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Applecross Scotland: The Complete NC500 Guide

Applecross Scotland: The Complete NC500 Guide

The Applecross Peninsula in Scotland is often one of the first stops many make along the famed NC500 driving route. The remote and dreamy location of Applecross is absolutely stunning. After traversing one of Scotland’s most scenic roads – the Applecross Pass, you’ll reach stunning beaches like the golden Sands Beach, which is powdery soft with turquoise waters and gently lapping waves. Certainly, you’ll scarcely believe this place is in the UK.

In this guide, we’ll talk a little about Applecross itself and how to get there. We’ll then look at some of the best things to do in Applecross Scotland, including beaches, walks, places to eat and where to stay. Additionally, we’ll talk a little more in-depth about taking the Applecross Pass and other things to do nearby along the North Coast 500.

Read our Complete Guide to Hikes Along the NC500 post.

About Applecross, Scotland

Applecross is a small peninsula on the northwestern coast of Scotland. The famous NC500 passes through Applecross via the incredible mountain road of Bealach Na Ba, sometimes simply referred to as the Applecross Pass. At the end of the Applecross Pass lies the village of Applecross. Well, as most of us will call it anyway. That is, in fact, incorrect. The tiny row of cottages we think of as Applecross Village is actually just a street known as Shore Street, or, to locals simply as ‘the street’.

Shore Street sits on the edges of a long pebble beach. This is Applecross Beach and is one of the NC500’s most popular bays. Perhaps, neighbouring Sands, Applecross, a touch further up the coast, trumps it. That’s because Sands, Applecross is a beautiful golden stretch of sandy beach. Its beauty is immense, with the views across to the Isle of Skye outstanding. Indeed, you’ll hardly believe such a beach exists in Scotland, let alone the UK.

The Applecross Estate is 70,000 acres in its entirety and covers most of the peninsula. Applecross Estate has been owned by various families (or clans) over the years, but is now managed by the Applecross Trust. The Trust is a registered charity in Scotland, with their aim to preserve “the special character of the Applecross peninsula in a responsible and progressive manner whilst acknowledging its wilderness heritage and its importance as an area of outstanding natural beauty” – quote from The Applecross Trust.

Views from Applecross Scotland
Views from Applecross Scotland across the Inner Sound

Where Is Applecross, Scotland?

Applecross Peninsula has to be one of Scotland’s most remote locations. Indeed, up until the 1970s, the only access to Applecross was via the infamous mountain pass of Bealach Na Ba. The pristine landscape of Applecross lies within the Wester Ross region of the Scottish Highlands on the west coast of Scotland. Reaching the popular Applecross Village (Shore Street) and Sands Beach can be achieved via two routes – the Applecross Pass and the winding coastal road from Shieldag.

Applecross Pass

The Applecross Pass, also known as Bealach Na Ba (or the C1087) is the most direct route to access Applecross Village and Sands Beach. This winding trail of switchbacks and hairpin turns, cutting straight through the Applecross Peninsula is one of Scotland’s most notorious stretches of road.

The Applecross Pass was built back in 1822 and means ‘Pass of the Cattle’, as that was its original use, to move cattle. Bealach Na Ba might be one of the steepest roads in the UK, but, it’s also easily one of the most spectacularly scenic too. The road to Applecross using the Applecross Pass begins from Tornapress, on the banks of Loch Kishorn, ending at Shore Street (Applecross Village).

Applecross Peninsula Coastal Road

If you’re driving anything larger than a camper van, this includes towing a caravan or larger Winnebago-type campers, then you definitely should not take the Applecross Pass. The turns are too tight and steep. On top of that, aside from getting into trouble yourself, you’ll just cause congestion for other road users, many of whom are locals. Instead, you should take the longer route from Shieldag that winds around the Applecross Peninsula along a scenic coastal road.

Directly opposite Shore Street, Sands and Applecross Beach, you’ll find wonderful views of the Isle of Raasay and beyond that, Skye. Surrounding Sands, Applecross is the rugged wilderness the Scottish Highlands are so loved for.

