Riding the Harry Potter Train in Scotland is just as epic as it sounds
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a completely hopeless Potterhead with big dreams of one day ride the Hogwarts Express. 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 film studios in London to the colleges in Oxford, I have seen a lot of places where the franchise was either set in the books or was actually filmed. Regardless, Glenfinnan Viaduct is arguably the most famous Harry Potter filming location you can visit in Scotland.
I spent hours on end doing research on what is now known as the Harry Potter bridge 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.
Where to find the Hogwarts Express in Scotland
Glenfinnan Viaduct can be seen multiple times throughout the franchise, but the most notorious scene is when Harry and Ron almost crash the flying Ford Anglia into in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets movie.
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.
Glenfinnan and the Jacobite Train views
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.
In fact, the journey were a thing long before the films were released. For over 50 years or so, the experience has been marketed as “one of the greatest rail journeys in Britain” and rightfully so if I do say so myself. Indeed the scenery, aside from the Harry Potter-related bits of course, is absolutely stunning.
The list of superlatives is quite impressive. Not only does the train departs near Britain’s highest summit, Ben Nevis, it rides by Britain’s deepest freshwater lake, Loch Morar and arrives at Europe’s deepest seawater lake, Loch Nevis! Train nerds will also appreciate alighting (by request to the guard) at Britain’s most westerly mainland railway station, Arisaig, incidentally where the famed Highland Games takes place each July.
On sunny days passengers can see as far as the Small Isles of Rum, Eigg, Muck, Canna and even the southern tip of Skye.
Hogwarts Express travel tips
Harry Potter train fares 2023
Tickets cost £57 for a standard adult day return and 89 for first class. Note that there are no one-way tickets. The Hogwarts Express is solely a return journey!
Harry Potter train schedule 2023
For the 2023 season, the morning service will run seven days a week between April 3 and October 27 departing Fort William at 10:15 am sharp and arriving in Mallaig at 12:26.
There is an additional afternoon service seven days per week during core summer season between May 1 and September 29 that departs Fort William at 12:50 and arrives in Mallaig at 15:06.
Overall, the train passes over Glenfinnan Viaduct four times daily: two times facing west at precisely 10:45 and 1:20, and facing east at 3:30 and 6:20. Outside of the afternoon service schedule in May and October, the train only passes twice daily, at 10:45 and 3:30.
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 regular ScotRail service 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 at 10:45, 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.
Harry Potter train photography tips
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.
Most importantly, be prepared to elbow a few people in order to keep it. Most passengers will spend the entire journey comfortably seated in the carriage. They will frantically get up once they realise we are getting closer to the iconic viaduct. Because I needed to get the shots for this article, I stood up at the back of the carriage for the better part of two-hour ride to ensure premium visibility near the open window.