Glasgow is the Scottish city with sass. Every visitor’s itinerary features the capital, Edinburgh, and rightfully so as it is beautiful and steeped in history but Glasgow is real and Glasgow is raw. It’s the big city with contrasting neighbourhoods, deadly music and art scene and most importantly, people with banter. Edinburgh is Paris, Glasgow is Berlin and here is your one day in Glasgow itinerary curated with love by me, Gemma, the Fifer who ‘grew up’ in Glasgow
I (Gemma) moved to Scotland’s Dear Green Place at the age of 17 to attend the University of Glasgow and didn’t leave until my late 20s when I moved to the dark side, Edinburgh. I now reside in Fife.
Glasgow is where I met my life-long friends, formed my political views, danced around my handbag, gained weight by eating chips n’ cheese, lost the weight running around Kelvingrove Park – when I drive into Charing Cross the same feeling consumes me, that feeling that I’m home.
Personally, I don’t think one day in Glasgow is enough to really understand why it is special but I understand itinerary time constraints, I’ve been there.
This itinerary will recommend a variety of options for your day trip to Glasgow so you can pick and choose what suits your travel needs.
Covering Glasgow’s top attractions, the appeal of the five main neighbourhoods, food recommendations, which Glasgow pubs to party at and where to get the perfect shots.
This guide will also cover Glasgow’s past which some would like to hide, its involvement in the slave trade.
In Scotland, we don’t really use the term neighbourhoods but from my extensive travel in North America, I understand categorising areas of a city is the easiest way to help visitors find their bearings.
Glasgow does have distinct areas that can be zoned off making it an easy task.
Beginning with the City Centre you will find both train stations, Glasgow Central and Queen Street, and the Buchanan Bus Station.
There are three main streets starting with Argyle Street, which runs from the West End to the East, Buchanan Street and Sauchiehall Street.
You will find Glasgow’s main shops on these three streets along with bars and restaurants.
The main drag of pubs and clubs is located at the top of Sauchiehall Street, after the shops.
Like with all cities, you want to veer off the big streets to discover the unique pubs like the Butterfly and the Pig which features mismatched furniture from your Gran’s house.
Behind Buchanan Street is the upmarket Merchant City bars, clubs and restaurants as well as Strathclyde University.
This is the area of Glasgow most associated with its slave trade involvement.
At the end of Argyle Street to the east is the Trongate, check out the 13th Note for vegetarian food and the Tron Theatre for shows, which takes you along the infamous Barras weekend market, a real Glasgow tradition and passed the Barrowlands, a true Glasgow establishment which houses music gigs, and into the East End.
Don’t miss Barras Art and Design (BaAd) internal courtyard for drinks and shopping, support the local shop owners by purchasing here.
The East End is also home to Glasgow Cathedral, Provand’s Lordship (oldest house in Glasgow), Glasgow’s necropolis, Glasgow Green (park), the People’s Palace and two breweries.
Running parallel to Argyle Street is Glasgow’s Canal.
Bridges take you over to our third neighbourhood, the Southside.
The Southside has its own parks, Queens and Pollok.
Most of the bars and restaurants are found around Pollokshaws Road, check out the Glad cafe for vegan cakes and intimate gigs.
The West End of Glasgow is where you will find most of the students in the city as well as a stylish crowd.
The main street is Byres Road, which is always busy with brunchers and shoppers.
Visit Oran Mor for gigs and don’t miss the cute cobbled street, Ashton Lane, for drinks under the fairy lights.
In summer, you can find a beer garden on Ashton Lane and there is also a small cinema.
Running along the back of Byres Road is Great Western Road, which is packed with vintage shops, furniture stores and food stops.
The University of the Glasgow is found behind Ashton Lane on University Avenue.
From there you can reach Kelvingrove Park, and museum or Woodlands Road, for comedy see The Stand, down to Charing Cross and back into town.
However, we are not quite finished with the West End yet because at the bottom of Byres Road you will find Argyle Street, which runs into the Finnieston neighbourhood.
Finnieston used to be known purely for the Teuchter or Highlander Triangle because of the three pubs, the Park Bar, The Islay Inn and Snaffle Bit.
Head here to listen to trad music, especially around Celtic Connections time but this area has exploded in the past years.
If you are in town for ethically sourced food hop into the food trucks at Dockyard Social, noodles, curries, pizzas, vegan specialities, and drinks.
Finnieston Road leads to the Clyde, the Scottish Hydro, Glasgow SECC, Clydeside Distillery and the Transport Museum.
Getting Around Glasgow
Glasgow has an extensive network of bus routes, trains and also our beloved underground aka the metro or subway.
Our underground is not difficult to navigate.
It only goes around in one loop then back around the other way.
It is affectionally known as the Clockwork Orange and if you just want to spend your one day in Glasgow boozing you should play the Clockwork Orange drinking game.
The game involves getting off at each stop and having a tipple!
Kick-off with a full Scottish breakfast or avocado and poached egg sourdough sandwich at Café Gandolfi (Albion Street) or eggs at the trendy Wilson Street Pantry in the Merchant City.
You’re going to need the energy.
Next, it’s a visit to one of Glasgow’s points of interest, the Gallery of Modern Art on Royal Exchange Square.
This museum is located in the former Cunninghame Mansion, home of the tobacco and sugar merchant and one of the prolific merchants of the transatlantic tobacco trade, William Cunninghame of Lainshaw.
In front of the GOMA is the iconic Duke of Wellington which often has a street cone on his head.
Next mooch through the Merchant City keeping your eyes peeled for the street art murals and more links to Glasgow’s slave trade involvement such as (Tobacco Lord, James) Wilson Street and (John) Glassford Street (tobacco plantation owner in Virginia and Maryland).
Glasgow is yet to recognise that these street names celebrate Scots who enslaved people for profit.
Other cities with similar involvement such as Bristol, England have created museums and made some changes.
