Forget New York, Paris, and London. The most interesting places in the world are those we are officially forbidden from visiting. If you’ve never heard of Snake Island, Iron Mountain or North Sentinel Island, you’re in for a treat. The following pictures illustrate the most amazing places in the world that can never be included on your bucket list.
Snake Island is home to some of the deadliest serpents on the planet
Critically endangered, golden lanceheads are one of the most venomous snakes in the world. Their only natural home is Ilha da Queimada Grande, also known as Snake Island, off the coast of Brazil. The 106-acre island is home to 4,000 golden lanceheads and illegal to visit. Preventing tourists from visiting protects not only the vipers but also people’s lives.
Poveglia is a real-life version of Shutter Island
A small island located outside Venice in Northern Italy, Poveglia was once a quarantine station for those suffering from the plague. A century later, the island became home to a mental institution where patients had to endure unspeakable types of treatments. Today, the area is considered haunted and off-limits for locals and tourists alike.
Iron Mountain is where the most valuable pieces of world history are stored
It is 220 feet below the ground in a naturally-protected former limestone mine that some of the world’s most valuable information is stored. The storage facility in Pennsylvania is where the US government keeps priceless historical documents such as Thomas Edison’s patent for the light bulb, the original photograph of Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue and thousands of other pieces of world history.
The Tomb of Qin Shi Huang contains 8,000 life-sized terracotta soldiers
In 1974, workers drilling a well in central China discovered a subterranean chamber filled with thousands of life-sized terracotta soldier sculptures. Out of respect for China’s first emperor – and due to the high concentration of toxic mercury -, the actual tomb remains sealed and unexplored.
Mezhgorye is Russia’s own Area 51
Suspected to be the location of a nuclear program, Mezhgorye is a closed town in Russia. It was in the 1990s that US spy photographs first spotted the facility, which is also said to be a secret bunker in case of war. The facility is believed to cover over 380 sq miles and be able to house around 60,000 people in case of a nuclear, chemical, or biological attack.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is known as the ‘Doomsday vault’
Located in the Arctic Svalbard archipelago, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a secure seed bank built to safeguard seed species in case of a global crisis. It contains over 800,000 samples of seeds from around the world and would make it possible to feed the human population in case of any possible disaster.
North Sentinel is home to the uncontacted Sentinelese tribe
One of the forbidden islands of the world, North Sentinel is an Indian archipelago in the Bay of Bengal. Covering an area of 23.04 sq miles, the island is home to the Sentinelese tribe, who have lived there for over 50,000 years in voluntary isolation. The area is strictly off-limits for visitors and protected by the Indian Government. The few people who have managed to reach the island have been met with hostility and violence by the Sentinelese people, who will do anything to protect their land from the outside world.
The Fukushima Exclusion Zone is so radioactive no one is allowed on the premises
When the Fukushima nuclear disaster struck Japan in 2011, anyone living within 18 miles of the nuclear plant was urged to immediately evacuate the area. This is the only disaster other than Chernobyl to be considered a Level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale and, due to the extreme radiation in the area, no one is allowed to enter the premises.
Metro-2 is a secret underground metro system in Moscow used only by government officials
Built during the time of Stalin’s leadership, Metro-2 is a secret underground transport system that allegedly connects administrative institutions in Moscow. These tunnels reportedly include apartments and technical rooms, and were possibly built as a secret escape route for high-level officials during the war. Today, only one Metro-2 line is confirmed to exist and access to it is strictly forbidden.
Plymouth, capital of the Caribbean island of Montserrat, is buried in volcanic ash
When a previously dormant volcano in the southern part of Montserrat became active in 1995, two-thirds of the island’s population were forced to flee. While the rest of the population still lives on the other side of the island, an exclusion zone was imposed due to the potential for pyroclastic activity.
Bhangarh Fort is the only legally recognized haunted place in India.
Built in 1573, the Bhangarh Fort has been abandoned since 1783. Over the years, legends have tried to make sense of the kingdom’s ruin, and one of the myths suggests the fort was cursed. Nowadays, Bhangarh Fort is the only place legally recognized as haunted in India and a government permit is required to enter it before dawn or after sundown.
