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 super 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!
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. Let’s take a look at the drive from Inverness to John o’Groats:
Is it worth driving to John o’Groats
First, let’s talk about the elephant in the room – is John o’Groats even worth the trip? Many people, and I include myself in this, have said that John o’Groats itself isn’t the most, hmm, how shall we say it, exciting of places to visit.
John o’Groats is 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.
When you get there there’s a large car park with plenty of room for cars, bikes (if you’ve cycled!), and motorhomes. There’s a smattering of shops, a tiny brewery and places to get some food. Of course, you then have the sign post, the place many come to get the photo opp.
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 lack of interesting ‘things to do’ put you off.
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.
How far is it?
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 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 truckers, 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.
Where should I stop / things to see
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.
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.
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.
You might also like my post on Whisky Distilleries near Inverness.
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.
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
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 remains along the path.
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!
Staying overnight 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: