Sure, you can visit iconic landmarks like the Empire State Building or Mount Rushmore, but some parts are off-limits to only the most VI of VIPs. We found restricted areas at famous landmarks from Hollywood to Japan—plus a couple spots you can see if you play your cards right.
1. Vatican Secret Archives
You have to be a member of the Holy See or a qualified scholar to enter this centuries-old repository, which contains more than 52 miles of shelving and countless papal documents dating back 12 centuries. Around 1,500 academics are granted access every year, but they have to know what they’re looking for—browsing is verboten. Among the items stored here are a letter excommunicating Martin Luther and a request to annul Henry VIII’s marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
Visitors to Britain’s most famous prehistoric monument have been kept at a distance from the monoliths since 1978, thanks to vandals and thieves who ruined it for the rest of us. But if you’re willing to book well in advance and shell out a bit of dough, companies like Stonehenge Tours offer limited-access excursions that take you into the inner circle.
3. Ise Jingu
In Japan’s Mie prefecture, you’ll find the Grand Shrines of Ise, one of the most sacred sites in the whole country. Following the Shinto concept of death and regeneration, the 100-plus edifices are torn down and rebuilt every 20 years. The site is purportedly home to a holy mirror called Yata no Kagami, but you won’t be able to find out for sure: Though visitors can ramble through the ancient pine forest surrounding the shrine, only members of the Japanese royal family and elite priests and priestesses are allowed inside.
4. Ornamental Gallery at St. Paul's Cathedral
Designed by Christopher Wren, the largest church building in London has plenty of areas that are closed to the public. But the most breathtaking is this balcony near the top of the inner dome, situated nearly 200 feet above the cathedral floor. Though 16th and 17th century visitors were allowed to make the climb, only the occasional journalist is allowed to ascend to the top these days. (A Press Association photographer snapped a dizzying aerial shot of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral from this height in 2013.)
5. Hollywood Sign
A close-up opportunity with these iconic 45-foot-tall letters is a thing of past, thanks to a trust established in the 1970s to refurbish and protect the then-derelict sign. (None other than Playboy founder Hugh Hefner spearheaded the restoration campaign.) A razor-wire fence and 24-hour surveillance keeps the sign safe from vandals—and would-be visitors protected from the dangers involved in reaching it, such as rattlesnakes and slippery rocks.
Read about more VIP spots in the full article.
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