Are you a Harry Potter fan looking to experience a bit of magic in real life? Look no further than the Glenfinnan Viaduct, a stunning railway arch bridge located in the Scottish Highlands. Famously featured in the Harry Potter films as part of the Hogwarts Express route, the viaduct has become a bucket list destination for fans from around the world. I have been a huge Harry Potter lover since I was a kid, so this was absolutely a once in a lifetime experience!
But seeing the Glenfinnan Viaduct Harry Potter Train cross the viaduct isn’t just for Potterheads. The sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and lochs make this a memorable experience for anyone. Here’s everything you need to know about planning a visit to the Glenfinnan Viaduct and seeing the Harry Potter train in action.
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The History & Magic of the Glenfinnan Viaduct
The Glenfinnan Viaduct was built in the late 19th century and is a masterpiece of Victorian engineering, with its 21 arches and towering structure reaching a height of 100 feet. The construction of the viaduct was a huge engineering feat of its time and the surrounding landscape adds to the beauty of the structure. Today, the viaduct remains an important part of the rail network in Scotland, with several passenger trains crossing daily.
But what makes the Glenfinnan Viaduct so special is not just its impressive engineering, but also the magical ambiance that surrounds it. The viaduct has been featured in numerous films and TV shows, most notably in the Harry Potter series, where it serves as the route for the legendary Hogwarts Express. With its stunning natural surroundings and rich history, it’s no surprise that the Glenfinnan Viaduct Harry Potter Train has become one of Scotland’s top tourist destinations.
The Harry Potter Connection: Why the Viaduct is Famous
The Glenfinnan Viaduct gained worldwide fame thanks to its prominent role in the Harry Potter film franchise. It was featured in several of the movies as the route for the Hogwarts Express, which transported the young wizards and witches to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The most iconic scene was in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” where the Hogwarts Express is shown crossing the viaduct as Harry and Ron fly above in a magical car. The scene has become one of the most beloved in the series, and the viaduct has become a must-see destination for Potterheads around the world.
But the Harry Potter connection is not the only reason the Glenfinnan Viaduct is famous. The viaduct has a rich history and played a significant role in Scotland’s past. During the Jacobite uprising of 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard at Loch Shiel, and the Glenfinnan Monument was erected to commemorate the event. Today, visitors can see the monument and learn about the Jacobite Rebellion at the visitor center. With its mix of history and pop culture, the Glenfinnan Viaduct is a truly unique place.
When to Visit the Glenfinnan Viaduct
When planning a visit to the Glenfinnan Viaduct, it’s important to consider the weather and time of year. Scotland is known for its unpredictable weather, so it’s best to be prepared for any type of conditions.
The peak season for tourists is typically during the summer months, from June to August, when the weather is the warmest and driest. However, this also means that it can be very crowded and busy, making it difficult to fully enjoy the experience.
If you’re looking for a quieter and more affordable time to visit, consider going in the shoulder seasons of spring or fall. The scenery is still beautiful, and there are fewer crowds to contend with. Just be aware that the weather can be more unpredictable during these times, so bring appropriate clothing and gear. We went in April and although it was a bit rainy, I’d still highly recommend this time of year. There were crowds, but it was very manageable and we had good weather the vast majority of our time in Scotland. The exception, of course, was the rain while visiting the Glenfinnan Viaduct Harry Potter Train…but it was still a magical experience!
One thing to keep in mind are the midges, small flying insects that can be a big nuisance during the warmer months. They are especially prevalent in the evenings and early mornings, so be sure to pack insect repellent if you plan on visiting during these times.
How to get to the Glenfinnan Viaduct
To get to the Glenfinnan Viaduct, you’ll need to make your way to the town of Glenfinnan in the Scottish Highlands. If you’re driving, there’s a car park near the viaduct that’s a short walk away. Keep in mind that the car park can get crowded during peak season (and even during shoulder season!), so it’s best to arrive early or plan to park further away and walk.
If you’re taking public transportation, there are several options available. The nearest train station is in Glenfinnan, and from there it’s a short walk to the viaduct. Alternatively, you can take a bus from Fort William, which runs several times a day. Another option is to take a tour that includes a stop at the viaduct, which can be a convenient way to see the sights without worrying about transportation.
What to Expect
Visiting the Glenfinnan Viaduct Harry Potter Train is a unique experience that combines natural beauty, history, and the magic of Harry Potter. The viewpoint is located just off the main road, and visitors can park their car and walk a short distance to reach the viewpoint. The walk itself is relatively easy, but there is a modest incline towards the end, so be sure to wear appropriate footwear. It can also get incredibly muddy if there has been rain, so prepare accordingly! We definitely saw some groups slipping and sliding through the muck!
Once you reach the viewpoint, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the viaduct and the surrounding landscape. Standing at the viewpoint and watching the Jacobite steam train (aka Hogwarts Express) cross the viaduct is a magical experience that transports you straight into the wizarding world.
What Time to See the Glenfinnan Viaduct Harry Potter Train
The Jacobite Steam Engine passes over the Glenfinnan Viaduct twice a day during the peak tourist season (May to October) and once a day during April. The train runs back and forth between Fort William and Mallaig, and follows the West Coast Railways Schedule. Even if you are visiting in the winter or off-schedule for trains, I’d still recommend stopping by for a visit – it is a beautiful location.
