Ever since we travelled Scotland in a rented van back in 2020, we’ve known that two things would eventually be an inevitability. One: We’d buy a van of our own – a dream that became reality in 2022! And two: Our first big road trip in our van would be driving the North Coast 500 route in Scotland! Having grown up in the South East of England, the Scottish Highlands really feel like another world, and we spent 4 wonderful weeks driving the highland roads and stopping off at a good mix of tourist spots and lesser-known places off the beaten track. In this post we’ll take you through just some of our highlights, as well as our favourite hidden gems!

Dunrobin Castle

Situated in Sutherland, Dunrobin Castle is the largest ‘great house’ in the Northern Highlands. We arrived at this fairytale castle early in the morning so we had the gardens almost entirely to ourselves! As we visited in early April, there were a lot of flowers not quite in bloom yet but we did catch one of the incredible falconry demonstrations. The falconer was very knowledgeable and flew these impressive birds of prey right over our heads!

Inside the Castle itself, the fairytale continues as visitors are permitted to wander through the grand halls and some of the Castle’s 189 lavish rooms. Make sure you take a peek out of the windows for fantastic views over the Moray Firth, as well as the gardens below – you can really appreciate the design of the gardens from up here! Dunrobin is an absolute feast for history lovers, as it is one of Britain’s oldest continuously inhabited houses dating back to the early 1300s. As such the rooms are crammed full of beautiful and luxurious historical artefacts from previous residents and their guests. One of our favourites was a handkerchief left behind by Queen Victoria during her stay in 1872!

Whaligoe Steps

Driving through the village of Lybster, you’ll find this unusual attraction cut into the cliffs along the coast. This man-made set of flagstone steps date back to the mid-18th century, though thankfully they’ve been restored a few times since then! Back in 1808, fishing boats came into port in the naturally formed harbour between the two sea cliffs here, and fishers would to haul their fish up these 365 steps to the clifftop!

We had to descend the zig-zagging steps slowly as we tried to admire in the view without falling into the North Sea – it’s worth stopping a few times on the corners to take it all in! At the bottom of the steps is the ruin of a building that used to store salt to cure the fish – it’s amazing to see this part of Whaligoe’s history still standing, even if only partially. There’s an old anchor in the water below nodding to this cove’s history, and we loved how easy it was to imagine how the port worked all those years ago, as it’s all still remarkably in-tact! The return journey up the steep steps was less fun, but it was just another excuse to stop and admire those views again!

Although the Whaligoe Steps are a popular attraction, they are notoriously difficult to find as they are not signposted. Use the What3Words ///octagonal.recoup.dated to find the track you need to turn onto from the main road.

The Isle of Lewis and Harris

The island is the largest in the Outer Hebrides, and though it’s only accessible by ferry or airplane, the few days we spent exploring the island were some of our favourites on our entire Scotland trip! The ferry crossing to Lewis and Harris from Ullapool takes 2.5 hours and is by no means a small cost – our return tickets were £152.50 altogether – but visiting the island was without a doubt one of our top highlights! So much so that we’ve written an entire post about why you need to visit this island.

Just some of the highlights on Lewis and Harris include:

  • The beaches. Luskentyre beach consistently ranks highly in lists of the best beaches to visit in the world! Arriving here we could see why – the brilliant white sand and turquoise waters against the dramatic backdrop of the mountains make for an incredible view! Another favourite was Bosta beach as it was here that we saw one of the most incredible sunsets of our entire trip – such a magical moment only added to by the tranquility and beauty of our surroundings.
  • The ancient history. The rich historical sites alone are worth the ferry crossing. The island’s famous Callanish standing stones were erected around 5,000 years ago – this predates Stonehenge! It’s fascinating to walk among the stones here and imagine the rituals that took place all those years ago. For a glimpse into traditional island life, we recommend visiting the Gearrannan blackhouses – a village of stone houses that were home to a small crofting community in the 1800s. One house has been preserved as a museum to learn more about what life would have looked like for the families that lived and worked here, and we were even treated to a live weaving demonstration of the famous Harris tweed on one of the remaining original looms.
  • The animals! We were stunned by how many seals we saw basking at Finsbay, along Harris’ famous Golden Road, and we loved seeing the beautiful herds of sheep grazing on the hills everywhere we went. Of course, as animal lovers, we couldn’t pass up the chance to visit the Callanish alpacas too! This family-run smallholding is home to dozens of rescue animals, from alpacas and pigs to peacocks and rare four-horned Hebridean sheep! The family offer drop-in visits and informal tours which we were lucky enough to catch – their passion for animal care really shines through.


