So, here we all are, united by our shared love of traveling. That’s a darn important message to carry forward into the unknown world of 2019, isn’t it?
It doesn’t matter what kind of traveller you are. Whether your frequent flyer miles could take you to Pluto and back (oh holy heckola, yes, it’s a planet, don’t even consider @ing me on that) or you just live vicariously and have never left your hometown, we’ve all got something wonderful in common. Let’s just be thankful for that.
If you are one of those super-experienced veteran travellers, it’s important that you never give up. Never decide that you’ve seen everything. The fact is, it’s just not possible to. That’s the beauty of it. You could take several lavish trips every year (assuming you’re a Kardashian or something) and only see a fraction of the great bounty this planet has to offer.
Granted, you could probably take in all of the biggest and most popular tourist attractions (the Colosseum, the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, the Mona Lisa and so forth), but there’s so much to see. That’s the beauty of it, yes, but also the tragedy.
There are some things that we just won’t get to see, whether because we don’t know it’s there or because we’re not allowed. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how famous your mama is, YOU SHALL NOT PASS. Sometimes, you pass by something incredible without knowing about it, because it was hidden from view.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these hidden and forbidden places. From the mysterious North Sentinel Island to Virginia’s super-safe Mount Weather and the Vatican’s legendary Secret Archives, buckle up for some fascinating and unique places you may never have known about.
25 The 103rd Floor Viewing Platform Of The Empire State Building, United States: A Step Above
This is just typical celebrity-ing, isn’t it? You’ve always got to go just a little bit further than the normies. You’ve got to find the exclusive experiences everywhere and anywhere. Money talks, as the saying goes, and what it usually says is, “check me out, I’ve got more money than you.”
If you’ve ever visited the Empire State Building, you may know that the 102nd floor’s ‘Top Deck’ is pretty well the highest viewing point you can reach. Now that is a view of the city, right there.
As it turns out, though, the 103rd floor is where the action is really at. The Daily Mail describes it thusly:
“The floor's tiny balcony is reached via a series of elevators that take visitors past the inner workings of the building — its electricity boxes and pipes — with the final approach to the summit being up a cramped, steep metal stairway-cum-ladder.
The space isn't open to the public but is mostly just visited today by celebrities, such as Taylor Swift, who was pictured on the vertigo-inducing balcony in 2014.”
24 Snake Island, Brazil: Good Luck Trying To ‘Slytherin’ To This Island
As we’ll see, there are some places on Earth that are forbidden for the wrong reasons. Super-rich celebrities just wanting to keep us mere mortals out, for instance, lest we devalue the neighbourhood with our ordinary, non-famous-person stench.
On the other hand, there are places we’re not allowed to visit for a perfectly darn good reason. Brazil’s Ilha da Queimada Grande, the notorious Snake Island, would be one of those. As reported by All That’s Interesting, there’s said to be one snake per square foot on this island.
These aren’t just any old snakes, either. These are golden lancehead pit vipers (a species exclusively found on the island), which boast a venom potent enough to melt through flesh. Understandably, Brazil has banned anyone from visiting Snake Island, other than the occasional carefully-vetted (and foolhardy) research team. Let’s hope they all have their affairs in order.
23 The Vatican Secret Archives, Vatican City: And They’re Keeping Those Darn Secrets, Too
This past summer, I had the pleasure of visiting Vatican City, and I was not disappointed. If you’re one of those nerdy fans of history and architecture, like myself, you’ll definitely appreciate the small-yet-stunning surrounding.
What did I not get to see? Those enigmatic Secret Archives, that’s what. Even if you’re not remotely interested in classical texts and research, this fascinating and mysterious place is sure to captivate your imagination.
“The archives’ indexes are not public—and are only accessible to scholars once they are 75 years old—and they are housed in a fortress-like part of the Vatican,” History states. The archives are comprised of “Fifty-three miles of shelving. Thirty-five thousand volumes of catalogue. Twelve centuries worth of documents.”