Afternoon in Glasgow Itinerary
Go slightly off-piste to grab a sandwich at the chic takeaway, Piece (100 Miller St), jamming to the tunes while you wait on your ‘Jerk Off’.
Head back east via Argyle Street towards the Trongate and on to Barrowlands Park.
Count the bands you’ve seen then promise to come back to watch one live at the Barrowlands itself.
Walk towards the Barrowlands, if visiting on a weekend swing by the Barras Market to experience this Glasgow institution set up by Maggie McIver who died a multi-millionaire in 1958.
If you love music you will want to join the Glasgow City Music Tours run by music journalists complimenting Glasgow’s UNESCO City of Music status. Grab a bite to eat at BaAd or continue on to the next stop on your Glasgow itinerary.
From here you have two options – park, palace and a pint or God’s house, the graveyard and gin.
Option 1: Glasgow Green, Breweries and Lunch
Glasgow Green is where you will find the People’s Palace, which houses a really interesting exhibition on life in Glasgow throughout the ages.
Look out for the washing line poles in the Green too; these were used by locals to dry their clothes!
Take a well-deserved pit stop at West Brewery or Drygate Brewery. Both serve food, beer and other drinks.
The Palais on Duke Street (Denniston) is another hip lunch option.
Option 2: Cathedral, Necropolis and Provand’s Lordship
Walk towards Castle Street to see Glasgow’s Cathedral, tours are available (one hour long), donations are welcomed. Behind the Cathedral you will find Glasgow’s necropolis, the giant graveyard that overlooks the city.
From up on the hill you will get some of the best views of Glasgow so have your camera ready.
End this history tour at the oldest house in Glasgow, Provand’s Lordship, across from the Cathedral and since you are here it would be rude not to pop into St Mungo’s Museum to see the Egyptian mummy.
It is run by a real Glaswegian who is happy for you to ask them any question about life in the city!
Take that extra 5-minute walk to see St Mungo himself sprayed on the end gable (not the official name of this street art mural).
Head back to the Merchant City to Gin 71 and choose from one of 16 Scottish gins or for a real culture shock head to the charming Alpen Lodge (25A Hope St). Banging jukebox and live music at the weekends, if you can squeeze in.
Sticking around for the evening? Is it Saturday?
Then get yer dancin’ shoes on because Saturday night is ceilidh night at Sloans.
Add a meal on to make a full night of it.
One Day in Glasgow – City Centre and the West End
Morning Itinerary Options
Follow the above morning itinerary but after street art spotting at the Merchant City, which continues throughout the city, there are over 22 murals to discover, make your way to Argyle or Buchanan Street underground tube station (subway/metro) to Hillhead Station arriving at Byres Road in the West End.
Alternatively, choose one of the afternoon options if you prioritise those Glasgow tourist attractions.
A few lunch suggestions here depending on when you are visiting.
At the weekend, head to the Platform food market at the Arches on Argyle Street.
The ex-dance music venue is now home to food trucks selling locally sourced food from Indian to haggis (Friday-Sunday). Image below.
I recommend the surf and turf slider burger! Drinks are also available and the venue is kid and dog-friendly.
During the week you can eat any type of food you want in Glasgow.
For mac and cheese head to Sloans.
I love Japanese and can recommend Nippon Kitchen (91 W George Stree) for traditional meals/bento boxes and Mikaku (25 Queen Street) which is a modern, neon lights with smoking sake test tubes kinda place.
Fancy tapas? Cafe Andaluz is a consistently good Spanish small restaurant chain in Scotland.
If you prefer some pizza, Nonna Said (26 Candleriggs) does Napoli style pizza and frozen cocktails if starting early…
Or hold off for lunch until you hit the West End.
Enjoy lunch at one of the many cafes/pubs such as Hillhead Bookclub.
In town on a Sunday? Browse the vintage fair.
Walk through Ashton Lane to University Avenue aiming for the University of Glasgow’s cloisters for Hogwarts vibes.
Head down the hill and take a right to Kelvin Way where you will find the Kelvingrove Museum.
Browse the 22 galleries including work by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Salvador Dali and my favourite, the Floating Heads by Sophie Caves. It’s free to enter by the way.
Love tea? Don’t miss Tchai Ovna (42 Otago Lane). A tea-hut going strong since the year 2000. I used to spend a lot of time here when I studied at Glasgow Uni.
Iona of my heart, Iona of my love. While there are only a handful of things to do on Iona, the pace on this 3-mile long island is slow and the scenery is stunning. Whether visiting as part of a Staffa tour, day trip from Mull, to stay on the island for a couple of nights, or as part of a pilgrimage, our Iona itinerary details what to do, places to eat, where to stay and how to get there so all you need to do is make bookings and enjoy your West Coast of Scotland trip.
Things to do in Iona
1. Enjoy the Ferry Ride from Mull
The starting point for your trip to Iona will be from Fionnphort in the south of the Isle of Mull.
Since no cars are permitted on the Inner Hebrides island of Iona, there is a car park to leave your car or camper at (fee-paying), a pub, public toilets and a beach.
If you are hungry after the one hour drive from Craignure or the 1.5 hour trip from Tobermory, you can get a snack at the harbour cafe or fresh fish at The Creel kiosk which also has outdoor seating.
Getting to Iona
There are a few ways to get over to Iona, the birthplace of Christianity.
Firstly you can visit as part of a Staffa Day tour where you get off at Iona and make your own way back to Mull using the CalMac ferry service.
Staffa is well worth a trip to see the geological wonder which appears in poetry and music, Fingal’s Cave.
If you are planning a visit between May and August you will be in for a chance of seeing puffins on the cliff at Staffa!
There are so many things to do on the Isle of Mull it deserves more time than a quick hop off during a ‘Three Islands Tour’! With mountains akin to Glencoe, shorelines as stunning as Seychelles and colourful buildings like Skye, this Inner Hebrides island is a popular choice for holidaymakers in Scotland and rightfully so!
