Alternative to The Jacobite Steam Train (aka Harry Potter Train) and why you should ride on it

photo collage - alternative to The Jacobite Steam Train

Oh no! The Jacobite Steam Train has reduced its service! Don’t worry, there’s a great alternative to The Jacobite Steam Train (also known by some movie fans as the Hogwarts Express or Harry Potter Train.)

The ScotRail diesel train takes the exact same route. Although it doesn’t have old carriages, blow steam or making chugging noises, there are lots of reasons why you can enjoy it more than the steam train.

view over sea and Isle of Skye
The view over to Skye just before pulling into Mallaig Railway Station

Reasons to take the diesel train instead of the Jacobite steam train

1. It’s cheaper!

Taking the diesel train from Fort William to Mallaig is a much more affordable option for a family day out. An adult return starts at just £17.80. Children up to 4 go free and between 5 and 15 go half-price at £12.70.

If you buy a ticket on the day at the station, up to four children travel for £1 with one adult on off-peak trains with Kids for a Quid.

If you’re a UK resident and have a valid railcard, you can also use it on the regular train between Fort William and Mallaig and get 33% off! You can’t get that on the steam train!

If you’ve already bought a Scotland & Highland Rover ticket, this journey is included in the Scottish Grand Tour, Highland Rover and Spirit of Scotland travel passes.

When you take the diesel train to Mallaig, you can also get the 08:21 train direct from Glasgow Queen St Station.

still waters in mallaig harbour with sailing boats, green hills and houses in the background

(Note: Although the off-peak ticket is cheaper, it wouldn’t give you a day in Mallaig.)

Buy your train ticket or check timetable and fares at ScotRail

2. Same stunning views (and a better view!)

You can enjoy the same stunning views for much less. Scotland is known for its beautiful scenery and the Road to the Isles has more than its own fair share. Guess what? The Rail to the Isles is even better!

Glenfinnan Viaduct set among lush greenery and hills in the background
Photo by Thomas Tucker on Unsplash

You’ll go over the same iconic viaduct at Glenfinnan with the same gorgeous vista across the Glenfinnan Monument, Loch Sheil and St Finan’s Isle.

To add to that, a member of one of our local Facebook groups pointed out that you actually get a better view as the windows are bigger and the train is less crowded! Thanks for that, Dave 🙂

3. Easier to book a ticket

If you’ve tried to book a ticket for the steam train, you’ll know you often have to book months in advance. While I still recommend booking a seat on the normal train from Fort William to Mallaig (in case this secret gets out!), it will be much easier. And you can cancel at the last minute.

4. You can spend more time in Mallaig

As you you’ll have more choice of trains, you’ll be able to spend more hours exploring Mallaig, enjoying local seafood delights or taking a longer boat ride during your visit.

See the Best things to do in Mallaig or look at this quick list:

⛴️ Wildlife Cruise – look out for seals, porpoises, dolphins and many kinds of birds

🦐 Eat at one of the many great restaurants, cafes, pubs and even a horsebox!

🚶‍♂️Do the circular views for some lush greenery and fabulous views over to Skye and Knoydart

🏛️ Visit Mallaig Heritage Centre and learn the history of the town

⚡Go shopping! Visit the gift shops and gallery and don’t miss Haggard Alley. For more great gifts, souvenirs and fun things, visit the village’s other shops, including The Highland Coo Company, Mallaig Toy and Gift Shop, West Highland Tea Company and The Raven, The Cat & The Witches Hat!

You could also pick up some tasty smoked fish to take home and some delicious baked items for the train journey back. Art lovers can buy some beautiful paintings and prints at Mallaig Gallery.

An extra reason to take the train to Mallaig when the steam train isn’t running is to support all of these amazing local businesses, many of which depend on day-trippers.

Now that a limited service for the steam train is back on, check where you can see the steam train in Arisaig, Morar and Mallaig.

5. You can stop along the way

With the steam train, the only stop along the way is a short one at Glenfinnan Station. But if you go on the diesel train to Mallaig, you can get off at stations along the way and explore other local beauty spots like Arisaig and Morar before heading on to Mallaig.

railway passing through Arisaig station showing platform and station house
Arisaig Station

If you get the early train, you’ll have enough time to get off at Glenfinnan, walk down to see the viaduct from a different angle, then take the next train on to Mallaig.

view of the monument at Glenfinnan and Loch Shiel

To see more on Glenfinnan and other places en route to Mallaig, see 13 Great Places to visit on the way to Mallaig.

But what about Harry Potter?!

For Potterheads needing their fix, there’s still the famous viaduct and Haggard Alley in Mallaig is full of Harry Potter merchandise. (At home we have a broomstick, a wand, a doll, multiple signs, stickers pyjamas, jewellery, money box and a load of other stuff from there.)

Shelves stocking a variety of Harry potter merchandise
That’s just one side, there’s lots more!

If you’re still not convinced, read this review on Trip Advisor

A nice touch was the train guard/manager announced we were about to arrive here (Glenfinnan Viaduct) and to get yer cameras ready and played appropriate music while we crossed. The whole train trip was worth every penny (cracking scenery)
path through lush greenery with a view over Loch Nevis
View over Loch Nevis from the circular walk, Mallaig

Check the times for the Jacobite steam train alternative

Fort William to Mallaig train timetable

  • Dep: 08:15 Arr: 09:38 (peak fare)
  • Dep: 12:12 Arr: 13:38 (off-peak)
  • Dep: 16:19 Arr: 17:43 (off-peak)
  • Dep: 22:12 Arr: 23:39 (off-peak)

Mallaig to Fort William train timetable

  • Dep: 06:03 Arr: 07:27
  • Dep: 10:10 Arr: 11:34
  • Dep: 16:05 Arr: 17:28
  • Dep: 18:15 Arr: 19:37

This is intended as a guide. Please refer to the Scotrail booking page to confirm in case of any changes.

Wrap-up on the alternative to The Jacobite Steam Train

Wrapping up, the ScotRail diesel train from Fort William to Mallaig offers a fantastic alternative to The Jacobite Steam Train, combining affordability and the chance to enjoy Scotland’s stunning scenery.

This route is easier to book, offers a more flexible travel schedule, allows more time to explore Mallaig, and adds scenic stops along the way.

Whether you’re seeking Harry Potter magic or the breathtaking beauty of the Scottish Highlands, this alternative to the Harry Potter train journey can give you a memorable experience at a fraction of the cost.

Don’t forget to pack your camera or keep your phone fully charged to capture the magical landscapes and beauty of the Scottish West Coast!

What to read next? Boat trips from Mallaig and Arisaig or 39 Top Things to do in Arisaig, Morar and Mallaig

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