The North Coast 500 is a spectacular 500 km touring route around Scotland's northern coast, starting in Inverness. We spent 10 days driving this epic route, and while many people choose to travel using a camper van, there is a wide variety of accommodation along the way.
We stayed in everything from castles to farm houses. If you decide to explore Scotland's answer to Route 66, we suggest you try all the North Coast Accommodation there is; so, to make that easy, we're breaking down the pros and cons of where we stayed.
Our Route along the North Coast 500
North Coast Accommodation
Inverness: Kingsmills Hotel
Start your journey in Inverness and allow at least two days to explore this picturesque town. It's the capital of the Highlands and there is a lot of Highlander history in Inverness. It also makes a perfect home base from which to explore Loch Ness, where you may be one of the lucky ones who spy Nessie on the misty water.
The Kingsmills Hotel is located on a golf course just outside the downtown core. The hotel is exactly what you'd expect and want when visiting Scotland. Set in a large historic mansion on a massive treed property, you will feel as if you've stepped back in time.
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We stayed in the newer spa portion of the hotel and the rooms were spacious, comfortable, and offered great views of the golf course. Start off with a massage to loosen those muscles before you hit the road and relax by the pool, or take advantage of the sauna before your 500 mile journey.
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Parking is free and breakfasts are included.
The Kingsmills Hotel & Kingsclub
Culcabock Road, Inverness,
Scotland, IV2 3LP
Tel: +44 (0) 1463 237 166
Dornoch Castle: Dornoch
Just an hour north of Inverness, our next accommodation was at Dornoch Castle, located right in the market square of Dornoch. This was our first castle stay in Scotland and it did not disappoint. Dornoch Castle is home to one of the best whisky bars on earth. It was voted the #1 Whisky Hotel of the Year by whiskybase.com.
It was here that we ordered a flight of whisky to taste. The bartender asks you a few questions to decide the taste you will like and then offers you your choice of whiskeys in a wide range of prices. There's something to suit any budget. This is a hotel you won't want to leave. The set dinner menu is divine with friendly and helpful staff, the rooms make you feel like royalty, and the bar makes you feel like you are sitting in a 17th century tavern as the fire roars and the whiskey pours.
Ackergill Tower: Wick
Ackergill Tower was the perfect base for exploring the northernmost point of Scotland. John O'Groats is the spot where you see all those beautiful photographs of sea cliffs and stacks standing proud on the North Sea. Spend the day exploring the wildlife and scenery, then head back to Ackergill Tower for a night of pure decadence.
We stayed in the large Nun's room, which even has an old prayer nook in the corner where the inhabitants used to pray. This is the castle that will remind you most of Downton Abbey. We dressed in our rooms for dinner, where we joined other guests in the main hall for a four course meal. Once we dined, we all retired to various rooms for after dinner drinks and conversation.
This 16th century tower has a lot of history, and you can sit by the fire reading about its checkered past as you enjoy a dram of whiskey. The hotel was in ruins from the 1890s to 1986 and changed hands a couple of times before it was finally renovated in 2012 and opened for business.
Nr Wick, KW1 4RG
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Tongue Hotel: Sutherland
As you make your way around the North Tip of Scotland, you'll find that the Tongue Hotel is a very popular place to stay. Tongue was a former sporting lodge that once again made me think of Downton Abby. I remember an episode where the Crawley family visited relatives in the Scottish Highlands to hunt for bucks, and this could have been that lodge.
It has a cozy atmosphere with large rooms, and there's always someone offering a drop of sherry when you arrive. Castle Varrich is a good hike from the hotel. It was closed and hidden under scaffolding during our visit as they were excavating some bones found on the grounds, but the landscape around the cottage was one of the most beautiful sights we saw in all of Scotland.
Ask for directions for the scenic view at the hotel rather than driving directly to Durness. We took the old road that looped around incredible mountains and glassy lakes and had the road all to ourselves. Don't worry, you come out of the loop at the Kyle of Tongue Bridge so you'll still be able to drive across picturesque 600 foot long bridge.
The Tongue Hotel
Sutherland, IV27 4XD
Smoo Cave Hotel: Durness
One of our favourite spots along the North Coast 500 was the village of Smoo, where we explored the Smoo Caves and Balnakeil Bay and its beautiful beach. We didn't stay in this town, but if we did, we would have chosen the Smoo Cave Hotel. It's a basic hotel, but the location is a perfect stop after driving from Tongue, giving you the chance to spend a day or two in Smoo. There's a good bar and they have some of the best Haggis around.
