Jacobite Express: How to Ride the Hogwarts Express train in Scotland

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If you’re visiting Scotland and looking for a unique experience, you’re in luck! You can actually ride the Hogwarts Express—formally called the Jacobite Express—through the stunning Scottish Highlands, enjoying the gorgeous scenery and high tea along the way. While the train might not quite take you to Hogwarts, it’s still definitely a bucket list experience for any Harry Potter fan.  Here’s everything you need to know about riding the Hogwarts Express train in Scotland, one of the most magical experiences you can have in this beautiful country.

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Woman hanging off the Jacobite Express in Scotland
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I am a bona fide Harry Potter nerd (Ravenclaw, REPRESENT!).

Man sitting with a cup of coffee in first class of the Jacobite Express train in Scotland

So when my husband, Justin, and I headed to Scotland, I KNEW we had to go on the Jacobite Express, the same exact model of train as the Hogwarts Express that passes through some of the same landscapes as the most iconic scenes in the film—like the Glenfinnan Viaduct. 

And, to be honest, even if you’re not a Harry Potter nut, the Jacobite Express’ 84-mile journey has often been described as the most beautiful railway journey in the world. So whether you’re a Pottherhead, train enthusiast, or just want to take in the Scottish Highlands, this railway journey is absolutely worth putting on your Scotland itinerary. 

Glenfinnan Viaduct in Glenfinnan, Scotland

But there’s actually kind of a lot to know about getting tickets and enjoying this Harry Potter train experience—which is what we’re here for! Listen up, cuz this is going to be on your O.W.L.s!

Is the Jacobite Express actually the Hogwarts Express?

If you’re wondering whether the Jacobite Express is actually the Hogwarts Express and will deliver you straight to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and into the arms of Albus Dumbledore, I’m sad to deliver the news that the train will not, in fact, transport you to a magical realm. 

Hogwarts Express train with steam coming out of the engine at the Mallaig Train Station in Scotland

If you’re wondering, instead, whether the Jacobite Express is really the Hogwarts Express that was used in the Harry Potter films, the answer is…. kinda sorta.

Back in the 2000s, West Coast Railways, the train’s operator, provided Warner Brothers Studio a 1937 Jacobite steam engine, train carriages from the 1920s, and the use of their railway to be used as the Hogwarts Express for the filming of the Harry Potter movies.

After filming of the series was completed, Warner Brothers kept the steam engine, which you can actually now visit at the Warner Brothers Studio London tour

Harry Potter room on the Warner Brothers Studio Tour in London

So while the steam engine pulling the Jacobite Express that you can now ride through the Scottish Highlands isn’t the exact same carriage that took Harry, Hermione, and Ron to Hogwarts, you will be riding a train that’s the exact same style and model as the one used in the films. Plus, Warner Brothers actually gave West Coast Railways back most of the carriages used in the movies, which are still in use for the Jacobite Express today! 

Where can you ride the Hogwarts Express train in Scotland?

The Jacobite Express starts from the train station of the tiny town of Fort William. 

Sheep laying on a hill in Scotland

If you’re not staying within walking distance of the train station, I’d suggest showing up at least half an hour early—there’s pretty limited parking in the area, so give yourself plenty of time to snag a spot!

From the train station, the Jacobite will take you through 41-miles of the endlessly green, rolling hills of the Highlands and along the Atlantic coastline of Scotland to the teeny fishing town of Mallaig. Train riders will have 90 minutes in Mallaig to stretch their legs, go on a wildlife cruise, or grab food in town until the train starts its return journey to Fort William. 

Boats in a harbor in Mallaig, Scotland

The vast majority of riders take the train as a roundtrip scenic ride from Fort William to Mallaig and back again, but you can ride the train as a one-way from Fort William to Mallaig or vice versa. And actually, many of the organized tours from larger cities, like Edinburgh or Glasgow, that include the Jacobite do take guests on a one-way journey (but more on tours below!).

That being said, Western Railways does not offer one-way tickets if you’re getting tickets through them directly, so you’ll have to purchase a full-fare round trip ticket, even if you just plan on riding it one-way.

How do you get to Fort William?

Fort William is pretty easy to get to from most of the major cities in Scotland:

How to get from Edinburgh to Fort William

Driving from Edinburgh to Fort William

If you have a rental car, it’s a three hour drive northwest along A9 and A86.

Train from Edinburgh to Fort William

You can take the Caledonia Sleeper from Edinburgh to Fort William, which will take a little over five hours.

