Did you know that the first Harry Potter book came out 20 years ago? It was on the 26th of June to be exact; but what are a few weeks?! For me, this anniversary was reason enough to unleash my inner child and fulfil one of the major items on my Scotland bucket list.
Following four days on the West Highland Way for some epic mountain views, I therefore boarded the Jacobite Steam Train aka. the Hogwarts Express to go from Fort William to Mallaig. But that’s not the only thing to do in Scotland for Harry Potter fans!
The Hogwarts Express
Of course, the Jacobite Steam Train existed long before the Harry Potter films made it famous around the world. The steam locomotive has been in operation since 1984 and is key in sustaining this truly epic route. The journey between Fort William and Mallaig is regarded as one of Britain’s most scenic routes, but for a long time it was mostly railway enthusiasts who knew about it.
And then along came Harry Potter – the second film to be exact. It’s the second book, when Harry and Ron miss the Hogwarts Express on platform 9 3/4 and hijack Mr Weasley’s blue flying car. That’s when we see the Hogwarts Express in its full glory, making its way across the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Ever since, I’ve been dreaming of this journey.
This was my second experience with the Hogwarts Express, and if you have enough time, I can only recommend following my footsteps with both of them too.
1) Riding the Hogwarts Express
For the ultimate Harry Potter feeling, you’ll need to board the train yourself. Wear a cloak, bring a wand – whatever floats your boat! There is even a Harry Potter fan shot in one of the coaches, so you could stock up on props there.
It’s not technically allowed to lean out of the windows to take photos – and it’s not necessarily safe either, as trees soar by and you enter tunnels at high speed – BUT when you have good visibility, you can dare to take the risk for that perfect shot!
Great photo ops on the train are also the stop at Glenfinnan train station and when you reach the final stop in Mallaig.
2) Waiting along side the tracks
The other thing to do is to find your way to the Glenfinnan Viaduct and climb the hill behind it. That way you can get amazing shots of the train crossing the viaduct and beautiful views across Loch Shiel. You could also climb to the top of Glenfinnan Monument from where you see the entire viaduct (but not that it curves).
Actually, being on the train we could see photographers throughout the journey, taking photos of the steam train from along the tracks. As long as you keep a safe distance, you can find your own photo spot at any point of the route.
This historical and magical train journey is just one of many things to do in Scotland for Harry Potter fans – here are a few more!
Edinburgh Potter Trail
JK Rowling moved to Edinburgh during the 1990s. It is here that she started writing the Harry Potter series and found lots of inspiration for locations in the books.
The Elephant House cafe is said to be a favorite hangout of Rowling and indeed, she wrote the second and third book here. The first one was however penned in another cafe, named Spoon. Both are still open and welcome guest and fans in alike, for a cup of coffee – where the magic happens.
Did you know Tom Riddle is actually buried in Edinburgh? Rowling took inspiration for Riddle’s graveyard on book 4 from Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, a cemetery in the Old Town of Edinburgh. Here you can find the grave of real-life aristocrat Tom Riddell and his son – spooky right?
While many people say York’s The Shambles were inspiration for Diagon Alley, it is not far fetched to say that Edinburgh’s Victoria Street served as inspiration for Rowling when she first created this magical shopping venue – the narrow street with colorful shop fronts and tall pointy buildings is one of my favorites in Edinburgh!
Finally, if you have a bit of money to spare, check yourself into the JK Rowling suite at the Balmoral Hotel. This is where the famous author finished the Harry Potter series and the hotel left everything the way it was when she left the suite.
Bo’ness Motor Museum, Falkirk
Why would we recommend a motor museum to you? Well, because the museum recently launched a special exhibition and is now home to the infamous blue, “flying” Ford Anglia that you know from book 2 – yes, the one that gets almost crushed by the Hogwarts Express, and received a heavy beating by the Whomping Willow.
Dalhousie Owl Experience & the Scottish Owl Centre
Many owl species around the world are close to extinction, but at least in the western world Harry Potter has definitely contributed to the positive image of these majestic creatures. At the Dalhousie Owl Experience (at Dalhousie Castle Hotel) and the Scottish Owl Centre near Edinburgh you can get up close to the resident owls, fly with them and pose for a photo op. Both centers are committed to teach visitors about the biology and conversation of owls, and the Scottish Owl Centre in particular contributes to conservation efforts around the world.
University of Glasgow
There are many schools and castles around the UK claiming to be Rowling’s inspiration for the school of witchcraft and wizardry, but the one school that looks most like Hogwarts to me is the University of Glasgow. I am of course biased, because I study here, but the one thing I could’t stop doing during my graduation ceremony was running around the cloisters in my black robe waving my imaginary wand at people!
Train journey across Rannoch Moor
The Jacobite Steam Train is not the only magical train journey in Scotland – although this one does not come with a steam locomotive, but a conventional Scotrail train. The route from Fort William to Glasgow leads across Rannoch Moor, a mystical and bizarre landscape in the middle of the Highlands. There are no roads leading through here, so your only way to be immersed in this scenery is by train.
It features in several Harry Potter train, but most prominently in Deathly Hallows 1, as this is where the death eaters stop and board the Hogwarts Express!
There are of course many more Harry Potter filming locations all over Scotland, like Loch Etive, Steall Falls or Eilean na Moine! If you plan a trip to Scotland for Harry Potter fans – either unleashing your inner kid, or with your actual kids, check out this itinerary to help you get started.
Are you a Harry Potter fan?
Disclaimer: I’m a true Potterhead. I was invited to ride the Jacobite Steam Train by Visit Scotland. All opinions are my own.