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How To Visit The Glenfinnan Viaduct (And Photograph The Train)


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Babette Brophy



Welcome to the breathtaking world of the Glenfinnan Viaduct, one of Scotland’s most iconic landmarks. Nestled amidst the stunning beauty of the Scottish Highlands, the Glenfinnan Viaduct is a railway bridge that has captured the hearts and imaginations of visitors from around the world.


The Glenfinnan Viaduct gained global fame when it was featured in the Harry Potter movies, serving as the magical backdrop for the Hogwarts Express. This picturesque structure stands as a testament to engineering brilliance and seamlessly blends with the surrounding natural landscape.


Whether you are a fan of the wizarding world or simply a lover of stunning scenery, a visit to the Glenfinnan Viaduct is an experience You won’t want to miss. As the train traverses this magnificent structure, it creates an incredible sight that is sure to leave you in awe.


This article will guide you through everything you need to know about visiting the Glenfinnan Viaduct and capturing the train as it crosses the bridge, creating an unforgettable moment amidst the majestic Scottish Highlands.


Background on the Glenfinnan Viaduct

The Glenfinnan Viaduct is an architectural masterpiece located in the western region of the Scottish Highlands, near the village of Glenfinnan. It stretches magnificently across the Glen Finnan valley, spanning over 1,000 feet and standing at a height of 100 feet.


Constructed between 1897 and 1898, the Glenfinnan Viaduct was designed by renowned engineer Sir Robert McAlpine. The viaduct was built to connect the railway line between Fort William and Mallaig, opening up transportation routes for both passengers and goods in this remote and rugged part of Scotland.


The viaduct features 21 arches, each crafted from stunning local granite. Its design not only allowed for the railway line to pass over Glen Finnan but also seamlessly integrated with the surrounding landscape, enhancing the viaduct’s overall aesthetic appeal.


The Glenfinnan Viaduct gained significant international attention after its appearance in the Harry Potter movies. In the films, the viaduct served as a vital part of the Hogwarts Express’s journey to and from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The viaduct’s majestic presence captured the imagination of millions, making it a popular destination for Potterheads and nature enthusiasts alike.


Aside from its Hollywood fame, the Glenfinnan Viaduct plays an essential role in Scotland’s railway heritage. It continues to serve as a vital transportation link, allowing passengers to experience the beauty of the journey between Fort William and Mallaig while crossing this awe-inspiring structure.


Surrounded by breathtaking scenery, including the stunning Loch Shiel and Glenfinnan Monument, the viaduct offers a unique blend of engineering marvel and natural beauty. Its picturesque setting entices photographers, travelers, and nature lovers to behold its grandeur.


Visiting the Glenfinnan Viaduct is not only an opportunity to witness a remarkable feat of engineering but also a chance to immerse oneself in the tranquility and splendor of the Scottish Highlands.


Planning Your Visit

Before embarking on your journey to the Glenfinnan Viaduct, it’s important to plan your visit to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience. Here are some essential tips to help you make the most of your trip:

1. Check the Schedule

One of the highlights of visiting the Glenfinnan Viaduct is witnessing the passing of the Jacobite Steam Train, famously known as the Hogwarts Express. This iconic steam train operates between late April and early October, so be sure to check the schedule in advance to plan your visit accordingly. Times may vary, so it’s important to confirm the train timings before making your travel plans.

2. Choose the Right Time of Year

The Scottish Highlands experience a range of weather conditions throughout the year. If you want to capture the viaduct shrouded in mist or enjoy lush green landscapes, consider visiting during the spring or summer months. However, keep in mind that these seasons tend to be more crowded. Alternatively, autumn provides a stunning display of vibrant colors, while winter offers the possibility of a snow-covered wonderland.

3. Allocate Ample Time

When planning your visit, allocate enough time to fully soak in the beauty of the Glenfinnan Viaduct and its surroundings. Exploring the area, hiking nearby trails, or even having a picnic by the loch are all activities you might want to enjoy during your visit. Plan for at least a few hours to fully immerse yourself in the magical ambiance of this remarkable location.

4. Consider Accommodation Options

If you’re traveling from further afield, you might want to consider staying overnight in one of the nearby villages or towns. Fort William, located approximately 15 miles away, offers a range of accommodation options to suit various budgets. By staying overnight, you can experience the viaduct during different times of the day and enjoy a more relaxed visit.

5. Be Mindful of Crowds

The Glenfinnan Viaduct has become increasingly popular, and it can get crowded, especially during peak travel seasons. To avoid larger crowds, consider visiting during weekdays or arriving early in the morning. This will provide you with a better chance of finding a prime spot to capture the train’s passage or simply enjoy the awe-inspiring scenery without distractions.


By taking these planning factors into account, you can ensure a memorable and fulfilling visit to the Glenfinnan Viaduct, immersing yourself in the enchanting atmosphere of this iconic Scottish landmark.


