The BEST Scenic Routes in Scotland you MUST drive

Scotland scenic drives

Planning a Scotland road trip? Looking for the best and most beautiful scenic routes to drive in Scotland? Here are the best self-driving tour routes for you to explore– with maps!

Don’t forget to grab your free guide to the best places to see on a Scotland road trip to help you plan your trip.

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Scenic routes in Scotland ideas

Between jaw-dropping lochs and impressive mountain passes, Scotland is a road-trippers paradise. Seriously, every turn in the road produces some new reason to say ‘Wow’.

In an ideal world, we’d all have the time to explore this incredible country to our heart’s content… but, sadly, many of us are constrained by holiday or other time commitments. 

So, we have to pick and choose our itineraries wisely, whether you’re going for a quick weekend break or a longer motorhome tour of Scotland.

In order to help you make the most of your Scottish road trip itinerary, here are some of the BEST scenic routes & drives in Scotland, including a brief overview of each self-drive tour, when to go and what to see on the way.

NC 500- THE iconic scenic drive in Scotland

Scotland scenic drives and best driving routes for self-drive tours in Scotland
Scotland Scenic Drives- the NC500 has it all

The NC500 aims to showcase the best of the Highlands in one incredible 516 mile loop. It’s been voted one of the WORLD’s best coastal touring routes, with spectacular scenery, incredible beaches and unmissable views across the Highlands.

What is the NC 500 driving tour route?

The NC500 begins in the Highland capital, Inverness, although you can join and leave it anywhere. We include part of it in our 10-day Scotland Itinerary, which is a great option for those who want to see as much of Scotland as possible in a limited time.

From Inverness, planning your North Coast 500 route and itinerary is fairly easy. You can either drive clockwise or anticlockwise around the loop. Most people go clockwise, which means you head west from Inverness towards the Isle of Skye (you don’t actually go to Skye on this driving route, although you can easily detour if you wish.

Head through the North West Highlands, aiming (eventually) for Britain’s most northerly town- John O’Groats, (where you can take a day trip to Orkney) before heading south again to Inverness. 

The route is fairly well signposted, although some of it is single track and very narrow!

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    Best places to see on the NC 500 self-drive tour

    Highlights of the NC 500 include:

    • Inverness- the most northerly city in the UK
    • Smoo Cave
    • Corrieshalloch Gorge
    • Clashnessie Falls
    • Bealach Na Ba- the UK’s steepest road. Do NOT attempt this with a motorhome (or if you’re a nervous driver!)
    • Clachtoll Beach 
    • Kylesku Bridge
    • John o’Groats 
    • Dunrobin Castle
    • Whisky. Oh, and Scottish breakfasts. 
    Scotland Travel Planner
    Click to learn more about the Scotland Travel Planner

    How long does it take to drive the NC500?

    Ha- it depends how long you stop to take photos!! It’s 516 miles, but you will NOT be going fast- the road is slow and twisty.

    Expect to stop often for vehicles coming the other way or for stray highland animals who regularly wander into the road.

    You can tour the NC500 in 4/5 days if you drive a LOT and don’t stop to explore, but we recommend at least a 7-day trip to really make the most of it. Read our 7-10 day North Coast 500 itinerary and route planner here.

    Can you drive the NC500 in a motorhome/ campervan?

    Yes, you can drive the NC 500 with a motorhome and a campervan. If you don’t have your own there are plenty of places to hire a van for the trip.

    Where to stay on the NC500 scenic drive

    There are plenty of great campsites along the North Coast 500, some of which are open all year.

    Wild camping in Scotland is allowed… with some common sense.

    • Do NOT block access or park on private property- motor vehicles don’t have that right. 
    • Be sensitive to fragile environments and habitats- respect the nature around you
    • Take ALL your rubbish and waste. ALL. OF. IT. Use proper facilities to empty your waste tanks & toilet. Many campsites will allow you to empty waste, even if you’re not staying there.
    • Don’t light fires or BBQs unless it is safe and you can properly supervise it. 

    Some other tips for motorhomes include being able to reverse- you’ll have to do this a lot!- and NOT travelling in convoys as it blocks the narrow roads. 

    Where else can you stay on the NC500 driving route?

