I’m not one for plans, itineraries or guidebooks. Some of the best discoveries while travelling the world have been purely stumbled up after a good day getting lost. Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura was one of those best discoveries. Originally we’d planned to head to a whisky tour to sample Scottish delights. But the crazy mirrors and optical illusions of the Gothic building opposite were far too enticing to resist.
What is the Edinburgh Camera Obscura?
Camera Obsura is Latin for ‘dark room’ which is a pretty literal really considering the main attraction of this place is a Very Dark Room. The Camera Obsura is a tower accessed by climbing five flights of stairs, with a mirror on the top which projects a reflection 21 feet below onto concave table in the middle of the room. Without too much science, it works like a periscope meaning you can see a projection of Edinburgh’s streets, shops, cars and people right in front of you. You basically get a bird’s eye view of the city. On a table. It’s pretty impressive.
Ok, so it sounds basic to us considering we have television, computers and smartphones. But this attraction, which was opened by optician Maria Short in the early 1800s, caused people to faint at the sight of their city on a table right in front of their eyes. They could spy on their neighbours and churchgoers, and no one would ever know.
There are a few of these rooms all over the world, and it’s a great interactive activity for kids. Saying that, there were no kids when we attended. Which was just perfect.
The World of Illusions is where the real magic happens. If by magic, you mean back-breaking, side-splitting laughter and hilarity. It’s totally interactive, and so much fun.
Bendy mirrors transform you from short to tall, with long slender legs to stumpy feet. You can shake hands with yourself, give yourself a smooch, morph faces into a mix of you and your friend’s (this was creepy), project yourself onto a shadow wall, find out just how hot you really are, and even change your ethnicity (and species) with their special photo booth.
It was brilliant. Each floor had its own delights. The lightning tube, which if you hold for a while creates a static charge (so you can shock the next person who touches you) will be the first attraction you see. Then it’s hours of exploring, being freaked out at lifelike moving holograms, trying to eat disappearing Licorice Allsorts, and being beheaded. There’s even a Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory style room which makes the short tall and the tall tiny.
Towards the end of the World of Illusions, there’s a VERY scary mirrored maze (I genuinely thought I was going to get stuck) and the piece de resistance, a nausea inducing, trippy tunnel that’ll honestly screw with your head and make you feel so so sick.
We spent about three hours there all together, but I’d have happily gone back. In fact, I really wanted to. It was so, so much fun. There weren’t many people on the Sunday, and I’d imagine it could get a bit frustrating if it was very busy or there were a group of children running around. Because this attraction is fun no matter how old you are.
Admission is £12.95 for adults, £10.95 for students and OAPs, and £9.50 for children. We thought it was worth every penny. There’s no time limit, you can spend as much time as you like there, and get your hand stamped if you want to come back for more later on in the day. It’s well worth a visit.
Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura | Castlehill, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH1 2ND | 0131 226 3709