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What's the risk of putting off booking lodging on the North Coast 500 in late July/early August?

We're (me and wife) in Scotland the last week in July and one or two weeks in August. Our only real obligation is to be at Heathrow on time to catch our flight home. After several lovely trips to Europe on a schedule - go here, see that, drive to the next stop - we just wanted to cruise the North Coast 500 and grab a place when we want. We've booked a place in Isle of Skye for a couple of days and nights at the urging of a friend, but I was hoping not to be so locked in. If we like a place and can stay a bit longer, even better. If we're not wild about it, we can move on... We can absorb an expensive place, but a comfy bed and a pleasant host in a budget B&B or hotel is fine, too -- probably more fun for stories and memories later.

Given the expected crowds for late July and early August, is it that big of a risk to hold off booking lodging until we get to wherever whimsy says "stay here?"

Posted by
21080 posts

It will help that you'll have a car and won't be limited to staying in places within the reach of public transportation (unlike me), but you should keep in mind that being able to stay on in a place you like is not a given. The room you booked for one night may be booked by someone else for the following night. That has happened to me more than once, and not in places where accommodations are as tight as they are in some parts of Scotland.

At the very least, I think you'd be well-advised to pin down your lodgings the night before arrival so you don't have to waste daylight/sightseeing hours the next day, driving around looking for a place to sleep. Everyone traveling these days has at least a smartphone, and they are using those devices to find lodging in advance.

I'll be curious to see what the folks who live in Scotland or have traveled by car there have to say.

By the way: You may need to make dinner reservations, too.

Posted by
611 posts

The North Coast 500 is, considering the remoteness, a very busy route. This old, but still relevant article from the Guardian newspaper explains more eloquently than I could how busy it is and how it is viewed by locals. NC500 Article

You will struggle to find B&Bs with availability and most would prefer (or indeed insist) on more than a one night stay. There are no large hotels on the route, as they would never be able to support themselves in winter and would struggle to get staff.

Sorry to be negative, but I would strongly suggest booking your accommodation in advance.
Best wishes
Jacqui (Skyegirl)

Posted by
5553 posts

This route has become a victim of its own success. There is no way I would attempt any of this route without pre booked accommodation even in September or October. Peak school holiday season of July and August? Sorry, no - far too stressful trying to find somewhere!

Posted by
1345 posts

I am in the camp of ensuring you are booked up before you go as the others have said. Accomodation is limited in the north, even the chain hotels in Inverness will book out at the holiday peak.

Posted by
4006 posts

Not to that area of Scotland, but recently we had a hard time booking rooms for a September-October trip to Scotland and northern England. As others have said, many places were already booked. What made it more difficult for us was we needed two rooms at each stop. I’d pre-book to ensure you have a place to stay.

Posted by
467 posts

Definitely book ahead and don't leave to chance. There isn't a lot of accommodation along the route and many may already be fully booked for late July/August. The days of 'winging it' and booking accommodation as you go are long over.

Posted by
130 posts

Well, dang me... Thanks for your input, everyone. I guess I have to work harder at finding and booking lodging now...

Safe travels!

Posted by
467 posts

Better to spend time now rather than wasting time once in Scotland!!!

Posted by
162 posts

I do not have experience with Scotland, but I do have a caveat.... Airbnb almost always what us millennials would call "outdated" locations left at the minimum if not plenty of perfectly updated ones as well. I find that there are almost none that are rated less than a 4 of 5, but many are very utilitarian and lots of private rooms in people's homes tend to remain unbooked unless there is an absolutely monumental event. (Olympics, a convention, a major eclipse viewing, etc...)

For instance, if you wish to Stay in Durness tonight (their time), there are 27 open options. In Rogie Falls, 44. Many look quite lovely and charming and you will have a lot of flexibility with a car at your disposal. I highly doubt vacancies will drop to zero in the fall. You can sort by instant book and message the host to ensure they are up for letting you in that day or the next. Many may require two nights... but many are also affordable and I can't imagine a host would mind you paying for two nights and staying one if you are desperate to move on. People pay for a railpass to afford them freedom all the time. If you have the budget, paying for two nights once or twice when you want one seems like a relatively small compromise for the opportunity to do as you please.

