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The top 14 most asked questions about driving the North Coast 500 route

Scottish islands in a hire campervan

The North coast 500 is by far the most popular destination for many of our campervan guests – and for good reason! This popular driving route takes in the hills, mountains and beaches of the Highlands. The NC500 never fails to leave a lasting impression! The following are some of our top tips for planning an NC500 road trip. Read on to find out the top 14 most asked questions about driving the North Coast 500 route

Highland Auto Campers. Campervan hire and sales in Inverness

Table of Contents

1. What is the North Coast 500 route?

The North Coast 500 was conceived back in 2015, as Scotland’s answer to Route 66. It follows the roads that connect the villages and towns of Northern Scotland. These roads are a lifeline for the remote Scottish communities. The Tourism Project Board of the North Highland Initiative realised that the area could attract tourists and help to diversify the local economy.

 

Starting in Inverness the NC500 takes a circular route around the northern highlands. Finishing in Inverness the 516 miles route can be done clockwise or anti-clockwise.

Ford transit custom campervan high line

2. How long does it take to drive do the North Coast 500?

This is by far the most asked question we get. The simple answer is – it could be driven in a day as the route is only 516 miles long. A Google maps search shows this would take just over 12 hours – but you wouldn’t get the NC500 experience doing it this way!

 

So when people ask us how long will it take you to do it, our answer is, as long as you can afford to take!  Our guest’s often come back and say “we will have to come back as we missed so much.” Or that they want to go back and explore an area in more detail. 

 

If you are short on time the minimum we would recommend is 5 days. This will give you a good feel for the route and the area. You will also get to see all the main sites and be able to stop off at the main places of interest.

 

If you are the kind of person who wants to get the full Highland experience then we would recommend at least 1 week. This will give you time to stop and see and appreciate all the sites and activities on offer.

 

We have lived here for 4 years now. We often spend our weekends on and around the route and we still find new places to visit every time! So if you are short on time, rather than rushing it we would recommend aiming to only do a section of the route at a time. There are a few roads that cut back across the central Highlands that will take you back to the start. Planning your NC500 trip in this way means you can take your time exploring one section. You can then save another section for another day. This way you will be able to fully appreciate this stunning landscape.

Scottish islands in a hire campervan

3. Should I drive the North Coast 500 route clockwise or anti-clockwise?

This again depends on the length of your trip. But, the most common view is to go anti-clockwise, heading up the east coast first. This is because the west coast is more dramatic and there is more to see and do on the west. Yet, that’s not to say the east coast is not worth seeing.

 

In our opinion, if you are planning a short trip of 5 days or less, we would recommend going to the west coast first. You can then take your time stopping at all the sights. If you run out of time you can take one of several shortcuts across the central Highlands back to Inverness.

scotland, hamlet, castle

4. What are the best campsites on the North Coast 500?

This is something we get asked about from time to time. To be honest they are all good. We have never heard a bad report about any campsites on the NC500 route to date. Due to their popularity, they can get busy in the summer, so be sure to plan ahead and make bookings where possible.

There are several online resources to help you find campsites, here are just a few that we use:

 

One of our favourite sites, which we recommend for the first or last night of your holiday is Fortrose Bay. It is only a 20 min drive from our base and Inverness. This makes it the perfect place to start or end your North Coast 500 trip. The site overlooks the stunning Moray Firth. Fortrose village a short walk away has all the amenities you would expect. This is a great place to stock up on the basics and locally produced food. It is also a short walk along the stunning beach from Chanonry Point. This is the best place to spot Dolphins. The campsite reception has details of the best times to spot the Dolphins as this is dependant on tides. There are also Dolphin boat trips that can be taken from Inverness or Cromarty.

Here are a few of our favourite places to shop and eat in Fortrose and neighbouring Rosemarkie.

 

Sango Sands campsite in Durness is another popular stop. Located on the top of a cliff and overlooking the North Sea. You are guaranteed an amazing view and some amazing sunsets! There is a small pub onsite, offering food in the summer. Nearby places well worth a visit include Smoo Cave, Faraid Head, Cape Wrath and Loch Eriboll.

Applecross is a beautiful coastal village. Overlooking the Inner sound towards the Islands of Raasay and Skye. With several restaurants serving local cuisine and fantastic seafood straight from the sea. The local pub also has its own brewery.

2 man tent at Arisaig

5. Do I need to book campsites on the route?

Booking campsites is not always necessary. But, we would always encourage our customers to book ahead where possible. Booking is recommended in the summer as some campsites can get busy. This is especially so for sites like Sango sands, Applecross and Fortrose Bay.

 

To date, we have never had anyone report that they were unable to get into a campsite. But knowing how busy some of the sites can be we’re surprised this has not happened yet! If in doubt, always book ahead!

campervan hire inverness

6. Can I drive a campervan over the Bealach Na Ba pass?

Much of the nc500 route is made up of single track roads. While we agree that the large motorhomes are very comfy and very well equipped. There are a few sections of the NC500 route which are not recommended in this type of vehicle. Being in a motorhome could mean you will have to miss out on these roads and passes. Diversions to avoid these roads are well signposted.

 

The Bealach Na Ba pass is considered the most famous and spectacular section along the route. This narrow steep hairpin section is not recommended for large motorhomes or caravans.

