How to Go to Hogwarts – A Magical Trip on the Jacobite Express from Fort William
Okay, not Hogwarts with the castle, the broomsticks, and the potion ingredients. But you can get a steam train across the West Highlands of Scotland and see the same scenery from the films! The steam train and the sights are all you need for Hogwarts to be real.
I had my first journey on the Jacobite Express back in 2019 and more recently in May 2021. The Jacobite is a steam train that travels between Fort William and Mallaig in Scotland. It is now known as the Harry Potter Train because it travels over the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct that’s used as scenery in the films. Plus it kinda looks like the Hogwarts Express too! It brings the scenes of the dementor attack, the Ford Anglia on its way to Hogwarts, and many more to life.
Other than the Harry Potter connection, the Jacobite follows the West Highland Line. It is 41 miles of the most beautiful scenery in Scotland. With backdrops of mountains, forests, and lochs, it is an ideal train journey for anyone to take.
So, how do you get the train without missing it because of Dobby? Well, the usual train timetable runs between April and October for a morning service. But it also runs an afternoon service between May and September – with a later schedule on Saturdays. You can check the train timetable to see when the train is running. You need to make sure you book in advance because you may not get tickets. There are tickets sold on the day but to avoid any sadness, book in advance!
For tickets, you have the option to book either first-class or standard. The first-class ticket gives you complimentary coffees and teas, and you have a little compartment with a lamp and other features. One thing to know is that you do not get to choose your seats. They assign you whatever is available. There is no difference where you sit on the train and you will get a good view of everything anywhere you sit.
Right now with lockdown restrictions in Scotland because of Covid, the Jacobite has been arranged to allow for social distancing along with mask-wearing in the carriages. I visited when restrictions were in place and felt comfortable on the train and most people did adhere to the guidance.
There is also a trolly service that goes through all the coaches with drinks and nibbles. Two pumpkin pasties, please? There is a buffet car in one of the coaches as well. The train has plenty of options if you need a drink or snack. There is also a cute souvenir shop on one of the coaches with plenty of Harry Potter merch too!
The train leaves from Fort William and will not stop at any other station. You can get to Fort William by car, train or bus. Car is the better option. The train and bus timetables are sporadic and can be difficult to follow. If you do need to take a train, it is best to travel up the day before. You can also get the Caledonian Sleeper Train. But if you want a decent night’s sleep and to make sure you get the train on time, it’s better to go up the day before. Don’t be like Harry and the Weasleys in the Chamber of Secrets rushing for the train!
One of our journeys was very rainy and misty. This may not fill everyone with excitement. The train windows were a bit steamy and could be difficult to look out of at times. And if you open the train windows you are going to have a full face of steam clouds from the train chimney! But it is Scotland. It will rain. Even if it’s sunny outside, there’s always a chance of rain. The rain didn’t take away any of the magic from my journey. It kind of made it better. It filled all my Prisoner of Azkaban needs! Then on my second journey this year, it was a bright sunny day.
To see the Glenfinnan Viaduct from the train window, it will be on your left-hand side on the train when you are going to Mallaig. If you are not on the side of the viaduct going there, you will be on the viaduct side going back. No matter where you are, you will see the viaduct. I know the viaduct is the most important thing to see, and it is amazing. But there is plenty to see on this train journey too that’s beautiful. Enjoy every single second of your journey.
Whenever you are on the Jacobite and going over the viaduct, you will always see people taking photos. The hills around the viaduct are always filled with people no matter the time of year. I was one of them before! The Jacobite stops off at Glenfinnan station for 25 minutes. This is after you go over the viaduct. You can explore the little station and there is also a museum. It’s 50p admission for train passengers. You will learn about the story of Concrete Bob McAlpine who constructed the viaduct. We walked about the station for a bit but decided to go back on the train and wait until the journey started again. On the journey back you do not stop off at Glenfinnan. So if you want to see the station make sure to hop off on the way to Mallaig. Due to Covid restrictions, the train does stop at Glenfinnan Train Station but you are encouraged to not leave the train.
When you get to Mallaig you have two hours before the journey back to Fort William. Mallaig is a little fishing village. And I will admit, there isn’t much to do other than eat in the space of two hours. With everyone coming off the train, places to eat fill up fast. A lot of places were also shut when we were there. But there’s nothing that a chippy won’t solve. We visited the chippy next to the station for a bag of chips each and we went a wander down to the waterfront to watch the ferries.
Going on the Jacobite Express is an amazing thing to do. I recommend it to everyone. Enjoy the smell of soot from the train chimney. Enjoy the chugga chugga chugga sound as the train moves over the tracks. Enjoy pointing out the window at things you see. Love watching the people see the train from their car and waving. Love seeing kids run about with wands and wearing their house colours. Enjoy that authentic magical feeling inside.