The North Coast 500's Top Beaches

Typically, Scotland isn’t usually the first place that springs to mind when considering a beach vacation with turquoise waters and dazzling sand. While most people think of Scotland as a region with high mountains, old castles, and a lot of rain, the beaches along the North Coast 500, can also make you feel like you’re in the Caribbean.

The North Coast 500 is a picturesque 516-mile route that rounds Scotland’s north coast, beginning and ending at Inverness Castle. The NC500, as it is commonly called, is a tourist route that connects various attractions in Scotland’s North Highlands. Surprisingly, this road also passes by a variety of stunning beaches, including Rosemarkie Beach, Sandwood Bay, and Dunnet Bay, which tourists can enjoy year-round.

Continue reading to learn more about the North Coast 500, what it is, why these beaches are so popular, as well as the top 5 best NC500 beaches on each directional coast, the best NC500 travel route and more.

What Is the North Coast 500?

The North Coast 500 is a 516-mile panoramic travel route that runs along Scotland’s northern coast. The NC500 was originally created with the goal of attracting more visitors to this sparsely inhabited part of Scotland, and it has been a huge success. 

As a result of the NC500, visitors can now travel throughout the highlands and witness rocky landscapes, frolic on sandy beaches, observe animals, visit museums and castles, sip whiskey, as well as sample local products, and get to know the local Scottish people who live along the route. 

Why Are NC500 Beaches Considered So Popular?

Tourists, throughout the years, have reported that the North Coast 500’s beaches are unlike any others throughout the world. Spread throughout the Scottish Highlands, these beaches are known for their sparkling sand, turquoise waters, and ability to stop along the route to find your own private oasis. 

What Are Considered the Top 5 Best NC500 Beaches on the North Coast?

Balnakeil Beach

Balnakeil Beach is regarded as one of the best beaches and is a must-see for anybody travelling along the North Coast 500. This beach is notable for its extensive lengths of white sand and enormous sand dunes, which give it a tropical appearance.

These Balnakeil Beach’s sand dunes are also one of Scotland’s biggest sand dunes systems, providing tourists with an opportunity to discover a diverse range of ecosystems.

Overall, Balnakeil Beach is a stunning, pristine beach that provides travellers with countless options to discover and explore. Sunsets on the beach are also very well-known.

North Coast 500's Top Beaches

Dunnet Bay

Dunnet Bay is a breathtaking sweeping arc of white sand beach with undulating sand dunes on either side. Known to locals as a surfer’s paradise when the winds and waves are strong, this protected two-mile stretch of sand provides chances for sunbathing, paddle boarding, swimming, and other beach activities.

Dunnet Bay Distillery is also one of Scotland’s best gin producers, and Dunnet Head is the most northern point of mainland Britain. There is also a campground and a caravan park located here.

The North Coast 500's Top Beaches

The Bay of Sannick

The Bay of Sannick is a beautiful North coast beach located close to John O’Groats, Duncansby Head and Duncansby Stacks. This beach is notable for its stroll to the sand dunes and opportunities to interact with and view not only seagulls but seals as well. 

Tourists can also gaze across the sand dunes to view the Pentland Skerries.

The North Coast 500's Top Beaches
The North Coast 500's Top Beaches
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Ceannabeinne Beach 

Ceannabeinne Beach is a magnificent stretch of white sandy beach located beneath Beinn Ceannabeinne, a mountain that rises to a height of 383 metres. This beach is accessible through a steep grassy slope, and when the tide is completely out, access to little secluded inlets is simple.

Ceannabeinne beach also offers stunning views of Eilean Hoan Island and the surrounding coastline. Massive rocks also surround the bay on all sides making this location extremely peaceful. Visitors can also camp on the cliffs in an attempt to enjoy spectacular sunset and dawn views.

The North Coast 500's Top Beaches

Sango Sands

Sango Sands is a magnificent beach stretch nestled between the cliffs of the northern highlands. The water at Sango Sands is reported to be crystal clear and the sand is exceptionally clean. Due to its stunning vistas, the Sango Sands campground is also one of the most popular on the road.

Another must-see destination is the Sango Sands viewpoint. This perspective not only serves as an elevated wooden platform but also provides views of the bays from both sides.

The North Coast 500's Top Beaches

What Are Considered the Top 5 Best NC500 Beaches on the East Coast?

Shandwick Beach 

Located along the east coast of the NC500, Shandwick Bay is known as a scenic beach with sand dunes and rocky outcroppings on both endpoints. Located adjacent to the communities of Shandwick and Balintore, Shandwick Bay is a must-see stop along the NC500.

Tourists can also explore a network of seaside walkways since plenty of parking is available along the sandy coastline.

The North Coast 500's Top Beaches

Rosemarkie Beach

Rosemarkie Beach is a beautiful beach located in the town of Rosemarkie, along the NC500’s East coast, right around the corner from Chanonry Point. This beach is also on the Black Isle. 