Morgan Island is known as “Monkey Island”
Also known as Monkey Island, South Carolina’s Morgan Island is home to a colony of around 3,500 rhesus monkeys who are naturally infected with Herpes B. Since the virus is deadly to humans, it is strictly prohibited to visit the 4,500-acre sea island. The only people allowed on the island are researchers working for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Only Chinese citizens are allowed in the Jiangsu National Security Education Museum
Jiangsu National Security Education Museum, China’s national spy museum, contains several classified documents and equipment used for Chinese spying. For this reason, taking pictures inside the museum is prohibited – just like foreign visitors.
Red Zones are off-limits areas in France saturated with unexploded WWI shells
Isolated after World War 1, Red Zones are areas in France where access is forbidden. The land in these areas is saturated with unexploded shells, grenades, and rusty ammunition, and the soil is still polluted by lead, mercury, and arsenic. To this day, some towns are still not allowed to rebuild.
Pine Gap is a joint satellite station operated by Australia and the US
Although it may look like some sort of cool roadside sculpture, Pine Gap is actually a satellite station owned and operated by Australia and the United States. The station records and intercepts weapons and communication signals from every continent but the Americas and Antarctica, so only its approximately 1,000 employees – who are sworn to secrecy – are allowed to enter the facility.
The Vatican Secret Archives hold documents dating back to the 8th century
From Martin Luther’s excommunication papers to a letter from Michelangelo to Pope Julius II, the 50 miles of shelving at the Vatican’s secret archives hold artifacts and documents dating back to the eighth century. Since 1881, select scholars are allowed to research the archive, although admittance remains strict to this day.
Heard Island is dominated by an active Volcano
One of Australia’s two active volcanoes, Big Ben is located on Heard Island. The reasons entry to the island is forbidden are simple: the volcano is frequently active, the island is composed of debris and limestone resulting from the volcanic eruptions, and the Australian government would like to preserve the fragile natural surroundings.
Once inhabited by 2000 people, Diego Garcia Island is now a UK & US Military Base
Located just south of the equator in the middle of the Indian Ocean, Diego Garcia is a small island part of the British Indian Ocean Territory. In 1973, the 2000 inhabitants of the island were evicted by the United Kingdom to build a joint American and British military base. Today, entry to the island is restricted and clearance by the U.S. Navy Support Facility Diego Garcia is required.
With 1,258 residents, McMurdo Station is the largest community in Antarctica
McMurdo Station is a research station in Antarctica operated by the United States. In the summer, the number of residents in the community can reach 1,258, while in the winter it plummets to less than 250. Access to the facilities is strictly forbidden to tourists and only researchers and support staff are allowed to enter and reside in the community.
Tourists were banned from climbing the Chichen Itza Pyramid after a woman tumbled off the pyramid in 2006
One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Chichen Itza Pyramid receives thousands of visitors every year. Although it is still allowed to visit the site, climbing the Mayan pyramid has been banned since 2006, when a tourist slipped on the steps and fell to the ground.
Over three decades after the Chernobyl disaster, a 1,000-sq-mi exclusion zone remains off-limits
Soon after disaster struck nuclear reactor No. 4 in Chernobyl, the Soviet Army Forces established an Exclusion Zone where radioactive contamination was highest and public access had to be restricted. Today, it remains one of the most radioactive areas in the world and, due to the lack of human activity in the area, it is also a thriving sanctuary for local flora and fauna.
Google Data Centers are protected with six layers of physical security
Home of the Google Cloud, Google’s Data Centers are off-limits even to most of the company’s employees. To protect both customer data and Google’s infrastructure, six layers of physical security are used to prevent unauthorized access to these areas.
The Mormon Church’s secret vault contains the world’s largest collection of genealogical records
Housed in a secure vault in the mountains near Salt Lake City are 3.5 billion images that make up the world’s largest collection of genealogical records. The Granite Mountain Records Vault is 65,000 square feet and protected by nuclear-blast-resistant entrance doors weighing 14 tons each.
