Okay, I am not sure if I can contain my excitement during this post. CJ and I are huge Harry Potter fans, and to have the opportunity to see the Hogwarts Express come around the bend of the Glenfinnan Viaduct complete with the toot of the train and puffs of smoke was nothing short of pure magic. If you, too, are looking for Harry Potter Easter eggs throughout the United Kingdom, head to the Scottish Highlands for your dose of enchantment.
While the Glenfinnan Viaduct is surrounded by absolutely gorgeous scenery and is a special place to visit on its own, it is important to be mindful of the time if you are travelling specifically to see the train. From April to October, the Hogwarts Express (or the Jacobite steam train to muggles) runs only two times a day from Fort William to Mallaig. I implore you to check the Jacobite’s website if any changes are made, but as I write this, the train leaves at 10:15am for the morning service and 2:30pm for the afternoon service. Once the train departs the Fort William station, it will be about 30 to 40 minutes before the train will cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct. So for example, if you are trying to see the train round the Glenfinnan Viaduct in the morning, the train will be visible around 10:45/10:55am on the viaduct. If you arrive at 11am, there is a very strong chance that you will not be able to wave to the young witches and wizards on their way to Hogwarts.
As this picture perfect moment is in a glen surrounded by mountains, you might be wondering how you actually get to the spot. There are many parking lots around the area (some free and some that you have to pay for), one of them being the Glenfinnan Visitor Centre car park. However, due to the popularity of the site and the fact that the train can only be seen two times each day, the parking lots fill up quickly. CJ and I chose to visit the area in the morning, and found a spot in a tiny lot that had room for about 15 cars when full. By the time we got out of the car at 9:30am, there were maybe only one or two empty spots left.
From our parking lot at the bottom of the valley, we walked through a gated driveway at the back, which guides you to the base of the viaduct. It is about a 10-minute walk that will then shift from the paved path to a dirt road. (If it has rained that day or the day before, this area could be muddy.) Then you will walk under the viaduct and trek another five minutes up a hill to get in position. The “spot” is not actually designated with a sign that says, “STAND HERE,” as there are many spots to sit or stand and still get a wonderful view of the Jacobite steam train riding along the viaduct. In fact, I myself was wondering if I would wind up standing in an area that was wrong and miss the train sighting completely, but as soon as we started up the dirt path at 10am, there were already about 30 people with tripods sitting and waiting patiently.
As we waited for the train between 10am and 10:45am, people continued to climb up the dirt path and find their own viewing spot. I would say by the time the train came around the bend, there were about 100 people in the surrounding area. However, there is absolutely room for everyone. There were no people in our way or remotely close to us. You can even continue up the dirt path walkway to get a more elevated view of the viaduct. (CJ will tell you the only nuisance was the midges that were attacking him, so if you are visiting in the middle of summer, wear bug spray!)
I thought seeing the Hogwarts Express would not be as cool as I built it up in my head, but it was everything I thought it would be and more. I first saw steam billowing into the air. The crescendo of the wheels on the track fell on my ears next, and then I saw the train! The conductor blew the train whistle to announce that the train was approaching and passengers on the train waved to all of us on the side of the viaduct. I am tearing up just writing this because it was truly breathtaking, and a special site to see. I have heard other people’s accounts where the train has slowed down so viewers could take it all in, but the train we saw did not stop. Do not fear, for there is still plenty of time to cement the memory in photographs, as shown in this post!
After the train passed us by, the crowd began to thin out as people walked down the hill and back to their cars. Witnessing the Hogwarts Express was one of our favorite memories of Scotland, and something we will remember for the rest of our lives. Remember, “It does not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” So go out there and experience this for yourself!