Day Trips · Edinburgh · Europe · Family Travel · Museums · Scotland · UK · United Kingdom

TrippinTwins: Experiencing Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura 

We knew New Year’s Eve would be a late night, so we planned a leisurely New Year’s Day morning.  We were not super concerned with setting an alarm, figuring we would wake up in time to catch our bus into Old Town for brunch and an afternoon walking tour. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say, but that was certainly not the sharpest idea either of us have had. When Tara woke, it was an hour later than expected and she panicked, calling me to wake up saying, “Get up, get up! We have to leave soon.”

Barely awake, we managed to agree to reduce our usual “get ready” time to remain on schedule.  In those few minutes, we both managed  to make the same assumption that a light jacket would be just fine to carry us through the day. Boy, were were wrong!! When we walked outside, it was sooo much cooler than expected. Tara, not as easily bothered by cold temperatures, somehow talked me into sucking it up and hoping for the best, as it was really my only option.

I agreed to head to brunch, since I had to agree that finding food would improve my mood significantly. Hoping it would warm up after brunch turned out to be only wishful thinking. It somehow managed to only get colder and windier. Tara agreed that staying warm on the walking tour with light jackets would be a challenge, so we would play it by ear.

After the first hour and a good stopping point, we thanked our guide and bowed out in search of a coffee shop to warm up. Afterwards, while walking towards Edinburgh Castle, we noticed a crowd gathered outside Edinburg’s Camera Obscura & World of Illusions and decided to head inside to check it out.

Upon walking in, we quickly joined the ticket line where we learned the entrance fee secures all day access as long as the entrance stamp remains on your hand.  The six floors can be tackled in any order, but a majority of the crowd seems to make their way up to the top with the rooftop deck/camera demonstration before making their way down to experience the World of Illusions.

It was already around 3:30 PM when we bought our tickets, so we heeded the ticketing agent suggestion and made our way up the tight and windy stair cases to the sixth floor.  Once there, a staff member inquired as to whether we were interested in attending the last fifteen minute camera demonstration of the day. We were thankful for the notice and after telling him we in fact were, then directed towards the rooftop deck to spend some time taking in the amazing view of the city. Although the views are not hard to see, telescopes are offered and are quite the crowd pleaser.  The best part was that we arrived at the perfect time for a perfect sunset view!


When it was time for the camera demonstration, we were taken to a dark room and instructed to gather around the camera viewfinder, which is about the size of a medium round table. Our guide demonstrated how the camera worked by moving it around the viewing area, giving the group a virtual tour of Edinburgh. The sun had already set, so we were told our views would be limited to well known brightly lit neighborhoods and buildings. We were pleasantly surprised at how many city landmarks we could identify along with the areas that had been lit with holiday lights. The definite crowd pleaser was being given white pieces of paper which we used to “pick up” objects and landmarks.

If this demonstration is a priority for your visit, we suggest getting there earlier in the day. We were told the views are better on sunny and less cloudy days.

After the camera demonstration, we spent the next two hours exploring the World of Illusions starting with level 5 and working our way down to 2. (5: Magic Gallery 4: Light Fantastic 3: Eye Spy Edinburgh 2: Bewilderworld)  Every floor is divided up in smaller sections with various activities and hands on learning opportunities fun for both kids and adults. Many of the displays allow for hands on learning experiences using light displays, color and other optical illusions.  In addition, there are puzzles, a vortex tunnel, a mirror maze, which are all popular.

Like many places with multiple exhibits/stations, we quickly found out that a few stations attracted more crowds than others. We skimmed the rooms for the stations with the fewest people, did those first and came back to the others later.  We had a fantastic afternoon reading and learning about Edinburgh and photography, learning about the illusions, playing with the hands on experiments and learning the explanations behind the tricks. It took us about two hours to do every station we were interested in, but we can see others easily spending 3-4 hours.

Camera Obscura is a fantastic place to add to your Edinburgh itinerary that most everyone can enjoy.

Hat tips:

The stair cases are very narrow and steep, which can be challenging

All strollers have to stay in the lobby

There is no elevator

Families seemed to use the all day access for easy restroom access 🙂



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