Below, you’ll find an interactive map of the Applecross Peninsula.

Applecross Peninsula map

Applecross Meaning

Despite its very English-sounding name, Applecross is actually an anglicized version of the Pictish ‘Aporcrosan’, which means ‘confluence of the River Crossan’. Pictish is an extinct language of Britain, spoken by the Picts of north and eastern Scotland until the Middle Ages.

How to Get to Applecross, Scotland

If driving the NC500 in a clockwise direction, you’ll most likely be heading to Applecross Scotland from Inverness, or at least from that direction. Inverness to the Applecross Peninsula is around 80 miles (129km) with a drive time of around two hours. Of course, there are plenty of stops to make along this stretch of road to Applecross, including Rogie Falls and Strome Castle.

If driving the NC500 in an anti-clockwise direction, you’ll be travelling down from the north, via Ullapool and the breathtaking Torridon. The most direct route from Ullapool to the Applecross Peninsula takes around 2.5 hours. However, if you drive directly, you’ll miss out on so many exceptional sights of the NC500. So, rather, you should travel via Torridon. There’s plenty to explore in Torridon like Beinn Alligin and the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve.

From Torridon, the distance to Applecross Scotland is 27 miles (43km) and takes around one hour to drive. This route goes via the Applecross Pass. To take the coastal Applecross Peninsula route, expect a slightly longer drive time.

Car Hire

If you don’t have your own car, you should hire one using Discover Cars. Personally, we use Discover Cars and highly recommend them for finding your ideal car hire at an affordable price. Booking online is super easy and the free cancellation policy is great.

To find out more about renting a car with Discover Cars, read our Discover Cars review and Discover Cars Insurance review.

Public Transport

From Inverness: from bus stance 6 outside Inverness train station, take the #704 bus towards Toscaig. The bus travels directly to Applecross where you should alight at the Old Post Office in Applecross. The journey will take around 3.5 hours.

From Ullapool/Torridon: from Loch Torridon take the #705 bus to Shieldag. Then at Shieldag, swap to the aforementioned #704 bus. The journey time is around two hours.

You can check the bus timetables here.

Highland coos on the road to Applecross

Things to Do in Applecross, Scotland

The main natural attractions for Applecross Scotland include Sands Beach and some fabulous walks. We’ll detail both below. In addition, you’ll find a few great eateries and accommodation options at Applecross Scotland.

Applecross Beach

Applecross Beach (sometimes called Applecross Bay) is a beautiful pebble beach that lies directly in front of Shore Street. The views from Applecross Beach stretch across the Inner Sound to the Hebrides. The beach is popular due to its location at the end of the Applecross Pass. Additionally, the amenities on Shore Street mean there are places to park the car, grab something to eat, or enjoy a picnic.

Beck at Applecross Peninsula Beach
Applecross Beach, Scotland

Sands, Applecross

Sands, Applecross has to be one of the most outstanding beaches in Scotland and certainly along the NC500, where you’ll find plenty of excellent beaches. The long stretch of golden sand at Sands, Applecross lies about 4 miles north along the coast from Applecross Village.

There’s a small car park just off the coastal road that leads around the Applecross Peninsula. From there, you’ll find a delightful little walk down to the beach, through sand dunes and rocky platforms.

Shell middens and a rock shelter have also been found at Sands, Applecross. The middens are thought to date back to the Mesolithic period. The first inhabitants to use the rock shelter are thought to date back to 7,500BC.

Additionally at Sands, Applecross you’ll find a military base. But, don’t worry, it doesn’t distract from the tranquil beauty of the place. You can find Google Maps directions here.

Sand, Applecross Scotland
Sands, Applecross

Bealach Na Ba Viewpoint (Applecross Pass)

At Bealach Na Ba’s peak is a small lay-by parking area and viewpoint. Subsequently, the views from up here are quite incredible. Stretched out in front are views across the Skye Cuillin and the Isle of Rum. To the left, and back down the picturesque switchback road are views of Loch Kishorn and Loch Carron. To the right, and behind is the expanse of the Applecross Peninsula.

Bealach Na Ba viewpoint
Views from Bealach Na Ba Viewpoint

Walks in Applecross, Scotland

1. Sand to Applecross Bay

  • Trail Type: Out & Back
  • Distance: 11.5km
  • Time: 4 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 570m
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead: Sand, Applecross
  • Map: AllTrails

To enjoy the full landscape and viewpoints of the Sands, Applecross area, you might consider the coastal walk between Sand and Applecross Bay. This coastal trail heads up onto the hillside, from where you can enjoy fine views across the Inner Sound and down to Applecross. The walk can be completed either way around, with parking found at both Sands Beach and Applecross.

2. Sgùrr a Chaorachain

  • Trail Type: Out & Back
  • Distance: 7km
  • Time: 2–2.5 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 390m
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead: Bealach Na Ba Viewpoint
  • Map: Wikiloc

The wonderful hike to Sgùrr a Chaorachain begins from the Bealach Na Ba Viewpoint Car Park on the Applecross Pass and heads into the mountains of the Applecross Peninsula. The views are extensive and the trail is quiet. It’s a truly excellent hike along the NC500.

Read more: Sgùrr a Chaorachain Hike: The Best Of Beautiful Bealach Na Ba

Applecross Village

In the quaint Applecross Village, or Shore Street, you’ll find a few eateries, accommodation options and some historical attractions. Let’s take a look.

Applecross Heritage Centre

At the Applecross Heritage Centre, you’ll discover the in-depth history of the wider Applecross area and peninsula. Specifically, you’ll be able to enjoy small exhibitions depicting the life of the early Picts, Scots and Celts who inhabited Applecross Peninsula. You’ll also find information about St Maelrubha, an Irish missionary who founded an early monastery on the peninsula.

Clachan Church

The old church of Clachan was built in 1817, on or close to the site of the original monastery. There’s a small graveyard attached and within lies a stone cross slab marking the grave of Ruaraidh Mor MacAogan – an old abbot of Applecross. The slab is known as Macaogan’s Cross.

Also within Clachan Church grounds are the remains of 15th century chapel.

Village at the end of the Applecross Pass
Shore Street in the distance

Accommodation in Applecross, Scotland

Whether camping or looking for lodgings, staying in Applecross Scotland is a memorable experience. Below, we’ll take a look at camping in the Applecross Peninsula, before checking out a range of hotel options.

Camping in Applecross

Aside from wild camping, which is allowed in Scotland, your main camping option with facilities in Applecross is the Applecross Campsite. Here, you have the option to park up the motorhome, pitch the tent or book a caravan or camping hut.

Hotels in Applecross

  • The Bunkhouse: visitors to Applecross Scotland will find a decent budget option at The Bunkhouse. Guests can relax in the shared lounge and cook up a storm in the kitchen. Rooms have access to a shared bathroom.
  • Hartfield House Hostel: along the mountain pass road to Applecross is Hartfield House Hostel. The comfortable rooms here share the use of a bathroom and kitchen. There’s also free on-site parking and you can even bring your pet along for the trip.
  • Applecross Inn Scotland: the Applecross Inn is one of the best hotels in Applecross. The Applecross Inn features seven en-suite rooms and offers a fantastic full Scottish breakfast in the mornings.

Where to Eat in Applecross, Scotland

Shore Street may be a small row of cottages in Applecross Scotland, but you certainly won’t be disappointed when it comes to food and drink options.

Restaurants in Applecross

Applecross Inn: the ever-popular Applecross Inn sits slap bang on Shore Street. It was built in the early 19th century as a hotel and has been welcoming guests ever since. Applecross Inn enjoys prime views of the beachfront, looking across the Inner Sound. The Inn offers a bar and restaurant. Although, you’ll find both are closed to visitors all day on Tuesdays, opening back up at 3pm on Wednesdays. During this time they are open to residents of Applecross only. So, if you want to eat at Applecross Inn, avoid heading to the peninsula on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, until after 3pm!

