Looking for the best things to do in Mallaig? I’ve got you covered!
You might not have heard of Mallaig. I hadn’t until recently either, when I booked a trip on the Jacobite steam train in Scotland. You might be wondering what on earth the Jacobite steam train is. Well, it’s the train that goes over the Glenfinnan viaduct in the Scottish Highlands. You know, the bridge with the gorgeous stone arches, right?
If that’s not ringing a bell then it’s also the one you might recognise from the Harry Potter films. The Jacobite steam train is affectionately known as the Harry Potter train and trust me, there’s plenty going on for Harry Potter fans. Read more about that in my post on the Jacobite steam train here!
However, today I’m going to be talking more about my experience of exploring the small port town of Mallaig. But let’s backtrack a little bit, because I’ve gone a little off track – if you’ll pardon the pun. So Mallaig is the terminus destination of the Jacobite steam train. The train leaves from Fort William, goes over the viaduct, and arrives in Mallaig.
So what do you need to know about Mallaig? What are the best things to do in Mallaig? And how do you get the most out of your time in Mallaig when you’re only there a short while? I’m going to tell you!
Let’s answer some of those key questions…
Where is Mallaig?
Mallaig is on the north west coast of the Highlands of Scotland. It sits at the end point of the ‘Road to the Isles’ which is a much more charming name for what is actually the A830. I know which one I prefer! Anyway, this ‘Road to the Isles’ links back to Fort William.
Is Mallaig an island?
Mallaig is not an island, no. It’s a port town. However, it is pretty near to the Isle of Skye, which is an island off the west coast of Scotland. You can catch a ferry to the Isle of Skye from Mallaig, as well as to the Small Isles, South Uist, and the Knoydart peninsula.
Is Mallaig worth visiting?
Yes, very much so. It’s a small place for sure, but it’s beautiful – there are cosy restaurants, lovely walks, cute independent shops, and loads of Scottish charm for you to soak up. If pretty Scottish harbours are your thing you also won’t be disappointed. Mallaig is also a great starting point if you want to do some Scottish island hopping!
How do you get to Mallaig?
Well, the best way to get to Mallaig is on the Jacobite steam train. How long is the Jacobite steam train ride you might be wondering? It’s two hours and eleven minutes to be precise, and will get you into Mallaig at lunch time.
You can also drive to Mallaig from Fort William along that lovely road I mentioned above, the Road to the Isles. OK, the A830. How long does it take to drive from Fort William to Mallaig? Well, it’s a 42 mile journey which, according to Google will take you just over an hour.
As I’ve listed below, there are other ways to get to Mallaig from Fort William, from bus, regular train, to even cycling the distance if you’re feeling energetic. But if you’re looking for a truly magical journey with some gorgeous Scottish scenery the steam train is definitely the way to go!
|Getting to Mallaig from Fort William||Journey time|
|Car||1 hour two minutes|
|Train||1 hour 23 minutes|
|Steam train||2 hours 11 minutes|
|Bus||1 hour 28 minutes|
|Bike||3 hours 41 minutes|
What time do you arrive in Mallaig?
According to their website, you’ll arrive in Mallaig off the Jacobite steam train at 12.26pm. I’m sure the train actually arrived a little earlier than that on our trip to Mallaig, but either way. it’s the perfect time for lunch!
How much time do you have in Mallaig?
I’ll be honest, you don’t get a huge amount of time in Mallaig. The steam train leaves at 2.10pm so you have a little less than two hours two explore the town. It’s not long, but the town isn’t massive and there’s also plenty you can cram into that short amount of time.
Are there dog friendly restaurants in Mallaig?
Good news: there are! We’d travelled with our pooch Casper so I was keen to find a restaurant in Mallaig that was dog friendly. We ate at The Chlachain Inn which popped up on Google as a pet-friendly place when I was researching our trip. More on it below!
I also had a look to see what other restaurants are dog-friendly in Mallaig. Apparently, The Tea Garden gives a very warm welcome to dogs and even has some doggy ice cream on its menu! I almost feel a little bit sorry that our pooch Casper didn’t get to try that!
8 things to do in Mallaig
1) Eat at The Chlachlain Inn
Unless you were sitting in First Class and ordered cream tea on the Jacobite then it’s likely that you’ll be hungry by the time you arrive in Mallaig. Whether you have a dog with you or not I would absolutely recommend The Chlachain Inn in Mallaig. It’s dog friendly, yes, but it’s also cosy, relaxed and does delicious food. If you’re researching restaurants in Mallaig or just aren’t sure where to go I would definitely give this place the thumbs up.
