This guide on how to photograph the Glenfinnan Viaduct will provide valuable insights into capturing this awe-inspiring location through your camera’s lens. This iconic structure, nestled in the heart of Scotland’s rugged highlands, offers a wealth of photographic opportunities.
Whether you’re an amateur photographer seeking to hone your skills, a seasoned pro looking for fresh inspiration, or just a Potterhead hoping to capture the Hogwarts Express. We will delve into how to get “the shot”, the best times to visit, and compositional considerations to help you capture the magic of this architectural marvel.
Teri-Anne from An Aimless Walk is here to walk you through the top tips on how to photograph the Glenfinnan Viaduct and capture magical shots of the Jacobite Steam Train, also known as the Hogwarts Express.
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What is the Glenfinnan Viaduct?
The Glenfinnan Viaduct is a historic railway viaduct located on the West Highland Line in Glenfinnan, Inverness-shire, Scotland. It was built between 1897 and 1901.
This iconic structure spans a 1,000-foot stretch and stands 100 feet above the ground. The viaduct consists of 21 arches, each spanning 50 feet. It’s especially notable for being the longest concrete railway bridge in Scotland and one of the first major structures in the world to use mass concrete construction.
The Glenfinnan Viaduct has become synonymous with the Harry Potter films, where it was featured as the route of the Hogwarts Express. This connection has drawn countless fans from around the world to witness the Jacobite Steam Train (the real-life Hogwarts Express) cross the viaduct.
Set amidst stunning scenery, flanked by rolling green hills and overlooking Loch Shiel, it’s considered one of the most picturesque rail routes in Scotland. Let’s dive into the best tips on how to photograph the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
How to Photograph the Glenfinnan Viaduct
Photographing the Glenfinnan Viaduct involves good timing and compositional skills. If you’re just shooting with a smartphone, don’t be intimidated by any technical jargon. You can get amazing shots with a phone if the lighting and composition are right.
Here are some steps you can follow:
Scout Your Location: Before you start shooting, spend some time exploring the area. Look for unique angles and perspectives that add depth and interest to your photos. Remember, the viaduct is surrounded by picturesque landscapes that can complement your main subject.
Timing is Key: The best times to shoot are during the golden hours (shortly after sunrise or before sunset). The light is soft and warm during these periods, giving your images a magical, ethereal quality. But if you’re here for the Jacobite Steam Train, you’ll want to know how to photograph the Glenfinnan viaduct as the train crosses. For this, you’ll need the train arrival times.
Camera Settings: Use a small aperture (high f-stop number) to keep both the viaduct and the surrounding landscape in focus. Depending on the light and movement, adjust your shutter speed and ISO accordingly.
If you’ve been wondering how to photograph the Jacobite Steam Train crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct, there’s no need to worry about the speed of the train. It purposely slows down while crossing the viaduct, you should have time to get your shot and change settings if necessary. It’s always a good idea to practice your image before the train arrives.
If you’re shooting with a smartphone, and unsure of how to use manual settings, check if your phone has ‘burst mode’ to capture multiple images in quick succession.
Composition: There are two famous shots of the Jacobite train crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct. The first is of the train coming directly towards you at viewpoint 1, here you can also be in the foreground with the train in the background, or you can use the nearby foliage to create a frame around the shot.
The second is from the opposite field, giving you a view of the entire viaduct, the entire train and Loch Shiel. If you travel in a pair or a group, it’s a great idea to split up and try to get both shots
Gear: A tripod can be helpful for stability, mainly if you’re shooting in lower light conditions. Wide-angle lenses are great for capturing the full expanse of the viaduct and its surroundings.
Post-Processing: Don’t forget to fine-tune your images in post-production. Adjusting the exposure, contrast, saturation, and sharpness makes your photos pop.
Can I Take Drone Photographs at the Glenfinnan Viaduct?
Drone usage at the Glenfinnan Viaduct is permitted but hold onto your propellers because it’s more complex than you might think. You’ll need to dial the phone number on the site’s signage to obtain permission.
The landowner oversees drone operations and kindly requests a £10 contribution towards maintaining the visitor centre and monument. So, not only do you get to capture some fantastic aerial shots, but you also contribute to preserving this iconic landmark.
Where is the Best Place to Photograph the Train in Harry Potter?
The Hogwarts Express! A magical journey for witches and wizards, but also a delightful spectacle for muggles with cameras. The best place to photograph this iconic steam train from the Harry Potter series is undoubtedly Viewpoint 1 (Bridge View) or Viewpoint 3 at the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
Here’s the location of how to access Viewpoint 3, it’s a bit of wild hiking, but nothing too strenuous. I’d advise wellies (wellington boots). If there has been rainfall (it’s Scotland, of course, there’s been rainfall) it will be extremely muddy.
The viewpoint behind the Visitor’s Centre at Glenfinnan is one of the best places to admire the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct and the surrounding scenery. However, it’s quite far away if you’re hoping to capture those close-up photographs of the Jacobite Steam train crossing.
You’ll follow a path from the car park and Visitor Centre towards the viaduct to reach this viewpoint. The walk is not too strenuous and can be completed by most people, although it may be challenging for those with mobility issues.
