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Okay, Potterheads! If you want to know how to see the Hogwarts Express at the Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint, then keep reading.
Although usually muggles would never be allowed to see this magical steam train on its way to Hogwarts, the Ministry of Magic have made an exception this year.
Just kidding, of course. But, it is totally possible to visit the Harry Potter train bridge from the movies and see it ride along.
Did you also know you can even ride the steam train itself! It’s the perfect Potter experience for any fan.
Although I didn’t ride the train, I was able to find out the best place to see it from the Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint and discover some secret insider tips too.
So, keep reading on how you can see the Harry Potter train in Scotland.
The Harry Potter train bridge filming location can be found at Glenfinnan Viaduct. This is tucked away in the adorable Glenfinnan hamlet near Fort William. More specifically, the Lochaber area of the Highlands.
It is a hidden away from the main road in the rolling hills of the countryside. So, if you are planning on getting up close to the bridge and the viewpoint, the viaduct will be around a 20 minute hike from the car parks nearby.
The nearest place to Glenfinnan with infrastructure is Fort William. This will have the most choice of hotels, restaurants and attractions nearby like Ben Nevis etc.
So, if you want to plan a visit to the Harry Potter train bridge into your Scottish Itinerary, I would plan to base yourself here for a day or two.
A bit of background on Glenfinnan Viaduct
Before the likes of Harry Potter came along, I imagine this viewpoint didn’t see many visitors! Apart from maybe some avid steam train fanatics, photographers and trainspotters.
But now, since it came to the big screen, its one of the most photographed bridges in Scotland!
This bridge was constructed by Sir Robert McAlpine all the way back in 1897.
He was a businessman who founded the British construction firm and a bit of a pioneer in his time.
He decided to build this viaduct completely out of concrete, something that hadn’t been done before. The bridge has remained completely unchanged since its construction.
However, it sees far more visitors every year nowadays and has a magical meaning for some!
Quick FAQs about Glenfinnan Viaduct
- When was Glenfinnan Viaduct built? July, 1897
- Who built Glenfinnan Viaduct? Sir Robert McAlpine, a pioneer in using concrete for the bridge
- How tall is Glenfinnan Viaduct? It has 21 arches and reaches a height of 30 m above the valley
What time does the Harry Potter train cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct?
Firstly, before anything else, you’ll need to plan your visit to coincide with when the Harry Potter train crosses over the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
The Harry Potter Express train in real life is the Jacobite Steam train run by West Coast Railways.
Unfortunately, this only runs seasonally from April – October each year. So, if you’re visiting in winter you won’t be able to see it. Although disappointing, the views are still worth seeing.
To find out when The Jacobite crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct, you’ll need to check out the timetable on their website. There is a morning service and an afternoon service that run from Fort William to Mallaig.
The Harry Potter train crosses over Glenfinnan Viaduct 30-40 minutes after the train departs from Fort William Station.
So, as per the current timetable, the morning service departs Fort William at 10.15am and so the train should cross over the bridge at 10.45am. The afternoon service is 14.40pm and so the train should cross over the viaduct at 15.10pm.
To be safe, I would arrive at Glenfinnan around the time that the train leaves Fort William. Make your way up to the viewpoint to secure your place to wait it out.
So, aim to arrive in Glefinnan around 10.15am and 14.40pm to make your way over.
How to get to Glenfinnan Viaduct
So, now we know what time we’re going to aim to arrive, you’ll now need to plan how you’re going to make your way over to Glenfinnan.
Most tourists choose to stay in Fort William as it has the most infrastructure. From there a drive over to Glenfinnan is only 30 minutes depending on traffic.
Note that around the time of the train crossing, lot’s of people choose to visit and parking is limited. I visited on a hot afternoon in summer and struggled to find a spot to park an hour before the train even departed Fort William!
So, in summer and on weekends, I would aim to arrive a lot earlier to ensure you leave enough time to park up, pay for parking, grab a drink/snack, hike up to the viewpoint etc.
Can you get to Glenfinnan by Public Transport?
YES! The good news is, you can get a direct train and bus from Fort William over to Glenfinnan if you don’t have a car.
By Rail: There is a direct Scotrail service from Crianlarich to Mallaig that stops off at Glenfinnan railway station. The journey takes around 33 minutes and costs roughly £7 one way. This would be my recommended route as its fastest and drops you off closer.
By Bus: There are also direct bus services by Shiel Buses (500) from Fort William Bus station to Glenfinnan. The journey will take around 45 minutes to an hour. Then you may need to walk a while to reach the Glenfinnan Monument where the trail begins to the Vaiduct.
I always use Travel Line Scotland to plan my journeys via public transport in Scotland.
If you are heading out on public transport from Fort William, leave plenty of time to reach the train! The latest I’d leave it is 90 minutes before the train is due.
