Inverness to John o’ Groats: things to see on a drive to the top of Scotland (2023)

If you find yourself in the North of Scotland it’s very tempting to make the trip from Inverness to John o’Groats. It’s not that far and it ticks off a place that many have on their bucket list – yes, the northern tip of Scotland!

Actually, if you’re looking for the most northern point of mainland Scotland then you’ll find that it’s actually Dunnet Head, about 15 miles west of John o’Groats. But let’s not allow that to dampen our enthusiasm for exploring this part of Scotland!

I’ve been to John o’Groats so many times over lots of years – first going when I was about 10 or so. Funnily enough I seem to remember it was a day trip from a similar area in the Highlands – something my family just had to do. Oh and we also had to get the photo of us at the sign as well – matching the one we got at the other end of the country in Cornwall!

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Our Top Pick

stone age village Skara Brae on Orkney, Scotland

Orkney trips from John o’Groats

Once at John o’Groats you can then head even further north on a boat trip to Orkney – home of the ancient village of Skara Brae

This part of Scotland isn’t as popular as many of the west coast Scottish destinations but it still has a lot to offer if you’re looking to get off the beaten path! You might also be looking to drive it as part of the NC500 as for many it’s the first leg of the trip, depending of course on which way round you drive it.

A note from the writer: Hey! I’m Kirsty and I’m a UK travel expert – while I grew up in Scotland, as an adult I now return to visit almost every year – there’s so much to see! Shout (or comment below) if you have any questions about your next trip and I’ll get back to you ASAP.

Let’s take a look at the drive from Inverness to John o’Groats:

reading sign at John o'Groats
learning about what’s around at John O’Groats

How to get to John o’Groats from Inverness

Driving is the easiest way to get to John o’Groats from Inverness. There are no direct buses or trains between the two.

The nearest train stations are in Wick or Thurso – you can then catch local buses from there to John o’Groats.

An organised tour is a good way to see the area if you don’t have your own transport. This one takes you see Dunrobin Castle before getting to the tip of Scotland.

How far is John o’Groats from Inverness?

If you’re driving from Inverness to the tip of Scotland at John o’Groats it’s around 120 miles which should take you between 2.5 and 3 hours of driving with no stops.

It’s a good, main road all the way up to John o’Groats using the A9 and then the A99 past the town of Wick. You’ll have the North Sea to look out towards and while, yes, it doesn’t have the grandeur of the west coast, it’s not a bad sight to drive along to!

The road is used by trucks, cars, vans and buses so it’s plenty big if you’re travelling the NC500 by motorhome so don’t worry about that.

The only issue to watch out for is that if there’s an accident it can cause problems since it’s a single lane each side with very few alternatives to get to your destination.

Car hire is easy from Inverness Airport if you’re flying into the Highlands and want to add John o’Groats and the NC500 to your trip!

There's a lot to do on a drive from Inverness to John o'groats including boat trips and the famous sign

7 things to see going from Inverness to John o’Groats

When exploring the Highlands there’s always a lot to see so if you can, when going to John o’Groats from Inverness, I highly recommend a stop or two.

If you’re planning to do the trip as a day trip from Inverness and go there and back in a day, you can still incorporate some stops but be aware it could be a long day for you – set off early!

I’ve kept these attractions just to what is very close by on a road trip to John o’Groats – you don’t want to take too much time out of your day if you’re doing the return journey.

Of course, if you’re staying over in John o’Groats (see below) or it’s part of an NC500 trip then you might be able to incorporate a lot of them or even go a little further off the road.

1. Tain Museum

A small museum in the town of Tain which is run by volunteers. If you’re interested in local history of the area then it’s well worth the stop. Tain is a pretty little town if you want to stretch your legs a bit and the museum can help there too!

It’s open Tuesdays – Friday’s, 10am -4pm from April to October.

glenmorangie whisky distillery

2. Glenmorangie Distillery

Distilleries can be difficult to incorporate into a road trip, especially if you want to have a taste of the product too! If you are a fan of Glenmorangie, one of the more famous whiskies in Scotland, then it’s worth heading here for a trip, even if you can’t have a taste on the day – you can always pick up a bottle for enjoying in your hotel room later on!

Open from 10-5pm (mon- fri, not open weekends) – you can also go on a tour which costs around £18 per person.

3. Golspie Burn Waterfall Walk

A walk from the small village of Golspie along a gorge and following the ‘Big Burn’ towards a waterfall. It takes around an hour and takes in some spectacular scenery.

castle with turrets in Scotland

4. Dunrobin Castle

Not far from the Golspie walk is a fairytale castle that is open to the public to visit. With turrets that give it a slightly French chateau look it’s an interesting place to visit. Dunrobin Castle has been the seat of the Earl of Sutherland since the 1400s, one of the richest and powerful families in British history. There’s falconry displays, the beautiful gardens to explore and also a museum to learn the history.

Open from April to October

5. Old Keiss Castle

North of the town of Wick you can explore a ruined castle, very different from Dunrobin, which overlooks the sea. Keiss castle can be found after a small walk from the village of Keiss. Not only can you see the castle, which has been replicated in a later house, you can also discover ancient brochs – there’s a couple of these prehistoric Scottish site remains along the path.

sea stacks at coast near John o'groats, Scotland

6. Duncansby Head

Finally, just before you get to John o’Groats you might be tempted to bear right towards the most north eastern part of mainland Britain – Duncansby Head.