Bonus Photograph Locations
The viewpoint behind the visitor’s centre is a short walk and offers fantastic views. The viewpoint is a little far away to capture great photographs of the train crossing the viaduct, but it is an excellent view of Loch Shiel aka ‘the Black Lake’ in Harry Potter and the surrounding area.
For all you Potterheads, Dumbledore’s grave is a short drive from Glenfinnan. If you follow the route from the Glenfinnan Viaduct towards Mallaig you will come to Loch Eilt on your lefthand side. Keep your eye out for Eilean Na Moine, the small Island with towering trees, where Dumbledore sleeps peacefully in his tomb, in the Harry Potter movies.
Close to the Island is a small path, and there are a few roadside spots for you to park. Wander down the path until Eilean Na Moine is in full view.
Top Tip: If you time your visit here with the Hogwarts Express timetable, you can capture the train passing the tomb.
Underneath The Arches
Do you want to know how to photograph the Glenfinnan Viaduct from underneath the arches? From the visitor centre car park, follow the signposted footpaths towards the viaduct. There should be clear signs pointing the way. The walk is about 10-15 minutes on a well-maintained trail.
As you approach the viaduct, there will be a fork in the path. The left will take you up to the viewpoint on the hill where you can see the train crossing the viaduct, and the right-hand path leads you underneath the viaduct itself.
What Time is Best to See the Jacobite Cross Glenfinnan Viaduct?
Timing is the secret ingredient to the perfect photograph and the ultimate viewing experience. If you’re wanting to know how to photograph the Jacobite Steam Train (aka the Hogwarts Express) crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct, you’ll need to align your visit with the train schedule.
The Jacobite runs from mid-April to late October, making two daily crossings over the viaduct. It typically crosses around 10:45 am on its morning journey from Fort William to Mallaig, and again around 3:00 pm on its return trip. However, schedules can change, so it’s wise to check the official timetable beforehand.
What is the Best Way to See the Glenfinnan Viaduct?
If you’re up for a bit of a hike, take the trail leading up to the Glenfinnan viewpoint from the visitor’s centre. The path might be steep in parts but trust me, the view from the top is worth every huff and puff. You’ll get a spectacular panoramic view of the viaduct, with the majestic Scottish Highlands as your backdrop.
You can also take the Viaduct trail from Glenfinnan Railway Station the walk takes about 20 minutes to get to Viewpoint 1.
For all you Harry Potter fans out there, this one’s for you! Hop aboard the Jacobite steam train, famously known as the Hogwarts Express, and experience the viaduct in all its glory from the comfort of your seat. Be ready with your camera as the train curves across the viaduct – it’s a moment you wouldn’t want to miss.
Take a cruise on Loch Shiel, and you’ll get a unique perspective of the viaduct from the water. Plus, the surrounding scenery is just breathtaking.
If you’re looking at a trip to Scotland in a Campervan, check out all you need to know about Vanlife in Scotland.
How To Get To The Glenfinnan Viaduct
Getting to the Glenfinnan Viaduct can be an adventure in itself, with several transportation options available depending on where you’re coming from. Here are some ways to reach this iconic location:
By Car: If you’re driving from Glencoe, take the A82 and expect a journey of about 1.5 hours. Once you reach Fort William, switch to the A830, and you’ll arrive at Glenfinnan in approximately 30 minutes.
By Public Transport: You have two main options – bus or train. The good news is, both options provide direct routes from Fort William to Glenfinnan.
By Bus: Several bus services run to Fort William and Mallaig, stopping at Glenfinnan along the A830. The bus stop is conveniently located next to the car park, which is a great starting point for your exploration of the area.
By Train: You can catch a ScotRail train from Fort William to Glenfinnan Station. The journey takes about 33 minutes and costs around £7.70 for a return ticket. From Glenfinnan Station, it’s a short walk to the viaduct.
Remember to check the latest timetables and prices as these can vary. Once you’ve arrived, there are numerous viewpoints and walking trails to choose from, so you can experience the majesty of the Glenfinnan Viaduct from various perspectives.
If you have the time, why not make a plan of how to photograph the Glenfinnan Viaduct from each location?
Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint Carpark
The Glenfinnan Viaduct Viewpoint Carpark serves as the main starting point for visitors who want to explore the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct and its surrounding areas. It’s conveniently located at the Glenfinnan Visitor Centre, which is easy to find on Google Maps.
The car park is owned by the National Trust for Scotland, so there’s a small parking fee (£3.50 for cars, £6 for motorhomes) unless you’re a National Trust Member, in which case parking is free.
From the car park, it’s a short, easy walk of about 15-20 minutes to the viaduct viewpoint. The path is well-marked and manageable even for casual walkers. Along the way, you’ll be treated to some wonderful views of the Scottish Highlands.
It’s worth noting that the car park can get quite busy, especially during peak tourist season and when the Jacobite Steam Train is due to cross the viaduct. Therefore, it’s recommended to arrive early to secure a spot.
What is the Closest Station to Glenfinnan Viaduct?
The closest station to the Glenfinnan Viaduct is the Glenfinnan Station itself. This quaint, historic railway station is located just a stone’s throw away from the viaduct.
The Glenfinnan Station also houses a charming museum and a railway carriage that has been converted into a delightful bed-and-breakfast. So, not only can you travel to the viaduct easily, but you can also soak in some local history and enjoy unique accommodation.
Glenfinnan Viaduct Train Tickets
You can buy tickets for the Jacobite Steam Train (aka The Hogwarts Express) on West Coast Railways
As for the ticket details:
An adult day return ticket for the afternoon service costs £89 for first class and £57 for standard.
For children aged 16 or under, a day return ticket costs £63 for first class and £33 for standard.
If you’re seeking a more private experience, a private table for two return is available at £199.
There are also compartments available for £385.
It’s important to note that these fares can fluctuate and it’s always best to check the most recent prices on their website or contact them directly.
You can book your tickets either online through their official website or by calling their booking number: +44 (0) 333 996 6720.
Is Glenfinnan Viaduct Worth Visiting?
The Glenfinnan Viaduct is well worth a visit. With its stunning architecture and picturesque surroundings, it’s not just a treat for Harry Potter fans, but also lovers of history, nature, and photography.
Glenfinnan is a place steeped in history and natural beauty. The viaduct is a remarkable feat of early 20th-century engineering, and the surrounding area offers breathtaking views of the Scottish Highlands. With over 300,000 annual visitors, the viaduct has become a must-see in Scotland.
If you’re planning a route around the NC500, the Glenfinnan Viaduct is a great place to stop on your way to or from the starting point.
Can you walk on the Glenfinnan Viaduct?
While the Glenfinnan Viaduct is a remarkable structure and a sight to behold, walking directly on it is not permitted. It’s an active train line, and trespassing on it is not only extremely dangerous but also a serious offence in the UK. However, don’t be disheartened! There are excellent walking trails around the viaduct with spectacular views of the structure and the surrounding Loch Shiel.
Can You Visit The Glenfinnan Viaduct In Winter
Yes, you can visit the Glenfinnan Viaduct in winter. Although the famous Jacobite Steam Train (also known as the Hogwarts Express) does not run during the winter months, the viaduct itself and the surrounding areas remain accessible to visitors.
Visiting the Glenfinnan Viaduct in winter can offer a unique experience as the Scottish Highlands transform into a snowy wonderland. The viaduct blanketed in snow, presents a captivating sight. Walking paths around the viaduct offer beautiful views of the structure and the nearby Loch Shiel.
However, it’s important to note that the weather in Scotland can be unpredictable, especially in winter. Conditions can change quickly, and paths may be icy or muddy. Therefore, visitors are advised to dress appropriately and check local weather forecasts before setting out.
If skiing is on your winter Scotland itinerary, check out our Scotland Skiing Guide.
What should I wear to the Glenfinnan Viaduct?
When visiting the Glenfinnan Viaduct, it’s essential to dress according to the weather, although as it is Scotland, it’s always good to be prepared for anything.
Here are our suggestions:
Comfortable Footwear: Whether you’re planning to take a short walk or a longer hike, sturdy, comfortable footwear is a must. Walking boots are ideal, especially if they’re waterproof.
Layered Clothing: Scottish weather can be unpredictable, so it’s a good idea to wear layers which can be easily added or removed as needed. Consider wearing a base layer, a warm sweater or fleece, and a waterproof jacket.
Rain Gear: In Scotland, it’s always wise to be prepared for rain. A waterproof jacket and trousers can keep you dry during sudden showers.
Hat and Gloves: If you plan to visit in the cooler months, a hat and gloves can help keep you warm.
Sun Protection: On sunny days, don’t forget your sunglasses, sun hat, and sun cream.
Backpack: A backpack can be handy for carrying water, snacks, extra layers of clothing, camera gear and any other essentials.
Remember to check the local weather forecast before you leave and adjust your attire accordingly. Dressing appropriately will ensure you can enjoy your visit to the Glenfinnan Viaduct comfortably and safely.
How Long Does the Glenfinnan Viaduct Trail Take?
The Glenfinnan Viaduct trail is a relatively short but scenic walk, perfect for those looking to soak in the beauty of Scotland’s highlands without embarking on a lengthy trek. The whole circular route is about 2.5 miles (4 km) and typically takes around 1 to 1.5 hours to complete at a leisurely pace.
Conclusion: How To Photograph The Glenfinnan Viaduct
Capturing the Glenfinnan Viaduct and the Jacobite Steam Train in a single frame isn’t just about getting a great shot, it’s about encapsulating the magic and history of these iconic symbols. The tips shared in this guide should help you plan your visit and set up your images effectively.
No matter your photography skill level, with some preparation and creativity, you can create captivating images that truly bring to life the enchantment of the Glenfinnan Viaduct and the Hogwarts Express. Here’s to capturing not just a photo, but a moment in time, frozen in the heart of Scotland’s breathtaking landscape.
Hopefully, now we’ve given you all the tips you need on how to photograph the Glenfinnan Viaduct, Happy snapping!
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