Skip to main content

The Camera Obscura Edinburgh offers stunning 360° view of the medieval city

Camera obscura Edinburgh
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’ve been to Scotland, you might've visited The Camera Obscura Edinburgh and World of Illusions attraction. Spread over six floors, the interactive and mind-bending experience offers a whole new way to look at the world and its camera obscura is one of the main attractions. 

In its simplest form, a camera obscura is a dark room with a small hole in one wall that allows light to pass through, projecting an upside-down image onto the opposite side. It was invented in the second half of the 16th Century, although conceptual descriptions can be found in Chinese texts from 400 BC. 

What is a pinhole camera and how to make one (opens in new tab)

The camera obscura Edinburgh has a fascinating history that dates back to 1835, when Maria Short opened the Popular Observatory on Calton Hill. This exciting attraction brought moving images to Edinburgh a whole half a century before cinema was invented, and was a marvel for visitors. 

By 1849 pressure from the council forced Maria to close the attraction, but undeterred she relocated once more to a 17th Century building on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. After her death, the building was purchased along with the camera obscura by the Scottish scientist and philanthropist, Patrick Geddes. He renamed the attraction The Outlook Tower and encouraged locals to visit in order to expand their world view. 

Today, the camera obscura Edinburgh still stands in the same place, although it’s had some tweaks since its early days, and now offers a 360° view of the city thanks to some cleverly placed mirrors. Of course, this is an attraction that only really works when it’s bright outside – so if you’re planning a visit to The Camera Obscura and World of Illusions (opens in new tab), make sure you go before it gets dark!

There are lots of camera obscuras still in operation all over the world, including The Observatory and Camera Obscura in Bristol, UK, Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky in North Carolina, USA, The Alcazar of Jerez De La Frontera Camera Obscura in Spain, and the largest is situated on a clifftop in the Welsh coastal town of Aberystwyth.

If you fancy more of a challenge you could also have a go at making one yourself! It’s easy enough to do and there are YouTube videos (opens in new tab) with detailed instructions, or you could use the BonfotonUP (opens in new tab) device – but doing it yourself is a lot more fun and a lot cheaper. 

Read more:

DIY pinhole camera (opens in new tab)
Best film cameras (opens in new tab)
Best 35mm film, roll film and sheet film (opens in new tab)

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.