Harry Potter Steam Train in Scotland: How to Ride AND Photograph

Jacobite Harry Potter Steam Train crossing Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scotland

Every diehard Harry Potter fan has dreamt of riding the Hogwarts Express steam train through the Scottish Highlands at some point. And though, sadly, Hogwarts is fictional and the train used in the movies is currently on a backlot at the Harry Potter Studios, there is still a way you can ride the Harry Potter train in Scotland AND photograph it crossing the famous Harry Potter bridge. It just goes by a different name in real life, that’s all.

The Hogwarts Express train journey from Kings Cross Station to the Scottish Highlands is featured in almost every single film in the series. It’s an iconic part of the movie and showcases the most epic scenery. You’d be silly to not want to experience it for yourself! Lucky for you, travelling on and watching The Jacobite Steam Train over the Glenfinnan Viaduct is an excellent way for muggles to capture some of the magic in the movies. And spoiler: it’s 1000% worth the hype.

This guide covers absolutely everything you need to know about riding the Harry Potter Scotland train AND how to see the train cross the famous Harry Potter viaduct. And if you are planning your own trip to do the Harry Potter train ride in Scotland from Fort William to Mallaig, let me know if you have any questions!

Harry Potter Train Scotland: How to Ride the Hogwarts Express Train

How to Ride Harry Potter Train Scotland from Fort William to Mallaig

In real life, the Harry Potter Scotland train is called The Jacobite Steam Train, named after the area’s ties to the Jacobite rebellion in the 1700s. It’s a non-stop service from Fort William to Mallaig (and back) run by West Coast Railways.

Jacobite Steam Train Timetable and Seasons

Usually, the steam train runs from April to October. Afternoon services only run for a few months in the middle of April-October, usually May/June-September, and sometimes only on weekdays. So it can be a little confusing to know when the steam train is actually running! Always check the timetable on the West Coast Railways website for the most up-to-date schedule and dates.

As an example, this is the timetable for 15th July – 30th August 2020. This is when both morning and afternoon trains were running every day, including weekends. The timings of the services don’t seem to change throughout the year, it’s just figuring out whether the afternoon service is running or not.

Morning Service

  • Depart Fort William 10:15 -> Arrive Mallaig 12:26
  • Depart Mallaig 14:10 -> Arrive Fort William 16:03

Afternoon Service

  • Depart Fort William 14:40 -> Arrive Mallaig 16:42
  • Depart Mallaig 18:40 -> Arrive Fort William 20:31

Most travellers choose a round trip to depart and arrive back in Fort William. Though you can buy a single ticket if you’d like. As you can see from the timings, you might need to set aside a whole day of your trip for the Harry Potter train ride in Scotland.

Alternatively, regular ScotRail services travel on the exact route from Fort William to Mallaig and back again. So, you may find it cost-effective to take a single journey on The Jacobite Steam Train in one direction and a cheaper ScotRail service back. Check out ScotRail’s website for timetables and prices to see if that’s an option for you.

Harry Potter Train in Fort William, Scotland

Harry Potter Steam Train in Fort William, Scotland

How to Buy Train Tickets for The Jacobite Train

You need to book your tickets for the Harry Potter train in Scotland months in advance.

Let me say it louder for the Slytherins in the back: BOOK YOUR TRAIN TICKETS AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE!!!

We booked our train tickets at the end of January/early February to travel on The Jacobite Steam Train in early August. And all of the first-class tickets had already sold out. So, if you want your pick of dates and carriage class, it’s worth purchasing your tickets in mid-November the year before (when tickets are released) if you can.

Book your Jacobite Steam Train tickets on the West Coast Railway website here.

You might be able to buy tickets on the day if you missed your chance with the online tickets as they keep a certain number aside. Head straight to the guard on the platform at Fort William at least one hour before morning departure for the best chance of success.

Top tip: Arrive at Fort William station early! You’re supposed to be there 20 minutes before your departure time anyway, but I recommend 30 minutes so you have plenty of time to take photos in front of the steam train.

