One of the most stunning places to visit in the Scottish Highlands is the Glenfinnan Viaduct. What makes it more mesmerizing is seeing the Jacobite Steam train pass over the viaduct, also known as the Harry Potter bridge. This travel guide will explain everything you need to know to plan your trip to Glenfinnan - what time the steam train passes and how to find the best viewpoint.
Glenfinnan Viaduct And The Jacobite Steam Train
Glenfinnan is a hamlet in the Lochaber region of the Highlands of Scotland, close to Fort William. The Glenfinnan Viaduct is a twenty one-arched concrete bridge built in the 1890’s. Glenfinnan has become more popular after being featured in the Harry Potter movies - the viaduct is the bridge on which the Hogwarts Express passes over. The name of the actual train that crosses the bridge is called the Jacobite Steam Train.
What Time Does The Jacobite Steam Train Pass The Glenfinnan Viaduct?
The Jacobite Steam train only runs twice a day, in the summer months from April - October. It runs back and forth between Fort and William and Mallaig by West Coast Railways. If you are visiting in the winter months, you won't see the train pass but the views are still certainly worth the trip. There is a morning service, and afternoon service. The Jacobite Steam Train timetable can be found here. The times the Jacobite passes over the Glenfinnan Viaduct are 10.45am and 3.15pm everyday. However, I recommend you check the schedule before planning your trip - there were train strikes going on around the time I visited which meant many routes had been cancelled.
Parking At The Glenfinnan Viaduct
You will likely arrive at Glenfinnan by car. There is a car park located opposite Loch Shiel where you can park to access the Glenfinnan Viaduct. It costs £3.50 for cars, £6 for motorhomes and free for National Trust Members. My biggest piece of advice to anyone traveling to see the steam train cross is arrive in plenty of time. The car park gets full fast, then closes when at capacity, leaving you with limited options and the risk of missing the train pass. I recommend getting to the viaduct an hour before the train is due so you have plenty of time to park, grab something to drink and then hike to the viewpoint.
Where Is The Best Viewpoint To See The Steam Train?
Finding the dreamy Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint popular on Instagram isn't as straight forward as you may think. Once arriving at the visitor centre at the Glenfinnan Viaduct, there are signs to access a viewpoint five minutes behind the building. Many tour operators also tell you to go to this viewpoint. Although the viewpoint is impressive, this is not the Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint you want. The best viewpoint to see the Harry Potter train is a twenty minutes hike from the main car park. Please note it is not wheelchair or stroller friendly, although its a moderate hike.
To access the viewpoint, walk through the car park, away from the main road you came in from. The river will be on your right hand side. Continue straight until you see signs for the Viaduct Trail and Viewpoints. There will be a gate on your left that you go through and continue upwards to climb the hill. You won't be the only one here so it will be easy to find and follow the crowd. Pick a spot somewhere at the top and keep in mind it will get busier as train time approaches.
You will notice there is also a viewpoint across from this one on the other side of the viaduct- small crowds will gather there too. To access this viewpoint, follow the directions above but instead of taking a left, continue straight until you come to a bridge crossing the river on your right, then cross the bridge and continue uphill. This may be handy if you care about the direction in which the Jacobite passes.
Depending on which time you visit, the train will either be running from Fort William to Mallaig or returning from Mallaig to Fort William which means the train may be going in the opposite direction. I visited at 3.10pm when the train was returning to Fort William, meaning it was traveling away from the viewpoint I first detailed. Therefore the morning service train comes towards you and the afternoon travels away from the viewpoint I visited.
Seeing The Jacobite Steam Train Up Close
If you want to visit the actual Jacobite Steam Train, then you can see it before it departs from Fort William or Mallaig. We saw the train at Mallaig around 1.20pm before it departed to go back to Fort William. It stops to allow the passengers get lunch in Mallaig therefore it's parked for a while before departing. You can walk directly onto the platform without a ticket at Mallaig and will immediately see the First Class section (back of the train). There is also a Harry Potter gift shop in the middle carriage you can visit. To help plan your trip, use the timetable here.
Riding The Jacobite Steam Train
You can also book tickets to ride the Jacobite Steam train and experience the journey from within the train. The Jacobite has been hailed as one of the greatest railway journeys in the world - understandably as it passes through the lush Highlands serving dreamy views. The journey is a 84 mile round trip passing through the villages of Lochailort, Arisaig, Morar and Mallaig. Tickets cost £79.50 for first class and £52 for standard tickets per person. More details can be found here.
What To Wear In The Scottish Highlands
Being born and raised in Scotland, let me tell you the weather is very unpredictable.. It's not uncommon to see four seasons in a day so it's important to pack accordingly. When visiting the Highlands, I recommend wearing layers you can peel back should the sun make an appearance. Think sweater, light jacket and a rain coat. You will need hiking or heavy duty boots, sunscreen and don't forget, midge repellent. (Midges are small biting insects found in the Scottish Highlands during summer.)
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