On a day trip to Edinburgh, Mike and I wanted to do something a bit different. We’d been to most of the museums, frequented a fair few of the bars and walked the cobbled streets around the castle but were eager for something new.
A quick search online landed me on the website of Camera Obscura & World of Illusions right in the centre. I’d not heard of it before but the website lured me in with a promise of something a little bit bizarre and with a nod to the history of the Victorian’s obsession with all things illusive.
Heralding the legacy of the Camera Obscura Telescope which gave visitors a unique view of the city, the attraction promises to continue mesmerising visitors plunging you “even further into our world of wonder delight”. Intrigued we decided to give it a whirl…
The website itself is slick and informative and details what is on offer without giving too much away. The floor by floor guide is both comprehensive and the UX experience smooth.
Detailed information on how to get there, opening times and FAQs are appreciated but overall there felt a missed opportunity in really selling the brand through tone of voice, language and imagery. Whilst the brand personality suggests something of an eccentric Victorian scientist and tone of the website felt a little dull and factual.
Whilst the website makes it clear that they are open every day from 9am to 9pm, it’s not immediately obvious that you can’t book tickets.
It took some rooting around in the FAQs to find out you can only buy tickets on the day, and whilst they offer suggestions about what time is best to visit to avoid crowds, it did leave me wondering if it would be overcrowded or if we would be turned away if it was too busy.
The instructions on the website and the use of Google Maps made finding Camera Obscura and The World of Optical Illusions easy to find. Being only a short walk from the train station and right in the centre amongst restaurants and shops it’s well situated.
Arriving into the attraction itself was a little underwhelming and not really in fitting with the idea of a weird and wonderful world initially suggested by the brand.
We entered a small office type room with one person at the ticket desk. Purchasing the ticket felt rushed, a little abrupt and very little information was given about what was on offer. Our hand was stamped (circa a nightclub) and we were told we could enter and leave as we wished. We were then directed up a narrow staircase….
Despite this, the exhibitions themselves, laid out across 6 floor, completely encapsulated the visitor into a world of bizarre but magical confusion and entertainment.
The balance of displaying the history of optical illusions and Victorian curiosity of the bizarre alongside modern day technology and digital illusions was perfect and completely in fitting with the brand.
On each floor, you entered a new world and the variety of activities and exhibits provided something for everyone and created this sense of being overwhelmed which was in fitting with the brand.
Lighting, sound effects, and careful use of space created an entirely interactive and immersive experience which encouraged you to bond with other visitors - you found yourself laughing along with other visitors rather than trying to avoid them.
Small but significant touches showed that they really had put thought into the customer experience. For example, before entering the mirror maze you were provided with plastic gloves to prevent finger marks on the mirrors which would therefore ruin the illusion.
You were allocated a time slot to view the Camera Obscura, on the top floor or the building – small groups meant everyone had a go on the camera and it wasn’t overcrowded.
The staff displaying the camera were also crucial in creating this atmosphere of curiosity and wonderment, and despite the fact they must have conducted the 10 minute show hundreds of times before, they communicated with genuine excitement and passion.
Facilities and F&B
Camera Obscura don’t have a café or restaurant onsite, but they have partnered with restaurants in Edinburgh so that your ticket offers a small discount off food or drink.
This discount does tend to be pretty modest and there is a missed opportunity to partner with local independent eateries in Edinburgh that are more in fitting with the brand, rather than chains like the Hard Rock Café.
There is an abundance of quirky ‘Alice in Wonderland’ tea shops, spooky cocktail bars and bizarre underground taverns in Edinburgh that would be a perfect fit with the brand, and would not only continue the customer’s experience but would also show that they are helping support local businesses.
The exhibitions themselves were fantastic and completely on brand of Victorian curiosity with a hint of modern-day technology.
However, the elements supporting the main attraction (the website, F&B, building, facilities etc.) are functional but lack brand personality and there’s a really opportunity to keep the experience alive for visitors throughout the journey – from booking to leaving.