“ The camera obscura in the Outlook Tower at the top of the Royal Mile, next to the castle was established in the 1850's by the optician Maria Theresa Short and was originally known as Short's Observatory. Castlehill, Royal Mile, Edinburgh. Telephone: +44 „
I recently visited Edinburgh for a few days, and walked past this place several times before i decided to call in. I'm am so glad that i did! I Was concerned it would be a bit childlike and wasn't relishing the thought, but my boyfriend wanted to go in so i went with him. There was a bit of a wait around for the camera obscura, and it didn't really last long. We all had to squeeze into a tiny room, in which they dim the lights to show the obscura at its best. I was rather disappointed with the obscura as it wasn't as good as i thought it would be. This did have something to do with the weather, it was a little overcast. The world of illusions was amazing! there is so much to see and to do. Some aimed at children, but most at all ages. It's truly mind blowing to see how all the different displays work and i was constantly surprised at how impressive the displays were. Every display is so interesting and i suggest you try them all (if you can!) It's hard to explain how good it is there without visiting.The only negative that i can think of is that it is very busy and you don't get to spend as much time at the displays as you'd like.
Camera Obscura is a terrific museum and experience located at the top of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, close to the Edinburgh Castle. It incorporates the fascinating Camera Obscura, a great world of illusions exhibit and some stunning rooftop views over Edinburgh.
The Camera is the showcase exhibit at the museum and it has a fascinating history. When you enter the museum, you are given a show time for the camera and then you build the rest of your visit around that. To be honest I was mostly drawn in by the world of illusions bit, but mainly because I had no idea what the camera was.
It's been around for over 150 years and basically uses a giant periscope and mirrors to give a panoramic, completely moving view of Edinburgh. The guide who presents the show is friendly and knowledgeable as well as being very funny and he tells the story of the history of Edinburgh whilst the camera shows you the views. It's really hard to explain actually how fun the show is, especially when you get to pander to your sadistic side by squashing the people outside and making them jump involuntarily, but you really must go and experience it!
The camera only works when it is sunny and light outside, but the staff on reception will tell you if it working before you buy your ticket and if it isn't, you can buy a discounted ticket for the rest of the museum or choose to come back later.
Whilst you are waiting for your show time, you should definitely head out onto the rooftop to have a look at the views of the Castle and over the rest of the city - you can see for miles and it is absolutely perfect for taking unobstructed photographs. There are also lots of telescopes and binoculars to you can get a good look at your surroundings.
The world of illusions attraction covers the other three floors of the museum and offers fantastic hands on fun that the whole family would enjoy. We liked it so much that we actually visited all three floors twice.
There is a floor full of holographic pictures that give 3D images of everything from Edinburgh landscapes to famous folk. Some of them are much better than others, but you'll be mesmerised for a good half an hour whilst you are wandering around.
Another floor is devoted to optical illusions and includes all of the ones you will recognise plus a million more that you don't. Some of them you just look at and try to work out whilst others you actually get involved with - I particularly enjoyed seeing an image of myself as others see me and having my head severed and served on a platter! There's also a great exhibit where you go into a room with someone else and a picture of you is taken where one of you is a giant and the other is tiny - absolutely great fun.
Every last bit of the building is taken up with things that make you think including the stairways which are covered in magic eye drawings and so on - it really will make your head spin and keep you entertained for hours.
-Admission Prices and Opening Times-
July, August, September and October - 9.30 until 19.30
April, May and June- 9.30 until 18.00
November to March - 10.00 until 17.00
The museum only closes on Christmas Day.
Admission prices are:
£9.95 for adults
£7.95 for students and seniors
£6.95 for children (5 to 15 years) and under fives are free.
There are also various discounts for groups.
I would absolutely recommend Camera Obscura and with pleasure give it five stars because it is a fantastic experience that will please everyone of all ages. It really does bring a whole new meaning to 'hands on experience' and the staff are friendly and helpful and do everything they can to make your visit even more enjoyable.
Don't miss it!
