Top things to do in Ullapool: hostelling on the NC500

We recently spent two nights at Hostelling Scotland’s Ullapool Youth Hostel which is located on the popular North Coast 500 (NC500) touring route. Ullapool is a vibrant harbour town with a good selection of independent shops and eateries. Yet, a stone’s throw away from Ullapool you’ll find some of Scotland’s most sparsely populated and rugged places. The iconic mountain Stac Pollaidh (Stac polly) is under 30 minutes away, as are many other mighty peaks with names not quite as easy to pronounce.

This blog features our two day Ullapool itinerary. So, if you plan on doing the North Coast 500 or booking a break in Ullapool read on for affordable accommodation, great eateries and lots of ideas for things to see and do in and around Ullapool.

Ullapool Itinerary – day one

It takes under four hours to drive to Ullapool from Edinburgh. Without a car, you can take a train from Edinburgh to Inverness, then a bus from Inverness to Ullapool. Both options are feasible, but driving offers more flexibility when it comes to exploring, pit stops en route etc.

We broke up our journey north with a number of stops, including Carrbridge for coffee and scones, then Rogie Falls for a leg stretch, followed by lunch at Tarvies – a favourite roadside food stop of ours. The falls and cafe are located approximately 35 miles (45 minutes) south of Ullapool.

Visit – Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve

Around 13 miles (18 minutes) south of Ullapool we stopped again – to visit a favourite spot of ours. Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve is managed by the National Trust for Scotland.

Corrieshalloch means ugly hollow in Gaelic. The name’s a tad unfair, as the mile-long box canyon is a spectacular sight to see.

There are two short walking trails at Corrieshalloch. Our favourite crosses the gorge via a shoogly (shaky) suspension bridge to reach a viewing platform on the other side.

I hate heights, but watching the Falls of Measach plunging 45 metres into the River Droma at the bottom of Corrieshalloch Gorge is always thrilling. As is standing on the viewing platform further along the trail. It offers a great view of the suspension bridge and falls, and if you look straight ahead at them, you momentarily forget you’re standing on a see-through platform over a gaping abyss.

Walk – Lael Forest Garden

After leaving Corrieshalloch Gorge we visited another local beauty spot for a longer walk. Lael Forest Garden is located 10 miles (15 minutes) south of Ullapool. The woodland garden is managed by Forestry and Land Scotland. When you visit you can meander round the enclosed garden, which was planted in the 19th century and contains more than 200 species of trees and shrubs collected by seed hunters, or you can hike a wooded gorge trial, which loops round the garden. We fitted both into our visit.

The trail is short, but it starts with a steep uphill climb to get the heart pumping. Once we’d gained height the trail levelled off. It led us to another gorge with a waterfall tumbling into it. It was dramatic, minus the scare factor of Corrieshalloch. Lael Forest Garden trail is a good alternative to Corrieshalloch Gorge if the thought of crossing a shoogly bridge over a sheer drop terrifies you.

From the waterfall, the trail led us downhill through lovely pine woodland.

We entered Lael Forest Garden at the bottom of the hill. Even if gardens aren’t your thing, this one is interesting due to the impressive variety of trees from around the world growing in it. There’s the giant sequoia, cricket bat willow, tulip tree and many more you’ll never have heard of. They’re labelled too, so you can try to guess what they are – we failed miserably.

Walk – Rhue Lighthouse

We arrived in Ullapool before it was time to check in at Ullapool Youth Hostel, so we headed a few miles north to visit Rhue for a short coastal ramble to Rhue Lighthouse. The lighthouse stands at the entrance to Loch Broom. It’s a great for trying to spot wildlife or sitting and soaking up some vitamin sea.

Stay – Ullapool Youth Hostel

After leaving Rhue Lighthouse we headed back to Ullapool to check out our home for the next two nights.

Ullapool Youth Hostel is located on Shore Street opposite Loch Broom. It’s rare that affordable accommodation boasts the best address in town, but not when you stay with Hostelling Scotland.

On-street parking outside the hostel is free between 5pm and 10am, and for guests arriving by bike, the hostel has bike storage facilities.

The hostel can sleep forty guests in ten rooms. Rooms are located on the first floor and are a mix of dorm and dog friendly private rooms. Single sex shower and toilet facilities are also located on the first floor.

On the ground floor there’s a reception desk which doubles as a wee shop selling drinks, snacks and toiletries – it was manned by the ever helpful Adrian during our stay. There are two comfortable guest lounges filled with books, maps, toys and games too, plus a large dining room and well-equipped kitchen, with complimentary tea and coffee for guests. Guests can also book breakfast (Continental) and packed-lunches via the hostel.

Our room was a private twin. It was clean, comfortable and had a gorgeous sea view. We loved it.