If you want to see the train crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct, it’s important to plan your visit accordingly. The Jacobite Express crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct around 10:45am and 3:45pm each day. The train runs on a strict schedule, so make sure to arrive at your chosen viewpoint at least an hour before the train’s scheduled arrival time – you definitely don’t want to miss it or feel rushed! However, I would absolutely recommend checking the schedule in advance – confirm there are no strikes, train delays, or other reasons why the schedule may be delayed.
How to Get the Best Pictures of the Viaduct and Train
Getting the best pictures of the Glenfinnan Viaduct Harry Potter train is a top priority for many visitors. The scenic landscape and the iconic train passing through the viaduct offer a perfect opportunity for stunning photography. Here are some tips for capturing the perfect shot:
- Get there early: If you want to get the best shot, you need to arrive early. As I mentioned earlier, the parking lot fills up quickly, and people start gathering around the viewpoints at least an hour before the train comes. Arriving early will give you enough time to scout out the perfect spot and set up your equipment.
- Use a tripod: A tripod is essential for taking sharp and stable shots. Since the train moves quickly, you need to keep your camera steady to capture a sharp image. A tripod will help you to keep your camera steady and will reduce camera shake. I use this tripod, which is light and designed for travel.
- Timing is everything: The train only crosses the viaduct a few times a day, so make sure you know the schedule and plan accordingly. Be prepared to arrive at your chosen viewpoint well in advance.
- Consider the weather: The weather can have a big impact on your photos. Overcast days can provide a more dramatic backdrop, while sunny days can create harsh shadows. Be prepared for any weather conditions and adjust your camera settings accordingly.
- Experiment with different angles: Don’t just shoot from the same angle as everyone else. Try different angles, perspectives, and compositions to create a unique shot. You can also experiment with different lenses to capture different aspects of the viaduct and the landscape while you’re waiting for the train.
- What to do if it rains with your camera: It’s important to protect your camera from the rain to avoid damage to your equipment. One way to do this is to use a rain cover for your camera or to keep it in a waterproof camera bag. Additionally, bring lens wipes to clean your lens if it gets wet. It ended up pouring down rain while we were there, so we shared our lens wipes with a few unprepared photographers! I keep a little camera lens cleaning kit on hand for emergencies!
- Avoid a foggy lens: Keep a close eye on your lens and prevent camera fog, which can occur when it is rainy and you hold your camera close to your body (under your jacket). The heat and moisture can cause the lens to get foggy, which is the last thing you need when trying to snag a picture of the Glenfinnan Viaduct Harry Potter train! Again, a small microfiber cloth will come in handy here.
By following these tips and tricks, you can capture the magic and beauty of the Glenfinnan Viaduct in your photos. Remember, the key to great photography is practice, experimentation, and creativity. Don’t be afraid to try something new and to push the boundaries of your photography skills.
What Else to See at Glenfinnan Viaduct
Keep in mind that visiting isn’t only about the Glenfinnan Viaduct Harry Potter train! When you visit the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct, don’t miss the chance to spend a little time beneath this architectural marvel. The view from below accentuates the intricate details of this historic structure, and it’s an excellent opportunity to grasp the true scale of the viaduct.
There are also a number of hikes you can take in the area, but with our rainy weather, we opted to not explore further.
Other Things to Do in the Area: Exploring Glenfinnan and Nearby Attractions
While the Glenfinnan Viaduct Harry Potter Train is a must-see attraction, there are many other things to do in the area. I’ve laid out some other options below, as well as their locations on an interactive map.
- Inverlochy Castle Hotel High Tea: Indulge in a touch of elegance with high tea at the Inverlochy Castle Hotel, a splendid experience amidst Scottish grandeur. We actually stayed here (because who wouldn’t want to stay in a castle?!) and I would absolutely recommend it!
- Saint Mary & Saint Finnan Church: Explore a charming sanctuary overlooking Loch Shiel.
- Old Boat of Caol: Discover Scotland’s most photogenic shipwreck, lying just outside the town of Fort William.
- Meal at Ben Nevis Inn: Savor a delightful meal with a view at Ben Nevis Inn, nestled at the foot of a beautiful mountain. Keep in mind that this place fills up pretty fast, so I’d recommend making a reservation in advance. If you’re feeling particularly athletic, join a group hike up Ben Nevis Mountain for stunning views of the area.
- Downtown Fort William: Wander through the vibrant streets of downtown Fort William, where you’ll find quaint shops, local eateries, and a welcoming Highland atmosphere. If you have time, try and squeeze in a quick walking tour with a local!
- Glenfinnan Monument: Climb a tower located at the head of Loch Shiel, which commemorates the Jacobite Rising of 1745. It’s worth the climb to the top for stunning views.
- Glenfinnan Station Museum: Step back in history and uncover the story of the West Highland Line and the surrounding area.
Where to Stay Near the Glenfinnan Viaduct
After seeing the legendary Glenfinnan Viaduct Harry Potter train and exploring the nearby attractions, you’ll need a nice place to lay your head. Here are a couple of my recommendations:
Inverlochy Castle Hotel: Staying at Inverlochy Castle Hotel is my highest recommendation because you can literally sleep in this stunning castle! It is a bit of a splurge, but I loved it and still cannot believe I got to sleep in a castle and partake in high tea!
Torlinnhe Guest House: This hotel is located just a bit outside of Fort William, so you are close to downtown, but can enjoy the tranquility and beautiful views of the loch.
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