Cafes in Applecross

The Walled Garden: The historic Applecross House, built in 1675, features a beautiful walled garden and sits close by to Clachan Church. The fully restored walled garden, dating from the 19th century, is now home to one of the best cafe choices in Applecross.

Applecross Inn-Side Out: this beachside food truck is run by Applecross Inn and sits directly opposite the well-known establishment. Here, you can buy fish and chips, sandwiches and crab salads as well as coffee and pastries. A very welcome addition to Shore Street if you ask us.

Applecross Pass in Scotland

Other Nearby Attractions

There’s plenty to see in and around Applecross Scotland along this portion of the NC500. Our recommendations include the following places.

For even more inspiration for your North Coast 500 trip, be sure to check out our The Complete Guide to Hikes Along the NC500 post, where we cover a wealth of natural and historic attractions along the route.

Weather in Applecross, Scotland

You can’t always rely on the weather to behave in Scotland. But, moody clouds and lush hillsides are partly what makes Scotland and the Applecross Peninsula so charming. So, we have to be a little forgiving of so much rain. For the latest updates on the weather for Applecross Scotland, you can check the MET forecast here.

Of course, summer usually brings the best chance of dry and sunny weather. During winter, it’s not unusual to see snow. During times of heavy snowfall, crossing the Applecross Pass may be difficult with restrictions in place.

Views across the Applecross Peninsula

Five Gear Essentials

These are our five gear essentials for visiting the Applecross Peninsula, Scotland!

Osprey Skarab 30
Osprey Skarab 30

The Osprey Skarab 30 is our go-to hiking backpack for day hikes. This well-designed unisex backpack is comfortable and spacious, so you’ll have plenty of space to pack everything without feeling the strain on your upper back.

Osprey Ultralight Raincover
Osprey Ultralight Raincover

A waterproof backpack cover is an absolute must when you’re adventuring outdoors. The Osprey Ultralight Raincover Medium is a high-quality waterproof cover that’ll keep your backpack bone dry.

GRAYL Reusable Water Bottle
GRAYL Reusable Water Bottle

The GRAYL GeoPress is the best water filter bottle that allows you to purify 710mL (12 ounces) of water. This bottle will make water safe to drink wherever you’re hiking.

BUFF Original Ecostretch
BUFF Original Ecostretch

The BUFF Original Ecostretch is a great option when it comes to multifunctional headwear. We use the Ecostretch as a neck gaiter to keep the sun off our necks and it helps us keep warm in cooler climates.

Sony Cybershot RX100 VII
Sony Cybershot RX100 VII

Capture epic photos and videos with the Sony Cybershot RX100 VII. This is hands-down the best compact camera. We love using this simple point-and-shoot camera when we’re hiking as it’s lightweight and durable.

To find out more about all of the gear that we use and recommend, read our guides about our favourite hiking gear, travel gear and camera gear. Otherwise, read our comprehensive travel packing checklist.

Bonus Tips

  • Cycling: indeed, cycling the Applecross Pass (Bealach Na Ba) is a true test of mettle. It’s one of the most famous cycle routes in the UK as well as one of the most difficult. But, feet up with a pint at the Applecross Inn once on the other side.
  • Congestion: the summer months coincide with peak tourism for Applecross Scotland. This means the Applecross Pass road will be much busier. Be patient, cautious and sit back and enjoy the views if the going is slow.
  • Tourist responsibility: Applecross Peninsula, the Pass and its viewpoint are some of the most touristic and photographed parts of the NC500. Due to the design of the road to Applecross, and its potential hazards, DO NOT stop at any point on the drive unless in a designated pull-in point or car park. No matter how good the photo opportunity is, it’s dangerous for yourself and others to do so.
  • Wildlife Tours: GetYourGuide offers some fantastic tours around the Applecross Peninsula, including multi-day trips and wildlife tours.

More of the NC500…

For other great stops along the NC500, check out our guides on the Bone Caves Circuit, Duncansby Head and the Fyrish Monument.

Beck Piggott

With an art and design based background, Beck uses photography and writing to help inspire readers to climb mountains, hike coastal trails and chase waterfalls around the globe.

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