First off, there are a few things to be aware before considering a visit to Glenfinnan Viaduct. First off, this seemingly off-the-beaten-path tourist attraction is ridiculously busy during peak tourist times. It will then be pretty much empty outside of peak tourist times. This is partly to do with the difference in weather during summer and winter months, but, more importantly, it is to do with the Jacobite Steam Train (aka the Hogwarts Express) as a huge tourist attraction with Harry Potter Fans. So this Glenfinnan Viaduct Train only travels during certain months of the year (normally between late-June and late-October) and these months are really just ridiculously busy with independent tourists and big bus tours full of Potter-heads.
When to Visit Glenfinnan Viaduct?
We have visited Glenfinnan Viaduct during both the busiest peak months of tourism in summer as well as the darkest days of Scotland’s snowy winters. But I will stick for now to the summer months with the Jacobite Train Times during the day as well as the dates it opens each year.
Dates in 2020: The Hogwarts Express (Jacobite Steam Train) runs Monday – Friday from the 19th June to Friday 23rd October 2020. For Saturday and Sundays trains run from Saturday 20th June to Sunday 27th September 2020.
Fortwilliam – Mallaig: Otherwise there will normally be one train crossing in the morning at Glenfinnan Viaduct, then two near-simultaneous passes in the later afternoon. If on a guided tour these times will obviously be organised in advance, but if planning to travel independently, and to drive and park, there will likely be queues. So I’d give at least an additional 15-minutes to park the car and reach the viewpoints for the Glenfinnan Viaduct and the Hogwarts Express (Jacobite Steam Train).
Times to See the Hogwart Express?
The times that the Hogwarts Express (Jacobite Steam Train) pass can vary slightly on its journey between Fortwilliam – Mallaig and timetables may change so it is best to check the official West Coast Railways timetables to be sure. The Jacobite train should cross the Glenfinnan viaduct around 30-40 minutes after it departs from Fort William station.
Morning Train Times: If the train leaves Fort William at 10:30AM it should cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct at 11:00AM.
Afternoon Train Times: If the train leaves Fort William at 14:30PM it should reach the Glenfinnan Viaduct at 15:00PM
The 3rd Train Crossing: There is a second train crossing in the afternoon as the morning ‘Harry Potter Express’ returns to Fort William from Mallaig (around 45-minutes before its arrival in Fort William). This will often coincide with the afternoon train at around 15:10PM.
My Personal Experience: On my most recent visit I viewed the afternoon crossing of the magical Hogwarts Express. At the time we had no idea a 2nd train would pass and were the only people left as I stayed to play a bit with my drone. So this is when I was surprised by the 2nd train crossing around 7-minutes later. The exact times they pass (thanks to photo stamps) were 15:15PM and 15:22PM.
How to get to Glenfinnan Viaduct?
The easiest option would be on day trips and big bus tours from outside destinations e.g. Fortwilliam. This takes all the organisation and guesswork out of the whole journey. For those driving it can otherwise be a bit tricky during peak tourist times. It is easy enough to reach using GPS/Satnav and Google Maps travelling directly to the Glenfinnan Visitor Centre (National Trust). It’s about 25-minutes out from Fort William (Google Map here). From the visitor centre it is then a 5-10 minute walk to the nearer viewpoints for the Glenfinnan Viaduct and Hogwarts Express.
Address: Glenfinnan Visitor Centre, Glenfinnan, Scotland PH37 4LT
Parking for the Glenfinnan Viaduct
This is where things get tricky. On the lead to the Glenfinnan Visitor Centre we were passing parked cars and emergency road markings for 100s of metres. And we had almost given up by the time we reached the Glenfinnan Visitor Centre itself. But we did get lucky here when stuck in a tailback of tourists the parking attendant lifted the traffic cones and waves us into the private parking. This is one of the many perks of being a National Trust Member/and having an NT window sticker. It really saved us a lot of hassle and time. Otherwise, I’d give a good 15-minutes for parking and walking to the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
Tourist Attractions near Glenfinnan?
There are various heritage sites and tourist attractions in Glenfinnan, including directly opposite Glenfinnan Viaduct is the historic Glenfinnan Monument which is set on the banks of Loch Shiel. There is also the Station Museum, the Trail View Point, St. Mary and St. Finnan Catholic Church, and together these do make the journey to Glenfinnan worthwhile. It is also found in the verdant, rolling hills of Scotland’s Highlands, with tranquil lakes (lochs), and quaint local villages. Including the village of Glenfinnan itself. However, an experience high up on my own to-do list is the actual Jacobite Steam Train journey (riding the Hogwarts Express) from Fort William, crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct en route to Mallaig.
The Glenfinnan Viaduct
The Glenfinnan Viaduct was built by the famous road and rail engineer Robert McAlpine who became known as Concrete Bob. The viaduct carries the train across a 1000 ft span at a height of 100 m above the ground. The line is considered one of the finest railway journeys in the world, affording passengers a perspective of scenery not visible by road. A tiny stream runs under the viaduct into the Loch Shiel, another spectacular scene not to be missed. The Glenfinnan Station has now been converted into a museum, although it’s still functioning. Having a lot of history behind it, there is a lot one can learn at this place.
Glenfinnan is one of the most famous villages in the West Highlands of Scotland, and with good reason. Boasting a rich history that makes it a great place for a history buff’s weekend off, it is also famous for the Glenfinnan Viaduct, a railway line from Glenfinnan Station to Fort William and Mallaig. This Viaduct and railway line, along with the Jacobean steam engine that still carries passengers along the line have been made famous by a certain young wizard with a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Ring any bells? Yes, of course, I’m talking about Harry Potter, and anyone who has seen the films could not have missed the famous Hogwarts Express, which, surprisingly enough, actually makes a stop at Glenfinnan Station.