Often overlooked, the North Coast of Scotland is wild and scenic with large kyles, narrow lochs and surprising beaches.
Discover some of its gems such as the Kyle of Durness, Smoo Cave, the award-winning beach, Loch Eriboll and the Kyle of Tongue.
Before my tips + photos, here are my favorites for Scotland:
My favorite platform to rent a car in Scotland: DiscoverCars
The unmissable boat tour: Seal spotting on Loch Linnhe from Fort William
My favorite excursion from Edinburgh: Glenfinnan and Glencoe
Driving the North Coast 500 Scotland
- The North Coast 500 is a 516-mile route around the Northern coast of Scotland – It this article we are focusing on the Northern part of that loop
- A838 and A836 will allow you to drive along the North Coast between the town of Durness to the West and Thurso to the East.
- The drive takes 2 hours. Sometimes you have to tour the water arms like at Loch Eriboll and sometimes there are bridges to cross like at Kyle of Tongue.
- You can drive further to the east to the famous point of John o’Groats still on A836
All my favorite locations in North Scotland (with a map) are included in my travel guide that facilitates the planning of your road trip:
Plan your dream trip in Scotland thanks to my guide
- 15 maps to easily plan your itinerary
- 170+ pre-selected locations
- GPS coordinates direct to the carparks
- Tips to make the most of your time
- 170+ original photos to help you choose
STOP 1 – Kyle of Durness
The Kyle of Durness is a coastal inlet between the town of Durness and the Cape Wrath peninsula.
It is 9km long (5.5 mi) and 800 meters wide (0.5mi). At low tide, only a narrow stream of water remains.
There is a stop with informative signs explaining the traces of settlements found in the area such as Keodale Green with a Bronze age Cairn.
Need to rent a car in Scotland?
- Compare prices on my favorite platform: Discovercars.com – one of the best rated comparison sites!
- Prefer a compact car for the single-lane roads
- Consider their full coverage option – it for peace of mind!
- Book early to have a large choice of vehicles!
STOP 2 – Award Winning Beach Durness
Next to Durness is a beach with a big sign ‘Award Winning Beach’. I am not kidding, see the sign below.
The beach is beautiful, but I did not spend much time exploring it because of the freezing cold wind.
STOP 3 – Smoo Cave
A little bit further I was very surprised to see a big concentration of tourists. We had seen almost no cars on the road and here we arrive, and the carpark was full…
This was the access to the Smoo Cave in the Sang Bay.
Smoo is a large sea cave: 61m (200ft) long, 40m (130ft) wide and 15m (50ft) high at the entrance. The cave is quite unique as the first part was created by the sea and the second chamber by fresh water.
You can learn more on the Smoo cave website.
I had only limited time and the weather was poor, so I just watched the inlet from the viewpoint.
When the weather permits, you see the inside of the cave. Many stairs to get to water level.
As I did not visit, here is a picture on Flickr to help you decide if you want to visit.
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STOP 4 – Loch Eriboll
East of Smoo Cave, the road takes you around Loch Eriboll a 16km long sea loch (almost 10miles).
It has been used for centuries as a deep-water anchorage to stay safe during storms.
Here also, you can find evidence of Bronze age settlements.
As you get to the east side of Loch Eriboll, you can visit a headland in the loch. The building you can see in the pictures below (not the house) but the walls against the small cliff, are the remains of 19th century kilns where limestone was heated to produce lime.
STOP 5 – Loch Hope
Next you discover the head of Loch Hope towards the mainland. It is a long stunning loch and a great spot for fishing.
Sadly, when I drove by Loch Hope, the weather was really bad, and I could not see the stunning scenery with Ben Hope.
STOP 6 – Kyle of Tongue
Your next highlight is the Kyle of Tongue, another inlet on the Scottish North coast.
Since 1971 a long bridge allows you to cross the large and shallow sea loch. Most of it is sandy. It is 11km long (7mi). It is famous for its fauna and flora.
The drive to Thurso
I cannot tell you if the rest of the drive all the way to Thurso is beautiful of not. As you can see in the pictures below, visibility was very limited and was getting worse as we were driving East. We were glad to arrive in Thurso and rest before our ferry ride to Orkney.
Want to see more of the best Scotland has to offer?
- Most beautiful landscapes in Scotland – read article
- Best things to do in Scotland – read article
- Best Scotland destinations – where to go? – read article
- Best Scottish Castles – read article
- Most beautiful lochs in Scotland – read article
- Most scenic drives in Scotland – read article
- The magnificent Isle of Skye – read my best-of guide
- The magnificent Wester Ross region – read article
- The Borders Abbeys including Melrose Abbey and the photogenic Jedburgh Abbey
And keep track of your own trip!
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