Scotland North Coast 500 Road Trip Itinerary in a Motorhome 7 Days

May 2, 2024 in Routes, Destinations, Tips for Travellers, Scotland & United Kingdom

If you have a dream of embarking on a road trip in the Highlands of Scotland, you’ve likely heard tales of the North Coast 500. This magnificent route wraps around the northern coast of Scotland and has become many’s favourite when it comes to Scottish campervan road trips. 

If you can’t look at any more dreamy clips of Scotland and just have to go and see for yourself, you’ve come to the right place. We at Goboony have driven every little stretch of this route — how could we not! — and gathered all our best tips and insights to bring to you: the ultimate 7-day North Coast 500 road trip itinerary!

The best time to do the NC 500 — Don’t skip this part! 

Yep, read up on this vital bit of information, because when it comes to figuring out the best time to set off on this 7-day NC 500 itinerary, you’re going to want to be in on a couple of things.

Firstly, don’t take the fact that this is Scotland’s most popular road trip lightly. The secret is out, and it has been for a while. Keep in mind that most travellers who go on this trip do so in May and June, as it’s then you’ll beat the Highland’s notorious biting beasties while still enjoying long days and warmer weather. 
North coast 500 itinerary 7 days road trip motorhomeSecondly, the NC 500’s single-track roads are narrow. And when we say narrow, we mean ‘teeth clenching dear God I hope we don’t scrape the guard rail’ narrow. The Scots have a great passing place system for these roads, but you can imagine the cruisy road trip feeling is going to be long gone when constantly manoeuvring past millions of motorhomes cramming up the country lanes.

Keeping these points in mind, we’d argue that the best time to do the NC 500 is late March to April, when the crowds are thin and the chance of being bitten slim.

If you’d really like to experience some sweet Scottish solitude in the Highlands, you could also opt for a winter road trip, when the roads are nice and empty and the overnight park ups deserted. In this case, make sure your motorhome has heating and is road-safe for icy conditions. Scotland’s winters are beautiful, but unforgiving. 
North coast 500 itinerary 7 days road trip motorhome

How long does the North Coast 500 take? 

If it were up to us, indefinitely. If you have two weeks, lucky you! Head to our 14-day NC 500 itinerary. However, most campervan road trips in the UK last about a week. So we’ve fitted the best bits of the North Coast 500 itinerary into 7 days. 

There are two ways to go about driving this epic route in a week. The first is to only do half. The second is to do it all, but drive slightly longer distances. This itinerary is based on the latter option and covers the full length of the NC 500. This means it’s impossible to not skip some incredible highlights, but rest assured we’ve scoped out the best and most beautiful! The distances on this road trip aren’t too long anyway, and frankly, the driving is part of the fun! Watch your road trip squad squeal with excitement when yet another windy road stretches out through stunning Scottish scenery ahead of you. 
North coast 500 itinerary 7 days road trip motorhome

Your North Coast 500 route  

This road trip starts and ends in Inverness. Alternatively, can choose to start in Edinburgh or Glasgow, if that’s where you’ve arranged a motorhome hire. In this case, make sure to factor in another 3 hours of driving time on your first and final day, or simply combine this road trip with a weekend of exploring either city. 

If you ask us, the western stretches of the NC 500 are simply the most beautiful, which is why you’ll spend more days on these stretches of the route.  Of course, you can decide to slow down a little on your first days and drive slightly longer distances on your final days. Road trips are about the freedom to do whatever, whenever you please! We’re just here to provide some guidance. 

Day 1 — Inverness to John o’ Groats 

Driving time ± 3 hours

Set off from Inverness and start heading towards John o’Groats, an area that is also known as the Northernmost point of the British mainland. Don’t hit the gas too hard, but rather take plenty of time to stop and divide the drive over the day — this goes for all sections of this road trip! 
North coast 500 itinerary 7 days road trip motorhome

Some of the best spots on this first stretch: 

-The sandy beach of Dornoch, which sits on a sheltered spot of the North Sea coast. Take a lovely stroll over the beautifully golden sands that stretch from Dornoch Point over into Embo Beach and all the way to the mouth of the Loch Fleet Nature Reserve. If you’re lucky you may even spot some dolphins, they’re frequent visitors here. 

-The Whaligoe Steps, a 337-step staircase that leads right down a dazzling cliff into a secluded historic fishing harbour. Flocks of nesting seabirds will accompany you while you make your way down the gorge, in which these steps were used to haul big baskets of fish off the boats and into the village above. 

-Old Keiss Castle. It wouldn’t be a proper Scotland road trip if we didn’t advise you to take in the imposing likes of at least a couple of ancient castles. This one is quite an impressive one in particular, as the ruin is proudly perched on the far edge of the cliff with nothing but a sheer drop to the waves beneath.  