Dean Village in Edinburgh, Scotland

Tours from Edinburgh to the Jacobite Express

If you don’t want to worry about transportation yourself, you’re in luck! There’s plenty of tour options that will take care of getting you to Fort William and even purchasing the Jacobite Express ticket for you (which can be rather challenging to snag—but more on that later!).

Some tours from Edinburgh that include a ride on the Jacobite Express:

  • Scottish Highlands and Hogwarts Express day trip: Given that Edinburgh is a bit of a trek from Fort William, this is one of a handful of tours that will take you from Scotland’s biggest city to the Jacobite and back again in just one day, with stops in the beautiful town of Glencoe and Pitlochry along the way.
  • Two-day Scottish Highlands tour: On this tour, you’ll get to walk through a beautiful, lush forest in Dunkeld and make a stop to explore Glencoe (which was my favorite part of the Highlands!)
  • Four-day Isle of Skye and Hogwarts Express Tour: This tour includes seeing some of the best sights of the stunning Isle of Skye, like the Old Man of Storr, and the Scottish Highlands, like Loch Ness and Eilean Donan Castle
  • Six-day Isle of Skye and Outer Hebrides Tour: If you’re looking to mix seeing the Highlands and the Isle of Skye with something a bit more off the standard tourist track, this tour will take you some of the Outer Hebrides, the rugged islands off Scotland’s northwestern coast, where you see everything from dolphins to remnants of the people that lived on these islands 5,000 years ago.
Couple sitting back to back overlooking the Quiraing in the Isle of Skye in Scotland

How to get from Glasgow to Fort William

Driving from Glasgow to Fort William

It’s a two and a half hour drive from Glasgow to Fort William, along A82.

Train from Glasgow to Fort William

You can take the Glasgow Queen from Glasgow to Fort William, which will take about four hours.

Man walking in a downtown street in Glasgow, Scotland

Tour from Glasgow to the Jacobite Express

While there’s fewer tour options from Glasgow, there’s still a few that will take care of all the logistics so all you have to do is sit back and ride the Hogwarts Express in Scotland, like:

  • 5-Day Isle of Skye and Highlands Tour: This option makes several stops through the Highlands, like Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, and some of the most breathtaking sights in the Isle of Skye, like the Quiraing and the Cuillin Mountains

How to get from Inverness to Fort William

Driving from Inverness to Fort William

It’s an hour and a half drive southwest from Inverness, along A82.

Train from Inverness to Fort William

There isn’t a way to get here directly by train. Instead, you should take the 919 bus to Fort William, which will take two hours and 15 minutes.

View overlooking a river in Inverness, Scotland

Tour from Inverness to the Jacobite Express

Luckily, Inverness is pretty close to Fort William, with plenty of options for day trips and multi-day trips. 

  • Jacobite Steam Train and Highlands Day Tour: This jam-packed tour allows you to see tons of the best sights in the western Highlands in just one day, including Urquhart Castle, overlooking Loch Ness, and the scenic town of Fort Augustus
  • 3 Day Isle of Skye and Jacobite Steam Train: This itinerary includes some of the best highlights of the Isle of Skye, including some whiskey tasting and exploring the Fairy Pools, as well as some more under-the-radar gems, like Beauly Priory, a 13th century monastic community.

When can you take the Hogwarts Express train in Scotland?

The Jacobite Express runs through the Highlands’ busy tourism season, every day from early April through the end of October. 

Engine of the Jacobite Express in the Fort William train station in Scotland

During this timeframe, there’s two trains each day:

  • The morning service departs Fort William at 10:15, reaches Mallaig at 12:26, departs from Mallaig at 14:10, and returns to Fort William at 16:03
  • The afternoon service departs from Fort William at 12:50, reaches Mallaig at 15:06, departs Mallaig at 17:00, and returns to Fort William at 18:52

In total, the roundtrip journey will take you about 6 hours. 

Where does the Hogwarts Express take you in Scotland?

As mentioned above, the Jacobite Express, in short, takes you from Fort William to Mallaig and back again. 

However, there are a number of landmarks that you pass along the way—and even a couple of other places you stop!

Sheep in the Highlands of Glencoe in Scotland

The journey passes along lots of superlatives—Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in all of the United Kingdom; Loch Morar, the deepest freshwater loch in the United Kingdom; River Morar, the shortest river in the United Kingdom; and Loch Nevis, the deepest seawater loch in all of Europe! 

Plus, you’ll pass several iconic filming locations from the Harry Potter movies, like Loch Shiel, which was used as the Black Lake, right outside of Hogwarts (do you think there’s really mermaids in it?!); the teeny island of Eilean Na Moine in Loch Eilt, where Dumbledore was buried; and of course, the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct, which was featured in both Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

The Jacobite also usually stops at the Glenfinnan Train Station for about 15 minutes, where there’s a teeny museum about the viaduct, the town of Glenfinnan, and the train line, as well as the all-important Quidditch broom for photo ops. 

