If you’ve had the chance to explore our blog, then you know we aren’t shy about our Harry Potter geekery. One of our favorite theme parks is Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. When the Harry Potter History of Magic exhibition opened at the British Library in London, we had to go. We’ve been to the Warner Bothers Studio Tour in London twice.
We’re hopelessly addicted.
One HP trip that’s eluded us, though, is J.K. Rowling’s stomping grounds in Scotland. Not only are there several filming locations and places that inspired her writing, you can also ride the Harry Potter train – the actual Hogwarts Express!
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What to expect on Scotland’s Harry Potter Train
The train is actually called the Jacobite and is operated by West Coast Railways. When the train runs during the summer months, it takes you on a magical trip through the Scottish Highlands, leaving from the town of Fort William on its way to the quaint fishing village of Mallaig on the Scottish coast. The journey is described as one of most beautiful anywhere, and we couldn’t wait to experience it for ourselves.
The trip can be made in a day from Fort William and will take you across the impressive Glenfinnan viaduct, made famous from the Harry Potter films, and through some of the prettiest countryside in all of Scotland.It’s a must for any Harry Potter fan!
Related: The actual Hogwarts Express now sits at the Warner Brothers Studio Tour London (pictured), and can be seen in several shots from the Harry Potter Films. For one of the best shots of the Glenfinnan Viaduct, jump to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and look for the scene where Ron and Harry are being chased by the train in their flying car.
Traveling on the Hogwarts Express
For our trip, we drove from Edinburgh to Fort William the day before, making a few stops along the way at Cairngorms National Park and Inverness. We decided to to take the morning train to Mallaig so that we could drive back to Edinburgh that afternoon.
Be sure to arrive at the train station a little early to snap some photos and take a peek inside the engine where the engineers are polishing all the brass and preparing for the journey. There is also a small shop that sells Harry Potter knick-knacks and snacks for your trip (because chocolate frogs and Fizzing Whizzbees are most appropriate).
Once you settle into your carriage, you’ll set off towards Mallaig, following the river and Loch Eil. Shortly after you leave the station, the conductor will make an announcement that the train is approaching the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct and Loch Shiel – both featured in the Harry Potter movies (and maybe the two biggest reasons for riding the train for HP fans).
Make sure you have your camera ready! We recommend that you make your way the end of your carriage so that you can poke your head and camera out the back as the train rounds the viaduct. It’s the perfect spot for photos! The views are tremendous, and the viaduct is where you’ll really start your climb into the highlands.
Before long, the train will make a short stop at the Glenfinnan train station. You’ll have twenty minutes or so to use the restroom, check out the Glenfinnan Station Museum, and snap a few more photos of the Jacobite if you’d like.
After boarding again, you’ll begin making the climb towards Mallaig. This part of the journey is gorgeous and why many describe this as one of the best train journeys in the world. The lush mountains, lochs, and wildflower-covered hillsides are worth the price of admission. Sit back with some tea and enjoy the journey.
Not planning to drive? There are plenty of tours available from both Edinburgh and Glasgow. Check them out here from our partner Viator.
Exploring Mallaig, Scotland
Once you arrive at the station in Mallaig, you’ll disembark and have a few hours for lunch and some exploring. We suggest having a lunch plan ahead of time so that you can go directly there and get a table before all the crowds beat you there. When you board the train, you’ll get a map and list of places to eat, so have a look at that during your journey.
We had a lovely lunch of fresh seafood at The Fishmarket Restaurant. It’s just around the corner from the train station and offers up perfect views of the harbor. The food is delicious and the staff was very friendly. Highly recommended!
After lunch, take a bit to wander around town and explore. Mallaig has lots of small shops to peek into, and if you need some dessert, go for a 99 Flake – a vanilla soft-serve cone with a chocolate Cadbury Flake stuck in it. Yum!
For Harry Potter fans, you must visit Haggard Alley. It’s a tiny little Harry Potter shop right off of main street that has a fun Diagon Alley feel to it. It’s just the place for a souvenir to make your HP-loving friends jealous of your trip.
Be sure to walk around to the other side of the train station to get some awesome views of the harbor and some of the smaller Scottish isles. There’s just something about the cool, salty breeze that will bring a smile to your face.
After a delicious lunch and some sightseeing, it’s time to board the train again and head back to Fort William. Be sure to have your camera ready for more photos of the Glenfinnan Viaduct going in the opposite direction. The engine will probably be facing backwards for this trip as well giving you a little bit different photo.
Once back in Fort William, you can walk back through town to find some dinner, or like us, head out to find a new adventure. We traveled towards Glencoe and gorgeous Glencoe National Park. After taking some photos and marveling at the beauty, we were off to Edinburgh for the night.
Spending some time in Edinburgh?
We definitely suggest spending some time in Edinburgh if you can. We decided to drop our car back at the airport and take the tram into Edinburgh since it's easier to get around town on foot and public transit. The Edinburgh Trams make several stops between the airport and the city center (Waverly Train Station) and is affordable, which is great for families. We stayed at the Hilton Carlton Hotel Edinburgh, which is near the station, so we got off at the St. Andrews Square stop and walked the few blocks to our hotel.
