- Check out the Camera Obscura Show, just like visitors to this attraction did in the 19th century.
- Explore more than five floors of history and wonder at one of our favourite Edinburgh attractions.
- Enjoy an outdoor experience and view over Edinburgh on the Rooftop Terrace.
- Take wacky and wonderful photos of your family in optical illusions at the Light Fantastic area.
Whether you are Scotland-based or not, there's a good chance that at some point you will have seen one of the weird and wonderful photos from Camera Obscura and World Of Illusions in Edinburgh. With optical illusion rooms that you can physically add yourself into, becoming a floating head or a huge version of yourself, Camera Obscura is well-known for providing laughs and impressive visual trickery that will have people asking 'how did you do that?!'.
The story of Camera Obscura and World of Illusions begins in Edinburgh in the early 19th century, when West Indian immigrant Maria Short came to Edinburgh, claiming to be the long lost relative of Thomas Short. Since she appeared to be his only living relative, this meant she was the sole heir and claimant to his Great Telescope invention. Maria soon started a telescope attraction on Calton Hill, which is just at the end of the main shopping street of Edinburgh, Princes Street. From here, people flocked to the Observatory and she became well known. She moved to the Royal Mile in 1853, with her business now known as Short's Observatory. Here, she wowed the people of Edinburgh with her unique Camera Obscura attraction. Camera Obscura is one of the oldest methods of replicating and projecting images, and has potentially been around for thousands of years. It is thought that the Camera Obscura technique may have been used in prehistoric times, which could explain the nature of some Neolithic structures, and it was almost certainly used by painters in later centuries in order to create a lifelike image. However, back in the 1800s it was still a phenomenon that was unheard of by most people, and was the most popular exhibit, located on the top floor of the Observatory.
Now, Short's Observatory is known as Edinburgh's Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, and is the oldest-running visitor attraction in the city. If you happen to be stuck for something to do or wandering down the Royal Mile, make sure to pop into this fascinating location. With over 100 interactive exhibits spread out over five floors, there is enough to see and do here to occupy the whole family for hours. With lots of hands-on experiences to try, kids and adults will both have a brilliant time at this incredibly popular visitor attraction. Plus, there is a one way system around the building to make sure you don't miss anything.
Starting from the ground floor, you'll enter Camera Obscura from the busy Royal Mile, one of the most popular tourist streets in the city of Edinburgh, that is especially full during the summer when the Fringe festival is in full swing. Weave your way through the street acts and local stalls until you find the entrance to Camera Obscura, and get ready for an adventure! On the first floor you'll find Bewilderworld, an intense and thrilling experience that includes the popular Vortex Tunnel attraction, as well as the Mirror Maze, that is lit with neon lights. For more interactive exhibits filled with illusions, head to the second floor to Eye Spy, to take in Victorian views of Edinburgh. There are also Singing Cats, Thermal Cameras and lots of optical illusions. For a good giggle, check out the bendy mirrors, and brave the Infinity Corridor. But wait, there's more! Head to the third of the five floors to see the Light Fantastic area, one of the most popular exhibits for visitors. Here, you'll be able to take some great funny photos of yourself and your family in different optical illusions, including the Severed Head which makes it look like your head is being served on a platter! And, for something a little more 'shocking', the Magic Gallery on the fourth floor has lots of electricity-themed illusions. Watch as the current flows when you touch the Plasma Tubes and Globes, and have a go at shaking your own hand!
One of the most popular floors of this great tower is the Rooftop Terrace. Here, you can take in the fantastic views of Edinburgh, get a bit closer by using the rooftop telescopes, and enjoy the fresh air. And, for the ultimate experience that is the attraction's namesake, head up one more level to the Camera Obscura Show, where you can experience the phenomenon of Maria Short's Camera Obscura all those years ago. All in all, people usually spend around two hours going around Camera Obscura, so it's the perfect way to spend a morning or afternoon in the capital.
With all that excitement, you might fancy a snack while you're enjoying the world of Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. While there isn't a cafe on site, the Royal Mile is right on the doorstep, with lots of places to eat and drink. On the Royal Mile itself, you'll find a variety of tourist-friendly restaurants, but the real hidden gems are just a minute's walk away. The Baked Potato shop on Cockburn Street has hearty and healthy takeaway baked potatoes, with a variety of delicious fillings to choose from. Or, just next to the Royal Mile on Hunters Square check out Civerinos for a slice of handmade pizza. As you continue on down South Bridge you'll also find plenty more local spots that have family-friendly options, such as tapas-style Indian dishes at Mother India's Cafe on Infirmary Street, or coffee and cake at Black Medicine Coffee.
Once you've enjoyed your zany and exciting adventure at Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, there is still lots more to explore in the city of Edinburgh. If you've been wondering what to see in Edinburgh, there is so much to see within walking distance. The National Museum of Scotland is free to enter, and it's only a ten minute walk from Camera Obscura, if you want to learn about some fascinating Scottish and World history. Or, for a breath of fresh air, climb up Arthur's Seat, an ancient extinct volcano that can be seen from all over Edinburgh. No matter what your tastes, there's something for all families in the beautiful city of Edinburgh.
What to know before you go
- Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is open from 9am - 10pm every day.
- While Camera Obscura is suitable for families with children of all ages, children under 12 need to be accompanied by an adult.
- The building is very old and only has stairs to access each floor, so it is unfortunately unsuitable for buggies or wheelchair users.
- There are baby-changing facilities on site, and baby carriers can be borrowed from reception.
- Toilets are available only on the first floor.
- If travelling by car, there isn't any parking on the Royal Mile so head to Castle Terrace car park, where Camera Obscura visitors can get a parking discount. The car park is roughly a 10-minute walk from Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, and the postcode is EH1 2EW.
- There are regular buses running through the city centre. The closest bus stop is on George IV Bridge, and is served by the bus numbers 67, 42, 41, 27 or 23.
- If arriving by tram, simply get off on Princes Street, and it's just a short walk up to the Royal Mile.
- The nearest train station is Edinburgh Waverley, just a 10-minute walk away.
- If you're planning on cycling, there are lots of places to lock up your bike, with the closest designated spot being at West Parliament Square.