I’d also read great reviews of their cullen skink soup when I was planning the trip so I was desperate to try it for myself. Unless you’re Scottish you’re probably scratching your head right now and asking what a cullen skink is.
Well, it’s a type of soup made of smoked haddock, potatoes, onions and cream. It’s rich, decadent and absolutely delicious – served with bread and butter like it was here, it was the perfect winter warmer.
They also had a specials board and a kids menu that made me laugh.
Want to read about more Scottish foods you should try? Read my guide here!
2) Wander around the harbour area
The harbour area in Mallaig is really lovely. When we were there the air was really still, meaning that the water was calm and peaceful. As it was winter the sun was already quite low in the sky in the afternoon, and the light looked beautiful reflecting off the water. It was nice just to wander around and admire all the boats bobbing along in the harbour, framed by the big piles colourful ropes and netting piled up on the pier.
3) Spot the resident seal
If you’re lucky (and quiet) you might even spot some wildlife at the harbour in Mallaig. This tiny speck in the water in the picture on the right below is actually a seal. Yeah, I know, you probably can’t even see it, right? I definitely won’t be winning any wildlife photography awards any time soon lol! I actually read a blog afterwards that mentioned that there’s actually a resident seal in Mallaig and so I’m hoping this was it.
4) Order ice cream
There are a couple of shops in Mallaig that serve lovely soft scoop vanilla ice cream, which I would definitely recommend sampling. It made the perfect after lunch treat for me, and I enjoyed meandering around the town while enjoying my ice cream. You can choose between a tub or a cone, I opted for a cone for portability. Who cares if it was late October and freezing – ice cream tastes delicious all year round!
5) Explore the mural at the harbour
We were wandering around the harbour when I clocked this giant mural on the back of one of the buildings. Having looked it up I discovered it was created in 1999 by an artist called James McCallum as part of the Mallaig Mural Project. According to his website it was created to recognise Mallaig’s connection to the sea and its position as fishing port. Well, it certainly does that, with all the nautical elements perfectly corellating with the surroundings.
On a similar subject, there’s also a memorial to those lost at sea just a few steps away from the mural. In a port town like Mallaig that obviously has such strong connections to the fishing industry it was lovely to see a poignant reminder of those in the community who had lost their lives.
Other things to do in Mallaig
6) Western isles cruise
There’s an amazing wildlife cruise that you can do when you visit Mallaig that I would definitely LOVE to do next time in Mallaig. Unfortunately, this time the cullen skink craving was just too strong and my stomach won out. The boat travels to Green Island on the Knoydart Peninsula and you’ll have the opportunity to spot lots of wildlife along the way. According to their website there’s a variety of birds, seals, porpoises, dolphins, whales, and even basking sharks are frequent visitors to the waters so keep your eyes peeled. There’s even a whiskey bar on board for those fancying a wee dram!
If you’re anything like me you’re probably thinking, ‘How an earth do I have time to do a boat cruise in Mallaig?’ Well, the trip only lasts an hour with the boat leaving at 12.45 and arriving back at Mallaig at 13.35. The sign outside also makes clear that they’ll get you back in time and it’s just a two-minute walk to the station so that’s enough to put my mind at ease.
7) Visit the Harry Potter shop
A confession: I’m not a massive Harry Potter fan. This always comes as a disappointment to my boyfriend, who’s always trying to get me to agree to a Harry Potter movie marathon. However, if you are a big HP fan then you’ll be delighted to know that there’s a brilliant Harry Potter shop in Mallaig.
The shop is the brainchild of a lady called Maria Wilson, who realised that while there’s lots of magic and charm for Harry Potter fans on the Jacobite steam train, there wasn’t anything located in the town of Mallaig itself. And she would know, because she actually runs the Harry Potter shop ON the train. Read more on the story here.
Well, that’s not the case anymore. Since opening in 2018, Haggard Alley has been a roaring success. It gets five-star reviews on Trip Advisor and looking at the queue outside when we were there, it attracts lots of Harry Potter fans in Mallaig. According to their website, you can find lots of amazing Harry merchandise – but it’s also a magical experience too
8) Mallaig circular walk
If I visited Mallaig in summer I would also love to do the Mallaig circular walk. As the name suggests, it’s a short circular walk around the surrounding hills and countryside where you can enjoy views of Skye as well as the Mallaig harbour – the harbour looks so pretty from a distance!
According to online reviews, it’s not too heavy going and you’ll have time to do it and get back in time for the train. So if you’re the kind of person that gets twitchy after sitting down for a couple of hours, some fresh air and a lovely walk in the Scottish Highlands could be just the ticket for you.