What is it about something that’s not allowed, that makes us want to do it? That forbidden fruit that is oh-so tempting, even though we know it’s against the rules? In normal, everyday life, the most forbidden thing we might happen across is the freshly baked pie we’re banned from touching until dinnertime. But around the world, there are places that are so secret, protected or remote that most humans are not allowed to visit them, or in some cases, get anywhere near.
From sacred shrines and entire islands dedicated to scientific research. To the hidden depths of the ocean that’s only ever had two human visitors and the recipe vault holding the secret recipe for Coca Cola. These are places that for many wide and varied reasons, we’re simply not invited to.
So join us on our mystery tour of these 20 forbidden places you can never visit and lose yourself in the wonder of how amazing it would feel to get access to these fascinating places. And if you do ever happen to get access to any of them, make sure you let us know what it was like!
U.N. Buffer Zone, Cyprus
Behind barbed wire fences a watchtower looks down over an eerie scene. An airport stands, thick with dust, old aircraft decaying on the landing strips, nearby abandoned homes, businesses, cars and buildings lay idle as they have done for decades.
This is the UN Buffer Zone which cuts through Cyprus, dividing the independent Republic of Cyprus from the Turkish-occupied northern part of the island. In 1974, Turkish troops invaded Cyprus, escalating the civil war between the Greeks and the Turks. The U.N. then took control of this ‘buffer zone’ in the capital Nicosia after the ceasefire was declared.
In an attempt to prevent future clashes between the populations of the two halves of the island, peacekeepers from the United Nations have patrolled the buffer zone for years. As a result this area has remained frozen in time, and no one is allowed into this zone and if you even tried you probably wouldn’t make it out alive.
Spy Museum, China
China’s Spy Museum is a fascinating place, dedicated to all things espionage, with guns disguised as lipsticks and hollowed-out coins, designed to conceal top-secret documents, amongst the interesting items on exhibit in Nanjing.
There’s just one catch here. So sensitive are China’s rulers about spies, secret agents and the perceived threats that real-life James Bond-types pose, foreign visitors are not encouraged to visit.
Opened to Chinese citizens in 2009, with overseas visitors told to stay away, the rules have been relaxed somewhat in recent times, although a warm welcome shouldn’t be expected. Inside is a showcase of curated propaganda about foreign spies, with the purpose as much to mobilise the Chinese public to join the state’s fight against international espionage as it is to inform, educate and entertain. There’s even a report-a-spy hotline, with numerous signs here urging visitors to be alert and to inform the authorities immediately should anything suspicious be sighted.
Mariana Trench, Pacific Ocean
Just two humans have ever descended into the Mariana Trench’s deepest depths — aka Challenger Deep — and no-one has been there since 1960. Danger lurks in the perpetual darkness, a place where the immense pressure is crushing, and so great are the risks involved, it has become a no-go zone for even the most courageous. But how vast is it down there, in the deepest natural trench on Earth? 1,500 miles long and 43 miles wide, Challenger Deep is almost seven miles from the surface.
To put it into perspective, imagine dropping Mount Everest into the gaping chasm. To do so would be to leave its peak still more than a mile under water. It’s hostile and unwelcoming, home to mysterious creatures that lurk in unseen places and it couldn’t be more difficult to reach.
Coca-Cola Recipe Vault, United States
Nothing beats an ice cold Coca-Cola on a hot day, and millions around the world agree. The recipe for our favourite fizzy drink is one of the most closely guarded secrets in the world. There are claims that only two people know it at any given time and they can never travel on the same plane in case it crashes.
As a back up plan, just in case disaster did strike, the legendary mystery formula is secured in a vault in Atlanta. And you’d need more than a lock and key to get into it. The protected secret recipe is kept in a solid metal box inside a metal vault which is in a room protected by a security barrier. The area has high tech surveillance cameras throughout with 24 hour armed guards, and the door can only be opened via a hand scanner and secret code.
Whilst we may all love to know what makes Coca Cola taste so darn good we can be pretty certain it no longer contains the ingredient that everyone couldn’t get enough of pre 1903. Yes that’s right, before then each bottle of Coca-Cola would contain a hefty dose of cocaine! No wonder it perked you up.