-Duncansby Head Lighthouse. You’ll find dramatic sea stacks, rock formations and more otherworldly seascapes at this actual most northern point of Britain. A clifftop walk over this end-of-the-world-like headland is unlikely to disappoint. Just beware not to be blown over the edge, as some say you’ll be swept off the face of the earth. 
North coast 500 itinerary 7 days road trip motorhome

Day 2 — John o’Groats to Durness 

Driving time ± 2.5 hours 

Leave John o’Groats in the direction of Durness. You’re in for one hell of a coastal drive today. This stretch of the NC 500 will get your blood pumping, especially if you’re a surfer. But all people with a soft spot for the sea will be as happy as Larry on one of the many magnificent beaches in the area. 
North coast 500 itinerary 7 days road trip motorhomeSome of the best spots on this stretch: 

-Thurso is a town known for its lively food and drink scene and above all for its top-notch surf spots. If you have a surfer in your midst on this trip, you’ll likely head straight to the sea, where a world-renowned break has hosted many international surfing competitions (there are spots for less experienced surfers too!)

-Go for a swim, surf or stroll on some of Scotland’s most pristine beaches on this leg of your trip. There are simply too many to mention, but the most spectacularly beautiful from east to west are Melvich Beach, Strathy Bay, Torrisdale Bay, Skinnet Beach, Durness Beach and, probably our favourite, the white sands and crystal clear waters of Balnakeil Beach

-Smoo Cave. This one’s a bit of a tourist trap, but still a sight you’ll not want to miss. Trample down a couple of steps in the cliff face to admire this unique sea cave which is home to an underground waterfall. You can’t swim here unfortunately, but with the amount of spray coming off the falls and soaking you through, there’s really no need to. Rain jackets are advised!  
North coast 500 itinerary 7 days road trip motorhome

Day 3 — Durness to Lochinver 

Driving time ± 2.5 hours  

Time to kiss the north coast goodbye and start heading in the southwestern direction. But don’t fear, it’s hard to grasp as you’ve already seen some spectacular spots of Scotland, but the best is yet to come! There are numerous highlights on this leg of the way. 
North coast 500 itinerary 7 days road trip motorhome

Some of the best spots on this stretch: 

-The village of Scourie. This sheltered village is worth a stop if you love scouring the clifftops for seabirds. Numerous paths lead from the serene beach and the car park to a cliff point with splendid views of Handa Island, which is the nesting ground of Razorbill, Guillemot and even adorable, orange-beaked puffins. 

-Kyleskue. When following the NC 500, you’ll be led over the iconic Kylesku bridge, where Loch Glencoul and Glendhu merge. This spot is gorgeous in itself, but if you really want to soak up the surroundings, get on a boat. This affordable tour will take you to see Eas ‘a Chual, the highest waterfall in the UK with a very good chance of spotting seals, sea eagles and golden eagles on the way. 
North coast 500 itinerary 7 days road trip motorhome

-If you haven’t realised yet, Scotland is home to more magnificent waterfalls, Allt Chranaidh definitely being one of them. You can revel in its glory from the viewpoint at the foot of the falls, but we’d definitely recommend the view from the top too. It’s only a short hike from the roadside parking to both viewpoints. Another waterfall to visit on the way to Lochinver is Clachnessie Falls, which is slightly smaller, but just as jaw-droppingly gorgeous. 

-If you think you’ve seen Scotland’s most stunning beaches by now, think again. Clachtoll Beach and Achmelvic Bay are just on a whole other level. Sand doesn’t get whiter, water doesn’t get clearer. If it weren’t for the cold and the sea otters swimming around, you’d believe you’ve been teleported to the Maldives once you catch the first glimpse of them. Best of all, these beauties face west, making them perfect sunset spots for you to end your day. If you visit Achmelvic, be sure to walk along the headland to the neighbouring Vestey’s Beach, which if possible, is even more exquisite. 
North coast 500 itinerary 7 days road trip motorhome

Day 4 — Lochinver to Ullapool 

Driving time ± 1 hour 

We hope you’re all beached out, if such a thing is possible, because today we’re heading inland towards the mountains. Mountains in Scotland aren’t necessarily high, with Ben Nevis being the country's highest at 4,413 feet. Yet the thing with Scottish mountains is that contrary to most European mountain ranges, a lot of them rise up from the earth at sea level, making them seem much higher than they actually are! Add some mysterious lochs into the mix and you have yourself a landscape you’ll find hard to believe is real. 
North coast 500 itinerary 7 days road trip motorhomeBest spots on this stretch:

-Easy! Pack a good lunch, get suited and booted (wrap up warm, layers!) and head towards one of many mountain walks in the area. We recommend the climb to the top of 2,400 ft Suilven or 2,000 ft Stac Pollaidh. Both peaks have 360-degree views from the top and look like they have risen straight up from the sea. Suilven is definitely the more challenging climb of the two and takes a lot longer to complete, so if you’re feeling a bit reluctant towards hiking the entire day, opt for the 2.5-hour round trip of Stac Polladh. Keep your eye out for stags!  

