Discovering the Charm of John o' Groats in the Scottish Highlands

Explore John O'Groats and see why it's worth visiting.

Should you visit John O’ Groats? It might not be the first place you think of when planning a holiday, but this wild, rugged, and wonderful destination has plenty to offer. With breathtakingly beautiful coastline to wander, dramatic and mysterious ruins to explore, a lovingly restored castle, an historic distillery, a legendary brewery, and much more, you will never run out of things to do in John O’Groats, Scotland. Time your trip correctly, and you can even see the Northern Lights! Is John O’Groats worth visiting? It absolutely is; we would, in fact, call it an unmissable destination. 

The Beauty and Splendour of John O’Groats

Picture gorgeous coastal scenery, rugged and remote, with beautiful beaches under craggy cliffs. You will find pebbly beaches, sandy beaches, rock pools, and rare seashells, and walking the coastal trail you will be privy to some of the most extraordinary views in Scotland. The stunning landscape is amazing in its extremes, from awe-inspiring coastal stacks and dramatic cliffs, to forests, to pristine white beaches. Along the way, there are amazing opportunities for wildlife spotting. John O’Groats is recognised as one of the top UK spots for seeing Atlantic Puffins, and you will also spot Guillemots, Fulmars, Oystercatchers, Kittiwakes, and gulls. Year round, grey seals populate the area, and orcas and sea otters have been seen off the coast. Often, especially in the winter months, you will have a chance to see the Northern Lights while you are in John O’Groats, as the Aurora Borealis creates a spectacular natural light show, dancing over Orkney. 

Things to Do in John O’ Groats

What will you do while you are visiting John O’Groats? You may start by taking a picture with the famous John O’Groats sign, overlooking the harbour, but once you have snapped that iconic shot, a world of options awaits you. John O’Groats is just a little village, sandwiched between the two larger towns of Thurso and Wick, but do not let its small size deter you from exploring all it has to offer. What will you do first? 

  • Take a coastal walk. One of the best walks runs from John O’Groats to Duncansby Head, starting at the signpost and ending at the lighthouse. This circular trail is about 8.5 kilometres, and takes two or three hours to complete, but it is truly one of the most beautiful coastal walks in Scotland. After heading down from the harbour and winding along the pebble beach, you will pass the Ness of Duncansby and the Bay of Sannick, before arriving at Duncansby Head. A little past the lighthouse you will see the incredible Duncansby Sea Stacks, huge rock stacks sure to make an impression. 
  • Visit the brewery or distillery. Distilling whiskey has a long history in John O’ Groats, and the 8 Doors Distillery is continuing this rich tradition, even taking its name from a legend about Jan De Groot. Apparently, to resolve a familial dispute, De Groot built an octagonal house, with separate doors on each side, one for each of his seven sons and one for himself. This is where 8 Doors Distillery gets its name, and the whisky distilled there is made with traditional pot stills, carefully handcrafted using techniques and skills used since the 19th century. Further afield, you will find the Old Pulteney Distillery, producing award-winning single malt whiskey, and located just 30 minutes from John O’ Groats. Founded in 1826, it was originally only accessible by boat: that is how the barley was brought in, and how the whiskey was shipped in. Prefer ales to whiskey? John O’Groats Brewery is housed in the “Last House” in Scotland, rumoured to have been home to descendants of Jan De Groot, and in this small, white-washed stone house, you can enjoy stellar craft ales and seaweed chips. 
  • Go on a wildlife cruise. Hop on a boat heading a bit further north, and you will be treated to views of lounging seals, basking seabirds, and maybe dolphins or whales. 
  • Tour Canisbay Church and see Jan de Groot’s tomb. Four minutes outside of town, you will find Canisbay Parish Church, which houses the grave of Jan de Groot. This church is open for visitors during the summer, and it has the additional interesting historical fact of having been the Queen Mother’s church of choice during her summers at Castle of Mey. 
  • See the Queen’s castle. The Castle of Mey, was well loved by the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth, and she not only restored it with care but also used it as her holiday home until her death. Afterwards, the late Queen Elizabeth II opened the castle to the public during the summers, so if you are there between May and September, you can see the inside of this beautiful royal residence. In contrast to the rugged landscape of the coast, the Castle of Mey features beautiful, well-maintained, highly-manicured gardens. 
  • Be a thrill seeker. John O’Groats is, of course, known for being the end of the Land’s End to John O’Groats, which is a route for cycling, running, walking, and even swimming. It is no surprise, then, that many of the people heading into John O’ Groats are athletic. This is a wonderful place for outdoor activities, including spectacular walks and bike paths. If you are into cold water surfing, Dunnet Bay provides some of the best waves in the UK and lets you see the stunning coastline from a different point of view. New to surfing? You can find surf instructors eager to teach you, or try your hand at paddle boarding. 
  • If you are looking for things to do around John O’ Groats, check out some castle ruins. Just a 15 minute drive away sits Old Keiss Castle, perched on a cliff edge, looking like it may crumble into the crashing waters of the North Sea. A little further out, 30 minutes away from John O’Groats, the Castle Sinclair Girnigoe awaits, full of rich history, easily one of the best castle ruins along the NC500. 