I think for the style of travel you are suggesting, staying in private rooms in homes (some that offer breakfast) might work quite well. You don't have to risk having trouble checking in and hosts often have great insights about where to eat and lots more.

One more suggestion: Shop through airbnb in locations you might want to stay. Save the places that interest you or that you think may remain unbooked to your wishlist... you can even make one for each stop. That way, you can split the difference between wasting time on the road or not. You will have a few options ready to roll. Worst case scenario, they're booked and you have to do a quick search or drive to the next town.

I don't know if Italy is any indication, but often apartments over restaurants and in family businesses never make it to airbnb or booking.com. You can always ask travelers or pub keepers at one stop about places to stay at the next stop and give those places a call then use airbnb as your fallback.

Posted by
611 posts

Sorry but Sleight is incorrect with advice for the NC500. Those tiny airbnb listings WILL book up in July and August. If you leave it to chance you risk sleeping in your car. As I leave Skye for early drives to Inverness I pass plenty of cars with steamed up windows where the occupants have failed to find a room for the night.

The reason there is availability right now (for late April) is that it is not yet high season.....

Posted by
162 posts

I have no expertise whatsoever on the NC500! I do think it's a risk for sure.

You might monitor it til you're closer to the trip and book when vacancies become extremely slim. (Most airbnbs set their high season price well ahead, so you won't necessarily pay more as you get closer as with hotels.) If they never become so slim as a sellout, then you're good to go.

We got stuck with no place due to an oversell on Cape Cod on July 4 weekend a few years back (pre covid) and still managed to find a spot that could fit all 5 of us... but we did think we were sleeping in our car for a bit, haha...

Posted by
153 posts

We leave this weekend for Scotland and will also be on the NC500. We booked in November for May and I always try to book early to get quality accommodations that are well rated. While I'm happy with what I got (3 Airbnb's, 1 Hotels.com) it certainly didn't get me a ton of options to choose from and frankly we revised our schedule a bit to accomodate for the lack of options.

But that's okay. It's the NC500 and I was expecting that. (Actually our original plan was a campervan for the freedom the OP suggests but the prices of the vans, $$$$$$$). So we booked, I'm sure we'll have a fantastic time, we'll try to be respectful of the locals, let people pass, pick up after ourselves, and support the local economy. I even found a nice "yard sale" thing happening along the route.

Hoping the money put into the area makes its' way into better roads for the locals and stronger infrastructure. I've seen some small evidences of that in my research. Don't mind paying for parking when I know the money goes into the local area funds.

Whatever you decide to do, enjoy!

Posted by
8 posts

Good morning,
My wife and I have a trip planned for the northwest portion of the NC500 in July. I booked my lodgings about 3 weeks ago, and I could not get the places I wanted in the order I wanted them. I eventually worked out a schedule, but had I waited, I think there would be no openings. Also, most of these little hotels and B&Bs want a greater than one night stay.
One thing you might try is to look at Google Maps for places you might want to try to stay. If you pinch out the map, it will show hotels, B&Bs, etc. You can click on the name, and information about that place will come up. You can do a dummy reservation just to see how full they already are. I do that a lot. Its really helpful to get an idea of what to expect.
Just in case you’re interested, from the north shore of the mainland, you can ferry across to the Orkney Islands. If you have not done this, it is spectacular - as are the Shetlands (but its a bit more difficult to get there). Just a thought. The sites on the Orkneys islands are some of the best anywhere.
I think if you leave your bookings for the NC500 any later than now for your trip, I think you will not find any sort of accommodation. Its all so rural and not set up for the tourists that the advertisement of the NC500 has brought.
From our previous experience with the NC500, traveling in a counter-clockwise direction, bookings become increasingly more difficult as you go.
We are staying in Applecross, Kylesku, and Achiltibuie on this trip to finish out the loop.
Best regards,
Bioboy

Posted by
6 posts

I just finished booking places in Shieldaig, Gairloch and Ullapool a few days ago and found very few vacancies. Book now.