We’d spent the day travelling and rambling so were looking forward to relaxing for a while before dinner. We’d earned a cold drink, so treated ourselves to a perfectly chilled mini bottle of wine and Scottish craft lager from the hostel shop … and three, two, one …. relax.

Food and drink – Ceilidh Place

Thankfully we’d booked a table at the Ceilidh Place for dinner, as the restaurant and bar was hooching and turning people away when we arrived.

Once we were seated we were given menus and our drinks order was taken. Mr G ordered another Scottish craft lager and I ordered a glass of orange wine – something I didn’t know existed until that evening. Now it’s my new favourite thing.

Food wise, I started with baked Morangie Brie served with garden salad & chutney and chilli crackers. I love Brie and Morangie Brie is one of my favourites, so my starter was a winner.

Mr G had Boydie’s whisky cured hot smoked trout with Caesar slaw, pea shoots and lemon oil to start. He was delighted with his starter too.

For my main course I had creamy saffron orzo with roasted butternut squash, red chilli and toasted seeds. It was fab. I love orzo, but it rarely features on menus, so I’m always excited when it does.

Mr G had grilled Scrabster sea-bass with roasted red pepper sauce, crushed chive potatoes and green vegetables. He loved it.

We finished with white chocolate and whisky bread and butter pudding. It was an absolute triumph.

Back at the hostel, we quickly fell asleep.

Ullapool itinerary – day two

We slept soundly and woke up the next morning to the sound of bagpipes. Confused, we peeped through the curtains and were surprised to see a cruise ship outside in the loch. It had arrived during the night and guests were being piped ashore.

It’s one of our more unusual alarm calls.

Once we were up and dressed, we headed to the dining room for breakfast. We’d booked a Hostelling Scotland Continental breakfast, as they’re great value for money and always tasty.

We tucked into cereal, yoghurt, fresh fruit, toast, warm croissants, cheese, jam, coffee and fruit juice, before heading out to spend another day exploring in and around Ullapool.

Climb – Stac Pollaidh

We decided to start the day with a hill hike. There’s a great hill in Ullapool called Ullapool Hill, but we’d climbed it already so drove 30 minutes north to climb Stac Pollaidh instead.

If you want to climb a small mountain with dramatic impact, Stac Pollaidh is it.

Being early birds we arrived at Stac Pollaidh car park and set off up the mountain path before anyone else had arrived. Leaving the car I realised I was wearing trainers and had left not one, not two but three pairs of hiking shoes/boots back at the hostel – disaster. It was dry though and had been for a while, so conditions underfoot were good. I’d never advocate climbing a mountain in trainers, but I’m an experienced hiker and would be sticking to the path, so decided to bag Stac Pollaidh in my Sketchers.

From ground level Stac Pollaidh looks formidable, but the incline is gentle and it’s a straightforward mountain to climb, unless you plan on scambling to reach the true summit on the rocky ridge. Needless to say, as someone who hates heights, that wasn’t my aim.

With dry conditions underfoot we reached the bottom of the summit ridge fairly quickly. When we did the path turned right, looping behind the ridge. As we were heading round the mountain we realised we weren’t alone. There was a stag party up ahead. Thankfully, it was a herd of red deer stags snoozing in the heather instead of a human stag party.

We watched the handsome lads for ages and even though we were quite close, they didn’t run away.

Finding calm on Stac Pollaidh

When we finally tore ourselves away, we continued along the path until it split. There was a low path looping round the bottom of the rocky summit ridge and a high path climbing steeply towards it.

We took the high path, Mr G so he could scamble onto the summit ridge, and me so I could find a big rock to sit on with the boy and stare off into space.

Being an early bird has its advantages. After saying goodbye to Mr G, the boy and I spent a carefree half hour on our carefully selected rock without seeing another soul.

Hillside alone time is my version of meditation. It allows me to completely empty my head and stop the cogs that furiously birl in my brain whenever I’m awake.

Mr G, on the other hand finds his Zen moments on terrifying summits and clifftops. Whatever works I suppose.

And it does work. When he returned from his summit scramble he was buzzing and so was I.

As we descended Stac Pollaidh we passed lots of people filing up the hill. No blissful solitude for them on Stac Pollaidh.

Food and drink – West Coast Deli, Ullapool

We arrived back in Ullapool at lunchtime and popped into the West Coast Deli for soup, sandwiches and cold drinks.

The soup of the day was lentil – a winner, so we both had it. I had their rooster sandwich which was filled with free range chicken breast, pesto mayo, salad and crisp pancetta. It was fantastic. The crunch of the pancetta added an amazing texture. Mr G had a west coaster sandwich filled with smoked trout, salad, mayo and cracked black pepper. He was pleased with his choice too.

Walk – Inverlael

We’d planned to do a little shopping after lunch, but decided to spend the afternoon outdoors instead as it was such a nice day.

