10 Things To Know Before Doing The NC500 Scotland Road Trip
Heading on a Scotland road trip and about to tackle the famous North Coast 500 – also known as the NC500? There’s a few things you need to know before you take on one of the most beautiful drives in the world which is often regarded as the Route 66 in Scotland.
You know, Scotland is one of the most underrated countries in the world. It’s mad to think of the amount of people from England who have never crossed the border to visit this extraordinary country.
You could spend months, if not years in Scotland and never get bored. The vast, rugged landscapes, the immense national parks like The Cairngorms and West Coast of Scotland, not forgetting the Scottish castles are on most people’s bucket lists.
But what’s it actually like to drive the NC 500 in Scotland? Here’s a realistic and honest opinion about what you need to know before you go, written by James based in UK who hired this camper van from Quirky Campers.
Table of Contents
1. When To Visit Scotland
If you’re planning your Scotland road trip and not sure when to go, the best time of year to visit Scotland is in Autumn. Midge/sandflies season is over (we’ll talk more about that later on in this post), the kids are back at school and the heather is flowering, creating beautiful pink landscapes which are calling to be photographed.
2. The Scots Are Really Friendly
The Scots are probably some of the nicest and friendliest people in the world, being extremely helpful to travellers and holiday makers.
This is something which can totally make or break a trip so you’ll be pleased to know if you need some help or advice on your trip, the locals will help you out.
3. But You’ll Actually Meet More Americans Than Scottish People
Image via wildernessscotland.com
Believe it or not but something which might surprise you is that Scotland is saturated with American tourists who are very excited to tell their Scottish heritage story.
With the incredible history on tap and rolling hills to discover, Scotland is a dream location for many tourists which is incredibly popular with Americans.
4. Expect To Share The Roads
Image via pistonheads.com
The NC500 is a bucket list trip for many people, and it’s completely justified in its popularity. Nevertheless, if you’re expecting to be the only people driving on the roads, think again.
A lot of the roads in Scotland are single track which means you’ll spend a lot of time pulling over to let traffic from the opposite direction pass. Expect to reverse up and down steep hills into these passing spaces.
5. Drive On The Left or Right?
Image via pistonheads.com
One major thing to mention is that many tourists forget they’re in Scotland and end up driving on the wrong side of the road. As Scotland drives on the left, be careful when driving because you’ll constantly come across other camper vans accidentally driving on the wrong side.
When hiring a camper van, it’s your responsibility to keep the van intact at all times. During our trip, someone actually reversed into our van whilst we were hiking, leaving dents and scratches. They left the scene before we came back which meant that we had to pick up the cost for this accident.
Because of this, our camper van rental had literally doubled, all because someone else reversed into us. This is something to keep in mind to make sure you always take out car insurance when driving the NC500.
6. Expect Four Seasons In One Day
Scotland has incredibly changeable weather; sunshine can turn into torrential rain in a matter of moments. You’ll also go from wearing t-shirts to wearing your winter clothes in minutes as well.
Make sure you bring loads of layers including a raincoat and of course waterproof shoes.
7. Inspect Repellant Is A Must!
Who knew midges and ticks are big in Scotland? If the wind drops below 5mph you might see a cloud of midges, especially if you’re in The Highlands. This is nothing a good mossie repellant can’t fix for you!
It’s also worth to mention that 10% of ticks in Scotland actually carry lyme disease. If you’re walking off track, you just need to tuck your trousers into your socks for prevention.
8. Don’t Forget To Pack Camping Chairs
During our Scotland road trip we realised how important it is to have camping chairs on the NC500 drive. There are so many occasions when you would like to sit and soak in the views, sunsets and sunrises, not sat in a car/campervan or on the (wet) ground outside.
Make sure when you hire a camper van for the North Coast 500, include camping chairs on your trip because you’ll totally appreciate them.
9. Campervan vs Public Transport
We thought our best option would be to hire a camper van in Scotland to drive around the NC500 because Scotland accommodation can book up months in advance.
However, whilst driving around, we noticed how some of the Scotland backpacker hostels looked amazing which we would have happily stayed in.
If you’re unsure how to get around the North Coast 500 in Scotland and whether you should hire a van or take public transport here’s what we learnt.
Originally we decided on hiring a camper van in an attempt to keep costs to a minimum. Although it gave us the freedom to stop whenever we wanted and to stay wherever we wanted, this is something you just don’t want to take for granted because the scenery is mind blowing.
However, it was a challenge driving a large van on very small roads, and steep roads with hairpin corners. Throw in HGV lorries coming in the opposite direction, with the other travellers driving on the wrong side of the road, and it can be a bit overwhelming. Just take your time and don’t do the North Coast 500 in a hurry because you’ll really want to enjoy it all rather than dodging all of the traffic.
If you’re thinking of using public transport to get around the NC500, check out the ScotRail Travel Pass. This pass covers most trains, buses & ferries and offers up multiple travel day passes.
The only problem with relying on public transport is you’ll need to plan this trip months in advance to ensure you get accommodation confirmed. There’s no just rocking up and hoping for the best!
10. Where To Visit On The NC500
There’s a few absolutely outstanding places to visit on the NC500 that you should know about! Here’s some of the best things to do in Scotland when going on a road trip!
Driving the highest roads in the UK known as the Snow Roads (named after the two ski resorts en route) in the Cairngorms is simply breathtaking. It quickly becomes obvious why the Queen spends so much time here.
The Beautiful Braemar Village
The beautiful village of Braemar sits in the middle of the incredible Cairngorms National Park. This charming village is close to Balmoral and makes a fantastic stop on the NC500 trip. Make sure you check out The Fife Arms pub, I doubt you’ll ever find a more incredible pub in UK!
The Incredible Views At Glencoe In Scotland
Glencoe is another incredible sight! So much so, you may want to turn around and drive back again, and again…
We stayed the night in Glencoe, as did many people as it makes for a fantastic stopover. It was very magical and a short walk through the forest to a hotel/bar.
There is also a modern National Trust visitor centre near by, with lots of interesting information and great facilities.
Picture Perfect Plockton Village In Scotland
Plockton is an absolutely amazing village which has some of the most spectacular scenery on the North Coast 500.
It’s no wonder it’s been used a the drop back for many movies and TV series including Hamish MacBeth and The Wicker Man.
Expect to find some of the best fish & chips served up at this fishing village whilst you watch the perfect sunset.
The Drive From Torrindon to Durness
The drive from Torrindon to Durness has to be one of the most scenic roads in the world. There is plenty to see so make sure you plan plenty of time during your trip, just for this journey alone.
Who knew Scotland has it’s own micro climate at Inverewe Gardens? Make sure you stay the night here as it’s absolutely beautiful. You’ll even find many tropical plants due to the weather here.
Also prepare yourself for the drive from Ullapool to Durness, which will feel like you’re on a different planet. The landscapes are breathtaking and you will want to stop many times.
Durness makes a good finish line with a decent campsite, three beautiful beaches, a craft village and a cave to explore.
Just don’t make the same mistake of trekking uphill to the Smoo Cave Hotel, for dinner – it’s not worth the effort.
The Isle of Skye
The Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye is popular for a reason – it’s breathtaking but expect a very steep two mile hike, sharing the experience with thousands of tourists.