Did you know that the Glenfinnan Viaduct attracts more than 300,000 visitors every year?
Not surprising as it’s easily one of Scotland’s most mesmerising places to visit!
Like most people, we knew the viaduct as the Harry Potter viaduct or Harry Potter train bridge, for its regular features throughout the series.
We couldn’t wait to visit on our journey through Scotland.
And in the end, it turned out to be even more epic and magical than we could have imagined!
We were able to experience the viaduct both from the outside, and from within the train, when we rode the Jacobite train from Fort William to Mallaig.
Below I’ll take you through everything you need to know about the Glenfinnan Viaduct, right through from the best times to visit and how to get the best photos.
First up ...
This epic bridge is situated just 30 minutes outside of Fort William, on Scotland's western coast.
Here is the location on Google Maps.
You have a few different ways to get here, including:
It gets SUPER busy at the viaduct.
One of the reasons we captured such incredible photos with no one was around was because we visited in October 2020 when most of the world was in some form of lockdown and there were far fewer visitors.
But in regular years, this site receives more than 300,000 people!
And Glenfinnan is absolutely tiny, with car parking for only a few dozen cars at a time.
This means that finding somewhere to park (especially if you are in a campervan) is almost impossible unless you get there very early.
The Glenfinnan exhibition centre (managed by the National Trust for Scotland) is trying to expand car parking.
However, due to Covid, the Trust had to scrap their plans.
One upside is that locals are funding a project to expand parking at this time and it was being built when we visited in 2020, so hopefully 2021 onwards might have more amenities for cars.
In peak summer months, supervisors there told us that they get as many as 4,000 people a day and parking there simply is not possible.
Especially for motorhomes, which are not allowed to use their car park.
So your best bet is to either get there very early, take a coach trip from Fort William or maybe wild camp somewhere and walk to Glenfinnan and back.
If like us, you’re a big Harry Potter nerd, then the reason you want to visit the viaduct so much is because you’ve seen it throughout the movie series.
Well, it is indeed featured quite a few times, notably:
If you know any more, drop me a comment below!
In the popular summer months, the Jacobite train runs twice a day from Fort William to Mallaig and back again.
Giving you 4 opportunities to witness it passing over the bridge.
In the off-season, there is only the morning service, and this stops at the end of October.
Also bear in mind that these exact times will differ if there are delays to the service.
For up-to-date train times for the Jacobite train, you can check out the West Coast Railways official website here.
There are two main viewpoint areas at the Glenfinnan visitor centre.
The closest to the centre is a quick 5 minute walk up behind the centre where you get more of a front-facing view of the Viaduct curving the whole way around.
The other is a 10 minute walk from the centre, and goes closer to the Viaduct, giving you a view of it from side on.
We opted for the side-on viewpoint and the angle here is perfect for getting uninterrupted shots, even if there are dozens of others around getting pictures.
The hillside here has different stop off points the whole way up, each offering good views; but the best are at the very top of the hill.
To get a decent spot here, you should aim to get to the viaduct at least half an hour before the train arrives.
Also, once it’s departed it’s worth hanging around for 15 minutes until most other people have left.
It’s a really photogenic spot even without the train passing over.
However, the best way to photograph the Harry potter train passing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct is by drone ...
The first thing you’ll notice when you get there is that there are quite a few signs saying that you cannot fly a drone here.
However, on every sign there is a number for a guy called Alistair.
This is the estate manager for the land located all around the Viaduct and he lives in the house just below the bridge (there is only one house there).
When you call him up, he comes out to you and basically charges you £10 to fly the drone here and give you his “permission”.
It is very obvious that he has no real legal right to do this and they even attempt to make it all the more formal by having special receipts drawn up for the exact purpose of flying a drone.
To be honest, when he asked I was perfectly happy to pay £10 and avoid any particular upsets in order to fly the drone (the train was due in 2 minutes haha!).
When I called the number I thought I was calling a company called Allstar and figured they must own the contracting rights to maintaining the bridge, and use CCTV or something!
Ultimately, there is absolutely nothing Alistair could do if you arrive and just choose to fly your drone up.
Even if he did want to say anything to you, your drone would be up and back down again before he had any time to do anything.
Also, he seems to have very little in the way of a legal right to stop you; so looking back if I had researched the situation beforehand I would have just gone up the hill and just as I heard the train coming round the corner stuck the drone up, took our pictures and video and brought it back down again.
One rule you should follow is not to fly too close to the bridge itself or interfere in any way with the passing of the train (i.e. flying too close to it as it passes).
I can easily imagine that they will find some sort of legal basis to ban travel drones if there are dozens of drones up at a time in the busy months and they start becoming a nuisance.
So just be considerate of others around you and of the train and you should be fine.
You can check out a full rundown of Scotland’s actual drone laws here.
By the way, Alistair drives the green 4x4, and there is only one road in and out of the property so it’s hard to miss him coming.
For a full rundown of how to take better travel photos, check out our guide on travel photography tips.
By far the best way to experience the viaduct is to ride the Harry Potter Hogwarts Express over the viaduct.
**P.S it’s worth noting that the Jacobite isn’t the actual Hogwarts Express. As of writing it’s out of service and on lease to Warner Brothers at the Harry Potter Studios in London.
Either way, riding the Jacobite is an incredible experience and one that we loved!
Cazzy actually put together a full guide on how to ride the Jacobite, so it’s best to check that out.
But for a shortened version of that post, here is my opinion …
The issue is that other than first-class seating, the carriages in the Jacobite aren’t particularly pleasant.
Just my opinion ...
Once you’re done enjoying the Glenfinnan Viaduct train, you can take time to enjoy the rest of what this part of Scotland offers, including ...
This is a wonderful monument standing proud at the very tip of Loch Shiel.
Its presence there dates back to 1745 when the local tribes rose up and fought alongside Prince Charles Edward Stuart who believed he had a better claim to the English throne.
It’s a wonderful monument located at a truly remarkable spot, plus it’s just 2 minutes walk before the car park.
To learn more about the Jacobite Rising, you can check out the exhibit, located in the Glenfinnan visitor centre.
They also have a cafe here and a gift shop with plenty of Harry Potter merch!
We absolutely loved wild camping in Scotland, and there are a few really nice spots not far from Glenfinnan.
We drove the entire area and finally settled on this location here.
It is one of the few locations with decent phone signal anywhere around, but more importantly, is right on the shores of Loch Eilt.
P.S. This Loch is featured extensively throughout the Harry Potter movies and is home to Dumbledore’s final resting place.
For more info, check out our post on Scotland’s most famous Harry Potter film locations.
It is actually quicker to drive to Mallaig than it is to take the train, despite the fact that the road follows much of the exact same route as the train.
It’s a lovely drive and the roads are in extremely good condition.
There are lots of spots along the way to pull in and take photos, and at the end you are greeted by Mallaig.
It's a charming fishing village with plenty of cafes and fish & chips shops, oh and 2 or 3 Harry Potter gift stores … just saying ...
If you’re keen to learn more about the history of the Viaduct, then you can head on round to the Glenfinnan Railway Museum.
It’s about a 10 minutes walk from the visitor centre.
They also have an old sleeper carriage that you can stay in overnight!
Visiting the Glenfinnan Viaduct really is a memorable experience.
It’s unsurprising that it’s one of Scotland’s most famous sites and must be on everyone’s bucket list when touring the country.
Hopefully, these tips have helped you in knowing when to visit and how to make the most of your time there.
If you have any other questions or have visited yourself and found this useful, just drop me a comment below!
For more local travel tips, check out these other posts on our blog: