Did you know that you can see the train from the Harry Potter movies in Scotland? The REAL LIFE Hogwarts Express! You’ll find it up in the West Highlands, running from Fort William to Mallaig and back.
This is a blog post that combines three of my biggest passions. Travel, train rides, and Harry Potter! I am such an unbelievable Potter nerd, so when I realised I was just down the road from the railway used in the movies on my recent trip to Scotland, I HAD to pay a visit.
I wanted to make sure everything was juuuust right, so I did a ton of research before going. And now I feel like I know almost as much about the Jacobite Express as I do about the world of HP!
Not only did I go and see the train cross the iconic viaduct used in the movies, but I also took a ride on it*. Which was every bit as magical as I’d hoped. I’ll be covering both options in this blog post.
Although the books never explicitly say that Hogwarts was in Scotland, the movies filmed it there. And that’s also where they filmed the famous Hogwarts Express train journey.
There are several other filming locations nearby too, so you can plan a whole Harry Potter themed day trip! This is EVERYTHING you need to know about how to see – and ride – the Harry Potter train in Scotland.
- Where is the Harry Potter Train in Scotland?
- The Harry Potter Viaduct in Scotland
- How to See the Harry Potter Train Cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct
- Riding the Jacobite Express “Harry Potter Train” in Scotland
- Recommended Harry Potter Train Scotland Tours
*big thanks to my Aunty Joanne and my grandma for an early birthday pressie!
Where is the Harry Potter Train in Scotland?
In real life, the Hogwarts Express train from the Harry Potter movies is the Jacobite Express in the West Highlands. Well, sort of.
The iconic scarlet engine which pulled the Hogwarts Express was actually a restored GWR 4900, which now lives at the Warner Bros Studio Tour in London.
The train line used in the movies was the one between Fort William in the Highlands to Mallaig on the coast, which is served by a vintage steam train called the Jacobite Express. This train also provided the carriages used in the films – and you can still travel in them today!
And obviously, the ACTUAL Hogwarts Express is still puffing away carrying students to and from Hogwarts a few times a year. Muggles just can’t see it.
The Harry Potter Viaduct in Scotland
In one particularly memorable scene in the Chamber of Secrets, Harry and Ron almost crash the Flying Ford Anglia into the Hogwarts Express as it crosses a stone viaduct. The viaduct used in the Harry Potter movies is the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
This stunning 1000ft-long curved stone viaduct can be found just outside the hamlet of Glenfinnan in the Highlands. It’s around 25 minutes drive from the tourist hub of Fort William, and very easy to visit.
Incidentally, the viaduct overlooks Loch Shiel, which was used as the Great Lake (aka the Black Lake) in all 7 of the Harry Potter movies. So you can visit two Harry Potter filming locations in one!
While you’re there, you can take a short cruise on Loch Shiel (from £20pp) which will take you past several Harry Potter filming locations.
How to See the Harry Potter Train Cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct
You can see the Jacobite Express go by at any point during its two-hour journey between Fort William and Mallaig. I’ll list some other good places to see it in a mo.
But most visitors – especially Harry Potter fans – want to see the train cross the iconic viaduct. So here’s everything you need to know to help you plan your visit!
Here’s a brief overview before I get stuck into the details:
- Check the timetable and work out what time the train will cross the viaduct (more on timings in a sec)
- Arrive in Glenfinnan 30 mins before the train is due
- Park at Glenfinnan Viaduct and Monument car park (paid parking)
- Walk up to the Glenfinnan Viaduct View Point (about 10-15 minutes on a gravel path)
What time does the Jacobite Express cross Glenfinnan Viaduct?
The Jacobite Express crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct about 30 minutes after leaving Fort William. On the return journey from Mallaig, it crosses about 40-45 minutes before it’s due to arrive back in Fort William.
There are two trains a day, so four chances every day to see the Harry Potter train cross the viaduct.
Based on the current timetables, it should be there at 10:45, 13:15, 15:18, and 18:08*. I caught the last one and it actually went past at about 18:15. You should ALWAYS check the timetable before going, as it could have changed since I wrote this blog post.
*FYI there is a different timetable on Saturdays with a later departure of the afternoon service.
Top Tip: I had to trawl through quite a few articles to figure out what time the Jacobite Express would cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct. And very few of them mention that the “Harry Potter train” also crosses the viaduct on its return journey from Mallaig to Fort William.
This means that WAY fewer people were there to watch the return journey. So this is an ideal time to go if you want to avoid the crowds. Although its worth noting that on the return journey the engine is facing backwards and pulling the train (see my photos) so it doesn’t look quite the same.
When to Get There
Arrive at the car park at least 30 minutes before the train is due to cross the viaduct. You’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to park, buy a ticket, and walk up to the viewpoint.
Bear in mind it takes around 25 minutes to drive from Fort William, but can take longer (especially if you get stuck behind something slow!).
Best Time of Year to see the Harry Potter Train in Scotland
It’s worth noting that the Jacobite Express doesn’t actually run all year round. So you can only see the Harry Potter train in Scotland from Spring to Autumn.
This year, the Jacobite runs its morning and afternoon services 7 days a week from Monday 26th April until Friday 1st October 2021. After that, only the morning service runs until Friday 29th October 2021.
The landscapes look stunning whatever the weather, so any time is a good time to go. But during summer the mountainscapes are much greener, which can be good for photos. And of course, that’s how the landscapes looked during the Harry Potter train scenes in the movies!
