Riding the Harry Potter Train in Scotland

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I remember when I was first introduced to Harry Potter. I was about 13 years old, in Miss Barkett's 7th-grade English class, and we had been told by our (uber conservative, rural) school board that we could not read the first Harry Potter book as a class because it “condoned witchcraft.” (Yes, apparently I went to school in the 1600s.)

So when the next Scholastic book order form came around (remember those?), nearly everyone in the class ordered the book anyway. Forbidden is so cool when you're 13, after all.

I remember devouring that book. Hours spent sprawled out on the pink carpet of my childhood bedroom, getting swept away to Hogwarts along with Harry.

Even though I was a little older than the Boy Who Lived (well, at the time of first reading, at least), I secretly hoped that an owl would swoop into my backyard and deliver my Hogwarts letter. (Still waiting – I'm convinced it got lost in the owl post.)

Platform 9 3/4

For me, Harry Potter was a huge part of my teenage years. I more or less grew up along with Harry, going to book release parties and midnight movie showings all the way through high school. When I finished reading the seventh book, there was literally a void in my life – I went through some serious post-series depression.

It's probably no wonder, then, that, even close to 30, I still latch on to every opportunity to get my Harry Potter fix.

I've been to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour in London, posed at Platform 9 3/4, and geeked out at Harry Potter World in Orlando.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley
Diagon Alley in Orlando

And now I can also say that I've ridden the Hogwarts Express.

Well, sort of.

Jacobite Steam Train in Scotland

Jacobite Steam Train in Scotland

In the Scottish Highlands, there's a famous steam train called the Jacobite. The scarlet locomotive travels from Fort William to Mallaig on the West Highland Railway Line, carrying tourists through one of the prettiest parts of the Highlands from May to October each year.

This train also “starred” as the Hogwarts Express in a few of the Harry Potter movies – basically any scenes where you saw the train trundling along the tracks.

As part of my trip with Highland Explorer Tours earlier this summer, I got the chance to ride this very cool train.

Jacobite Steam Train in Scotland

View from the Jacobite Steam Train

We boarded in Mallaig, a little town on the coast just across the water from Armadale on the Isle of Skye. The day was warm and sunny – so much so that it actually got warm inside the train and necessitated us opening the windows. This meant that bits of soot from the big steam engine were constantly falling into our hair and on our tables – but I honestly didn't care.

Jacobite Steam Train in Scotland
Look at all that soot!

I spent the first 30 minutes of the ride in my seat, watching the scenery pass by. But then I got antsy, and ended up spending the next hour standing near an open window on one of the doors at the back of a carriage.

From this vantage point, I had a perfect view of the lochs and mountains and streams that we passed – landscape that wins this train journey all sorts of accolades.

View from the Jacobite Steam Train in Scotland

View from the Jacobite Steam Train in Scotland

And as the wind whipped through my hair as we passed over the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct, I was transported back to seventh grade; I was 13 again, giddy over the fantasy of going to Hogwarts.

Jacobite Steam Train going over the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland

As I went back to my seat a bit later, face wind-burnt and hair soot-filled, I honestly expected a plump little witch to come by to ask if I wanted anything off the sweets trolley.

IF YOU GO

When: The Jacobite operates from May to October each year (exact dates vary). In 2015, the train made two trips per day.

Where: The Jacobite travels between Fort William and Mallaig in Scotland. You can ride round-trip, or just take the train one-way (which is what I did).

How much: An adult return ticket is £58.00 in first class and £34.00 in standard class (first class gets you a Harry Potter-esque compartment; standard class gets you a seat at a table). One-way tickets are £53.00 in first and £29.00 in standard.

View from the Jacobite Steam Train

How long: The ride one-way lasts about two hours.

Where to sit: If you want the best views of the viaduct and some of the lakes, you'll want to sit on the left side of the train when traveling from Fort William to Mallaig, or the right side of the train if traveling from Mallaig to Fort William.

Are there tours? Not planning to be in Fort William or Mallaig? Booking a tour into the Highlands from Edinburgh is another great way to make sure you have the chance to ride this train. Here are a few options to consider:

And, pick up a Harry Potter filming locations guidebook, too!

READ NEXT: Hunting for Harry Potter in the UK

Is the Jacobite a train YOU would like to ride?

 

Riding the Harry Potter train in Scotland

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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50 Comments on “Riding the Harry Potter Train in Scotland

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  1. Well this is the coolest thing ever and I’m really really jealous!!!!

      It WAS pretty darn cool – especially going over the viaduct!

    I rode that train two years ago just before we hiked the Great Glen Way. Wonderful! Like you, I had great weather for it. In Scotland you never take that for granted!

      So true! Good weather in Scotland is definitely something to appreciate. My mom and I had amazing weather the whole time we were in the UK, which is almost unheard of!

    I didn’t even know that The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orland existed until I read your post about it about 6 months ago. I instantly knew I wanted to go and we just finished our visit there! Now you’ve gone and inspired some more future travel plans for me!

      That’s so awesome that you just went to Harry Potter World!! If you love HP, you definitely need to add this one to your list!

    I will be in Scotland in February so unfortunately it won’t be operating which is heartbreaking!

    I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. I recently just re-read all of them. At the moment I’m working as a nanny to save money for travel, providing after school care to an 8 year old boy and we have this ritual of reading and watching Harry Potter together. It’s probably the only time he actually likes having me there :-P.