Our guide details the best things to do in Mull with a car or camper, how to get there, where to eat, where to stay and two easy, popular island hops that are unmissable, so be sure to make space for them on your West Coast Scotland itinerary.
Things to do in Mull
1. Be a Tourist in Tobermory
What’s the story?!
If your first point of interest is Tobermory, then you can’t miss Main Street with its multi-coloured buildings popping along the seafront.
Here you will find pubs, restaurants and well-stocked independent shops such as Tobermory Stores which has a better vegan selection than the whole of my home region, Fife.
There is also a handful of crafts shops if you want to pick up a souvenir that the receiver will actually like!
Look out for the unique cherub on the seafront.
By the water and next to the town clock, you will see a huge line of hungry visitors waiting on their Fisherman’s Pier fresh fish and chip van order.
If you don’t fancy fish, Tobermory has a few dining options to choose from.
I recommend Spice of Mull if you are looking for a curry, which Craig always is.
A starter, two curries, shared rice, naan and an Irn Bru came to £40.
If you prefer a meal or drink with a view, Macgochans serves pub grub on its outside deck with views over the water.
The Gallery Cafe is also a nice spot for a sunny day drink; be sure to take a look at the stunning interior of this old church building.
2. Treat Yourself to Isle of Mull Ice Cream
The next biggest line is for the Isle of Mull Ice Cream shop.
Take your cone or tub to the harbour to watch the tour boats come in.
You can do a day tour to Staffa and the Treshnish Isles, but we opted for the Staff tour leaving from Fionnphort in the south so we could also visit Iona.
Keep reading to find out more.
3. Visit Tobermory Distillery to Taste Isle of Mull Whisky
One of the most striking buildings in Tobermory is the Distillery.
Guided tours take you around the island’s only distillery, which was established in 1798, making it one of the oldest commercial distilleries in Scotland.
Onsite two whiskies are made, a non-peated Tobermory and a heavily-peated Ledaig.
This Mull tourist attraction also produces gin, so if you prefer to learn about this phenomenon in Scotland, check out the gin tour options.
Next to Tobermory Distillery is the Post Office which has had a bright paint job to match the pastel-coloured buildings along the street.
4. Tobermory Lighthouse
We only managed to see Rubha nan Gall, Tobermory Lighthouse from the ferry ride on the way to Oban but there is a recommended 3.5-mile hike if you can set aside 1.5-2 hours.
Keep an eye out for otters and wave over to Ardnamurchan if you do this hike.
5. Enjoy Coffee at the Isle of Mull Cheese Glass Barn
Nestled among the farmlands of the B8073, Sgriob-ruadh Farm is home to the Insta-famous Isle of Mull glass barn cafe.
Look out for those floor to ceiling windows, lush greenery and rustic decor; what’s not for your camera to like!
We popped by for a scenic coffee and couldn’t resist a Nutella swirl to accompany the hot beverages.
One tea, one coffee and one tasty chocolate pastry cost £11.90.
Surrounded by shrubbery and entertained by the cafe dog, this slow breakfast was one of the highlights of our Mull trip.
Obviously, if you want to pick up some Isle of Mull cheese this is the place to do it.
They have a farm shop inside the glass barn, so if you just want to have a look at the cafe without sitting for coffee, you can pick up the famous cheese here then head out.
Look above your head as you pay. Can you guess what the hanging structure is?
The next tips on what to do in Mull are outside of the main area in Tobermory so here is a map to help navigate.
First, we head to Devaig and Calgary Bay then over to Craignure before driving south to catch the ferry to Staffa and Iona from Fionnphort.
6. Swim at Calgary Bay
When people ask about Tobermory Beach they tend to be referring to the most popular bay on the island, Calgary Bay.
This huge, sandy beach is popular with families, dogs, water sports enthusiasts and visitors.
I swam in the clear sea and it was… cold. As to be expected!
There are a number of car parks close to Calgary Bay.
There is one across the road from Calgary Art in Nature. See below for more information on this art trail.
Another can be found at the Calgary Bay Farmhouse. Both are about a 5-minute walk to the beach.
There is also a car park near the public toilets which doubles up as a wild camping campsitefor cars only.
The most popular car park is the one with direct access to the beach next to this sweet treat…
7. Enjoy Ice Cream at Robin’s Boat
Robin’s Boat kiosk sells Isle of Mull Ice Cream at the edge of Calgary Bay and is made from a real boat!
There is also a board outlining the wildlife that has been spotted in the area recently.
8. Wander Through Woods at Calgary Art in Nature
Just before you enter Calgary Bay you will see a wicker figure with birds welcoming you to an art trail in the woodlands called Calgary Art in Nature.
This donation-based art walk includes mosaics, wooden structures and a flying fox!
You also get incredible views over Calgary Bay from the top of the walk.
9. Check Out Other Isle of Mull Beaches
If beach life is your kind of trip there are other beaches aside from the most photographed, Calgary Bay.
Craignure Bay is located on the east coast of the island.
If you stay at Shieling Campsite at Craignure you will have access to your own pebbled beach to watch sunsets like these pictured below.
You can also set off with your kayaks from this point.
In the south, Fionnphort Beach is the first, among many, things you’ll be amazed at during a day trip to Staffa and/or Iona.
See below for full details about this jam-packed day trip from Mull.
A cluster of houses sits at the top of the beach and sheep casually hang around the car park.
There is a pub across the road from the car park and The Creel seafood kiosk sells take out food and offer outdoor seating at the harbour.
There are coin-operated public toilets across from The Creel.
10. Buy Cakes at Bus Stop Bakes
Pick up some fresh cakes and scones at the pop-up Bus Stop Bakes on the road out of Calgary Bay.
This kiosk works on an honesty payment system so you will need coins.
11. Enjoy the Ride Between Calgary Bay and Tobermory
If you like driving the Bealach Na Ba in the Highlands, you’ll love the road between Calgary Bay and Tobermory.