All kinds of wacky speculation has been put forward as to the kinds of documents contained within. Needless to say, you can’t just wave your library card and go strolling in.
22 Mount Rushmore’s Secret Chamber, United States: Who Knew Lincoln’s Face Did That?
Whether you’ve visited South Dakota’s famed Mount Rushmore or not, you surely know what the deal is here. 60ft sculpted heads of Washington, Roosevelt, Lincoln and Jefferson, carved into the face of Keystone’s Black Hills.
You may well also know that the viewing platforms are way too far back, and it’s difficult to appreciate the majesty of the landmark from there. What you probably don’t know is that there’s a hidden chamber behind Lincoln’s head.
According to The Sun, the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, “had planned to create a much larger image to accompany the four famous faces poking out from the granite… [he] discovered that his plan for a huge stone image depicting American history was too intricate, so he was forced to abandon his work on it.”
The result was a more modest hall of records, intended to house some of the United States’ most important documents:
“In the late 1990s, the project was given a new lease of life, and the chamber room was finally completed, before being stocked with panels featuring the American history, Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.”
21 Club 33, Disneyland: The Exclusive-est Place On Earth
At the heart of everything Disneyland does, I’d have thought, would be good, wholesome, inclusive family fun. This doesn’t always translate to cheap, or even affordable, sadly, but there it is.
That’s all well and good, but dear old Walt wanted something more than that. In select Disney resorts around the world, you can enjoy a private, exclusive members’ experience… providing you can afford it.
Boasting wonderful décor, food and celebrity company (the likes of Elton John and Johnny Depp have been known to visit), Club 33 is hidden in plain sight at 33 Orleans Street, Disneyland. There’s one heckola of a waiting list, and membership can cost up to $100,000 (with annual fees in the tens of thousands on top).
20 The Lascaux Cave, France: Stop Breathing, You’ll Ruin The Paintings!
Now, see, this is exactly why we can’t have nice things. Because we’ll breathe on those nice things, and then they won’t be nearly as nice as they used to be.
The Lascaux Cave is located near Montignac, France. It’s a treasure trove of prehistoric cave paintings, which was discovered by chance by a group of boys in 1940. It was soon opened to the public and became hugely popular, until it was discovered that the visitors’ breath (and the general strains of heavy human presence) was starting to put the delicate paintings at risk.
Today, the real caves are closed and protected, but a stunning replica has been created for visitors to enjoy.
19 The Radio City Music Hall Secret Apartment, United States: It Wasn’t Incredible Enough Already?
New York City, as we all know, is world-renowned for its glitzy, flashy, neon-light-y sensibilities and its super-fast way of life. Spend more than about four seconds in Times Square, and you’ll know exactly why that is.
It’s tough to pick out any one landmark that exemplifies all of that, but the Radio City Music Hall sure does a good job. The glamorous and impeccably-decorated building isn’t known as the Showplace of the Nation for nothing.
High in Radio City, a luxurious apartment was built for Samuel ‘Roxy’ Rothafel, who produced all manner of electrifying shows here. In the apartment, he hosted 1930s superstars like Alfred Hitchcock. Nobody has lived there since Roxy passed away in 1936, but it’s still available to hire for swanky events.
18 The Royal Pavilion At Stazione Centrale, Italy: Now That’s A Swanky Station
When you commute on trains as frequently as I do, you start to struggle to see any glamour in the whole experience. The crowds, the delays, the commuters howling at the staff about said delays, the overpriced coffees and croissants… generally, it’s not an enjoyable experience at all, it’s just a means to an end.
If you feel as cynical as I do, let’s cross over to Milan, home to the most thoroughly glamourous train station you’ll ever see. Or, at least, part of it is.
Stazione Centrale contains a secretive and utterly beautiful area known as the Padiglione Reale (Royal Pavilion). It was constructed in the mid-1920s, as a waiting room for Italy’s royal family of the time, the Savoias. As reported by Atlas Obscura, it boasts,
“…marble interiors in different architectural styles, sculptures of the royal emblems, elegant furnitures provided by the best interior designers of the time, and a balcony with a view on the public square below.”