Pravcicka Brana, Czech Republic
Towering over the stunning landscape in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, Pravcicka Brana is a sight to behold. If it looks like something from a film set, it might be because it has featured in countless movies, not least The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, but Europe’s largest natural stone bridge is very real and no special effects are required here.
Located three kilometres from Hrensko in the Czech Republic, not far from the German border, visitors are drawn here to see Pravcicka Brana for themselves, but the arch itself — spanning an impressive 26.5 metres — is strictly off limits.
Having suffered heavy erosion due to growing visitor numbers, tourists have been forbidden from setting foot on the arch since 1982. You might be tempted to attempt a crossing, but trust us on this, it is not a good idea. With the crumbling cliffs prone to erosion and the drop significant, the rules are there for a reason.
Ise Grand Shrine, Japan
Japan is the homeland of shrines. With more than 80,000 national shrines you could say they are a very important part of Japanese culture. But one shrine tops them all; the Ise Grand Shrine, an ornate temple that is also the most expensive in Japan due to its intricate architecture.
And with that level of detail comes some pretty hefty maintenance too. Every 20 years the shrine is rebuilt at a cool million dollar price tag, in order to appease the Shinto tradition of death and renewal.
With all of this hard work you may fancy taking a look at this beautiful icon of Japanese culture yourself, but let us stop you there, unless of course you are a member of the Japanese imperial family. They are the only people on Earth who are granted special permission to this grand shrine. Visitors aren’t allowed to enter or take photographs. You may only sneak a peek of the shrine’s rooftops over tall wooden fences making this spiritual place even more mysterious and majestic.
Surtsey Island, Iceland
Surtsey Island is a small volcanic island off the coast of Iceland, and a natural haven for various flora and fauna which makes it a destination favoured by scientists who gather information on plant and animal life.
Pre 1960’s the rules about visiting the island of Surtsey were a little more lax than they are now. All of that changed because of a tomato. Yes, a tomato. One scientist who visited the island answered a call of nature upon a lava rock, weeks later a tomato plant began sprouting on that very spot leaving fellow scientists completely baffled.
After much thought they finally realised what must have been the origin of the mysterious tomato plant and it was immediately destroyed as it would have disturbed their scientific research. We are pretty sure the scientist in question wasn’t allowed back either. As a result visitors are now strictly limited in their numbers to avoid disrupting the eco-system of this natural laboratory. And those who do manage to make it onto the island are thoroughly searched for seeds before they step foot on land.
Vatican Secret Archives, Vatican City
The Vatican Secret Archives are officially said to contain historical artefacts dating back more than 12 centuries. The vast 53 mile archive houses an impressive collection of relics including letters penned by Michelangelo, and the pleas for help that Mary Queen of Scots sent to Pope Sixtus V before her execution. This could be the greatest collection of historical objects in the world, yet only a handful of people have ever been allowed inside.
As a result the Secret Archives are shrouded in mystery and subject to wild conspiracy theories. Speculation of what lies within these forbidden walls include evidence of magic, demons, extraterrestrials and details of the predicted apocalypse…or even the missing Chronovisor, a nifty device that allows its users to view past or future events and was purportedly built by an Italian priest and scientist, Father Pellegrino Maria Ernetti, so he could witness Christ’s crucifixion first hand. Fascinating… yet unless you are an incredibly select scholar who is approved by the Vatican and you have specifically asked to view a particular relic then your chances of gaining access are next to none!
Tomb of Qin Shi Huang, China
You’ll no doubt be familiar with the iconic faces of the underground army of terracotta warriors at Xi’an; one of the most incredible archaeological discoveries of all time.
Though this ancient site sees thousands of tourists descend in their droves, not many are aware that buried deep beneath them, lies an emperor in his mausoleum, surrounded by a river of poisonous mercury, who’s been undisturbed for more than 2000 years.
