Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, located near Edinburgh Castle in the city’s Old Town, is one of the oldest purpose-built attractions in Scotland. Visitors can experience six floors of interactive displays with exhibits that showcase optical illusions, including holograms, a mirror maze, and a spinning vortex tunnel.
|Mon to Thur - 9.00am – 8.00pm
Fri & Sun - 9.00am – 9.00pm
Sat - 9.00am – 10.00pm
|Adult - £18.95
Student (with ID) - £16.95
Senior (65+) - £16.95
Child (5–15 years) - £14.95
Under 5s - Free
|0131 226 3709
|Gift shop, toilets, baby changing facilities, hearing loop
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, located on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, is a fascinating tourist attraction that offers a blend of science, art, and optical illusions across five floors of interactive exhibits. Highlights include a mirror maze, hologram displays, and the namesake Camera Obscura, which provides panoramic views of Edinburgh’s historic cityscape.
One of the most popular attractions in Edinburgh also has the distinction of being one of the oldest. Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is positioned in a prime location on The Royal Mile, not far from Edinburgh Castle and more-or-less opposite The Scotch Whisky Experience.
The collection of optical illusions is split across six floors, with one dedicated to holograms, another featuring a mirror maze, and yet another with a swirling vortex tunnel. Each area showcases a different aspect of illusions, from simple mirrors and light shows to high-tech thermal imaging cameras and laser-etched holograms.
If you’re interested in visiting the attraction, simply point yourself in the direction of Edinburgh Castle and look back down the hill from the castle esplanade. To the right is The Scotch Whisky Experience, and to the left is Camera Obscura, but as it’s heavily signposted, it’s pretty much impossible to miss.
Once you enter the building, you’ll find the gift shop on your left and the ticket desk on your right, after which you can head up the stairs to the interactive exhibits. Although the attraction is aimed at adults, it’s equally suitable for children, so whatever your age, you’ll enjoy it, mainly because there’s lots of variation in the exhibits and it’s not just colourful light shows and high-tech optical wizardry that’s on display.
The third floor, for example, features interactive cameras that you can remotely control to get a real-time overview of the city, while around the corner is a display of old photographs that show how Edinburgh would have looked when the Camera Obscura first opened in the 1850s.
As a tourist attraction, Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is a must-visit, along with The Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle and The Scotch Whisky Experience, which are all within a few minute’s walk of each other.
1: This is a great tourist attraction that everyone in the family will enjoy, from mums and dads to toddlers and teenagers. Each floor is full of fascinating illusions that are quite unlike any other attraction in Edinburgh.
2: There are over 100 interactive exhibits at the Camera Obscura, but the highlights are the spinning multi-coloured vortex tunnel and the mirror maze, which are both hilarious fun.
3: The top-level features the Victorian-era Camera Obscura, which is still in full working order, but personally, I found the viewing terrace with its binocular platform to be more enjoyable. The views across the city, the castle, and the Firth of Forth are stunning.
1: Because the Camera Obscura is slap-bang in the middle of Edinburgh, you’re spoilt for choice for other attractions to visit when you exit the building. Edinburgh Castle is a must-do, but another great attraction is the Scotch Whisky Experience which is located directly opposite.
2: There’s no café at the Camera Obscura, but The Royal Mile is full of cafés and restaurants. Be aware that the prices are inflated for tourists, and you’ll find cheaper (and nicer) food in the pubs and restaurants elsewhere in the city.
3: Due to its location, the Camera Obscura gets very busy so there are often long lines to get in. Save time by booking your entry ticket in advance.
The six floors of the Camera Obscura feature an eye-popping array of mind-bending illusions, and each floor has a different theme. The ground level doesn’t have much to write about as it’s just the location of the ticket office and the gift shop, although I have to admit the shop is very good as it has educational toys in addition to the usual plastic tat you’ll find at most other attractions.
Moving upstairs takes you to the first floor, where you’ll find two of the best illusions in the attraction: the mirror maze and the vortex tunnel. The mirror maze is basically the same as the ones you see in funfairs and theme parks across the country, but it’s good fun nonetheless.
The vortex tunnel, on the other hand, is completely unique. It’s basically a static walkway inside a tunnel of spinning coloured lights. I know that doesn’t sound too impressive, but walking inside the tunnel is a completely surreal experience as the spinning lights trick your brain into thinking the entire walkway is rotating upside down. I guarantee you’ll be clutching the handrails for dear life as you make your way through it.
The next floor is a wee bit more sedate, as it’s the level where you can play with interactive cameras that look out over the city. There’s also a thermal imaging camera, a collection of microscopes, and a collection of historic photographs of Edinburgh.
Moving on to the fourth floor, you’ll enter a room full of fascinating holograms and a very clever colour shadow wall, but it’s the Ames Room that has to be the highlight. This room uses optical illusions to full effect with a tilted floor that’s designed to trick your brain when looking at people standing in opposite corners. The person on one side looks tiny, and the other looks like a giant, so it’s a fantastic photo opportunity.
The fifth floor continues the illusions with a combination of traditional mirrors that make your head and body bigger and smaller depending on your viewing angle, plasma balls that respond to your touch with sparking electrical arcs, magic eye pictures, and a shadow wall that captures an image of your shadow and displays it on a giant screen.
