If your vacation won’t be complete without visiting the Harry Potter train in Scotland then this post is going to be for you. We’ll be looking at where the train is, how to get to the departure point, tickets and some alternatives as well.
I’ve always been a big fan of Harry Potter so a few years ago when me and my kids were in Fort William, you can imagine my surprise that the Hogwarts Express was there in front of my eyes – it was real!
You can imagine my delight as well when an hour or so later, when we had driven along the road to Mallaig and stopped at the Glenfinnan Viaduct, that the same train chugged over. It was just like the iconic scenes in the films!
It was a chance happening for me, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be left to chance. You can plan to travel on the train itself or plan to see it on its route.
For many Potter Heads a trip to Scotland just isn’t going to be complete without taking a ride on the train through the Scottish Highlands. So, what are the options?
Where is the Harry Potter train in Scotland?
The Harry Potter train is run by West Coast Railways and is known as The Jacobite train rather than the Hogwarts Express, but for many they are the same thing! In this article, this is the train that I will be referring to when talking about the Harry Potter train or Hogwarts Express.
The Harry Potter train runs through some of the Highlands on the west coast of Scotland. The train begins its journey from the town of Fort William and it travels along westward to the port of Mallaig. You can see this in the map above.
- Edinburgh – Fort William: 135 miles
- Glasgow – Fort William: 105 miles
- Inverness – Fort William: 66 miles
Can you ride on the actual Hogwarts Express?
The Jacobite steam train runs journeys to Mallaig from Fort William and it is as close as you’re going to get to riding on the real Hogwarts Express although it’s not the same train used in the movies. The actual locomotive that pulls the coaches does sometimes change as well and the coaches are open rather than being enclosed like in the films.
Regardless of it not being the exact one, it does travel through places seen in the movie like the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
If you’re interested in seeing the exact one, it’s on display at the Harry Potter studios near London – not quite close by though!
The Jacobite Steam Train Journey
The town of Fort William sits at the foot of Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK, and it’s a great place to be based when exploring the west coast of Scotland. The journey begins here, rather than platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross in London!
The viaduct that is a big part of Harry and Ron’s journey to Hogwarts in the 2nd movie and book, The Chamber of Secrets, is called Glenfinnan Viaduct and it’s a real life place that the train actually goes over.
The curved railway bridge was actually built in 1901 and takes steam trains like the Jacobite over daily as well as connecting some of these small highland villages with regular trains as well.
Sometimes, if the train can, it will stop or slow down on the viaduct to allow you to enjoy the scenery. You can see out over Loch Shiel and you’ll also the the towering Glenfinnan Monument which was built to commemorate the highlanders who died for the Jacobite cause.
The train travels through some wonderful scenery, alongside sea lochs and through tiny villages. Some of the beaches you see on this stretch look like they belong in the Caribbean rather than Scotland.
Look out to sea and if it’s a clear day you’ll see some of the Small Isles in view. The Isle of Eigg (pronounced egg) is distinctive with it’s very flat outline whereas the Isle of Rum is the complete opposite with towering peaks.
The train journey ends in Mallaig where you get around 90 mins or so to explore and grab some food.
Mallaig is a port town and it’s where you can get ferries to the Small Isles and also to the south side of the Isle of Skye at Armadale. You’ll see fishing boats as well as the bigger ferries coming and going.
Mallaig isn’t a large town so you should have plenty of time to take in the views, check out the gift shops and have a bite to eat if needed.
Note: The Jacobite Steam train is not able to be done one way so you’ll need to return to Fort William. There’s no way to head off and explore the islands and get another train back another day at the moment.
Alternatives to riding the Harry Potter train
If you’re a Harry Potter fan but for some reason you’re unable to fit a trip on the Hogwarts Express into your vacation then there are some other options for you. It could be that you’ve left it too late to book tickets, you want to be do a one way trip and explore the Islands or you just want a more budget option.
Regular train from Fort William – Mallaig
The regular train runs on the same line as the steam train and, importantly for Harry Potter fans, goes over the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
It runs year round, unlike the steam train and allows you to be much more flexible in what you might like to do in the area. For example, you might like to combine a trip on the train with a day trip to one of the Small Isles or even an overnight stay somewhere on the route.
Or you might be wanting to explore onwards to Skye and further north – you can do a one way journey no problem.
The regular train is also a much cheaper option and is around £8-£15 each way with return tickets available. You can check out train times and prices at Trainline.
Seeing the Harry Potter Train at Glenfinnan
If you have your own transport you might also be interested in trying to catch the steam train as it travels over the viaduct.
It runs from the beginning of April to the end of October and crosses the viaduct at the following times:
Morning outbound: 10.58am
Morning inbound: 3.00pm
Afternoon outbound: 1.25pm
Afternoon inbound: 5.45pm
Times of course are approximate and if you’re looking to catch the train it’s advisable to arrive well in advance to allow for parking which can be quite busy in the summer period.
You can walk up to a viewpoint to get the best view of the train going over.
If you take this option you might also want to take some time looking round the Glenfinnan visitors centre where you’ll learn about the Jacobite story in this area and what happened in the lead up to the the battle of Culloden.
Practical Information for riding the Hogwarts Express in Scotland
The Jacobite runs from the beginning of April to the end of October (check their site for precise start and end dates).
They run a daily morning service throughout the season and from the beginning of May to the end of September there’s also an afternoon service as well.
Where to get tickets:
Tickets should be bought well in advance if you know that you definitely want to do the trip.
You can either buy tickets direct from West Coast Railways if you want to organise the trip yourself or you could go as part of a tour which might suit if you’re based in another city without your own transport.
Driving to Fort William:
If you’re driving to Fort William then I have a couple of tips for you.
- Leave plenty of time to park up and find the train station. While Fort William is not large this can still be time consuming.
- There are a couple of long stay car parks in the town which should be used. The train station only has limited car parking spaces. Don’t use the supermarket car parks.
Tours from other areas
If you’d like to do the Harry Potter train but don’t fancy organising and driving there yourself then an organised tour is a great idea. You can get them from different areas too and it’s often a really time efficient way of doing the trip.
- Inverness: Jacobite Steam train and Highlands Tour
- Edinburgh: Magical Highlands Tour with Hogwarts Express
Budget Option: There’s also this tour from Edinburgh which is quite inexpensive but doesn’t do the actual train journey – it does take you to see the train go over the viaduct though. Might be an option for those on a budget. Here’s a similar option from Glasgow too.
Where to Stay:
If you’re booking your trip independently you’ll probably want to also include either a night in a hotel or Bed and Breakfast before hand, afterwards or both.
Fort William has a lot of options available – check out Booking.com for easy reservations that don’t often need paid upfront.