How to Drive the North Coast 500, Scotland’s Epic New Road Trip

Give yourself at least five days to do the 516-mile drive, which starts and ends in Inverness. Don’t miss these highlights on the way.

How to Drive the North Coast 500, Scotland’s Epic New Road Trip

Ackergill Tower, created in the 15th century, is one accommodation option on the North Coast 500.

Photo by Jo Metson Scott

Getting there

Take the Caledonian Sleeper, a 12-hour overnight rail service, from London to Inverness. The recently renovated trains offer both shared berths and rooms that have double beds and en-suite showers, as well as stylish new club cars for drinking and dining. Seats from $57; single rooms from $276.

Where to eat

1887 Restaurant, The Torridon Hotel

Within the elegant stone walls of this 19th-century hunting lodge, originally built for the first Earl of Lovelace, chef Ross Stovold creates the finest dining experience the northwest highlands have to offer. Using ingredients from the hotel’s on-site farm and kitchen garden, he creates sumptuous and refined takes on classic Scottish dishes, including grouse, beef tartare, and brown-butter cake.

Seafood Shack

Created by two friends, Kirsty and Fenella, the Seafood Shack has won national awards for its delicious, decidedly alternative takeout. Fish and chips is of course a big deal around here, but Seafood Shack’s twist on the dish—a fried-haddock wrap—is rightfully legendary. The salt-and-pepper squid and crab-and-avocado salad aren’t far behind. This is also the place to try Cullen skink, Scotland’s filling, fishy soup.


Find dramatic coastal landscapes (like this one, near Smoo Lodge) along the North Coast 500.

Photo by Jo Metson Scott

Where to stay

Ben Damph Estate

Encompassing 14,500 acres in the southern Torridon hills, Ben Damph is a magnificent spread. Open to the public, it offers all the classic Scottish pursuits: shooting, fishing, hiking, climbing, and birdwatching. It also has three lodging options, including a lovingly restored bothy whose outhouse boasts one of the best views you’ll ever see from a toilet. From $97.


Ackergill Tower offers regal living quarters and plenty of amenities.

Photo by Jo Metson Scott

Smoo Lodge

Merlin and Kyunghee opened this sophisticated bed-and-breakfast in 2017. The luxurious interiors—not to mention the deep baths—could fool you into thinking you’re actually staying in a spa. In addition to breakfast, Kyunghee sometimes cooks evening meals that combine Scottish ingredients with the Korean and Japanese flavors of her childhood. From $208.

Arda Glamping

If you enjoy getting lost in the woods, you’ll love lodging with Stacie Macdonald and Poul Brix, who welcome guests to their small self-sustaining farm. You’ll sleep in a hand-crafted wood cabin (or, come May 2019, in a converted sailboat); despite being rustic and thoroughly off-the-grid, the lodging still includes double beds, hot showers, and kitchen facilities. From $117 (3-night minimum). +44 (0)7572-795-779

Where to play

North Coast Sea Tours

For an alternative perspective on Scotland’s coast, book an outing with North Coast Sea Tours. Run by Derek Gordon, the small-group excursions include a trip to see puffins at Handa Island—a nationally renowned bird-breeding spot—as well as dolphin-, whale-, and seal-watching tours. From $104.

Dunnet Bay Distillers

Tours of Martin and Claire Murray’s distillery, which produces Rock Rose, one of the most popular craft gins in Scotland, include tastings from their range of seven spirits, all inspired by the flora of the Caithness region. Sample gin infused with rose root harvested from the Murrays’ garden, or vodka made with holy grass, an aromatic wild grass once used to cover the dirt floors of local churches. Tours from $16.

>>Next: Why a Train Trip Across the U.S. Is the Fastest Way to Slow Down

Emma John is a journalist at the Observer newspaper in the United Kingdom, and a contributing writer to AFAR.
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