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After obsessing over way too many #vanlife photos on Instagram, we finally completed our dream road trip around Scotland as we traveled the famed North Coast 500. As this road trip was part of our Top 50 Adventure Holidays in the world, we will also be rating the entire experience at the end of the article.

Despite the increasing popularity of this route, we were blown away by the incredible scenery as we were treated to stunning viewpoints, out-of-this-world landscapes, and a wide array of beaches.

Yes, you read right, beaches! The coast of Scotland is littered with gorgeous beaches.

Although there are a lot of itineraries floating around, we had a hard time finding information on how to do this trip on a campervan which is why we decided to write this in-depth article.

In this NC500 Route Planner, we will feature our tips on where to rent a van, which campsites we recommend staying at (alongside with a few wild camping suggestions), and well as a general travel route to help you make the most out of this epic road trip.

If you aren’t planning on doing this route via a campervan, you can still follow the itinerary listed and just check out some of the recommended hotels to stay in along the way.

The North Coast 500

First of all, if you just happened to stumble across this article and have no idea what the North Coast 500 is, you’re in for a treat.

Hailed as Scotland’s Route 66, this fantastic road trip has gained popularity over the years and is now being religiously traveled using cars, bikes, campervans, and even motorcycles.

Usually starting from Inverness, this incredible route takes you all the way up to the north (John O’ Groats) before heading down south, back to Inverness.

The loop takes you through incredibly scenic landscapes that honestly took us by surprise.

Facts about the North Coast 500

Total Distance: 516 Miles
Recommended Trip Length: 7-10 days (you can do it in five if you are in a hurry!)

Man driving North Coast 500 Scotland

Enjoying the scenic views along the North Coast 500

North Coast 500 Map

For those who want a bit of a visual, here is an overview of the route that we did. As we get deeper into this NC500 route planner, I will go into our recommendations on what to see, do, and where to stay along the way.

Day 1: Edinburgh – Inverness
Day 2: Inverness – Shieldaig
Day 3: Sheildaig – Mellon Udringle
Day 4: Mellon Udringle – Port a Baigh
Day 5: Port a Baigh – Durness
Day 6: Durness – John O’ Groats
Day 7: John O’Groats- Dornoch
Day 8: Dornoch- Inverness/ Edinburgh

Although this shows as an eight-day itinerary, we did stop and spend two nights in some places which we loved. I recommend that you go with the flow and drive the NC500 at your own pace.

We actually did a little bit more driving that’s not on the map as we went to a few epic viewpoints (which I will share with you in detail later on).

North Coast 500 Map

Renting a Campervan in Scotland

Now before I get into the itinerary, first things first — let’s talk about transportation. As mentioned, we opted to do the North Coast 500 with a campervan.

Quite frankly, it’s the best way to do it! We had so much freedom to go wherever we wanted to, allowing us to really explore every nook and cranny of Scotland’s rugged coast.

We rented our campervan from the guys at Bunk Campers and couldn’t have been happier with our decision. Established as one of the leading campervan rentals in the UK, we loved our little home on wheels and were pleased by the top-notch quality of the van.

We opted to take out the Aero campervan which comfortably sleeps two people. It has a bathroom, shower, kitchen, heater, bed, table, as well as camping outdoor equipment.

It honestly had everything we ever needed!

The Aero itself was super easy to drive, never limiting us from some of the challenging steep roads that the NC500 has.

Aside from the Aero, Bunk Campers has vans for groups of two, four, and even six! So if you are planning a trip as a family, definitely don’t rule out traveling by campervan. You can check out the wide range of campervans that Bunk Campers has using the button below.

Bunk Campers Scotland

Our beloved, Bunkaroo from Bunk Campers

Van Tour: If you want to see the inside of our van, check out our Scotland highlights reel on Instagram! We walk you through the ins-and-outs of van living as well as how we run basic things like water and heating.

View Campervans

North Coast 500 Itinerary

Day 1: Edinburgh- Inverness

Accommodation: Lochness Shores Camp Site

Hotel Alternative: The Lovat, Fort Agustus

Google Maps Directions

We picked up our van (Bunkaroo) from the depot center of Bunk Campers at Edinburg. After the staff explained the ins-and-outs of the van, we left Edinburg at around 3:30 pm which was a little bit later than we would have liked.

