Top 20 Places You Are NOT Allowed to Visit

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Spencer sher
When these restricted areas say “no entry”, they mean it. For this list, we're looking at places that bar the general public and group tours from visiting. Our countdown includes the Catacombs of Paris, the Vatican Secret Archives, Area 51, North Brother Island in New York, Brazil's Snake Island, and more!
Script written by Spencer Sher

Top 20 Places You Are Not Allowed to Visit

When these places say, “no entry”, they mean it. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Places You Are Not Allowed to Visit.

For this list, we’re looking at places that bar the general public and group tours from visiting.

#20: Varosha, Famagusta, Cyprus

When Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, the residents of Varosha, a suburb in the city of Famagusta, fled. They planned to return to their homes when the fighting ended. However, upon gaining control of the area, the Turkish army erected barricades and refused entry to civilians. This is how a once prosperous tourist destination, popular amongst the Hollywood elite, was transformed into a ghost town overnight. Varosha remains abandoned to this day, with the Turkish army continuing to refuse entry to civilians. While talks of reopening the district have begun to gain steam, there are no definite plans, and nature continues to reclaim the area.

#19: Mezhgorye, Russia

Mezhgorye might have a welcome sign at the town entrance. But that doesn’t mean you can just wander in. First founded in the 1970s in Russia’s southern Ural Mountains, the town is home to some 7,000 residents, at least according to a 2010 census. You can’t visit however without official government permission. Described as Russia’s Area 51, Mezhgorye is a closed town rumored to have once stored nuclear warheads. Supposedly, it’s the site of a vast subterranean bunker with its own highways and railroads, large enough to house 60,000 people! No one is quite sure however, because the Russians are keeping their cards close to their chest.

#18: RAAF Woomera Range Complex, Australia

Covering an area of over 47,000 square miles, the RAAF Woomera Range Complex in South Australia encompasses one of the largest no-go zones in the world. The military and aerospace site is run by the Royal Australian Air Force and serves as a test site for rockets, drones, surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank missiles and anti-submarine missiles. The Woomera Range Complex was the brainchild of the British, whose desire toestablish a rocket testing program on home soil following WWII was stymied by their population density. So they turned to Australia. Together they formed the Anglo-Australian Joint Project in 1946. The Woomera Range Complex has been closed to the public since 1947.

#17: Heard Island and McDonald Islands, Australia

An external territory of Australia, the Heard and McDonald Islands are uninhabited and remote, surrounded by rough seas and covered by mountains and glaciers. If that wasn’t enough to deter you, they’re also home to two active volcanoes. The closest thing to civilization is 280 miles away - namely the Kerguelen Islands, home to a few French soldiers, scientists, and researchers. Travellers can’t visit Heard Island and McDonald Islands without being part of a scientific expedition. Regardless, with no permanent base or settlement to speak of, actually getting there and finding shelter is unlikely to say the least.

#16: Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, China

China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, unified China and helped build the Great Wall. When he died in 210 BC, he was laid to rest in a gigantic tomb, protected by a garrison of 8,000 Terracotta warriors. For years, the burial complex remained hidden from the world, until in 1974 farmers stumbled over fragments of terracotta. While the Terracotta warriors have been excavated, the tomb itself remains buried. Officials fear that archaeological work will damage the tomb. Deep inside is an elaborate underground palace, said to have been filled with treasures and surrounded by rivers of mercury, but at least for now, it remains off-limits and shrouded in mystery.

#15: Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center, Virginia, US

Tucked away in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center is just a 48-mile drive from Washington, DC. That’s no coincidence, as the Center serves as a relocation site for the nation’s top civilian and military personnel in the event of a nuclear war or national disaster. Controlled by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the facility is a way of ensuring that the government will continue to function regardless of what’s happening outside its presumably very thick walls. Despite the fact it’s a “civilian command facility”, visits from we regular folks are prohibited.

#14: Chapel of the Tablet, Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion, Ethiopia

Located in the town of Axum, the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion is said to house the Ark of the Covenant, the biblical chest that contains the original stone tablets with the Ten Commandments. The story goes that the Ark was brought to Ethiopia by its first emperor, Menelik I; and there are those that believe it never left. The Ark is protected by a monk who dedicates his life to praying before it in the Chapel of the Tablet. Near the end of his life the monk appoints a successor. As such, the only way you’re getting into this chapel is by becoming an extremely dedicated Ethiopian monk.

#13: Poveglia, Italy

A tiny island an hour south of Venice, Poveglia is home to a dark past. Over the centuries the island has served many purposes. It was a refuge for civilians fleeing barbarian invasions in the 5th century, a strategic Venetian fort in the 17th century, a quarantine zone for those suffering from the plague in the 18th century, and finally an asylum for the mentally ill in the 20th century. It’s said that a doctor performed horrific experiments on his patients. Today, it’s rumored to be haunted by their tortured souls, and remains off limits to locals and tourists.

#12: Metro-2, Moscow, Russia

It might not have been officially confirmed, but speculation abounds around Moscow’s secret underground metro system, separate to the city’s public metro. Thought to have been built during Stalin’s era, it’s said toconsist of four lines that connect the Kremlin to various other government buildings and institutions. Over the years a number of people have admitted its existence in some form or another, including Vladimir Shevchenko, a former advisor to Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin. Shevchenko claimed that reports were exaggerated however, and that the tunnels have begun to decay. If Metro-2 is indeed real, it goes without saying that civilians are prohibited. And if it’s not, well then you obviously can’t go there.

