Scotland,  Travel,  United Kingdom

How to visit Glenfinnan Viaduct [2022 Guide]

With mythical mountains, heather-clad hills, and dark inky lakes, Scotland is a spellbinding place for any traveller. But for fans of the Harry Potter series, this enchanting country is one of the best places to dive into the magical wizarding world. And where better to start exploring than the magical Hogwarts Express itself at Glenfinnan Viaduct? 

In this short guide, we share all the key information you need to visit the Glenfinnan Viaduct and see the real-life Hogwarts Express cross over it. We’ll also share some of the nearby top-secret Harry Potter locations that most guides gloss over. 

Glenfinnan viaduct

For visitors to Scotland, Glenfinnan Viaduct has been elevated toward being a must-see in the last decade. Also known as the ‘Harry Potter Bridge’, the viaduct (and the brilliant red steam train which crosses it four times a day) featured prominently as the Hogwarts Express, particularly during the first three Potter movies.

Notable scenes include; 

  • Going to and from Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
  • Flying the car over the viaduct in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Taking the train to Hogwarts/the Dementor Scene in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

This beloved piece of architecture is a must-see for any Potter fan, even if just for a moment of childhood nostalgia. 

Normally muggles would never be allowed to see this magical steam train as it takes students to and from Hogwarts, but this year the invisibility spell has been lifted.

Just kidding, of course. However, wizarding magic or not, Glenfinnan Viaduct is an unmissable Scottish icon.

Everything you need to know before visiting Glenfinnan Viaduct

Glenfinnan Viaduct: The Essentials

Getting to Glenfinnan Viaduct: you’ll find Glenfinnan on the A830, 13 miles north (around 30 mins drive) from Fort William. The easiest way to get here is by car. There are also infrequent train services that run from Glasgow to Fort William or Mallaig; you can even book a seat on the Hogwarts Express itself. 

Car parking at Glenfinnan Viaduct: there is a car park at the Glenfinnan Viaduct run by the National Trust  which costs £3.50. It can sometimes be difficult to guarantee a space due to the crowds; make sure to arrive early in summer or visit off-season (like we did) in autumn / winter when the area is significantly quieter. 

How to see the train cross Glenfinnan Viaduct: the Jacobite steam train runs twice daily from April to October. It passes over the Glenfinnan Viaduct 30 mins after leaving Fort William (check the timetable here). Keep reading for the best places to photograph the train as it crosses the Harry Potter bridge.

What to wear: wear comfortable shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty. It’s a short walk to the viewpoints but the hillside can be wet and muddy – not improved by the sheer number of people visiting. Scotland is famous for the notoriously unpredictable weather, so don’t forget your waterproof jacket! 

Glenfinnan Viaduct: Detailed Guide

Where is Glenfinnan Viaduct?

Tucked away in the west highlands, Glenfinnan Viaduct sits at the head of Loch Shiel in the village of Glenfinnan. 

The viaduct makes the perfect stop for those wanting to stretch their legs when exploring the area around Fort William or the Isle of Skye. Its around a 30-minute drive from Fort William and near other popular locations such as Glencoe. You’ll pass through Glenfinnan if you’re on the way to Mallaig to catch the Isle of Skye ferry. 

We passed through on our Isle of Skye trip, expecting the viaduct to be a quick 30-minute stop-off. The plan was to jump out, quick walk, snap some photographs, and hit the road again. But we ended up staying for a few hours. It was just that lovely.

How to get to Glenfinnan Viaduct

I get it, we can’t all ‘apparate’ or travel by broomstick.

The easiest way to get to Glenfinnan viaduct is by car. Many people choose to stop off at Glenfinnan on the way north to the Highlands, Inverness of the Isle of Skye. You can park in the visitor centre car park. There is a pay-and-display system in place costing £3.50 which is a contribution to the visitor centre.

Driving will give you the freedom to explore further afield at your own pace. Travel northwest towards Mallaig and you’ll find yourself in an area of Scotland called Moidart; a wild and rugged landscape. From here you can explore Ardnamurchan, Morar, Arisaig, Mallaig and the remote wilderness of Knoydart, or catch a ferry to the Isle of Skye. Travelling southeast towards Glasgow/Edinburgh will take you through the Glencoe Valley, one of the most scenic drives in the country.

