Lybster: 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 Lybster, North Scotland.

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Lybster is a coastal village on the far north east coast of mainland Scotland with a picturesque harbour and its own lighthouse. 

Lybster was once the third most important fishing port in Scotland in the nineteenth century. Today, Lybster is home to the Waterlines heritage museum which describes the history and geology of the local area. Crab fishing still operates from the harbour, as do boat trips running to Lybster harbour along the Caithness coast from Wick. 

The museum at Lybster has a reputation for its fresh crab sandwiches, and is a stop for tours from Inverness heading north through Caithness and to the Orkney Isles.

Where is Lybster
Lybster is in the historical county of Caithness, in the Scottish Highlands. It lies on the North Coast 500 driving route, a 500-mile road trip around the north Scottish coast. It is 30 miles south of John O'Groats the most north-easterly village in mainland UK and 13.5 miles south of the nearest town, Wick. Lybster is just over 90 miles north of Inverness, the main city in the Highlands of Scotland.

The lighthouse at Lybster Harbour

How to pronounce Lybster
Lybster is pronounced “LIBE-ster”.

What to do in Lybster

1. Waterlines Museum
Waterlines is a small heritage museum situated on the harbour at Lybster. The downstairs of the museum is a cafe with a number of picnic benches outside overlooking the sea and surrounding cliffsides. Upstairs, there are two exhibition rooms where visitors can learn about the nature at Lybster and its local history.

Waterlines Museum

2. Walks
There is a coastal path from the harbour which is a 3/4km path to Swiney Hill Coastal View Point that meets the John O'Groats Trail going south to Dunbeath. The John O'Groats Trail is a long-distance walking route that begins in Inverness and ends in John O'Groats. The tenth stage of the trail is from Dunbeath to Lybster (nearly 8 miles).

Separately, you can walk the eleventh section of the trail from Lybster to Whaligoe Steps (7.5 miles). More information is available on the John O'Groats Trail website.

3. Caithness Seacoast
If you are staying or passing through the nearby harbour town of Wick, Caithness Seacoast operates boat trips with run around the Caithness coast. A 3.5-hour route stops in Lybster Harbour, for visitors to see the Waterlines museum and explore.

4. North Lands Creative
This is a small contemporary glass studio located in Quatre-Bras, Lybster which runs exhibitions and events, including a local programme of one-day workshops and classes.

What to do near Lybster
Within 10 miles of Lybster, you can explore:

Whaligoe Steps
A cliff-side descent of over 300 steps to Whaligoe Harbour, which provides dramatic views of the coastline and surrounding bird life. A descent down the steps takes around 10 minutes, and a reasonable level of fitness is needed for the return ascent. A visit can be easily completed within 45 minutes.

At the top of Whaligoe Steps, there is a cafe and restaurant which serves lunch and dinner. Seasonal opening hours apply, therefore advanced booking is advised. More on Whaligoe Steps

Camster Cairns
At Camster, there are two Neolithic chambered cairns (known also as "The Grey Cairns of Camster") which are around 5,000 years old, peacefully nestled in the hillside at Camster. These have been restored and visitors with a reasonable build and level of mobility can enter inside the cairns. The cairns have a pathway designated between them for visitors to follow. A visit of the cairns can be up to 20-30 minutes.

The drive to Camster Cairns from the south near Lybster or the north near Watten is around 15-20 minutes each way along single track road. More on Camster

Cairn of Get
The Cairn of Get is a chambered tomb which resembles the round cairn at Camster and is a similar age, around 5,000 years old, but has been restored less extensively than the Grey Cairns of Camster therefore provides an indication of how the original ruins at Camster may have been.

Cairn of Get

The cairn is located near Ulbster, along the A99 road to John O'Groats. To arrive at the cairn, you park near Loch Watenan, along a single track road which is opposite Whaligoe Steps. The parking is clearly signposted.

Proceeding on foot, you follow the black and white poles marked across the landscape which continue over nearly a mile, before arriving at the cairn. 

Hill O'Many Stanes
A collection of 200 small stones, approximately 4000 years old, arranged on a hillside in Mid Clyth looking over the countryside towards the sea. 

It is not known precisely why the stones were positioned in this way, but it was possibly for timekeeping purposes or for religious ceremony.

Visitors can walk around the perimeter of the stones. A visit is around 10-20 minutes.

Parking for one or two cars is nearby via a single track road leading from the A99.