Tours to Glenfinnan Viaduct
If you’d prefer to go on a tour of the Glenfinnan Viaduct, there are a few options available that depart from various locations around Scotland;
- From Edinburgh: Magical Highlands Tour with Hogwarts Express
- From Inverness: Jacobite Steam Train and Highlands tour
- From Glasgow: 2 day Highlands Tour including Glenfinnan Viaduct
How to see the Hogwarts Express at the Glenfinnan Viaduct
There are a couple of ways that you are able to see the Harry Potter train cross over Glenfinnan Viaduct when you arrive;
- From the National Trust Glenfinnan Monument visitor centre: The visitor centre has an accessible viewpoint. This is perfect for those that cannot make the hike. But, this would be from a distance. There is also a ‘Viaduct View Café’ that has opened up this year in the car park!
- The Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint Trail: You can take a hike up to the Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint from the carpark to get up close to the bridge and get those iconic Hogwarts Express Shots!
- Can you see Glenfinnan Viaduct from the road? Not really, unfortunately you do have to park up and go to a viewpoint in order to see it! It’s tucked away in the hills making a roadside view pretty much impossible.
Where is the best view of Glenfinnan Viaduct?
The best view of the Glenfinnan Viaduct is from the viewpoint on a short walking trail.
This is located around a 20-30 minute walk (depending on your speed) from the Glenfinnan Monument on the main road.
This is by far the best way to see the Hogwarts Express make it’s way over the bridge! Plus you get some fantastic photo opportunities from this location too.
At the viewpoint, there are some makeshift benches in the hillside, but most people stand or sit on the grass if it’s dry.
How to get to the Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint, step by step instructions
A walk over to the Glenfinnan Viaduct is quite simple, but it is really easy to get lost on the way to the viewpoint too and take the wrong path.
So, I’m going to give easy, step by step instructions on how to find it!
1. Where to park for the Glenfinnan Viaduct? The National Trust Glenfinnan visitor centre
There is a small carpark right near the entrance to the Glenfinnan Viaduct Trail which is free to use. But, there is only around 6 spots to park in it.
So, unless you’re here on a very quiet day, I would opt to park in the National Trust for Scotland Glenfinnan Visitor Centre.
It does cost £4 to park (its FREE for members) but it’s a secure car park and there are plenty of spaces to choose from.
It’s also able to accommodate camper vans and motorbikes whereas the tiny free car park is very tight.
This car park does fill up for the steam train viewing and is shut off when full for safety reasons. Turn up in plenty of time to avoid being disappointed.
2. Walk along the main road towards the Glenfinnan Viaduct trail
After you’ve arrived at the Glenfinnan Visitor Centre, you’ll need to exit the carpark, take a right and walk along the main road to the start of the trail.
There isn’t really a wide concrete walking path, so you will be quite close to the roadside on a small trail.
Luckily, most cars driving along here turn into the visitor centre, so you won’t find much traffic passing by.
However, just be careful as it is a National Speed limit (60 mph) road and locals don’t budge or wait!
Eventually, on the road, you’ll find a turning on your right through the small carpark and a gate pointing you towards the Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint.
Keep following this trail and eventually you’ll need to veer off and make a left. There is a sign pointing you in the right direction and Glenfinnan trail signs too.
Usually, this spot is very popular with Potterheads, photographers and tourists too. So, you should be fine following everyone else along.
Finally, when you walk up the path, you’ll come across the bottom of the bridge.
4. Walk under the arches of the Harry Potter train bridge and head up to the Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint
Once you find the bottom of the bridge, you’ll need to continue under the archways up a small path to the viewpoint area.
This part of the path gets quite steep and you’ll need to hike up a small incline to get to the top of the hill. But, there is a well laid gravel path.
Once you reach the top you’ll probably see some people already sitting around the viewpoint on there makeshift seats that have been carved into the hilside.
I was here on a busy day in summer so there were tourists ALL over the the view. On the hill sides, sat on the path, lower down the hill. I’m telling you everywhere.
So, it was difficult to find a place where I could get a clear shot as I kept setting up my tripod only for someone to sit in front of it.
5. Wait for the magical Hogwart’s Express to cross!
So, that’s it! You’ve made it to the Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint. All that is left is to wait out the Harry Potter train!
There are plenty of place to watch from up here, so most people just spread out and find a spot to plant themselves.
The train going by takes less than a minute and once the show is over, it’s over! So, you’ll need to be prepared for your shots.
I had a little bit of a nightmare on my visit with trying to photograph the train from the viewpoint which I’ll go through below.
Expectations vs. reality of the Harry Potter Bridge
So, every time I have seen this train view on Instagram, it looks like no one else is around when the steam train goes by.
The person or persons who are in the photos are alone. So, I thought this viewpoint would be pretty quiet…. Oh, how WRONG I was!!
I was here on a hot afternoon, at the end of June, which was one of the hottest days on record for the Highlands. So, everyone and their wand, decided to come out and see the Harry Potter train.
