Touring the North Coast 500
The ultimate road trip through some of the world's most spectacular scenery
The North Coast 500 is often dubbed as Scotland’s version of ‘Route 66’. But the comparison fails to illustrate the breath-taking culture and heritage one embarks on, over this journey. Created in 2014 by the North Highland Initiative, the route brings together 500 miles (516 if we are being accurate) of the finest of Scottish scenery and landmarks.
Which route to take
The official NC500 route begins and ends at Inverness Castle. You can undertake the route either clock-wise or anti-clockwise. For spectacular views, we recommend heading west. Features such as ‘The Bealach Na Ba’ are guaranteed to excite your palate for the experiences yet to come!
On a 14-day NC500 trip staying in 10 different hotels, this one stood out food wise as the best, including over some more expensive accommodation. We had a DBB rate. Usually hotels only provide a table d’hote menu if dinner is included but McKays allowed us full range of the menu. Our dinner was perfect even without a glass of wine to go with our steaks due to covid regs in Scotland. The breakfast was also the best on our trip. Top marks to the kitchen staff. I gather the hotel is family run over a couple of generations and it shows. Friendly, attentive staff at reception and restaurant. Warm and welcoming.
Deep in the Highlands
If you fancy throwing yourself deep into the Highland route, why not fly direct to Wick John O’ Groats Airport? Arriving in the middle of the 500 miles you will enjoy close access to the magnificent features both on the east and west! Save yourself a day or two travelling and jump right into your journey. We at Mackays are more than happy to arrange a hire car to make your trip that wee bit less stressful!
Visiting attractions along the North Coast 500
Plan your trip so as to make the most of everything there is to see and do along the way
With an ample supply of daily activities, it is understandable that choosing what to do during your available time scale can be quite challenging! To assist you in making this decision, the official NC500 website has created an interactive map. The map features all the available activities and accommodation during your journey. If you fancy an in-depth exploration of Sutherland and Caithness visit Venture North. This website features extensive ‘To Do’ lists ranging from accommodation to ultimate shopping experiences. Speaking on behalf of the locals, we have also created a map of Mackays recommendations of our favourite spots in the Northern Highlands.
Where to stay
Why not stay with us along the way and kick back and enjoy our hospitality?
Mackays Hotel is ideally situated for those looking to relax and rejuvenate before the last leg of their NC500 journey. With an ample supply of local attractions, Caithness is an area not to be missed along the map of the Highlands. At Mackays, we guarantee award-winning dining and a soft bed to leave you finishing your tour bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Don’t take our word for it? They say seeing is believing, have a look at some of our former guest’s experiences.
We are the proud owners of the Gold Tourism Award... charge up and be ready to go...
Being proud owners of our Gold Tourism Award, green living is at the core of our business and weekend explorations! Ever aiming to minimize our carbon footprint, Mackays have installed a TESLA charging point for all guests. We extend a warm offer to all TESLA drivers, to charge while you dine at no extra cost! If you too share a passion for reducing your emissions, try out the carbon calculator as recommended by the Green Tourism scheme. Additionally if you are looking to complete some or all of your travels by bike, but don’t fancy the nuisance of extra baggage on the trip home, visit John O’ Groats Cycle Transport who supply bike taxis across the highlands.
North Coast 500 maps and apps and places to see along the way
Get planning your road trip of a lifetime with all the handy information and tools below
The NC500 Map
Better safe than sorry! Download the NC500 Map for a trusty guide on your upcoming journey.
The NC500 App
Venture North Heritage App
Download the Venture North Heritage App to prevent missing out on breathtaking historic landscapes!.
North Coast 500 things to see
Here are some our recommendations of North Coast 500 things to see when you stay with us at Mackays Hotel in Wick. There are so many must-see places along the North Coast 500 that we thought would create the best pick to help you along your way.
The World’s Smallest Street
If you’re looking for an iconic landmark to highlight your NC500 journey, look no further than Ebenezer Place, the World’s Shortest Street and the home of Mackays Hotel! Existing since 1887, Ebenezer Place recently received acknowledgement for this Guinness World Record in 2006, measuring up to 6ft 9inches!
Standing since the 1300s the castle has been home to the Highlands most powerful clans. Great photo opportunities and garden walks and it is one of the great places to see on the North Coast 500.
This ruin, Castle Varrich is a great opportunity to stretch one’s legs and explore the remnants of the once-powerful Clan Mackay!
While passing through Ulbster why not uncover the unusually situated port of Whaligoe? Leading to Whaligoe Haven descend each of the 330 steps.
Feel yourself step back in history and uncover untamed wildlife that has overcome remnants of this obscure fishing port.
Castle of Mey
Ever fancied yourself as being royalty? Why not walk through the footsteps of the late Queen Mother. With spectacular views, gardens and an opportunity to play with local animals the castle is a great way to stretch those legs.
Dubbed as one of the best reef breaks in the UK, Thurso is an ideal spot for those looking to destress and catch some waves!
Caithness Sea Coast
Join the Geo Explorer for an exciting tour of the East Caithness coastline. Exploring caves, Whaligoe Haven, castles, geos, natural arches and much more. Close up views of seasonal nesting birds and marine wildlife.
Stacks of Duncansby
Only a ten-minute walk from John O’ Groats, grab a quick stroll before continuing your journey. This remarkable landscape is home to breath-taking views and an abundance of highland wildlife.
Explore Smoo cave notorious for Vikings and Clan Mackay mischief. Take part in the tour to discover hidden waterfalls and other natural mysteries.
Bag yourself the most northerly Munro in mainland Scotland and climb Ben Hope. Home to spectacular views of ruined lochans and moors
The Bone Caves
Hidden in a valley of limestone walk through The Bone Caves where the remnants of countless beasties have been discovered.
Walk through the now abandoned settlement of Badbea, known as the Clearance Village. Despite its bleak history of families being relocated here during the Highland Clearances, this breathtaking walk is worth a venture for those looking to walk through the footsteps of their ancestors.
Clan Gunn Museum
Open between June – September, the museum tells the story of Clan Gunn from their Norse heritage to present day in keeping with the changing history of the Highlands.
Seal Watching in Caithness
Get up close and personal with Caithness seals often spotted near John O’ Groats in Sannick Bay.