I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a completely hopeless Potterhead. I was lucky enough to work in a bookstore during those last few glorious years where J.K. Rowling still blessed us with her writing; you can bet I was always beelining for the HP aisle at the end of my shift and getting that much-coveted first-sold Harry Potter book the day before they even went on sale— haven’t had that sweet of a job perk since, if I’m honest!
I would mindlessly pull an all-nighter, unable to put the book down until I got to the very last page, once again wholly infatuated with the wizarding world and its subtleties, once again grateful and deeply content for this almost sacred experience.
So it doesn’t come as a surprise that I actively sought out Harry Potter locations in the UK during my trips there. From the Harry Potter studios in London to the colleges in Oxford, I have seen a lot of places where Harry Potter was either set in the books or was actually filmed but nothing even compared to the 21-arched Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland in terms of awe and grandeur.
I spent hours on end doing research on this specific Harry Potter filming location and because I’m happy to share the knowledge with fellow Potterheads, here’s everything I know about riding the iconic Hogwarts Express train in Scotland.
Hogwarts Express in Scotland
The hike from the train station to the viewing point takes about an hour there and back; it’s very well-marked and you absolutely cannot get lost. The hike is uphill for the second half but it was nothing that even I couldn’t manage.
There are a few places from which you can admire the train; the most popular is the small plateau right before the trail heads downhill towards the viaduct itself.
Another option, if you have waterproof hiking shoes, is to walk down towards the river, cross the small wooden bridge, take a left and hike up the mountain on the right-hand side; weather permitting, you’ll be rewarded with shots like these. I initially planned on doing that but didn’t have the proper footwear and the ground was muddy.
What we call the Hogwarts Express is actually the Jacobite Train, which runs the 84-mile stretch separating Fort William from Mallaig on the West Highland Railway Line. It’s often dubbed one of the greatest rail journeys in the world, and rightfully so if I do say so myself.
The scenery, aside from the Harry Potter-related bits of course, is absolutely stunning.
Glenfinnan and The Jacobite Train Views
Hogwarts Express: know before you go & practical tips
- Tickets cost £34 for a standard and £58 for a first class adult return.
- The summer schedule (roughly June through September) is the easiest to work with for Harry Potter fans as the train passes over the viaduct four times daily, at precisely 10:45, 11:00, 15:00 and 15:15. In May and October, the train only passes twice daily, at 10:45 and 15:15.
- My schedule was a bit extreme, but I have no doubt true Harry Potter fans will agree that it was very much worth it. I got the early ScotRail train from Fort William to Glenfinnan, which left me with ample time to complete the hike, set up my equipment, record the train passing over the viaduct, cry a little bit, hike down to and visit the Jacobite monument and get back to the train station to grab a bite in the dining car just in time for the next train to Mallaig. It was a long day, but I regret nothing as I got the two iconic shots I needed.
- Should you want proper footage of the train passing over the viaduct from inside the train, you’ll have to get a spot by the opening window at the very back of the carriage —either on the left-hand side if you’re westbound or on the right-hand side if you’re eastbound— and be prepared to elbow a few people in order to keep it. Most passengers will spend the entire journey comfortably seated in the carriage and will frantically get up once they realise we are getting closer to the iconic viaduct; because I was desperate to get the shots I needed for this article, I stood up at the back of the carriage for the better part of two-hour ride and had to firmly stand my ground when the much-awaited moment arrived.