantic. You'll be glad you made the four mile moorland hike from the car park to find it, because Sandwood is reputedly one of the most beautiful beaches in Britain. It has a mile and a half of almost pink sand, flanked by dunes and the spectacular Am Buachaille sea-stack rising out of the sparkling turquoise waters. Its hidden location and lack of road access means it's never crowded and sometimes if you're lucky you can have this stunning place all to yourself.

Where to stay

Here's our pick of some truly gorgeous places to stay on or near the North Coast 500 route - from chic Scandi inspired hideaways, to snug wooden cabins, beach houses to spectacular loch-side hotels. However you decide to travel the North Coast 500, make sure you treat yourself to at least a couple of nights in one of these breathtaking properties.

White Stag Lodge

White Stag Lodge

Inverness-shire - Scotland

Handcrafted lodge in the Scottish Highlands with a charming, rustic interior, and super-comfy furnishings.

Sleeps 8

From 600/night

Birdwatchers' Cabin

Birdwatchers' Cabin

Golspie - Sutherland

Watch Scottish wildlife from the comfort of this cosy and stylish cabin.

Sleeps 4

From 160/night

Noss Head Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage

Noss Head Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage

Wick - Caithness

Enjoy dramatic sea views and native wildlife at this Lighthouse keepers cottage in northern Scotland

Sleeps 6

From 57/night

Together Travel - John O'Groats

Together Travel - John O'Groats

John O'Groats - Scotland

Luxury eco Lodges and beautiful apartments set in a secluded coastal hamlet enjoying the alluring wilderness of Scotlands most northern retreat

Sleeps 2-8

From 108/night

Croft 103

Croft 103

Durness - Sutherland

Two contemporary eco-hideouts in a wild Scottish landscape, hidden away from the outside world for the ultimate romance

Sleeps 2

From 269/night

The Cabin

The Cabin

Durness - Sutherland

Quaint rustic cabin on the Northwest coast of Scotland, surrounded by rugged hills and gorgeous beaches.

Sleeps 4

From 129/night

The Brochs of Coigach

The Brochs of Coigach

Achiltibuie - Scottish Highlands

The wondrous views of the coast, mountains and wildlife are just part of what makes this pair of recreated roundhouses so special. Inside you have a sauna and rooms filled with art

Sleeps 2-6

From 141/night

Kylesku Hotel

Kylesku Hotel

Lairg - Sutherland

Boutique hotel in the Scottish Highlands with a delightful coastal location, beautiful views, and a fabulous restaurant.

Sleeps 1-4 per room

From 130/night

The Stonehouses

The Stonehouses

Ullapool - Highland

Explore Highland life from these luxurious houses that offer you panoramic views across Loch Broom and a private sauna.

Sleeps 3-4

From 183/night

3A Mellon Udrigle

3A Mellon Udrigle

Scottish Highlands - Ross Shire

Three bedroom, two bathroom beach house with a large patio, overlooking one of Britains most celebrated beaches in Ross Shire

Sleeps 6

From 95/night

Bliss Haus

Bliss Haus

West Coast - Scottish Highlands

Bliss Haus is a stylish coastal hideaway by the Atlantic ocean, perfect for the ultimate escape from the everyday.

Sleeps 2 - 4

From 129/night

Tigh Beag

Tigh Beag

Shieldaig - Ross-Shire

The perfect combination of subtle style and stunning scenery, Tigh Beag is in just the right place for that Scottish holiday you always wanted - right by Loch Shieldaig

Sleeps 4

From 121/night

The Net Store

The Net Store

Ardheslaig - Ross-Shire

Discover this gorgeous Highland retreat situated on the shores of Loch Beag - with stunning views and gorgeously relaxed interiors.

Sleeps 4

From 136/night

Eagle Brae

Eagle Brae

Beauly - Highland

Luxurious, hand-crafted log cabins nestled in the spectacular scenery of the Scottish Highlands for an eco-friendly escape.

Sleeps 2-6 per cabin

From 195/night

Author:
Claire Wills
Claire is the International Editor for CoolStays. It's her mission to scout the globe for new amazing places to show you. You can follow her on Twitter, @clairelewills

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CoolStays showcases unique and unusual places to stay across the UK, Europe and worldwide. Accommodation includes glamping options such as gypsy caravans, shepherds huts, tipis, yurts, tents and cabins; luxury tree houses and cave houses; cool conversions such as planes, trains, boats, buses, churches, windmills, lighthouses and deluxe beach huts; as well as the coolest quintessential cottages, villas, B&Bs and boutique hotels.

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