Did you know that Hogwarts is actually in Scotland? And that you can ride on the actual Hogwarts Express through the beautiful Scottish highlands, including over the iconic viaduct from the Harry Potter movies, to get there*?
As if I needed any more reasons to be proud to call this place home, whack in some geeky filming locations with an awesome bucket list-worthy experience and you’ve got me in love with Scotland even more.
*by “there” I obviously don’t mean Hogwarts, because we’re mere muggles.
Also fairly obviously, the train is not actually called the Hogwarts Express, nor does it leave from Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross. Instead, it’s the Jacobite steam train, and it leaves from under the nose of Ben Nevis, in the town of Fort William.
We had two plans for our recent trip to the west coast: ride the train on one day, and watch it crossing the famous Glenfinnan viaduct on the other.
(You can actually do both in one day, if you go to Glenfinnan in the morning and then back to Fort William to get the afternoon train. The morning trips were sold out when I booked it, so we had to book the afternoon trip on our first day but wouldn’t get there in time to see it cross the bridge in the morning.)
We actually booked to go on the Harry Potter train in 2020, but, well, we all know what happened there. It’s taken us a while to book it again because we originally booked to go with a friend from Australia, so she’s only just been able to leave the country and come and visit us in Scotland!
Here’s everything you need to know about the Harry Potter train in Scotland.
Riding the Harry Potter train in Scotland
– the Harry Potter train runs from April to October, and twice a day from May to September
– the train goes from Fort William to Mallaig and back
– in 2022, it costs £52 for a return ticket (it’s increased a LOT in the past couple of years – it was £43 when we originally booked in 2020!)
– you can also travel in first class for £79 return
– you need to book *well* in advance. I booked it three months in advance for July and no morning trips were available, only afternoon journeys
– for all up-to-date info including dates, times and prices, check the official website
As there is so much hype around riding the Harry Potter train, I couldn’t help but feel a bit nervous that it might be a bit underwhelming, especially when we had paid so much and waited years to finally be able to do it.
The train itself, inside, isn’t really anything special, unless you sit in first class, so don’t expect it to be a luxurious experience. However, it’s riding on a steam train that’s the real experience here, so that in itself is awesome!
The scenery throughout the entire journey is also second to none. I’ve never driven further than Glenfinnan, so I didn’t know what to expect – after pootling along Loch Eil from Fort William, the train turns inland for the highlight of the trip.
There’s an announcement as the train approaches the viaduct so everyone knows to get ready for the photos.
I have to say, although the train slows down as it goes across the viaduct, it’s over really quickly, so make sure to be fast! Especially as several of us were using the same window to take photos. As Eminem said, you only get one shot.
I wish I’d taken more photos of the train out of the window in general – as we left Fort William, we were warned not to stick our arms out, and as if on cue, we hit a bunch of branches. That was enough to stop me even trying, even though for a lot of the journey you’re out in the open with no chance of any injury!
Then I see all these photos that other people have taken along their journey with no harm done. Anyway, it is what it is. Just be careful, watch for what’s coming up. Use your common sense.
I took quite a few photos out of the open window of the scenery anyway, as it really is beautiful.
After a short stop at Glenfinnan Station (I thought I’d read that it stops on the bridge, but it stops at the station) where we were able to check out the interesting station museum, we were off to the coast, through more spectacular scenery.
There’s also another Harry Potter filming location on the rail route, on Loch Eilt – the island Dumbledore was buried on! Again, there is an announcement to let you know it’s coming up.
Once we hit the coast, there were beautiful views of the sea all the way up to Mallaig.
There’s a bar on board serving food and drinks, and there’s also a trolley that comes round with drinks, snacks and souvenirs. Yes, an actual trolley on the Hogwarts Express! I was just disappointed that they didn’t say “anything from the trolley, dear?”
(And as tempted as I was to say “we’ll take the lot!”… I did not. We did buy a souvenir tin of mints with the Hogwarts Express on though, and I got a much-needed cup of tea.)
The trolley takes card, but they had lost signal when they got to us, so they had to come back to our friends later to take payment. As an aside, the people serving on the trolley were lovely – they had a kid helping out and he was so sweet and polite!
A couple of other things to note –
Leaving the window open while going through a tunnel on a steam train… not a good idea!! Everyone learned after the first time the carriage filled up with smoke! We also ended up with tiny bits of coal all over the tables. Steam trains – fantastic to look at, not so great on keeping clean.
Also, on the way back, the engine is on backwards!
If you are a) a Harry Potter fan or b) want to ride a steam train through some of the best scenery in the UK, I highly recommend riding the Harry Potter train in Scotland! Yes, it’s expensive – but it’s one of those things, isn’t it?
For me, there was never any question of not doing it (it just took me a long time to finally do it! In fact, my parents did it years ago, thanks for the invite and all that!). It’s always been one of my top Scotland bucket list items.
P.S. you can view my friend Kerry’s reel from our trip here!
TOP TIP: sit on the left side of the train if you can, as this gives the best vantage point for crossing the viaduct. We couldn’t choose our seats, but luckily we were sat on the left, and because there were five of us we actually had two seats on the right too, so we could make the most of both sides of the train.
What to do in Mallaig
You get a couple of hours in Mallaig before the return journey back to Fort William, but Mallaig is such a tiny fishing town that there isn’t all that much to do.
If you’re lucky enough to get the morning journey, there are actually wildlife boat tours that time themselves with the train.
As we were on the afternoon one, we grabbed an early dinner at The Tea Garden. There are a few places to choose from, especially if you love seafood.
It is here, unfortunately, that I must tell you my highly embarrassing toilet story. I went to the loo, and quickly realised I’d made a fatal error – there was no toilet roll!!! I quickly messaged my friends, and neither of them saw my urgent pleas. I even ended up messaging Ash urging him to get the girls to check their messages. Nothing. Too busy being social, and all that.
And then somebody walked in and waited. I was MORTIFIED. There was nothing else I could do. “Hi, sorry, this is really embarrassing… can you check the disabled toilet and grab me some toilet roll???” Stranger to the rescue, and I was sorted, thank goodness!
“Thanks for checking your phones,” I fumed when I got back to the table! A short silence, reaching for phones, and a slow “…ohhhhh… oh no…” as we finished off our drinks.
Soon after my humiliating fiasco, we left and took a short wander along to the harbour. It’s very pretty, but to echo what a lot of people say, there isn’t a lot there. Which is fine; Mallaig never asked to be a top tourist destination.
It is, however, a popular transit town. You can travel to various Scottish islands from Mallaig, such as Rum, Eigg and Skye, however the Jacobite is not currently offering one-way tickets (even when it did, they were only about £3 cheaper). If you’re visiting to transit through to an island, I’d recommend taking the ScotRail train.
Photographing the Harry Potter train going over the viaduct
– the best times to catch the Harry Potter train crossing the Glenfinnan viaduct are 10.45am and 1.20pm, or 3.15pm for the afternoon journey on Saturdays
– I recommend getting there for the outbound runs (as per the above times), because the engine is on backwards on the return journeys
– Glenfinnan is WELL worth more than just a pit stop for train photos. It is BEAUTIFUL. It’s genuinely one of my favourite places in Scotland
– parking is £3.50, or free for National Trust members
The most famous view of the Harry Potter train in the movies is when it crosses the Glenfinnan viaduct, especially in the Chamber Of Secrets when Harry and Ron fly along the viaduct in the flying Ford Anglia car, seconds before realising the train is right behind them.
This dramatic scene put Glenfinnan viaduct on the map, and has made it one of the most popular tourist locations in the whole of Scotland.
Truthfully, there’s WAY more to Glenfinnan than just the viaduct. For one thing, Loch Shiel is actually the Black Lake surrounding Hogwarts. So you actually get two Harry Potter filming locations in one!
The view over the loch is one of my absolute favourite views in Scotland, if not the world. It’s bloody MAGICAL, no pun intended.
This is from the main viewpoint by the car park and visitor centre – only about a five minute walk up the hill.
There are a few viewpoints to photograph the train going over the viaduct. The most popular by far is just beyond the viaduct looking back across it. This is the perfect vantage point for watching the train shuffle towards you as it moves around the curve of the viaduct.
Expect it to be BUSY at the train crossing times. I think the afternoon is probably a bit quieter than the morning, although from the train it still looked busy.