This route has hairpin vibes without a cliff drop!
There’s a viewpoint at the top of the hill at Dervaig where you can take a breather.
12. Aros Park
If driving between Tobermory and Craignure be sure to set aside time to visit Aros Park.
There is a quick yet rewarding 30-minute stroll around Lochan a Ghurrabain which looks like Canada from one side and Japan on the other.
This isn’t the only Mull hike in the area.
If you have more time you can do the Waterfall Trail in the park or Coastal Trail to Tobermory.
There is free parking and a BBQ area which is also free for visitors to use.
Back on the road driving from Aros Park to Craignure, look out for light aircraft soaring above.
13. Cakes at Arlene’s in Craignure
We were intrigued to try Arlene’s at Craignure because a friend told us the food is superb but reviews always mention how crabbit the person behind the register can be!
Well, that member of staff must have been on their day off, twice, because the staff member who served us both days was bubbly and welcoming.
During our first visit, we bought two hot drinks, a breakfast roll and two cakes (£11.30) and ate them by the port watching the huge CalMac ferry beasts come in.
On our way out of Mull, we got sandwiches and Isle of Mull Ice Cream from Arlene’s.
I couldn’t decide between flavours so the friendly server gave me half and half.
Here is a slightly melted version!
The Craignure Ferry Terminal, where you exchange your voucher for tickets, is located near Alrene’s.
There is also a free public toilet.
If you are looking for a sit-down meal, the Craignure Inn does decent pub grub with outdoor and inside seating.
This is very close to Shieling Campsite where we stayed two nights.
Note: Some rural restaurants close their kitchen between lunch and dinner.
14. Duart Castle
If you are taking the ferry from Craignure to Oban, you will pass Duart Castle on the right-hand side and Tobermory Lighthouse on the left.
On dry land, you can visit this 700-year-old home to Clan MacLean and its tearooms.
Visitors can access The Great Hall, State Bedrooms, and learn more at the clan exhibition.
Duart Castle features in the 1999 film Entrapment, starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
15. Enjoy a Unique Coffee at Pennyghael
There’s nothing unusual about the mug of coffee you get from Pennyghael Stores, but there is something very special about the location where you can drink it.
Head down to the benches which overlook Loch Scridain and enjoy a scenic sip.
While driving south keep your eyes open for wildlife such as otters and deer.
The road from Craignure to Fionnphort takes a good hour and it is very pretty so consider lots of photo stops.
Remember to be cautious of passing places that allow drivers to pass on single track roads. See below for more details.
If heading to Fionnphort for an island-hopping day trip, leave plenty of time and use the bathroom before you set off.
16. Isle of Mull Tours to Staffa
There are two reasons for visiting the Isle of Staffa.
Firstly, to step inside the geological attraction, Fingal’s Cave, an uninhibited sea cave with an interesting backstory.
Secondly, to see the puffins which is a seasonal experience and we were lucky to catch them during our visit in June!
In addition to the above, you also get a free drop off at the Isle of Iona so factor time into your Mull itinerary to visit the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland.
Mull is quite a large island so there are plenty of walks at various difficulty levels.
An easy hike around the loch at Aros Park is recommended for those with 30 minutes to spare.
A longer coastal walk from Aros Park to Tobermory would require transport being left at one side or a return walk.
A popular hike is a walk to Tobermory Lighthouse from Main Street.
Mull has its own Munro called Ben More at 966 m (3,169 ft), not to be confused with Ben More at Crianlarich.
The hike covers the distance 9.25km / 5.75 miles and takes around 5-6.5 hours starting at Dhiseig.
21. Take a Ride on the Isle of Mull Ferry To Ardnamurchan
Ardnamurchan, a hard word to say, an even harder place to leave!
However, if you are short on time and just want a taster of the peninsula which features the most westerly point in mainland Britain, you can get a ferry from Tobermory to Kilchoan that takes 35 minutes or from Fishnish to Lochaline in 20 minutes.
See CalMac’s website for the most up-to-date details and times.
Kilchoan is the closest entry point to the famous Ardnamurchan Lighthouse and Sanna Bay beach.
You will need transport to get to both.
If you have time to take a West Coast road trip, definitely add the Ardnamurchan Peninsula to your itinerary for relaxed hikes, stunning beaches and crowd-free beauty spots.
The Ardnamurchan Peninsula is a stunning, secluded and remote region on the West Coast of Scotland. Surrounded by hills and mountains including the UK’s biggest, Ben Nevis, discovering this lesser-known corner of the country will quickly become a Scotland bucket list highlight. This guide details the best things to do in Ardnamurchan with a car or camper, how to get there, where to eat, where to stay and an easy, popular island-hop that’s worth tacking on two days to your Scotland road trip for!
Fun Things to do in Ardnamurchan
1. Fill Up at the Most Scenic Petrol Station in Scotland
Is this the most scenic petrol station you’ve seen in Scotland or what?
Sure, the more remote you get, the more expensive fuel gets but we didn’t mind paying an extra penny for these views of Loch Sunart in Strontian.
Payment for fuel is made in the equally scenic Post Office shop to the left.
Look at the echoes of the hills in the background. So beautiful.
If stopping by to see Loch Sunart at dusk, come equipped to take on the West Coast midges!
2. Dine at Cafe Sunart (Centre) or Hotel Strontian
Swing by the Sunart Centre for lunch at Cafe Sunart or to pick up snacks from the local shop that sells everything.
Looking for dinner? Pre-book a table at Hotel Strontian which has views over Loch Sunart and a bar at the back.
I had the fish and chips.
Alternatively, enjoy a special lunch at the historically rich, Kilcamb Lodge Hotel.
In 1746, this luxury hotel was headquarters to 100+ militiamen who hunted the leaders of the Jacobite Rebellion.
In 1752, it became a garrison that enforced the prohibition of tartan.
