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.

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

Riding the Hogwarts Express 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.

RELATED: Did You Know? 13 Fun Facts About Scotland


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: A Harry Potter Lover’s Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland


Is the Jacobite a train YOU would like to ride?

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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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55 Comments on “Riding the Harry Potter Train in Scotland

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  1. For us this was a huge disappointment. We booked 6 months in advance, our train was cancelled. They offered one way back for 50% of the price on another day. We had planned our holiday around this. The normal train on the way to Mallaig failed, we had to drive back to Fort William after half an hour and take a bus. This was the best part really because the view was much nicer than from the Jacobite. No view whatsoever from the train because the windows are dirty (and murky); wiping didn’t do any good. We booked seats in first class in a normal carriage but got a cabin. “High Tea” is a totally overpriced pack of wrapped cookies and a sandwich like from the petrol station. Toilets stink. Worst of all was the fact that the steam engine was TURNED AROUND and we couldn’t even take ANY decent photos of the train. Just should have taken the car to somewhere by the tacks and saved A LOT of money to take photos. A complete rip off.

      Sorry to hear you had such a disappointing trip, Jen. Sometimes we build up our expectations so high when it comes to travel! I hope you enjoyed the rest of your time in Scotland more.

    Is it possibel toyake a short trip the railway, in oktober 2020. We vom efrom Denmark and have a week in scotland. We dont have time to take a long trip, but bring my grandchild and know she would be happy to try driving in the train

      The train ride itself isn’t that long, but it’s located up in the Highlands, and isn’t particularly close to Edinburgh or Glasgow. If you’re already planning to go to the Highlands, you can maybe fit it into your plans. Otherwise I’d say you’d need at least 2 days to get up there, ride the train, and get back to Edinburgh.

    What did you do after riding one way? What transpiration did you pick up and where did you go?

      I rode this train as part of a larger tour around Scotland, so our guide dropped us off at one end and picked us up at the other. But you can ride it round-trip if you’re traveling on your own.

    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…

    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’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.

    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).

    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!

    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!

    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!

    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!

    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. 😉

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