Almost Ginger blog owner with Harry Potter Jacobite Steam Train in Fort William, Scotland

First Class or Standard Class?

Currently, a standard class adult return ticket is £43. It can be an expensive trip if the whole family is going and not just a grown daughter (me) and mother who are fans of films about a little wizard boy. With a standard class ticket, you get a seat on one of the tables which each have their own window to look out of with a vent. Everyone has the chance to order food on the train as the trolley moves through the carriages.

At the moment, a first-class adult return ticket is £64. And you have to get a return ticket if you want to travel in first class. There are two types of first-class seats: the compartment seats and the open carriage seats. The compartment seats are similar to the carriages you see on the Hogwarts Express, with plush lounge chairs. The open carriages in first-class look exactly like the standard class except they have the plush seating, a lamp and you get a complimentary tea or coffee.

Personally, I think the open carriage first-class ticket is not worth the extra cost. You’re literally just paying for a slightly nicer seat with legroom, a lamp and a hot drink for almost £20 extra. I understand people who want to get the first-class carriage seats because if you have the “Go Big or Go Home” mindset you’ll appreciate the full Harry Potter train in Scotland experience. But for the majority of travellers who don’t have accessibility issues or specific needs, regular first-class tickets aren’t that much better than standard.

Inside Harry Potter Jacobite Hogwarts Express Train in Scotland

Almost Ginger blog owner wearing mask onboard Harry Potter Jacobite steam train in Scotland
Socially distanced train ride August 2020!
Harry Potter Steam Train Menu
Menu August 2020 | There is the opportunity to buy snacks (even Harry Potter cocktails!) onboard

How to Take Photographs FROM The Harry Potter Train

When I travelled on the Scotland Harry Potter train, it was an extremely wet and misty August day. Standard summer weather for Scotland, really. But this meant we really couldn’t see a thing outside the already quite foggy train windows.

Our seats were also on the right side of the train, and you need to be sat on the left side to see Glenfinnan Viaduct out of the window and see the best views. What can you do about this? Not a lot, really. You could try writing a note to West Coast Railway during or after your booking and ask them to pretty please seat you on the left-hand side. Maybe that might work? Or you might be able to move around the train and snag a good photo op elsewhere. But this wasn’t an option for us during the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines in place August 2020.

I’m not explaining this to be a downer. I’m just allowing you to lower your expectations now to avoid disappointment! But honestly, don’t go on the train expecting to be able to take amazing photographs. You just won’t, and try not to let it spoil the fun of the journey.

As you can see below, I managed to get a couple of fairly okay snaps of Loch Eil and Eilean na Moine in Loch Eilt through our window vent. The latter is actually another Harry Potter filming location so it’s worth watching out for!


Read next: Harry Potter Filming Locations in Scotland: A Complete Guide


Window vents on the Jacobite Harry Potter Train in Scotland
Every table has a window and vent
Misty view on a rainy day out of the Jacobite Harry Potter Train in Scotland
Rainy Day = Misty Windows!
View from the Jacobite Harry Potter Steam Train in Scotland
This photo of Loch Eil was taken through the window vent
View of Eilean na Moine on Loch Eilt from the Jacobite Harry Potter Steam Train in Scotland
Photo of Loch Eilt taken from the right side of the train travelling from Fort William to Mallaig

How to See and Photograph the Harry Potter Viaduct/Bridge

How to Get There: Driving, Parking & Public Transport

You’ll need another morning to spend in Glenfinnan to actually capture photos of the Harry Potter train bridge AKA Glenfinnan Viaduct. But it’s soooo worth it!

If you’re driving to Glenfinnan, you can park at the Glenfinnan Visitors Centre Car Park for £3 for the whole day. You can also park at a nearby church (pinned on my map) and you might also hear about another free car park just next to the visitors centre. This space has actually been reclaimed by locals (called the ‘Wee Harry Potter Bridge Project’) so it will soon become another paid car park. The postcode for your GPS is PH37 4LT.

Aim to park around 30/45 minutes before the train is due to cross the viaduct. That way, you’ll be sure you can find a spot both in the car park and at the viewpoint.