Today it is a boutique hotel with a 3AA Rosette restaurant. Locals recommend the Sunday roast.
You can either drive to the beach and park up or do the short hike from Portuairk, parking at the car park at the top of the hill across from the holiday homes, before the drive into the tiny village by the sea.
You can’t park in Portuairk so if you make it that far, do a turn and head back up the hill.
The black sign below is for the car park. The image to the right is your end destination, Sanna Bay.
The walk is well sign-posted at the start then it gets a little off-track as you walk along the path.
Have you even done a West Coast road trip if you’ve not island hopped?
There’s something absolutely magical about boarding at one destination and arriving at a new one and there are a few points around Ardnamurchan where you can sail with your vehicle or as a foot passenger to the Isle of Mull.
From Kilchoan you can take the 35-minute ferry ride to the colourful town of Tobermory.
There are public toilets and parking at the Kilchoan ferry port.
Note: The port is not next to Kilchoan Ferry Stores, don’t assume this as we did when we went to buy ice cream while waiting on the next ferry!
When on Mull you can drive south to Fionnphort and island-hop to Staffa to see the puffins and Iona, the sacred birthplace of Christianity.
Even as experienced campervan drivers, we faced challenges driving.
Firstly, we forgot to fill up with fuel at Strontian so we had to turn back after breakfast at the Ariundle Centre before continuing around the peninsula.
However, this was a blessing as it meant I got to chat with the lovely workers at Scotland’s most scenic petrol station!
The second challenge was getting parked at Arivegaig (Singing Sands) as there are only six small spaces.
If they are full don’t try and drive further or may get stuck.
Anything bigger than a VW Crafter will struggle to get parked.
Similarly, when we returned to our camper after our Sana Bay hike, the small car park at Portuairk was full.
How do you say Ardnamurchan?
Ardnamurchan is pronounced aard·ner·muhr·kn. My Grandad’s top tip is to say it really fast.
Interestingly, we met quite a few expats with Yorkshire accents in Strontian!
When choosing where to stay in Ardnamurchan consider what your trip needs are.
For example, will you be dining out? Do you plan to stay in one area and day trip? Would you prefer to move around the region and stay in different parts of it? Do you need an early start to get the ferry to Fort William or Mull?
We stayed at Sunart Camping which is a small, family-run campsite with pitches, hookups and glamping huts.
There is a separate toilet block for men and women with one shower in each.
You will need midge nets for your camper and face, welcome to the West Coast in summer!
This is the first time that we’ve worn face nets, it was 100% necessary and we were not alone in wearing them!
North Coast 500 spoiler alert. This Scot has a secret to share. I do not mean to alarm or upset but Scotland has been hiding something from you. The north coast has always been there. The turquoise beaches, the fresh fish from line to lips and the friendly locals looking to share a sing-song with you are not new but they definitely are unique and thanks to a strong marketing strategy, the secret is out and Scotland’s North Coast 500 itinerary is on the map.
The North Coast itinerary is now followed by drivers, cyclists, locals and visitors ticking over the 500 miles (516 to be exact) of ‘Scotland’s Route 66’.
The popular adventure, with four seasons in one day, heading west from Inverness to the top of Scotland’s mainland, John O’Groats, and back down the east coast (or in reverse). This thorough and free NC500 route planner will get you on the road in no time.
Our NC500 Experience
Craig and I (Gemma) made a wise (last minute) decision to stay in the homeland and explore what the North Coast 500 has to offer. I am not a last-minute kind of girl, so cue frantic planning of potential route 500 options which you can now adapt to meet your own travel style and needs.
My Top Tip
Don’t be me, be cool. If you have time – plan ahead, go off the path, be flexible but mindful that the North Coast 500 has blown up over the past year and accommodation books up fast in the summer months. Check out our NC500 accommodation guide.
Oh and word of warning; the further north you go, the stronger the accent gets and the later into the night you drink with the locals, the harder it is to interpret! Ps. We have no affiliation with NC500 at this time. We travel independently and all opinions are our own.
North Coast 500 Map
Before we get started, let’s get our bearings of this Scotland driving route.
Inverness is the starting point at the red target which you can see on the NC500 below.
North Coast 500 Scotland – How Many Days?
One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is – how long does it take to drive 500 miles?
The length of time you spend taking in the sights of this Scottish Highlands road trip really depends on how many days you want to spend in each location, the types of activities you would like to do while on Scotland’s North Coast 500 (hiking, boat tours, whisky?) and quite possibly the availability of accommodation.
We met visitors who zoomed around the route in two days; while VisitScotland suggests up to two weeks.
Do tell us how long you decide to take and why in the comments below.
North Coast 500 Itinerary
There is no strict North Coast 500 route – where you stop, stay and play is entirely up to you but here is a flavour of the villages and activities we think make up the best North Coast 500 places to visit.
There’s also no right or wrong direction to drive it.
One thing that is certain, you can’t predict the Scottish weather.
It is possible to experience four seasons in one day, so plan and pack accordingly.
Be sure to pack a good quality waterproof like my new Rupal by Mountain Equipment US / UK.
Bealach ‘na Ba, Wester Ross (yes Game of Thrones fans!)
From Inverness, we started our journey to the infamous Bealach ‘na Ba (pronounced Bell-ach-na-baa) in Wester Ross.
At the start of the Bealach ‘na Ba, which is Scottish Gaelic for Pass of the Cattle, there is a sign that warns new drivers not to attempt it!
Like many of the NC500 roads, the Bealach ‘na Ba is an A road also known as a single track road (only one lane for going and coming).
If you are the passenger and have the confidence to take your eyes off the hairpin bends, check out the scenery!
Don’t be surprised to see cyclists pedalling away or campervans trying to get by.
Our Scottish A roads have areas by the side of the road called ‘passing places’ – it’s customary to pull in and let someone by.
Please do remember that this road is everyday use for locals, not just a challenge for holidaymakers.
