Riding Scotland’s North Coast 500 on a Motorcycle

| | ,

If you’re looking for an unforgettable road trip, look no further than the North Coast 500 (NC500) in Scotland. This 515(ish)-mile route around the north coast of Scotland starts and ends at Inverness Castle and offers stunning coastal scenery, unique attractions, and plenty of opportunities to explore.

The NC500 is also known as Scotland’s Route 66 because it takes you through some of the most beautiful parts of the country. Along the way, you can spot dolphins, visit castles and distilleries, take in breathtaking views from cliff tops, and explore quaint fishing villages. You can even take a detour to see some of the famous lochs of Scotland.

From outdoor activities like hiking and kayaking to cultural experiences such as whisky tasting and visiting historical sites, there is something for everyone.

Before embarking on your journey around the NC500 route, ensure you plan ahead. Decide where you want to go and what sights to see to make the most of your trip. Also, early planning means booking the most convenient hotels – as they fill up quickly!

Riding the North Coast 500 in Scotland is an experience that will stay with you forever. Whether it’s taking in breathtaking views or exploring unique attractions along the way, this road trip has something for everyone!

north coast 500 motorcycle - rider at john o'groats

North Coast 500 on a Motorcycle: Basic Route Overview

The NC500 is a motorcycle route in Scotland that offers stunning coastal scenery and an unforgettable experience.

Starting in Inverness, the route takes you through some of the most beautiful parts of Scotland, including Dores Beach, Bealach Na Ba, Glenelg and Achiltibuie.

The route is approximately 513 miles long and can be completed in three days.

  • Day 1: Edinburgh to Glenelg – 200 miles
  • Day 2: Glenelg to Altandhu (Achiltibuie) – 185 miles
  • Day 3: Altandhu (Achiltibuie) to Inverness Castle – 128 miles

The journey begins at Inverness Castle, where free motorcycle parking is available. From here, you will travel up north to Dores Beach, located just 20 minutes from Inverness.

You will then ride south towards Glenelg before heading back north towards Achiltibuie. Finally, you will end your journey at Inverness Castle, where it all began.

castle in scotland

Other Routes

  1. Inverness to Ullapool: This route takes you northwards from Inverness and hugs the coast through remote and rugged landscapes, taking in the stunning scenery of Wester Ross. Highlights include visiting the remote hamlet of Achiltibuie and the scenic village of Scourie.
  2. Ullapool to Assynt takes you through the ruggedly beautiful Coigach Peninsula before reaching the magnificent peaks of the Assynt region. The ride is stunning and is home to various landmarks, including the famous Suilven Mountain.
  3. The North West Highlands Geopark: This part of the route allows you to explore the northern coast of Wester Ross, highlighting the region’s unique geology, wildlife and heritage. The area’s most outstanding natural features include the Inverpolly Nature Reserve, formed from ancient mountains, glacial lochs and extraordinary rock formations.
  4. Scourie to Durness takes you along the wild and remote northernmost coast of the route, where you will experience spectacular scenery, including white sandy beaches and sea stacks.
  5. Durness to Thurso winds along the north coast of Scotland, passing through the vast expanse of Flow Country and John O’Groats before settling in Thurso, home to the beautiful Dunnet Bay.
  6. Thurso to Alness takes you through the ancient and beautiful Scottish northern coast, the Black Isle and Inverness Firth. Take in historic castles, wildlife-rich areas and local distilleries along the way.
north coast 500 motorcycle - sea stacks

We Rode It Backwards

Not that it matters, but when we last rode the NC500, we did it anti-clockwise – or backwards.

It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to ride the route, and I know many people that ride it clockwise before repeating the route anti-clockwise.

It’s also worth mentioning that you can extend the route as you see fit.

For example, we came up from the northwest and made a point of exploring the Lake District at the same time – both there and back. You could do something similar riding up the stunning northeast coast.

We also added extra days to the NC500, which meant that whilst we could have ridden the route in around three days, it took us a week.

group of riders at john o'groats

North Coast 500 on a Motorcycle: How To Prepare

Before setting off on your journey, ensure you’re prepared. Have all the necessary gear, such as a helmet, protective clothing, and other items, like maps or a GPS.

It’s also wise to plan your route to know exactly where you’re going and how long it will take you to get there.

Here is a brief list of what you need when riding the NC500.

  • Waterproof pants and jacket (or waterproofs to go over your regular riding clothes.)
  • Appropriate gloves – it gets cold in the mountains, regardless of the time of year.
  • Decent waterproof clothes/gloves/boots.
  • Use the Sat nav / route-planning app with your chosen route.
  • Base layers (thermal in the colder months or lighter ones for summer.)
  • A neck buff or snood.
  • Evening clothes and shoes to enjoy the times you’re off the bike.
  • Mozzy rep and Suncream.
north coast 500 motorcycle - fishing village

A Note on the Weather

Like all mountain ranges, the mountains of Scotland have their own mind on what the weather will be like! It can change within a few minutes, and it’s common to see all four seasons in one day.

The last time we rode the NC500, we went at the end of April to avoid tourist traffic and inflated prices.

And whilst we had the roads to ourselves, we also got caught in horrendous snow – which ruined the tour for a few riders unlucky enough to find themselves on the ground. Multiple times.

If you go in the summertime, the biggest annoyance you will endure (apart from tourists) will be Scotland’s famous (and ridiculously persistent) midgies – which will try at every available opportunity to eat you from the outside in.

The midgies are so bad that I now have a midgie suit that I use for photography. Yes, I look silly. But I’m also unmolested by the midgies!

snow-capped mountains and road in scotland

Tips For Riding The NC500

When riding the NC500, there are a few tips that can help make your experience even more enjoyable:

  • Take regular breaks throughout your ride: 1) because you’ll get tired, and 2) because you should enjoy the scenery!
  • Remember to take lots of pictures along the way so that you can remember all your amazing experiences!
  • If riding in a group, take advantage of twin rooms rather than single rooms in hotels. Buddy up with someone and share the cost of the room, as accommodation on the route is notoriously expensive.
  • Finally, stay safe by following all traffic laws and being aware of hazards such as wildlife or weather conditions.
north coast 500 motorcycle - sno-capped mountains

Places of Interest along the Route

  1. Inverness Castle
  2. Dores Beach
  3. Glen Affric
  4. Strathcarron
  5. Applecross
  6. Bealach Na Ba pass
  7. Shieldaig
  8. Torridon Range
  9. Gairloch
  10. Ullapool
  11. Knockan Crag
  12. Smoo Cave
  13. John O’ Groats
  14. Castle of Mey
  15. Dunrobin Castle
  16. Dornoch
  17. Glenmorangie Distillery
  18. Cawdor Castle
  19. Loch Ness
  20. Urquhart Castle
winding road in scottish countryside

Riding Scotland’s North Coast 500 on a Motorcycle: Conclusion

Riding the North Coast 500 motorcycle route in Scotland is an unforgettable experience. The 500-mile journey takes you through some of the most stunning landscapes in the country, from rugged coastlines and white sandy beaches to eerie lochs and snow-capped mountains.

Along the way, you’ll find plenty of places to visit, including historic castles, distilleries, and adventure activities that will keep you entertained throughout your journey.

Whether you’re a seasoned rider or just getting started with motorcycle touring, the NC500 is an adventure you won’t want to miss – and one you will never forget!

Other UK routes for you to explore!


What You Need To Know About Camping While Motorcycle Touring

The Best Mesh Motorcycle Jackets in 2023