You can also travel by public transport from Fort William to Glenfinnan. Check out ScotRail’s West Highland line website for information on tickets, prices and timetables.

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Wee Harry Potter Bridge Project Car Park, Scotland
Previously ‘free’ Car Park

Glenfinnan Viewpoints: Which Viewpoint is the Best?

There are three designated viewpoints on Google maps, you should visit two. I’ve pinned them both on the map at the beginning of this post. Here’s a rundown of which one you should choose for the big moment…

Glenfinnan Viewpoint (by the Car Park)

This is the viewpoint closest to the car park and is only about a five-minute walk up an easy incline. You’ll probably see quite a few people from the car park head to this viewpoint but it is not the best viewpoint for the viaduct. It offers gorgeous views over Loch Shiel and the viaduct from a distance but is just too far away. Definitely head up here for a quick look before you leave, though!

You can check out my photographs from Glenfinnan Viewpoint to see what views it offers…

Glenfinnan Viewpoint Sign on the Visitor's Centre, Scotland

View of Glenfinnan Viaduct from the Glenfinnan Viewpoint, Scotland
A bit of a distance from the viaduct!
Loch Shiel from Glenfinnan Viewpoint, Scotland
Gorgeous views of Loch Shiel

Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint

Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint is the viewpoint you are looking for! It’s a little trickier to reach (and that’s why you should aim to park with plenty of time to spare) but 100% worth the extra effort.

How to get to Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint: Leave the car park, turn right and walk briefly along the side of the main road before turning right again up where the Wee Harry Potter Bridge Project is. Continue walking up this road for five to 10 minutes until you reach a green signpost (the one in the photo below) that says “Viaduct Trail and Viewpoints.” Turn up this path and the rest of the trail should be self-explanatory. I’ve pinned its location on my map above, anyway.

Generally the higher up the path the better in terms of view, but it totally depends. Make sure your line of sight isn’t obscured by some randomly tall tree! And now, we wait.

Walking back from Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint, Scotland
Path up to Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint

Glenfinnan Viaduct and Viewpoints Signpost, Scotland

Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scotland

Harry Potter 'No Muggles' Sign at the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland

Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland

Tourists watching the Hogwarts Express Harry Potter Steam Train cross Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scotland
Everyone leaving after the train crossed the viaduct
Almost Ginger blog owner at the Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scotland
Happy Hufflepuff

What times does The Jacobite Steam Train Cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct?

I’ll use the previous timetable example to help explain exactly when you need to be ready to watch the Harry Potter train cross the famous bridge… It’s so worth being there for this moment!

Morning Service

  • Depart Fort William 10:15 -> Arrive Mallaig 12:26 (passes over Glenfinnan Viaduct at 10:45)
  • Depart Mallaig 14:10 -> Arrive Fort William 16:03 (passes over Glenfinnan Viaduct at 15:00)

Afternoon Service

  • Depart Fort William 14:40 -> Arrive Mallaig 16:42 (passes over Glenfinnan Viaduct at 15:20)
  • Depart Mallaig 18:40 -> Arrive Fort William 20:31 (passes over Glenfinnan Viaduct at 19:45)

So you can see that the Hogwarts Express train crosses the Harry Potter viaduct approximately 30 minutes after it departs Fort William and 45 minutes before it’s due back into Fort William. You want to catch the train crossing the bridge 30 minutes after it departs Fort William to witness the train travelling towards you at the viewpoint.

Jacobite Harry Potter Steam Train crossing Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scotland

Tours to See the Harry Potter Train Scotland

If you’ve missed the chance to book your own tickets on the Harry Potter train in Scotland or simply want someone else to do all the leg work, there are other options! Day tours from cities like Inverness and Edinburgh are a great option if you’d rather stay in a bigger city than Fort William and explore a different part of Scotland on the same trip.

Or, you could ride the Jacobite train as part of a multi-day trip around other parts of the Scottish Highlands! I recently spent one month working on the Isle of Skye and it was a fantastic experience.