There’s plenty to see here from amazing sea stack and sea birds around to the light house. If coastal walks are your thing then this one is well worth the detour!

Sign and buildings at John o'Groats at tip of Scotland
John o’Groats – a bucket list stop at the top of Scotland

7. John o’Groats

Finally we get to the main destination – John o’Groats. It’s just a small place and it is very touristy with what’s on offer. Now this isn’t always a bad thing, but it’s good to be prepared before you go. Some people have got a bit disappointed with the end point

When you get there there’s a large car park with plenty of room for cars, bikes (if you’ve cycled!), and motorhomes. It’s There’s a smattering of gift shops, a tiny brewery and places to get some food.

Of course, you have the sign post, the place many come to get the photo opp. Make sure you get your picture taken there!

As well as the commercial side of the village there’s also the wonderful coastline and nature to be explored, so don’t let a perceived lack of interesting ‘things to do’ put you off. There’s plenty and you can even see puffins, dolphins and so much more here.

Boat trips from John o’Groats

Another thing you can do once there is catch a ferry to Orkney as a day trip or do a wildlife cruise around the coast – it’s something still on my list to do! The coastline is gorgeous around there and it’s been highly recommend as a trip to me.

Where to stay in John o’Groats

If you’re looking to extend your time in the far north east of Scotland then it might be worth grabbing somewhere to stay in John o’Groats.

I love to be near the sea and able to go for a wander somewhere spectacular without having to get in the car so, if you’re anything like me, then the following are recommendations for you:

FAQ about driving from Inverness to John o’Groats

Is it worth going to John o’Groats

John o’Groats has a lot to offer from wildlife sightings, nature walks along the coastline and, of course, the iconic sign post to get your photo taken at. The village has shops and places to eat while looking over the coastline.

From John o’Groats you can easily get to Orkney by ferry as well – it’s only about 40 minutes and can be done as a day trip where you can see the ancient site of Skara Brae.

Does John o’Groats have a railway station?

No. The nearest railway station to John o’Groats is in the town of Wick or Thurso.

What is there to see between Inverness and John o’Groats?

There’s a lot to see on the 120 mile drive from Inverness to John o’Groats. The main stops are Dunrobin Castle, Duncansby Head and Glenmorangie Distillery.

Can you see the northern lights in John o’Groats?

Yes it’s possible to see the northern lights in John o’Groats. The best times are March/April and September/October but can be unpredictable with cloud cover and weather.

Can you see dolphins at John o’Groats?

Yes, many boat trips go to explore the wonderful marine wildlife around the north coast of Scotland. You can see dolphins and many other seabirds and wildlife on a trip.

Why is John o’Groats so famous?

John o’Groats is famous for being the most northerly village in Mainland Scotland.

It’s also one end of the long distance way from John o’Groats to Land’s End in England. Many people make the walk, cycle or drive from one end of Britain to the other each year.

Inverness to John o’Groats – worth the trip? Our conclusion:

I’ve always loved our times at the very tip of Scotland and with so much to do on a trip from Inverness to the north coast you’ll not find yourself lacking fun places to see and amazing nature.

Boat trips, castles, nature and amazing coastal walks all await you if you choose to make the trip north. Plus you can tick off a bucket list destination as well! John o’Groats from Inverness is an easy trip with so much to offer!

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🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Scotland Travel FAQ 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

Do I need insurance for traveling to Scotland?

YES! I always recommend people take travel insurance when exploring the world!

Check Travel Insurance Master for quote comparisons from different providers.

Do I need a car for visiting Scotland?

YES – If you’re wanting to explore Scotland fully then a car is worthwhile. It will get you to all the best sights and on your own timetable

I recommend DiscoverCars to compare car rental prices in Scotland

How to book accommodation in Scotland?

For hotels I recommend

For apartments and cottages check out VRBO

Will my phone work in Scotland?

Perhaps – it depends if you have roaming enabled and beware this can be an expensive way to use your phone.

If you need a SIM for use in Scotland I recommend GiffGaff which you can get and set up before traveling.

What to pack for Scotland

Keep yourself dry be prepared for any weather is my motto for Scotland! A rain jacket and comfy shoes are a must.

See my post about what to pack for Scotland

Do I need midge spray for Scotland?

YES – if you’re traveling in the summer months to any of the west coast, highlands, islands or lochs it’s recommended.

Locals swear by Avon’s Skin So Soft!

If you’re sticking to the cities or traveling in winter, early spring or late fall then you likely won’t need it.

What’s the best guidebook for Scotland?

I really like the Lonely Planet Guidebooks

Where to get flights for Scotland

Skyscanner is my first port of call for finding cheap flights to Scotland.

Do I need a visa for Scotland?

Many countries don’t need a visa for visiting Scotland as tourists (USA, Canada, Aus, NZ and Europe) – it’s always best to check first though.

Photo of author

Kirsty Bartholomew

Kirsty Bartholomew is a travel expert and has been getting lost around the world for over 30 years and writing about it for over 10 of those. She loves to help people explore her favourite places in Scotland, England and beyond. She cannot stay away from historical sites.

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