Hogwarts Express train crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland

To be honest, while the museum seemed lovely, when Justin and I went, it was like literally the hundreds of passengers on the Jacobite Express were all trying to squeeze through the museum in the 15 minutes we had at the station—so I didn’t really feel like I got to really have a chance to “see” anything here. Nevertheless, it was nice to get off, stretch your legs a bit, and get to see what a rail station in a quaint Scottish town looks like. 

Other than Mallaig, the only additional “stop” the Jacobite makes is the Arisaig Train Station, which actually holds a title as well—the westernmost rail station in the United Kingdom! At Arisaig, the train only pauses for a few minutes to switch tracks and only allows passengers off at their specific request. 

How much does it cost to ride the Hogwarts Express in Scotland?

You have three options when it comes to booking a ride along the Jacobite and each comes with their own pros and cons. 

Standard Tickets

Standard tickets will run you £57 per adult or £33 per child. In this class, you’ll be seated around a table for four in a vintage refurbished coach car.

On the bright side, this is the most affordable ticketing option—and who doesn’t like that?!

On the negative side, the seats are not particularly comfortable and they’re also not, for lack of a better word, very cute.  

Standard table and chairs in the Jacobite Express in Scotland

You also do not get tea or coffee service and cannot purchase the high tea service that’s offered aboard. However, given that there’s a buffet carriage that’s open and available to all passengers, this really isn’t that big of a deal (unless you, like, REALLY want high tea).

Finally, the tables are in configurations of four, so if you’re traveling with less than this number of travelers, you’ll likely be sitting with strangers. This generally isn’t a huge deal (and is a great way to meet people!), but inevitably someone at the table is going to get the window seat and someone else is going to get the aisle—and do you really want to duke it out with a stranger who gets all the views?

Compartment Tickets

Compartments are what you’re familiar with from the Harry Potter movies—private booths for up to six people in a vintage coach, which cost £385 per compartment. These compartments are only available on the Jacobite’s morning trip. 

The pros? 

You’ll basically be living out your Harry Potter dreams, guys! Chocolate frogs jumping out of the Hogwarts Express windows, anyone? 

Compartment carriage in the Jacobite Express in Scotland

Plus, regardless if you’re a solo traveler or a group of six, you’re guaranteed to get the whole compartment, with cushy seats, totally to yourself. 

The biggest drawback with the compartment carriage is that it can be quite an expensive option per person if you’re not traveling in a large group. I REALLY wanted to travel in a compartment, given the maximum Harry Potter vibes, but couldn’t justify spending almost £200 per person for Justin and me on this train ride.

Additionally, like the standard option, you won’t receive coffee or tea service and cannot order the high tea. As mentioned above, given you can buy snacks and drinks onboard, this definitely isn’t that big of a deal.

On a final note, it’s widely accepted that, if you’re headed in the direction of Mallaig, the seats towards the left of the train get MUCH better views of lochs, the Atlantic coastline, and the Glenfinnan Viaduct than the right side of the train. 

Woman sitting at a table in the compartment carriage of the Jacobite Express

Both standard and first class ticket holders actually swap which side of the train they’re sitting on during the return trip—for example, we sat on the right side of the train on the way going to Mallaig and swapped to a table on the left side for the return trip. However, it’s worth mentioning that the compartment seats do not switch sides, given there’s usually only one coach with compartments, all along one side, on the train. 

For what it’s worth, when we were abroad, all of the compartments were against the left side of the train throughout the journey, so this may be totally a non-issue on most Jacobite rides. However, it’s my understanding that train configurations change frequently and I would assume that it’s at least possible that some configurations may have the compartments sitting on the right side of the train—and therefore, getting the suboptimal view for the entire ride.

First Class Tickets

First-class tickets cost either £89 per adult, £63 per child, or alternatively, you can book a private table for two for £199. The first-class vintage coaches have tables for four on one-side of the aisle and tables for two on the other. This is also the only class that includes a few Scottish shortbread cookies and either coffee or tea service 

People sitting at tables in the first class carriage in the Jacobite Express train in Scotland

This is the option that Justin and I chose for a couple of reasons.

First of all, we were planning to shoot a YouTube video of our experience and wanted a table to ourselves so we wouldn’t be bothering other guests (aw shucks—you want to watch the video? You’re making me blush! I’ve linked it below!). Even if you don’t happen to be shooting a YouTube video during your train ride, it’s definitely nice to be guaranteed that you’ll just have a table to yourself if you’re traveling in a pair.