Italy's royal family don't hold dominion any more, but the Royal Pavilion is still there, as beautiful as ever. Its doors open only for super-exclusive events these days.
17 Roosevelt Island, United States: The Most Beautiful Ex-Smallpox Hospital You Ever Saw
New York City, as we know, is a vast and stunning metropolis, and it comes with all the pros and cons you’d expect of such. The bustling big city lifestyle is just perfect for some, while others yearn for a more peaceful and less high-octane life. Interestingly, New York offers both. Have you ever heard of Roosevelt Island?
This two-mile island lays between Queens and Manhattan, and was once home to a smallpox hospital. Business Insider reports,
“Roosevelt Island now boasts idyllic green spaces and gorgeous views of the city from perspectives most visitors never see.
The streets are blissfully quiet and mostly free of cars and pedestrians, providing residents and visitors with a much-needed change of pace from city life. It's no surprise why one local spokesman called Roosevelt Island "an oasis in the metropolis."
16 Track 61 Of Grand Central Station, United States: You’ll Need A First-Class Ticket (And Then Some)
While we’re in New York, let’s leave the serene confines of Roosevelt Island and cross back over to the city proper. In such a development-heavy city, it’s naturally that certain things, like stations, will become surplus to requirements as time moves on.
The infamous Track 61 (which is part of what is now Metro North, rather than the New York Subway) appears forgotten and abandoned, but it’s said to still be in use by Presidents (and other super-high-profile personalities) traveling in private. It’s located beneath the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, and, as Atlas Obscura puts it:
“the unmarked brass door at the Waldorf’s street level which leads to the station is proof that someone important is still using the track.”
15 North Sentinel Island: Definitely *NO* Cold Calling
Next up, we’ve got another isolated island that the general public are banned from visiting. North Sentinel Island is found in the Indian Ocean, and it’s against Indian law to land there. Heck, it’s illegal to go within three miles of the island.
Why is this? It’s due to the residents. Not snakes, this time, but people. Travel And Leisure report that the Sentinelese are believed to have lived on the island in complete seclusion for around 60,000 years, and their numbers are currently estimated at between 50 to 400 people. They have reacted violently to trespassers on North Sentinel Island in the past, and it’s clearly best for all concerned to allow them to continue to live in peace.
14 Gustave Eiffel’s Secret Apartment, France: A Tower-ing Beauty
Ah, yes. As a species, human beings aren’t always big on modesty, are they? Naming all kinds of new discoveries and buildings after themselves and everything. I suppose it’s in our nature.
The Eiffel Tower, as you’ll probably know, was constructed by Gustave Eiffel and named in his honor. This not being quite enough, however, he also had a secret apartment built for himself within the tower. High on the third level is this modestly-sized yet exquisite room, from which Eiffel could “entertain the science elite and make the rest of Paris jealous.”
The apartment had been off-limits for some time, but is now on display (well, through viewing windows). Inside, you’ll see mannequins of Eiffel and one of his esteemed guests, Thomas Edison.
13 Mount Weather, United States: We’re Alright, But We Don’t Fancy Your Chances Much
As the old nautical saying goes, the captain goes down with his ship. It’s nice to think that VIPs will hang around with the rest of us mortals when the you-know-what hits the fan, but it’s probably also just a little on the naïve side.
After all, these people have great wads of cash and priceless artwork to keep safe. In the event of worldwide calamity, they’re off to the nearest bunker.
Mount Weather, in Virginia, is one possible safe place. Officially known as the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center, MNN reports that the base, “plays a key role in U.S. continuity of government plans. It's located in the Blue Ridge Mountains about 48 miles from Washington, D.C., and consists of two parts: the above-ground FEMA complex and the 600,000-square-foot underground facility.”
