John o' Groats is 690 miles from London, 280 miles from Edinburgh, 6 miles from the Orkney Isles and 2,200 miles from the North Pole. It is 4.25 miles from the uninhabited island of Stroma.
A passenger ferry operates from John o' Groats to Burwick on South Ronaldsay in Orkney.
The settlement takes its name from Jan de Groot, a Dutchman who once plied a ferry from the Scottish mainland to Orkney, which had recently been acquired from Norway by King James IV. Local legend has that the "o' Groats" refers to John's charge of one groat for use of his ferry, but it actually derives from the Dutch de groot, meaning "the large". People from John o' Groats are known as "Groaters".
The name John o' Groats has a particular resonance because it is often used as a starting or ending point for cycles, walks and charitable events to and from Land's End (at the extreme south-western tip of the Cornish peninsula in England). The phrase Land's End to John o' Groats is frequently heard both as a literal journey (being the longest possible in Great Britain) and as a metaphor for great or all-encompassing distance, similar to the American phrase coast to coast.
In 2007, the population of John o' Groats was about 300. The village is dispersed but has a linear centre with council housing, sports park and a shop which is on the main road from the nearest town of Wick.
John o' Groats attracts large numbers of tourists from all across the world all year round. In 2005, a popular tourist guide, Lonely Planet, described the village as a "seedy tourist trap" and in 2010 John o' Groats received a Carbuncle Award from Urban Realm magazine for being "Scotland's most dismal town". 2013 however saw the completion of major redevelopment work which hopes to revitalise the area. Every July (usually the second weekend)sees the annual 'Wildcat Motorcycle Rally' held at the local village hall which is run by a local club of motorcycle enthusiast called TEAM MCC (The End And More MotorCycle Club)
The famous "Journey's End" signpost at John o' Groats was privately owned for almost up to 60 years until 2013 on the original land, and operated by the same Penzance-based photography company that operates its counterpart at Land's End, (with a fee payable for having pictures taken next to the signpost with either a message or a chosen location, with the distance from said location, and the day's date), it was there until a large company bought the land the original signpost was on, and forced the original signpost to move location. With the re-opening of the Hotel, a new replacement of the signpost was put in the original's place,(which was free of charge, with no date, or location).
John o' Groats has two football clubs: John o' Groats and John O Groats Juniors. John o' Groats FC is an amateur team which plays in the top flight of Caithness Amateur Football; it also enters a team into the Winter 7s which are played in Thurso. They also have the distinction of being the most northerly clubs on the island of Great Britain. Canisbay Juniors is the "feeder" team to John o' Groats FC, with many of the key first team players having played for the juniors side at one time; they play in the youth development leagues in Caithness where the club enters teams in all age groups. The John O Groats Juniors Under 15s of 2012 were regarded as the best in the county and best ever junior Groats side.
The John o' Groats House Hotel was built on or near the site of Jan de Groot's house and was established in 1875. It has been described by Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant as "one of the UK's most famous landmarks". It was closed for several years and fell into disrepair until undergoing a radical transformation by Edinburgh-based architects GLM for self-catering holiday specialists Natural Retreats. It reopened for business in August 2013.
John o' Groat's House was an ancient house believed to be situated in front of the present hotel and was marked with a flagpole now removed, deriving its name from John of Groat, or Groot, and his brothers, originally from Holland, said to have settled here about 1489. The house was of an octagon shape, being one room, with eight windows and eight doors, to admit eight members of the family; the heads of different branches of it, to prevent their quarrels for precedence at table. Each came in by this contrivance at his own door, and sat at an octagon table, at which, of course, there was no chief place or head.—Haydn's Dictionary of Dates