    If you prefer something with an actual bed and 4 walls, there are PLENTY of hotels and B & Bs to enjoy along the route. We suggest booking in advance between June and October- it can get busy!

    Best time to drive the NC500?

    As with everything in Scotland, the weather really does make a difference. The best weather is between April-October… but that’s also when this route is at its busiest.

    We recommend avoiding July and August completely if you can- the schools are on holiday and everywhere is over-crowded. But Spring/ early summer or September/ October is a great time to visit.

    (Here are some more great ideas for places to visit in Europe in October.)

    Scotland road trip travel planner route map guide

    Planning a trip to Scotland?

    We’ve done the hard work for you!

    Grab our complete Scotland travel planner and get:

    • 80+ ideas for places to visit
    • Maps and itinerary suggestions
    • Routes and things to see along the way
    • Tips, customs and much much more!

    Isle of Skye self-drive scenic driving route

    The Isle of Skye is one of the most famous islands on the west coast of Scotland.

    Highlights of an Isle of Skye drive

    Isle of Skye- Scotland scenic drives and best driving routes for self-drive tours in Scotland
    the Isle of Skye
    • Fairy Pools
    • Talisker Distillery
    • Old Man of Storr hike
    • Dunvegan Castle
    • Neist Point

    READ MORE: Our full 3-day Isle of Skye itinerary

    How long does it take for an Isle of Skye driving tour?

    It’s possible to add Skye onto the NC500 and visit for the day, but it’s well worth spending 3 days in a road trip here to really see some of the incredible sights.

    Best time to visit the Isle of Skye?

    We recommend avoiding June, July and August in Skye- too many people and too many midges. Our favourite time of year is Autumn- it’s one of our favourite places to enjoy Autumn in Europe– the colours of the changing foliage are spectacular.

    Kintyre Peninsula Driving tour route

    Kintyre Peninsula- Scotland scenic drives and best driving routes for self-drive tours in Scotland
    Kintyre Peninsula- one of Scotlands most scenic drives

    Recommended by Susanne | Adventures around Scotland

    The Kintyre Peninsula can be reached by car from Glasgow in approx 3 hours and takes you well off Scotland’s popular tourist routes.  However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything worth seeing, it just that most tourists don’t realise all that it has to offer. 

    Highlights of a Kintyre Peninsula road trip

    A few highlights include:

    • the fishing port of Tarbert which sits at the gateway to the peninsula.  The town is home to a colourful harbour and historic castle ruins which sit on a hilltop overlooking the surrounding area.
    • Another nearby castle worth visiting is Skipness which dates back to the 13th century.  Although ruined, it is substantial in size and the rooftop offers magnificent 360-degree views.
    • As you drive south, there are numerous pretty coastal villages worth stopping at including Carradale and Southend where you can explore the Keil Caves which have evidence of occupation from as early as the third century AD onward.
    • Campbeltown is the main settlement and was once home to 34 whisky distilleries.  Today only three distilleries remain and taking a tour is a great way to discover more about Scotland’s most famous drink (and to sample some!)
    • Finally, no Kintyre driving tour would be complete without a visit to the Mull of Kintyre made famous in the song by Sir Paul McCartney.  It sits at the very south of the peninsula with a walking trail to the lighthouse.

    How long does it take to drive the Kintyre Peninsula?

    To properly explore Kintyre, a road-trip of 2 or 3 days is ideal but add in some extra time if you want to combine it with an island-hopping day trip to the Isle of Gigha, the most southerly of the Hebridean islands which is a short ferry ride from Kintyre.

    To ensure attractions are open, spring and summer are the best times to visit.

    SWC300 (South West Coastal Scenic Driving route)

    SWC300 scenic driving route-Scotland scenic drives and best driving routes for self-drive tours in Scotland
    SWC300 Scenic driving route- Galway lighthouse

    Recommended by Kathi | Watch Me See

    The south of Scotland is full of hidden gems far off the beaten track. While most visitors flock to the busy Highlands of Scotland, it is worth heading in the opposite direction.

    The South West Coastal 300 (SWC300) is a scenic drive around the south-west of Scotland. It passes through parts of Ayrshire, runs along the coast of Dumfries and Galloway and crosses into the Moffat and Galloway Hills. 