Thumbnail for a YouTube video about the Jacobite Steam Train in Scotland
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ani7qkmwaZA

Second of all, the chairs are definitely more plush, comfy, and aesthetically-pleasing than the other class options. As mentioned above, you’ll actually swap seats between the inbound and outbound journey so you’ll get to sit on the “good” side for part of it.

Finally, I really wanted to try the high-tea onboard (more on that below!), which is only available to first-class passengers. 

Man smiling with a teacup in front of him on the Jacobite Express in Scotland

The drawbacks of sitting in first class is that it can be more expensive than a compartment ticket if you’re traveling with four or less guests. 

Additionally, if you don’t reserve a private table for two, you may be placed either at a two-top or a four-top with people who are not in your group (although the Jacobite does the best it can to seat folks who book tickets together at the same table).

Additional Information on Jacobite Express Tickets

If you purchased your tickets online, there’s no need to stop in the Fort William Train Station—West Coast Railways will email you an electronic ticket approximately a week before your departure, which you’ll show to the attendant on the train.

Woman showing her phone to an attendant on the Jacobite Express in Scotland

Tickets, especially for the compartments and first-class, sell out FAST—we booked our tickets six months ahead of time and when I checked a few weeks later, almost the entire season was entirely sold out. So if I had one tip about the Jacobite Express, it would be to book tickets WAY ahead of time if you want to ensure you can snag tickets!

But if you weren’t able to snag tickets ahead of time and you’re already in the area, it might be worth showing up to the train station about 45 minutes before the train’s departure to see if they have any available from last minute cancellations—you never know!

What kind of extras can you purchase on the Jacobite Express?

Beyond just the tickets, first-class passengers can purchase cream teas, with vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options available. 

Justin and I are both vegan and were STOKED to see that there was a high tea option for us. The tea was delivered to our table on the return journey (if you go in the afternoon, the tea will be delivered on the inbound journey) and we were impressed by the selection of finger sandwiches, scones, and other sweet pastries. Highly recommend if you have a sweet tooth like me!

High tea on the Hogwarts Express train in Scotland

There’s a variety of other extras you can purchase when you reserve your ticket as well, like champagne, flowers, chocolate, or even a whiskey tasting.

What is there to do on the Hogwarts Express in Scotland?

Beyond sitting back and taking in the views of the Scottish Highlands… not much! 

As mentioned above, there’s a buffet car where you can grab snacks and drinks to enjoy at your seats. 

There’s a small part of one of the carriage that’s effectively a Harry Potter shop and a trolley cart that rolls up and down the carriages with Chocolate Frogs, Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, and Jelly Slugs (just like the train in Harry Potter!), as well as some souvenirs. Otherwise, we noticed many people around us playing card games and simply chatting with one another.

Man looking out the window on the Jacobite Express in the Highlands of Scotland

I was wondering whether I was going to be bored on the train, but honestly, between drinking our tea and watching the scenery roll by, the time flew by (almost like it was magic!).

If you’re looking for a unique and relaxing way to see some of the Western Highlands, the Jacobite Express is perfect! If you’re wanting something more interactive than that, this may not be the right experience for you.

Other Frequently Asked Questions About the Hogwarts Express in Scotland

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

Inarguably, the best place to sit on the Jacobite Express is the left hand side, when you’re heading to Mallaig, and the right side, when you’re headed back to Fort William. From this side, you’ll have killer views of the Glenfinnan Viaduct, the sheep farms in the Scottish Highlands, and the Atlantic coastline.

You can also get a better photo of the Glenfinnan Viaduct if you’re sitting towards the back of the train when you’re headed in either direction, as you’ll be able to get a photo of the train in front of you stretching across the viaduct. When we rode the train, the first-class coaches were towards the front of the train (and thus, brought up the rear on the way back for Fort William), while the coaches at the end of the train were for standard fare passengers.

Hogwarts Express train crossing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland

You may be able to request a specific seat if you book directly over the phone with West Coast Railways, but it might not matter one way or the other. As mentioned above, both standard and first-class passengers switched sides between the inbound and outbound train rides, so you’ll have an opportunity to sit on the “good” side one way (and, at least on our train, compartment carriage passengers were on the good side the entire time!). 

What is there to do in Mallaig?

The tiny town of Mallaig has a beautiful harbor and a handful of restaurants to eat and souvenir shops with lots and lots of Harry Potter gear (Haggard Alley is a standout for my fellow Potterheads!). 