I recently found myself in Edinburgh Castle (right at the top of The Royal Mile) with a few hours to kill before making my way to the airport. Having had a dry weekend up to this point I had cockily gone out without any form of rain repellent and naturally as I was strolling around the inner ramparts I noticed the skies darken and a sea mist start to roll in ominously...
Deciding that I'd seen all the good bits on the inside of the castle and that I could do without the soon to be soggy al fresco parts I made a dash for it, but alas, just as I had made through the gatehouse the heavens did their thing and poured forth with all their might. Within seconds full saturation had occurred and as my survival instincts kicked in I knew I needed to find shelter somewhere and it was at the point I espied the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. Having no interest in photography or magic I thought "Perfect!" and in I sprinted.
....a brief historical interlude.....
It all began in the early 18th Century with the Short family - makers of scientific instruments. Wanting to display their work, by 1835 an observatory had been set up on Calton Hill by a Maria Theresa Short who put on scientific shows for the public.
By the early 1850s this all moved to an old townhouse and on top of the tower a camera obscura was added. This was later sold off in a public auction and was purchased and rejuvenated by a Patrick Geddes in 1892 and has remained in operation since then, albeit changing hands to Edinburgh University and then to Visitor Centre Ltd in 1982.
....and now back to the main attraction....
My timing was impeccable as I had made it with minutes to spare before the next Camera Obscura show was to take place...on level 5...all the way at the top! The recommended way to explore the exhibitions was to start at the rooftop and make your way down level by level so I decided to follow that advice and made my way up the stairs. Breathless and with aching legs (a gym seems to be an essential part of my future...if I can be bothered) I arrived in a waiting room with some seating around (which were naturally all taken) and awaited the next show.
There were some funky optical illusions stuck around the walls to garner your interest as you waited, as well as what look to be an amazing rooftop view. Due to the horrific nature of the weather I just poked my head out to have a brief glimpse, but on a lovely day you would be able to see all down the Royal Mile, up to the castle, the Pentland Hills and Edinburgh's 18th Century New Town and even further into the city with their free telescopes.
When the show begins you are ushered into smallish circular room, with a lower seated floor and upper standing level surrounding a white round table (no knights were present) in the centre of the room. Images from around the city are projected onto this table through use of a periscope with three lenses and a 45 degree mirror, and the operator spins a good yarn with tales from the past and present as they circle round the city. You will have to view a lot of the city upside down or in its side but eventually you will see some images the right way up. For me, the images were quite dull and grey due to the atrocity that was the weather, but on a good day I was told they would look very vibrant and crisp so I just picked an unfortunate time to visit (something to consider!).
For a full guide to how it all works visit http://www.camera-obscura.co.uk/camera_obscura/camera_how.asp.
As a fun exercise for children and any immature adults bits of card are passed around which can be used to make it seem as if you are picking up (or tossing aside or even squashing) pedestrians or cars, making bridges for vehicles to drive over, or anything else that may pop into your head as you find yourself playing God with these people's lives <insert evil laugh> which produces a good chuckle.
Once the 15 minute or so show has finished you are then released back into the wild and free to explore the remainder of the building at your leisure. Although you go up to the 5th floor, there are actually only 3 other floors to visit as one is mysteriously marked as 'private', so unless you like to break all the rules you'll have to give this floor a miss. Each floor is very different to the last but each as cool and mind blowing as the last.
In no particular order (as I can't actually remember the order) the floors were:
This floor is devoted to confusing and tricking your mind with all kinds of optical illusions, bendy mirrors and light tricks. There's an electric room filled with plasmaspheres which as I'm sure most people are familiar with cause electric charges to follow your hands in an electrifying display. As you can imagine, electric shocks are likely if not inevitable in a room like this, as I discovered when I was attacked by a precocious American boy who found it most amusing to keep shocking me. It seemed his parents felt the same way. Ha ha. There was also one that actually responded to your voice in the same way which I'd never come across before.
Another part of this floor contained a whole lot of bendy mirrors to make yourself tall, or small, fat or skinny or just plain mangled. Hours of fun to be had there! Other mirrors allowed you to swap features with other people such as eyes or noses, but as I was billy no-mates I could only look on forlornly at other visitors having fun, lamenting my all too small social circle. But there were plenty of other things for us singletons to do with some standard optical illusion pictures that boggle your mind, magic eye puzzles, some good old kaleidoscopes to dazzle the senses as well as some fascinating 19th century optical toys for any enthusiasts out there.