 

So if you want to drive these sections of the route we would recommend you choose a suitable vehicle. All our campervans are based on a Ford Transit Custom van, so are easy to drive on roads like the Bealach Na Ba Pass.

 

For more information please visit the official North Coast 500 route map. This map shows the sections that are not suitable for large motor homes or caravans.

7. When is the best time to drive the North Coast 500 route?

We would struggle to choose a favourite season or time of year to visit the Highlands! All the seasons are spectacular in their own right. Spring and Summer are very popular for obvious reasons.
 
Autumn is an amazing time to visit the Highlands. The change in seasons brings out the most spectacular colours and scenery. The weather can also be good. Being out of season, you will find it is much quieter.
 
Winter is a magical time of year. With snow covering the mountains all winter and snow at lower levels also possible. Why not bring your Skis or book a ski session at one of the 5 resorts here in the highlands. Some of the campsites are closed or only offer basic facilities in the winter, so again be sure to plan ahead. Also bear in mind that the days are shorter at this time of year, so plan your days.
 
Autumn and winter are the best time of the year to see the amazing starlit skies without light pollution. This brings us nicely to number 8…!
16 A659315 1

8. Can I see the northern lights (aurora borealis) on the North Coast 500?

The Highlands are one of the best places in the UK to see the northern lights. The best time to see them is in the Autumn and Winter, however, they often provide a show as early as September! If you want to see them we would recommend downloading one of the following app. This will alert you when the northern lights are likely to make an appearance:

Click here for

Apple Aurora Watch app

Click here for

Android Aurora Watch app

9. Are there petrol stations along the North Coast 500 route to fill up at?

Yes! People live and work in the Northern Highlands, so there are plenty of petrol stations. Here is a link to a map showing all the places to get petrol and diesel along the route:

https://www.scotlandsroute66.co.uk/petrol-stations/

Or you can find them on the official North Coast 500 app:

Click here for

Apple NC500 app

Click here for

Android NC500 app

10. Where can I fill up and empty my water and waste?

There are a few dedicated locations around the Highlands where you can empty your waste and top up water. Some campsites will for a small fee let you use their facilities.

Here is a link to a map of service points in Scotland, which is updated as new sites are added:

https://www.campa.org.uk/waste-disposal/

campervan and motorhome waste disposal

11. Do I need to book an electric hook up?

All our campervans are fitted with a leisure battery. This battery powers the lighting, fridge and USB sockets.

The only thing that doesn’t work off the battery is the 240v mains sockets. You will need an electric hook-up for these to work.

There are 3 ways to recharge the battery:

  • Driving the vehicle, in the same way as your car recharges your car battery. This will also recharge the leisure battery

 

  • All our campervans are fitted with a Solar panel that will charge and keep your batteries topped up. Even on a dull overcast day

 

  • The 3rd and final way would be by using an electric hook up on a campsite. But we find this is not necessary as the solar panel and driving will keep the battery charged.
Highland Auto Campers 100W solar panel

12. Planning and navigation

We highly recommend you look at the NC500 website before you start your trip. We also recommend their interactive map which you can get via their free app. This is a great resource for finding places to visit along the route.

 

Our campers can be connected to your mobile phone. This means you can listen to music and use apps such as Google maps to navigate. You may find it useful to download the map of the area onto your phone before you set off. This will allow you to use Google maps as a satnav without using your network data.

Highland Auto Campers Dashboard

13. What should I not miss on the North Coast 500 route?

This question entirely depends on you and what you want from your trip. We would recommend the NC500 website first to start with as this has lots of information. We would also recommend one of the many books written about the route as a companion as well.

 

One of the best things about touring the route in a campervan is you can also get off the beaten track. This means you can discover other amazing places that are not on the major tourist routes. That way you can create your own unique amazing adventure.

 

There are lots of villages, beaches and sites just off the official route which are well worth a visit. Don’t miss a trip into Cromarty on the Black Isle. Or seeing the Dolphins from the lighthouse at Chanonry Point. Include a boat trip across to Orkney or Handa Island for a chance to see Puffins and other sea birds. We love the wee village of Lairg and the Falls of Shin. We would also highly recommend exploring the mountains of Assynt.

eilean donan castle, castle, eilean donan
North Coast 500 campervan Hire
Scottish beach
Stag enjoys the autumn sun

14. How do I avoid Midges on the North Coast 500?

The midge season starts from mid-May to the end of September. But this doesn’t mean you will be affected by them all the time. Midges like warm damp calm weather. Add a breeze over 5 miles an hour or hot dry weather and they won’t make an appearance. As most of the route is by the sea you will generally have some kind of sea breeze which will stop them flying. But when they do come out they can be a real pest. There are several products on the market that are good at stopping them from biting. These include Smidge and Avon’s Skin so Soft, and a face net can be worn if they are particularly ferocious!

Loch Morlich in the Cairngorm National Park

Conclusion

If you are looking for a holiday to make special memories, see stunning scenery and culture. Then you can’t go wrong with the NC500 in the beautiful Scottish Highlands! It is a destination that has it all. The sandy beaches and crystal clear seas here can rival those of the Caribbean! You can immerse yourself in history in the many castles and ancient ruins. Or indulge in fantastic food and drink. Whatever your ideal holiday – the Scottish Highlands has it all!

 

 

What better way to explore the NC500 than in one of our fully-equipped campervans. Start planning your NC500 road trip here…!

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