How to Ride the Harry Potter Train in Scotland
This blog post contains affiliate links. This means that as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases if you make a purchase from one of the links below (at no extra cost to you). More information can be found here.
For Harry Potter fans, riding the Hogwarts Express truly represents a once in a lifetime experience. Even if the owl carrying your acceptance letter got lost, you can still take the Harry Potter train in Scotland. Known to muggles as the Jacobite Steam Train, this historic train covers the same route that filmmakers often used to film the Hogwarts Express journey in the Harry Potter films.
This post covers everything you need to know about taking the Harry Potter train in Scotland including how and which ticket to get, where the train goes, and other tips to make the most out of this magical opportunity.
Harry Potter Scotland Train Table of Contents
- Jacobite Steam Train – Real-Life Hogwarts Express
- Where to Catch the Jacobite Steam Train
- Jacobite Train Tickets
- Jacobite Train Seating
- How long is the Jacobite Steam Train ride?
- Harry Potter Train Route
- Jacobite Train Amenities
- Things to do in Mallaig
- Other Tips to Make the Most of Your Harry Potter Train Journey
- More Harry Potter Things to do in Scotland
Jacobite Steam Train – Real-Life Hogwarts Express
Painted red and black just like the Harry Potter train, the historic Jacobite Steam Train allows Harry Potter fans to knock riding the Hogwarts Express off their bucket list. An iconic trail of stream trails along the vintage carriages that make up this one-of-a-kind train.
West Coast Railways operates this famous train services that takes passengers through the breathtaking beauty of the Scottish Highlands and covers many of the Harry Potter filming locations in Scotland.
The train is named after the infamous political Jacobite rebellions by the Highland Clans who sought to install a Stewart king once again upon the Scottish throne. The Western Highlands marked the hotbed of this activity, with Bonny Prince Charlie arriving here first to lead the charge for the 1745 (and final) Jacobite Uprising.
In the Harry Potter films, the scenery around the Western Coast Railway line provided the backdrop for many of the gorgeous shots of mystical mountains and lochs that appear in the movie. Additionally, shots of a train running along these same tracks can be seen throughout the series. The most recognizable location for fans will be the Hogwarts Express traveling over the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct, which the train passes over twice during the round-trip journey aboard the Jacobite Steam Train.
Where to Catch the Jacobite Steam Train
The Jacobite Steam Train departs from Fort William daily during the warmer months of the year. Start and end dates vary each year, but the train typically starts running in late April and finishes off the year in late October.
Located in the heart of the West Highlands, Fort William is affectionately known as the “outdoor capital of the UK.” Sitting at the base of the UK’s largest mountain, Ben Nevis, and just a short drive away from Glencoe and Loch Ness, there’s so much natural beauty to take in during a visit to this Western Highland outpost.
How to Get to Fort William
The best way to get to Fort William is by driving. You can visit additional Harry Potter locations in Scotland this way, as well as be able to see more of the beautiful Scottish Highlands scenery. The drive from Edinburgh to Fort William takes about three hours without stops, though I’d be very impressed if you couldn’t stop just once to take in the beautiful mountains, glens, and lochs you’ll pass along the way.
If driving is not an option, the Caledonian Sleeper Train departs from Glasgow and travels to Fort William daily. It also cuts across Rannoch Moor, one of the Harry Potter filming locations in Scotland. More on the Caledonian Sleeper and ticket information can be found on their website.
Finally, many tour companies provide Harry Potter tours of Scotland that cover filming locations in the highlands, as well as entry onto the Jacobite Steam Train to live out your dreams on the Hogwarts Express.
Jacobite Train Tickets
Purchase Online in Advance
I highly recommend purchasing your ticket in advance online to guarantee your spot on the train and to make sure you get the type of seat that you want. Tickets can be purchased directly from the West Coast Railways website, the rail company that operates the Jacobite Steam Train.
The Jacobite Steam Train runs either once or twice a day depending on the time of year. From mid-May to mid-September, the Harry Potter train runs both a morning and an afternoon service. From late April to mid-May and mid-September to late October, the train only runs in the morning.
How to Get Last Minute Jacobite Steam Train Tickets
If tickets are sold out online, don’t despair! The train company sets aside tickets each day for walk-on opportunities. In fact, this is exactly how I got on the train as I waited too long to book my seat online. The most important note here, however, is to make sure you bring cash in order to cover the price of ticket. They do not accept credit cards for walk-ons.
Train tickets are set aside for each type of train seating type, not just standard class. They usually hold one compartment to be walk-on seating only, so just because you didn’t book online doesn’t mean you can’t have the ultimate Harry Potter train experience.
You’ll want to get to the Fort William Travel Center (where the train departs from) at least an hour before the train departs to line up for the walk on tickets. If you’re going during June, July or August you may want to get there earlier as there tend to be more people visiting during these months. The Jacobite Steam Train typically departs from Platform 2, so you’ll want to line up at the doors to that platform. Usually, it will be roped off until the conductor is ready to start giving out tickets.
The Fort William Travel Center is not very big, but if you have trouble finding out where to go just ask one of the friendly people who work at the station. They will be more than happy to help you.
When the conductor is ready to give out tickets, they will remove the rope and have you follow them to one of the compartments where you’ll be able to purchase a ticket. Obviously, if you’re at the front of the line you will have your pick of which type of ticket you’d like to purchase. Again, please make sure you bring cash as you will not be able to purchase a walk-on ticket with a credit or debit card.
Despite the fear of potentially not being able to make it onto the train, it is actually cheaper to walk onto the train than to purchase online since you avoid having to pay the online booking fee. However, the additional £3.50 is definitely worth the peace of mind if you can purchase ahead of time.
Jacobite Train Seating
There are three different seating arrangements on the Jacobite Steam Train, including Harry Potter style compartments, regular First Class and standard class.