It’s also possible to travel to Glenfinnan Viaduct by public transport. You can catch the citylink bus from Glasgow, then a second bus from Fort William to Mallaig. You can also travel by rail. Catch a train from Edinburgh or Glasgow via the West Highland Line to Fort William, then an infrequent train service from Fort William to Mallaig. This is the normal service, not the steam train. However, it runs year-round and is much cheaper. 

Keep reading for information about riding the Jacobite Steam Train, the real-life Hogwarts Express.

How to visit & photograph the Glenfinnan Viaduct

You can catch a glimpse of the viaduct from the road or car park, but for the best photo spots, you’re going to want to get closer. There are two incredible viewpoints, both are short, signposted strolls with well-maintained pathways.

So park up, grab your camera, and pick a trail! I’d also recommend bringing a flask of tea or a warming hot chocolate, especially if you’re visiting off-season (like we did!). It can be cold but you can bet you’ll want to stay a while and enjoy the views.

Sustainability tip: No matter which path you choose, it’s really important that you stick to the marked paths instead of forging your own way up the hillside. It might be tempting to leave the path to try and get a better view, but over time this can lead to erosion and damage to the landscape

Viewpoint 1 - Best View of Glenfinnan Viaduct and Steam Train

This is where you’ll want to  head to get that iconic steam train photo.

The Viaduct viewpoint is easily one of the most popular viewpoints in Scotland: it offers the best view of the ‘Hogwarts Express’ as it crosses Glenfinnan Viaduct. Avid photographers will want to head up the small hill to get their gear set up. However, in our opinion, the viaduct itself is best appreciated from below, just before you pass underneath it.

Park at the Glenfinnan Visitor Centre and head towards the back of the car park, away from the main road. A signpost to the left of a well-maintained path points the way. Keep following the trail up a small hill to the left of the viaduct until you reach the official viewpoint. You’ll know it when you see it, but we’ve included it on our map (just in case). After enjoying the scenery, you can head back down the way you came. Alternatively, follow the well-marked circular route to Glenfinnan Station and Station Museum. You could even treat yourself to a coffee in a vintage steam train carriage!

Viewpoint 2 - Loch Shiel & Jacobite Monument

Another stunning viewpoint is a 5-minute walk up the trail to the left of the visitor centre. Looking away from the car-park will give you a panoramic view of Glenfinnan Viaduct. This viewpoint is a little further away, but you can see the entire bridge sweeping across the valley framed beautifully by the mountains in the background. Looking down, you’ll see the inky black waters of Loch Shiel (onto which Hogwarts was superimposed for many of the Harry Potter film scenes).

This is an equally beautiful viewpoint. When we went, we had it all to ourselves, and sat looking out towards Loch Shiel with a flask of tea. It was so peaceful. However, I wouldn’t head here to get a shot of the steam train as you won’t get a head-on view and it’ll look further away. 

Top tips

Tips for photographing the steam train: 

There’s no denying how photogenic the viaduct is – even amateur photographers will come away with a shot to be happy with. In summer, the viewpoint gets very crowded as the Jacobite Steam Train approaches. Plan to get there at least 30-minutes early and aim for a spot on higher ground.

Discoveny tip: 

Don’t just do it for the ‘gram! Photography can be great fun, but life is best appreciated without looking through the viewfinder. Instead of hopping straight back into your car once the steam train passes, why not pack a drink and some snacks and enjoy the natural beauty Glenfinnan has to offer

How to ride the Jacobite Steam Train (Hogwarts Express)

The Mallaig-bound steam train is said to be one of the greatest railway journeys in the world, covering an incredible 84 miles of the rugged Scottish landscape. This would still be the case even if you weren’t riding 

Starting in Fort William in the shadow of the mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis, the Jacobite visits Britain’s most westerly mainland railway station, Arisaig; passes close by the deepest freshwater loch in Britain, Loch Morar and steams by the shortest river in Britain, River Morar, finally arriving next to the deepest seawater loch in Europe, Loch Nevis.

The most magical part of the journey is when you cross Glenfinnan Viaduct. At this point, the train slows, and may stop on the viaduct (time permitting) where you can enjoy picturesque views across Loch Shiel.

There are several options to enjoy this picturesque rail journey. For all the details, check out the website here;

First Class

First Class costs around £80 per person. It’s a little more spacious and more beautifully decorated – the carriage is truly ornate. In my opinion, it’s worth forking out for first class. It’s only £15 extra but the carriages are more ornate, your hot drinks are included, and you’re guaranteed a window seat. You could even go all-out and enjoy a British afternoon tea.

