avatar Andrew Burgess June 30, 2022

Campervan travel guide to Scotland’s North Coast 500 (NC500) route

Discover a land of fantastic scenery, glorious beaches and awesome campsites, perfect for your campervan adventures.

A campervan road trip to Scotland is a popular choice for many bucket lists. It’s easy to see why it’s become such a popular destination – particularly the NC500 – or the North Coast 500 to give it its full name.

Let’s have a look at what you should know for a road trip to the NC500, as well as some other great locations to see on your adventure in bonnie Scotland.

Is the North Coast 500 the best road trip in Scotland?

Search for ‘NC500’ on YouTube, and you’ll find hours of videos of people’s trips on this 516-mile route around the north coast of Scotland. Does that make it the best road trip? Well, it definitely means it’s very popular (for good reasons), and it can get busy during peak holiday times.

The North Coast 500 website features lots of useful information on the different sections of the route, such as activities and places to stay and eat.

You will find the Facebook groups dedicated to the NC500 really informative as well; just search for ‘NC500’ or ‘NC500 by motorhome’ and you’ll soon discover plenty of people sharing their recent experiences and campsite recommendations to inspire you.

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Where does the NC500 start?

You’ll need to undertake a road trip to get to the start (and finish) of the NC500 in Inverness on the northeast coast of Scotland. That’s a three- to four-hour drive from Edinburgh or 500 miles from London. And you can’t go to Inverness without stopping by Loch Ness on the A82 as you approach the city.

From there, most people seem to recommend doing the NC500 in an anti-clockwise direction. This is because the majority feel that it’s best to leave the west coast and all its beautiful beaches as a highlight towards the end of your trip. That way you could even extend your trip by jumping on a ferry over to the Outer Hebrides.

How long does it take to drive the NC500?

That’s a good question, and the answer is that it will depend on how many times you stop to admire the stunning scenery, climb a munro (mountain) or visit a beach, plus there are so many photo opportunities. There’s no point in rushing around without being able to appreciate what you’re seeing.

In reality, there’s a minimum of over 500 miles to cover to do the full tour and the roads are not built for speed, so you’re not going to want to cover large distances each day. The minimum usually recommended is five to seven days. If you have more time available, you should take it easy and allow a more leisurely 10 to 14 days. You don’t have to stick to the official coastal route. You can do detours as there are plenty of places to see and things to do along the way.

The official NC500 website has suggested itineraries, depending on what you want to do and see en route. For £15 you can get a Traveller Membership for full details of the itineraries, plus other benefits, such as an ebook and official NC500 map.

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What’s the best time of year to do the North Coast 500?

Officially, any time of year is good to do the NC500, but winter is more challenging with fewer campsites open, potentially harsh weather and road conditions, as well as shorter days. On the plus side though, it’s a great time for seeing stars and even the northern lights if you’re lucky.

The summer months are by far the most popular, as the weather is likely to be better and people have more time off. Some campsites work on a ‘first come, first served’ basis, with no booking option, so don’t leave it too late to find somewhere to stop for the night.

How do I find campsites on the NC500?

Well, a good place to start is the interactive map on the official NC500 website. Other options are websites and apps like Park4Night, Camper Contact, Pitchup.com and one of our other favourites, Cool Camping. But remember that the likes of the Caravan and Motorhome Club and the Camping and Caravanning Club have excellent sites in Scotland as well and you don’t always have to be a member.

Our top tip is to book in advance if you can. Yes, that kind of goes against the spontaneity of campervan life, but the NC500 is a popular route.

Any top tips for a road trip to the NC500?

Take an old-fashioned map

A top tip is to take some decent paper maps as there isn’t always a good phone signal, so relying on apps or Google Maps is not always going to work. Get your map in advance and use it to plan what you want to see and do, both on the NC500 and before you get there.

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Drive carefully!

That might sound obvious, but some of the roads will be small and twisty, sometimes with passing places (so be prepared to reverse, if necessary) and there’ll be lots of amazing scenery to distract you.

Always be courteous to other traffic – particularly the locals who have to go about their normal lives, which means parking sensibly in proper places so you’re not causing an obstruction.

Be considerate

Support the local economy while you’re there, as they rely on tourism for their economy, and always make sure you have enough fuel.

The mantra of the Scottish tourist board is ‘leave no trace’. We can’t reinforce that enough. Nobody wants the NC500 to be spoilt with litter – or worse.

Be prepared

Do plenty of research before you go so you don’t miss anything and have the best experiences possible.

Don’t expect to cover big mileages each day and as this is a road trip with quite a big mileage involved, make sure your campervan is ready for it.

Like any campervan road trip, plan and pack for every kind of weather and eventuality. There’s lots of hiking and water sports available, so bring the right gear.

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Other places to see before or after the NC500

While you’re in Scotland, it’s very tempting to try to see some of the other amazing places you’ll be passing on your way to or from the NC500.

Edinburgh and Glasgow are cities with an abundance of culture and history. There’s too much to see in just one day. Going up the east coast, golfers might want to see the famous courses at Gleneagles and St Andrews (even if you can’t play). Heading north through the Cairngorms will bring you to Aviemore, Scotland’s ski resort.

Heading north from Glasgow takes you past Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, then on to the west coast of Scotland with the lure of the islands, such as Mull, Skye or Arran, or stopping at Fort William to climb Ben Nevis.

If you’re really up for the trip of a lifetime, then catch a ferry from Oban to the islands in the Outer Hebrides.

What about wild camping in Scotland?

Although wild camping is a done thing in Scotland, this is primarily for backpacking or tent camping. For campervans and motorhomes, it’s always best to check if you need permission. Campervans will quickly get a bad reputation if things aren’t done responsibly.

Visit Scotland has a useful guide to wild camping in Scotland and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Everyone should read that information before taking a campervan to Scotland. Unfortunately, some people leave their rubbish or empty portable toilets in inappropriate places. The key thing with wild camping is to leave no evidence that you’ve stayed there.

Have a successful Scottish adventure!

We hope this guide inspires you and helps make your road trip to the North Coast 500 a big success. Every review of the route raves about what a wonderful experience it is, so as long as you’ve done some planning (all part of the excitement), we’re confident you won’t be disappointed either.
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