I love GetYourGuide for day tours and multi-day trips because they always have a great selection and their refund policy is amazing. Check out this day trip from Edinburgh and this day trip from Inverness. And this three-day Scottish Highlands adventure will guide you around the mythical Loch Ness and the Battlefield of Culloden, the epic scenery of the Isle of Skye as well as a ride on the Jacobite steam train!

Almost Ginger blog owner at the Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scotland

Check out my Other Harry Potter Locations in Scotland & Beyond

I’m quite the Harry Potter filming locations fan! And I’m on a personal pilgrimage to visit them all. I didn’t just ride the rails on my trip to Scotland, I sought out all of the other Harry Potter Scotland locations too! Read the guide here: Harry Potter Filming Locations in Scotland.

Aside from the Scotland locations, I’ve also visited some other notable Harry Potter locations in England (mostly in the North). I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Harry Potter Studios twice and all of the inspirational locations and sites that can be found in Edinburgh, too.


Read my other Harry Potter Guides:

The Ultimate Self-Guided Harry Potter Tour in Edinburgh

ALL 5 Harry Potter Filming Locations in Yorkshire & North East England

Harry Potter Filming Locations in London: A Walking Tour with Brit Movie Tours

Harry Potter Studios Extensive Guide: Tips, Travel + Secret Filming Location!


Almost Ginger blog owner at Loch Arkaig, Scotland
Loch Arkaig, another Harry Potter Filming Location in Scotland

More Things to do in Fort William, Mallaig and Glenfinnan

Since you’re in the area, you might be wondering what else there is to do in Fort William, Mallaig and Glenfinnan…

Fort William

You’re a mere hop skip and a jump away from Ben Nevis! Which just so happens to be the largest peak in the UK. Okay, it’ll take more than a hop, skip and a jump to climb to the top, but if you love hiking that’s a must-do activity. An easy alternative hike is to Steall Waterfall (insider tip: it’s also a Harry Potter filming location). The West Highland Museum might be of interest to you, too.

If you’re in the mood for booze, I highly recommend the Black Isle Brewery Bar. Their handmade pizzas from their actual pizza oven are also excellent. Ben Nevis Distillery host tastings and tours which might be your cup of tea, especially if you’re mainly visiting Scotland for the whisky. Absolutely no judgement from me.

Mallaig

Head to one of the many fish and chip shops for lunch. You are right on the coast after all! Two restaurants and takeaways that come highly recommended are The Cabin and Jaffy’s Shop. There are lots of cute gift shops, as you’d expect in a touristy town, but I love sending postcards and collecting Christmas ornaments from my travels. If you’re like me, check out Mallaig Toys & Gifts and don’t forget to spend a bit of time looking out of the harbour at all the pretty wee boats.

Glenfinnan

You should check out the Glenfinnan Monument down by Loch Shiel. It’s mere minutes away from the car park. There’s also the Glenfinnan Viaduct Trail which takes around 30 minutes to walk one way and is well-paved offering beautiful views.

Half Pint of Beer from Black Isle Brewery Bar in Fort William, Scotland
Black Isle Brewery and Bar in Fort William
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Glenfinnan Viaduct

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Glenfinnan Trail
Glenfinnan Viewpoint Trail

And those are all my top tips on how to ride and photograph the train from Harry Potter and the Harry Potter bridge in Scotland! Have you rode on The Jacobite steam train from Fort William to Mallaig or visited the Glenfinnan Viaduct? Let me know in the comments below!


Read next: Harry Potter Filming Locations in Scotland: A Complete Guide


Harry Potter Steam Train in Scotland: How to Ride AND Photograph | almostginger.com

2 thoughts on “Harry Potter Steam Train in Scotland: How to Ride AND Photograph

  1. Pete says:

    Thank you for this guide! We’re visiting in a weeks time, and this is going to be so very useful 😊

    • Rebecca says:

      Ah thank you so much for your comment, that is lovely to hear! 😀 I hope you have an AMAZING time and don’t hesitate to ask me any questions before your trip if you have any!

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