Weird And Wonderful Places On Earth That Are Strictly Off-Limits To The Public

Most people have heard the phrase “harder to get into than Fort Knox.” After all, Fort Knox is the most highly protected place in the world, with what’s rumored to be electric fences, lasers, radar, machine guns, and landmines making its gold reserves nearly impossible to access. But the following places also hold secrets and dangers enough for public access to be prohibited. You could try to visit these places, but you probably wouldn't get past security...

30. Surtsey Island, Iceland

A three-and-a-half-year eruption in the volcanic waters around Iceland was dramatic enough to form a whole new island when it ended in 1967. Scientists took an early interest in the rock — located roughly 20 miles off the country’s south coast — even as the mass had barely cooled. They knew early on this wouldn’t become a tourist destination.

A brand new island

Researchers commandeered the island in 1964. Their aim was to study how animals and plants set up homes on newly-formed land. The 348-acre rock eventually attracted more than 330 species of invertebrates and various other birds, fungi, and lichen species. To preserve the study area, then, the island is accessible to only a handful of scientists and was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008.

29. Tomb of the Qin Shi Huang, China

In 1974 farmers in China’s Shaanxi region unearthed a sizeable army of terracotta sculptures representing the military personnel of the country’s first serving emperor, Qin Shi Huang. Numbering in the thousands, the detailed figurines date back to around 200 B.C. The find, which filled the ruler’s subterranean burial network, is considered among the most significant in history.

The secret tomb

The grounds where the terracotta soldiers stand are among the most notable tourist attractions in China. However, the actual tomb is shrouded in secrecy. There are rumors of extreme security measures protecting the crypt from interlopers, and deadly levels of mercury have been recorded in the compound. Some 2,000 of the incredible sculptures are visible to visitors. But several thousand more, along with other valuables, could still be concealed in the burial chamber.

28. Robins Island, U.S.A.

The Hamptons in New York is well-known as an affluent area. However, it doesn’t get much more exclusive than Robins Island. The privately-owned idyll is located just off the New Suffolk coast. At $11 million, it was a steal when bought by its current owner, Louis Moore Bacon, in 1993. Nevertheless, its past is somewhat sketchy.

It's a turtle paradise

The deeds to Robins Island have changed hands multiple times, with Bacon himself embroiled in unrelated legal disputes. Even so, the billionaire invested heavily in the island, creating a nature reserve and sanctuary for a sizeable population of turtles. To preserve the ecosystem, though, the businessman banned the public from the 435-acre property.

27. Heard Island, Australia

That Heard Island is among the most isolated places on Earth isn’t the only reason visitors aren’t allowed there. Although a territory of Australia, it actually lies somewhere in the Indian Ocean, between Antarctica and Madagascar. Moreover, the ice-covered terrain belies the isle’s dangerous origins, since it’s actually formed by two active volcanoes.

Only a penguin could thrive

While the threat of eruptions renders Heard Island forbidden to humans, that hasn’t stopped other forms of life from taking up residency there. The land mass is now home to various birds, seals, and several species of penguins. And although this particular location is strictly off-limits to humans, the neighboring McDonald Islands occasionally accept visitors with “compelling scientific reasons.”

26. Niihau, U.S.A.

Hawaii is made up of multiple islands, each with inviting names, where visitors can lose themselves in the pleasant tropical atmosphere. Indeed, some tourists opt to hop from the likes of Maui (the “Valley Isle”) to Oahu (the “Gathering Place”), Kauai (the “Garden Island”), and beyond. But even if they think they’ve taken in all the state's highlights, they’ll never see its “Forbidden Island,” Niihau.

A Hawaiian king's final request

The historic Niihau lies 17 miles from Kauai’s coastline and is only visible when the epic sunsets from Kekaha Beach intensify the Forbidden Island’s silhouette. The 70-square-mile idyll has been privately owned since 1864 and is prohibited for anyone outside of the inhabitants’ direct descendants. You see, it was the Hawaiian king’s wish to preserve the place as he had known it.

25. Granite Mountain, U.S.A.

The Mormon Church’s secret vault is so closely guarded that access is strictly forbidden to the public. It’s housed in Granite Mountain – a peak that’s actually made of quartz – located in the Utah town of Little Cottonwood Canyon, not too far from Salt Lake City. The store was created in 1965 to preserve records relating to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Hidden in a mountainside

The huge, ironclad archive preserves more than 3.5 billion vital images kept in digital form and on microfilm. Many of the vault’s records are available only to relevant custodians. They are, though, expected to be made available to view on the ancestry website However, the store itself is off-limits to visitors.