Smoo Cave Hotel
Durness Sutherland IV27 4QB
T: 01971 511227
Kylesku Hotel: Sutherland
It was a big day of driving for us after exploring Smoo, and there was still a lot more to see. If we weren't on such a strict schedule, we would have stayed at the Kylesku Hotel. It's the current Scottish Hotel of the Year and an excellent base for exploring northwest Scotland. The scenery here was spectacular and we saw many bucks along the way.
To us, it seemed the perfect location for exploring the mountains and lochs of the area. If we go back, we'll definitely stay here.
Kylesku, Sutherland, IV27 4HW
Croft 338 B&B
Our drive took us forward, however, to the town of Croft. The drive before and after Croft is probably one of the most beautiful drives along the way, with narrow winding roads through the mountains of Assynt.
The Croft 338 B&B is very basic with two bedrooms located in a farmer's house. Our bedroom had its own private bath and we spent the night taking advantage of the wifi and cable TV. The hosts are friendly and welcoming and prepare a delicious breakfast.
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This was a long day of driving, and Croft is a good stop for breaking off the long kilometers you'll be covering along the North Coast. Our fellow patrons of the hotel had spent several days in Croft, making it their home base for several hikes in the area.
Westlea House Boutique B&B: Ullapool
This was by far our favourite North Coast Accommodation and we wish we had had two nights here. We could have spent more time exploring the scenic drive from Clachtoll to Lochinver. There are incredible hikes and scenic views in the area, and you should give yourself time to stay in Ullapool.
Westlea House was a chic boutique hotel that was carefully decorated with a modern design. The sitting area is filled with books to read and there's even a vinyl room where you can listen to classic music in a private nook.
It was pouring rain when we arrived and we were more than happy to spend the afternoon relaxing in our large room with an old fashioned tub, enjoying tea, biscuits, and a little nap while wrapped in our cozy duvet.
Westlea House Boutique B&B
2 Market St, Ullapool, Ross-shire, IV26 2XE
T: 01854 612594
The Old Inn: Gairloch
During our time in Gairloch, we covered a lot of ground. The weather was spectacular and we drove far and wide to take in the views. We found it a good base for checking out all the sites from Gairloch to Applecross. We spent two nights at the Old Inn, an old Coaching Inn that is warm and inviting. There are plenty of sights around the area, some that are mere minutes away and others that are an hour plus drive. However, each stop is worth it and Gairloch makes for a good home base.
The Old Inn is located a few miles outside of downtown so meal choices are limited, but they do have a good seafood menu that is reasonably priced. There's pub in the hotel that attracts many locals and has won Pub of the Year. It's an ideal setting to unwind and relax. Each room has pamphlets and books explaining the clan history of the area, and you can sign out DVDs if you can't find what you want on the telly.
The Old Inn
Flowerdale Glen, Gairloch Ross-shire
T: 01445 712006
Located on the waterfront of Plockton, the Plockton Hotel is the most popular spot in town. With a Michelin rated pub, it has some of the best pub food and atmosphere in Scotland. We ate there each night, enjoying local seafood with whiskey and wine.
The rooms were modern and warm with elegant bathrooms and comfortable bedding, where we slept inside a fluffy duvet. There's even an outdoor terrace to take in the sunset and enjoy a cocktail before dinner.
Plockton is another good town for exploring everywhere, from the scenic Bealach na Ba Pass and the towns of Appleton and Torridon to the Isle of Skye and the Reraig Forest. If you have just a short amount of time in Northern Scotland, this could be the place to choose. There is so much to do within a short drive and the family owned Plockton Hotel's friendly staff will make you feel right at home.
The Plockton Hotel
41 Harbour Street – Plockton – IV52 8TN
T: 01599 544 274
The North Coast 500 will soon be known as one of the greatest drives in the world. The single track roads may be turned to double lane highways and more hotels will be popping up everywhere. But if you get there quick, you'll enjoy old Scottish hospitality with some extraordinary scenic views. So what are you waiting for? Book your North Coast 500 Accommodation now, rooms fill up fast and you may miss out if you wait!