12 Surtsey Island, Iceland: Putting The Nature In Nature Reserve
Here’s another island that isn’t hidden in the literal sense, but you sure can’t just hop over and visit whenever you like. Surtsey Island is located just off the south coast of Iceland, although it’s only recently been there.
You see, this island was formed by volcanic eruptions, which took place between 1963 and 1967. It’s not often you get to see an island being born, but Surtsey is super-special for another reason: it’s been a protected site for its whole above-water existence.
As such, UNESCO states, it’s a “pristine natural laboratory. Free from human interference, Surtsey has been producing unique long-term information on the colonisation process of new land by plant and animal life.”
All we can do is admire it from afar, and sometimes, that’s the right thing to do.
11 Bohemian Grove, United States: A Very Special, Very Exclusive Club (Of Sorts)
We often hear hushed talk of the powerful people who are manipulating the whole world from behind the scenes. The conspiracy theories are many, varied, bizarre and probably accurate in all sorts of ways.
Lots of these tales centre around Bohemian Grove, the ‘Secret Society Summer Camp’ for the rich and famous. This 2,700-acre secure camp is situated in California’s Ancient Redwood Forest, and is visited by VIPs (and we’re talking VERY important people) for two weeks every summer.
What’s it all about? What exactly do they do there? We normies are never going to find out, of course.
10 The Hidden Operating Theatre Of St. John’s Church, England: Victorian Curiosities
Speaking as a Londoner, I can tell you that the capital is rife with stunning architecture and must-see sights. Many of which you’ve surely heard of or visited yourself. The Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square… you know, those bucket list landmarks that any tourist’s guide to the city will detail.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. These are all stunning sights and well worth your time. As is often the case, though, heading off the beaten track will pay dividends.
Even locals may not know of the super-old operating theatre that’s hidden away in the roof of St. Thomas’s Church. It’s among the oldest still in existence, and part of the ancient St. Thomas’s Hospital.
“In the attic above the theater is the old herb apothecary and garden where herbs were stored and cured. Still well-stocked today, the Herb Garret resembles a Victorian cabinet of peculiar curiosities, featuring wormwood, poppies for opium, and a “bath of sheep heads for Woman [struggling with] unknown illness,” Mental Floss reports.
It had been closed off for decades before being re-discovered in the sixties, and can now be visited on tours.
9 The 44th Floor Of The John Hancock Centre, United States: You Call That A Supermarket? *THIS* Is A Supermarket
In and of itself, a big supermarket really isn’t anything notable. If you ever found yourself lost in one of these places as a child, you’ll know how darn big they can be. You just head a couple of aisles over to pick up some milk, and end up having to fire a couple of distress flares into the air to find your way back to your mama.
The thing about this particular 5200-square-foot supermarket, however, is that it’s found on the 44th floor of the world-famous John Hancock Centre in Chicago. This mysterious floor is open only to residents, and also boasts the highest swimming pool in the whole of the country.
7 Niihau, Hawaii: The ‘Forbidden Island’
Over the course of this rundown, we’ve seen several islands that are concealed from the general public for all the right reasons. Snake Island is not a place you’d want to take a vacation (did I mention the flesh-melting venom?), and the residents of North Sentinel Island are not about to build a five-star hotel to promote tourism any time soon.
What’s the deal with Hawaii’s ‘Forbidden Island,’ though? According to The Huffington Post, Niihau (less than twenty miles from the tourist-heavy resorts of Hawaii) has been privately owned by the same family for a century and a half. The Sinclairs bought it in the 1860s, and today,
“…only Niihauans, the Robinsons (the descendants of the title-holding family), and the occasional invited guest are allowed there (or near the dozens of homes in the island’s only settlement, Puuwai).”
It’s very isolated and spartan (no chance of getting any Wi-Fi here), but beautiful too.
6 The Kakslauttanen Hotel, Finland: A Trip With A Great Big Glass-Igloo Difference
So, what’s your ideal trip? That’s something that’s so completely personal for everyone. For a lot of us, vacations involve jetting off to somewhere sun-kissed and exotic (especially if you live in a place that’s soggy and wet, like Britain). We’re not all cocktails-on-the-beach sun worshippers, though, and Lapland is a super-popular place for trips of a lifetime too.