Everyone raves about the beauty of Applecross and rightly so.
Although remote, Applecross village is visited by many tourists and on a dry day they flock to the seated area outside of The Applecross Inn, which is a popular dinner stop (food served 12-9pm) for those who love game meat and fish.
Check out our guide on Scottish food, haggis is not a furry animal that runs about the hills!
At the Inn, I tried langoustine for the first time, while Craig struggled to eat (picky eater). I hope you are ready for delicious fresh fish on this Scotland road trip.
Applecross is home to one of the North Coast 500 campsites (you have to reserve your spot, see our NC500 camping article).
Do not camp without purchasing Avon Skin So Soft US / UK as the midges are out in force from May until September in Applecross. Sands beach is approximately 4 miles from the Applecross.
Our final stop for the day was Shieldaig, Torridon. This small village is postcard perfect. We stayed at the top of the hill with views of Shieldaig Island on tap.
There is a campsite located here which I would consider in the future. We dined on a shared stone-baked pizza from the local pub and a few drinks to end day one of our Scotland road trip.
Shieldaig to Ullapool (123 miles)
Although the village of Shieldaig is sublime, you’ll be thankful to leave because next up is the experience of driving through the mountains of Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve.
No, you’ve not taken a wrong turn into New Zealand or Canada – this is Scotland!
If you are looking for a unique stay, Shieldaig Lodge Hotel is one of the few remaining traditional Highland shooting lodges open to the public.
Gairloch is a small village with a couple of sandy beaches (Big Sand and Red Point) and another couple of coffee shops.
Gairloch is home to one of the most scenic golf courses in the country (world), good luck focusing on your swing with views of the Isle of Skye ahead.
There are also boat tours in Gairloch for those looking to try to catch a glimpse of minke, humpback or killer whales.
One of the boat tours available is offered in a glass-bottom boat so you can see what lurks beneath the shores!
Keep an eye out of Bob, the resident seal.
The Gairloch Hotel offers free parking and breakfast and is less than 10 minutes walk to the beach.
From Gairloch to Ullapool you are spoiled for beaches on the NC500.
Mellon Udrigle Beach (Wester Ross) is the first of that white sand and turquoise waters that legends talk of and I can confirm, it is no myth, they do exist. Bring a picnic and your camera, and kayak?
Gruinard Bay (Ross and Cromarty) is slightly redder toned and larger. Both beaches have car parks close to the entrance point. Gruinard Bay requires a short walk downhill.
Ullapool – The Big Village in Ross-shire
Ullapool is the biggest village on the west coast of the North Coast 500, 1500 inhabitants call this place home and many of them have not so hidden talents.
Ullapool is a mecca for music lovers, especially those on the ‘trad scene’, like my good friend Kim. You can see/hear her sing here!
There is always some form of performance, planned or not, kicking off at The Ceilidh Place, The Arch Inn or the Argyll Hotel.
Ullapool is also home to the Stac Pollaidh for visitors hoping to do a self-guided North Coast 500 hike.
This easy hill walk takes approximately two hours and the views from the top are now amongst my favourite in Scotland.
Car park spaces are available at the bottom of Stac Pollaidh, please keep to the designated hike trail for your safety.
If you have ample time and fancy a sidestep to the Outer Hebrides there are daily ferries to the Isle of Lewis (Stornoway) from Ullapool. We visited Harris and Lewis recently, it really is a special place.
Where to Stay
Arch Inn: Modern rooms, harbour views, lively bar.
For more NC500 accommodation options, check out our guide here.
Ullapool – Kylesku Bridge (66 miles)
Ardvreck Castle, Loch Assynt
Within a short drive from Ullapool, you will reach the ruins of Ardvreck Castle and Calda House on the banks of Loch Assynt.
This 15th-century castle was once home to the Macleod Clan then taken over by Mackenzies who then lost the three-story Castle to the Crown.
Calda House, which is closer to the road, was the modern home built by the Mackenzies.
Lochinver on the Route 500
The main reason people visit Lochinver is to purchase a pie from the Lochinver Larder.
These pies come in sweet and savoury fillings, can be eaten in (£8.45 with salad/£14.35 as a main) or out (£5.35-5.55) or even posted home.
Craig, the pie connoisseur feels that Lochinver pies are overpriced thus leaving a bad taste in his mouth.
The NC500 trip is not cheap; expect a 1/3 mark up on food and on central belt prices. Check out what we spent via our NC500 budget below.
B869 – It’s Incredible
Wow, this road (or loop for us) is special and well worth taking the time to drive along the coast.
This area feels like Star Trek has beamed you up (Scotty) and you’ve landed on the lunar surface.
The surrounding hills swallow you whole but your escape is possible if you head for the water.
Yes! More of those Highland beaches (Achmelvich Beach and Clachtoll Beach) are tucked away amongst the winding roads and engulfing hills.
Experienced hikers may want to consider the striking Suilven Mountain in the Inverpolly National Nature Reserve which is close to Lochinver.
Personally, I felt that this part of our NC500 itinerary covered plenty for one day. However, we headed to Kylesku Hotel for a coffee, food comes recommended by others but the kitchen was closed so we could not sample it.
Kylesku Bridge is built over the Loch a’ Chàirn Bhàin, replacing the ferry service in the 1980s.
This is only my opinion but I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit the Kylesku area, you can blame the outrageously overwhelming beauty of the B869 for this advice!
On night three, we actually returned to Ullapool as we struggled to find accommodation available on the route to Durness.
Leaving Ullapool (again) head north to Cape Wrath, leave early (and be flexible) if you plan to take the ferry ride over the Kyle of Durness and then the bus to the most northern-westerly lighthouse on the mainland.
Ferry times vary depending on the time of year, and weather throughout the day.
The trip lasts three hours and there are no bathroom facilities so be prepared before you leave. The closest facilities in Durness.
Did you know that the MOD owns a large part of Cape Wrath and use it for training?