How to Get to the Glenfinnan Viaduct
By Car: simply follow the A830 out of Fort William to Glenfinnan. It’s an easy and very scenic drive.
Park at Glenfinnan Viaduct and Monument Car Park. It costs £3.50 and is pretty big so you should easily find a space.
Some guides suggest parking for free at the nearby church, but when I went there was a sign saying parking was only for church visitors. So I think it would be unfair to park there.
By Bus: You can take the Route 500 Bus from Fort William which takes about 30 minutes to reach Glenfinnan. There aren’t many departures a day but a couple arrive in time to see the train go by.
By Train: You can also take a 33-minute train ride from Fort William to Glenfinnan with ScotRail. Glenfinnan station is a little further away from the viaduct so you’ll have to walk more, but there is a lovely hiking trail from the station to the viewpoint, which also passes a viewpoint of Loch Shiel.
Best View of the Viaduct
There are several places to watch the Harry Potter train cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct:
You can simply stand at the back of the car park for a full, face-on view of the Viaduct. There’s also a short walking trail behind the Visitor Centre up to a viewpoint.
However, the best view is from the Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint. Ignore Google maps here, which will send you the long way round, and ignore older blog posts that say to walk along the driveway next to the car park. There’s now a footbridge across the river and a fairly obvious trail from the car park up to the viewpoint.
A signpost will direct you uphill, and a short way up you’ll come to an obvious viewing area. It’s on the side of a hill so viewers can easily spread themselves out. There’s also a sign with some more info, and a small stone bench to sit on. I staked out a spot just in front of the sign, a little lower than everyone else, so I could get a clear shot with no one else in it.
If the Viewpoint is crowded when you get there, you can always walk a little further up to get yourself above the crowds.
Other Places to see the Jacobite Express go by
- Banavie Railway Swing Bridge
- Corpach Station (it doesn’t stop but you can stand on the station platform to watch it pass)
- Anywhere along the northern edge of Loch Eil. There are several pull-ins on the A830 where you could park to get a shot of the train passing with the loch in the background.
- The village of Lochailort and/or the picturesque Polnish Chapel
- Arisaig and Morar train stations
Riding the Jacobite Express “Harry Potter Train” in Scotland
If you want to go the whole hog, you can also book a ride on the Jacobite Express. I did this the day after visiting the Glenfinnan Viaduct and absolutely loved it.
The train ride is known as one of the most beautiful in the world, and passes through stunning Highlands scenery on its way to the coast.
It takes two hours each way, with a two-hour stop in Mallaig, so the trip is six hours total. It’s definitely a fun day out and a good way to see the Highlands scenery.
You won’t see the Hogwarts Castle (pretty sure it’s enchanted so muggles can’t see it), but you can spot several recognisable landscapes from the movies. As well as Glenfinnan Viaduct, keep an eye out for Loch Sheil (the Great Lake from the movies), and Loch Eilt, where the tiny, forested island of Eilean na Moine was used for Dumbledore’s tomb in the last two movies.
Jacobite Steam Train Prices (2021)
- Standard day return – £49 adults, £28 children
- First-class day return – £69 adults, £48 children
- Private table for two return – £154
Obviously, these prices are subject to change so check the website for more details.
Things to Know
You used to be able to book a single ticket on the Jacobite Express, but this is currently not an option (possibly due to Covid).
The carriage used in the movies was the First Class Compartment Carriage (carriage D). They still have the old-school seat fabric seen in the films! So these are the ones to book if you want the full Harry Potter train experience when you visit Scotland.
Tickets can sell out quickly, especially in busier seasons like the summer holidays. I visited in early June and literally got the last available seat on the train! So book as far in advance as you can.
 Due to Covid, there are some changes at the moment. Passengers have to wear a mask at all times unless eating or drinking. There are also fewer seats available as only people travelling together can sit at a table. So if you’re travelling solo like I was, you’ll have a table to yourself in standard class.
Be VERY careful if you decide to stick your camera out the window to get a good photo. Some of the trees and cliff edges come very close to the train and you could easily lose it!
Best Side to Sit on the Jacobite Express
From the Jacobite Express, the best views of the viaduct crossing are on the curved side. That’s the left hand side of the train (facing forwards) as you travel away from Fort William, and the right hand side on the return journey.
The left also has the best views of Loch Eil, Loch Sheil, and the coastline – while the right has plenty of rugged mountains, plus the tiny island where Dumbledore is buried in Loch Eilt.
However, in a very thoughtful move from West Coast Railways, everyone now switches sides for the return journey, so you will get to experience both sides.
If you’re seated on the right hand side for the outbound journey and can’t wait for the return to get your viaduct snaps, you can walk to the doors at either end of the carriage. The windows will be open so you can lean your camera out just enough to take a few photos (BE CAREFUL). You might have to share with other passengers so be considerate and don’t hog!
Is the Jacobite Express worth it?
To me, £50 for a day trip felt like a bit of a splurge. Although classic steam train rides rarely come cheap.
If you’re only interested in taking this train ride in Scotland for the Harry Potter connection, it might not be worth it. Four hours (there and back) is a pretty long time to sit on a train, and the novelty might wear off after you’ve taken a few dozen Instagram photos!
That said, however, the train journey is known as one of the most beautiful in the world for a reason. The scenery is stunning and I never once got bored of looking out the window! It’s a truly gorgeous way to see the West Highlands.