But my favourite thing on this floor was the shadow wall which with a simple flash causes your shadow to stay on the wall for a few minutes afterwards, so you can spend your time making clever or ridiculous shadows with friends...or alone as the case may be. There's easily something for everyone on this floor - it's just so much fun to confound your mind!
This floor is devoted to holograms and is a seriously cool floor. As you wander around what I believe is one of the largest holographic exhibitions in the whole of Europe, you are met by some weird and wacky holograms, from a giant tarantula to Boy George, an artificial hipbone to the Broighter Boat.
My personal favourite is of 'The Lindow Man' who was preserved in peat in Cheshire for over 2,000 years, but really it doesn't matter what the images are they just look so good as holograms. You do find yourself having to adjust your height to actually get the full effect of the holograms (i.e. making them move) which can make you look like you're doing some type of crab mating dance so something to watch out for if you fear public humiliation.
There's also a cool hotspot wall on this floor which will project your image and highlight the different temperatures with different colours all over your body. This is also a lot of fun, provided you don't have some kind of undiagnosed medical condition which causes odd parts of your body to unnaturally heat up.
I liked this floor, but it wasn't quite as captivating as the other two, although there were some very cool activities available. This floor would probably appeal to history buffs as it mainly concentrated on comparing the old Victorian Edinburgh with today's through use of stereoscopes and 3D glasses and such the like.
However, you do get the opportunity to step inside a pinhole camera to see the world the wrong way up - there's an upside down plastic man on the outside which becomes the right way up, and people standing next to him are the wrong way up - another mind blowing moment.
There is also a morph machine that works like a photo booth and copies your image, but will then morph you into something like a monkey or an ape, but with enough of your individual characteristic to keep you recognisable. Although with some people it was hard to spot the difference.
You also get to go through an infinity corridor with lights that just go on off into the distance...well I guess into infinity. On this same floor if memory serves, which I warn you it might not, there is also a little area that seemed to be under construction which housed a mirror maze and a giant vortex tunnel - I believe this will be called Bewilderworld. The mirror maze was very small but fun (although the mass of smudges on the mirrors made it very easy to work out which path was blocked by a mirror) and the vortex tunnel was hideously nauseating but awesome fun as you felt like you were practically on your side before you made it out the other side.
Once you've done all you want on all the floors, as is the design of every tourist attraction ever built, you will find yourself in the gift shop. As gift shops go, this one was a good'un. Filled with optical illusion related items aplenty including books, posters, holograms, build your own pinhole camera kits, and a whole load of other wacky items that will suit all ages (though with a massive leaning towards kids) you are practically guaranteed to find something worth buying.
I will say some items might be on the pricey side - I bought a William Shakespeare hologram for £16.99 and if it had been framed would have been something like £23.99, but the quality of all the products is really high, and it would be very easy to find a memento here from your visit if you so desired.
July & August: every day 09:30 - 19:30
September & October: every day 09:30 - 18:00
November - March: every day 10:00 - 17:00 (except Christmas Day)
April - June: every day 09:30 - 18:00
Prices (as of 2010)
Adult - £9.25
Student - £7.25
Senior - £7.25
Child (5-15yrs) - £6.25 *under 5yrs free
* Unfortunately due to the fact the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is housed in a listed building with an historic tower that there are no real facilities for people with physical disabilities as there is no lift and a lot of stairs, so it would be very wise to check before hand if this could be an issue.
* There is an illustrated guide for people with hearing difficulties, but since most of the exhibits are purely visual hopefully there shouldn't be too many issues.
* The show is deemed suitable for partially sighted individuals, but it is probably worth checking to see how much the tour would be diminished depending on the severity of the disability.
* Toilets are located on the first floor, which do have baby changing facilities.
* Pushchairs and bulky items are advised to be left at reception (there is a secure storage area).