The Korean Demilitarized Zone is so deadly for humans that it became an involuntary nature reserve
The Korean Demilitarized Zone is a border barrier between North and South Korea. Since it is highly militarized on both sides to prevent people from crossing the border, the DMZ region sees very little human activity, accidentally making it a safe haven for wild animals and migratory birds.
Data-protection company HavenCo was located in the middle of the North Sea
Although HavenCo has allegedly shut down, this data-hosting company’s headquarters are too interesting to ignore. The company was located in the North Sea, off the coast of the UK, and the only people allowed in their office were authorized personnel, investors, and members of the Royal family.
The United Nations Buffer Zone in Cyprus is home to an abandoned airport and decades-old advertisements for products that no longer exist
Due to a civil war between its Greek and Turkish populations, the island of Cyprus became a divided country. To enforce this division after the ceasefire in 1974, the United Nations established a 112-mile demilitarized buffer zone which is off-limits to both communities. The abandoned area within the capital city of Nicosia is home to an abandoned airport, old homes and advertisements for products that don’t even exist anymore.
Vale do Javari is home to the Amazon’s least contacted tribes
Home to some of the most indigenous tribes of Brazil, including the Matses, Kulina, Matis, Mayoruna, and Korubo, Javari Reserve is one of the largest indigenous territories in the world. In order to protect these communities and their heritage, entry to these forests has been prohibited by the Brazilian government.
Heart Reef can only be seen from above
Part of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, this naturally heart-shaped reef is one of the most photogenic locations in the world – however, it can’t be seen up close. Due to its protected status, it is not allowed to dive or snorkel at Heart Reef, and tourists need to pay for a helicopter or seaplane tour to reach it.
Only the Japanese Imperial family is allowed inside the Ise Grand Shrine
Erected in 4 BCE, the Ise Grand Shrine is considered the birthplace of Shinto, Japan’s native belief system. The shrine is so sacred to the Japanese that it receives over six million visitors every year even though access to the site is extremely limited. While only members of the Imperial family are allowed inside the main shrine, the general public can roam the forest around the Ise Grand Shrine.
Gangkhar Puensum is the highest unclimbed mountain in the world
At 24,840 ft, Gangkhar Puensum is the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. Mountain climbing is banned in Bhutan due to the strong spiritual value the local communities attach to the mountains. To them, mountains are the home of the gods and spirits.
Ni’ihau is known as “The Forbidden Island”
Often called “The Forbidden Island,” Ni’ihau is the second-smallest of Hawaii’s main islands. It was bought in 1864 by a woman Elizabeth Sinclair and has been privately owned by the same family since – so very few people get to visit the land. Even royalty and extremely powerful people have to request entry and still get denied. Mick Jagger, for example, was once denied clearance to land his helicopter on the island!
Only 1% of the US population is allowed to enter the city of Mecca
One of the most important cities for the followers of Islam, Mecca is a place where every Muslim is expected to visit at some point in their lifetime. Due to its religious importance, the city is one of the busiest tourist destinations in the world. It is also only open to practicing Muslims, which means only 1% of the American population would be allowed to enter the city.
North Brother Island is an abandoned island in the middle of New York City
A 20-acre piece of land located in the East River, North Brother Island has been abandoned for over 50 years. Now designated as a sanctuary for water birds, it was once the site of the Riverside Hospital, where contagious diseases were treated and several patients were quarantined – including Mary Mallon (better known as Typhoid Mary). Although public access is strictly prohibited by the New York City Parks Department, researchers and journalists sometimes get permission to visit the island.
The majority of the Catacombs of Paris is off-limits to the public
Originally built as a tunnel network to consolidate the French capital’s ancient mines, the Catacombs of Paris are underground ossuaries that hold the remains of over six million people. A small section of these tunnels is open to the general public, but the majority of the 170-mile-long maze is closed off to prevent visitors from getting lost.