Inverlael is a 10 minute drive south of Ullapool. It’s a starting point for tackling some mighty Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet), but there are two short flat(ish) trails at Inverlael too – Glen Trail and Quarry Trail.

We walked the Glen Trail. It led us into a pleasant wooded glen with a river running through it.

Other than the sound of birdsong and running water, the glen was people free and incredibly peaceful.

There were butterflies and wildflowers everywhere. The trail reminded me an Alpine meadow – all that was missing was the melodic clang of cowbells.

Grab an ice cream at Jojo’s Cafe

Once we’d finished our walk, we headed back to Ullapool to buy ice creams from Jojo’s Cafe. We’d all comfortably earned our tasty treats – even the boy.

Once we’d finished our ice creams we headed back to the hostel to relax in the lounge for a while. The cruise ship was still outside but was getting ready to leave … and with a puff of smoke and a toot toot it sailed out of Loch Broom bound for Aberdeen.

Food and drink

After a day spent hiking we didn’t fancy a sit down dinner, so decided to sample some of Ullapool’s finest street food.

Oak & Grain Pizza

Having spotted the Oak & Grain wood fired pizza van earlier, I had my heart set on pizza – along with half of Ullapool it seemed.

They say good things come to those who wait and my pizza was well worth the wait. It was delicious – spicy pepperoni, gooey cheese, a perfect crust and thin base.

The Seafood Shack & Rhidorroch Distillery – pop up bar

For fish loving Mr G there was only one Ullapool street food option he’d consider – the town’s famous Seafood Shack. As luck would have it, local gin makers Rhidorroch Distillery had set up a pop up bar beside The Seafood Shack, so while Mr G devoured a haddock wrap, washed down with a classic G&T, I drank a refreshing summer cocktail.

Another fabulous stay with Hostelling Scotland

After our busy day, we fell asleep as soon as our head’s hit the pillow.

We slept soundly again, and woke the next morning to the sound of our iPhone alarms. What no piper?

We got up, ready, then packed the car before tucking into another hearty Hostelling Scotland breakfast. Then it was time to say farewell to Ullapool Youth Hostel. We loved the hostel and our stay there. We were sad to leave, but our ‘woofhostelling’ adventure wasn’t over yet – we were Achmelvich bound to spend two nights at Achmelvich Beach Youth Hostel – yippee.

Our accommodation was provided on a complimentary basis as part of a paid partnership with Hostelling Scotland, however all opinions are my own.

Until next time …

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the following which also feature hostelling breaks on the NC500:



14 thoughts on “Top things to do in Ullapool: hostelling on the NC500”

  1. Great recommendations on where to go round Ullapool but I will be travelling solo with my Scottie, and need to know which cafes/restaurants/pubs etc are dog-friendly please.

  2. Another trip down memory lane Sam, thank you for sharing it. We went to the Isle of Handa, climbed Quinag and enjoyed the tea room at Elfin. That shoogly bridge over the gorge gave me the shooglys! Then a robin came along and calmed me down. A fab area of Scotland not to be missed. Nice to coorie here in now cooler London enjoying your photos, writing and seeing Casper and you both enjoying yourselves. Seeing that food has made me hungry, so I’m off to have breakfast, bye!

    1. Samantha Grant – A Scottish travel blogger and digital influencer, exploring Scotland with my Westie Casper and husband Alex, to bring you the very best of scotland.
      Samantha Grant says:

      It’s a wonderful area isn’t it. We love the Elphin tearoom too. Enjoy breakfast

  3. We spent three nights in Ullapool, before and after our four day visit to Lewis and Harris. It was great fun to see your pictures of places we’d hiked and eaten. Love your blogs, but this one especially.

    1. Samantha Grant – A Scottish travel blogger and digital influencer, exploring Scotland with my Westie Casper and husband Alex, to bring you the very best of scotland.
      Samantha Grant says:

      Glad you enjoyed the blog. 😃

    2. I would love to hear about the Isles of Lewis and Harris. Hope to go there some day and love to read your blogs and enjoy the pictures and wee white dug!

      1. Samantha Grant – A Scottish travel blogger and digital influencer, exploring Scotland with my Westie Casper and husband Alex, to bring you the very best of scotland.
        Samantha Grant says:

        There are a couple of blogs featuring Lewis and Harris and also the Uists too if you check the Outer Hebrides section on the Scotland drop down list in the menu

  4. Thank you for another amazing visit to beautiful Scotland! Your photography is simply stunning and I always love to see the boy enjoying himself!

    1. Samantha Grant – A Scottish travel blogger and digital influencer, exploring Scotland with my Westie Casper and husband Alex, to bring you the very best of scotland.
      Samantha Grant says:

      Thank you – so glad you enjoyed your virtual visit to Scotland.

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