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AITO Tour Operator of The Year 2016 - Gold AwardThe Telegraph Travel Awards Winner 2017

North Coast 500 & Orkney

The perfect pairing of wilderness and wonder: drive Scotland’s answer to Route 66 and combine with the magical islands of Orkney.

The North Coast 500 has garnered an enviable reputation as one of the world’s great touring routes – known as Scotland‘s answer to ‘Route 66’ – and offers keen drivers challenging roads and breath-taking scenery, while Orkney – just a 90-minute ferry crossing away – is like another world, where ancient Neolithic history meets unique landscape and more terrific driving.

Our unique road trip itinerary combines both with alluring, comfortable accommodation.

At A Glance

Best Time To Go

Mar - Oct. Enjoy long, light summer nights in June / July

Why not...

…extend your holiday to include 2 - 3 nights in Inverness?

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Day one – Inverness to Wester Ross

Designed to begin in Inverness, though we can tailor-make your holiday to suit your individual requirements, your first stop is at a breath-takingly beautiful location in wild Wester Ross. You can choose a route from Inverness that traverses the shores of Loch Ness, passes much-photographed Eilean Donan castle and includes the Bealach na Bà on the Applecross peninsula, one of the most exhilarating roads in the UK.

Your hotel in Wester Ross

Formed from a row of whitewashed cottages, your hotel in Wester Ross is a small, family owned inn that presents an ideal spot from which to explore the many dramatic and picturesque attractions nearby. Surrounded by fabulous mountain scenery, the hotel is set on the shores of a serene loch, visible from the upstairs lounge and restaurant, where no-one would blame your for whiling away an afternoon with a dram from the honesty bar, watching the odd boat make its way along the loch. Evenings in fine weather here bring wonderful west coast sunsets – for the fortunate visitor!

Day three – North to Ross-shire 

Heading north today, you can afford to ease off the gas a little and make as many stops as you wish, taking time to soak in the incredible scenery in this part of Scotland. Deep sea-lochs, endless sandy beaches and towering mountains combine to put on a spectacular show around every bend.

Your hotel in Ross-shire

One of the area’s more unusual hotels, we love this most interesting property, its setting and ethos. An amalgam of coffee bar, restaurant, bookshop, art space and hotel, the place has been moulded over the years by its owners, and established as the prime social centre of arts and crafts for miles around.

The relaxing guest lounge upstairs features a collection of the most comfortable couches, from where the array of books and games can be enjoyed over a never-ending supply of free tea and coffee or a drink from the honesty bar. There’s every chance you’ll strike up dialogue with locals and travellers alike, while the sound of traditional music and poetry drifts in from the bar. Food served here is of good-quality local produce, with seafood and vegetarian dishes dominating the menu.

The in-house bookshop carries a unique selection of books on Scotland, Scottish writing, art and history, while rare publications and special editions are a feature of the available stock. A selection of books from the shop feature in each bedroom too, and guest are welcome to purchase on check-out.

Day five – the North Coast and Caithness 

Your route today takes you through some of the last genuine wilderness left in Europe, featuring vast stretches of uninhabited land interspersed with the odd isolated crofthouse, ruined castle or humble bothy. Scotland’s North Coast boasts some of the country’s best unspoiled beaches and dramatic landscape, as well as a wealth of fascinating history just off the thrilling roads you’ll find here. Your destination at Thurso is a relatively bustling town, with authentic bars, a couple of terrific restaurants and a rich history.

Your guest house in Thurso

A warm welcome is assured here at this locally owned guest house, whose host is only too happy to impart her vast knowledge of the surrounding area. The house blends traditional and modern elements and is conveniently placed for Thurso town, its bars and restaurants and historic centre, while the stunning Caithness coast is right on the doorstep.

Day seven – Across the sea to Orkney

This morning cross by ferry from Scrabster – a mere 90-minute crossing – and find yourself in the evocative and atmospheric landscape of Orkney.

Steeped in ancient history, the Orkney Islands (or ‘Orkney’, but never ‘the Orkneys’) make for an extraordinary holiday destination. UNESCO has designated parts of Orkney Mainland a World Heritage site, including the Standing Stones at Stenness, some of which stand 6m tall, while the nearby Ring of Brodgar is accessible at any time, and especially enchanting near dusk.

Dating from 3000BC, the dwellings at Skara Brae beautifully illustrate how ancient communities thrived on these islands, while the impressive chambered cairn of Maeshowe is another must-see.

