If you’ve never thought about visiting beaches on a trip to Scotland, then that’s okay, us either. For the NC500, we were drawn to the incredibly scenic drive and world-class hiking. But, it was to be the beaches along the North Coast 500 that really blew us away. The powdery golden sands and turquoise waters you’ll find in the Scottish Highlands would not look out of place in the Med! Certainly, some of the white sand beaches along the NC500 had to make us think twice about how far we’d actually driven. Were we even still in Scotland? But yes, we’re here to tell you that Scottish beaches are incredible, with a list of 25 of the best to visit along the NC500.
To see footage of the wider NC500 road trip, feel free to watch our NC500 Hikes production.
For other epic things to do along the NC500, read our Complete Guide to Hikes Along the NC500 post, where we talk about 18 epic NC500 hikes.
Table of Contents
What Is The NC500?
The NC500 (North Coast 500) is 500 miles of sublime scenic driving in the north of Scotland. The road trip is one of the best in the world and is gaining popularity year on year. From some of the best Scottish beaches to truly world-class mountain treks, Scotland’s NC500 is one of the best trips you can make in the UK.
About the NC500 Beaches
In this list of the 25 most epic beaches to visit on the NC500, we’ll roughly list them in a clockwise direction, beginning on the west coast. Hopefully, this will help you to plan where and when to fit them into your North Coast 500 itinerary and tick off some of the best Scottish beaches that will blow your mind. So, let’s take a look. Feel free to click on the interactive map below to check out where each of these Scottish beaches are located.
1. Sands, Applecross Bay
If you’re driving over Bealach Na Ba, AKA the Applecross Pass, then you’ll likely be calling in at this stellar Scottish beach. Indeed, Sands, Applecross was the first beach Dan and I actually visited on the NC500 and we were completely blown away.
It was actually fun watching Dan trying to digest the fact that Australia-style beaches did in fact exist in the UK. There’s a short walk through the dunes from the car park to reach this glorious stretch of sand. And from this NC500 beach, you can enjoy views out to the Isle of Skye.
2. Big Sand Beach
Gairloch is a very popular town to pass through along the west coast of the NC500, and it’s not short of beaches either. North of the small town is Big Sand Beach, and I guess the name explains just what you’ll find there. Across from this huge golden sand beach is Longa Island, whilst surrounding the bay are the splendid Torridon mountains, which are easily some of the best to hike along the entire NC500. Be sure to check out Beinn Alligin and Beinn Eighe as you pass through. Chilling out at Big Sand Beach is surely one of the best rewards after hiking hard.
3. Red Point Beach
South of Gairloch is Red Point Beach. This deep golden-pink sand beach (made from Tellin Shells) certainly involves a slight detour from the main NC500 route. There’s a small car park at the end of the B8056 road, running south out of Gairloch. From here, you’ll take a secluded walk through the dunes before opening out onto this utterly charming Scottish beach.
You can enjoy views across to the Isle of Skye and perhaps, on a clear day, to Lewis and Harris. This is one of the quietest, most remote and wildest beaches along the North Coast 500 in Scotland, and you’re sure to love it.
4. Mellon Udrigle Beach
This lesser-known of the NC500 beaches is a real gem in the Wester Ross region of the Scottish Highlands. Believe it or not, the pure white sands and translucent turquoise waters aren’t what make Mellon Udrigle Beach one of the best beaches on the NC500. In fact, it’s the extraordinary vistas of the mountainous landscape surrounding it. Jaws will drop when this beach is seen for real, that’s for sure.
Indeed, the recognisable mountain profile of Suilven is easily spotted in the epic line-up. As to are Stac Pollaidh and An Teallach. What an unbelievably beautiful place and by far one of the best beaches in the whole of Scotland.
5. Gruinard Bay
We didn’t stop at Gruinard Bay for a long time, but it was a good time. This was one of those North Coast 500 beaches that turned out to be perfectly placed after a stretch of driving. Located close to the epic Torridon mountains between Gairloch and Ullapool, the landscape around Gruinard Bay is exceptional. Smidge net at the ready so you don’t catch too many flies as your jaw drops when you pass through this area.
6. Ardmair Beach
Dan and I camped at Ardmair Point and loved the moody sunsets over the white-grey pebbles. Yes, this is the only pebble beach included in this list, but, Ardmair Beach is in a super lovely location and is passed by on practically every NC500 driving route. Not far from Ullapool, this Scottish beach is surprisingly sheltered and has some beautiful views out across to the Summer Isles and Loch Canaird.
7. Achmelvich Beach
Achemelvich Beach is one of the most popular beaches on the North Coast 500 and for good reason. The beautiful white sand beach set against the drool-worthy turquoise hues of the water will have you thinking you’re anywhere but Scotland. Or, perhaps you’ll appreciate the beauty of Scotland all the more, on one of its best beaches. Water sports are popular at this Scottish beach, as well as just general relaxing along the NC500.