#11: North Brother Island, New York, US

Like our other entry Poveglia, North Brother Island has been used for a number of diverse purposes. Located in New York City’s East River, it started as a quarantine zone for smallpox victims in the 19th century, but later grew to house those suffering from a number of quarantinable diseases. Over the years it’s also hosted housing for war veterans, and in the 1950s a shady rehabilitation center for drug addicts. Today the island is considered a protected area and bird sanctuary, with access limited to those who apply for specialized visits. There’s been talk of allowing visitors back to the island, but for now, it’s closed to the public.

#10: Ilha da Queimada Grande [aka Snake Island], Brazil

You probably wouldn’t want to visit this island even if you WERE allowed. Located off the coast of Sao Paulo, the Ilha da Queimada Grande, aka Snake Island, is crawling with golden lancehead pit vipers - about one per square meter. Its venom is thought to be five times more potent than that of any mainland viper, and capable of melting human flesh. So yeah, not exactly a tropical island paradise. Civilians aren’t allowed to visit the island, and scientists are only allowed trips if they receive special permission.

#9: Ise Grand Shrine, Japan

One of the holiest places in Japan, this Shinto shrine complex is thought to have been built in the year 4 BC. Parts of the shrine are rebuilt every 20 years to symbolize the cycle of life, death and renewal. Dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu, the site is a popular pilgrimage site, with over 9 million Japanese tourists visiting it in 2013 alone. However, access to the shrine itself remains strictly prohibited to commoners, with only priests and priestess allowed to enter its hallowed walls. As such, those who make the trek to the Ise Grand Shrine can expect to see only its wooden fences and thatched roofs.

#8 The Catacombs, Paris, France

Dug out over centuries, these tunnels in France’s capital were converted into a vast underground ossuary todeal with Paris’ overflowing cemeteries. They’re now home to the bones of some six million people - giving them their nickname “The World’s Largest Grave.” Thanks to human curiosity, a small part of the catacombs was opened to visitation in the 19th century, and they’ve since become part of the 14 City of Paris Museums. However, what interests us here are the miles and miles of tunnels that have been sealed off from the public. It’s illegal to venture into them, but a subculture of “cataphiles” have made it their mission to explore the tunnels and make them their own.

#7: Pine Gap, Australia

Located just south of Alice Springs in central Australia, Pine Gap, or the Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap as it is officially called, is a satellite tracking station operated by both the US and Australia. While the facility was initially used for “space research” (or at least that’s what they told the public), it’s now a key cog in the spy machines of both the CIA and NSA, controlling satellites as they pass over Russia, China and the Middle East. Its remote location helps prevent anyone intercepting the flow of information. Needless to say, the facility, which employs over 800 people, is strictly off limits to the public.

#6: The Jiangsu National Security Education Museum, Nanjing, China

Nothing gets the conspiracy juices flowing like a Chinese spy museum that bars foreigners from entering. The items in the museum, which range from espionage documents to tiny pistols and miniature cameras, are from as far back as 1927 and as recent as the 1980s. Some believe the museum is a propaganda tool, with U.S. Army intelligence officer Matthew Brazil claiming “The regime appears to be accelerating counterintelligence efforts in response to fears of spies.” However, ask the museum’s director and you’ll get a different response. According to her, “We don't want such sensitive spy information to be exposed to foreigners, so they are notallowed to enter."

#5: Lascaux, France

Lascaux is home to some of the best-known Upper Paleolithic art in the world. The cave paintings are estimated to be more than 17,000 years old, and mostly depict large animals. The Lascaux caves have been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, and the public has been banned since 1963, primarily because any human presence in the cave could potentially be destructive. Currently, only a handful of scientists are allowed to enter the caves, though a replica of them, called Lascaux II, was opened to the public in 1983.

#4: RAF Menwith Hill, England

Described as the world’s biggest electronic monitoring station, this Royal Air Force station provides intelligence support service to the US and UK. It was originally set up to intercept messages between the Soviet Union and its allies during the Cold War, but the station is still in full operation today. In fact, several of the satellites arecontrolled directly by the American NSA, something that’s been criticized in recent years after the Snowden leaks. It’s most infamous program is ECHELON, a surveillance program for the interception of private and commercial communications.

#3: North Sentinel Island, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India

The North Sentinel Island is home to the Sentinelese, a group of indigenous people with a population of somewhere between 50 and 400. They are one of the last peoples in the world to remain untouched by modern civilization, and refuse any contact with outsiders. In 2006, they killed two local fishermen, and in 2018 killed an American missionary who snuck onto the island to convert them to Christianity. While peaceful contact was made during the early 1990s, the Indian government stopped sending people to the island in 1997.

#2: Vatican Secret Archives, Vatican City

Next to the Vatican Library, the Vatican Secret Archives houses the acts promulgated by the Holy See, as well as state papers, papal account books, and other important historical documents. The name is a bit misleading however. It should perhaps be called the Vatican PRIVATE Archives, because its existence and the documents within aren’t actually secret. That doesn’t mean you just wander in however. Only qualified researchers can apply for an entry card and request to examine a document, and everything dated after 1939 is off limits.

Before we unveil our number one pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

Hart Island, New York

Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Club 33 Disneyland, California

Surtsey, Iceland

Bhangarh Fort, India

#1: Area 51, Nevada, USA

Nevada’s Area 51 has been a hotbed for criticism and speculation for decades. While the base’s primary purpose is unknown to the public, evidence suggests that it’s been used to develop and test weapons. All research in Area 51 is considered Top Secret, which has made it a frequent subject of UFO folklore. Many people believe that the base is home to alien spacecraft and even alien species, while others suggest that scientists are working on time travel or teleportation devices. As the base is closed to the public, speculation about the US Air Force facility only continues to grow.