The tomb holds the body and the secrets of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who died on Sept. 10, 210 B.C. No human being has ever stepped inside these sacred walls and it will likely stay that way for the foreseeable future. We can only ever imagine what treasures lie within…
Heard Island, Australia
This barren, volatile island somewhere between Madagascar and Antarctica technically belongs to Australia. Though we suspect most Australians would prefer to stay on their own golden beaches than attempt to visit this bleak and desolate rock in the middle of nowhere.
Considered one of the most remote places on earth, this 368-square-mile landmass is mountainous, has a staggering 41 glaciers and two volcanoes. Active ones at that; in the year 2000 a 2 kilometre long lava flow poured out from the southwest side of one of the volcanoes. If that wasn’t enough to deter you from trying to visit, the weather is also notoriously poor with high speed rough winds and heavy rainfall.
If you are still keen to visit the islands, bear in mind its a minimum of a two-week sail to any other major land mass making it one of the most treacherous places to try and reach in the world. Only penguins, seals and marine birds are brave enough to call this place home. Even if you defeated the elements and made it to the shores of Heard Island you would be likely be breaking the law as humans are strictly prohibited from visiting unless you have “compelling scientific reasons.”
Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, Ethiopia
Dating back to the 4th Century AD, the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion claims to contain the Ark of the Covenant, the ornate gold chest that houses the Ten Commandments.
Though some doubt the authenticity of these claims, there are many more who believe it to be true. Kept tightly under wraps, there is only one person allowed to view the Ark; a special guardian monk appointed by a predecessor. No one else in the world is allowed access to this most holy of relics, though many have tried to bribe the guardian monk to no avail…
Who knows if we’ll ever able to check the authenticity of the relic anyway. In a recent escalating conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, international experts have raised the alarm over the security of the ark and other religious and cultural artefacts. They add: “There are reports of looting of manuscripts from Tigrayan churches and monasteries, and warnings that they will … be taken out of Ethiopia to be sold at antiquities markets in other countries.”(source, Guardian – Jan 2021).
North Brother Island, United States
Image: Reivax, Wikimedia Commons
Less than a mile from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan in New York lies a secret island that has been abandoned for almost 60 years. North Brother Island is home to the Riverside Hospital which has seen its fair share of death, decay and ruin over the years. Once used as a place to quarantine sufferers of tuberculosis, yellow fever and small pox in the 19th century; later it was used after World War II to house veterans, and then as a treatment centre for heroin addicts.
Now sadly left to crumble, it lies in ruins covered by weeds and overgrown plants. Today it is a haven for birds and only with very strict written permission from the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation can you gain access to the island, otherwise it is strictly forbidden.
Fort Knox, United States
If you fancy getting your hands on America’s hoards of gold then you will have your work cut out. This Kentucky military base has been used for many purposes over the years but is currently used to house the US’s gold.
As you can imagine security here is pretty tight. You know the saying ‘harder to get into than Fort Knox’? Well it’s true. Hurdles you’d have to overcome to get your hands on piles of the shiny stuff include barbed wire, minefields, electric fences, armed guards and security cameras. If you manage to get that far bear in mind there are Apache helicopters poised and waiting for the signal to fire. Good luck!
Visitors are not permitted at Poveglia, a small island close to the Lido di Venezia, where the past is dark and the present still unsettling.
Used as a quarantine station for plague victims in the late 1700s, 100,000 people are believed to have perished here and, so prevalent is death, some 50% of the island’s soil is said to comprise human remains.
Later used to house a mental hospital, several buildings remain, but with Italian authorities determined to keep the curious away, don’t expect to see them at close quarters.
With more than one plague pit believed to lie not far beneath the surface, Poveglia might beckon those with an interest in the macabre, but most will be content to keep their distance. Given the island’s history, it’s perhaps no surprise that Poveglia is rumoured to be haunted.
Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Norway
So imagine the scene, post nuclear fallout as the survivors attempt to rebuild and sustain human life upon planet Earth. The powers that be have got you covered.
At least in terms of seedlings; 400 feet into a mountainside on the remote island of Spitsbergen, halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, lies a subterranean seed storage facility. The Global Seed Vault as its known, houses approximately 890,000 samples of 4,000 different species of seeds from all over the world.
