Fort William, Scotland bills itself as the “Outdoor Capital of the UK” and for good reason. It sits at the foot of Ben Nevis (the UK’s tallest mountain) and is the starting point and ending point for many epic multi-day hikes, including the famous West Highlands Trail.
The scenery around Fort William and nearby Glencoe is incredible, so we were glad to discover there are a lot of family-friendly activities to do in the area.
Fort William with Kids
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Things to do in Fort William with Kids
The Jacobite Steam Train to Mallaig
The Jacobite steam train is one of the most famous train journeys in the world, thanks to its role as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter movies. Harry Potter fans flock to Fort William for a chance to ride the Harry Potter steam train and are treated to some of the best train scenery in the world.
The highlight for most riders is crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct, the famous bridge to Hogwarts. You’ll know it’s coming as the excitement level on the train rises and people crowd the windows for a picture. And rightfully so; it’s a magnificent bridge in an amazing setting from a famous movie. What more could you ask for?
In addition to the Glenfinnan Viaduct, the Jacobite train runs past Ben Nevis (the tallest mountain in the UK), Loch Morar (the deepest freshwater loch in Britain) and the Loch Nevis (the deepest saltwater loch). The mountain, loch and ocean scenery in between these highlights is breathtaking and is a must-see.
We love scenic train travel and were excited to hop online to book our Jacobite tickets a week or so before our arrival. Our excitement was short-lived as a screen full of “SOLD OUT” dates stared back at us… Ugh…
Jacobite Train Alternatives
We don’t give up easily and we started looking for an alternative to the Jacobite and we are happy to report we found a good one!
Scotrail offers a normal diesel train service from Fort William to Mallaig along the identical set of tracks. The only differences are that you are not in the actual Harry Potter steam train and you will have a lot of money left over in your pocket at the end of the day.
We paid £62 pounds on the Scotrail line for our family of four vs the £186 the Jacobite would have cost – that’s exactly 1/3 of the price. We wanted to be on the Jacobite for the full Harry Potter experience, as I’m sure you will too, but the Scotrail option was pretty sweet.
If your heart is set on the Jacobite, but they are sold out, you can often snag tickets as part of an organized tour. GetYourGuide has a bunch of different options to choose from.
How to See the Hogwarts Express Cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct
It’s easy to get caught up in Harry Potter fever while in Fort William. We had already taken a train across the Glenfinnan Viaduct, but we wanted to get a better view of it while the Hogwarts Express crossed over. This is possible by going to the Glenfinnan Visitor Centre.
We arrived 1 hour before the 10:45am train and the parking lot was already 60% full. Parking is £3. There are overflow parking lots along the highway, but build in some extra walking time.
There is a marked path to a viewpoint from the Visitor Centre, but this viewpoint is a long way from the viaduct. I can’t imagine the views are very good from here.
To get to the good vantage points, you need to walk north-west for a few minutes along Highway A830 until you cross the bridge over the River Finnan. Turn right into a parking lot and walk straight through until you come to a paved path.
This path is wide, flat and paved and is suitable for any fitness level. Soon you will leave the paved path through a gate on the left. Here the path becomes gravel and uphill. It doesn’t take long before you climb to a height where you can see the train tracks, so stake out a vantage point which you like and park yourself there.
We were there for the 10:45am train on a Sunday in July and there were several hundred people there. The midges were also there, even though it was sunny, so make sure to bring some Skin-so-Soft.
Assuming you are there for a train coming from Fort William to Mallaig (as we were), the train will be coming towards you. You will be able to hear it slightly before you see it, allowing you to get your camera ready. The train will slow down on the bridge allowing for people on and off the train to get some good pictures.
The timetable for the train is found on the West Coast Railways webpage. The trains leaving Fort William arrive at the viaduct approximately 30 minutes after departing Fort William.
Hiking Beyond the Glenfinnan Viaduct
There was a beautiful picture of the Glenfinnan Viaduct in the loft we rented in Fort William. It looked down on the Viaduct with Loch Shiel in the background. We wondered how to get this picture of the bridge to Hogwarts…
Looking at the hiking trails in the area on our hiking app, we noticed that the trail up the valley continues past the little spur trail to the viewpoint. We figured this valley would be where the beautiful picture was taken and we were right.
About 0.4 miles / 0.6km past the gate you’ll approach a house. Look to your left for a shiny silver rock which is at the end of a small, well-hidden bridge across the small ditch. This bridge leads to a trail up a small hill behind the house.
Halfway up the hill are a couple of benches with great views of the viaduct, making it a great place to have a picnic lunch after watching the Harry Potter steam train go by. It’s at the top of this hill that we believe the photo was taken and it’s one of the best spots for photographs of the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
We found it amazing that of all the hundreds of people who came to see the Hogwart’s Express steam train, only three groups of people (including us) decided to walk up the valley. The scenery in this area is stunning and if your schedule permits it, it’s worth a short walk to the top of this hill for a different look.
A Walk on the Dragonfly Trail
We were enjoying the scenery in the Glenfinnan area so much, we decided to go for a walk down by Loch Shiel. Crossing the highway at the Visitor Centre, you can begin the Dragonfly Trail. It starts by going south-east into a dense forest along a wooden boardwalk trail. It’s a beautiful stretch of forest with moss covered rocks and the sounds of birds ever-present in the air.