    Road trippers who dare to venture off the beaten path will be rewarded with stunning coastal scenery, castles steeped in history, picturesque lighthouses, quirky artist towns, fresh local produce and much more.

    Things to see on a SWC300 self-drive tour

    The best part of the SWC300 is the drive around the Mull of Galloway peninsula. Start by exploring the southernmost point of Scotland.

    Follow the trails around the RSPB Nature Reserve and visit the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse – from the top, you can see the coast of Northern Ireland, the Lake District and the Isle of Man.

    Next, stop at Logan Botanic Garden where there are plants from all over the world incl. rare South African species, Eucalyptus trees and giant Gunnera plants. Even the most exotic plants do surprisingly well on the west coast of Scotland thanks to the Gulf Stream.

    The picturesque harbour of Portpatrick offers the perfect backdrop for an early dinner and if you have energy left, I recommend a night out at the Grape’s Bar in Stranraer.

    Other highlights on the SWC300 include Culzean Castle on the coast and the Dark Sky Park in the Galloway Hills.

    Scotland road trip travel planner route map guide

    Planning a trip to Scotland?

    We’ve done the hard work for you!

    Grab our complete Scotland travel planner and get:

    • 80+ ideas for places to visit
    • Maps and itinerary suggestions
    • Routes and things to see along the way
    • Tips, customs and much much more!

    How long does it take to drive the SWC300?

    Plan to spend at least 4-5 days on the SWC300, two days inland and two to three days on the coast.

    The area is fascinating year-round, but arguably most beautiful from April to September, when different kinds of flowers are blooming and the days are as long as can be.

    Heart 200 Scenic self- drive route

    Heart 200- Scotland self-drive tour Scotland scenic drives and best driving routes for self-drive tours in Scotland
    Heart 200 self-drive tour- Loch Lomond is breathtaking

    Recommended by Campbell | Highlands2Hammocks

    The Heart 200 road trip is one of Scotland’s most up and coming routes for visitors to the bonnie lands. Unlike the North Coast 500, this 200-mile route focuses on the heart of the central belt of Scotland.

    This driving route only launched in the summer of 2019 and is set to become incredibly popular due to its ease of accessibility and highly rated locations en route.

    All we can say is that if you want to fall in love with Scotland’s fascinating history, then get in there soon before it gets busy!

    There may not be coastline and beaches in Scotland’s centre, however, the vast amount of history and incredible scenery on offer is simply incredible. How about exploring waterfalls and castles and learning about Scotland’s insane history?

    Or taking a boat trip around the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, one of Scotland’s most well-known and beautiful locations in the centre.

    Highlights of the Heart 200

    The top sights and activities that we recommend along the Heart 200 road trip include:

    • exploring the mystical Devil’s Pulpit
    • Stirling Castle
    • Loch Lomond
    • bungee jumping in Killiecrankie
    • Dunblane’s golden post box
    • walking the beautiful Blair Castle gardens.

    What is the best way to self-drive the Heart 200?

    When it comes to getting around the Heart 200, a Campervan or car are the best ways to do it. The road trip takes you through the isolated and quaint central regions of Scotland, which are more difficult to reach by public transport.

    Scotland Travel Planner
    Click to learn more about the Scotland Travel Planner

    We hope these scenic drives in Scotland have inspired you to visit this beautiful country. Already been? Where did you like best?

    Scotland Road trips & self-drive tour Scotland scenic drives and best driving routes for self-drive tours in Scotland

    SCOTLAND- scenic drives in Scotland and the best self-drive routes

    Scotland best places to visit- road trip and scenic driving routes for self-tours

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    1. Barry Pearson says:

      Absolutely brilliant explanation of what ‘wild camping’ in the UK is all about. What you say cuts through the ambiguities and makes perfect sense. In a short summary it’s about being courteous to others, having minimum impact on the area and not overstaying. Thanks Kat.

    2. Mr. Devkota says:

      Excellent explanation of what “wild camping” is all about in the UK. I appreciate you sharing this useful content. You covered every aspect of this post here. The Isle of Skye is a really beautiful place.

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