8. Clachtoll Beach
This stunning little patch of Scotland was easily one of the best beaches we came across on our NC500 road trip. Clachtoll Beach feels remote and rugged, and the sea stacks, like Split Rock, look impressive from the shoreline. Nearby is Clachtoll Broch, an iron-age roundhouse dating back to around 400–250 BC. So, you have a bit of history to enjoy at this excellent beach along the NC500 too.
9. Sandwood Bay Beach
Sandwood Bay Beach is one of the most remote and off-the-beaten-track beaches along the NC500. It’s so beautiful, it’s hard to put into words. No wonder it’s often referred to as the best beach in the UK. The beach can only be accessed via a 4 mile walk, hence why it feels so remote. But what a reward to those who trek there! This vast golden beach is sublime.
At the western end of Sandwood Bay is Am Buachaille, a magnificent sea stack that attracts countless visitors in its own right. Also, to the south of the beach is Sandwood Loch.
10. Oldshoremore Beach
If Sandwood Bay feels a little too remote or inaccessible, then you might consider Oldshoremore Beach. This fine Scottish beach sits a little further south on the same coastline as Sandwood Bay but can be driven to. There’s a car park here with public toilets. You’ll find the same dreamy golden sands and turquoise water, just with more amenities. As you can imagine, this is a very popular beach along the NC500.
11. Balnakeil Beach
There’s just something about Balnakeil Beach. In fact, Balnakeil could easily be in contention for Scotland’s best beach. I mean, what’s not to fall in love with here? There are creamy sands that drift between fluffy tufted dunes. Purple thistles grow on the beach, turquoise waters gently lap the shore and there are even the ruins of a long-forgotten parish church. And to top all of that off, there’s a wonderful little coastal walk to take it all in. Yep, as North Coast 500 beaches go, we certainly love Balnakeil.
12. Sango Sands
Sango Sands is one of the best beaches in the Durness area of Scotland. Its golden sands and rugged cliff walls make secret coves and rock pools aplenty. This North Coast 500 beach even got Dan’s Aussie seal of approval on an overcast and slightly cold August day… so, it must be good! Not far away is the super impressive Smoo Cave, which is a NC500 must.
13. Ceannabeinne Beach
We didn’t plan to stop at Ceannabeinne Beach. But, after spying it from the deliciously windy road, we found the nearest lay-by to pull in and marvel at it. And you can see why. Framed perfectly by the grassy verges and headland surrounding it, Ceannabeinne Beach is an absolute dream. We even spotted a little tent camping out in the distance.
Ceannabeinne Beach is the location of the UK’s northernmost zipline. So, if you’re feeling adventurous, there’s always that on top of a swim and beach walk to look forward to.
14. Coldbackie Sands Beach
If you’re looking for some peace and seclusion along the North Coast 500, then Coldbackie Sands is one of the best beaches to visit. But, you’ll have to put a bit of work in for it. Located close by to Tongue, and the pretty Castle Varrich, you’ll find this beautiful white sand beach at the end of a steep downhill hike. This glorious NC500 beach is often quite deserted, with perhaps the odd surfer or landscape photographer out enjoying this wondrous location.
15. Torrisdale Bay
Nestled along the fantastic Sutherland coastline is Torrisdale Bay. Here, you’ll find a 1.5km stretch of near-perfect beach. Indeed, it’s easy to see why Torrisdale Bay made it onto our ’25 Epic Beaches To Visit Along Scotland’s NC500′ list. Access to the beach is via a picturesque walk from Invernaver, along the banks of the River Naver, which opens up into Torrisdale Bay. The beach is popular with surfers, as well as history enthusiasts, who can enjoy the ancient cairns and stone huts.
16. Strathy Bay
It’s golden sands galore on the northern fringes of Scotland, with Strathy Bay being one of the largest and most pristine of these Scottish beaches. It’s no wonder Strathy Bay is award-winning. There’s a quaint cemetery on the cliffside overlooking this beautiful NC500 beach. And, you’ll find caves and sea stacks to explore whilst walking along the seafront.
17. Melvich Beach
For the purest of golden sands and undulating dunes, you don’t need to look any further than Melvich Beach. Overlooking the Pentland Firth on the north coast of Scotland is one of the finest Scottish beaches. You should also consider a trip to the village of Portskerra which overlooks the beach, as well as heading down to the natural harbour.
18. Sandside Bay Beach
A little further east of Melvich Beach brings you, in quick succession, to another of the North Coast 500’s best beaches. Hello Sandside Bay Beach. At Sandside Bay Beach, you’ll find a pretty harbour dating back to 1830. The creamy sands are backed with grassy dunes and the Reay Golf Course. You can find parking at Sandside Bay Beach which is a lovely stop before entering Thurso.