So, how much did we love riding the real Hogwarts Express?
So. Much. Fun.
The Jacobite Steam Train was a Harry Potter fan’s dream trip! Not only was the Harry Potter factor amazing, the Scottish countryside and the breathtaking views of the craggy Highlands was totally worth it – even if you don’t care about Harry Potter whatsoever.
Planning your trip on the Jacobite Steam Train – what you need to know
Did we plan our trip to Scotland primarily so we could ride this train?
Tickets for this train were literally the first thing I booked for this trip – even before plane tickets or hotels. For those of you who maybe aren’t as – ahem – passionate about Harry Potter, this is still a great way to see a beautiful part of Scotland and is a really nice day trip. We definitely recommend it. For those who wear their house colors with pride, this trip falls solidly in the “bucket-list” category.
Sound fun? Here’s what you need to know to plan a magical trip on the Harry Potter train through the Scottish Highlands.
When does the Jacobite Steam Train run?
The Jacobite doesn’t run all year round, so make sure you plan accordingly. Here are the dates and times when you should plan your trip.
Morning service on the Jacobite
Morning service from Fort William departs at 10:15 a.m. and arrives in Mallaig at 12:25 p.m. After enjoying lunch and some sightseeing in town, the train departs Mallaig at 2:10 p.m. and arrives back in Fort William at 4:00 p.m.
M-F service begins on Monday April 22nd and runs through Friday October 25th (2019)
Weekend service begins on Saturday Saturday May 4th and runs through Sunday September 29th (2019).
Afternoon service on the Jacobite
Afternoon service from Fort William departs at 2:30 p.m. and arrives in Mallaig at 4:29 p.m. After enjoying dinner and some sightseeing in Mallaig, the train departs at 6:38 p.m. and arrives back in Fort William at 8:31 p.m.
M-F service begins on Monday May 13th and runs through Friday September 13th (2019).
Weekend service begins on Saturday June 15th and runs through Sunday September 1st. (2019).
Be sure to check the schedule ahead of time for exact dates and times.
How to buy your Harry Potter train ticket
Make your plans early!
As you might expect, this is a popular train ride, so plan to purchase your tickets as early as you can. Book your tickets directly with West Coast Railways here.
You can book one-way tickets and also returns depending on your plans. We stayed the night in Fort William the night before our journey so that we could be at the station in plenty of time in the morning. Fort William is the largest town in the Scottish Highlands, so if you wanted to plan a day or two exploring, that would be a great option. It sits near Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the United Kingdom (and another HP filming location), so take advantage!
The Jacobite has three classes or carriages that you can book into – First Class Open, First Class Compartment, and Standard Carriage. We booked into the Standard Carriage which has seating for 4 around a table on each side of the isle and was fine for us. First Class Open Carriages have more room, available tables for two, and complimentary tea and drink service in both directions of the journey. First Class Compartments are like what you see in the Harry Potter films – private compartments with a sliding door and seating for six.
We paid ~£156 for four return tickets in a standard carriage (4 adults).
Other ways to see the Glenfinnan Viaduct
If you want some additional photos of the train and the viaduct, you can drive to Glenfinnan and hike to various viewpoints to get that perfect shot. Weather can be tricky, and you have to time it just right with the train schedule if you want to catch a photo of the train going across the viaduct, but it’s worth it to see this cool piece of architecture up close.
Driving directions to the Glenfinnan Viaduct
From Fort William, take A830 west towards Glenfinnan. From our hotel, it was about a 30 minute drive. If you’re wanting to hike and get some great shots of the train (of course you do!), get there plenty early because you’ll have to do a bit of hiking to set up your shot.
Look for the Glenfinnnan Monument parking lot and visitor center. This is a small lot and may be full, but you can drive up the road a short way to Saint Mary and Saint Finnan Catholic Church to find some extra parking.
Hiking up to the Glenfinnan Viaduct
There are a couple of trails you can take to see the viaduct. The first is a short trail that leads from the parking lot and visitor center up to the Glenfinnan Viewpoint. It’s a well-marked trail and only takes 5 minutes or so to get to the top. From here, you’ll have some pretty sweeping views of the viaduct and the surrounding scenery.
If you’d like to get a close-up of the viaduct and a different (and closer) viewpoint of the train, consider taking the longer hike along the Glenfinnan Trail. This is very popular with photographers, so arrive early to stake out a good spot.
After you find a spot to park, head up the trail through the gated driveway. (While this is technically private property, visitors are welcome to hike the trail). Take the trail for about ten minutes until the sign leads you to the left onto a dirt path at the base of the viaduct. Take the trail underneath it and hike up the trail to find a good viewpoint – another five minutes or so.
From here, you’ll get some great photos of the viaduct and if you have timed it correctly, you’ll get to see the Jacobite steam train cross the bridge in spectacular fashion. While we didn’t have the time to make this hike, we’d love to next time.
Are you ready to book your Harry Potter train ride on the Jacobite?
Be sure to let us know in the comments or on social media if you have any questions about booking this railway journey. We’d love to help!
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