Once a site dedicated to the Roman god of death, Pluto’s Gate emits enough CO2 to kill anyone within minutes
Once dedicated to the Roman god of Death, Pluto, this site is located in the ancient city of Hierapolis, Turkey. When ancient historian Strabo visited the place, he noted, “Any animal that passes inside meets instant death.” It was only in 1965 that scientists realized the concentration of carbon dioxide in the area was extremely high.
The Lascaux Cave contains 17,000-year-old wall paintings
Rediscovered in 1940, Lascaux is a network of caves in France that contains over 600 pre-historical wall paintings. Representing typical animals from the local fauna at the time like cattle, stags, and bison, the paintings are estimated at around 17,000 years old. For conservation purposes, the cave has been closed to the general public since 1963.
The Bank of England’s Gold Vault holds 400,000 bars of gold
Storing 4,600 5152 tons of gold, the Bank of England is the second-largest gold vault in the world. Its vault holds approximately 400,000 bars of gold, worth over $238,000,000. The vault’s walls are bombproof and its intricate security system involves voice recognition and 3-feet-long keys.
Despite being the perfect landscape for travelers, Aksai Chin is off-limits to the public
Located in Ladakh, Aksai Chin is a disputed territory between China and India. Although Aksai Chin comprises of beautiful cold desert landscapes, salt planes, and salt lakes, only military personnel and officials are allowed in the region due to its strategic location.
Uluru has only been off-limits to the public since 2019
It was only in October 2019 that Uluru, Australia’s landmark formerly known as Ayers Rock, closed to the public. Although climbers had been scaling the rock formation for decades, the area was a sacred place for indigenous people for much longer. Finally, following petitions from the Pitjantjatjara people, the park banned tourists from climbing the iconic rock.
Pravcicka Brana, the biggest sandstone arch in Europe, can collapse at any point
Pravcicka Brana is a natural sandstone arch located in the Czech Republic. Considered one of the most well-known landmarks of the country and the biggest sandstone arch in the European continent, it was visited by thousands of tourists from all over the world until 1982. Since then, visitors have been restricted from getting too close to the arch due to geologists’ fear that Pravcicka Brana would collapse.
Altamira Cave is home to 36,000-year-old cave paintings
Known for its 36,000-year-old charcoal drawings and polychrome paintings of the local fauna during the Upper Paleolithic, the Cave of Altamira is located in Spain. The site was initially discovered in 1868, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985, and closed to public access in 2002.
The Rocas Atoll is so remote that even researchers have difficulty reaching it
The only atoll in the South Atlantic Ocean, Rocas Atoll is a wildlife sanctuary. In 2001, it was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO due to its importance as a feeding ground for marine life. The reserve is so remote that its islands remain undisturbed by human activities, but also makes it very difficult for researchers to access.
Barren Island is home to the only active volcano in India
Home to India’s only confirmed volcano, Barren Island is located in the Indian Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Due to the active volcano, visiting the island is strictly prohibited – but it is possible to see it from a distance either by taking a boat or a ferry.
Menwith Hill is one of the most secretive places in the UK
Operated by the United Kingdom and the United States, Royal Air Force Menwith Hill is the largest electronic monitoring station in the world. Besides the extensive satellite ground station, the facility also serves as a communications intercept and missile warning site.
The Cheyenne Mountain Complex is known as “America’s Fortress”
Originally used as the center for the United States Space Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the Cheyenne Mountain Complex monitored the North American airspace for missiles, space systems, and foreign aircraft. Nowadays, the complex is an Alternate Command Center for NORAD and serves as a training site for crew qualification.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has the largest monetary-gold reserve in the world
Designated a city landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1966, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is not only famous for its architecture. Its gold vault, which rests safely on Manhattan’s bedrock, contains the largest known monetary-gold reserve on the planet. As of 2019, it stored 6,190 short tons of gold.
The Tumen River is a gateway between China, North Korea and Russia
The Tumen River makes up part of the boundary between China, North Korea and Russia. Due to the fact that many North Koreans have been caught trying to enter China through the river’s shallow waters, the Tumen River is tightly guarded by the three countries.
Some of the White’s Gentlemen’s Club’s most prestigious members include Prince Charles and Prince William
Founded in 1693, White’s Gentlemen’s Club is considered the most exclusive private club in London. Although the club maintains its male-only policy to this day, brief exceptions were made in 1991 and 2016 when Queen Elizabeth visited the premises.
