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Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint – How to See the Hogswarts Express

by Mandy
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The view of the Hogwarts Express crossing the Harry Potter Railway bridge (aka from the Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint)

Calling all you Harry Potter fans! Did you know that you can visit the Harry Potter Railway Bridge as featured in the beloved Potter films? Not only that, but if you time your visit just right, you will get to see the Hogwarts Express (aka the Jacobite Steam Train) cross the bridge! This guide will give you everything you need to know about how to get to the Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint and see the Hogwarts Express for yourself! Plus we’ll cover where the best photo spots are along the way!

All about the Harry Potter Railway Bridge (aka Glenfinnan Viaduct)

The landmark that has become the famous Harry Potter Railway Bridge is actually called the Glenfinnan Viaduct. The bridge is hidden in the rolling hills of Scotland. More precisely, the West Highland Hills. The viaduct is located about 3.5 hours from Edinburgh, or 3 hours from Glasgow. A round-trip is doable, but it would be a long day! If you’re hoping to visit this famous location, your best bet would be to stay at Fort William, just 30 minutes away.

Although the viaduct has become hugely iconic thanks to the films, it’s a worthwhile visit whether you’re a Potter fan or not. Witnessing the Jacobsite Steam Train cross the viaduct is a pretty cool sight anyway, but the surrounding scenery is honestly spectacular! Surrounded by high rolling hills and views towards the immense Loch Shiel. This is the 4th longest Loch in Scotland, which is a landmark in itself, having also appeared in many films (including the Potter movies).

You can’t really miss the viaduct – at 1000ft long, towering 100ft above you, with 21 arches sprawling through the valley. It really is quite a sight to see. But to really enjoy the best views, you have to explore the hillsides and you need to get your timings right! The Jacobite Steam Train only crosses the bridge 4 times a day, and depending what time of year you go, it can get very busy! Thankfully we’re here to help!

Looking at the Glenfinnan Bridge (aka Harry Potter railway bridge)

Getting to Glenfinnan Viaduct

Located just a 30 minute drive away from Fort William, or a 2 hour drive from Inverness, the viaduct is surprisingly accessible. It may be in a relatively remote part of the West Scottish Highlands, but it’s totally doable as part of a day trip. As already mentioned, it is about a 3 hour drive (one way) from major cities like Edinburgh or Glasgow, so you’ll definitely want to stay closer if you’re planning to visit.

By car

Travelling to the Harry Potter Railway Bridge by car is your easiest and most flexible option (no flying cars allowed!). There are two car parks a short walk from the viaduct itself. One is the original, signposted “Glenfinnan Visitor Centre and Monument”. The other is directly next door, which has been more recently built with room for 100 cars. However, if you’re travelling during peak times (weekends or in the summer) spaces fill up fast! Worst case there are overflow spaces in laybys along the main road, but these are not guaranteed. Don’t park your car along the main road itself. This is unhelpful for other drivers and causes all sorts of congestion issues.

The car park costs £3.50 per car, or £6 for motorhomes, and you can pay via card or cash (or free for members of the Scotland National Trust). Aim to arrive around 8am – 9am. When we visited, we arrived at 9am on a Thursday in early July and we had the place to ourselves! From the car park you can easily walk to the Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint (but there’s more on this below).

Here’s the full car park address to add to your satnav:

Glenfinnan Monument & Visitor Centre,
PH37 4LT

View towards Loch Shiel

By train

Sadly I don’t mean arriving via the Hogwarts Express (although you can book a journey on this and cross the Harry Potter Railway Bridge in real life! More on this further below). This is just catching a normal train via the Scottish Rail route.

If you’re unable to drive, then your easiest route is likely to get the train from Fort William to Glenfinnan. There’s a direct rail service, which takes just over 30 minutes with ScotRail and costs about £16 (return) per adult. Services don’t run super frequently though, so be careful with your timings.

The station itself is a 20 minute walk along the main road. You need to walk towards the car parks where the start of the walking route is to reach the Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint.

You can plan your route on the ScotRail website.

By bus

You can also reach Glenfinnan by bus, but services are pretty infrequent and makes planning your day more restrictive. That said, the 500 bus service runs from Fort William and takes you directly to the start of the walking route up to the Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint. The journey takes about 30 minutes, run by Shiel Buses.

Walking to the Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint

The walking route from the car park is short and takes you literally to the foot of the viaduct itself. It should take no more than 15 minutes. There’s a copy of a map below to highlight the full walking route, including where are the best viewpoints and photo spots along the way.

