John O'Groats: A Complete Guide

Find out all you need to know including what to do, where to stay, where to eat and how to get to John O'Groats, North Scotland.

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What is John O'Groats famous for?
John O’Groats is the most north easterly point of the UK mainland, and famous as the destination of those making journeys across the UK some 874 miles - from Land’s End in western Cornwall, England.

Why is John O'Groats so called?
The village is named after Jan De Groot, a Dutchman who ran ferry crossings from John O’Groats to the Orkney Isles in the fifteenth century.

Where is John O'Groats?
John O'Groats is situated in the historical county of Caithness in the Scottish Highlands, UK. It is 120 miles north of Inverness and 270 odd miles north of Edinburgh, Scotland. 

Location
John O'Groats is located at the terminus of the A99 road, which forms part of the North Coast 500, a 500-mile coastal driving route around the Northern Highlands of Scotland, one of Scotland's most well-known road trips. 

Is John O'Groats worth visiting?
Given the distance required to get to John O'Groats, some visitors may wonder whether it merits a visit.

Why visit John O'Groats
Some may be curious to see the most north-easterly point of mainland Scotland. However to make the journey solely to arrive in John O'Groats may be disappointing. John O'Groats can be incorporated as part of an enjoyable and well-paced trip, if the attractions and distances covered each day are well-balanced.

Well-known routes that feature John O'Groats include:

  • The North Coast 500: a 500-mile scenic driving route which takes in many highlights of the Northern Scottish Highlands, beginning and ending in Inverness, the principal city of the Highlands of Scotland
  • A visit to the Orkney Isles: passing through the North Scottish counties of Caithness and Sutherland
  • The John O'Groats Trail: a long-distance Scottish coastal walking route from Inverness to John O'Groats
  • Lands End to John O'Groats: a long-distance UK-wide cycle route.

Things to do in John O’Groats
For ideas of what to do on a visit to John O’Groats:

1. Boat trips with John O’Groats Ferries
For coastal landscape and nature, John O’Groats Ferries runs a 90-minute wildlife cruise over the Pentland Firth during the summer months which visits the uninhabited island of Stroma and the sea stacks at Duncansby Head. The boat trips run daily in the summer months. Check the John O'Groats Ferries website for details.

There is free parking by the ferry tickets office in John O'Groats, which is 5 minutes' walk from the boat. Publi 

Sea birds, wildlife and birdspotting opportunities include Arctic Skuas, storm petrels, guillemots, puffins, razorbills, kittiwakes, Atlantic grey seals and orcas. Nature sightings depend on the season - and taking binoculars can assist.

There is free parking by the ferry tickets office in John O'Groats, which is 5 minutes' walk from the boat. Public toilets and a small number of cafes are nearby.

John O'Groats Ferries

2. Day trips to the Orkney Isles
For those wishing to venture further afield, John O’Groats Ferries operates an Orkney day trip both from Inverness and from John O’Groats during the summer.

From John O’Groats Harbour, two tours depart:  

  • An Orkney Maxi Day Tour which leaves at 8.45am and for 2020 includes: Scapa Flow, Churchill Barriers, the Italian Chapel, Stromness, Skara Brae - Stoneage Village, Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar and Kirkwall.
  • An Orkney Highlights Tour which in 2020 leaves at 10.30am and takes in Scapa Flow, Churchill Barriers, the Italian Chapel, Skara Brae - Stoneage Village, Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar and Kirkwall.

What's the difference between the two John O'Groats Ferries tours to the Orkney Islands?
Stromness is not included in the Highlights Tour but is featured in the Maxi Day Tour. In the Highlights Tour, times at each site are also less than in the Maxi Tour.

Where is parking for John O'Groats Ferries?
For any trips with John O’Groats Ferries, there is free parking available by the ferry tickets office in John O’Groats which is 5 minutes’ walk from the boat. Public toilets and a small number of cafes are nearby.