Standard Class

Standard Class is a more budget conscious option, costing £52 per person. However, the carriages are more crowded and aren’t as ornate. You aren’t guaranteed a window seat so photographers might end up squeezing in by one of the viewing windows to get their photos. If you’re on a budget, riding the standard train is a great option at just £15 return!

When is the best time to go to the Glenfinnan Viaduct?

You can visit Glenfinnan Viaduct year-round – the trails, visitor centre, and facilities are open every day (with the exception of some public holidays, such as Christmas Day). The viaduct and surrounding scenery are stunning in all seasons and you’re unlikely to have a bad experience.

But some seasons are better than others. 

If you can, visit off-season. We visited in winter, it snowed and was absolutely magical. It felt like we were going to Hogwarts after the Christmas holidays. Autumn is also a beautiful season to visit as the hills blaze in a fiery cloak of colours, from russet red to lightning gold.  

However, the steam train only operates between April and October. If you want to see the Hogwarts Express it’s best to aim for the beginning or end of the season. By visiting in the shoulder season, you’ll avoid the majority of tourists and there’ll be less biting midges to bother you whilst you wait. You’ll also be minimising your personal footprint. Check the the West Coast Railway Timetable before you go to make sure that the train is running. 

Sustainability tip: Visiting in the off-season helps to reduce your individual footprint. But why exactly is off season travel so great?
✔️ You’ll get the sights all to yourself. The prettiest views, best photos, and a sense calm without all the crowds
✔️ You help support local businesses year-round allowing them to thrive
✔️ You lower your impact. Spreading out the number of tourists more evenly throughout the year stops land and footpath erosion, litter problems, traffic congestion and more!
✔️ And for those familiar with Scotland, need I say more than NO MIDGES. Its heaven.

Nearby Harry Potter Locations

Watching the iconic train is regularly on a Scottish bucket list but there are other Harry Potter filming locations nearby too. The dramatic scenery provides the perfect backdrop for Hogwarts and the time students spend outside. 

Most people will start making their way back down the slope as the Hogwarts Express steams out of sight. They’ll pile back into their cars, vans, and minibuses as soon as they’ve got that perfect shot. But Potter fans (or anyone who loves pretty scenery) might want to hang around…

Loch Shiel

The Black Lake is portrayed by many lakes, one of which is Loch Shiel. This lake features in many Harry Potter scenes where Hogwarts is superimposed in front of the dark hill on the right-hand side. The Triwizard tournament took place here and Harry had his existential crisis on the spot exactly where I’m sitting. 

You can visit Loch Shiel during your visit to Glenfinnan Viaduct. Head up the path to the side of the visitor’s centre for stunning loch views, or cross the road and walk away from the car park to enjoy a stroll on the shore. 

Steall Falls

Shadowed by the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, this breathtaking waterfall is the second highest in Britain at 120 metres. It can be seen in the background of scenes where the students of Hogwarts are playing Quidditch matches and the waterfall is also the place where Harry takes on the Hungarian Horntail dragon in the Goblet of Fire. 

There’s a lovely 2-mile walk over well-signposted pathways if you want to get up close – it’s a wonderful way to while away an afternoon. 

Rannoch Moor

Rannoch Moor is the place where Death Eaters board the train in the Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 1. You’ll see this bleak, flat scenery as you’re taking the West Highland Line from Glasgow to Fort William. 

A popular weekend activity in Scotland is to take the train and get off at Rannoch, a small station in the middle of nowhere, to go hiking. After a night’s wild camping, you can get the train back to Glasgow or Edinburgh the next day.

Glen Coe

Glen Coe Valley featured heavily on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as the backdrop to Hagrid’s Hut and Care of Magical Creatures scenes. It’s also the place where Hermione Granger famously punched Draco Malfoy in the face (one of my favourite scenes in the entire franchise)

You’ll most likely pass through Glen Coe Valley on the way up to Fort William and Glenfinnan. Although Hagrid’s Hut and the rest of the set is packed up (probably at the Warner Bros Studio Tour in London) you can still stretch your legs and enjoy a stroll through this stunning scenery. 

Will you be visiting Glenfinnan Viaduct to see the Hogwarts Express? Let us know your thoughts below! Always happy to help you plan your trip. 

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Alice is a UK travel blogger who advocates sustainable travel and being more eco-conscious on a budget. She loves coffee, her houseplants and summiting mountains.

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