Riding the North Coast 500 (NC500) by motorcycle is a must for anyone touring Scotland, or indeed the UK. The route highlights all of the best bits of the Highlands. From the twists and turns of the epic Bealach Na Ba to humble fishing villages way up North. Lined with natural beauty for each of the 500+ miles, this journey is one to savour and take your time with. This version of the North Coast 500 sticks to the main route and covers it in five days. We also offer a longer version, that also takes in the Isle of Skye and our Scottish Highlands and North Coast 500 tour, out of Edinburgh.
Here are just a few of the main highlights you will see on your North Coast 500 self-guided motorcycle tour:
Warm up for your Scottish Highlands motorcycle tour with a relaxing ride out along Loch Ness, past Eilean Donan Castle and on to to Kyle of Lochalsh. If you’re not done with the riding, you will also have a chance for an optional rideout onto the Isle of Skye.
You will start your trip proper approaching the famous ‘Bealach Na Ba’, notorious due to its winding steep gradients, single track road and tight bends! Take your time going around this and don’t forget to take a picture at the summit. Also known as the ‘pass of the cattle’ – you can see the Cuillin hills of the Isle of Skye and the Isle of Rum beyond.
After exploring the charming Applecross peninsula, your ride will take you up the A896, past Loch Clair and on to Kinlochewe. The winding road to Kinlochewe offers one of the most iconic views. Rather than turn left at Kinlochewe, it’s well worth the detour to ride 1.5 miles off the beaten path from Kinlochewe towards Achnasheen to the Glen Docherty viewpoint, for some great views (weather permitting). From the viewpoint it’s a straight run down the A832, along the shores of the spectacular Loch Maree, dotted with Calednian-pine-covered-islands, and where you will spend the evening.
A short day’s ride today give you plenty of opportunity to take in the sites of Gairloch, Big Sand (if you are keen), Poolewe, Aultbae, the Falls of Measach and Ullapool.
This morning’s journey will take you through the scenic town of Gairloch and on to Ullapool. Spend your morning learning about the history of the area, why not check out Gairloch Heritage Centre. They will take you on a journey through time showing you how local people lived and worked in Gairloch through the ages. Alternatively, visit the Russian Artic Convoy Museum in Aultbea. Loch Ewe was the hive of activity during WW2.
Back on the road, after lunch in Girloch or Aultbea, catch the fresh open air as your drive past the picturesque Loch Broom and Gruinard Bay to Aultbea – a lovely fishing village perched on Loch Ewe, before riding on to the picturesque fishing village of Ullapool, where you will spend the evening.
One of the bigger days of riding today, but still no huge rush. Head north to Drumrunie and ride up the A835, past the Inchnadamph Bone Caves (which are a 4km walk, each way, from the road, if you are keen – great views and a chance to stretch your legs) and along the A83, past Loch Assynt, to Lochinver.
After Lochinver, your journey will take you over the B869 road, through dramatic coastline, past pristine white sand beaches and turquoise clear waters – making you feel like you are in the Caribbean. The scenery here just gets better and better! Enjoy a stop at Clachtoll and Achmelvich beach – often said to be the best beaches in the Highlands!
Continuing on towards Scourie and up to Durness, you will make the transition from the West coast of Scotland to the North, where you will be greeted by the views at Sango Bay. Back on the road, continue east along the top of mainland Scotland – stopping off first at Smoo Cave, you are about to pass through the amazing scenery of Loch Eriboll, Ben Loyal and Ben Hope. Look out for safe parking stops as you will probably want to get some pics.
After a big day riding on day 4, day 5 is very relaxed and you can take your time riding along the top of Scotland.
Perhaps start the day with a walk up to the ruins of Castle Varrich. It is about a 30 min walk up to the castle from Tongue village and the route is well signposted. There isn’t much left of the castle, but the views you will get on a nice morning will be well worth it.
As you travel around the Highlands, you will find lots of wee hamlets and villages to explore off the route. As you travel around the Highlands, you will find lots of wee hamlets and villages to explore off the route. Pull over in Strathy and find yourself a walk way up the beach. A secluded spot with a wee small cave in-let, it’s well worth the little walk and you may even be met by some of the famous hairy heilan coos!
Continuing on East, you will continue your ride through Thurso, then on to Dunnet Bay, where you will spend the evening.
Another easy day of riding, you will have plenty of time to take in the coast on your ride today. Start the day by heading into John O’Groats, the northernmost village in mainland Britain for the obligatory pic of the sign and your bike.
After that, ride up to Duncansby Head, the north eastern tip of the Scottish mainland and enjoy a leisurely morning stroll to its two large sea stacks. This is a much nicer place to spend some time than John O’Groats.
Turning south, you will have the chance to check out Old Kiess Castle and Girnigoe Castle, both exceptional ruins situated in some of the most dramatic locations, poised at the top of steep cliffs overlooking or extending out into Sinclair’s Bay.
Continuing your ride down through Wick, an on to your lunch stop of Whaligoe, where you can stretch your legs with a descent to Whaligoe Haven by the 330 steps!
Enjoy the run south in the afternoon, soaking up the scenery of the coast on your left, before arriving at your evening’s accommodation in Golspie.
On your final day on the road, start your morning with a visit to Dunrobin Castle – the seat of Clan Sutherland, before continuing south through Golspie and then venturing west, to discover the villages of Lairg and Bonar Bridge…Keep your eyes peeled for the famous Broon’s House on its tiny island on Little Loch Shin. In the summer months, you can often see salmon leaping upstream at the Falls of Shin.
Riding along the Dornoch Firth, you will head south at Edderton, taking the scenic route down to Evanton. If you have time and the inclination the Glenmorangie and Dalmore distilleries are only short little detours, if you want to stock up on your final day. If not, you will continue on to Dingwall and finally finish your North Coast 500 adventure in Inverness, just in time for a hard earned beer or three.
Itinerary for this North Coast 500 self-guided motorcycle tour may change without further notice due to weather, road or any other condition that the operator feels will jeopardise rider safety.
From price per rider (based on dual occupancy)
Unless otherwise noted, bikes come with fully comprehensive insurance, GPS unit (one per group), top boxes, side panniers, wet weather gear, jackets, gloves and a helmet if required.
Single room supplement = £215
Prices are to be used as a guide and will be confirmed before booking.
Want to do the ride and organise everything yourself? Check out our guide on riding the North Coast 500. We can still help you with great value rentals. Contact us for more info.