The vault is designed as an insurance policy in the event of a global disaster that could wipe out certain species of plants, and more importantly major food supplies. The Doomsday Vault is ominously described as ‘the final back up’ and has recently had its first withdrawal to retrieve vital seeds for Syria in the wake of the ongoing bloody conflict.
Woomera Test Range, Australia
There are few places on Earth more dangerous than this, the world’s largest weapons testing facility, found deep in the Australian outback and strictly off-limits to all but the small number with the required authorisation.
Located north-west of Adelaide, the Woomera Prohibited Area is vast, spanning 127,000 square kilometres, but those planning to explore this barren landscape should think again. The weapons put through their paces here include missiles, drones and rockets, whilst nuclear tests have also been carried out in the past.
Prohibited and protected under Australian law, the authorities take a dim view of anyone who gets too close, although so remote is its location, you’re not likely to stumble upon it by chance. Secretive in the extreme, Woomera (named after an indigenous wooden Australian weapon) is a fascinating place. That said, please take our advice on this one: stay away.
Bhangarh Fort, Rajasthan, India
Feeling brave? You’ll need great courage to visit Bhangarh Fort, renowned as India’s most haunted place and a destination wrapped in mystery, myth and all things eerie.
Dating back to the 17th century, Bhangarh enjoys a scenic location in rural Rajasthan, but beyond the area’s natural beauty, there is something unsettling that hangs in the air. This is more than just an historic ruined city. This is a place that can trouble even the most fearless.
Tourists do visit Bhangarh, but none tend to linger as the light starts to fade and visitors are forbidden from spending time here after dark. When the shadows fall at the foot of the hills, it’s time to make your retreat as the fort becomes ever creepier. There is said to be a curse on Bhangarh and, no matter how brave you might be feeling, this is not something that you should attempt to put to the test.
Morgan Island, South Carolina, United States
Thinking about paying a visit to Morgan Island? Take our advice: don’t. Known also as Monkey Island — for obvious reasons — this wild South Carolina marshland is home to around 3,500 free-ranging rhesus monkeys, housed here since 1979 and protected under strict US federal laws.
Located close to Beaufort on the state’s scenic coastline, you can spot the monkeys from the water, but those keen to get a closer look shouldn’t be tempted to set foot ashore. Morgan Island is a base used for education and research into allergies and infectious diseases and is uninhabited for good reason.
The monkeys are of Indian origin and, with their protected home an invaluable breeding colony, their numbers are growing all the time. It’s a secretive place, where trespassing is forbidden and mysteries endure. Take a boat trip by all means, but please don’t think about trying to dock.
North Sentinel Island, India
Off the coast of Myanmar is a tiny forested island where indigenous Sentinelese people reside in voluntary isolation from the rest of the world. The tribal Sentinelese have lived on North Sentinel Island for over 60,000 years and are extremely opposed to outside influences and remain entirely disconnected from the modern world.
The Sentinelese are known to fiercely protect their independence, sometimes violently, and for this reason, very little is known about their island. Reportedly, an Indian Coast Guard helicopter made the mistake of flying nearby on reconnaissance and was shot at with arrows by the island’s natives. 50 to 400 natives are estimated to be living on the island. Indian Authorities respect their right to complete isolation and prohibits any one to travel to the island or even approach within five nautical miles.
The Sentinelese are so untouched from the real world that they are even exempt from laws. This means that the indigenous people are allowed to legitimately kill outsiders who trespass on their island without prosecution. Natives will frequently attack boats that reach too close to their shores and actually killed two fishermen in 2006 and a US Missionary in 2018.
Snake Island (Ilha Da Queimada Grande), Brazil
Off the coast of Brazil is a tiny but incredibly dangerous island called Ilha da Queimada Grande which is fondly known as Snake Island. Snake Island is home to thousands of lethal venomous golden lancehead snakes (Bothrops insularis).