We stopped at a nearby Tesco, stocked up on groceries, and headed towards Lochness Shores, a camping and caravan site for the night.

We originally wanted to drive up to Inverness City but didn’t want to miss out on seeing the Loch Ness so we decided to head here first. For those leaving Edinburgh, just make sure that you cross the main bridge before 4.00pm as traffic starts to pile up then.

We spent the night at Lochness Shores which had great facilities, really friendly staff, and of course, stunning views of the Loch Ness.

For those that get there early or have a day or two to spend here, check out this Loch Ness cruise for the best views of the area.

Lochness scotland

The infamous Loch Ness (no Nessie sightings, unfortunately)

Day 2: Inverness to Shieldaig (Plus Bealach na Ba Viewpoint)

Accommodation: Shieldaig Camping

Hotel Alternative: Tigh An Eilean

Google Maps Directions 

Pitstops:

  • Falls of Foyer
  • Bealach na Ba

On our second day, we decided to head on over to Falls of Foyer to go on a short hike around the area. It was autumn when we went, and the weather was glorious. After our short morning hike, we set off, making our way to one of Scotland’s most beautiful (and steep) roads, through Bealach na Ba.

Bealach na Ba, which means “Pass of the Cattle,” is a windy single track road that snakes up towards a high mountain through some of the most scenic roads imaginable. We only went up to the viewpoint as we were short on time but could have driven down all the way to Apple Cross if we wanted to.

If you are in a large campervan, the hairpin turns might be a challenge but to be honest, we had no difficulty driving through it despite being in a 6.1m van. Yes, the roads are narrow but the views from the viewpoint at the top more than makes up for the hassle.

It is important to note that the Bealach na Ba isn’t a tourist attraction; it is a road that people drive through on a daily basis so expect to see lorries and other cars (coming from both directions). As a side note, the road is usually impassable during winter.

After the pass, we headed to Shieldaig Camping, a small but fantastic campsite overlooking the water. The owners are lovely, and gave us a few tips on where to go and stuff to do. Excellent facilities and it was one of the only campsites whose WiFi actually worked.

Bealach na ba pass

The winding road heading up Bealach na Ba

Day 3: Sheildaig – Mellon Udringle

Accommodation: Wild Camping Mellon Urdingle Beach

Google Maps Directions

Pitstops:

  • Bealach na Gaoithe
  • Gairloch Beach (Gaineamh Mhòr)
  • Big Sands Bay

We had a late start to the day as we wanted to walk the pier by Shieldaig as well as a few mountain viewpoints. Following the recommendation of the owners of Shieldaig Campsite, we set off for Bealach na Gaoithe which was by far the highlight of our trip.

While this viewpoint isn’t usually a stop in most North Coast 500 itineraries, I recommend you make the detour up here as the views are INCREDIBLE. We drove up to Torridon and made our way up the single-pass road up to the Bealach na Gaoithe viewpoint in Diabaig.

Although it was only a one-way crossing, we climbed to the very top and found a neat little spot where we parked up and had a cup of coffee. The scenery that day was out of this world. I momentarily forgot that we were driving through Scotland as the scenery looked like it could have been set in New Zealand.

Bealach na Gaoithe

Our favorite pit stop from the entire trip, Bealach na Gaoithe

We made a couple of other stops along the way by Big Sands Bay before heading to Mellon Udringle Beach for the night.

There are mixed reviews as to whether you can park for the night right by Mellon Udringle beach so we opted to stay in a private property that I linked to in the GPS coordinates. We paid a £10 fee to park for the night but had no access to any type of facilities so only self-contained vans are recommended to stay here.

This was one of the best campsites for us as we had a stunning view of the beach, right by our doorstep. Highly recommended stop!

Wild Camping in Scotland: As you might notice, we did a mix of staying in campsites and wild camping. This is just a personal preference as we liked having access to hot showers. We used the app Search 4 Sites UK app to help us find safe wild camping sites. If you do decide to wild camp, please make sure that you are in a self-contained van and that you research proper camping etiquette, respecting your surroundings and the wild life around it.