While the Isle of Skye has become increasingly busy with tourists in recent years, we’d still recommend a visit as the unusual landscape on the island makes it fantastic for hiking! During our few days on the Isle of Skye, we completed a 7.6km hike at Quiraing where the landscape here was shaped by an ancient landslide. Quiraing is the only part of the slip that is still moving – a road at the base of Quiraing requires repairs every year! Hiking the narrow path winding up the hillside made us feel like we were in Lord of the Rings, especially in the midday sun when the journey became more of a challenge! But the views at the top over the oddly-shaped mountains below made the climb all the more worth it.


You don’t have to be a royalist to appreciate this one! We recommend a visit to Balmoral Castle – the Royal family’s holiday home, rich in history – though once we’d explored the estate we headed into the forest to find Prince Albert’s pyramid. This unusual structure is a memorial cairn built by Queen Victoria in the wake of her husband’s death. The view beyond the pyramid took our breath away, as you can see the Balmoral estate below and across the Cairngorms National Park beyond. We were lucky enough to have the pyramid to ourselves as we arrived in the early evening, and there was a serene atmosphere being here that made the symbolism of this great cairn all the more poignant. For us it’s a must-visit – where else would you find a pyramid in the middle of a forest?

Enjoying this post? Help support our blog by leaving a tip from as little as £1!

Hidden gems

In between all the big sights and highlights, these sweet lesser-known stops were the icing on the cake of our time in Scotland!

  • The Wee Hoose. On Loch Shin in Lairg, you’ll find a small house on a tiny island in the middle of the water. There are many conflicting stories about the Wee Hoose on Loch Shin – our favourite tale is that it’s home to Scottish water sprites. The truth is that the Wee Hoose was constructed about 20 years ago for a local gala, and organisers didn’t have the heart to throw it out! A very cute photo stop if you’re in the area.
  • The Highlanders Bakehouse. If you want to find a cafe that’s worth writing home about, just a few minutes walk from the entrance to the Balmoral estate you’ll find this incredible bakery tucked away on the side of the road. After a long day of exploring we headed to The Highlanders Bakehouse for a little pick me up, not realising what array of treats lay ahead of us! We enjoyed Malteser hot chocolates (with overs brought to our table in a little jug!) and chocolate hazelnut and lemon swirl pastries that were the size of our heads. Seating for the cafe is outside, though under cover, so the friendly staff brought us blankets and fuzzy hot water bottles to keep warm too. A real delight, and we enjoyed a long while here (mostly because we couldn’t move after all the delicious food).
  • EcoVentures boat trips. We highly recommend EcoVentures in Cromarty, and we can’t believe it wasn’t absolutely packed when we visited! We spent 2 hours on their wildlife watch on the Moray Firth, where we saw porpoises, seals and a host of sea birds. While we didn’t spot any of the resident Bottlenose dolphins, our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and friendly, and even gave us a cup of hot chocolate and a biscuit on the boat to keep us warm!
  • Little Croft Highlands. If you’re looking for a unique campsite on the North Coast, we highly recommend Little Croft Highlands. The site is just 15 minutes drive from John O’Groats and while it’s small – with just 5 hard standing pitches and a little grassy area – the hosts are super friendly and have a range of rescue animals for guests to meet! We loved hanging out with the goats, turkeys and chickens that were right next to our pitch. There’s also a kitchen, a lounge area with WiFi, and a bathroom with a piping hot shower for guests to use. This was one of our absolute favourite places to stop on our trip, and because the campsite only opened in July 2022 it’s still a relatively unknown gem!
  • Huisinis Gateway. Yet another reason why you have to add Lewis and Harris to your Scotland trip. Arriving to park up for the night at Huisinis Gateway, we were greeted by a large herd of Highland Cows! These big, fluffy coos didn’t mind posing for a few photos as we walked amongst them, and it felt like a big tick on our list of Scotland sights to see these beauties roaming on the hills! In true Lewis and Harris style, there is also a gorgeous beach here to explore and if you do want to park up here there is a building that is well set up for visitors, with showers, toilets, vending machines and indoor picnic benches to enjoy the view over the beach from the floor to ceiling windows.

We really can’t sing Scotland’s praises enough! Our 4 week trip travelling the highlands and islands was truly spectacular, and we hope our highlights and hidden gems have given you some inspiration for planning your own trip! For more inspiration, see our full itinerary from our trip. Wherever you plan to go, Scotland is magical no matter the time of year – get out there and discover this beautiful country for yourself!

If you found this post helpful, please support our blog by donating as little as £1 to our running costs! Thank-you!

If you like this post you might also like…

All Posts