24. Ilha da Queimada Grande, Brazil

A small, secluded island featuring every terrain, from verdant rainforests to bare rock, might seem like the perfect destination for an idyllic getaway. Indeed, the 110-acre Ilha da Queimada Grande fits the bill and lies off the shores of São Paulo in Brazil. But despite its heavenly-sounding location, the place is sometimes also called Snake Island.

It's called Snake Island for a reason

So, the island has a few snakes — how big a deal can it be? Well, the Ilha da Queimada Grande’s alternative name becomes clear from studying its slithery residents. Scientists found that every ten square feet of terrain contained up to five snakes. What’s more, they include the highly poisonous golden lancehead, whose venom can disintegrate the flesh surrounding a bite.

23. Pravcicka Brana, Czech Republic

Bohemian Switzerland is a stunning area of the Czech Republic, sitting on the northwest border with Germany. It stretches across the Elbe River, from the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in the north to the Lusatian Mountains in the east and Ore Mountains in the west. And the protected area contains a feature unlike anything else on the planet: huge, naturally-formed rock configurations.

Tread lightly

Among the area’s stunning natural sculptures is the Pravcicka Gate, an impressive 52-foot tall bridge spanning 85 feet. The monolith has attracted visitors for hundreds of years, sometimes as a source of artistic inspiration. Although tourists are welcome to the area, the bridge itself has been inaccessible since 1982. You see, the rock has been subjected to so much erosion over the years that it’s close to collapsing.

22. Ise Grand Shrine, Japan

Japan is a nation with a rich culture that includes centuries-old temples and shrines. There are thought to be more than 80,000 of the latter alone sprinkled across its islands. Perhaps most notable, however, is the Ise Grand Shrine. It’s a complex building, believed to be the most expensive in the country due to its intricate architecture.

You can only admire it from afar

The Ise Grand Shrine is renovated every two decades – an undertaking that costs around one million dollars. The process represents death and rebirth, a pillar of the Shinto religion. However, only members of Japan’s imperial family are allowed to enter this sacred building. Tourists may only admire its beauty from afar.

21. Mezhgorye, Russia

If you think pronouncing this place is hard, try getting inside. Set high in the Ural Mountains, Mezhgorye was only established in 1979 — relatively recently for a place with such speculation surrounding its existence. Of course, few people believe that it’s a mere mining town, as officials have long claimed.

A "closed town"

According to some reports, Mezhgorye is actually a missile base, while other theorists think it could be hiding a nuclear bunker reserved for the Russian elite. All we know for sure is that it's a "closed town," or a place where only those with specific authorization from the government can go.

20. Morgan Island, U.S.A.

Along the Atlantic coast of the southern states lie the Sea Islands. Among them is Morgan Island, situated in the seas of Beaufort County, South Carolina. Although the territory has always remained uninhabited due to its position relative to the mainland, visitors have been strictly prohibited since 1979. You see, its nickname is Monkey Island.

The danger of Monkey Island

Morgan Island is home to around 3,500 wild Rhesus monkeys. The primates were moved to the 2,000-acre plot from Puerto Rico when an outbreak of herpes B started to infect the locals. Visitors, then, must observe them from the surrounding waters. However, inhabitants are occasionally removed from the island for research purposes, never to return.

19. North Brother Island, U.S.A.

Another island off the coast of New York is the stunning yet devastating North Brother Island. It’s situated on the East River, adjacent to the prison compound on Riker’s Island and the Bronx. During the 1800s, this now-disused land mass once housed Riverside Hospital, a quarantine unit for patients suffering from smallpox, tuberculosis, and yellow fever.

New York's abandoned hospital

During the 20th century, the hospital was used to shelter World War II veterans. It was later used as a rehabilitation center for heroin addicts. The institution ceased operations early in the 1960s and has since been reclaimed by nature. And although North Brother Island is off-limits to visitors, it provides a vital breeding spot for black-crowned night herons.

18. Poveglia, Italy

Islands have been used as a repository for "undesirables" worldwide for centuries. Italy’s Poveglia Island once served as a dumping ground for dead bodies. At first, it was used to quarantine those infected by the Bubonic Plague in the 1300s, and then to house the mentally ill in the 1800s.

The island's grisly past

Locals believe that during the 19th century, a barbaric doctor conducted experiments on mentally ill patients on the island. This may add fuel to the idea that today, the island's only inhabitants are the spirits of the tormented former residents. The land mass remains off-limits to anyone wishing to visit. But given its status as Italy’s most haunted place, who would want to?

17. U.N. Buffer Zone, Cyprus

Hostilities between Greece and Turkey have existed since the former won independence from Ottoman Empire rule in 1830. One particularly contentious issue between the warring factions was the island of Cyprus. Located off the southern coast of Turkey, its population was 82 percent Greek, ruled under the British flag.

