The Jacobite Steam Train, aka the Harry Potter train in Scotland, is one of the great railway journeys of the world.
Even before it rose to fame thanks to the Harry Potter films, the railway journey itself was famous due to its stunning scenery, taking passengers on a journey through one of the remotest areas in Scotland.
I rode the Jacobite Steam Train with my family in October. We did the return trip in one day, and we all agreed it was a fantastic journey!
I’ve written this guide to help you plan your adventure on the Jacobite Steam Train. I am talking you through the process of purchasing your tickets, riding the train, what to do in Mallaig, plus my best tips!
If you don’t want to ride the Jacobite Steam Train, but want to take that iconic photo of the train on the Glenfinnan Viaduct, I’ve also included a section that tells you everything you need to know.
Riding the Harry Potter Train in Scotland
Riding the Jacobite Steam Train has been on my Scotland bucket list for years- and so I was super excited when my family and I completed the trip this month.
Here are some of my best tips for booking the train and what you can expect from the journey.
Where is the Harry Potter train in Scotland located?
The Harry Potter train is located in Fort William, at the railway station in the heart of the town. There are actually two trains and two services that run daily.
We caught the morning train from Fort William; we arrived the day before and spent the night at the Premier Inn Fort William. It was just across from the train station, so it was a super handy location.
I do recommend arriving in Fort William the day before you ride the train. There are plenty of fun things to do in Fort William, and it also means you have more time to get organised for your trip.
If you’re looking to stay in more luxurious accommodation, I recommend the Nevis Bank Inn. We had dinner at their restaurant and it was 5 out of 5; I had the steak and it was superb! It’s only a 10 minute walk to the train station.
How much does it cost to ride the Harry Potter train in Scotland?
It costs £49 for a Standard ticket for an adult and £69 for a First Class ticket for an adult. For children aged 16 or under it costs £28 for a standard ticket and £48 for a First Class ticket.
You can purchase your tickets online from West Coast Railways.
How long is the Harry Potter train ride in Scotland?
The journey on the Jacobite Steam Train is 84-miles long and takes just over 2 hours to make its way from Fort William to Mallaig. The journey from Mallaig back to Fort William is slightly shorter. This is because the train stops at the Glenfinnan station for around 15 minutes on the Fort William to Mallaig leg, so travellers can stretch their legs and explore the small shops at the station.
Allow one full day to ride to Mallaig and back; the train departs Fort William at around 10 am and returns to Fort William at around 4 pm.
I’ve included the schedule further down in this guide so you can see the exact timings.
When is the best time to ride the Harry Potter train in Scotland?
Personally, we chose to ride the Jacobite Steam Train during the first week of October so we could experience the journey surrounded by the beautiful autumn foliage. Because the Jacobite Steam train runs from April to October, there really isn’t a bad time to ride the train- however, I do think late September/ early October is a great time to ride the train because of the pretty autumn colours!
Does the train make any stops?
The train stops at the Glenfinnan station for around 15 minutes on the Fort William – Mallaig leg. There is a small gift shop at the station that sells general tourist souvenirs. I purchased some pretty cool old-style railway prints!
There is also a small shop on the train selling Harry Potter merchandise that you can browse when the train stops in Glenfinnan.
The train didn’t stop on the Mallaig to Fort William leg.
How far in advance should I buy my tickets for the Jacobite Steam Train in Scotland?
Tickets for the Jacobite Steam Train usually sell out, especially during the summer. I recommend purchasing your tickets around 10 months in advance if you are travelling from overseas and wanting to ride the train in summer. I wouldn’t recommend booking your train tickets any less than three months in advance, as it’s likely they will have sold by then, especially during the busy summer period and on weekends.
We booked our tickets for October in April, to give you a bit of an idea.
Do you have to wear a face mask on the train?
Currently, yes, however you can remove it when you’re eating or drinking.
Jacobite Steam Train schedule
Here’s the Jacobite Steam Train schedule for 2021:
Sunday to Friday Service
|Morning Service||Afternoon Service|
|Depart Fort William||10.15 am||12.45 pm|
|Arrive Mallaig||12.26 pm||3.01 pm|
|Depart Mallaig||2.10 pm||4.45 pm|
|Arrive Fort William||4.03 pm||6.53 pm|
|Morning Service||Afternoon Service|
|Depart Fort William||10.15 am||2.40 pm|
|Arrive Mallaig||12.26 pm||4.42 pm|
|Depart Mallaig||2.10 pm||6.40 pm|
|Arrive Fort William||4.03 pm||8.32 pm|
- The morning service runs from Monday 26th April until Friday 29th October 2021 (7 days a week)
- The afternoon service runs from Monday 26th April until Friday 1st October 2021 (7 days a week)
Tip: If you are driving to Fort William from Edinburgh or Glasgow, you will drive through the valley of Glencoe. Be sure to stop at The Three Sisters car park to get a photo of the mountains there!
Arriving in Mallaig
Mallaig is a bustling fishing port and is the ‘other’ gateway to the Isles, as it runs a ferry service to the Isle of Skye and neighbouring islands.