The walk is well signposted. At the back of the newly built car park, you’ll see a sign “footpath to viaduct”. The dirt pathway has been recently been laid and is flat and easy going. After a short walk, you’ll cross a small footbridge over the River Finnan. The trail then continues along the river up towards the viaduct.

The trail joins the main pathway, which runs underneath the viaduct. If you’re planning to explore the area for the whole day, then you can follow the pathway under the viaduct and all the way up into the West Highland Hills.

Or if you’re purely here just to see the iconic Hogwarts Express cross the Harry Potter Railway Bridge that’s fine too! Simply join the main path at the foot of the viaduct and cross over it into the hillsides. At the foot of the arches you’ll see a slate sign directing you up into the hills towards the Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint. We’ve included some tips on the best photo spots below.

Sign on a piece of slate directing us towards the Harry Potter Railway Bridge (aka Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint)

When does the Hogwarts Express (the Jacobsite Steam Train) cross Glenfinnan Viaduct?

Give yourself ample time so you can really enjoy your visit. Arrive early and explore the area first, especially by the monument and the shores of Lock Shiel. We suggest arriving about 1.5 – 2 hours before the train is due to cross the viaduct.

What we know as the Hogwarts Express from the movies, is actually called the Jacobite Steam Train. The train is run by West Coast Railways, from March until October, 7 days a week, from Fort William to Mallaig. A copy of the current timetable can be found here.

The steam train departs Fort William at 10:15am and 12:50pm. It then crosses Glenfinnan Viaduct about 30 minutes later (so roughly 10:45am or 1:20pm). Make sure you’re up in the hills and situated at a great viewpoint before this time so you can witness the crossing without rushing. You should ideally be starting the walking trail no later than when the train departs Fort William (ideally be on your way a little earlier). This will get you to the Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint about 15 minutes before the train is due to make its crossing.

How to travel on the Hogwarts Express?

If you’d like to be a passenger on the Hogwarts Express then you can do that too! We didn’t do this ourselves. Our visit to Glenfinnan was part of a much bigger road trip around Scotland, so for us, leaving the car somewhere and sorting a return train journey didn’t make sense. But here are all the details if you are interested:

You can book your tickets direct with West Coast Railways.

Ticket prices range from £65 return for an adult, to £98 return for an adult First Class ticket (which isn’t a huge jump in price all things considered). This is a hugely popular route, so book your tickets in advance to avoid disappointment!

The arches of the Glenfinnan Viaduct - otherwise known as the "Harry Potter Railway Bridge"

Where is the best Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint to see the Hogwarts Express?

Now the moment you’ve been waiting for. You’ve parked up nice and early. You’ve had a nice stroll up into the hillsides and now you’re eager to capture those iconic shots of the Hogwarts Express as it steams its way along the one and only Harry Potter Railway Bridge! But where should you go?

Option 1

Our favourite view is absolutely from the hillside looking towards the bridge. This is marked as “location C” on the map above or as marked by Google as “Bridge View”. It is the place where everybody goes, but for good reason! You get a completely clear view overlooking the whole stretch of Glenfinnan Viaduct.

Quick tip: The majority of people stay on the footpath, so it can get crowded quickly. We preferred “off-roading” slightly up the hill. Taking yourself a few meters out the way means you have plenty of space and a bit more freedom to find that ideal viewpoint.

Option 2

On the same hillside, but if you take yourself slightly more left you won’t get as much of a “face on” shot, but you’ll get to capture shots of the full arching shape of the viaduct. We preferred getting shots of this while we waited for the train to cross. We then positioned ourselves back at “option 1” (which is more face on) for the actual crossing.

Option 3

Back where the paths join at the foot of the viaduct, you can turn right up into the hills for much quieter views. However you will be at the other end of the bridge, meaning the train will making the crossing away from you, rather than getting that iconic shot of the train face on.

Other worthwhile viewpoints

After the Hogwarts Express crossing, most people walk back down the way they came and leave. However, we recommend you follow the trail up in the hills (see points “C” to “D” on the map above). From here you will have some incredible views of the scenery, the surrounding hills and looking down towards Loch Shiel. Best of all, you will likely have this all to yourself.

Please note that drones are prohibited unless you have express permission from the landowner.