Getting to the Glenfinnan Viaduct

Reaching the Glenfinnan Viaduct is an adventure in itself, offering various transportation options to suit different preferences. Here are some common ways to get to this breathtaking location:

1. Car

If you prefer the convenience of driving, renting a car provides flexibility and allows you to explore the surrounding area at your own pace. From Fort William, take the A830 road westbound towards Mallaig. Look for signposts directing you to the Glenfinnan Visitor Center, where you can park your car and access the viaduct via a short walk.

2. Train

If you’re looking to fully immerse yourself in the magical experience, consider taking a train to the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Regular train services operate between Fort William and Mallaig, passing over the viaduct itself. By taking the train, you can witness the stunning scenery leading up to the viaduct and marvel at the engineering marvel up close.

3. Bus

Another option is to take a bus to the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Local bus services run from Fort William to Glenfinnan, with stops near the viaduct itself. This is a convenient and cost-effective option if you prefer not to drive or take the train.

4. Guided Tours

If you prefer a hassle-free experience and want to learn more about the history and significance of the Glenfinnan Viaduct, joining a guided tour can be a great option. Several tour operators offer guided tours from Fort William, providing informative commentary and ensuring you don’t miss any of the highlights.


Regardless of the transportation method you choose, be sure to plan your journey well in advance. Check the train or bus schedules, and consider making reservations if necessary. Additionally, be aware that parking at the location can be limited during peak times, so arriving early is advisable.


Whichever way you choose to travel, the journey to the Glenfinnan Viaduct will not disappoint. As you approach the viaduct, the anticipation builds, and the sight of the magnificent structure amidst the stunning Scottish Highlands takes your breath away.


Best Time to Visit

The Glenfinnan Viaduct is a stunning sight to behold at any time of year, each season offering its own unique charm. However, there are certain times that can enhance your experience and provide you with the best opportunities for capturing that perfect photograph:

1. Spring (April – June)

Spring is a beautiful time to visit the Glenfinnan Viaduct. The surrounding landscape comes alive with lush greenery, and the hills are often dotted with colorful wildflowers. The mild temperatures and longer days make it a pleasant time to explore the area and take in the tranquil beauty of this remote location.

2. Summer (July – August)

Summer is the peak tourist season in Scotland, and the Glenfinnan Viaduct can get quite busy. However, the longer daylight hours and warmer weather provide ample opportunities to capture the viaduct in all its glory. You can also take advantage of the clear skies for stunning sunset or sunrise shots, as the soft light casts a beautiful glow on the landscape.

3. Autumn (September – November)

Autumn brings a breathtaking display of colors to the Scottish Highlands, making it a photographer’s dream. The hills and trees surrounding the Glenfinnan Viaduct are transformed into a tapestry of rich reds, vibrant oranges, and golden hues. The autumnal colors create a stunning contrast against the viaduct’s gray granite, offering endless opportunities for capturing truly mesmerizing photographs.

4. Winter (December – February)

Winter transforms the Glenfinnan Viaduct into a winter wonderland, with snow-capped peaks and frozen landscapes. The viaduct takes on a whole new level of beauty in this season, with the starkness of its architecture juxtaposed against the white snow. While the weather can be harsh and unpredictable, the serene and magical atmosphere make it a captivating time to visit, provided you are prepared for the cold conditions.


Ultimately, the best time to visit the Glenfinnan Viaduct depends on your personal preferences and the type of photographs you wish to capture. No matter when you choose to visit, remember to dress appropriately for the weather and allow yourself enough time to fully appreciate the awe-inspiring beauty of this remarkable structure amidst the stunning Scottish Highlands.


Capturing the Train on Camera

Photographing the train as it crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct is a dream for many visitors. To capture that perfect shot, here are some tips to keep in mind:

1. Scout the Location

Before the train arrives, take some time to explore the area and find the best vantage points for your photographs. Consider different angles and compositions that highlight the grandeur of the viaduct and the surrounding landscape. You may want to explore the area during different times of the day to see how the light changes and affects your photos.

2. Timing is Key

To capture the train crossing the viaduct, timing is crucial. Check the train schedule in advance and arrive at least 30 minutes early to secure a good spot. This will give you enough time to set up your equipment and find the perfect position to capture the train as it makes its way across the iconic bridge.

3. Use a Fast Shutter Speed

To freeze the motion of the train and capture a sharp image, use a fast shutter speed. Start with a speed of around 1/1000th of a second and adjust accordingly. This will ensure that your image is crisp and clear, even as the train moves swiftly over the viaduct.

