Even if you have never heard of the Glenfinnan Viaduct, it may be familiar to you. You may well have seen the ‘Hogwarts Express’ (or Harry Potter steam train) go over it in four of the Harry Potter films. You may well have also seen that same viaduct in The Crown and other UK TV series like Monarch of the Glen.
Well, why not read on and find out how you can see it in person:
What is the Glenfinnan Viaduct?
A viaduct is a type of bridge that consists of a series of arches, piers or columns supporting a long, elevated railway or road. Typically, a viaduct connects two points of roughly the same elevation, allowing direct travel across a wide valley or river.
Constructed in the 1890s, the Glenfinnan viaduct is 380m long (making it the longest concrete railway bridge in Scotland), has 21 arches, and crosses the River Finnan at a height of about 30m. It is still in use today and forms part of the 164-mile-long scenic West Highland Line on the Mallaig section of the line.
Where is the best place to see the Glenfinnan Viaduct?
Go to the aptly named Glenfinnan viaduct viewpoint – although beware, there is more than one viewpoint and there is no defined spot (just areas along and near pathways to stop and take in the view).
Where is the Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint and how do I get there?
The Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoints are a short walk from the Glenfinnan Monument & Visitor Centre (enter PH37 4LT into your SatNav) which is a 30-minute drive from Fort William. See ‘How do I get to the Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint trail?’ below for further details.
Where should I park for the Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint?
There is a car park at the Glenfinnan Monument & Visitor Centre. It currently costs £3.50 for cars to park at the car park and £6 for motorhomes (assuming the ticket machines are working and/or the visitor centre is open – they were not when we visited). See here for further details.
What are the Glenfinnan Viaduct train times and when should I arrive?
The Jacobite steam train usually travels over the Glenfinnan Viaduct at 10:45 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. every day the service is running (please see ‘Can I ride the Jacobite steam train?’ below for further details on when the train runs).
We recommend giving yourself plenty of time to park and get to a viewpoint (up to an hour in peak Summer months). The car park closes when it is full, and as you can imagine this is a popular tourist attraction.
How do I get to the Glenfinnan Viaduct viewpoint?
There are a few options if you type ‘Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint’ into Google Maps. However, these are the two main viewpoints:
The first option is the viewpoint behind the Visitor Centre. After you park in the car park head past the Visitor Centre itself and follow the path to the Viewpoint. It is a relatively short, partially paved walk and good for those with mobility issues. It is worth walking through some of the bushes to find a better view if you can. The view here is spectacular (you get a very good view of the entire valley) but is quite a distance from the viaduct itself so worth bringing your binoculars or a large photo lens to get a good view of the train as it passes.
The second option involves a 15- to 30-minute walk:
- If you are in the main car park, head towards the overflow car park by walking out onto the main road and turning right (if you are in the overflow car park go to Step 3).
- Walk towards the road bridge until you reach the entrance to the overflow car park.
- There is a tarmac track in the rear left of the overflow car park. Follow it.
- Keep on the path for 10-15 minutes (you will walk past some farm buildings on the right).
- Eventually, you will see the Viaduct arches.
- Take a left at the green signpost marked ‘Viaduct Trail and Viewpoints’.
- You will reach a fork of two rocky trails next to a tourist information sign. Take the right fork which goes underneath the arches of the viaduct.
- Go through the gate and follow the track up towards the hill. Beware, the path is uneven and rocky in places.
- Find your spot on the hill or go through the bushes to find the angle you want.
Once you are done, head back the way you came.
Will I get a good view of the Jacobite steam train?
Whilst it can be very busy (there are lots of tourists wanting a glimpse of the Harry Potter train in Scotland), you should be able to get a good view of the Jacobite steam train and the viaduct. There’s plenty of space for everyone to spread out. As mentioned above, the view from the viewpoint closest to the Visitor Centre is a distance from the viaduct and you may well need some binoculars!
Please note that it takes between one and two minutes for the train to pass over the viaduct (you should hear the train before you see it), so make sure you have your cameras (or iPhones) ready.
Can I ride the Jacobite steam train?
Yes, you can ride the Jacobite steam train.
Please note the following:
- The service runs between Fort William and Mallaig
- It is a return trip. One-way tickets are not available.
- The train journey itself takes around 2 hours each way.
- The train service only runs for part of the year.
- In 2023, the morning service will run from 3 April to 27 October and the afternoon service will run from 1 May to 29 September.
- Only one train departs Fort William in each of the morning and afternoon services.
- In 2023, an adult day return costs £89 (first class) or £57 (standard)
- In 2023, a child (16 or under) day return costs £63 (first class) or £33 (standard)
- Tickets are only valid for the date and times stated on them.
- Book early to avoid disappointment.
Further details, and an option to book tickets can be found on the West Coast Railways website.
What can I see in Glenfinnan after I’ve seen the Jacobite steam train?
Please note that Glenfinnan is a hamlet – there isn’t huge amount to do, but whilst you are there:
Go to the Glenfinnan Monument on the banks of Loch Shiel opposite the Visitor Centre. This is where 1,200 Highlanders gathered to pledge their allegiance to Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) ahead of the Jacobite rising of 1745. You can climb to the top of this monument and stand beside the lone Highlander for a unique panoramic view. In 2023, entry to the Monument cost £5.50 per adult, and £4 per child (there are concessions and family tickets).
You can find out more about the failed Jacobite rising of 1745 at the Glenfinnan Visitor Centre (spoiler alert, Bonnie Prince Charlie was not successful. Having made it as far South as Derby, his forces retreated to Scotland where they were finally defeated at the Battle of Culloden). In 2023, entry to the Visitor Centre is free.
You can find out more about the Jacobite steam train at the Glenfinnan Station Museum (which is a short walk from the car park at the Visitor Centre). In 2023, entry to the museum cost £1, children go free. Guided 30-minute tours are also available.
A visit to Glenfinnan could be used to break up a journey from Glencoe to the Isle of Skye or as part of a visit to Fort William and Ben Nevis. For more information on how to fit it into a visit to Scotland, please see ‘The Ultimate Road Trip In Scotland With Kids’.