How to see the Hogwarts Express cross the Harry Potter Railway Bridge? This is the view of Glenfinnan Bridge from what is known as the Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint
Watching the Hogwarts Express crossing the Harry Potter Railway Bridge from the Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint

When is the best time to visit the Glenfinnan Viaduct?

If the main purpose of your visit is to see the Jacobite Steam Train crossing, then you will need to visit between March and October.

The shoulder seasons of March – May and September – October will have quieter visitor numbers, even on weekends. If you can only visit during the peak summer months, then a weekday is probably your best bet. We came here in early July, on a weekday, and we didn’t find it was hugely busy. The morning crossing is also likely to be quieter in terms of crowds compared to the afternoon crossing.

Whether you’re a Potter fan or not, or if you can only visit during the winter months when the train is not running, the area is still 100% worth visiting! The viaduct alone is incredible to see, with or without a train, and the surrounding area is truly stunning. The hillsides are rugged and dramatic, and the views over the Loch Shiel are honestly draw dropping.

Out of the two of us, Mandy is the big Potter fan! When we visited, Oli was not the least bit interested in seeing any Harry Potter locations (photo evidence below). That said, Oli has now somewhat been converted, (having recently watched and enjoyed the films), but even Oli absolutely loved this day as a non-fan!

Me and Oli at the Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint, waiting to see the Hogwarts Express cross the Harry Potter Bridge

What to wear?

As is expected when visiting anywhere in the UK, you can never guarantee the weather. You can see from our photos that we had pockets of sunshine. But even in July the clouds were mostly thick and moody, and we definitely needed our coats still.

Even if it’s lovely and sunny, we recommend that you come armed with a small backpack and wear layers! You will get a bit warm during the walk up the hillside, so wearing something you can easily take-off and roll into your bag is handy. You will also be waiting around a little while for the train crossing, and the hillside is pretty exposed so the windchill can really pick up. Having something lightweight that you can just chuck on will be handy to take the edge off.

Should the UK have one of its rare heatwaves, then make sure to also pack water, a hat and suncream. As mentioned, the hillsides are completely exposed and there’s no shade or shelter. You’ll want to make sure you’re protected from the sun if needed.

Regardless of the weather or time of year, we always recommend you wear sturdy footwear with good ankle support. The walk is not particularly difficult, but the hillsides can be muddy and slippery. Wearing shoes which will support you and with good grip are definitely needed.

Looking towards the Glenfinnan Bridge from the Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint. From here you can see the Hogwarts Express cross the famous "Harry Potter Railway Bridge"

Other things to do in the area

Explore the hills: Follow the pathway under the viaduct to explore hiking trails in the West Highland Hills. An hour’s walk away is a Bothy for resting.

The Glenfinnan Monument: Built in 1815, overlooking Loch Shiel, the Glenfinnan Monument commemorates the 1745 Jacobite Uprising – a pivotal moment in Scottish history. You can climb the 18m tower for incredible views over Loch Shiel. Full details can be found on the National Trust for Scotland website.

Lunch at the Glenfinnan Dining Car: After all that exploring and excitement of witnessing the Hogwarts Express you’ll probably be hungry! Follow the walking route on the map above from point “C” to “D” to the Glenfinnan Dining Car (next to Glenfinnan train station). They offer breakfast and lunch, plus a delicious cream tea (tea and scones) which we highly recommend!

The cafe is inside a vintage converted train carriage. It might not be the Hogwarts Express, but it’s the next best thing! Lesley Wanders has written a much more in-depth post on visiting the Dining Car.

Glenfinnan Station Museum: This museum has exhibits on the West Highland Line and history of the Glenfinnan Viaduct. You will likely be in and out in 30 – 45 minutes, but it’s a cute little museum and worth popping into. 

Visit Dumbledore’s Grave: If seeing the Hogwarts Express and the Harry Potter Railway Bridge all in one day wasn’t enough, you can add more Potter filming locations to your day! A 20 minute drive away is Eilean Na Moine, which is the small island used as Dumbledore’s Grave. You can’t reach the island itself, but there are lots of viewpoints for photos and where you can admire the beautiful Scottish hills. We have included this on the map above also.

Dining Car lunch
Dining Car Lunch

Get in touch

So there we have it! We hope you enjoyed our post on how to get to the Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint to see the Hogwarts Express! If you have any questions, or tips you’d like to share, please pop them in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

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For more travel inspiration check out our other guides and Trip Reports below:

Visiting the Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint

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