Mellon Udringle Beach

Mellon Udringle Beach

Day 4: Mellon Udringle – Port a Baigh

Accommodation: Port a Baigh Campsite

Hotel Alternative: Argyll Hotel

Google Maps Directions

On day 4, we woke up early and decided to complete the Mellon Udringle Beach Circuit which was around 4km. The walk is gorgeous and takes you up multiple hilltops, showing you the rugged coastline of the area.

When we were there, there were parts of the walk that were extremely wet which meant we were sinking in muddy marshland. We recommend you bring a pair of hiking sticks as they really do make a huge difference.

The views from the hike are incredible as it really takes you along the coastline. During summer months, wildlife sightings can be seen along the way, with some people chancing upon seals and dolphins as you gaze down the cliffs.

After our little hike, we made our way to Ullapool where we re-stocked on groceries before making our way to Achiltibuie. We decided to stop here for the night as we didn’t want to spend another full day driving.

There was a pub just outside the campsite which served excellent drinks and food.

Mellon Udringle coastal walk

Coastal walk around Mellon Udringle

Day 5: Port a Baigh – Durness

Accommodation: Wild Camping

Hotel Alternative: Hotels in Durness

Google Maps Direction

Pitstops:

  • Lochinver Larder
  • Achmelvich Beach
  • Cocoa Mountain
  • Balnakeil Church
  • Ceannabeinne Beach

From Port a Baigh, we made our way to Durness which turned out to be one of our favorite stops of the trip. Right after you leave Port a Baigh, there is a little town called Lochinver which is well-known for its pies.

We stopped by Lochinver Larder, and picked up a few savory pies (the chorizo and manchego was divine) and brought them to the parking lot of Achmelvich Beach to eat.

This particular stop was one of our favorites as it was so unexpected. It had been raining all day and as soon as we arrived in the parking lot, the sun appeared which gave us a glimpse of powder-white sand and crystal blue waters.

I honestly thought I was back in the Philippines for a moment (if it wasn’t for the cold wind!). After a few photos and a nice beach walk, we hopped back into our van and made our way to Durness.

Durness is a town up north popular for two things: the best hot chocolate (in Scotland) and Smoo Cave. The hot chocolate can be found in Cocoa Mountain, and is definitely worth the visit. We may or may not have driven back twice while we were there.

For that evening, we decided to wild camp right across Ceannabeinne Beach (location is in the map above). It was one of our favorite spots as we were able to set our camping chairs right by the cliff overlooking the ocean. Talk about coffee with a view!

Wild camping in Scotland

Ceannabeinne Beach

Day 6: Durness – John O’ Groats

Accommodation: Stroma View

Hotel Alternative: John O’Groats

Google Maps Directions

Pitstops: 

  • Kylesku Bridge
  • Thurso Town

From Durness, we headed up to John O’ Groats, driving through Thurso, Wick, and a couple of other small towns along the way.

During our drive up the West Coast, the scenery was unreal and just really out of this world. But the closer we got to the north, we started seeing the sights that the United Kingdom is known for.

If you have more time, you can also take the ferry and explore a few of the islands. We made it to John O’ Groats which is a small village famous for being the northeastern tip of Scotland.

It is the jump-off point to Orkney Island during the summertime. However, because we went during autumn, the conditions weren’t as favorable so we opted to give any ferry crossings a miss.

We initially intended to stay in John O’ Groats campsite but unfortunately, it had already closed down for the season so we ended up in a small 8 pitch campsite called Stroma View. The campsite was a little rough around the edges (odd rules and management) so I wouldn’t really recommend staying there.

There are a few beautiful coastal walks that you can take around John O’ Groats but the weather wasn’t on our side during our stay here. So, we gave this a miss and opted to drive around and sightsee along the way.

John O Groats

Day 7: John O’Groats- Dornoch

Accommodation: Dornoch Camping and Caravan

Hotel Alternative: Dornoch Castle Hotel

Google Maps Directions

Pitstops: 

  • Duncansby Head
  • Old Keiss Castle
  • Dunrobin Castle

As we were now heading back down, we started passing by a few of the whiskey distilleries along the way.  With Tom being a huge whiskey fan, we decided to stay overnight in Dornoch so we could hit up a couple of distilleries.