The golden lancehead is a species of pit viper which has an incredibly deadly venom known to cause more human mortalities than any other group of snakes in either North or South America. Its venom can cause swelling, kidney failure, intestinal bleeding, haemorrhaging of the brain, and can kill a human within one hour. There are estimated to be anywhere between 2,000 and 4,000 lancehead snakes on Snake Island.
The golden lancehead snake is not even the only snake species on the island, only the most dangerous. There are many varieties of snake on the island and only a small amount of non-venomous snakes. There is estimated to now be between one and five snakes per square meter. The reason thousands of snakes are thought to have collected here due to rising sea levels containing them on the small island measuring no more than 43 hectares. The island was once was inhabited until the late 1920’s but now, for human protection, Snake Island is completely off limits to the public and it’s actually illegal to visit the island.
Bohemian Grove, United States
It’s perhaps the most exclusive campground on Earth, a 2,700 acre site in Monte Rio, California, where some of the world’s most prominent men gather and visitors are warned to keep out.
Belonging to the Bohemian Club, a private gentleman’s establishment in San Francisco, this secretive site has played host to more than one former US President down the years, as well as artists, musicians, business leaders and politicians, and such is the guest list, it’s no surprise that the campground is kept on constant lockdown.
The main gathering tends to take place among the magnificent redwoods in the summer months, but those thinking about trying to infiltrate Bohemian Grove should think again. Former military personnel patrol the site all year round, whilst the most sophisticated security systems — including motion sensors and night vision cameras — are used to ensure intruders are kept away. Expect the roads to be closed, the Secret Service to be in attendance and go and explore somewhere else.
Moscow Metro-2, Russia
If nuclear catastrophe or epic natural disaster strikes Russia, they’ve got it covered. Welcome to the city beneath a city, Moscow’s purported secret underground system, a series of metro lines linking the Kremlin, the Federal Security Office HQ, the government airport and several other important locations.
Reportedly built by the KGB, the existence of this complex labyrinth hasn’t been formally admitted to by Russia but it’s rumoured that Stalin’s extreme paranoia was the catalyst for its construction. Theories diverge about the expansiveness of the underground metro… Rumour says that the building material for the metro came from Moscow’s finest imperial and religious buildings that were being wrecked on Stalin’s orders. The construction took two years and was achieved by 75,000 workers, who endured abusive working conditions.
What happened to the project after Stalin’s death is unclear. Some sources claim that it stopped shortly after, others claim that every administration added new lines to the underground system, but you might hear various things on the matter. Indeed, rumours about Metro-2 are extremely common in Russia and have been propagated by Russian citizens. Though Metro-2 stays a myth, as no one can prove its existence…
Lascaux Caves, France
The Lascaux Caves in Southwestern France is home to 600+ Paleolithic cave paintings which are predicted to be over 20,000 years old. The rare paintings are exceptional in quality and scale, they cover the walls and ceilings of the cave illustrating local fuana and large animals such as stags, cattle, felines, bison and some mythical creatures.
Archaeologists believe the caves were extensively used for ancient hunting and religious rites. The caves in Lascaux were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 and from 1948 the incredible paintings were opened to the public and received 1,200 visitors every day. However, the opening of the caves to visitors ultimately damaged the caves too much.
The exposure of the cave paintings to artificial light and changes in air circulation resulted in a severe infestation of microbial and fungal growths. To protect the site and stop the vividly coloured designs from fading, they were forced to stop people visiting and closed the Lascaux Caves for good in 1969.
If you’d still like to see these special Paleolithic designs, they’ve now opened a replica of the Lascaux Caves close to Montignac village and next to the original site.
Image: Pesotsky, Wikimedia Commons
It transpires that Russia has its very own Area 51, only it’s a whole town. Mezhgorye is situated deep within the Ural Mountains and is said to be 400 square miles large but its still completely off the radar.
The Kremlin claims it is merely a mining site but that doesn’t explain why its surrounded by two battalions of armed guards who will use lethal force to prevent anyone going anywhere within the vicinity.
It is believed that Mezhgorye could be a nuclear missile site containing automatic missiles that can be activated remotely, complete with a large fully equipped emergency bunker to house Russia’s oligarchy if nuclear war became a reality.