3. Duncansby Stacks
Duncansby Stacks is a series of sea stacks located just off the coast from Duncansby Head.

Duncansby Head is the most north-easterly point of the UK and Scottish mainland. The peninsula is marked with a lighthouse and surrounded by cliffs which are home to nesting birds. Birds species include fulmars, guillemots, razorbills, puffins, kittiwakes, great skuas and arctic skuas.

Birds nesting near Duncansby Head

How to get to Duncansby Head and Duncansby Stacks
The journey to Duncansby Stacks can be made via a coastal walk or a 10-minute drive from John O'Groats Harbour and terminus.

By car
To get to Duncansby Stacks by car, drive south from John O'Groats harbour and terminus onto the A99. Take a left turn with signage for Puffin Croft Petting Farm and Shop and follow the signs for Duncansby Head.

After a 10-minute winding drive up to Duncansby Head, you arrive at a free car park by Duncansby Head Lighthouse. Parking is unrestricted with space for approximately 10 vehicles. Proceeding on foot, you walk along the coast in a southerly direction until you see the sea stacks.

4. Puffin Croft Petting Farm and Farm Shop
For small children and animal lovers, the Puffin Croft is the most northerly petting in the UK mainland, based in John O'Groats. It has farm animals including rabbits, pigs, donkeys, hens, goats, sheep and ducks.

For a small entry fee, visitors can meet the animals. There is a farm shop outside the petting farm which sells fruit and vegetables, fresh eggs, bakery products, jams and Puffin Croft souvenirs.

Puffin Croft Plan Puffin Croft Farm

The Puffin Croft is cash-only and an honesty box system is used.

A typical visit may be up to an hour. If you are driving into John O'Groats or out towards Duncansby Head, the Puffin Croft is en-route.

5. Mey Highland Games

The Mey Highland Games take place each August in John O'Groats and are something special to John O'Groats. The Mey Games were established in 1970 to celebrate the Queen Mother's seventieth birthday.

The Queen Mother, Elizabeth, owned nearby Castle of Mey in Caithness and was the Games' Chieftain until 2002. The Games are now attended by Prince Charles, the Princes of Wales and Duke of Rothesay, who is the Mey Games' current Chieftain.

The 2020 Mey Games will be the fiftieth anniversary of this Highland Gathering.

Highland games and gatherings are organised across Scotland (and other parts of the world) every summer, celebrating Scottish sport and culture. However the Mey Games are distinctive for being the only Highland games to feature adaptive sports for paralympic (or "para-Highland") competitors.

Sportsmen and women compete in games and heavy athletics including:

    • Tossing the Caber where competitors throw a long log from a vertical position so that it lands upright on the opposite end. The most upright end over end toss wins - the height or distance thrown is not important.
    • Tossing the Sheaf in which players aim to throw a bundle of straw with a pitching fork the highest distance that they can.

  • The Ardblair Stones a heavyman competition which involves lifting reinforced concrete stones of increasing weight onto barrels.
  • The Charlie Simpson Memorial Walk where competitors lift a heavy stone with both arms and walk the furthest distance around the main sports ring.
  • Tug O' War where two competing teams pull a rope from opposing ends with the aim of overpowering the opposition. Prince Charles adjudicates the final of the Mey Games' Tug Of War contest.

Tug O'War - Mey Highland Games

  • Weight for Distance where athletes aim to throw a weight over the furthest length.
  • Weight for Height where players must throw a weight the highest.
  • Shot put
  • Hammer
  • Long jump, high jump and triple jump
  • Running including 85m, 200m, 400m and 800 metres
  • Children's races and fun races such as the sack race, egg and spoon race and three-legged race. 

The Highland Games at Mey also feature pipe band parades, bagpipe (or "piping") competitions, Highland Dancing contests and a fun dog show as well as trade stalls featuring local producers and companies.

Tickets are available to purchase on the day of the Games from the showground in John O'Groats.