We made dinner reservations at the Dornoch Castle and Whiskey Bar which is walking distance from our campsite. The restaurant itself served great food and drinks but the highlight of the place was definitely the whiskey bar which has won awards.

We did a couple of whiskey flights and even ended up buying a limited edition bottle of a peaty whiskey that we really liked.

We then spent the next day hanging around the campsite, walking around town, walking to the beach, as well as having a BBQ right next to our van.

Drinking Laws in Scotland: Scotland has a strong policy against drinking and driving, and even one drink can push you past the limit. For those who want to do the distillery tastings, you can purchase takeaway containers so you can enjoy your whiskeys at the end of the night. If you are planning on drinking a lot, consider staying in your destination overnight which was what we did!

Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle

Day 8: Dornoch- Inverness/ Edinburgh

On the last day of your NC500 trip, most people usually head back to Inverness or Edinburgh to return the campervans. We decided to continue our road trip, driving the Northeast 250 route which takes you around the castle and malt whiskey distilleries which I will write more about in a different itinerary.

Cost of the North Coast 500

Since we were traveling the North Coast 500 in a campervan, we actually saved loads of money! It allowed us to sleep anywhere we wanted to and cook most meals.

Listed below are a few rough costs:

Van: £60+ a day
Campsites: £15-25 (depending if you hook up to electricity)
Meals: £20 a day (3 meals a day + snacks!) / £20 per head when eating out
Petrol: around £220 (we topped up 3 times)

In total, we thought the entire trip was pretty budget-friendly as our transport and accommodation pretty much rolled out into one expense.

Northcoast 500 itinerary

Tips for Driving the North Coast 500

1. If you are not used to driving on the left side of the road, ALWAYS keep this in mind! We saw a few cars do this then realize that they were on the wrong side of the road after a couple of beeps.

2. Your mobile internet won’t always work! One of the things that surprised us the most was the internet coverage in Scotland. Although we like unplugging once in a while, not having internet (even on our UK phones) was a pain when you are trying to plan out your route.

We recommend downloading directions ahead of time (Google Maps or Maps.me) and writing down important names of places you want to see along the way. The Search 4 Sites UK also has a great offline feature that works like a charm when you lose Google Maps.

3. There are a LOT of one track roads…but don’t worry, there are also heaps of passing places along the way where you can pull up. The roads weren’t too bad.

4. Wild camping is legal in most places but it doesn’t hurt to double-check as most places will have signs if they do not want vans to stay overnight. Always dispose of your trash and waste properly!

5. Walk Highlights has loads of great hikes and walks in most of the places so if this is something you would like to do while driving the NC500, we recommend checking it out. We did a couple that were recommended there and found loads of details and information quite easily.

6. Get additional windshield/gravel insurance as this will save you a ton in expenses later! Trust us, £80 for piece of mind is worth it!

7. Load up on playlists. When you are driving, there will be some pretty vast areas of land and having good music will 100% add to the experience! We pre-downloaded a couple in Spotify which we could play offline when we had no signal.

8. Van life is fun… but it can get cramped inside. We absolutely loved van life and will most likely do it again soon (hello, New Zealand). However, you definitely have to get used to having small amounts of space. Our van was pretty spacious already so can’t really imagine going smaller.

NC500 views

In terms of rating this for our Top 50 Adventure Holidays, we give it an 8.4/10 as even though it wasn’t that difficult in terms of physical effort, the entire experience was heaps of fun. There were a few steep roads that we caution people about when driving but everything else was pretty much straightforward.

As for the WOW factor, you can take a look at our photos and be the judge of that!

Overall, this trip was one for the books and in the end, we absolutely had a blast. The scenery, especially along the western side, was breathtaking so if you have more time in your hands, take it slow!

Top 50 Adventure Holiday Score
Highlight
The scenery during this trip just blew us away. We also lucked out on the weather and season as it wasn't too busy unlike during the summer months. Traveling around by campervan was a completely new experience, and is now one of our favorite ways to travel.
Difficulty5.5
Scenery9.3
Wow Factor9.7
8.4
Out of 10
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