That moment, when you finally get your letter and then you almost fail to make it onto the Hogwarts Express... Read on for my experience on the Jacobite Steam Train!
Highlands My Story

My Scotland Bucket List: Riding the Hogwarts Express

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The Jacobite Steam Train, better known as the Hogwarts Express, is an absolute bucket list activity in the Scottish Highlands. So, after hiking along the West Highland Way for four days, I found myself at the train station in Fort William, ready to be bewitched. Only, not everything went according to plan…

I can’t remember when I had ever been so excited to board a train. Probably never. Not even that time I took a night train to Venice and should wake up surrounded by narrow canals and singing gondolieri.

Finally, my letter had arrived – never mind, that it had come in the shape of a email, rather than being delivered by an owl. 20 years I had been waiting for this day – ever since the first Harry Potter book had hit the shelves, I had dreamt up my magical alter ego. One day I would go to Hogwarts, or well, at least ride the Jacobite Steam Train aka. the Hogwarts Express in Scotland.

With the booking confirmation on my phone, I made my way through the train station and towards carriage B. 23F, 24B, 24F – those were out seats. But as we arrived someone had already taken these seats, and they certainly didn’t look like us. A quick comparison of their and our booking confirmations revealed – the seats had been double-booked!

Together we sought assistance from the train conductor. In an instance, she found the other groups’ names on her list and told them to return to their seats. Relieved they buggered off; only my name was nowhere to be found.

Because Visit Scotland had assisted us by booking the tickets, I tried a few names from their marketing team, but the conductor could still not find us. Rather abruptly she told me, that if we’re not on the list, we can’t board the train – “fully booked”. Somehow my letter – sorry – my booking confirmation had lost all its value. Too bad, flying cars aren’t real…

In the end we were lucky – a few phone calls were done and all of a sudden, she had us on her list after all. Apparently our seat numbers had changed without prior notice. Off to carriage F!

That moment, when you finally get your letter and then you almost fail to make it onto the Hogwarts Express... Read on for my experience on the Jacobite Steam Train!

Arriving at our new seats, I was shocked to find out, that we were now sitting on the other side of the train. Of course the views along the route are gorgeous on either side of the railroad tracks, but in order to get that money shot of the steam train bending left as it crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct, you need a seat on the left.

I was frustrated – after struggling to get on the train in the first place, now I wouldn’t even get that iconic picture of the Hogwarts Express to prove that magical moment?

As we rolled out of the station and eventually crossed the viaduct, I was so disappointed, I had tears in my eyes. No matter how much I travel, I still hate it when things don’t go according to plan – especially when they ruin my photo plans. It was only after we left Glenfinnan station, that I took a walk towards the front of the train, found an empty section of hallway and stuck my camera out of the window in the door. Finally, some nice photos.

That moment, when you finally get your letter and then you almost fail to make it onto the Hogwarts Express... Read on for my experience on the Jacobite Steam Train!The scenery along the train tracks is incredible. The train soars by many lochs and gorgeous views on the surrounding hills, close by the tracks we saw huge bushes of purple rhododendron. By the time you reach the coast you think you’ve traveled into a different world – the landscape changes so much. I see why the steam train has the reputation of being one of Britain’s most beautiful train rides!

Satisfied I returned to my seat and showed my friends the beautiful photos I managed to take. After just over 2 hours on the train, we arrived in Mallaig and took a few more shots of the Hogwarts Express releasing steam at the platform.

My ride on the Hogwarts Express might not have gone according to plan, but it surely would make for a boring movie story, if nothing ever went wrong in the Muggle world!

So while I was disheartened at first, I still think this train ride should be on anybody’s Scotland bucket list – Potterhead or not!

Did you know there are more Harry Potter sites in York?

A post shared by Kathi (@watchmesee) on

On a past trip, I was one of many photographers waiting for the train as it crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

Top tips for riding the Hogwarts Express

1) Book your tickets well in advance and arrive at the station in good time. Accidents like double-bookings can happen, but the earlier you get there, the more time you have just in case you need to find new seats.

2) For the best photo position, try to get seats in the back of the train and on the left side on your way to Mallaig, or on the right side on your way back to Fort William.

3) If you can afford it (and you’re not in it for the kind of photos I took), upgrade to First Class tickets – the carriage is all the way in a the front, but has a real vintage feeling!


Now, I’d love to hear from you – have you ever had a bucket list experience that just didn’t go according to plan?

Share your story in the comments!

That moment, when you finally get your letter and then you almost fail to make it onto the Hogwarts Express... Read on for my experience on the Jacobite Steam Train!

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Disclaimer: This trip was supported by Visit Scotland; all opinions expressed are my own.

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32 Comments

  1. Oh wow that looks so cool despite the booking madness! I am a huge Harry Potter fan and can relate to train-school journeys though my train was never that nice back in the day. Where do you have to be to take a picture of the aquaduct? And can I book the “right” side of the train beforehand not to miss out on the view?

    • Thanks Annika – it really was a fun ride in the end and great for a Potterhead like myself! I saw that if you buy your ticket on the platform, they have this huge book with all the seats laid out and you can chose which seat to buy a ticket from – this might also be possible if you book via phone! I think the best spot would be further back and on the left-hand side of the train; you can also find a door with a window to look out of, like I realised I could do eventually! Great photos from that perspective too!

  2. For a person who had to struggle to find a vantage point to get a good photograph I must say that you did an amazing job. I hate when things don’t go according to plan. In fact, I get so stressed and worried. So I know exactly what you mean. Why is it called the Hogwarts express? Is there any fun stuff on the train itself?