4. Experiment with Different Lenses

Try using different lenses to capture various perspectives of the Glenfinnan Viaduct and the train. A wide-angle lens can capture the expansive landscape and the train in the distance, while a telephoto lens can bring you closer to the action, highlighting the details of the train and the viaduct itself. Be creative and experiment with different focal lengths to add variety to your shots.

5. Consider the Weather and Lighting

The weather and lighting conditions can significantly impact the mood and quality of your photographs. Overcast skies can create a more dramatic atmosphere, while sunny conditions can provide vibrant colors and contrast. Experiment with different lighting conditions and adapt your camera settings accordingly to capture the desired effect.

6. Patience and Perseverance

Photographing the train on the Glenfinnan Viaduct requires patience and perseverance. Trains often run on time, but there can be occasional delays. Do not get discouraged if you miss a shot or the weather doesn’t cooperate. Take your time, enjoy the experience, and keep trying until you capture that perfect moment.


Remember, while capturing the train on camera is a thrilling experience, don’t forget to take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the Glenfinnan Viaduct with your own eyes. Immerse yourself in the stunning scenery and create lasting memories that go beyond the photographs you take.


Tips for Photographing the Glenfinnan Viaduct

Photographing the Glenfinnan Viaduct can be a challenging yet rewarding experience. Here are some tips to help you capture stunning images of this iconic Scottish landmark:

1. Find a Unique Perspective

While the Glenfinnan Viaduct is undeniably picturesque, try to find a unique angle or perspective to make your photographs stand out. Experiment with different viewpoints, such as shooting from a lower or higher vantage point, or incorporating elements of the surrounding landscape to add depth and interest to your images.

2. Include Leading Lines

Leading lines can guide the viewer’s eye and create a sense of depth in your photographs. Use the arches of the viaduct or the tracks leading towards the bridge to draw attention towards the main subject. This technique can enhance the composition and make your images more visually engaging.

3. Utilize the Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a fundamental principle in photography. Imagine a grid dividing your image into nine equal parts and position the main elements of your shot along these lines or at the points where they intersect. This technique can help create a well-balanced composition and make your images more visually appealing.

4. Experiment with Long Exposures

Long exposures can add a sense of motion and drama to your photographs. Consider capturing the train as it crosses the viaduct using a long exposure to create a beautiful blur effect in the moving train. This technique can add a dynamic element to your images and evoke a sense of energy and movement.

5. Capture the Surrounding Landscape

While the viaduct is a magnificent structure, don’t forget to capture the breathtaking beauty of the surrounding landscape. Include elements such as the rolling hills, the glistening Loch Shiel, or the majestic mountains in your composition to provide a sense of place and context to your images.

6. Be Mindful of Lighting

Lighting can make or break a photograph. Aim to shoot during the golden hours, which are the hours shortly after sunrise and before sunset, as the soft, warm light can enhance the colors and create a magical atmosphere. Avoid harsh midday sunlight, as it can lead to harsh shadows and high contrast.

7. Take Advantage of the Weather

The Scottish weather is famously unpredictable, but don’t let that discourage you. Embrace the moody atmosphere that fog, mist, or rain can bring to your images. These conditions can add a sense of mystery and drama to your photographs, creating a truly captivating result.

8. Don’t Forget the Details

While capturing the grandeur of the Glenfinnan Viaduct is important, don’t overlook the smaller details that make this structure unique. Focus on capturing close-up shots of the intricate stonework, the textures, or the details of the train itself to add a layer of depth and storytelling to your portfolio.


Remember, these tips serve as guidelines, but don’t be afraid to experiment and develop your own creative style. The key is to enjoy the process and let your passion for photography shine through.


Etiquette and Safety Guidelines

When visiting the Glenfinnan Viaduct, it’s important to be mindful of the surroundings and ensure the safety and respect of both the environment and fellow visitors. Here are some etiquette and safety guidelines to adhere to:

1. Stay on Designated Paths

To preserve the natural beauty of the area and protect the fragile ecosystem, it’s crucial to stay on designated paths and trails. Respecting signage and barriers helps to prevent inadvertent damage to the vegetation and ensures the safety of both yourself and others.

2. Respect Private Property

While the viaduct itself is a public structure, it’s important to respect any nearby private property. Avoid accessing restricted areas, and be considerate of local residents by not trespassing on their land or causing any disturbance.

3. Keep Noise to a Minimum

To preserve the tranquility of the Glenfinnan Viaduct and its surroundings, keep noise levels to a minimum. Loud conversations or music can disrupt the experience for others and disturb the wildlife in the area.

4. Leave No Trace

Leave the Glenfinnan Viaduct and its surrounding area as you found it. Dispose of any waste responsibly, and refrain from leaving behind any litter. Take everything with you, including any food packaging or wrappers, to maintain the pristine beauty of this natural space for future visitors.

5. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

The Glenfinnan Viaduct is a popular destination, and there may be other visitors seeking to enjoy the same experience. Be mindful of their presence and courteous in sharing viewpoints and photo opportunities. Avoid blocking paths or obstructing views, and be patient and respectful of others’ enjoyment of the area.

6. Observe Safety Precautions

When photographing the Glenfinnan Viaduct, it’s crucial to prioritize safety. Be aware of your surroundings, especially when capturing shots near the railway tracks. Never venture onto the tracks, as they are actively used by trains. Pay attention to warning signs and follow any instructions provided to ensure your own safety and that of others.

7. Familiarize Yourself with Railway Schedules

If you plan to capture the train crossing the viaduct, familiarize yourself with the railway schedules to avoid any potential conflicts. Be aware of the times when trains are expected to pass, and position yourself in a safe location away from the tracks to capture your photographs without endangering yourself or others.


By adhering to these etiquette and safety guidelines, you can contribute to the preservation of the Glenfinnan Viaduct and its surroundings, ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone.


Nearby Attractions and Activities

When visiting the Glenfinnan Viaduct, you’ll discover that the surrounding area is filled with a plethora of attractions and activities to enhance your trip. Here are some nearby attractions that you should consider exploring:

1. Glenfinnan Monument

Located just a short walk from the viaduct, the Glenfinnan Monument is an iconic landmark commemorating the Jacobite Rising of 1745. Take a stroll to this historic site and learn about the rich history and significance it holds. The monument stands tall overlooking Loch Shiel, providing a stunning backdrop for photographs.

2. Loch Shiel

Surrounded by magnificent scenery, Loch Shiel is a picturesque freshwater loch that stretches for over 17 miles. Enjoy a leisurely boat trip along the loch to appreciate the breathtaking landscapes and spot wildlife such as eagles, otters, and deer. Whether you choose to explore by kayak or join a guided tour, Loch Shiel offers a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

3. Glenfinnan Visitor Centre

Make a stop at the Glenfinnan Visitor Centre, where you can delve into the fascinating history and natural heritage of the area. The center provides informative displays, interactive exhibits, and stunning views overlooking the viaduct. It also offers a gift shop and a café, making it an ideal place to relax and refuel before or after your visit to the viaduct.

4. Jacobite Steam Train Experience

Immerse yourself in the magic of the Harry Potter movies by taking a ride on the Jacobite Steam Train. This enchanting journey takes you across the Glenfinnan Viaduct and offers breathtaking views of the Scottish countryside. Known as the “Hogwarts Express,” this experience is a must for Harry Potter fans and railway enthusiasts alike.

5. Hiking and Nature Trails

The Glenfinnan Viaduct is surrounded by stunning natural beauty, offering numerous hiking and nature trails to explore. Enjoy leisurely walks along Loch Shiel or embark on more challenging hikes to nearby peaks, such as the famous “Munro,” Ben Nevis. These trails allow you to fully appreciate the remarkable landscapes and capture breathtaking vistas along the way.

6. Local Cuisine and Pubs

Indulge in traditional Scottish cuisine and experience the warm hospitality of the local establishments near the viaduct. Treat yourself to a hearty meal at one of the local pubs, where you can savor dishes like haggis, fish and chips, or Scotch beef. Pair your meal with a pint of locally brewed beer or a dram of fine Scotch whisky, and immerse yourself in the vibrant culture of the Scottish Highlands.


From historical sites to outdoor adventures and culinary delights, the Glenfinnan Viaduct and its surrounding area offer a wide range of attractions and activities to suit every interest. Take the time to explore these nearby treasures, and create unforgettable memories during your visit to this remarkable part of Scotland.



Visiting the Glenfinnan Viaduct is a truly magical experience that combines the beauty of nature with the awe-inspiring architecture of this iconic landmark. Whether you are a fan of the Harry Potter movies or simply drawn to the stunning scenery of the Scottish Highlands, the viaduct offers something for everyone. From capturing the train as it crosses the bridge to immersing yourself in the rich history and natural beauty of the surrounding area, there’s no shortage of adventures to be had.


By planning your visit, understanding the best times to go, and following photography tips, you can ensure that your journey to the Glenfinnan Viaduct is fulfilling and memorable. Remember to be respectful of the environment, fellow visitors, and adhere to safety guidelines to preserve the beauty of this remarkable location for future generations.


Don’t forget to explore the nearby attractions and activities, such as the Glenfinnan Monument, Loch Shiel, and the Jacobite Steam Train experience. These additional experiences will further enrich your visit and provide a deeper understanding of the rich history and natural heritage of the area.


So, whether you’re an avid photographer, a nature enthusiast, or simply someone seeking a sense of wonder and adventure, the Glenfinnan Viaduct awaits you. Prepare to be captivated by the breathtaking scenery, the architectural marvel of the viaduct, and the sense of magic that envelops this exceptional corner of Scotland.