Did you know you can ride the Hogwarts Express from Fort Williams to Mallaig in Scotland, traveling over the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct?
My First Visit
I’ll never forget the first time I found out about the train. In 2015, a friend and I made our way to the Isle of Skye (my namesake), using the cheapest public transportation we could find. Sonia wanted to take the train that traveled over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which was used in the filming of Harry Potter. As a Potter fan, I was ecstatic!
When we got to the train station in Fort Williams, I joking asked for a Hogwarts Express ticket. The clerk said I just missed the last train! In shock, I thought we had missed the day’s last train. But the clerk then said I had only missed the steam train. I thought she was teasing me back, but there actually was a steam train. Thankfully, there was one more regular train headed to Mallaig, where we would get the ferry to the Isle of Skye.
That was my first time riding over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, and I’ve returned many times since, both to ride the real steam train and to take photos and videos from the surrounding hills as the train passes by. Some trips have been with car rentals, and others have been with companies like Grayline and Haggis Adventures.
The Hogwarts Express
It’s hard to say which is the better vantage – sitting on the train looking out the window, or sitting on the hill looking the train. Nowadays, the hills are packed with people watching the train go by, but you can almost always get a great view. However, if you sit on the train, you’ll have one of two problems. If you sit at the back of the train, you’ll see dozens of phone-holding hands in front of you along the train. If you sit at the front of the train, you won’t see the hands, but you also won’t see much train. Additionally, you’ll get pelted with bits of coal, more so the closer you sit to the locomotive.
If you plan to watch the train pass by from the hill, here are some good tips. Most important is to get there with plenty of time before the train comes. There’s nothing worse than having the train appear while you’re still trying to find the perfect spot. You should respect the paths, and leave your drone in the car.
Visiting the Glenfinnan Viaduct
There’s a large, new parking lot and visitor center at Glenfinnan, and then it’s only about a 15-minute walk to the vantage point. I used the park at the Glenfinnan train station and walk the 1-mile path to the vantage spot, but there were only a couple parking spots there, and it’s not needed anymore with the new visitor center. They’ve also built bridges over the stream, making the trail much easier and shorter.
After watching the train pass by, consider heading down to the shores of Loch Shiel to see the Glenfinnan Monument, a tribute to those who died fighting for the Jacobite cause in 1745. the shore of the lock was also used as a filming location in every Harry Potter movie, including when Hagrid was despondently throwing stones into a lake.
As pointed out, there are two trains that travel over the Glenfinnan Viaduct – the ScotRail diesel train and the Jacobite Express steam train. The steam train is roughly four times the cost of the diesel. The ScotRail train has four departures a day (three on Sunday), and the steam train has one or two trains departing every day from April through October. You can buy tickets with ScotRail or The Jacobite Express, or get the train journey as part of a bus tour from Edinburgh.
As to whether the Hogwarts Express is overrated…kinda. If you’re really a Harry Potter fan and this is something on your bucket list, by all means, ride the steam train. If you just want to go over the Glenfinnan Viaduct and the rest of the beautiful train journey, go for the diesel train. Personally, I think the best experience is taking photos of the train and Lock Shiel in the background from the hillside.
Which would you prefer to do?