The final level features a rooftop terrace that offers superb views across the city, and you’ll see Edinburgh Castle and Princes Street Gardens from a whole new perspective.
The main attraction, though, is the Camera Obscura itself, which is basically a panel in a darkened room with an image of the city projected onto it via a series of mirrors. The tour guide will give a brief introduction to the exhibit, after which you’ll get to see it in action (which is much more interesting than it sounds) before taking the stairs back down to the ground-level exit.
In the early 19th century, Edinburgh telescope maker Thomas Short built a display for his work on Calton Hill, with his largest telescope passing to his daughter Maria in 1827.
After Thomas’s death, Maria continued exhibiting her father’s instruments on Calton Hill, but in 1851 she was forced to relocate after Edinburgh’s authorities demolished her observatory, so she moved the entire collection to its present location on Castlehill, where it remained a popular attraction until her death in 1869.
The building and its telescopes were later bought by Patrick Geddes, a Scottish urban planner and entrepreneur who saw the potential of the Camera Obscura as the centrepiece of an exhibition demonstrating urban planning.
The site was renamed the Outlook Tower and rebuilt, with each floor showcasing a different theme related to town planning. At the very top was the attraction’s premier exhibit, the camera obscura.
The camera wowed crowds through its use of light and mirrors which project an image of the city onto a whiteboard – at least on those rare days in Edinburgh that are bright and sunny!
Thomas Geddes died in 1932, and for a time it was uncertain whether the instruments in the Outlook Tower would be lost to the public forever, but in 1966 Edinburgh University took ownership and maintained the building for the next sixteen years until finally handing it over to a private enterprise in 1982.
The Patrick Geddes exhibits were scaled back, and the development of the World of Illusion that we see today began, although there is still an exhibit devoted to Geddes on the fourth floor.
Things to Do
Enjoy the Camera Obscura Show: At this fascinating attraction, you’ll learn about the history of Edinburgh while viewing the city in a unique 360-degree panoramic view through a Victorian rooftop mirror. It’s a blend of science and history that still captivates audiences to this day.
Visit the World of Illusions: This is a five-floor exhibition with interactive displays including a vortex tunnel, a mirror maze, and holograms. You can test your perceptions and challenge your senses in a unique experience that’s fun for all ages.
Rooftop Terrace: For an unbeatable view of Edinburgh, head to the rooftop terrace. It offers a fantastic view of the city, including Edinburgh Castle. Don’t forget your camera for this unforgettable sightseeing opportunity.
Gift Shop: The World of Illusions has a great gift shop selling much more than the usual tourist trinkets. Pick up educational games and toys with themes of optical illusions that will keep your kids entertained for hours on end.
Magic Gallery: Discover the scientific and magical side of light, colour, and vision in this interactive gallery. With hands-on exhibits that include plasma tubes, mind-bending lenses and fascinating magic eye pictures, you’ll have fun while learning about the strange properties of light.
Things to Do Nearby
The Royal Mile. 197 High St, Edinburgh EH1 1PT. 1-minute walk.
A famous medieval high street that joins Holyrood Palace to Edinburgh Castle. Known for its closes and wynds that join the road along its length. It features a variety of shops, bars and restaurants.
St. Giles Cathedral. High St, Edinburgh EH1 1RE. 4-minute walk.
A grand Gothic-style medieval cathedral also known as ‘The High Kirk’, it was the place of worship where John Knox preached. Free to visit and guided tours are available. Shop and café on site.
The Scotch Whisky Experience. 354 Castlehill, Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH1 2NE. 30-second walk.
This attraction takes visitors on a tour of Scotland’s world-renowned whisky industry with a barrel ride through a replica distillery, a guided tour of the world’s largest whisky collection, bespoke whisky tastings and much more.
Edinburgh Castle. Castlehill, Edinburgh EH1 2NG. 1-minute walk.
Scotland’s most-visited tourist attraction. This 11th-century castle and barracks house the Scottish crown jewels and is the location for the National War Museum. Edinburgh Castle also features popular attractions such as the Mons Meg cannon and the One O’Clock gun.
Gladstone’s Land. 477B Lawnmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2NT. 2-minute walk.
Historic restored house dating from the 1600s. A guided tour takes you through the history of Edinburgh and shows visitors how people lived in the days of ‘Auld Reekie’.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to go around Camera Obscura?
Camera Obscura and World of Illusions are split across six floors in one building, and most people take between 1.5 and 2 hours to walk around it at a leisurely pace.
Does Camera Obscura have a lift?
There is no lift at Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, as the 17th-century building is listed; therefore, it is not permitted to install one. The six floors are accessed via stairs.
Do you have to book tickets for Camera Obscura?
Camera obscura Tickets can be pre-booked on the official website. Tickets will be sent electronically.
It is also possible to purchase tickets from the front desk on arrival, depending on availability.
What is the oldest attraction in Camera Obscura and The World of Illusions?
The oldest attraction at the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions in Edinburgh is the Camera Obscura itself. It was built in 1835 and is an optical device that projects an image of its surroundings onto a viewing table, providing visitors with panoramic rooftop views of the city.