Originally the town was a farmstead called Mallaigvaig and owned by Lord Lovat. He eventually subdivided the land and sold the plots to folk living in Morar, and the fishing village was established in the 1840s.
A railway was established in 1880, bringing more visitors to the area, and in 1984, the Jacobite Steam Train began its journey to Mallaig from Fort William, bringing more tourism to the area!
When you arrive in Mallaig, you have just under two hours to explore the town, so I recommend booking a table for lunch to help save time and stress.
Mallaig is known for its outstanding seafood restaurants, but there are options to suit all tastes and dietary requirements.
Restaurants in Mallaig I recommend include:
- The Tea Garden – a licensed cafe that sells sandwiches, soup, burgers, fish and chips and sweet treats.
- Steam Inn – for seafood, burgers and pizza
- The Cornerstone – for seafood and steak
- The Chlachain Inn – for seafood, burgers and sandwiches
Public Toilets in Mallaig
There are public toilets located across the road from the train station, back towards the coast. You will see them from the left side of the train as you pull into the station.
The toilets are unisex and cost 30p to use, payable by contactless card (cash is not accepted). Before you complain about having to pay to use the toilet, it’s important that they charge a fee because it costs £45 per day just to run them- and the council only subsidises a small amount. So think of your wee payment as supporting the community.
More Tips for Riding the Jacobite Steam Train
- Bring snacks with you. The trolley didn’t reach us until the end of our journey, and by then weren’t far off having lunch in Mallaig.
- I mentioned this before but, book a table for lunch in Mallaig in advance! It saves you from losing precious time trying to find somewhere to eat when you arrive.
- Travel First Class if possible. The general area of the train is a little dated, and you have easier access to food and beverages when you travel First Class. Plus you get free tea and coffee with a First Class ticket!
- For the best view, sit on the left side of the train. You will have to request this at the time of booking, because your seats are allocated when you receive your tickets via email a few weeks before your trip.
Photographing the Jacobite Steam Train
One of the most iconic photos in Scotland is the Jacobite Steam Train crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct with a trail of fluffy, white smoke trailing off into the surrounding mountains.
Some folk would rather see the train crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct, or may be on a budget and want to see the train, rather than pay to ride it. Fair enough!
Before I rode the train, I watched it cross the viaduct from the ground. To be honest- both views from the train and from the ground are spectacular, so I recommend doing both!
The train crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct twice a day:
- 30 minutes after departing Fort William
- 45 minutes after departing Mallaig
I recommend arriving at least 30 minutes before the train is due to arrive on the bridge.
In the busier summer months, I suggest you arrive even earlier so you can secure a decent spot. Give yourself plenty of time to set up your camera when you arrive. There will be many other photographers around, and the last thing you want to do is rush- just remember, you only have one chance to get the perfect shot!
Luckily, the train stops briefly in the middle of the bridge to give everyone time to admire the view and snap a photo.
There is parking at the Glenfinnan Visitor Centre, but this can fill up fairly quickly. It’s not uncommon to see people parked on the side of the road. Be careful when driving around this area- there are usually kids about!
Where is the best place to photograph the Jacobite Steam Train?
There are two locations where you can photograph the Jacobite Steam Train. I’ve indicated these on the map below:
View point #1 is located after walking a short trail. This is probably the best place to get a photo of the Jacobite Steam Train.
View point #2 is more easy to access, as it is right next to the Visitor’s Centre.
No matter which view point you choose, be sure to wear waterproof shoes, or lightweight hiking boots as this area can be boggy if it has been raining.
Don’t want people to feature in your photo? The general rule of thumb is the higher you can get, the less likely other people will get in the way of your shot.
Where is the best place to take a photo inside the train?
If you’re doing the Fort William to Mallaig leg, I recommend sitting on the left hand side of the train so that when you go over the Glenfinnan Viaduct you’ll get the best photo of the train.
There are small windows you can open from your seat, however, the best place to get a photo of the train is from the bigger windows that can be found between the carriages. You can open these too, and you will get a wonderful view of Loch Shiel and the viaduct.
The train will pause briefly on the viaduct, so you can snap a few photos. It did not stop on the afternoon journey from Mallaig to Fort William, so make sure you’re quick if you want to photograph the train on this leg.
Jacobite Steam Train Tours
If you don’t have a car and you want to either ride or view the Jacobite Steam Train crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct, there tours you can book. All of these tours have excellent ratings.
- Edinburgh to Fort William tour (ride the Jacobite Steam Train to Mallaig)
- Edinburgh to Mallaig, via Glenfinnan (watch the train from the viewpoint at the Glenfinnan Viaduct)
- Glasgow to Mallaig, via Glenfinnan (watch the train from the viewpoint at the Glenfinnan Viaduct)
- Glasgow to Mallaig, via Loch Lomond and Glenfinnan (watch the train from the viewpoint at the Glenfinnan Viaduct)
- Inverness to Mallaig, via Glenfinnan (watch the train from the viewpoint at the Glenfinnan Viaduct)
Has my guide helped you to plan your adventure on the Jacobite Steam Train? Drop me a comment below!