TOP TIP: arrive at Glenfinnan at least an hour before the train is due to cross the bridge. We arrived pretty much exactly an hour before, and we were one of the first in the car park. By the time we paid for parking and got to the top of the main viewpoint ten minutes later, the main car park was full. However, they have recently added a massive overflow car park, so it’s much easier to park than it used to be!
Arriving early meant we managed to get some phenomenal photos of the view over the loch while the weather was still good, with the viewpoint completely to ourselves, before heading up to the viaduct viewpoint.
The Harry Potter train crosses the bridge about half an hour after it leaves Fort William, so in the morning it will be around 10.45am, and in the afternoon around 1.20pm. Bear in mind on Saturdays the afternoon timetable is different, and it departs a bit later at 2.40pm, so you’d be looking at around 3.15pm. For an up-to-date timetable, check the website before your visit.
Watching the train cross the viaduct is a great experience even if you’re not a Harry Potter fan. You hear it chug-chugging before you see it, and as it goes across the bridge, it billows out steam and does a big choo choo! Everyone cheered back – it was a fun atmosphere!
It does, of course, cross on the way back from Mallaig too, but the engine is on backwards! It’ll also be travelling away from you, if you’re at the main viewpoint, so personally I would recommend getting there for one of the outbound journeys.
A couple of our friends stayed up on the Glenfinnan viewpoint, and another friend stood below the bridge.
There’s one more viewpoint I’m really keen to find, but it’s a bit off the beaten track and the ground was too wet to really walk through the grass in the shoes I had. I did try to scope it out afterwards, so I’m pretty sure if you follow the road out to a house behind the viaduct, it’s one of those hills. This has a view of the viaduct with the loch in the background. I’ll update this post when I eventually make it to that viewpoint, because it looks astounding!
There is another path leading off to the right hand side behind the viaduct too, which goes up a small hill next to the railway, and this view looks lovely, and very similar with the viaduct and loch. It would also be much, much quieter! I saw two people up there, compared to the crowds filling the popular viewpoint.
I’ve been to Glenfinnan a few times, all the while managing to miss the train crossing, but I love photographing the loch and the viaduct even without the train.
I recommend taking a walk around the paths and roads by the viaduct, as you never know what you’ll see – we saw deer on our recent trip!
Glenfinnan is one of my favourite places in Scotland, which I can’t seem to get bored of. Despite really being a tiny area, there are still several things I want to do.
Here are a few more things you can do while you’re in Glenfinnan!
Visit the Glenfinnan monument
The towering monument on the edge of Loch Shiel is there for a reason – it commemorates the Jacobite uprising and is where Bonnie Prince Charlie landed before battling it out at Culloden. You can learn more about it at the visitor centre.
The last time I was in Glenfinnan, there was a bagpiper playing at the top! Very poignant.
Stay in the sleeper car at Glenfinnan station
The museum is well worth a visit at Glenfinnan station, but what’s even better is they have accommodation inside a train carriage!
I actually tried to book it for this trip as it would have fit the theme perfectly, but it was already booked out for that weekend. I tried to book it during the pandemic too, but they hadn’t re-opened it. Third time lucky?
As the Harry Potter train stops for a short while at Glenfinnan station, it’s also another opportunity to photograph it!
Take a cruise out to Loch Shiel
Another great way to see any loch is to go out into the middle of it on a boat. This is definitely on my list for next time, as Loch Shiel is one of my favourite lochs.
There are endless posts online about the Harry Potter train, whether it’s riding it or photographing it, but most people have only been to Glenfinnan once, so hopefully this guide is useful for anyone reading and planning a visit.
I highly recommend at the very least going to Glenfinnan if you have the chance, even if you’re not bothered about going on the train.
And if you’re like me, and devastated that you never received your Hogwarts letter, well this is your best shot at getting to Hogwarts after all.
Check out more of my Scotland content
⭐ Want even more Harry Potter-related spots in Scotland? Check out my Highlights of Edinburgh post which covers HP inspiration from the capital.
⭐ Or heading north? Check out how to spend the perfect weekend on the Isle Of Skye
⭐ If you want to add to your road trip, find 40 amazing views from the North Coast 500 here.
⭐ For more views of one of the best areas of Scotland, see my favourite photos from Glencoe
⭐ And for something as magical as Harry Potter, read about our stay in a castle in Argyll