Rosemarkie beach is also ideal for observing dolphins. In addition, this beach is ideal for swimming and paddle boarding, and there are plenty of shells to collect on the beach.

On a clear day, the beach overlooks Inverness Airport, so tourists can also see jets taking off and landing, but, interestingly enough, cannot hear them.

The North Coast 500's Top Beaches

Dornoch Beach

Dornoch Beach is a clean, magnificent length of beach with golden sand that attracts both visitors and locals alike. The beach has even been designated as a clean bathing beach by the Seaside Award. 

As a result, Dornoch Beach is noted for being a peaceful location where visitors can visit to not only enjoy the views and sounds of the water pounding against the coast but can also have the opportunity to see dolphins if they keep their eyes peeled.

The North Coast 500's Top Beaches

Portmahomak Beach

Portmahomack Beach is a large, sandy, slightly sloping bay, known for its extensive displays of rock pools strewn about. This beach also faces east, making it ideal for catching a glimpse of the sunrise.

The Tarbat Peninsula Walk, which includes an equally stunning second beach and a secret site to see dolphins, can also be accessed from Portmahomack Beach.

The North Coast 500's Top Beaches

Embo Beach

Embo Beach is a popular location for families and hikers alike, due to its large stretch of pristine, golden sands. The beach is also backed by towering, grassy dunes that provide some wind shelter.

It can, however, be difficult to gain access to the beach. As a result, travellers should park at the car park in the northeast corner of Embo’s historic fishing hamlet and, if required, seek instructions from a friendly local.

The North Coast 500's Top Beaches

What Are Considered the Top 5 Best NC500 Beaches on the West Coast?

Oldshoremore Beach

Oldshoremore Beach is a lovely bay that has tourists feeling like they are in the Caribbean. Overall, this beach is recognized for being both quiet and accessible, with immaculate white sand and magnificent stone outcroppings.

Oldshoremore Beach is also widely regarded as one of Scotland’s most beautiful beaches. However, take note that you will have to travel via a remote curving bay facing west at Kinlochbervie, Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands, to reach this beach.

The North Coast 500's Top Beaches

Sandwood Bay

Sandwood Bay is regarded as the most remote beach in Great Britain. As a result, it has one of the most difficult treks to the shore. This beach, on the other hand, is regarded as the cleanest and most beautiful in the country.

Overall, Sandwood Bay is one of Scotland’s most tranquil and picturesque beaches, and it is a must-see on any North Coast 500 journey. This beach features a vast stretch of sand, as well as large sand dunes and a freshwater lake in the distance.

However, keep in mind that getting to the beach will require a four-and-a-half-mile trek across the heather moors.

The North Coast 500's Top Beaches

Clachtoll Beach

Clachtoll is an extremely popular beach located along the North Coast 500. Split Rocks can also be found on this beach, which is notable for its rocky landscape. Overall, Clachtoll Beach, with its white sand and turquoise sea, is a great location to unwind. Furthermore, the headlands at each end of the beach provide breathtaking mountain vistas for miles.

This beach also contains a campground, a free parking lot, and a ranger’s station where you can learn about the beach’s ecology, history, and geology.

The North Coast 500's Top Beaches

Clashnessie Beach

Clashnessie Bay is a clean, calm, and lovely beach located ten miles north of Lochinver. Due to the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean Gulf Stream, Clashnessie Bay is known as a tiny sandy beach with a pleasant microclimate that is a must-see when travelling along the NC500.

The North Coast 500's Top Beaches

Achmelvich Bay

The best beach along the NC500, according to many visitors, is Achmelvich Beach. This beach is a sight to behold, with the ocean’s turquoise hues contrasted against the pristine white sand. Overall, the way the water complements the rough highland scenery is a one-of-a-kind combination found nowhere else on the planet.

The North Coast 500's Top Beaches

What Is Considered the Best Route to Travel Through the North Coast 500?

When travelling the North Coast 500, it is recommended that you begin your journey counterclockwise. This implies you’ll start on the east coast and go northeast before heading west on your route. You may, however, easily reverse this path and begin your journey on the west shore.

If you’re trying to visit as many beaches as possible along this route, any direction will be beneficial. Just be sure to prepare ahead of time and map out all of the beaches you’d like to visit along the trip.

Final Thoughts

We really hope this blog post has helped you to consider which are the North Coast 500’s top beaches that you’d like to visit on your Scotland road trip.

Some of the more popular and notable beaches to include on your itinerary include Achmelvich Bay, Balnakeil Beach, Clachtoll Beach and Oldshoremore Beach.

When planning your route, either direction around the NC500 is ideal if you’re purely aiming to visit as many beaches as possible along this path. Just be sure to plan ahead of time and map out all of the beaches you want to visit on your journey.

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