Robins Island, United States
Enjoying an idyllic spot in Peconic Bay, not far from Long Island and the US East Coast, tree-covered Robins Island is very mysterious. Privately-owned, having been bought by a Wall Street financier in the 1990s, this 435-acre spot is off-limits to most.
Boasting great historical significance and the subject of countless ownership disputes through the centuries, the island appeals to those of curious mind. But with tourists not welcome, the secrets here endure, with none but a select few granted access to explore.
Teardrop-shaped and fringed by golden sands, Robins Island is thought to be a place of hidden trails and magnificent lakes, with mysterious mansions dotted around the interior and hidden from sight by the trees. Like to get a closer look? You can always take a boat trip, just don’t expect to be allowed to dock.
The Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem
Both Jews and Muslims flock to Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is considered to be one of the holiest sites in the world. This ornate temple dates back to the first century BC.
Deep within the inner sanctum of the temple walls is an even more exclusive site which is off limits and fiercely forbidden to all but a very select group. Welcome to The Dome of The Rock; this ornately beautiful cobalt blue, gold topped iconic Islamic shrine is a truly sacred site. Only those who practice Islam are allowed beyond the holy walls.
According to Islamic scripture this holy site contains the Foundation Stone and was where the prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven accompanied by the angel Gabriel.
Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center, United States
The guards are armed and the reception hostile, with those approaching Mount Weather — aka High Point Special Facility — sent packing in no uncertain terms.
Located in Virginia, 50 miles west of Washington DC, this is a place that has its own police and fire departments, and even its own laws. The curious are prevented from getting too close, with security tight and secrets intact. This is forbidden ground.
Controlled by the Department of Homeland Security, Mount Weather is a prime relocation site for top officials and administrators in the case of a national disaster, ensuring continuity of government no matter the threat. Built during the Cold War, certain high ranking officials were brought here during the September 11 attacks, although what lies behind closed doors remains a closely-guarded secret. There is believed to be a vast underground bunker here, just don’t expect to ever catch a glimpse.
Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone, Ukraine
There is something fascinating about Chernobyl, a place frozen in time since the explosion that ripped through Reactor 4 at the Nuclear Power Plant in 1986, but although more than three decades have passed, strict controls remain in place and dangers endure.
Covering 1,000 square miles, the Exclusion Zone is where radioactive contamination is at its highest and, whilst the surrounding areas can be explored, access here is limited.
Officials in Ukraine are keen to restrict access to Chernobyl’s most hazardous areas and limit the further spread of contamination and, although the curious continue to take a close interest in this forgotten and abandoned land, infringement of the rules and regulations is not taken lightly. There is hope that, in time, things might change and life will return. Until then, however, you’d be wise to do as you’re told and not attempt to set foot in the forbidden places here.
The Queen’s Bedroom, U.K
Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s official London residence, and home of the British monarchy since 1837. It is of course one of the top attractions for anyone visiting London; often the state rooms and the gardens will be opened to the public and tours are conducted around the palace and grounds, but of course one room remains strictly off limits.
It is of course the Queen’s Bedroom, unless of course you happen to be the Queen. Or maybe your name is Michael Fagan, and then you would have committed one of the greatest feats of all time by scaling a 20ft wall and hoisting yourself up a drainpipe to stand proudly within the Queen’s bedroom. Just to win a bet with some friends; now that’s what we call drinking games gone a step too far. However, part of us is also intrigued to have a look ourselves!
Pine Gap, Australia
Road signs warn the curious to turn around, whilst regular police patrols stop those threatening to get too close. Beyond those with the required clearance, few have ever seen Pine Gap, a remote US satellite surveillance base in the Northern Territory. Places do not get more secretive or secure than this.
Housing a huge computer complex and controlled by various US agencies, including the CIA, NRO and NSA, Pine Gap is a site of great strategic significance, from where spy satellites — believed to be monitoring China, Russia and the Middle East — are operated.