That meant a lot of backlog traffic from Fort William, angry drivers who couldn’t find spaces in the car park and people pretty frustrated at the viewpoint as it was boiling in direct sunlight.
I kept setting up my tripod in one position, then I had people follow me and sit in front of my shot. There were people all over the pathways and it was an endless stream of people.
To top it off, due to the hot weather, there was hardly any smoke coming from the train! So, it just looked like a normal train LOL.
Maybe I set expectations too high. But, if Instagram vs. Reality had a textbook definition, this would be it!
How to photograph Glenfinnan Viaduct
So, knowing all of this, I would highly recommend getting here early and reserving your spot to watch the Hogwarts Express train if you want good photos.
Of course, you could zoom in and get a photo of the train itself no problem from anywhere. But, if you want photos of you AND the train. You’ll need to find a quiet spot away from people.
Most people choose to sit around the main viewpoint area, but if you carry on to the left and walk along the hillside, you can sit on one of the many ridges and wait the train out. These are much quieter. But, people will follow you if it’s busy.
On a sunny day these were dry but provided zero shade. But, if you’re visiting when it’s raining these could be slippy.
Also, prepare for the fact that when the train actually comes, people do move and start waving their huge iPads, selfie sticks and cameras everywhere.
Safe to say, for me at least, it was a little stressful for photos! Especially as the train passing takes less than 30 seconds so you only have one shot at it.
Top tips for visiting the Harry Potter train bridge in Scotland
- Leave plenty of time before the train is due to allow for traffic, parking etc.
- I would definitely opt for the morning service if you want to beat some of the crowds. The afternoons do tend to pack out.
- Bring some snacks and refreshments with you to the viewpoint! There won’t be anything up the top. Or, you can grab some from the visitor centre before you go.
- Same goes for using the toilet, make sure you go before you hike up here. There are no facilities up at the Viaduct viewpoint.
- Although the paths are fairly well paved, in the winter it may be a little soggy! So wear appropriate footwear.
- It is rare, but the day I visited it was super HOT. There is zero shade and my scalp was on fire. So, bring a hat and sun protection. Usually, you’ll get rain, so bring appropriate clothes for the random weather.
How to ride the Hogwarts Express in Scotland
Now if you’d rather be the one on the train, waving at the onlookers at the viewpoint from your carriage, it is totally possible to ride the Hogwarts Express on your visit!
The Jacobite Steam Train has services that run from April – October on select days which you can check here.
The whole experience will take you 84 miles from Fort William to Mallaig and will take approximately 2 hours and 11 minutes. Along the way there is a stop in beautiful Arisaig too.
Standard return tickets cost approximately £43 an adult and 1st class carriages are £65 per person.
You can even book a HP First Class Compartment carriage like Harry, Ron and Hermione rode in (only available on the morning service).
Although there won’t be the Honeydukes Express food trolley or friendly old witches to offer you refreshment on your journey. You will find Chocolate Frogs, Jelly Slugs and Bertie Botts Beans in the gift shop in the Harry Potter carriage D. Plus some amazing Harry Potter themed souvenirs to take home. If you’d rather, you can also add on a traditional cream tea !
It is pricey but, if you’re a die hard Potter fan, i’d say the experience was priceless.
Reservations in advance are highly recommended, click here for more details on booking.
Things to do after the Glenfinnan Viaduct
So, once you’ve seen the Harry Potter train and had your fix. What now? Well, if you’ve made your way over here, you’ll be happy there are a few things to do around the area.
- Carry on the Glenfinnan Trail for more viewpoints – Did you know that this viewpoint is just part of a walking trail? You can carry on from here along the walking trail to get views of Loch Shiel and then loop round back to Glenfinnan Monument. See here for more information and visual instructions.
- Have a drink or buy Harry Potter themed souvenirs in the visitor centre – The visitor centre has a fantastic exhibition where you learn about Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite rising as part of your ticket to the monument. Plus it has a gift shop selling Potter themed souvenirs and two cafés. The Visitor Centre and the Viaduct View Café for some lunch or a drink.
- The Glenfinnan monument – Built as a memorial in 1815 to those soldiers who died in the Jacobite Rising in 1945, A lone Highlander sits on top of the column by Loch Shiel. The Jacobite Rising with Bonnie Prince Charlie taking the lead started in Glenfinnan. But, no more than a year later, ended in catastrophe. You can climb to the top of the 18 metre high tower for £4 and see majestic views of the Loch. Buy your tickets in the Visitor Centre, free for National Trust for Scotland members. See here for opening times.
Where to stay near the Glenfinnan Viaduct
In Glenfinnan itself you do have a couple of options in the area like the Glenfinnan House Hotel, Glenfinnan Lodge and even a train carriage called the Glenfinnan sleeper car! Perfect for train fanatics.
Personally, I think it’s better to stay in Fort William where there is big choice of Hotels and from here, you can access the main attractions including the Jacobite Steam Train!