If you are ever in doubt as to whether or not your smalls will enjoy the Edinburgh’s World of Illusions and its Camera Obscura all you need to do is hang out on the street outside for a bit and let them play around with the fairground mirrors the attraction has set up along the walls.
Look Mama, I’m really small! And! Terrific Big Brother’s really tall! You are (even) fatter, HAHAHAHAHA! My body has disappeared! WE’RE UPSIDE DOWN!!! Our heads! Our heads are unimaginably huge and our legs are really skinny!!! That’s the FUNNIEST THING I’VE EVAH SEEN!!!!!!!
At which point you go in, if only because you are starting to feel as though you should give them the talk about how body shapes and physical attributes should not be quite so wildly amusing as they appear to be.
Once inside you are encouraged to book straight in for the next Camera Obscura show. This is probably because it’s at the very top of the five floor building, which is listed and therefore has no lift. It’s definitely best to get the climb over with and work your way down rather than have all those stairs to keep looking forward to.
Which, by the way, also means the place is pushchair unfriendly. They pack a lot into a smallish venue at the World of Illusions, and while there are generous (unlocked) cupboards for your coats behind the counter, it’s going to be difficult for them to store five hundred wheeled baby carriers. Bring the sling for those unambulatory children.
There may or may not be a short wait when you get to the Camera Obscura, but this is not a problem as there is a balcony up there too where you can look out over the very striking Edinburgh rooftops.
You are at the top of the Royal Mile here and at one of the higher points in this multi leveled town and so if you are into your cityscapes, this is an excellent place to indulge yourself. Especially because of the striking splodgy stone used throughout the city and, of course, the fact that the World of Illusion (with its Camera Obscura) is right by the castle, so you can have a good gander at those imposing walls too.
The show itself will depend a bit on the weather – the brighter it is, the better you will see. It was a decentish day when we went, so everything was pretty clear.
Now, I’ll be honest, I am not sure what is so fabulous about looking at a slightly faded image of the outside world we were just admitting on the balcony projected upside down onto a table aside from the fact it has been going since the 1850s.
I mean, I have a camera of my own which makes films, cartoons and inserts my face into computer games, and I can turn my Mama pink or stick funny hats on her too!
But the woman wielding the controls had a good line in patter and we all enjoyed the tricks she, and then later we, got to play on the people walking down below, so our attention did not, in the end, waver.
Incidentally, if you are walking the last 100 metres up to the castle do look upwards and smile! People up there will be messing with you and it’s nice to acknowledge it!
After that it was time to go and play with all the illusions. Which are not at all just based around doing it with mirrors. Although some of them are. One of Mama’s cherished memories is of watching my Terrific Big Brother bounce off one of the genuinely confusing panels in the mirror maze before he realised that not all corridors are what they seem.
And then do it again round the next corner.
We were also highly entertained by the puzzle that made it look as though our severed heads were being served up on a plate and by the room which allowed us to swap places. I was the giant! My Terrific Big Brother was tiny! But were were still the same size really! Endless entertaining photo ops for those who do not mind putting their kids’ images on the Internet.
Entertaining photo opportunities abound, in fact. Unfortunately, Mama was having too much fun to remember about taking some for the blog.
We also thought that the shadow generators were cool – you throw a shape, the light flashes, and there is your shadow fixed on the wall! And you can do it with different colours and cutout shapes later on!!
You can also paint with light, paint with pixels, and manipulate a photo of yourself so that you are older, younger or belonging to a different gender. And… look, the list goes on and on, and it’s very varied.
Our very favourite was the computer games projected on the floor. You do it all with your feet! Jumping! We’ve come across these before, but the World of Illusions took it to a whole new level, with football, a PG version of Grand Theft Auto, fish squashing opportunities and more.
But we were also thrilled to see the mechanical automatons. The *singing* mechanical automatons. The singing mechanical automatons of the type which Mama usually declines to put 50p in to get to work. The singing mechanical automatons of the type which Mama usually declines to put 50p in to get to work and which here were FREE. Coulda watched those for hours.
And my Terrific Big Brother was also pretty taken with the objects hidden in sometimes quite famous paintings, reproduced on the walls throughout the World of Illusions. Just goes to show that sometimes even the oldies are the best.
Which you can certainly see in what caught the adults’ eyes. They were particularly impressed by the electricity based illusions. Bless. They really are that old that a bit of artificial energy generation is thrilling. It’s so quaint! Mama also enjoyed making mini video clips of herself dancing around or pulling faces, which then got speeded up and put on a loop. So nice to see her entering the 20th century at last.
They also liked the ones that messed with your head. The way you could shake hands with yourself if you stuck your hand just right in that hole, or boggle as your left hand became your right if you put them in this. I dunno. My sense of self is only a few years old. I’m discovering new things about it every day! Do your own hands ever get overfamiliar? Apparently.
In fact, the Edinburgh Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is that rare rare thing, though, a place which is equally as enthralling for both adults and children alike, where everybody can enjoy playing around for hours on end.
You know all those really good interactive bits in museums which are for the kids, and which adults have to all be mature and let the little darlings run off steam before they drag them back to the dead fly catching exhibits? Where, maybe, the adults’d like to join in but can’t because there are SO MANY small bodies in the way and potentially judgmental peers all about so they just have to stand around staring gloomily at their phones instead?
It’s like that but with adult participation positively encouraged without them without having to wait for late openings. Everything is even at adult eye height as well as kids’! Or at adult eye height with a box nearby for us to stand on. There were, in fact, adults there without any children at all! Radical!
And best of all, there is no obvious educational point to any of it. I mean, I daresay you could get all enthused about light, physics, computing power, psychology and so on and so forth but you don’t actually have to. Minimal explanatory placards! Very liberating once in a while. Wooohooo!
Basically Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is a LOT of fun. Highly recommended and definitely worth the price of admission.
Address: Castlehill, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH1 2ND
Opening: Every day 9.30am to 7pm (NB there are slightly shorter hours in winter and longer hours in summer).
Admission: Adults: £13.95, Children 5 – 15: £9.95, Under fives: free.
By public transport: From Edinburgh’s Waverley station, go over Waverley Bridge and up the Royal Mile towards the castle. The Camera Obscura and World of Illusions is on the right just before the castle. There is also St Andrews Square Bus Station off Princes Street, and local buses 23/27/41//42/45/67 to Market Street and George IV Bridge stop nearby the attraction.
By car: Apparently there are car parks in Edinburgh. Mama cannot comment on their ease of access or price, however.