19. Dunnet Bay
On the outskirts of Thurso, which is mainland UK’s largest northernmost town, is the sweeping Dunnet Bay. Despite its rather long 3km length, Dunnet Bay is quite sheltered and is one of the best beaches along the NC500 for watersports and sunbathing alike. On a windy day, you’ll likely spot surfers out enjoying the swell. The surrounding sand dunes are also a favourite of many birds, so keep a look out for oystercatchers and eider ducks.
20. Bay of Sannick
A trip to Duncansby Head is a must on the NC500. But, there’s more than just the sea stacks and lighthouse to visit. Indeed, you can also see another of the best beaches along the North Coast 500 – Bay of Sannick. Even better, you can reach the Bay of Sannick and it’s pretty sandy beach along the John o’ Groats to Duncansby Head Coastal Walk. The trail length is around 8.5km and takes around 2.5–3 hours to complete.
21. Sinclair’s Bay
Sinclair’s Bay is a long stretch of coastline and one of the best places along the NC500 to do a spot of castle hopping. Indeed, along Sinclair’s Bay, you’ll find Keiss Castle and Castle Sinclair Girnigoe. Whilst exploring Sinclair’s Bay, you should also check out Whaligoe Steps. Truly, there’s so much to see along this eastern stretch of coast, that Sinclair’s Bay is easily one of the best beaches on the northeast coast of Scotland.
22. Golspie Beach
Located next to the fairytale Dunrobin Castle is Golspie Beach. There’s even something quite magical looking out across the pebble-backed sandy beach and into the moody waters of the North Sea. Its ruggedness is quite different from those wild Scottish beaches found on the west coast; but, is still just as much apparent.
Quite simply, Golspie Beach is one of the best beaches along the NC500 and even has a quaint fishing village to go with it. A walk up the coast towards the town of Brora is particularly scenic, as to a walk around the grounds of Dunrobin Castle.
23. Dornoch Beach
South of Golspie Beach is Dornoch Beach. It’s another splendid bay that’s perfect for a swim if you feel brave enough. That’s because Dornoch Beach has been prized the Seaside Award for being a clean bathing beach and that alone makes this beach one of the best in Scotland. You’ll see when you visit, the golden sands and clear waters feel, and look, just as nature intended.
The beach features a car park and public toilets. It’s also a stone’s throw from the Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve, which will appeal to bird watchers and nature lovers alike.
24. Portmahomack Beach
Another east coast delight is Portmahomack Beach. Here, you’ll find the opportunity to spot dolphins out in the Dornoch Firth. The Tarbat Peninsula walk is a wonderful way to stretch your legs, visiting the eye-catching red and white striped Tarbat Ness Lighthouse.
25. Rosemarkie Beach
On the outskirts of Inverness and located on the Black Isle is Rosemarkie Beach. From this wonderful Scottish beach, you can visit the Fairy Glen Nature Reserve, as well as explore the nearby Cairds Cave. A great family beach that’s extra special due to the famous ‘Dolphin Mile’. This walk from Rosemarkie Beach to Chanonry Point is the best land-based viewpoint for dolphin spotting on the mainland UK. And that alone makes this one of the best beaches along the North Coast 500.
Driving to the NC500 Beaches
The easiest way to drive the North Coast 500 to see some of these epic Scottish beaches is with your own set of wheels. Whether that be a car, camper or motorbike, you’ll have much more freedom than relying on public transport. Be mindful, some roads down to Scottish beaches are single-track and unpaved, so you may prefer to park in roadside lay-bys if available. Certainly, large vehicles should rethink entering narrow roads as obstructions are commonplace along the NC500.
Of course, if you don’t have access to your own set of wheels, then we recommend hiring something. When hiring a car, 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.
Travel Insurance For the NC500
Whether you’re from the UK or further afield, travel insurance is a necessary evil, especially if taking on a road trip like the NC500.
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.
Five Travel Essentials For NC500 Beaches
These are our five travel essentials for visiting some of the best beaches in Scotland along the NC500. 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.
- Beach Towel
- The North Face Venture Jacket: a fantastic windproof/waterproof jacket, because you know, this is still Scotland after all.
- 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 when the sun drops and you want to enjoy a sunset.
Bonus Tips For the Best NC500 Beaches
- Be picky: there are SO many gorgeous beaches along the NC500 that it’s impossible to see them all. Well, on one trip anyway. It’s okay to be choosey, they’re not going anywhere and it’ll just be an excuse to return. Or is that just us?
- More than just beaches: the NC500 has some fabulous Scottish beaches, but, it’s the hiking that really blew us away. Be sure to check out our Complete Guide to Hikes Along the NC500 guide. In this guide, you’ll also find information on accommodation and general NC500 tips.
- Stress-free NC500: to have the hassle taken out of some of your NC500 trip planning, GetYourGuide offers some pretty spectacular tours from major cities like Edinburgh and Inverness.
Share this post with your NC500 road trip buddies, ready to see some beautiful Scottish beaches!