Craig’s Dad is an ex-MOD diver and has spent a fair bit of time in the waters up here!
As you drive up the northwest you will see this massive stretch of white sand poking out in the distance.
On approach you will discover that Balnakeil Beach is different from the others; it has sand dunes layered up at the back of it with cows grazing on any spare grass!
Durness is known for two things – Smoo cave and Chocolate Mountain. Smoo Cave is free to enter and open every day of the year.
It costs £5 to take the small boat ride deeper into the cave where the tour guides tell you about their successful discoveries and scary encounters (May-September). Wear closed-toe footwear.
To get to Smoo Cave, drive past the tourist information centre and park at the YMCA hostel or the cave car park (can get busy). Walk down the pathway to the beach and cave entry.
Chocolate Mountain is tucked away in Durness’s Balnakeil Craft Village and sells ‘the world’s best chocolate’ and truffles at tourist prices.
The village is also home to the John Lennon Memorial Garden, the Beatles singer used to holiday in Durness with his family as a kid and visited again with his own.
Durness has one of the most beautiful campsites I’ve seen but if windy there is limited coverage. The site has a restaurant/pub on the side of it (was closed until 18:30 when we visited).
Sidestep Trip: Handa Island
Tarbet of the northwest, not to be confused with Tarbert on the west coast near Oban, is the gateway to Handa Island where you can do a spot of puffin watching (we ran out of time, let us know how it goes).
Tarbet is reached after Unapool (near Kylesku) and Scourie but before Cape Wrath and Durness.
Durness – John o’ Groats (90 miles)
For a really unique thing to do on the North Coast 500, visit Borgie Glen to meet The Unknown.
The sculpture by artist Kenny Hunter can be found on the Lonesome Pine Trail which is a short 3/4 mile trail.
The northernmost town of the Scottish mainland, Thurso, is known for its surf!
Yes, surfing in Scotland. Thurso East is located at the mouth of the Thurso River and has hosted surf competitions.
Move over Gold Coast * waves *, the east coast is in town. Naturally, we don’t get the sun like Australia so dress accordingly (suits not shorts).
This fairytale stately home on the east coast of the Highlands has 189 rooms, some of which the public can view.
Its the gardens which win it for me. Huge rhubarb plants, ponds with fountains, well-manicured grass and tree tunnels.
A photographer’s dream!
The gardens and castle overlook the Dornoch Firth.
This area isn’t just about beauty though.
This is where locals were forced to move from their fertile land during the Highland Clearances.
Some left voluntarily, others had no choice when their homes were burnt down with their possessions still in it.
Golspie – Inverness (52 miles)
The last leg of the east coast of the NC500 takes you down to The Black Isle which is a collection of villages and hamlets.
Head over the Dornoch Firth Bridge, popping into The Glenmorangie Distillery for a tour.
If you like golf, enjoy a game at Tain Golf Course.
Drive over Cromarty Bridge to the town of Cromarty for a coffee or a meal at Sutor Creek and check out the Scottish geologist and writer, Hugh Miller Cromarty Trail for heritage homes and buildings.
Cromarty is a great base for the Black Isle, check out this garden studio for availability.
I like this area of the Highlands as it feels like real life with the North Sea oil rigs resting in the Cromarty Firth.
Next stop is Rosemarkie (Fortrose) for the family-friendly Groam House Museum to find out about Pictish life.
Fairy Glen is close to Rosemarkie which is 3K hike with waterfalls.
Finally, put on a layer and pull up at Chanonry Point to see the local dolphins who like the shallow Moray Firth waters for fishing!
There’s a pebble beach which looks over to Fort George, this is where we spotted the dolphins doing some relaxed diving in the distance.
There is also a golden sand beach for sandcastles.
Parking is available at Chanonry Point.
NC 500 Itinerary – Castles
If one of the main reasons you’ve chosen the NC500 route is for its castles and ruins you are in for a treat. From Inverness clockwise here is a list of some of the castles you may want to explore or look out for.
You can actually stay in the castle on the east coast! There are four options to choose from and they are affordable starting at £120 in low season. Read our guide to hotel castles here.
» Hey, Outlander fans!Click here to read about the hit TV filming locations
Distilleries on the North Coast 500
The water of life, whisky, plays such a large part of Scottish culture and tourism.
For those who like a dram and/or a wee story during their holiday should check out one of the many whisky distilleries dotted around the east coast of the NC500 such as Dunnet Bay Distillery (Dunnet near John o’ Groats), the Balblair Distillery or Glenmorangie (close to Tain), Dalmore Distillery, GlenWyvis, and Glen Ord Distillery (near Dingwall).
If you are limited on time and whisky sampling is your goal, I would suggest heading east first!
500 (ish) miles later your NC500 tour is over, get out of the car and consider bagging one of our many Munros to stretch out the legs.
North Coast 500 Tips GPS, Mapping and Not Killing Each Other
We trialled using Google Maps to guide us through the NC500 and with a bit of planning it worked well.
For the most part, your 3/4G will not work (write out/screenshot accommodation addresses and telephone numbers) when in WiFi and the areas you would like to visit using the directions function of Maps, hit the three dots and select ‘add the route to home screen’.
Before you leave your accommodation, start the directions; you can’t do this out of WiFi/4G.
The blue dot will become your best friend.
Note, we could not add Cape Wrath or Balnakeil Beach to our North Coast 500 map.
It is against the law to use your mobile/cell phone while driving in the UK and the roads you are navigating are going to be tough at times so I would recommend a phone holder attached to your dashboard.
Try one with a magnetic part you place in between your phone and cover which keeps the phone neatly attached to the holder.
Dig deep Scotland lovers; this can be an expensive ride! Here’s an example of pricing along the route.