Fishing boats in the town of Mallaig, Scotland

With our hour and a half in Mallaig, we had a lovely lunch at The Cabin Restaurant and then watched a seal and some jellyfish in the harbor for a few minutes before heading back to the train.

Besides wandering around Mallaig’s cute streets, you can alternatively sign up either ahead of time or at the harbor to take a wildlife tour with Western Isles Cruises, which is specifically timed to leave when the train passengers arrive and when they need to depart. The water around Mallaig is awesome for spotting dolphins, seals, and even whales. 

Minke whale in the ocean in Scotland

To be honest, when we visited, I didn’t know that these tours were specifically timed for train passengers and was too nervous about missing the return leg to join them. In hindsight, I wish we would’ve skipped lunch, joined a wildlife tour, and enjoyed our high tea (which is plenty of food!) back on the train for lunch.

Is there a more budget friendly way to ride the Hogwarts Express in Scotland?

There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it—riding the Jacobite Express definitely isn’t cheap! 

Scottrain caboose in Scotland

So if you’re not a huge Harry Potter fan or are traveling on a more limited budget, you can take the exact same route, between Fort William and Mallaig, on a ScotRail for about £15.60 per person. Of course, you won’t be riding on the Harry Potter train and you’ll make a lot more stops than if you were aboard the Jacobite, but it’s definitely a decent option to consider if the Jacobite doesn’t work for you.

When does the Hogwarts Express cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct?

Another free option? If you can’t ride the Jacobite, you can alternatively choose to watch the Jacobite one of the four times that it crosses over the Glenfinnan Viaduct each day the train is in service.

Jacobite Steam Train crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland

You can watch the crossing at the Glenfinnan Viaduct from this viewpoint in Glenfinnan. The train comes from Fort William around 10:45-11 AM or 1:20-1:40 PM each day or, alternatively, you can catch it coming back from Mallaig around 2:35-2:50 PM or 6:25-6:40 PM.  

When we were on the train, I was GOBSMACKED to see thousands of people waiting at the viewpoint to see the Harry Potter train pass by—this definitely is a popular activity in the Scottish Highlands! Glenfinnan is a teeny tiny town, so if you’d like to see the train crossing the viaduct, I’d suggest getting here at least an hour early to make sure you can snag parking.

Are there bathrooms on the Jacobite Express?

Yep, there are standard flush toilets and sinks with running water onboard. Honestly, they were pretty clean and nice!

Can you bring dogs onboard?

One medium size or smaller dog is allowed per booking on the standard class—for free! However, they must be on a leash at all times and are not allowed on the seats.

While service dogs may be allowed in first class or the compartment carriage with prior arrangements, all other dogs are not otherwise allowed in these classes.

Are there any other tips for riding the Hogwarts Express in Scotland?

Of course!

Don’t wear white clothing.

One of the things that surprised me the most about riding the Jacobite Express is how many coal bits came in through the window of our train, given how close we were sitting to the steam engine. Like, a LOT of coal!

If you’re visiting during a colder period, the windows of the train might be closed the whole time and this might not be an issue, but if you’re visiting in the summertime and will be riding in first or standard class (which will each be at the front of the train one of the ways), I’d suggest not wearing white or anything you don’t want to get black smudges on. 

Hogwarts Express train crossing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland
Photo by Marcin Kadziolka on Deposit Photo

Check out the steam engine.

If you get to the train a few minutes early before it departs Fort William, you can actually step for a minute or two in the steam engine and see how everything is powered. It’s a fascinating technology and crazy that’s how people got around for decades!

Where to Stay in Fort William

Fort William is a charming town with quite a lot to see in the area—in fact, the filming location of Hagrid’s hut is about half an hour away! Justin and I stayed in the Fort William/Glencoe area for three days and I honestly wished we had more time here! 

Tiny cabin at the Riverbeds Luxury Wee Lodges in Glencoe, Scotland

So if you want to stay here for a night (or five!), consider staying:

  • RiverBeds Luxury Wee Cottages: This is where Justin and I stayed while we were in Glencoe and I LOVED it. The RiverBeds Luxury Wee Cottages are adorable tiny cottages, perched along the river, and with your very own private hot tub. Between the comfy robes and the breakfast delivered to your door every morning, what more could you ask for?!
  • Nevis Bank Inn: If you’d prefer to be within walking distance of the train station, this hotel is located on the banks of the Nevis River and has spacious and comfortable rooms. Plus the breakfast at the on-site restaurant is killer!

Phew—I hope you feel well prepared going into riding the Jacobite Express. Do you have any questions about riding the Harry Potter train in Scotland? Let us know in the comments below!

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