Air Force One is considered the most secure moving location in the world
Air Force One is the official term used to refer to a United States Air Force aircraft designated to transport the president. The idea of having specific military aircraft to carry the president arose during World War 2 due to safety concerns. Initially, a C-54 Skymaster was converted for presidential use, nowadays the presidential fleet consists of two highly modified Boeing 747-200B aircraft.
It is believed that the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion houses the original Ark of the Covenant
According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the original Ark of the Covenant that holds the Ten Commandments is located in a chapel next to the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion. The holy artifact supposedly made its way to Ethiopia before the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and is protected only by an elderly high priest who never leaves the churchyard.
The Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center was a secret government facility until a plane crashed nearby in 1974
Located in Virginia, the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center is a civilian command facility where military officials and members of Congress would hide in case of a national disaster. It was only in 1974 that the existence of this emergency center was discovered when a plane crashed near the site. The 564-acre facility also serves as an alternate site for the US Department of Homeland Security Operations.
The United States Bullion Depository is one of the most guarded places on earth
Located next to Fort Knox, the U.S. Bullion Depository is a fortified vault that stores a large portion of America’s gold reserves and other precious items belonging to the federal government. It holds approximately 147 million troy ounces of gold bullion and is heavily guarded by the United States Mint Police.
The Farallon Islands are known as the “Devil’s Teeth Islands”
Due to the high concentration of great white sharks in the area, Farallon Islands earned the nickname “Devil’s Teeth Islands”. But besides its population of sharks, seals, and whales, the islands are also known for the 48,000 drums of low-level radioactive waste dumped around them between 1946 and 1970. For both of those reasons, the Farallon is only accessible to very few conservation scientists and is completely off-limits to the public.
The island of Surtsey emerged due to a volcanic eruption
In 1963, a volcanic eruption on the Icelandic archipelago of Vestmannæyjar lifted a new island out of the water. Free from human interference, Surtsey was quickly declared a restricted nature reserve so that only researchers are allowed on the island.
The purpose of Area 51 is kept secret by the CIA
One of the most secretive places in the United States, the existence of Area 51 was not even officially acknowledged by the government until 2013. The highly classified Air Force facility is allegedly used for testing aircraft and weapons.
Club 33 is an exclusive club hidden in plain sight in Disneyland
Opened in 1967, Club 33 is a private dining club located in Disneyland. Modeled after VIP lounges across the world, the exclusive club allows only members and their guests to enter the premises. Joining the club requires more than just the rumored $25,000 initiation fee, but also an invitation from the Disney power structure.
Albatross Island is a nature reserve where birds can live and mate without human interference
Part of the Hunter Island Group in Tasmania, Albatross Island is a nature reserve known for its breeding colony of 10,000 shy albatross birds. The albatross population on the island makes up about 40% of the world population of the species.
Underneath the Greenbrier Resort lies a nuclear bunker for members of the US Congress
Situated on 11,000 acres of land within the forests of West Virginia, the Greenbrier is a luxury resort built in 1913. Besides its 710 guest rooms, 20 restaurants and lounges, 36 retail shops, and over 50 indoor and outdoor activities and sports, the hotel is also the site of an underground bunker built for the U.S. Congress during the Cold War.
Bohemian Grove is a restricted 2700-acre campground belonging to a private gentlemen’s club
Founded in 1872, the Bohemian Club is an exclusive gentlemen’s club that owns Bohemian Grove, a 2,700-acre campground in Sonoma County. To enter the campground during the club’s annual retreats, you have to join the group by getting an exclusive invite from existing members and paying a $25,000 initiation fee.
The Coca-Cola vault stores the secret formula for the legendary soda
Back in December 2011, the Coca-Cola Company placed the Coca-Cola formula in a highly protected vault on the grounds of the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta. Although the secret formula is more of a marketing strategy than an actual trade secret, being able to see the original recipe for the iconic drink would be on many people’s bucket lists.