What to do near John O’Groats 
Within a short drive of John O’Groats, you have:

1. The Castle of Mey 
The Castle of Mey is located 7.5 miles from John O'Groats and is an intimate historical home, formerly owned by the Queen Mother.

The Castle of Mey

The castle is situated just off the North Coast 500, a 500-mile road trip around the coast of the Northern Highlands. The Castle overlooks the Pentland Firth with views out towards Orkney.

A visit may include a tour of the castle which is accompanied by a guide as well as a walk around the castle gardens and animal centre, the woodland, gift shop and tea rooms.

Castle of Mey - Gardens Castle of Mey - Recipe Book

You can drive from John O'Groats to the Castle of Mey in around 10-15 minutes. The castle is open seasonally from May to September.

For more on the Castle of Mey, see our complete guide.

2. Dunnet 
Dunnet Head
Dunnet is around 11 miles west of John O'Groats and is home to the most northerly peninsula of the UK and Scottish mainland.

On a clear day you can see the Orkney Isles across the Pentland Firth and the activity of the local bird wildlife in the neighbouring cliffs.

Dunnet Bay
Nearby Dunnet Bay is a 2-mile stretch of beach, perfect for solitary walks.

Dunnet Bay Distillery
Neighbouring Dunnet Bay Distillery is home to Rock Rose Gin and Holy Grass Vodka. Distillery tours are organised during the season and a gift shop stocks a range of local gin-inspired products.

For more information on Dunnet, see our Dunnet Complete Guide.

Keiss
Keiss is another smaller secluded beach, situated 8.5 miles south of John O'Groats, ideal for a long walk, kiting and water sports. Overlooking Sinclair Bay on the far north east Caithness coast, it has a reputation, like many beaches and peninsulas in Caithness, for seeing the Northern Lights owing to its northern aspect and low levels of light pollution. 

If you're hoping to see the Northern Lights in Scotland, follow social media and local aurora borealis forecasts to maximise your chances.

Keiss Beach

Shopping in John O’Groats
John O'Groats has a small handful of shops. Highlights include:

  • The North Coast Emporium for local products, the North Coast Emporium stocks a range of local foods and crafts including Caithness Smokehouse butter and salmon (subject to availability), Caithness Summer Fruits jams (bottom left, below), Lochside Treats sweets (top right, below), Mrs Bayerstock's shortbread, knitted toys, furniture and more.
  • John O'Groats Tourist Information and Bookshop with a variety of books on all of Scotland and souvenirs including for example, these espresso cups (bottom right) and Collins maps of Scotland (top left) which feature different editions with maps of Scottish castles, whiskies, clans and tartans. 
Collins Maps of Scotland Lochside Treats Mint Tablet
Caithness Summer Fruits Jams Scottish Espresso Cups
  • The Gallery a small arts and crafts shop run by a collective of Caithness artists. It features work including woodwork by Andy Bunn, prints and ceramics by Kitty Watt, ceramics by Robin Palmer and glassware by Mike Nicholson. Seasonal opening applies therefore check before travel.

Nearest Supermarket to John O'Groats
The closest supermarkets from John O'Groats are in the nearby towns of Wick (16.5 miles) and Thurso (19.5 miles) which both have a Tesco superstore, Lidl and Co-Op supermarkets.

Cafes in John O’Groats
John O’Groats has a handful of small cafes in its centre which are open seasonally for lunch.

  • Stacks Coffee House and Bistro a cosy independent coffee shop serving toasted sandwiches, wraps, soups, hot drinks, juices and bottles of John O'Groats beer.
  • Roads End Cafe located near John O'Groats Harbour, Roads End Cafe cooks freshly baked scones daily, available in plain, fruit and cherry flavours. Scones are served with butter and a selection of jams. The cafe also serves hot drinks, sandwiches, cooked breakfasts and baps.
  • The Cabin if you are looking for fish and chips and hot breakfast rolls in John O'Groats, these are served seasonally at The Cabin which overlooks the Harbour at John O'Groats.
  • Flavours an ice cream parlour and coffee shop serving cones with local ice creams made by Capaldi and Orkney ice cream, as well as coffees and chocolate selections.

