Whether you find yourself at the most northeastern point of mainland Britain via the NC500, a long cycle from Land’s End, or simply as a quiet weekend from Inverness, you’ll soon discover John o’ Groats is far more than just a famous pin-drop on a map of the British Isles. In this guide, we’ll describe 12 awesome things to do in John o’ Groats, Scotland, that go beyond just a quick pit stop and snap at the well-known signpost.
But of course, we’ll call in at the John o’ Groats signpost too.
Dan and I visited John o’ Groats as part of our North Coast 500 (NC500) road trip. To see footage of the trip and what to expect, please watch our NC500 Hikes YouTube production.
The north coast of Scotland is full of breathtaking attractions. Be sure to check out our guides on Smoo Cave as well as discover where the Best Beaches Along the NC500 are located. Otherwise, read our Complete Guide to Hikes Along the NC500 post, where we talk about 18 fantastic NC500 hikes.
Table of Contents
About John o’ Groats
Despite being so well-known, John o’ Groats is just a small village. So, don’t expect a bustling metropolis to greet you at the end of a long drive. Instead, a quaint village containing just a handful of buildings awaits your arrival. In town, you’ll find a couple of eateries, accommodation options and a selection of shops. But, despite its bijoux size, John o’ Groats still packs a punch when it comes to interesting things to do and incredible natural attractions to see.
The larger towns of Thurso and Wick sit on either side of the village and are much better locations for stocking up on supplies, especially if you’re touring on the NC500.
Why Is it Called John o’ Groats?
The village is named after a 15th-century Dutchman called Jan de Groot. De Groot used to operate a ferry between the village and the island of Orkney. Legend has it he used to charge one ‘groat‘ (an old English and Irish coin equivalent to four pence) for the journey. Hence, this is where the name ‘o’ Groats‘ comes from. But, the name more likely comes from the Dutch, ‘de groot‘, meaning ‘the large’.
Where Is John o’ Groats
John o’ Groats occupies a small patch of remote landscape on the northeastern tip of Scotland on mainland Britain. The tiny village falls within the Scottish region of Caithness, an area rich in pre-historic remains, rugged coastline and important colonies of seabird. Many of these seabirds, like the puffin, you can enjoy seeing on your visit.
Once at the village, you’ll find a sizeable car park which is £3 to park at for the day. Overnight camping is not allowed. The postcode for John o’ Groats is KW1 4YR.
How to Get to John o’ Groats
It’s fairly straightforward to get to John o’ Groats. We recommend having access to your own vehicle to ensure you can conveniently see all the attractions around the area. But, if you don’t have access to your own car, motorbike or camper, then we really recommend hiring something. If hiring a car on a trip, we always get the ball rolling with a search on RentalCars.com. Booking a car with Rentalcars.com is easy and stress-free, plus they offer an unbeatable free cancellation policy too.
Thurso to John o’ Groats
If travelling the NC500 in a clockwise direction, you’ll be arriving via Thurso. Thurso is the northernmost town in the UK and just a 30 minute drive west of John o’ Groats along the A836. It’s also easy to get public transport from Thurso by taking bus #80 or #280 from this bus stop. The journey takes around 35 minutes.
Wick to John o’ Groats
If travelling the NC500 in an anti-clockwise direction, you’ll be travelling up from Wick. The town of Wick lies around 25 minutes south of John o’ Groats along the A99. You can also take a bus from Wick to get to John o’ Groats. The journey time is around 30 minutes and you can take bus #80 from this bus stop.
Inverness to John o’ Groats
If you’re not visiting John o’ Groats as part of the NC500, but still want to enjoy some of the awesome things to do in the area, then your most direct route is to shoot up from Inverness. The journey takes in the beautiful coastal views of the northeast of Scotland, with a drive time of around three hours and a distance of 194 km (120 miles).
Public transport is quite long-winded, so unless you’re staying in John o’ Groats for an extended time, we recommend having a car.
12 Awesome Things to Do in John o’ Groats
So, now you’ve travelled all this way, you’ll be wanting to make sure there’s plenty to keep you occupied. Below, we’ve listed 12 awesome things to do in the area on your visit to John o’ Groats in Scotland, which we think you’ll be pretty chuffed with.
1. See the John o’ Groats Signpost
Yes, I know, we said there’s more to do here than just visit the John o’ Groats signpost, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit at all. Now you’ve arrived at this super northerly point of mainland UK, you’ll be wanting to document your visit. So, you’ll need to head to the famous John o’ Groats signpost after all. This stark white signpost stands like a beacon just outside of John o’ Groats Harbour and makes for the perfect photo spot to remember your visit.
2. Take the Coastal Walk to Duncansby Head Lighthouse
The coastal scenery is so breathtaking here, it’d be a shame not to make the most of it and take an extended walk along this rugged and remote slice of Scotland. The good news is, there’s a wonderful coastal trail linking John o’ Groats with nearby Duncansby Head.