If winter wonderland vacations are more your thing, you’ve got to take a look at Finland’s Kakslauttanen Hotel. This beautiful family-run accommodation is characterised by quaint glass igloos, which offer a stunning view of the Northern Lights. It’s one of those secret little places you may never have heard of, but once you do, it goes straight on your bucket list. I know I‘ve just added it to mine.
5 Jiuzhaigou National Park, China: A Diamond In The Rough
Well, not rough as such. It’s just the nature of big, built-up cities. They’re crowded, they’re noisy, and those must-see sights you’re desperate to get to? So’s everybody else. Good luck getting close enough to take a nice shot.
At the same time, though, that’s where a little insider knowledge comes in handy. Jiuzhaigou National Park is located in the southwest of China, the most densely-populated country on Earth. It’s a far, far cry from the concrete jungle of a place like Shanghai, though. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this stunning valley offers some of the most incredible crystal-clear waters you’ll find anywhere.
4 The Hinatuan Enchanted River, The Philippines: It Definitely Looks Enchanted
Now, there’s no doubt that we humans can build some amazing things when we put our minds to it. The Pyramids of Egypt, Notre Dame Cathedral, Pop Tarts… all beautiful creations. Regardless, though, Mother Nature does like to step in and remind us who’s really in charge here, doesn’t she?
She’s always there to throw down a Grand Canyon or something to show us up. The Hinatuan River in the Philippines is another of these natural wonders, which just isn’t on as many bucket lists as it should be.
“Legend has it that one firefly-lit night, fairies floated above the river while elves watched from cliffs and banks. With their wands, the fairies stirred the water, toyed with sapphire and jade, and made the tones fade and meld to achieve a shade of bluish green that now paints the riverbed,” The Inquirer states. Looking at the beauty of the so-called ‘Enchanted River,’ that doesn’t sound so outlandish at all.
3 The Svalbard Seed Vault, Norway: Safeguarding Our Future
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but humanity doesn’t tend to be the best at caring for the planet at times, do they? Or for each other. The news can make for some darn bleak reading on that score.
Nevertheless, we are trying to plan for possible global catastrophes. On the remote and super cold Norwegian of Spitsbergen near the North Pole, you’ll find the Svalbard Seed Vault. Hidden away from… well, just about everybody on the planet, the ‘Doomsday Vault’ is the ultimate safe deposit box. What does it contain? Seed samples, from all kinds of other banks around the world.
The idea is that, should we ever be in REALLY dire straits, we can rebuild food sources and start again.
2 The Doge’s Palace Prison, Italy: When Myth And Reality Collide
We’re all at least vaguely familiar with the story of Giacomo Casanova, the Italian adventurer who certainly had a romantic misadventure or two in his time. It probably isn’t surprising to learn that he found himself in prison on at least one occasion, in the jail beneath the Venetian Doge’s palace.
Nor is it particularly surprising to hear that he escaped from it, the only person known to have done so in its four centuries of use.
As Brightside explains, the jail itself and its history are quite well known locally. However, it’s not open to the general public, and tours of the palace itself bypass the prison.
1 The Subterranean Town Beneath Las Vegas, United States: It’s Not Nearly As Bright Down Here
There’s just something about Las Vegas, isn’t there? It’s a siren song of glitz, glamour, flashing neon lights, supremely expensive drinks and waking up with all kinds of regrets the next morning.
As the great philosopher, Elvis Presley so wisely put it, “bright light city gonna set mah soul, gonna set mah soul on fiyah.”
The truth is, Las Vegas’s glamour and decadence hides a deep secret: there’s a whole new subterranean city underneath, homeless people dwelling in the snaking complex of storm drains beneath the city. Fortunes won and lost with every deal, as they say (no, wait, that was Elvis again).
Resources: History, The Daily Mail, Business Insider, Travel and Leisure.