REVIEW – Camera Obscura, The Royal Mile

Edinburgh residents and six Australian tourists have a ball at 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.

Last week, with Australian relatives in tow, we headed to this popular tourist attraction first thing in the morning.

Our party of 9 (5 adults and 4 children) were warmly welcomed by the staff and given an allotted time for the observatory. Everyone ran up the stairs to the very top and absorbed the views of Edinburgh in all directions. The smaller children loved using the (free) telescopes to see as far as they could. Wonderful views down The Royal Mile can be had here and over the Old Town rooftops.

We were 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. The staff member was enthusiastic as he spoke about the history of the camera and explained how it worked. The children loved seeing the 360 degree views and were allowed a short time to ‘lift up’ people walking on the Castle Esplanade (a magic trick).

View down The Royal Mile from the top

“Wonderful views down the Royal Mile”

You only get to experience this part once, which is all that is needed to be honest, but you are then free to spend as much time as you require exploring the other floors before leaving.  Our group as whole absolutely loved exploring every nook and cranny.

We started at the Magic Gallery which is full of lightning tubes, plasma domes (including one of the largest in Europe) and lumiglass. Again, this floor 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 the 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 the group’s favourite items were the kaleidoscope, an exhibit which allows you to swap heads with someone and a machine that took pictures of your shadows.

“The new additions make this a must-visit attraction for tourists and residents of Edinburgh.”

Moving down to the 3rd floor, we came to ‘light fantastic’.  Holography was explained with numerous examples of dinosaurs, people’s heads and a giant spider so big it’s enough give an arachnophobe a heart attack. The kids were impressed, as were the adults and everything so far had been a sure-fire hit.

Squeals of excitement were soon heard as the kids explore the new section of Camera Obscura and one we hadn’t seen before.  “Woooaaaah, that’s soooooooo cool” shouted one as another popped his face up on the ‘head on a plate’ exhibit.  We quickly ushered the kids to the morphing machine so the adults could take their turn and join in the fun.

The amazing Ames room

On this floor is also the incredible, but disorientating Ames Room. You can become a giant or a dwarf here, which provided us with 20 minutes of fun as we took pictures of every combination of our group possible. The youngest in the group (aged 7) loved that he became ‘bigger’ than his father and we laughed hysterically as other visitors turned their 2 year old into a giant.  This was a personal highlight for our group and full marks to Camera Obscura for allowing free photography of inside the room.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, the children led the way to the mirror maze and tried to find their way through, but kept bumping into themselves.  The vortex tunnel was next and the children took great pride in managing to run through the ‘rotating’ tunnel as the adults clung onto the sides as they were disorientated completely. (Closing your eyes and walking straight gets you there, if it’s not for you).

Put your head on a plate

Moving down to the 2nd floor sees a display of old, new and unique images of Edinburgh.

Several pictures of how the streets of Edinburgh used look are on the walls and you can think and compare how they look today.

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.

Throughout the building, there are optical illusions on the stairways and corridor walls, continuing the visual workout.    And on all the floors, 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 the higher exhibits.

If you’re an Edinburgh resident and not been to Camera Obscura for a while, there’s an excellent selection of new additions that make it a must-visit tourist and resident attraction.

We spent just under 2 hours here, but were on a tight schedule with limited time. You could certainly spend a good 3 hours here (with children) exploring every single exhibit and it’s good value for money. For adults visiting,  we recommend 2 hours to do the place justice, but of course you can whizz around as fast as you like.

Click here for admission prices, current opening hours and to book your visit online.

You can find Camera Obscura on Facebook and follow them on twitter @CamObscura

Suitable for disabled? Unfortunately not due to the age of the building. There are only stairs inside.

Views over Edinburgh Old Town

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