Decades-old no-man's land

After a Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, a ceasefire resulted in the United Nations overseeing a “Buffer Zone” between the island’s two communities. Today, the area looks like a crumbling time capsule. Deserted homes, offices, shops, and an airport occupy this 112-mile No Man’s Land running the length of the territory. It’s off-limits to everyone, including the population of Cyprus.

16. Pine Gap, Australia

Just a few miles outside of Alice Springs — itself inaccessible enough — Pine Gap is Australia’s most secretive electronic monitoring base. Employing 800 people, it’s partly run by the CIA and plays a key role in directing drone strikes.

The site of protests

This, naturally, makes it the focus of many protests. In 1983, for example, approximately 700 women, led by Aboriginal women, held a silent protest outside the station. They called it "Women for Survival" and the demonstration was entirely non-violent, though they alleged police brutality when a few protestors trespassed onto the base.

15. The Lascaux Caves, France

In 1940 a group of teenagers discovered paintings dating back some 17,000 years on the walls of the Lascaux Cave in Dordogne, France. It was a once-in-a-lifetime discovery, and before long, the caves attracted 1,200 visitors a day.

Ancient art must be protected

But the modern world isn't always kind to ancient artwork. Today, the caves are closed to the public to protect the prehistoric art from humidity and the carbon dioxide produced by visitors. Next door to it, however, a full-scale replica gives visitors a real appreciation for the ancient wonder.

14. The Queen’s Bedroom, United Kingdom

Buckingham Palace has long since opened its doors to tourists, but the Queen’s bedroom remains very much out-of-bounds. Indeed, the monarch’s private chambers are among the most secure rooms in England, and for good reason.

The Queen's special visitor

As one of the most famous figures in the world, the Queen isn't about to keep her doors open for just anyone. Her bedroom has been even more secure since 1982, when an unemployed man called Michael Fagan broke into the palace and encountered the Queen in her own quarters.

13. Dulce Base, U.S.A.

A restricted underground military base occupies the space below Mount Archuleta, situated on the border of Colorado and New Mexico. In fact, the facility is as shrouded in secrecy as Area 51 and just as prohibited to the public. Former staff, however, have shared secrets about this highly classified area, and some of these secrets have to do with extraterrestrial activity.

An extraterrestrial encounter

Philip Schneider, a former geological engineer, described a stand-off with gray aliens while excavating the facility’s network of tunnels. He allegedly lost parts of his fingers and leg to lasers blasting out of the extraterrestrials’ chests. Schneider also claimed to have witnessed alien beings perform experiments on human subjects. Conjecture abounds as to whether this activity is real or merely government deception.

12. Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center, U.S.A.

The apocalypse has been written about and prophesied for more than 2,000 years. Indeed, some of the wealthiest doomsday types are preparing for that exact situation in lavish underground bunkers. But perhaps the safest refuge for the end of the world — however it may occur — is the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center in Virginia.

For world leaders only

Mount Weather is located not far from Washington, D.C. The high-security bunker was originally built during the Cold War to withstand a full-on nuclear assault and was all but consigned to history a few decades later. However, recent world events inspired extensive renovation of the location meant to safeguard the nation’s leaders and treasures in a crisis. All of which means you won't get in without top-level security clearance.

11. Menwith Hill Royal Air Force Station, U.K.

On 550 acres of farmland outside Harrogate in the U.K. stand more than 30 curious-looking golf ball-style structures. Menwith Hill Royal Air Force Station was initiated on the down-low in 1952 by President Truman. Its purpose, at first, was to gather intelligence through the interception of electronic communications. However, as its role grew throughout the Cold War, so did the base.

A highly confidential mission

Avid conspiracy theorists often indulge in speculation over Menwith Hill’s real purpose. It’s presumed that it enables the National Security Agency to gather details on all telecommunications sent worldwide. But we may never know, as it’s highly confidential. “You often wonder what goes on there,” an unfazed local told military newspaper Stars And Stripes in August 2013. “If they want to listen to my conversations, it would be a bit boring for them.”

10. Pluto’s Gate, Turkey

Pamukkale, which translates from Turkish as “cotton castle,” may sound like a slice of heaven on Earth. The city’s tourism industry was founded on its thermal spas thousands of years ago, and today relies on its impressive collection of Roman ruins. But there’s a deadly enigma nestled among the ancient relics, and it’s known as “Pluto’s Gate.”

The "Gate to Hell"

Archaeologists first discovered Pluto’s Gate — also known as the Gate to Hell —in 2013 when they followed the path of a thermal spring. However, clouds of natural gases that emanate from the site have rendered the historic spot unsafe for people to visit. You see, the same volcanic activity that formed the hot springs is also responsible for levels of carbon dioxide deadly enough to suffocate a human in under 30 minutes.

