At first glance, the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions may seem like any other tourist attraction with its flashy, family-friendly advertising. In fact, it’s one of the oldest attractions in the United Kingdom built with the express purpose of drawing visitors. The site was born in 1851 as Maria Theresa Short’s Observatory and Museum of Science and Art, which it remained for forty years, with the camera obscura at the very top. When urbanist Patrick Geddes bought the space in 1892, he transformed it into a museum of urban planning. After an ill-fated attempt by Edinburgh University to turn the museum into an urban planning center, the building was purchased by its current owners, who have run the attraction since 1977.
Skip the funhouse mirrors—unless they’re your thing—and make your way straight to the main attraction: the camera obscura that’s been at the top of the former observatory for over a century and a half. A prehistoric device that uses a dark room, a light, and a pinhole to project an image, Edinburgh’s camera obscura projects a live, interactive view of the city. Then there’s the rooftop, which is worth a visit just for the view of the Royal Mile and beyond. It’s an unbeatable vista on a clear day or night, and especially at sunset. After that, you can make your way through the floors of illusions and interactive exhibits that occupy the lower two floors of the building. After all, you’ve paid the entry fee.