As you cross a bridge over a small river, the views looking out over Loch Shiel are beautiful, with green islands in the foreground and towering green mountains in the background.
Soon the boardwalk trail ends at a T-intersection. You can continue walking along the shores of the Loch if you turn right towards Polloch. The ‘trail’ is a wide gravel road at this stage, but we never saw any traffic on it. Gravel roads are great for family walks as they are wide enough that you can all walk and talk together as a group.
The trail leaves the shore of the Loch momentarily, but it quickly returns. Around the 0.9 mile / 1.5km mark, you can see the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Quite some time ago, a thoughtful person built a bench to sit on to admire the viaduct from across the Loch.
The only problem is that around that same time, a little seed landed near the water and over the years grew into a huge tree, blocking the view – haha! Not to worry, the views of the Harry Potter bridge are still really good, you just can’t sit on the bench to enjoy them.
Read this post for all the top Harry Potter things to do in London.
Lost Valley Hike – Glencoe Three Sisters
The Lost Valley hike is a short, but challenging hike up into a river valley between two of the famous Glencoe Three Sisters. There is a little bit of rock scrambling involved with this hike, but you will be rewarded with up-close views of the majestic mountains and beautiful waterfalls flowing through the valley.
Read this post for more information on the Lost Valley Hike in Glencoe.
Scenic Walk Below the Three Sisters of Glencoe
After hiking the Lost Valley, we weren’t ready to leave this incredibly beautiful area. We noticed an easy walking trail running east-west along the Glencoe Valley floor, so we decided to go for a walk along it.
I’m not sure if this trail even has a name, but go to the Lost Valley parking lot and you’ll see it clearly. It’s not a hard hike by any stretch, but it provides views of the Glencoe Valley and her beautiful munro peaks which are hard to beat. We walked 0.9 miles / 1.5 km west, then turned back. This was a very easy, but very enjoyable walk with incredible views.
An Torr Hike
A few minutes west of the Lost Valley parking lot is the An Torr area. Not ready to leave the beauty of Glencoe, we pulled in for one last short hike. This 1.3 mile / 2km loop hike is mostly through the woods, but several clearings provided opportunities to see some of the towering mountains in the distance.
The An Torr area is in the middle of a regrowth project where non-native trees are being cut down to make room for the native trees to grow back. This results in a few short sections of the hike being a bit unsightly with cut down trees all over the place, but knowing why makes it easier to accept. Plus, areas with no trees means better views of the munros!
We picked this hike as it was short, with minimal elevation gain, but there are sections on this hike which are really quite steep. Thankfully these sections are usually pretty short, but it makes it a little harder than a simple stroll through the woods.
Spectrum Indoor Soft Play Area
Kids tired of hiking? Treat them to a visit to the Spectrum; a large indoor playground for kids under 12. Located in the Nevis Centre, just next to the Fort William train station, the Spectrum play area is huge.
We rarely saw our kids as we sat enjoying our espressos from the onsite café. The soft play complex has multiple levels and is complete with slides, a ball pit, go karts, zip lines, soft ball cannons, rope bridges and more. We stayed for an hour and at the end our kids were covered with sweat from playing so hard; they had an amazing time here!
Where to Stay in Fort William with Kids
Fort William is truly the Outdoor Capital of the UK and it’s an ideal place to use as a base for your family’s outdoor adventures.
We rented an alpine loft in Fort William, as most of the kid-friendly vacation home rentals in our price range were already booked. We like vacation home rentals to take advantage of having a kitchen, laundry facilities and separate bedrooms.
Getting to Fort William
Given most of Fort Williams’s attractions are outdoors in remote locations, we highly recommend having your own rental car. The closest major city to rent a car is Glasgow, but Edinburgh is not much further away. Both are 2.5-3 hours away by car.
If you are ok without a car, you can get to Fort William by bus or train from Glasgow or Edinburgh.
Fort William Itinerary
Day 1 in Fort William
We drove from Loch Lomond to Fort William. Our plans to do some Glencoe hiking en-route were foiled by some very heavy rain.
Day 2 in Fort William
In the morning we took the Scotrail train to Mallaig and back as an alternative to the sold-out Jacobite Train. Back in Fort William, we spent a fun afternoon at the indoor playground at Spectrum in the Nevis Centre (near the train station).
Day 3 in Fort William
Still a bit jet-lagged, we were up and out early. We drove back to Glencoe and hiked the beautiful Lost Valley trail in the shadow of the famous Glencoe Three Sisters mountain.
We followed this up with a short hike along the valley floor enjoying the views of the Glencoe valley. We finished the day with another short hike through the An Torr area on our way back to Fort William.
Day 4 in Fort William
Caught up in all the Harry Potter excitement in town, we drove back to the Glenfinnan Visitor Centre to watch the Jacobite Train cross the bridge to Hogwarts (the Glenfinnan Viaduct).
Watching the train cross the viaduct was a lot of fun! Afterwards, we hiked even further up the valley to enjoy views of the Viaduct with Loch Shiel in the background. We finished the day with a beautiful walk on the Dragonfly Trail along the shores of Loch Shiel.
Day 5 in Fort William
Packed our bags and drove to the next stop on our family Scottish adventure – the Isle of Skye with Kids.
Fort William Tours
If you don’t wish to visit Fort Williams independently, there are tons of great options available on GetYourGuide, ranging from full day visits from Glasgow and Edinburgh, to multi-day tours.
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