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Riding the Jacobite Steam Train (The Hogwarts Express) in Scotland: Our Experience in 1st Class

Written By:
Cazzy Magennis
/
Last Updated:
November 23, 2020
Travel stories
Discover the beauty of Scotland on one of the world's most famous train rides. Ride the Jacobite steam train and enjoy epic views and Harry Potter vibes...
harry potter express
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If you’re a Harry Potter fan (like Bradley and I are), then you will be excited to know that in the Highlands of Scotland you can ride the Harry Potter Train, (which is called the Jacobite). Yes, the Hogwarts Express is in beautiful Scotland!

The Jacobite is a steam train owned by West Coast Railways and they provided the Hogwarts Express for the Harry Potter movies.

Not only that, but the train drives through a route that takes you through some famous Harry Potter filming locations, including the extremely iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct.

So, if you want to know more about riding the Jacobite, and how to actually do it, then keep reading, because I’ve got you covered!

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A little bit about the Jacobite steam train

The Jacobite train ride is actually regarded as one of the most beautiful train rides in the world, and I can confirm it’s pretty darn spectacular. It’s one of the last steam trains in the UK and it offers a unique experience on a trip to Scotland.

Starting near the highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis, it takes you on a trip to Britain's most westerly mainland railway station, Arisaig; over the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct, and finally arriving next to the deepest seawater loch in Europe, Loch Nevis!

Just to clarify a little too, the actual Hogwarts express is still owned by the studio, so it's still at Warner Brothers Studios in London, but this is the same style of train used (they made more than one :P)

jacobite steam train

Where is the Harry Potter Train in Scotland Located? 

The Harry Potter train is the Jacobite Express and it’s located in the town of Fort William in the Scottish Highlands.

Fort William is actually home to many great sights including the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis! 

How to get to Fort William 

Getting to Fort William to ride the Jacobite is fairly easy and you’ve got a couple of options. You can either rent a car, or campervan (if you want to wild camp in some amazing locations throughout Scotland) and drive from Inverness, Glasgow, or Edinburgh. OR, you can get the train from any of those locations too. 

For campervan rental, we can recommend Spaceships. 

Where does the Jacobite train go? 

So the route that the Jacobite train takes is a breathtaking 84-mile journey through the highlands to reach the fishing town of Mallaig. 

mallaig town
A little fishing port town...

How long is the Hogwarts Express train journey?

The journey takes around 1 hour and 30-40 minutes each way. So there is plenty of time to relax and enjoy the sights on offer. If you opt for a return journey, you get to spend two hours in the town of Mallaig before getting the return train to Fort William. 

Jacobite timetable: Fort William to Mallaig

Morning Service: Leaves Fort William at 10.15, arrives at Mallaig at 12.26. Leaves Mallaig at 14.10 and arrives back to Fort William at 16.03 

Afternoon Service: Leaves Fort William at 14.40, arrives at Mallaig at 16.42. Leaves Mallaig at 18.40 and arrives back to Fort William at 20.31 

Seating options & cost for Jacobite Express

You can buy three different types of tickets to ride the Jacobite.

  • Standard: This costs £43 Return and £36 for one way and is a basic seat in the carriage. I’ll admit and say that it doesn't look overly pleasant and a similar standard to a normal train carriage. All standard class passengers travel in refurbished vintage Mark I or Mark II coaches and these are all seated around tables for 4.
standard seating on jacobite steam train
  • First Class: This costs £65 for the return ticket. These seats are located at the “front” of the train and are nicely decorated, and come with a large comfy seat with extra legroom, your own table and you’ll have a little lamp on your table too. It’s quite Harry Potteresque….The First Class Carriage A is an open compartment with private tables for 2 and tables for 4 at either side of the aisle.
1st class carriage on harry potter express
  • Harry Potter Carriages: These cost £146 per table (2 people) return. Yes, there’s an actual Harry Potter section of the train, which is technically first class as well (you’ll get the same benefits of 1st class) and is decorated in the same style as first-class, but the main difference is that you will get your own private area with a door. Just like Harry, Ron and Hermine had when they rode the Hogwarts Express. So if you’re a massive Potterhead, then this is the option for you. This is only available on the morning service of the Jacobite. 
harry potter cariages on jacobite express
You'll have a door that keeps you private..

Both the 1st Class tickets and Harry Potter seating sell out weeks and months in advance, so you need to plan ahead for this. There will be a chance of last-minute cancellations, but I wouldn’t hold out too much hope. 

You can buy your tickets online, or you can turn up on the day and buy tickets for a slightly less price, but again in peak season, there is a very high chance there will be no seats available. 

It's also possible to experience a ride on the Harry Potter express as part of a wider tour of Scotland. Websites such as GetyourGuide offer 3-4 days tours of Fort William, Skye and the surrounding areas for those who are short on time. The Jacobite train ride is typically included in that too. You can check out what's on offer here.

The Experience riding the Jacobite steam train

Bradley and I rode in 1st Class and we opted for the extra Cream Tea experience too. So let me tell you all about it... 

You should arrive at the Fort William train station at least 20 minutes before your scheduled departure time.

Note that parking within the station is actually quite limited, but there are pay and display car park next to the large Morrisons which is right next to the train station. 