The walk begins from Scotland’s famous John o’ Groats signpost, before heading down to the harbour and winding east along the pebbly beach. You’ll round the Ness of Duncansby, before continuing past the Bay of Sannick, which is a lovely sandy beach. Soon enough, you’ll arrive at Duncansby Head. Here, you can enjoy the wonderful lighthouse.
The John o’ Groats to Duncansby Head walk from the famous signpost is a short but truly beautiful coastal walk in Scotland, with extraordinary views. The circular trail is around 8.5km and takes around 2.5–3 hours to complete.
You can find a GPS trail map here.
3. And Then Check Out the Duncansby Sea Stacks
Once you’ve made it to Duncansby Head and the lighthouse, you can continue the walk to admire the awe-inspiring Duncansby Sea Stacks. These incredible rock stacks are a huge star attraction of any visit here and well worth the short walk to reach them.
If you decide to visit Duncansby Head Lighthouse and Sea Stacks by driving from John o’ Groats, rather than by taking the coastal walk, you’ll find it’s just a quick five minute journey. Nice and easy.
4. Try Puffin Spotting
Whilst you’re there, Duncansby Sea Stacks are also home to an array of birdlife including Guillemots and Oystercatchers. If you’re lucky, you might even spot more wildlife such as a seal or two, down on the rocky beach below the cliffs. But, perhaps the most popular, and occasionally elusive animal to spot is the puffin. For a chance to see puffins, you should aim to visit between April and July.
5. Take a John o’ Groats Ferry to Orkney
On a clear day, you can enjoy views across the Pentland Firth to the Orkney Islands. But, why not go a step further by taking one of the John o’ Groat ferries and enjoying a day trip there? Running from 1 May to 30 September, the John o’ Groats ferry reaches Orkney in just 40 minutes. If you leave on the first ferry out of John o’Groats at 8.45am and return on the 5.30pm boat, then you really can enjoy a full day exploring Orkney.
You can find more information about the John o’ Groats ferry here.
6. Visit Canisbay Church and Jan De Groot’s Tomb
A quick four minute drive out of town brings you to Canisbay Parish Church, where you’ll find the grave of Jan de Groot. The church is Category A listed and is the most northern church on mainland Britain. Canisbay Parish Church is open for visitors in the summer, where you can view Jan de Groot’s tombstone inside the old stone building. Additionally, the Queen Mother used to attend church here during her summers at Castle of Mey, so, it has the royal seal of approval, so to speak.
7. Marvel at the Castle of Mey
The wonderful Castle of Mey was lovingly restored by Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, and used as her holiday residence up until her death. Since then, the late Queen Elizabeth II opened it up to the public between May and September. So, if you time your trip just right, you can have a mooch inside.
In addition, the gardens of the Castle of Mey are quite spectacular too. With the well-maintained and highly manicured layout, they make the perfect juxtaposition to the rugged landscape the castle sits within. A most worthy addition to the best things to do in John o’ Groats list, and just a 10 minute drive away.
8. John o’ Groats Brewery at the ”Last House” in Scotland
The ”Last House” in Scotland is the oldest surviving house in John o’ Groats, Scotland, thought to have been occupied by descendants of Jan de Groot himself. It’s a small white-washed stone house, of the typical “but-an-ben” style of the Highlands (a single-story, two-bedroomed cottage). Incredibly, the ”Last House” is now the home of the John o’ Groats Brewery. As well as brewing some stellar craft ales and serving up seaweed chips, the guys from the brewery have also restored some of the histories of the cottage.
Find out more here.
9. Tour the Old Pulteney Distillery
Whilst we’re talking all things booze, the Old Pulteney Distillery might pique your interest. For many, a trip to Scotland wouldn’t be a trip to Scotland without a distillery stop. So good news! The Old Pulteney is just 30 minutes away in the nearby town of Wick. The distillery was originally founded in 1826 and was only accessible by sea. Barley used to be brought in by boat, and the matured whisky shipped out the same way. Old Pulteney Distillery produces award-winning single malt whisky, which is highly regarded as some of the best in Scotland.
To plan your visit, click here.
10. Visit Dunnet Head
Although John o’ Groats is often mistaken as the most northerly point on mainland Britain, that accolade actually goes to its neighbour, Dunnet Head. The small promontory juts commandingly into the Pentland Firth and features a pretty lighthouse, built by the grandfather of Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson. I wonder if he took inspiration from this wild and breathtaking peninsula.
Similarly to the John o’ Groats signpost, there’s also a stone plaque symbolising your arrival at this most northerly point. You best have your camera at the ready. At just a 30 minute drive away, Dunnet Head really is one of the best attractions to see on your visit.
11. Wander the Ruins of Old Keiss Castle
For a castle a little less maintained than the Castle of Mey, but just as intriguing, you should head south and visit Old Keiss Castle. At just a 15 minute drive away, it’s an easy visit. The splendid castle ruins sit precariously on the cliff edge, ready to crumble into the wild waters of the North Sea at any moment. To get to Old Keiss Castle ruins, you’ll follow a walk from Keiss Harbour along a desolate Highlands beach landscape. Expect this walk to be quiet within the beguiling Caithness wilderness.