Harry Potter Style Seating – First Class Compartment
To have the ultimate Harry Potter train experience, you’ll want to book yourself in one of the Harry Potter style first class compartments on the Jacobite Steam Train. Only the morning service comes with this option and only one of the train cars provides this option, so these seats are limited and you’ll want to book ahead to guarantee your spot inside of one of them. They do typically set aside one compartment for walk-ons, though, if you are unable to book in advance.
Just like the Hogwarts Express in the movie, the Harry Potter style seating places you in a compartment with a sliding door. The compartment sits six people and unless you’re going on a very quiet day, each of those seats will be filled. Seats are marked as first class, so even though it’s a row of three seats on each side there’s plenty of room for each individual.
The compartment also contains a table that sits between the two rows of seats. Shelving is available at the top of the cabin to place backpacks and other smaller bags.
First Class Open Seating
The First Class open seating options provides more space and a touch of luxury for those who want to ride in style. Unlike the Harry Potter style seating, open seating is similar to other trains you’ve been on with private tables of two and four lining the train.
Standard Class Seating
For those looking to save money, the standard class seating lets you have all the views of the Jacobite Steam Train at a lower cost. These cars will remind you of most other trains you’ve been on. Tables of four are squeezed together with a normal amount of space allotted for each seat.
How long is the Jacobite Steam Train ride?
Overall, the Harry Potter train journey on the Jacobite Steam Train lasts about six hours. The train journey from Fort William to Mallaig takes 2 hours and 10 minutes. You’ll have an hour and 45 minutes to explore the seaside town of Mallaig, then jump back on the train for the return journey that lasts 1 hour and 50 minutes.
Harry Potter Train Route
The Harry Potter train journey departs from Fort William and chugs through the Western Highlands, carrying passengers to the coastal town of Mallaig. Along the way it passes by famous Harry Potter filming locations including Glenfinnan Viaduct, Loch Shiel, Loch Eilt, and Loch Morar.
Once the train departs from Fort William, it takes about 45 minutes to approach the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct. You’ll also get sweeping views of Loch Shiel from the viaduct, which was used as the Black Lake in the movies. You can easily imagine Hogwarts Castle digitally imposed on the right hand bank of the loch.
Shortly after going over Glenfinnan Viaduct, the train will stop at Glenfinnan Station for about 15 minutes. The station contains a small museum that talks about the Western Highland Railway and its history, as well as a small gift shop. You will not have time to take the hike to the Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint, so don’t even try to attempt it or you will miss the train.
Following the short stop at Glenfinnan Station, the train will continue on to its end stop at Mallaig. Along the way you’ll have sweeping views of beautiful mountains and lochs that were used as the backdrop for scenes aboard the Hogwarts Express. Additionally, you’ll pass by Loch Eilt and the small island of Eileen na Moine, which marks Albus Dumbledore’s final resting place.
Closer to Mallaig, Loch Morar will appear on the right side of the train. Not only is this the deepest loch in Britain, as well as home to the mythical water horse named Morag, but it also provided some of the stock video footage used in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Returning from Mallaig to Fort William, the train will cover the same route in reverse so you’ll get to once again take in the beautiful locations from the Harry Potter films.
Jacobite Train Amenities
Looking for food or drink while aboard the Jacobite Steam Train? They have you covered for snacks and drinks. One of the cars will have a bar that will serve water, soft drinks, alcohol and even a few Harry Potter-inspired beverages. They also have chips/crisps, candy and a few other small snacks. Don’t expect any proper meal while aboard the Jacobite Express.
In addition to the bar, the train also has a gift shop that carries souvenirs related to the Jacobite Steam Train, as well as some Harry Potter gifts and merchandise.
Toilets are located in each train car, however they cannot be used unless the train is in motion. Since this is an older train, sewage is released directly onto the tracks when the toilet flushes and train operators want to avoid having that pile up on the station tracks.
Things to do in Mallaig
The Harry Potter train stops in Mallaig for an hour and 45 minutes. Since this is not a lot of time, I would highly recommend eating food on the train and using your time to take advantage of this seaside town.
Here are some of the best things to do during the Jacobite stopover in Mallaig:
- Take a 1-hour wildlife cruise to see seals, whales, dolphins, sharks and more.
- Explore the banks of Loch Morar and search for Morag the water horse in its depths by renting an e-bike at E-Bike Hire Mallaig.
- Learn the history of this fishing town at the Mallaig Heritage Center.
- Take in the sea and wander through the unique shops in the town. There’s even a Harry Potter themed shop not too far from the train station!
Other Tips to Make the Most of Your Harry Potter Train Journey
Bring Food and Eat on the Train
Rather than spending your entire time in Mallaig waiting for food, I would recommend bringing sandwiches or something else you can pack with you and eat on the train. Whether you’re looking to jump on one of the wildlife cruises or just want to shop around the town, having to stop to eat will take up most of your time in the town.
Right next to the Fort William Travel Center is Morrisons, a pretty large grocery store that carries a pretty large selection of takeaway meal options. You can pop in there before the train departs to get some food to store and eat before the train arrives in Mallaig.
Don’t Forget Cash
Make sure you have some cash handy with you for this journey. If you’re trying to walk on, this is 100 percent a necessity or you will not be able to purchase a ticket. There are also some places in Mallaig that may only accept cash, though many do accept credit card as well. Either way, it’s always helpful to have cash on hand just in case.
Avoid bringing luggage on board
If you can avoid it, try not to bring luggage with you. Small bags and backpacks can be stored near your seat, but larger luggage will need to be arranged with the conductor when you arrive since it cannot be brought onto the passenger cars. There are storage areas available, but you’ll need to get there earlier in order to arrange storage with the conductor.