Within 20 miles of Lybster, you can explore:

Wick
The nearest major town, and in the nineteenth century, the most important herring fishing port in Scotland. Now home to Pulteney Distillery, the story of the town's people is sympathetically told by Wick Heritage Centre. More about Wick.

Wick Harbour

Within 40 miles of Lybster, visit:

Dunrobin Castle, near Golspie in Sutherland
The largest historic home in the Northern Highlands with coastal gardens and daily falconry displays during the summer season. More about Dunrobin Castle.

The Castle and Gardens of Mey, near Thurso in Caithness
The most northern castle in mainland Scotland and formerly a home of the Queen Mother. Guided tours of the castle are provided as part of entry to the castle and gardens, which also has an animal centre and woodland. More about Castle of Mey.

Duncansby Stacks, near John O'Groats in Caithness
The most north-easterly point of mainland Britain, these sea stacks are a short 10-minute drive or longer walk from the terminus at John O'Groats. More about John O'Groats.

Where to eat in Lybster

  • Waterlines Museum the heritage centre serves sandwiches, including fresh crab rolls, cakes and hot meals and drinks. Seasonal opening applies therefore check before travel.
Crab roll sandwich Double chocolate gateau at Waterlines Museum

Where to eat near Lybster

  • Whaligoe Steps Cafe (6.5 miles) located at the top of the Whaligoe Steps, this restaurant provides sea views inside and out over the cliffs at Whaligoe Steps and serves lunch and dinner. Seasonal opening applies therefore check the website or phone before travel.
  • Wick (13.5 miles) this nearby town has a range of cafes and restaurants for all budgets and tastes, including Bistro No. 1, the restaurant of Mackay's Hotel, located on the shortest street in the world and Bord De L'Eau a fresh restaurant with daily fish specials sourced locally. Find more dining options in Wick.

Where to shop

  • In Lybster: North Lands Creative sells a small selection of glassware and pottery in its shop.
  • Near Lybster: Wick has local products and gifts, including Old Pulteney whisky, Caithness Chocolate, Caithness Coffee and Caithness Summer Fruits jams and chutneys. Read more

Where to stay

  • Hotels: a small number of hotels are located in Lybster including the Portland Hotel. Nearby Wick also has hotel accommodation.
  • Bed and breakfast: there are a number of B&Bs in Lybster, Wick and along the North Coast 500 route.
  • Camping: there are campsites in Wick (13.5 miles), Thurso Bay (24 miles), Dunnet Bay (28.5 miles) and John O’Groats (30 miles).

How to get to Lybster

  • By car: just over 20 minutes south from Wick on the A99 road or 2 hours north of Inverness.
  • By bus: there are bus routes from Wick typically 25-40 minutes' duration. The X99 from Inverness also stops at Lybster. Plan a journey
  • By train: the nearest train station is Wick, the last stop of the Far North railway line from Inverness. The journey is around 4.5 hours.
  • Nearest airport: Wick-John O'Groats Airport for Edinburgh and Aberdeen; or Inverness Airport for UK-wide flights including Scottish Islands and London as well as to Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Where next

Drives

From Lybster Harbour
Taken on a late afternoon in October, in this drive, you see immediately in view the boats at Lybster Harbour. At the time, two fishermen were unloading crabs. On the left is Waterlines, the heritage museum for Lybster. As you proceed up Shore Road, there is a derelict property on the left and a home on the right. The bridge passes over a small bridge and gorge. 

The road is single track with a passing place for oncoming cars to wait. The road proceeds into Lybster village before joining the A99, part of the North Coast 500, a 500-mile driving route around the Northern Highlands. 

Wick to Lybster
A mid-afternoon winter drive from Wick the nearest town, passing south along the coast by Mid Clyth and Ulbster. The journey is around 23 minutes and passes turnings for Whaligoe Steps and Camster Cairns.

Lybster to John O'Groats
The car journey from Lybster along the A99 takes around 45 minutes and passes through Lybster (00:00), Mid Clyth (00:53), East Clyth (01:22), Ulbster (02:03), Thrumster (03:05), Wick (04:04), Reiss (06:03), Keiss (07:45), Freswick (09:02) and John O'Groats (10:39).

Inverness to John O'Groats via Lybster
See the journey from Inverness, the main city in the Highlands of Scotland passing through the Black Isle, Dunrobin Castle near Golspie, Helmsdale and on to Lybster, Wick and John O'Groats, Caithness.

Further resources
See our complete guide to Wick.