My Final Thoughts
Loved it, loved it, loved it. The entire building is just filled with fascinating and mind boggling things which will grab your attention at every turn and fill you with visual amazement. There are some fabulous hands on activities and plenty of entertainment for both children and adults alike so I can't see a way anyone could be bored in here. It was a most fortuitously serendipitous find on my part, and if I ever go back to Edinburgh then I will make certain to return again!
I visited the Camera Obscura many years ago as a young teenager and I really enjoyed it. My husband and I spent a weekend in Edinburgh in the summer of 2006 and this was one of the first places we visited.
The place is set over five floors, with the camera obscura itself at the very top. The World of Illusions is on the lower floors, and this was our favourite part; the magic eye pictures and holograms are amazing, along with all the other fun stuff they've got, such as the optical tricks. By the time we actually got into the camera obscura though we were both feeling quite dizzy from looking at all the pictures! Which meant that we couldn't fully enjoy the experience of the camera obscura unfortunately. If we ever get the chance to visit again we'll go to see the camera obscura first then look at the lower floors.
I would love to take my children there as I think it's a great attraction for all the family, though I wouldn't recommend attempting it with a pushchair as there are lots of stairs to climb! It wouldn't be suitable for wheelchair users either.
The only problem I had with the place was that the toilets were of a poor standard; not very clean and a bit shoddy looking - not what you'd expect from such a popular tourist attraction.
Situated right in the heart of Edinburgh Camera Obscura sits at the top of the Royal Mile, near the famous castle.
Initially established in the early 1850's the Camera Obscura is Edinburgh's oldest purpose built visitor attraction.
This is one of my favourite attractions in Edinburgh. It's entertaining and informative for both visitors and locals.
Your visit begins by climbing all the way to the top of the tower to see the camera obscura itself. There you see live images of Edinburgh while a guide talks you through how the camera works as well as sharing stories about the history of the city. At the end of the talk you get the opportunity to "pick up" pedestrians and even vehicles off of the table the image is projected onto. It sounds quite strange but go see for yourself!
These talks are run continuously throughout the day and if you're waiting for a talk to begin you can wander about on the rooftop and view Edinburgh through the telescopes.
The building has 5 floors and each has a different mix of attractions.
The Magic Gallery has a wonderful set of optical illusions. Everything from bendy mirrors to giant kaleidoscopes and a giant plasma sphere!
The Light Fantastic exhibition is one of the largest hologram exhibitions in Europe. Some of the holograms look very realistic so be prepared for a few surprises!
On the Edinburgh Vision floor you have the opportunity to learn more about the history of both Edinburgh and photography. As well as the chance to morph yourself into a baby or an ape.
The Illusion Lab showcases some famous optical illusion and some unexpected ones.
Some of the things you will see here are truly spectacular. There is definitely something for everyone and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Opening times vary throughout the year but they usually open at 9:30am (10am Nov-Mar) and will close at 5pm at the earliest and 7:30pm at the latest but I would advise to check the opening times before you go. The last talk usually begins 1 hour before closing time and remember it's on the top floor so give yourself plenty of time to climb all those stairs!
The only downside to this attraction is that on days where visibility is poor you might now see much through the camera obscura so try and go on a nice day!
Having had to travel through to Edinburgh recently for hospital appointments we decided to have a bit of a day out in Edinburgh. We wanted to treat the kids, maybe to something a bit different, we'd done the castle before, the dungeons, museums etc, all the usual things, so when I came across a leaflet for the Camera Obscura World of Illusions, we thought we would go and check it out. I must admit, not knowing much about a camera obscura or what the visitor centre entailed I didn't think it would be anything special - Oh how wrong I was.
==The History of Edinburgh's Camera Obscura==
In the early 18th Century the Short family were scientific instrument makers and in 1776 the son, Thomas Short designed and built a Gothic House where he displayed all his optical instruments and telescopes, charging the public to use them. Thomas Short died in 1788 and some 39 years later Maria Short, Thomas's daughter, returned after having lived in the West Indies, claiming the telescopes as her inheritance. In 1835 Maria opened an observatory, which was inside a stone and wood building. In the early 1950s Maria purchased an old tenement building placing a camera obscura at the top. Other telescopes and exhibits were installed and it was named Short's Observatory. Over the years others have owned and ultimately looked after the camera obscura hence it has retained many of its original features.