    Can’t wait to do all of the fangirl Harry Potter things in the UK. I think the UK might even be the perfect place to get that Harry Potter tattoo I’ve been wanting to get for ages!

      Aww bummer! But there are still tons of Harry Potter-related thing you can do while you’re in the UK! (I highly, highly recommend the studio tour!)

    Amazing!! Would love the go on this train one day. Gotta love Harry Potter

    Leonie ♥ Lo On The Go

      I was humming Harry Potter music to myself almost the whole time!

    I’m so jealous of all of your cool Harry Potter experiences! I would love to ride this train–not only do the views seem super gorgeous on their own, but I just know that my inner child would totally come out in full-force during this experience. Like you, Harry Potter was a huge part of my life growing up, and as a kid I remember wishing so badly that I could have that Hogwarts experience, too. This seems like the perfect way to make it happen!

      I’ll admit, though, that it was a bummer to not arrive at Hogsmeade Station at the end. 😉

    Sounds like you had awesome ride! 😀
    I first read “Harry Potter” as a college freshman. The 1st movie was on the horizon so I wanted to read the book before seeing it.
    I went on to read the entire series plus the school books and “Tales of Beedle the Bard.” Also I’ve got two official “Harry Potter” movie books that give you a look behind the scenes.

      I’ve definitely got some HP merchandise, too. Like a Ravenclaw hoodie and Dumbledore’s wand. (Yup, definitely a geek!)

    AMAZING! So jealous of this!

      It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years, and it definitely did not disappoint!

    That is CERTAINLY something I would like to do! In fact I am bookmarking this for my next visit to Scotland because I will not be missing out on this epic train again!

      Whoohoo! Definitely fun. The views are great, and you can totally just geek out about it!

    I’m so incredibly jealous! I, like you, grew up reading Harry Potter and am seriously a die hard fan. Just a couple months ago, I got to tour Warner Bros. Studio in London which was a dream come true! I absolutely love anything to do with Harry Potter. I will definitely have to look into this train ride when I go to Scotland!

      Ahhh isn’t the studio tour amazing?!? I loved it so much. And yes, definitely look into this if you end up in Scotland in the summer months!

    ‘Lovely post Amanda!

    I love Scotland as you know and I’ve taken the Jacobite tours before. They’ve got great cruises and buses and they really do a great job especially if you’re not with a car and you want to travel some distance.

    p.s. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. Shhh! I’m a professional. Don’t tell anyone!

      Haha, no shame, Victoria! 😉

    I always say it: “Scotland: the most beautiful country in the world.” (I’m a bit biased but I don’t care). Glad you enjoyed it 😉

      Well, I’m inclined to agree! Scotland is certainly one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever visited!

    I just found your blog and love it! I am a huge HP fan and my two (quite little) boys are obsessed with trains so this looks like an amazing trip. We already have plans to be in Scotland next summer so hopefully we can make this work. Thanks so much for sharing and I can’t wait to read more about your adventuers!

      Perfect timing, and it sounds like something you all would really enjoy!

    Whaaat is this?! I want to go on it, like now!

      DO IT!! I’ve been on fancier trains, but have never felt as geeky as I did on this one. 😉

    I am a huge fan of the Harry Potter series and this post is giving me instant wanderlust 😉 glad you had a great time. I’d love to visit scotland someday! Hope soon!! and so nice to have chanced upon your blog.

      Thanks! Scotland is amazing, and this train ride is definitely fun!

    Oh my god! I so want to do that. Sounds like so much fun. I’m a massive Harry Potter fan so I think I dont have a choice, I just need to go now 😉 Awesome pics by the way xx

      It was really fun! I’m not sure how a non-Harry Potter fan would find it, but the geek in me absolutely loved it!

    Oh I wish! I started reading Harry Potter when I was about 9 and had a few years to hope for my letter to arrive. Unfortunately mine got lost too. I have been searching train travel for a little while now and this is the one that definitely gives me butterflies in my stomach!

    One day, one day.

      Darn those owls, losing all our letters!

    Thanks for the information as big Harry Potter fans would love to do this in the future!

      My pleasure! It’s a very pretty train ride, and the Harry Potter connection is just an added bonus!

    Unfortunately we tried to get tickets but it was completely booked up. So if you want to do this you must book well in advance. I tried 2 months before we were going to be it Scotland and it was a no go.

      Oh no! It’s definitely become more popular in recent years. I guess another option would be to book a guided tour that includes the train (I’m guessing some of the tour companies get allotments of tickets for their guests).

    I’m a huge HP fan!
    I’m going to Scotland this year and would love to ride the train but I have a bad back. Is this a smooth train with a comfortable ride? Or is it more bumpy/jerky?

      I don’t remember it being too bumpy – it was smooth enough that it lulled my mom to sleep for little while! Haha. But it’s not fancy, and it’s certainly not a sleek new train where you don’t feel anything.

    Great blog. My wife and I are booked round trip from Ft. William to Mallaig on Easter Monday. We splurged and booked the first class table for two for this once in a lifetime trip.

      I hope you enjoy it, David!

    We will be in Edinburgh the 3rd week in october and would love to do this. Is there a day trip out of Edinburgh that we could do? Or is everything going to be several days…

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