    • Thanks – I’m glad I’m not alone with those feelings 🙂 The real name is Jacobite Steam Train, but it appears in the second Harry Potter film, the sequence when Ron and Harry miss the train and have to steal the flying car from Ron’s dad. There’s this scene where they almost get hit by a train, qnd that the Jacobite Steam Train on the Glenfinnan Viaduct – hence the nickname as Hogwarts Express!

  3. These photos are amazing!!

    Have a lovely day!

    xx Kris
    https://dreamingofpink.wordpress.com

  4. Amazing! Glad the seats got sorted in the end. I would love to do this and will someday (total Potterhead), but Scotland is one of those difficult destinations in terms of location – I could drive there in 6 hours which is ages, or waste half a day on a plane trip to get to somewhere else in my own country, when instead I could go south and end up in France or Spain. It’ll happen at some point though!

    • Just think of it as a different country with its own culture, which it definitely is if you ask the locals 😉 There’s so much to see and personally, I find it very different from England (which is where you’re from, I assume?). It’s worth thw long drive or quick flight 🙂 I live the train journey up too!!

  5. omg I loved this post so much. I didn’t know there was a real life Hogwarts train. So cool! Definitely on my bucket list now! Thank you for this information.

  6. Good story! And your photographs are A.M.A.Z.I.N.G! I am not the biggest Harry Potter fanatic in all honesty, but now i am craving to do this trip!

    • To be honest, it doesn’t really matter whether you are a huge fan or not – the train journey is so scenic and the landscape so beautiful, you’ll enjoy it 🙂

  7. Oh. My. God.

    I’m a Harry Potter FANATIC. You’ve just given me a brand new reason to visit Scotland and SOON!

    Also, you’re a brilliant writer; the story of your train ride was beautifully told and accompanied well with your photos.

    • Thank you so much!! There’s so much to do in Scotland for Harry Potter fans – the train is just one of the many things! I for example study at the University of Glasgow and the main building on our campus was one of the inspirations for the film – it’s great fun to visit!

  8. Really sorry that you were disappointed! Such a bummer, though your pics look lovely. I’d still love to do this one day!

    • In the end I really enjoyed it, and I’d do it again – but with a better attitude 🙂

  9. What! This is awesome! I didn’t know this was a thing in Scotland. Sorry to hear about the mishaps, but thank you for the tips for a better train experience!

    • And it’s not the only Harry Potter themed things to do in Scotland – although I’d say it’s the most fun one!

  10. I loved riding the Jacobite a few years back! Though I have to say that I didn’t feel like putting my precious camera out of the window for a photo haha wish I’d been brave enough!

    • Haha yeah the trees were pretty close – sometimes they actually reached into the train and left some leaves behind! Gotta be careful! Also, the smoke isn’t the most pleasant to inhale when it’s transported all the way back… Worth it for the photos though 🙂

  11. I am not a big Harry Potter fan so didn’t know about this train, but I have done a few scenic rail journeys in NZ and this one looks great. I really want to do a road trip around Scotland so when I do this will certainly be on my list. I also want to go to the place where you got the shot of the train on the viaduct, it looks amazing.

    • The train has been there for so much longer than Harry Potter and the journey is one of the most beautiful in the UK – so definitely worth even if you’re not a fan 🙂 That photo you mention was shot standing from above the viaduct in the hills, basically scrambling up to a good spot. It’s good to arrive well before the train so you can find a good spot and then you just have to wait patiently. The tourist info in Fort William can give you the exact times of the train passing over the viaduct!

  12. Merlin, this is AWESOME ! I want to take that train soooo bad, I think 1. I would (almost?) cry like you if I wasn’t on the good side 2. I would cry PERIOD just because I’d be so happy to be there. I wish they had a special ticket to ride it all day haha, I don’t think I could ever have enough of that train!!

    • Hahaha so much crying! It was silly, but I had looked forward to it so much… Would have loved to ride it more than once too – in different seats every time to get various perspectives!

  13. I’ve yet to take a Scottish train journey but it’s definitely on my list! The Scottish Highlands look absolutely beautiful 🙂

    I completely feel your pain about travel plans going wrong and photo opportunities being missed a result. Getting the right shots are so important to me, especially now that I have my travel blog and Instagram 😉

    • Oh you should travel Scotland by train – road trips are great, but the rail journeys take you through some landscapes where are are no roads – it’s magic!

      That’s the thing – I had these photos on mind that I wanted to take for the blog, and it didn’t work out that way, which just made me more frustrated. I know you should travel and experience everything in the moment, but when you’re doing it semi-professionally as a travel photographer, that kind of changes… Still like my photos though!

  14. What a fun story! Went to Scotland a couple of months ago and wonder why I didn’t even know about this place!! Definitely going back and saving your blog to not miss my train! (this is something that would happen to me too).

    • It’s one of these things that takes a bit of planning to organise, so it’s not in many itineraries – but it’s definitely worth it!! 🙂

  15. Oh no, I absolutely feel your pain. It sucks when you’re looking forward to something and things go wrong. Your pictures still look magical though.

    • Thank you 🙂 It was silly to be so upset, but I had been building up so much anticipation, I just couldn’t believe it… It was still great though!!

  16. Gorgeous photographs, my favorite are first and last.
    Train travel has its own charm, I like to travel by train. This train looks little smaller in width than the regular trains. Something like we have in India from British area, some of them are in UNESCO’s heritage list and running even today. I am a big fan of these trains 🙂

    • Yeah, it’s one of those vintage trains with an actual steam engine! It’s quite a special experience to ride on one of these!

  17. I am a passionate lover of trains and this would be my dream thing!

    • It’s a really beautiful train journey – but so are most journeys in the Scottish Highlands 🙂 Also loved the train from Glasgow to Fort William, particularly the section from Crianlarich to Fort William! 🙂

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