Restaurants near John O'Groats
Most eateries in John O'Groats are closed in the evening. For dinner nearby, options include:

  • The Northern Sands Hotel, Dunnet (11 miles) next door to the Dunnet Bay Distillery and perfect for a stay after a distillery tour, this hotel serves pub lunch and dinners with locally sourced ingredients. 
  • Mackay's Hotel, Wick (16 miles) its restaurant, No 1 Bistro serves local Scottish favourites with quality ingredients including cullen skink (a smoked haddock soup), freshly battered fish and hand cut chips, desserts and cheeseboards; located on the shortest street in the world. Known for its after-dinner tipple of Stroma, a local whisky liqueur, and extensive whisky bar.
  • The Captain's Galley Restaurant, Scrabster (21 miles) an upmarket fish restaurant, serving more casual lunches (including fresh fish and chips) and expensive dinners with locally sourced fish and shellfish.

Accommodation in John O’Groats
Hotels in John O'Groats
For hotel accommodation in and near John O'Groats, options include:

  • The Forss house Hotel, Forss a four-star boutique hotel 25 miles west of John O'Groats, set in leafy grounds.
  • Mackays Hotel, Wick a cosy hotel and Highland whisky bar located on the shortest street in the world, 16.5 miles south of John O'Groats.
  • The Seaview Hotel situated in John O'Groats.

Self-Catering in John O'Groats
For self-catering accommodation:

  • Natural Retreats is set in the former John O'Groats Hotel on the Pentland Firth, and has apartments and lodges renovated with a Scandinavian feel.
  • Captain's House a three-bedroom detached cottage on the grounds of the nearby Castle of Mey which sleeps up to six guests.

B&B accommodation in John O'Groats
There is also a small range of bed and breakfasts on the North Coast 500 route by John O'Groats, including:

  • The Granary Lodge bed and breakfast accommodation at the Castle of Mey, with 10 guest rooms. 

Camping in and near John O'Groats
There are campsites in John O'Groats, Dunnet Bay (11.5 miles), Wick (17 miles) and Thurso Bay (20 miles).

How to get to John O’Groats

  • By Car Follow the A9 and the A99 north from Inverness. The journey is around 3 hours.
  • By Train The Far North Railway Line from Inverness to Wick is around 4.5 hours and a picturesque journey. A bus runs from Wick to John O’Groats and is around 30 minutes. Alternatively, it is a 35-minute bus from Thurso.
  • By Bus The X99 coach from Inverness to Wick is around 3 hours. The bus from Wick to John O’Groats is around 30 minutes.
  • By Plane Wick John O’Groats operates daily flights to Edinburgh and Aberdeen; or Inverness Airport runs national UK and Scottish flights and also flies to Amsterdam.

Where to go next

  • North: to the Orkney Isles with a ferry from Gills Bay, 3 miles west of John O’Groats. A passenger-only ferry operates from John O’Groats harbour.
  • West: towards Durness, via Mey, Dunnet, Thurso, Scrabster and Tongue.
  • South: via Wick, Lybster, Helmsdale, Brora, Dunrobin Castle, Golspie and Dornoch to Inverness.

Drives
Inverness to John O'Groats
Passing through the Black Isle, Dunrobin Castle, Helmsdale and Wick. A ferry funs from John O'Groats to Burwick, Orkney with a bus transfer to Kirkwall.

John O'Groats to the Castle of Mey
From John O'Groats, visit this nearby castle which formerly belonged to the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth. Pass by the harbour at Gills Bay which provides an onward ferry service to St Margaret's Hope, Orkney.

John O'Groats to Scrabster
Journey from John O'Groats by Dunnet Bay, Thurso and on to Scrabster for ferries to Stromness, Orkney.

For more drives in and around John O'Groats, see our interactive map.

See next: the Castle of Mey.