Edinburgh's Master of Illusions- Camera Obscura


I don’t know about you, but sometimes I love the chance to escape from the routine of everyday life and just have fun. Fortunately, there is wonderful place in Edinburgh where you can do this. Situated in the prime location at the top of Castlehill, Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, is a delightful place to visit for people of all ages. There are three main aspects I will cover in this article- the ‘World of Illusions’ section, the Camera Obscura, and the phenomenal views of the city of Edinburgh.


Edinburgh’s World of Illusions


The Camera Obscura and World of Illusions visitor attraction (we’ll reference it as ‘Camera Obscura’ from here on for ease of use) in Edinburgh has a variety of entertaining features. It particularly excels at hosting a variety of illusionary features, and the fun starts before you even enter the building. Situated along the perimeter of Camera Obscura are mirrors that distort the images of passerby into hilarious shapes and sizes.



There are four storeys that immerse you into a world of illusions. You start off by exploring exhibitions that provide some classic examples of the ‘trick of the eye’.


An entire Victorian world opens up when you look through this peep hole.

Look closely at the reflection on the tube- a drawing of the author, Jules Verne, reveals itself from the illlustration of his book, They Mysterious Island.

At one point, it was clear that Sami was feeling quite ‘electric’! 😉



I particularly enjoyed looking at the vintage photographs of Edinburgh. It’s always fun to see what has and hasn’t changed over the years.


If you take away the horse and carriage and people in Victorian clothing, St Giles looks very much the same today.


Two of our favourite illusionary attractions were the Vortex Tunnel and the Mirror Maze. The Vortex Tunnel, in particular, is not for the faint of heart (or those who easily experience motion sickness). Therefore, our suggestion is to wait until after you go through that before lunch because a belly full of haggis and whisky might not be the best idea.😉




Here is a collage displaying more of the fantastic exhibits in the ‘World of Illusions’ section; many of them are interactive and allow you to be part of the illusion:



The Camera Obscura


The history of the building, observatory, and camera obscura are quite fascinating. The four lower floors were part of a tenement dating to the 1600s. However, the upper floors were built in the 1800s by Maria Short.


According to Camera Obscura, not much is known about Maria- despite the important impact she had on our capital city. She arrived in Edinburgh from the West Indies in 1827. She claimed to be the daughter of Thomas Short- “a prominent local optician who owned a number of different optical and scientific equipment and gadgets who had died some years earlier. Maria took the optical devices (including a great reflecting telescope and other scientific oddities) as her inheritance, which she used to open an observatory on Calton Hill. She added a camera obscura and opened the attraction to the public in 1835”. Unfortunately, some- including the town council- were not happy with Maria’s attraction as they saw it as “tasteless”.


Maria was eventually evicted from Calton Hill but didn’t let this get her down. Instead, in 1853, she bought the previously mentioned tenement building on Castlehill, and relocated her attraction there. She built up from the four existing storeys to create a public observatory she renamed ‘Short’s Observatory’ and a museum of scientific curiosities. Of course, that is still there today but has seen some upgrades and is now known as ‘Camera Obscura & World of Illusions’.


However, the Camera Obscura is original and can be seen today via a guided tour. As a heads up, please be aware it works by daylight and requires clear weather conditions for viewing. The light and reflections project a live image of the Castle Esplanade and surrounding views of the city onto a white table in the centre of a dark room. The Camera Obscura was amazing technology when the residents of Edinburgh first saw it in the 1800s; the idea of seeing a moving image for the first time was an extraordinary concept.


An image from the Camera Obscura on the day of our visit.

Edinburgh City Views & Skyline


I’ve saved one of the highlights of our visit for last. Be sure to climb to the top level of Camera Obscura because it provides some of the most breathtaking views of our ‘Athens of the North’. We were fortunate that the weather goddesses cooperated, and it was a spectacularly sunny day. Slide through the photos below to enjoy a virtual tour of the Edinburgh skyline:



Well, that wraps up our visit to Camera Obscura & World of Illusions. We hope you have enjoyed this wee visit. Of course, we highly recommend you experience it for yourself. One last, exciting tip to take note of is that dogs are allowed at Camera Obscura. While Sawyer didn't come with us this time, we'll be sure to take him when we go again. Head over to the Camera Obscura website for the most up to date information on how to plan your visit.


Don't forget to check out the fun treats and souvenirs in the gift shop.

After your visit with our friends at Camera Obscura, why not book a Wee Walking Tour with us? After all, our tours start just a bit more up Castlehill, around the corner at the Witches Well.


Until next time- Explore & Discover!