Edinburgh is Scotland’s capital city, and as such, attracts many thousands of tourists and visitors every year, especially during the Edinburgh Festival and its associated offshoot, the Fringe. Edinburgh Castle dominates the city skyline, on a volcanic plug at one of the highest points of the city, and the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions, a mere stone’s throw down the Canongate from the castle, is Edinburgh’s oldest purpose-built tourist attraction. The camera obscura itself was installed in the current building in the 1850s, and, along with other science-related exhibitions, the attraction was promoted at that time as Short’s Observatory and Museum of Science and Art. The Short family were scientific instrument makers, and had previously operated an exhibition centre for their instruments and telescopes on Calton Hill, to the East of the castle.
In its current form, the attraction includes the camera obscura itself, and ‘World of Illusions’, including the Magic Gallery, Light Fantastic and Edinburgh Vision, amongst others, as well as a rooftop terrace, which, from one of the highest points of the city, affords wonderful 360-degree views. The gift shop offers a wide range of themed items, including holograms and optical illusions, and can be visited without having to buy a ticket for the attraction itself.
The camera obscura itself uses a system of lenses and mirrors to project a 360 degree image of the landscape around the building onto a large white table in the centre of the viewing room. In terms of mechanics, it’s effectively a combination of a pinhole camera and a periscope. The lens system was upgraded in 1947, with modifications that improved both the quality of the image, and the orientation. With a basic camera obscura, the image is vertically inverted and reversed left-to-right, however the modified lens system on the Edinburgh camera obscura corrects both of these aspects.
The location of the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is less than ideal, a car hire from Edinburgh will increase your flexibility allowing you to visit them freely. The nearest public car park is at Castle Terrace, close to Lothian Road, which is some way downhill from the attraction. On-street parking is available on Johnson Terrace, the street leading from Castle Terrace up to the castle, in limited numbers, but public parking around the castle is severely restricted in the period when the Edinburgh Military Tattoo is in progress, during the festival period of July-August.
Generally speaking, parking is quite restricted in other areas of the city centre, especially so around the castle and the streets leading up to it. In addition to this, as at mid-2013, ongoing works are taking place on the construction of a tram line in the city centre, with various road closures and changes increasing congestion and displacing traffic from other areas of the city. The city council operates a zoned parking scheme, with reduced charges as you move further away from the city centre. The castle and camera obscura are in the central zone of Edinburgh’s designated parking zones, and on-street paid parking operates between the hours of 8.30am and 6.30pm. In the zones further from the city centre, the controlled hours are from 8.30am to 5.30pm. Further detail can be found on the Edinburgh Council website.