When you arrive, you do not need to go to a ticket office.

You’ll have received your tickets via email and you show them to the conductor when approaching your seat. You’ll be given seats before you arrive too, so you just need to find the correct carriage and find your seat. 

We were located in the very front carriage and actually in the very front two seats near the door too, which was convenient to find! 

The seats were very comfy and the carriage was beautifully decorated.

1st class on jacobite express

We were very excited about our journey ahead.

One of the perks of your first-class ticket on the Jacobite is that you’re offered a complimentary tea or coffee on your outbound and return journey (you also get a little piece of Scottish shortbread which I love!). 

This is a great way to start your journey as you sit back and relax….

One of the first stops on the journey in the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct.

This comes in at around 40 minutes into the journey. An announcement will be made and they will tell you the best side for views, but in first class, you can’t really just pop over to someone else's seat! 

harry potter train going over glenfinnan viaduct
The Harry Potter train!

After that, if you’ve ordered the Jacobite Cream Tea, then it’s time for it to be served.

You can request to have it on your return journey, but we opted for the outward journey. We were asked whether we wanted tea or coffee and this was served first, then our Cream Tea arrived. 

I would like to note that during the Covid Pandemic cream teas are served in disposable cups and boxes, which is different from the traditional form on a tray and in china cups. It’s a little disappointing, BUT, it’s necessary and doesn’t affect the taste! :P 

PS, if you want to add on a cream tea, it’s £18.95 per person and you can only have it in first class.

You pre-book this online, and you can also add extras such as flowers, champagne, and chocolate (things we didn’t opt for on this trip!). 

The cream tea is served with 3 sandwiches, a variety of different homemade cakes (think lemon cake, brownie, etc), and two scones with clotted cream and jam. Honestly, there was so much food that I and Brad couldn’t manage it. I would also suggest getting just one to share if you’ve got a small stomach! 

It’s such a lovely experience having the cream tea whilst enjoying the beautiful views from the Jacobite train journey and we absolutely loved it!

You can get vegetarian and vegan cream teas too (we had vegetarian) and you can get Gluten free too if you order at least 7 days in advance!

cream tea on jacobite steam train

Once you arrive in Mallaig, you’re given two hours to explore the fishing village. Which in my opinion is a little long. However, if you haven’t had any lunch, then this is the perfect place to grab a bite to eat.

There is a lot of seafood on offer and you’d expect it to be quite good since it’s a fishing village! 

When in Mallaig you can wander around the fishing port, take in the views of Skye, pop into the village shops (lots of Harry Potter merchandise on sale!), or grab a coffee at one of the many coffee shops on offer.

wandering around mallaig

It started to rain when we visited, and since we had already had two coffees on the train journey here, we decided to head back to the train and play some cards whilst listening to the Harry Potter theme tune.

That was pretty great, to be honest……

Before you get back on the train you can get some pictures outside, by the train too! The journey back definitely felt a lot quicker, and the views of the Vindicut were even better which was awesome.

The weather and lighting on our return journey were much more pleasant so I actually thought the views were better on the return journey for that reason. 

We went in November, which is typically longer than the train tends to run. It usually only runs until the end of October.

riding the jacobite steam train

Where is the best place to sit on the Jacobite train? 

If you book your tickets on the phone, there may be the possibility of requesting where you actually sit on the train. If this is the case, then we recommend you sit on the right-hand side of the train. Not only does this offer the best views of the entire journey, but it also gives you the best view of the Viaduct (on both the outward and return journey).

So if you're here for that Harry Potter Express experience, you'll want good views of the Viaduct..

seating on jacobite
views from window on jacobite steam train

Tips for riding the Jacobite Train in Scotland

  • Riding the Harry Potter Train in Scotland isn’t cheap, and if you’re on a tight budget, then you’ll be pleased to hear there is an alternative. If you just want to experience the actual train ride and driving on the Viaduct, then you can ride the normal rail service from Fort William to Mallaig. This costs £7.50 each way and takes the same route. Personally, I think if you’re not going for the 1st class on the journey, then it’s just better to take the normal train.
  • If it’s been raining, the windows can get a little steamed up with steam from the train and rain, so bring something to wipe the window, and before you head off on your journey home, wipe the window from the outside too. 
  • To get a good picture of the Viaduct, you can put your camera/phone at the window (just make sure you hold on tight!) 
  • Watch Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets the night before your journey to really get you in the exciting mood! 

So there you have it, my guide to riding the Jacobite.

As major Harry Potter fans, we couldn't go to Scotland and NOT ride this train. It’s pretty expensive, and I was worried that it might not live up to expectations, but I can safely say I do think this journey is worth the money.

Even if you’re not a Harry Potter fan, the views on offer are breathtaking and the journey is a magical one which is why the Jacobite steam train is one of the most popular trips in the world...

If you don’t want to ride the Jacobite, but still want to see the Harry Potter train passing the famous Viaduct, then make your way to Glenfinnan to see it there. Thankfully, Brad has done a whole guide on that too…

If you’ve got any questions about riding the Harry Potter train in Scotland, then drop me a comment below! 

Happy and safe travels, 

Cazzy 

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