There are thought to be between 800 and 1,000 staff based here, around 20km from Alice Springs, but those personnel apart, no-one else can get near. Thinking about trying to sneak a closer look? They’ll know that you’re coming, and will be sure to stop you in your tracks and send you on your way.
Mormon Church Secret Vault, United States
Granite Mountain looks a lot like a villain’s lair in a James Bond movie, with tunnels dug deep into Little Cottonwood Canyon, reinforced doors designed to withstand a nuclear blast and secrets galore stored inside impenetrable walls.
The Mormon Church Secret Vault might not be so secret these days, but there are few who really know what goes on inside, far from prying eyes. Owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the official line is that genealogical records are kept here in great number, with 2.4 million rolls of microfilm tape said to be stored deep in the Utah mountainside.
But conspiracy theories abound and with access strictly limited, there are no shortage of those who believe there is far more to this mysterious place. Given the security, it remains a matter of guesswork. Like all the best lairs, this place is well guarded and to all but a select few, there’s no getting inside.
Disney Club 33, United States
Located at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, Club 33 is a ultra-exclusive hangout. Open to members only, curious tourists and trippers are forbidden to glimpse the secrets inside, with all that awaits hidden behind doors that remain closed to most, and access limited to a fortunate and wealthy few.
Membership is by invitation only, with a long list of those clamouring to join, but this is a club that is far from inclusive. There is an initiation fee, rumoured to be up to $100,000, plus an annual charge that is believed to cost as much as $30,000, depending on the level of membership and the perks and favours required.
Club 33 was designed as an exclusive locale for Walt Disney to entertain business associates and partners, although he died a few months before it was completed in the 1960s. Like to experience what Disney’s fabled founder never did? It comes at quite a cost, with those unable to afford such extravagance advised to stay away.
Menwith Hill Royal Air Force Station, UK
Distinctive radomes — known to locals as ‘the golf balls’ — dot the landscape at Menwith Hill, but this is no place for those seeking 18 holes and a trip to the bar.
One of the most secretive places on Earth, this RAF station in North Yorkshire provides communications and intelligence support to UK and US agencies, and with security at the highest levels imaginable, visitors are advised to keep their distance.
Rumoured to have links to ECHELON, a clandestine global spying network, demonstrators have long made their feelings known, but inside the high fences, far from curious eyes, work continues at what is believed to be the largest electronic monitoring site in the world. Owned by the UK’s Ministry of Defence, but open to the US Department of Defense under a NATO agreement, this is a place that operates on constant lockdown. Take our advice on this and don’t get too close.
Niihau, United States
We all like the thought of a truly exclusive getaway. Somewhere not everyone gets to visit with a hefty slice of privacy. Well one family get exactly that, whenever they fancy.
Welcome to the mysterious island of Niihau in Hawaii, it’s earned the title of ‘The Forbidden Island,’ as even its visibility remains elusive; the only way to catch sight of it is as the sun sets and its silhouette emerges.
This remote island paradise has been owned by a single family for more than 150 years, and they are very careful to keep it far away from the gaze of the outside world. They are the only ones who enjoy access to the island and it has been passed down the family line after it was first purchased in the 1860’s.
Niihau is also home to a decreasing population of Monk Seals (pictured) which sadly are a critically endangered species.
Diego Garcia, Indian Ocean
Located in the clear blue waters of the Central Indian Ocean, Diego Garcia might appear a picture postcard paradise from afar, but seen close up, this is no place to kick back on the golden sands.
Housing a vast US naval and military base since the 1970s, access is strictly forbidden to all but the 1,000 or so personnel stationed here, and such is the atoll’s troubled past, no chances are taken when it comes to securing its secrets.
The subject of fierce territorial disputes since the US moved in at the height of the Cold War, the island’s inhabitants were forcibly removed and controversy has raged here ever since. Life is said to be good for the military personnel and contractors who are based here, but outsiders are not welcomed and all approaches are rebuffed in no uncertain terms. Paradise this might appear, but Diego Garcia is no place for the curious.