==How the Camera Obscura Works==
Similar in principal to a periscope the Camera Obscura is situated in a darkened room in a tower at the top of the old tenement building, which is now the visitor centre. In the centre of the room is a round, white concave table. 6.5m above this table is a glass lens situated at the bottom of a metal cylinder, which rises up to and protrudes out of the roof. Half way up this metal tube is another lens and a third lens is situated at the top. Facing outwards at the top of the tube is a mirror, which is set at an angle and is protected by plain glass. The part of the tube outside is covered by a protective hood. The mirror catches the light and reflects images back down through the tube and onto the white table. Although I can't really totally understand the workings myself, what I can say is that is really does work and is very impressive!
==Seeing the Edinburgh Camera Obscura in Operation==
Laid out on 5 different floors we decided to start at the top and work our way down. It was quite a hike to the top floor by means of narrow steep stairs. The camera obscura is situated outside on the roof of the tenement building in a round tower. Showing times for the operation of the camera obscura are roughly every 15 - 20 minutes. When we went into the tower there were about 20 people in the room. You were told to stand around the edge of the white table. Alternatively there was a raised platform further back for those who couldn't get right to the table's edge to stand on so they still had a clear view of what was happening. The guide was very helpful explaining a bit about the history of the camera obscura and how it works. The room was then plunged into darkness and the guide manoeuvred the angle of the mirror above by using a long metal pole. It was amazing. Light shone down through the metal tube above the table and we were able to see size images of people and cars as they wandered about the streets of Edinburgh. We were shown landmarks and viewpoints of well beyond the city limits. You were even able to pick people up in your hands or on small pieces of paper that were handed out. It was very interesting and definitely something I would like to see again and the kids loved it. The images we saw reflected on to the table were so remarkably clear, it was almost like watching a film show being projected on to the table.
Once the camera obscura talk was over you were able to go out on to the rooftop and view the city through other optical devices, such as periscopes, binoculars and telescopes. It was great, but a clear day is definitely be advisable.
==Enjoying the Rest of the Visitor Centre==
As we worked our way slowly through the other levels and displays we were truly enthralled by everything we saw.
THE MAGIC GALLERY - Many optical illusions for family debates! Bendy mirrors to make your muscles ache from the laughter. Big lenses to give you a huge head, magic eye pictures - these I loved, as I was the only one in our family who could see them! Illusions to make you swap heads with others, beautiful, colourful kaleidoscopes and a shadow wall - this we loved. It's a white wall, you press yourself up against, the weirder the pose the better, perhaps arms sprawled out and one leg up high with your tongue stuck out, there's a flash and then as you move away your shadow is stuck to the wall!! It gradually fades after about a minute but it's so funny seeing yourself stuck to the wall!
THE ELECTRIC ROOM - This room shows us how electricity travels in an entertaining way by using plasma spheres, plasma tubes and crackle tubes. These are all great fun too. Touch the glass of the sphere or tube and watch how the colourful electric current follows your hand.
There were so many different hands on exhibits to enjoy and illusions to try and figure out. You could have a look at the mutoscope, which was basically a large flick book encased in glass with a handle on the side. As you turned the handle the pages of the flick book turned revealing the picture show.
Even going up and down the stairs we were entertained or teased by optical illusion pictures.
At the bottom there is also a very nice gift shop selling smaller versions of the many tricks and optical illusions on display.
I would definitely recommend this as a great family day out. A great way of bonding together, there was so much to chat about, discuss and debate together, about what we thought we saw or how we thought it worked. It was a really great happy day with plenty of laughter.
The staff were all very friendly and very helpful.
The Edinburgh Camera Obscura is situated right at the top of the Royal Mile just outside the castle, making it very easy to find. There is wheelchair access to the lower level of the visitor centre and shop area and when I asked about catering for wheelchair users I was told that although wheelchair access is not feasible through most of the visitor centre, as it is a listed building, they do have places where wheelchair users can wait for others visiting the centre where they are given special packs to enjoy, giving details about the centre and a good variety of the illusions shown in the centre for them to have a look through.