Accommodation: Ranging from £68+ per night
Campervan pitch on campsites: £28-35
Food: Plated fish and chips £8-10
Ice cream cone: £2
Dunrobin Castle: £12
Naturally, you could do this cheaper by opting for the youth hostels and campsites on the NC500 or you could go all out and stay in castles. Our accommodation guide has options for every budget.
This was an independent trip. This means we were not hosted by Visit Scotland, regional tourist boards, hotels or any tours.
Animals on the NC500
This route is rugged which means you will not only be sharing the road with locals but also wildlife.
Expect to see sheep, deer, cows, Heilan coos if you look hard, and puffins if you do the Handa Island day trip.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Driving in Scotland Difficult?
We drive on the left in the UK, which I’m sure you are aware of. It is more common for drivers in the UK to use manual (shift stick) cars however it is not uncommon to hire an automatic car.
Unbelievably, there are no road signs indicating that you are on the North Coast 500 route, which baffles me since it is so heavily marketed.
However, there are the typical brown tourist information signs which indicate where tourists hotspots are.
Remember to check your oil, water and air tyre levels before you leave each day.
Petrol stations are available on the NC500, petrol is obviously more expensive than other areas of the country and it is wise to fill up whenever you see a station (some are manned, others are self-use machines like in Durness).
If this itinerary seems daunting, let someone else do the driving! There are now three NC500 tours.
Car hire is available in the main airports or cities.
Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness city and airports all have car rental pickups, Dundee city also has options.
You will need your driving license and a credit card to hire a car in the UK. I used to work for Avis Rent Car in Edinburgh and Glasgow (while I studying at university), I always recommend taking out the additional insurance.
This is a personal preference. If you are a whisky lover, start at the east and hit the many distilleries with a designated driver then you will have the thrill of the west coast as you hit the second half.
If you love turquoise seas with white sands start at the West Coast and take on the Bealach na Ba into Applecross!
Which way to do you go? Tell me in the comments below!
Is the North Coast 500 Signposted?
There are signs but these don’t mention the NC500 so you will need to know what location you are looking for.
The signs are the general brown tourist information signs (because the NC500 was set up by a collection of private companies and not Visit Scotland).
Where Does the North Coast 500 Start?
The official start is at Inverness but there are many areas you might want to explore before you go such as Glenfinnan (Harry Potter train viaduct), Kyle of Lochalsh (Eilean Donan Castle) and the Cairngorms.
What is Camping Around the NC500 Like?
The NC500 can be done on a budget thanks to hostels and campsites dotted around the route.
There are many well-equipped campsites dotted around the NC500 route, some need to be booked in advance, others are a free-for-all. Many welcome motorhomes, as well as tents and, have electrical spots for rent.
Please consider that the NC500 camping grounds have been holiday destinations for families long before the route was created.
You can wild camp on the NC500 too! Do we aware of the wild camping rules which we discuss extensively in our guide to camping on the North Coast 500.
Oh, I can’t forget to mention the wee problem of midges! Keep reading to find out more.
Is the North Coast 500 suitable for motorhomes?
Yes, it is but they are an annoyance to locals. Work on driving your motorhome (rented or owned) before heading north and do be cautious of how tricky the Bealach na Bá is to drive in a small car nevermind large motorhome.
Yes, it’s true; Scotland’s weather is temperamental.
The spring to summer months of April to July enjoys more sunshine but the weather can change quickly to rain and the wind.
The winter months of November to February are best to be avoided.
The weather can have a great impact on Scotland’s infrastructure, A roads become more dangerous and ferries are prone to closure.
Naturally, Scotland sees more daylight in the summer months where you can expect up to 17 hours, this drops to as low as 6 hours in winter so consider this when planning your Scotland NC500 trip. Then there are our local fiends, the midges.
What are Midges?
Nicaragua has Mosquitos; the North Coast 500 has midges! Midges are small flying insects that nip the skin and leave a mark.
These bites are often itchy, some people swell up in reaction to the bites (bizarrely I react like Quasimodo to mosquitos abroad but not midges in Scotland), others do not even notice them.
How do I Avoid Midges?
You can’t, they are attracted to the C02 in your breath, so unless you stop breathing (I don’t suggest this option) you are most likely to meet one and then their pals along the way. After they recognise the CO2 they look for other things like odour, heat, movement, until they find your juicy skin.
You can, however, avoid areas of high midge count like still and humid conditions at dusk (like you would with mosquitos).
They don’t like the wind so although it may be ruining your holiday photos, it is keeping the mass midge party at bay.
They hate hot summers, we don’t but they don’t happen often unfortunately although we cannot complain since we have that lush green landscape.
How Can I Repel Midges?
There are two options, avoid the above conditions and times of year (tricky if you are camping or even moving out side a car) or purchase a repellent such as Avon So Soft US / UK.
That’s Midges Sorted, How Do I Avoid The Crowds?
The Scottish schools go back the second week in August so Summer officially ends for families then.
The holidays begin at the end of June so, to avoid the route as its busiest I would suggest crossing out July.
Avoid the busier towns like Ullapool (I don’t really want to say that because I love Ullapool) and opt for camping stead of booked accommodation.
The Dark Side of the North Coast 500
I was elated to see my home country gain so much attention through the North Coast 500 advertisement however not everyone is.
Many locals feel that the infrastructure around the Highlands is not set up for this number of family cars, sports cars and campervans.
A park ranger we met in Ullapool showed disgust to the way that holidaymakers were treating the NC500 environment especially to those who are using the side of the road as a toilet (for a number two).
They said that there is a greater need for facilities. So please be cautious that you are using the roads that locals use every day, treat nature with respect and use the flipping loos on your coffee stops.
Scotland operates on a ‘leave no trace’ policy. Please respect that. Take everything with you, including fruit skin which takes time to decompose.
Littering is a criminal offence so you will be fined if caught. Just don’t be a moron.
Motorhomes and campervans should dispose of waste at one of the designated campsites on the NC500. Read more here.
Our NC500 Guides
We have written extensively about the NC500 to help you during your planning: