REVIEW – Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura, The Royal Mile


Entrance to Camera Obscura

Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura has a 150 year old observatory with a roving mirror that projects a 360 degree panorama of the city.  The rest of the displays and interactive exhibitions drop you into a world of illusion and warped images.

Edinburgh Spotlight visited the Obscura during the week in the winter and was blessed with good weather, which provided clear views from the top.  Once you have paid your entrance fee, you are given a time to visit the actual observatory part.  You need to arrive at your allotted time on the fifth floor to keep the attraction flowing with all its visitors.

Whilst you wait, you can take in the views of Edinburgh from the top.  To a visitor the views would be appealing, but to a local like me, I didn’t particularly like the slightly obscured view of the Castle.  When you face the other way, the spire of The Hub blocks the view over to Arthur’s Seat: not that this is the fault of Camera Obscura.

I would also try to visit on a clear day as there really wouldn’t be much of a view on a rainy or cloudy day.  This is obviously easier said than done in Edinburgh!

View from Camera Obscura top

You are taken into the observatory where it is completely dark, but can be guided by hand rails to take your position above the image circle.  The guide talks through the history of Camera Obscura and points out everything you can see from the revolving view.  This part may be unsuitable for some children who don’t like the dark, but you can leave if you need to, as one family with young children did when I was there.

You only get to experience this part once, which is all that is needed to be honest, but you are free to spend as much time as you require exploring the other floors before leaving.  If you visit when the place is very busy, you may have to spend your time doing it all in reverse, leaving the observatory part till last.

Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura

Moving down to the 4th floor, we entered the Magic Gallery which is full of lightning tubes, plasma domes (including one of the largest in Europe) and lumiglass.  Again, this room is dark to give the best experience but shouldn’t be scary to young children as the lights lead the way through to the other section on this floor.  In this room you will find magic eye optical illusions on the wall.  There are also true mirrors which are interactive and suitable for all ages.  Some of my favourite items here were the kaleidoscope and an exhibit which allows you to swap heads with someone and take pictures of your shadows.

Moving down to the 3rd floor, we came to ‘light fantastic’.  Holography was explained followed by numerous examples of dinosaurs, people’s heads and a giant spider so big it’s enough give an arachnophobe a heart attack.  This floor became a little repetitive for me, but I was fascinated by the heat camera which demonstrated where my hot spots were.

Optical Illusion

On all the floors of Camera Obscura, there are little kick stools for smaller children to stand upon to make the most of the exhibits.  This is a well thought-out addition and saves adults lifting their children around each floor.

There are also optical illusions on the stairways and corridor walls, continuing the visual workout.

Moving down to the 2nd floor sees a display of old, new and unique images of Edinburgh.  This was perhaps my favourite floor as I could see how the streets used to be and think of how they stand now.  There is an excellent sepia photograph of St Giles Cathedral in the 1880s with a horse and cart in the foreground and beside it sits a picture of how it stands today with a taxi – a complete contrast.

Another example sees Maule’s Corner at the West End in 1902 before it became Fraser’s that we know today.

Infinity corridor

There is also a selection of 3D images taken from the 1860s that you need to look through via glass pieces and 3D mirrors.  I loved the pinhole photography exhibition by Derek Reay and the infinity corridor of light.

There are some CCTV cameras to play with and that concludes the visit as the 1st floor is private and the exit includes the mandatory walk through the gift shop to leave.  In fairness, the items for sale are of the educational/scientific nature rather than normal tourist tat.

I spent around 90 minutes in Camera Obscura, but if I had been with the usual mini Spotlight team, I am sure I would have spent more time playing on every exhibit at least twice.

Admission Prices
Adult: £8.50  Student £6.75  Senior: £6.75  Child (5 – 15 years): £5.75     *under 5’s go free

Disabled and Carer prices  (50% discount)
Adult: £4.25 Child (5 – 15 years): £2.90

Camera Obscura is part of the Edinburgh Pass that we reviewed a wee while ago.

Top of Camera Obscura from street level

Suitable for disabled? Unfortunately not as there is only stair access to all the floors.

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