Planning a Scotland road trip? Looking for the best and most beautiful scenic drives in Scotland? Here are 5 breathtaking self-driving tour routes for you to explore.
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.
In order to help you make the most of your Scottish road trip, here are 5 of the BEST scenic 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
The NC500 aims to showcase the best of the Highlands in one incredible 500 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, 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!
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.
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.
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.
There are multiple campsites along the route. 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 can you stay on the NC500 driving route?
There are plenty of campsites for those travelling by motorhome or camper, or who wish to pitch a tent. 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 June or September/ October is a great time to visit. (Here are some more great ideas for places to visit in Europe in October.)
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
- Fairy Pools
- Talisker Distillery
- Old Man of Storr hike
- Dunvegan Castle
- Neist Point
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
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, 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)
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.
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
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.
We hope these scenic drives in Scotland have inspired you to visit this beautiful country. Already been? Where did you like best?
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