Reminders of Orkney’s role during two World Wars are dotted around and throughout the islands, the Italian Chapel constructed by POWs is a particularly poignant relic.

Of course, there’s no shortage of wildlife here, birdwatching being of particular appeal, while you might be lucky to spot seals and various other sealife – dolphins, porpoises, minke and even killer whales are often seen frolicking. Back on land, there’s no shortage of fresh seafood, while local craftspeople produce an array of world-class products including knitwear and jewellery.

Your hotel in Orkney

Set close to the centre of the ancient and attractive town, your family owned hotel is ideally set to explore the impressive St Magnus Cathedral and the meandering streets of Kirkwall.

Day nine – a short ferry crossing to ‘the Egypt of the North’

Today, take a short ferry crossing to the island of Rousay, often called the ‘Egypt of the North’, due its abundance of ancient sites of archaeological interest. With a unique feel, the island – one of Orkney’s hilliest – offers terrific walking, gorgeous beaches and a peaceful place to rest for a day or two. ensuring you see a different side to the archipelago.

Your hotel on Rousay

Close to the ferry port on Rousay, this appealing family run hotel features just four guest rooms, and a raised deck from where you can enjoy wonderful views over Eynhallow Sound to Randall and Evie while sipping a dram or a local Orkney brew. The menu is of unpretentious, local fare, perfect at the end of a long day, perhaps doing very little at all.

Day 11 – return to the UK mainland and head for Royal Dornoch

Two ferry crossings today: first from Rousay to Orkney Mainland, then from St Margaret’s Hope to Gills Bay. John o’ Groats is just a short distance east of Gills Bay and you’ll want to stop here to record your visit to the most northerly UK settlement – and maybe venture to Dunnet Head, the northernmost point on the UK mainland. From here you’ll drop down the east coast, with plenty of fascinating stopping points along the way as you head to your last destination, the pretty Highland town of Dornoch.

Your accommodation in Dornoch

Set on the High Street of this most historic Highland town, your guest house in Dornoch is a traditional, family owned property of exceptional quality. Beautifully presented, with a host of family pieces throughout, and within strolling distance of the fabulous beach and golf course, you’ll experience friendly hospitality and a world-class breakfast, including fresh home-made breads.

Day 13 – completing the North Coast 500

It’s a fairly short hop today towards Inverness via Dingwall and Beauly, though there are a number of terrific whistle-stops you may wish to make as you head to the Highland capital; Glenmorangie distillery visitor centre is very close by, for example. As you ease in to the city, steer towards Inverness castle, park up and give yourself a pat on the back, as you have just completed the North Coast 500 – with added Orkney!


This six centre holiday will take you around the north coast of Scotland, with your first two nights’ accommodation in Shieldaig, followed by two nights in Ross-shire and two in Thurso. You will then travel by ferry to Orkney for four nights, and finally finish back on the mainland in Dornoch.


£1125 per person in March, £1145 per person in April & October, £1210 per person in May through September.

Price is based on two adults sharing a double or twin en-suite room for 12 nights on a bed and breakfast basis in our hand-picked selection of small hotels and guest houses, return ferry crossings to Orkney and to the Isle of Rousay, and an Historic Scotland Explorer pass allowing entry to Orkney’s key historical sites.

Before your departure, you will receive personalised holiday information including full directions, recommended routes, and suggestions on places to visit depending on your interests and our local knowledge to help you get the most from your holiday.

All itineraries and room types are presented subject to availability at specific hotels.

The McKinlay Kidd Guarantee

All our holiday prices include a service charge of £9 per person per night towards the costs we incur in researching, planning and designing your holiday.

We guarantee to refund this service charge if you believe that arranging your holiday through McKinlay Kidd has not met your expectations for value. All we ask is that you write to us within 7 days of your return and explain your reason for claiming the refund. This will ensure that we can improve the experience for all our future guests.

Along the North Coast 500 (Part 1)

Along the North Coast 500 (Part 1)

Drive the North Coast 500, Scotland’s acclaimed 516-mile touring route around some of the country’s remotest parts, and chances are you’ll end u...


Check availability for North Coast 500 & Orkney

This holiday can be arranged from March to October.

To check the latest availability for this holiday complete the form below or call us. We will respond to your availability check within one working day if at all possible. Please bear with us on this - we work with a hand-picked selection of smaller hotels, guest houses, and other independent businesses, ensuring that you have the chance to explore off the beaten track and really get under the skin of the destination.

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