9. Vatican Secret Archives, Vatican City

In March 2020 historians were granted rare access to files stored in the Vatican secret archives. German researchers found damning papers suggesting that the Church had been involved in covering up centuries of closely-guarded records including letters, state papers, and accounts that have been kept in the vault.

The secrets of the Vatican

Some say the archives contain proof of aliens and demons. It’s also alleged that documents show the Church was involved in fascist activities in the mid-1900s. However, only the most learned educators and scholars are granted access to the Vatican’s files after a rigorous vetting process. Casual visitors will never know what secrets live there.

8. Diego Garcia Island, Indian Ocean

The island of Diego Garcia was first put on the map by Portuguese explorers in the 1500s. A dependent of Mauritius until 1965, the land was re-purposed by the British as part of its Indian Ocean Territory. But soon after that, in order to make way for U.S. military operations, the inhabitants were displaced.

A secret military prison?

Today Diego Garcia is populated by up to 5,000 U.S. military personnel. In fact, part of the island resembles a typical American town, featuring burger joints and a bowling alley. Outsiders, including soldiers’ partners, are not welcome due to the island's classified status. The base coordinated operations during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and rumors abound that it also houses a secret military prison.

7. Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Norway

We know that the nation’s leaders will be safe during the apocalypse. Maybe they even have a plan to repopulate the Earth if necessary. But have you ever thought about what might happen if a catastrophic event wiped out the world’s food supply? Well, someone did, and it led to the establishment of the Global Seed Vault on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.

"The final back up"

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a storage facility carved 400 feet into a mountain. The repository contains 840,000 specimens of 4,000 of the world’s seed varieties and operates in a similar fashion to a bank’s safety deposit box. Apparently, governments secure plant samples there in the event of a catastrophic incident that destroys food supplies. Designated “depositors” are the only people allowed to enter the location known as “the final backup.”

6. Room 39, North Korea

Even by North Korean standards, Room 39 is hard — if not impossible — to access. Thought to be found inside the Workers’ Party headquarters in downtown Pyongyang, this is a place about which very little is known, including how it got its name.

No one knows the truth

It is, however, reckoned that Room 39 is tasked with filling the party coffers by fair means or foul: weapons deals, drug trafficking, and money counterfeiting are all believed to be handled here. It's anyone's guess as to whether or not this is true, but the building certainly looks ominous.

5. Area 51, Nevada

Air Force testing facility, or proof that aliens exist? Speculate all you want, but you won’t get to see inside Area 51. In fact, Area 51, part of the larger Edwards Air Force Base in Nevada, has been off-limits since the 1940s, and the CIA only acknowledged its existence in 2013.

Conspiracy theories abound

What really happens in there remains a mystery to most of us, but that hasn't stopped people from swapping conspiracy theories. Most of these theories imply that Area 51 is used to investigate UFOs, an idea that was largely started in 1989 when a man named Robert Lazar claimed that he studied alien spacecraft in Area 51.

4. Bohemian Grove, U.S.A.

On paper, Bohemian Grove is just a campground set on 2,700 acres of land in California. But Bohemian Grove hosts just one retreat a year, with only a select few invited. Does it merely represent a chance for the rich and powerful to relax away from the public gaze?

A secret meeting place

Depending on who you ask, the goings-on at Bohemian Grove are much more sinister than that. Some people believe that the remote, woodsy area is the place where presidents and media giants convene to set the country's agenda. As outsiders, we’ll never know for sure.

3. North Sentinel Island, Bay of Bengal

Just 28 square miles in size, the “human zoo” of North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal is completely off-limits, even to scientists. The reason? It’s home to the Sentinelese people, who remain isolated from the outside world. And we mean isolated — no one is allowed to be closer than 3-5 nautical miles to the island's shores.

The Sentinelese tribe

Apparently, the indigenous tribe on the island is highly susceptible to modern diseases since they've never left the island or interacted with non-islanders. The exclusion zone isn’t just for the benefit of the islanders, though; sailors have reported that the hunter-gatherer tribe members threaten them with primitive weapons whenever they get close.

2. The Church of Our Lady of Zion, Ethiopia

Only men may enter this historic church located in the town of Axum in northern Ethiopia. But even male visitors are completely barred from the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion’s inner sanctum, which is purportedly home to the Ark of the Covenant.

Guarded by a monk

A single monk reportedly guards the legendary Ark, which is said to contain the stone tablets of Moses. These guardians are appointed for life, and it's said that they spend their time as guardians praying and burning incense before the Ark.

1. The Negev Research Center, Israel

According to the Israeli government, this center, located deep in the Negev desert, is solely for research. Many observers, however, believe it’s actually home to the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

Visitors aren't welcomed

Unsurprisingly, then, the Negev Research Center doesn’t exactly welcome visitors: its perimeter is well guarded, and there’s a no-fly-zone overhead, preventing prying eyes from taking a closer look.