12. Stop in at Castle Sinclair Girnigoe Too
From Old Keiss Castle, it’s not far to add on a quick visit to Castle Sinclair Girnigoe. Situated on the Noss Head headland, with views across Sinclair’s Bay, you’ll find a quick and easy walk to this history-filled castle. To help with discovering bygone times, there are some helpful information boards detailing the former life of this incredible castle and its owners, the Clan Sinclair. This is easily one of the best castle ruins along the NC500 and just a 30 minute drive outside of John o’ Groats.
Accommodation in John o’ Groats
Given all the amazing things to do in John o’ Groats, Scotland, it’s quite reasonable to assume you might end up staying for a night… or two. To that end, let’s take a look at the best accommodation options.
Camping John o’ Groats
The main place for camping in John o’ Groats is the John o’ Groats Caravan and Camping Site. This exposed camping spot enjoys a prime seafront location with panoramic views and is a beautiful place to sleep, listening to the crashing waves at night. Sunrise and sunset are also pretty spectacular.
John o’ Groats Hotels
There are some great hotel options in John o’ Groats, Scotland. We’ve looked into the best budget, mid-range and luxury options for you.
- Budget – Seaview Hotel: located in the heart of the village is the Seaview Hotel. The hotel has a dated but cosy feel and makes a mean fish and chips. All in all, it’s a great value for money stay.
- Mid-range – The Anchorage B and B: this fabulous B&B has some of the best ratings I’ve seen for accommodation. The homely feel, great breakfast and welcoming reception make for a truly great home away from home at The Anchorage B and B.
- Luxury – John O’Groats: the apartment facilities at John O’Groats are truly impeccable. The panoramic views across to Orkney are second to none and guests love the clean and modern facilities.
John o’ Groats Restaurants
Below, is our pick of some of the best places to grab a bite to eat or enjoy a drink in John o’ Groats, Scotland.
- Stacks Coffee House: this deli works with local business suppliers, including cheese and coffee makers, to sell in their store. Stacks Coffee House also grows its own ingredients, which go into its super delicious food options.
- John o’ Groats Brewery: as mentioned above, what’s not to enjoy about seaweed chips and a pint?
- The Cabin: because it would be rude not to stop for fish and chips when you’re visiting any stretch of coast in the UK. Better stop in at The Cabin.
These are our five travel essentials for visiting John o’ Groats in Scotland! For a more extensive hiking gear list, check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Alternatively, for a general summary of everything you’d need for a trip to Scotland and the North Coast 500, visit our Ultimate Packing Checklist.
- Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Boots: these hiking boots are super comfortable and lightweight and perfect for the coastal walk to Duncansby Head.
- The North Face Venture Jacket: a fantastic windproof/waterproof jacket, because, this is Scotland.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for day trips, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
- The North Face TKA Glacier Fleece Jacket: an excellent warmth:weight ratio fleece jacket that’ll help keep you warm. It can certainly be breezy on this northern tip of Scotland.
- Columbia Convertible Trousers: a value-for-money pair of water-resistant convertible trousers.
Whether you’re from the UK or further afield, travel insurance is a real necessity. Especially if taking on a road trip.
SafetyWing is an excellent budget-friendly travel insurance provider. Personally, Dan and I have used SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance many times to insure our trips. The Nomad Insurance is fantastic value for money with a smaller additional cost to add a partner. Unlike most other insurance companies, there’s an option to pay on a monthly basis, similar to having a prepaid phone plan. Better yet, there’s no lock-in contract. In addition, you can cancel at any time, which will take effect the month after.
For shorter trips, it’s also possible to use Nomad Insurance for trips lasting just days or just 2–3 weeks. Indeed, SafetyWing is cheaper than almost all other travel insurance policies and covers just as much and sometimes more.
SafetyWing is a modern travel insurance company that is certainly leading the way in terms of how travel insurance should work in the future.
- Longer walks: take on the John o’ Groats Trail for a longer walk in the beautiful Caithness region of Scotland. The hike follows 235km of trail, beginning in Inverness and finishing in John o’ Groats. Of course, for an even bigger challenge, there’s always the Land’s End to John o’ Groats Walk (or vice versa).
- Supplies: visit Wick and Thurso for a better selection of supplies. John o’ Groats does have a fuel station though, located here.
- John o’ Groat’s weather: Scotland can be wild, but it’s always beautiful. Still, how much you enjoy the weather depends on how prepared you are for it. You can check the weather here.
- More Scottish Islands: if you enjoy visiting Orkney, consider future trips to the Outer Hebrides for more remote and beautifully wild Scottish islands.
- Hassle-free exploring: if you prefer the ins and outs of trip planning to be taken care of for you, GetYourGuide offers some pretty great tours to and from John o’ Groats, Scotland.