For lovers of the Harry Potter series, it’s impossible to go to Scotland and not want to ride the real Hogwarts Express, the Jacobite Steam Train. Our tickets were booked months in advance, and even that far ahead, parts of the train were sold out. Be sure to book tickets as far in advance as possible if this is on your list of things to do. The 84 mile train ride is listed on many of the top rail trips you must do in a lifetime, so we were excited. I want to give an honest review of this trip though, and not all of it was as magical as we’d hoped.
When booking tickets you’ll have the option to choose a 1st class fare in a separate compartment, HP style with tea service, or standard class, which is what we did. Standard class is comprised of sets of tables and seats that face each other, so on one leg you’ll be traveling backwards. We didn’t mind being able to talk to the folks across the way from us, but they were from the US, as many of us were because this is a touristy thing to do.
Although the sites along the route are stunningly gorgeous, there are a few things that can make the trip a frustrating experience. The train will most likely be sold out, therefore it’s crowded and the windows are hard to see out of due to the steam, ash, and condensation that develops along the way. I found it was actually more enjoyable to stand between the cars and open the windows in the doors to get a clear view. Beware that any time you stick your head even partway out a window, ash could fly in your face and eyes, or you could be smacked in the face by a branch. This happened to me several times and my eyes felt rather gritty by the time we reached our destination. One side of the train has most of the good views so if you’re not on that side you miss out. When we went over the Glenfinnan Viaduct the first time we were on the wrong side and didn’t even see it. Don’t worry though, when the train turns around in Mallaig, you’ll be on the opposite side for the return journey.
Supposedly at the Glenfinnan station there is a trail you can take to get to the viaduct, but there isn’t enough time during the stop to walk there. Visitors can see the little train museum though and perhaps have time to buy a trinket or two. This is also a great opportunity to snag a cup of butter beer hot chocolate!
The train ride ends in Mallaig, a darling little port town with a view of the Isle of Skye across the way. We had more than enough time to grab lunch, go in every little shop in the town, walk to the water, and still have minutes to spare before getting back on the train. There is a fun little shop called Haggard Alley which had some models of Hogwarts castle and the Hogwarts Express along with other fun Harry Potter items. The day was sunny, so we ate outdoors (local cheese and beer), took a walk to a lovely little bakery down by the docks overlooking the harbor, visited some small gift shops, along with a yarn shop at the other end of town that had some handmade items.
On the way back I was able to finagle a spot on the correct side of the train and hang out of a door so I could get a video of the train crossing the viaduct.
Click below to play a short recap of the trip!
In our opinion it would have been better if we had driven to Glenfinnan and watched the train pass over the viaduct as opposed to paying to ride it and spend an entire day not being able to explore the places we were passing. Another option would have been to take the train to Glenfinnan, walk the viaduct trail, and then catch the train on its way back to Fort William. We’re hikers who enjoy seeing places on foot so we can get up close and personal with them and this trip made us feel a little caged in. There were many other folks on the train who thoroughly enjoyed the whole ride though. With that said, we’re really glad we were able to experience the views from the rail, but next time we’re in the area, we’ll be the folks waving from the viaduct.
Related posts to check out:
- Arriving In Scotland At The Edge Of Paradise: Luss & Loch Lomond
- Into the Highlands We Go: Glencoe’s Lost Valley & Clachaig Inn