Chichen Itza Pyramid, Mexico
Known as El Castillo, or to some as the Temple of Kukulcan, a foreboding step pyramid dominates at Chichen Itza, a sprawling complex of Mayan ruins located on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
Believed to date back to 600 AD, this is an ancient place of great historical and archeological importance, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a place that those with preservation in mind are determined to protect at all costs from those keen to catch a glimpse.
Ownership debates have long raged, but although the land here was in private hands until 2010, Chichen Itza is under federal control these days and those who visit with plans to climb El Castillo’s famed steps receive short shrift. Tourists do visit — and in great numbers too — but if you’re planning to join them, you must follow instructions and not be tempted to seek access to the restricted areas here. Walk around, but never attempt to climb on or venture inside as this is an absolute no-no.
Pluto’s Gate, Turkey
Image: Carole Raddato, Wikimedia Commons
You might want to think twice about visiting Pluto’s Gate, the so-called Roman Passage to Hell, located close to Hierapolis in Turkey’s Denizli Province and as unwelcoming a place as it’s possible to imagine.
Once believed to be the door to the Underworld, passing birds have been known to fall from the skies and perish here, whilst those who decide to delve deep into this Satanic site risk never coming out again.
The reason? The small Greco-Roman temple that stands here was built upon a cave that emits toxic gases and so noxious is the carbon dioxide that drifts up from the depths, inquisitive animals who wander inside tend to drop and die on the spot. Whether it’s science or whether it’s Satan depends on your particular beliefs, but one thing is clear: this is no place for the unprepared and, with ritual animal sacrifices having once taken place here, it can be an unsettling spot.
Room 39, North Korea
Believed to be housed deep inside the impenetrable walls of the Workers’ Party Building in Pyongyang, Room 39 is a secretive place, accessible to few and protected by the highest levels of security imaginable.
First set up in the 1970s, it is here that a top-secret organisation administers a suspected state-sponsored slush fund, its purpose to secure foreign currency to help keep North Korea’s leadership in power and its enemies at bay.
Rumoured to bring in up to two billion US dollars annually, what goes on in Room 39 is crucial to Kim Jong-Un’s continued existence, with the monies raised believed to be used to acquire political support and fund North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme. With access limited to those in a tight-knit inner circle, Room 39’s secrets don’t tend to leave the building, but no matter what goes on behind closed doors here, there’s no question that this is foremost amongst the world’s most forbidden places.
Albatross Island, Australia
Located in the Bass Strait, off Tasmania’s north-western coast, Albatross Island lives up to its name.
Wild and remote, the island is home to 5,000 pairs of shy albatross, 40% of the world’s population, and with species numbers in sharp decline in recent years, this is no place for tourists, with conservationists keen for the at-risk residents to be left alone and allowed to breed in peace.
Other birds live on the 44-acre island too, including little penguins (the smallest species of all), sea eagles and various gulls, whilst fur seals can often be spotted basking lazily on the rocks. But with 10,000 albatross making their homes here, this is the species that rules the roost and those threatening to invade are often met with an aggressive response. The smell is enough to put most visitors off, but for those who do decide to venture ashore, being bitten and pecked is a very real danger.
Area 51, United States
There’s no way you won’t have heard the conspiracy theories surrounding Area 51, the highly restricted remote military base deep in the middle of the hostile Nevada Desert. Area 51 is completely off limits from the public with reports of helicopters patrolling if you even get close to the heavily guarded base.
Conspiracy theorists passionately claim that the real purpose of Area 51 is for the storage and examination of alien spacecraft, or for secret meetings with extra terrestrials. Famously, Area 51 was linked with the Roswell Incident of 1947, where an unidentified flying disc was seen by hundreds crashing in a ranch in Nevada. The UFO was swiftly recovered and transported away by government officials. Controversially, many believe that the Roswell Incident was in fact a government cover up of an alien spacecraft crash and the UFO was hidden in Area 51.
The real reason Area 51 exists is still a mystery and remains highly classified. Trying to enter would be irresponsible though since it is surrounded by signs warning that security is authorized to use deadly force on people who insist on trespassing. Whether you believe in aliens or not, the question still remains: What secrets are they hiding in there?