We spent about 3 hours in the centre but could have spent much longer there if we'd had more time, it was so interesting.
==Opening Times and Prices==
Opening times vary throughout the year as the camera obviously needs light to work:
July & August - Monday - Sunday 9.30am - 7.30pm
September & October - Monday - Sunday 9.30am - 6.00pm
November - March - Monday - Sunday 10.00am - 5.00pm
April - June - Monday - Sunday 9.30am - 6.00pm
Standard Admission Prices
Student (with ID) £6.50
Senior - £6.50
Child 5 - 15 - £5.50
Discounts are available for groups and bus tours.
Overall, if you are in Edinburgh, I would definitely recommend a visit to the camera obscura.
Also posted elsewhere under the same name.
Camera Obscura is a place good to come for tourists in Edinburgh. If you want to see it you'll find it up in the High Street in the walk up to the Castle. It's a white building with a dome shaped roof. You can see it in the picture. What it's basically about is cameras and all about them. I liked the bit at the end when you all went up to the dome. They have a camera over the car park in Edinburgh Castle and you can pick people up by paper and things. You get to look outside through telescopes. If photography isn't your thing I amen't sure if you' like it. I usually go to all the attractions when I'm in a different town though just to say I've been.
Whilst on a tour of Scotland for our holiday my partner and I were only in Edinburgh itself for one full day. We wanted to see as much as we could of the city, to gather information for a possible return visit to spend more time there. As we were only there for that one day we decided not to actually visit any of the major attractions, as it would take up too much of our precious time. After a walk around the city, we decided to visit the Camera Obscura Outlook Tower. We thought that at least this way we could get a good view of some of the main landmarks. There are a lot of steps to climb in order to reach the top but the view is well worth the effort. For those of you who don't know a camera obscura is basically an arrangement of mirrors in the form of a periscope which project an image of the outside world onto an inside surface - in this case a large white dish. The dish is housed in the centre of a small room with space for people to stand all round it and a raised section around the edge with a barrier to lean on, so that everyone can have a good view. There are about thirty people in the room at any one time. The room is in darkness when the door is closed so that the image projected onto the dish is clear and easy to see, and it is visible in quite small detail. It is possible to see individual people on the street below well enough to be able to recognise someone that you know if you saw them. The visit was hosted by a guide who knew Edinburgh and its history well and drew our attention to all the sights, using a special pointer so as not to obscure anyone’s view, and gave us a lot of interesting and historical information whilst keeping everyone amused. He told the story of a man, who was visiting the Camera Obscura and enjoying the view of Edinburgh in the dish, when he saw someone stealing his car. Another story was of the workers who used to sunbathe on the top of one of the buildings
providing quite a view for the sightseers, until someone from the firm visited the Camera Obscura and told the workers what he had seen when he returned to work! How true any of his stories were is another matter but he was very entertaining. He then asked the children if they would like to ‘pick up’ a car or a person. He told them to put a hand out a ‘scoop up’ the image so that it was then projected onto the palm of the hand, looking as though they had picked the object up. Quite a few of us adults just had to have a go as well! There is also a lookout platform all round the top of the tower and the view of Edinburgh from here is breathtaking. As you will have just had a ‘tour’ of the city from the guide you can then stand and pick out the various places you have just seen via the camera obscura. At various levels on the way up to the top there were rooms housing the biggest collection of holograms in the country. These were amazing. I found myself actually trying to touch the images just to prove to myself that they were not actually there. At one point I walked around a corner to be faced with a hologram of a pitchfork with the points facing me and I actually stepped back so as not to get hurt! These rooms are worth a visit in their own right. There is the obligatory gift shop at the bottom of the tower where they sell a wide range of gifts including pictures and postcards showing some of the holograms on display upstairs. I’m afraid I can’t remember how much it cost to enjoy this particular attraction but I do know it was not expensive and was well worth the money. On the whole we were very impressed with the whole thing - congratulations Edinburgh.