A Rich Cultural Heritage

Why is it called John O’Groats? It is an unusual name, rooted in history. In the 15th century, a Dutchman named Jan de Groot operated a ferry between the village and Orkney. The village was named for the “groats” he charged for each ride, or perhaps for de Groot himself, with the name evolving over time. It is a tiny village, located within the Scottish region of Caithness, which holds large expanses of untouched, pristine, landscape. Caithness is the northernmost part of mainland Britain, and John O’Groats is traditionally considered the most northerly point, though that designation actually belongs to nearby Dunnett Head. The region is home to many prehistoric sites and significant landmarks.

All You Need to Know About Visiting John O’Groats

John O’Groats is easy to reach by car and, in fact, lies on the epic North Coast 500, famous for remote, rugged landscapes. You can take the A9 from Inverness straight into the village, and there is ample parking once you arrive. You have public transportation options, too, like taking a bus or train into Truro or Wick, then taking a local bus or taxi into John O’Groats. Of course, truly adventurous souls can cycle or walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats, walking 874 miles to become “End to Enders”.

Unique Experiences and Hidden Gems

What will you discover within John O’Groats? Maybe you will find a new favourite artisan while exploring the craft village. Perhaps you will buy some charming souvenirs, while away some time at a cosy café, or make memories enjoying the views. Do not miss the simple pleasures of this lovely spot, whether you are taking the ferry to Orkney or checking out the lighthouses at Dunnet Head and Duncansby. 

Enjoy All the Comforts of Home in John O’Groats

John O'Groats offers travellers a captivating blend of natural beauty, outdoor adventures, and Scottish charm. Whether exploring the rugged coastline, embarking on a wildlife safari, or simply soaking in the stunning views, visitors are sure to be enchanted by this iconic Highland destination. Together Travel invites you to stay in one of our remarkably luxurious, contemporary self-catering lodges and apartments, with every comfort you could desire. The “Inn” building, which houses bespoke self-catering apartments, each uniquely designed and appointed, was once the original John O’Groats hotel, built in 1875. Carefully restored and given a new Norse style extension, the inn now gives a distinctive and dramatic pop of colour to the wild, coastal landscape. A mixture of old and new styling greets guests inside, with all the luxurious, high-quality facilities you would expect from Together Travel. If you prefer a lodge, we offer 3-bedroom  lodges, each with spectacular views, extensive glass wall frontage, and a large wooden deck with outdoor furniture perfect for watching the Aurora Borealis. When the weather is wild outside, you will be glad of the warmth of the in-built wood-burners while you relax in the deep, comfortable sofas of the lounge. No matter where you want to travel in the UK, Together Travel Co. is here to bring your holiday dreams to life, with luxurious, comfortable, unique properties located wherever you want to be. Find out how we can make your trip amazing by contacting our expert concierge team at +44(0)1625 416430 or emailing us for more information.