Once you’ve completed your walk, make your way to Ullapool where you can warm your bones in one of many pubs and wrap your hands around a wee dram to ward off the rest of the chill. 
North coast 500 itinerary 7 days road trip motorhome

Day 5 — Ullapool to Kinlochewee

Driving time ± 2 hours 

Are the legs feeling slightly sore after yesterday’s expedition? Good, you won’t need them much today. Today is a day of driving yet another mesmerizing stretch of the NC 500. We’ll meander through some mountainous landscape, but in general, stay close to the shore. The most you’ll be walking is to get some fresh air and take in the views of a couple of striking spots on the way. 
North coast 500 itinerary 7 days road trip motorhomeSome of the best spots on this stretch:

-Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve. This gorge is home to a spectacular suspension bridge, from which you can take in the River Droma that gushes through the mile-long gorge below. One has an epic viewpoint of the Falls Of Measach, a 150-foot-tall plummeting waterfall.

-Leisurely continue the stunning drive to Kinlochlewe, on which you’ll pass the pretty Big Sand Beach and Gairloch Beach. If you’re keen to get back on the water, we highly recommend going on a wildlife tour with Hebridean Whale Cruises, who, on a good day, will get you across the waters of the Minch to the Shiant Islands. They run cruises from late April to mid-September on which (depending on the time of year) you’ll have high chances of spotting puffins, sea eagles, dolphins, porpoises, whales, basking sharks and even orca! 

-The Badachro Inn. Don’t miss this incredibly cosy and traditional Scottish inn. It’s tucked away in the picturesque, sheltered Bay of Gairloch and definitely worth making the 10-minute detour for. Enjoy a pint of local ale on the deck overlooking the bay in which seals playfully bob about, or play darts by the fire while someone at the other end of the pub strums a guitar. 
North coast 500 itinerary 7 days road trip motorhome

Day 6 — Kinlochewe to Applecross 

Driving time ± 1.5 hour

Today, your home on wheels will take you over the renowned Bealach na Ba pass. It isn’t the hardest or most steep of passes, but the road, like most in the Highlands, is narrow and has a few hairpin bends to be aware of. The sign at the entry of the pass clearly states the pass is not suitable for larger vehicles, but if you’re a confident driver and here outside of the high season, you’ll be fine in a mid-size motorhome. Larger vehicles can simply take the route around Applecross.

If you aren’t worried about your vehicle size but could use a refresher on how to manoeuvre? Check out our guide on how to drive a motorhome in the mountains
North coast 500 itinerary 7 days road trip motorhomeWhere will the Bealach na Ba take you? 

-Applecross! This shoreside village, its surrounding beaches and farmlands are the peak of quintessential Highlands beauty. You’d hardly know it is there, due to the mountains that cut it off from the rest of the area, but boy is it worth the drive! If you haven’t yet on this trip, you’ll also highly likely spot Highland Coos around here, along with herds of deer. 

-If you ask a local what spot not to miss when in Applecross, they’ll say “Oh, Sands!” And they’re right. The beach otherwise known as Applecross Sands truly is a sight for sore eyes. From rock pools to sand dunes and from seals to starfish, you simply must go and frolic along the shore in this bay with clear views of the Isles of Raasay and even Skye. 
North coast 500 itinerary 7 days road trip motorhome

Day 7 — Applecross to Inverness 

Driving time ± 3 hours 

We wish it wasn’t so, but it’s time to start making your way back to Inverness. Alternatively, if you have more time to spare, head across the sea on our Isle of Skye road trip itinerary. 

If you’re heading back to Inverness, Edinburgh or Glasgow, don’t be troubled,  there’s still plenty to see on the way! We’ll simply venture off course ever so slightly to dampen the disappointment.
North coast 500 itinerary 7 days road trip motorhomeSpots not to miss on your way back: 

-The picturesque village of Plockton. A little stroll through this sleepy fishing town with views over Loch Carron is well worth the little detour. You’ll find it hard to believe, but Plockton even has a somewhat tropical feel to it, as it is here you’ll find palm trees waving in the icy Scottish winds. Yep, go see it to believe it. 

-Eilean Donan Castle. This iconic fortress is frequently featured in films and is famous, to say the least. When you catch your first glimpse of it, mysteriously perched on an island at the meeting point of three great lochs, it’s easy to comprehend why this castle is so sought after. We recommend visiting at sunrise in particular, when you’ll likely have the view to yourself. 

-Loch Ness. What better way to conclude your trip through the Highlands than by driving back to Inverness along the shores of Loch Ness! Nothing like a little monster hunt to take your mind off the fact that your trip is to its near end. 

And there you have it! 7 days of pure road trip joy on Scotland’s beloved North Coast 500. If you haven’t fallen in love with the Highlands or travelling in a motorhome after this trip, you never will.