The world is your oyster – or at least, that's the assumption most travellers make these days. With budget flights and increased mobility and the general opening up of the world in recent years, it feels like the globe has never been smaller or easier to explore than it is now.
And for the most part, that's true. There are, however, still places that are off-limits to travellers. There are destinations and would-be attractions that you'll just never (legally) get access to, no matter who you are, no matter what you do.
That's kind of an exciting prospect, given there are still parts of the world that are unknown. But it's also disappointing. If you hope to see any of the following on your next holiday, you'll be out of luck…
La Fortaleza, Mallorca
You can see the fort... From a distance. Photo: Alamy
Anyone who watched The Night Manager, the BBC's mini-series based on the John Le Carre novel, would have seen the Spanish fort-turned-luxury-mansion that played a large role in the spy thriller and thought, wow, I want to visit that place. Unfortunately, you can't. The building is La Fortaleza, on the island of Mallorca, a 17th-century fortification that's the private residence of Briton Lord James Lupton. It's also, at $AUD100 million, Spain's most expensive private property. La Fortaleza is technically supposed to be open to the public for four days a year, given its heritage status, but that doesn't appear to be happening. Shame.
You might think you know London's underground network, thanks to endless hours spent on the Tube, but that isn't the half of it. This city is riven with thousands of tunnels and other subterranean features, many of which are closed to the public. Some of the most interesting include multiple "ghost stations", Tube stops that are no longer in use, the "catacombs", a maze of tunnels and passages under Camden Town, and, reportedly, a tunnel under Pall Mall that connects one of the world's most famous wine cellars with St James's Palace across the road.
Wedding Cake Rock, Australia
This is why we can't have nice things. Wedding Cake Rock is a spectacular and world-famous sandstone formation in NSW's Royal National Park. It's white, hence the name. It's also in a very photogenic location, 25 metres above the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean. Wedding Cake Rock used to be a popular spot for photos; unfortunately, plenty of those photos were of the Instagram-friendly stunt variety – yoga poses near the edge, selfies, handstands etc – plus the rock was found to be unstable, so the National Parks and Wildlife Service whacked a fence around it and started fining people $300 if they jumped it. Sigh.
Cave of Altamira, Spain
Tourists inside the cave's replica in Spain. Photo: Alamy
This is one of the most important prehistoric art sites in the world. The Cave of Altamira, in northern Spain, features rock art that dates back 36,000 years. They were the first European cave paintings discovered with prehistoric origin, something with was highly controversial at the time. The cave, sadly, is also closed to tourists. It used to be open; however, water vapour from visitors' breath was causing mould to appear on the paintings, so the site was closed to the public in 2002. A replica cave has been built nearby, though of course that's not quite the same thing.
Buddha relics, various locations
Like the Buddha himself, the man's teeth seem to have travelled far and wide – there are alleged Buddha tooth relics being kept in China, in Taiwan, in Sri Lanka, Japan, Singapore, and even in California. These relics might sound interesting, if slightly morbid, and they're usually surrounded by spectacular temples. However, you're in for a rude shock when you visit: you're not going to see the tooth. That's for monks only. Some unveil their relic from far away, allowing brief glimpses, but you won't see these sacred artefacts up close.
The Nahmad brothers' art collection
The largest private art collection in the world, thought to be worth somewhere around the $3.5 billion mark, is owned by brothers Ezra and David Nahmad. Their collection includes works by Monet, Matisse, Renoir, Picasso and more. And you know what sucks? Not only are these paintings not on display to the public, plenty aren't on display at all. The Nahmads are in the art dealing business for the money, and keep most of their collection – including, some believe, as many as 300 Picassos – in a warehouse in Geneva, waiting for the right time to sell.
Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Muslim pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, during the Hajj pilgrimage in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Photo: AP
Surely there's no traveller alive who wouldn't want to visit Mecca during the Hajj. This is one of the world's great sights, as more than 2 million white-clad pilgrims descend upon the holiest site in the Muslim world. Amazing. Unfortunately, however, if you're not a believer, then you're not going. You won't be granted an entry visa. I once mentioned this disappointing reality to a man in a mosque in Oman. He replied: "A visa? A visa is easy. God grants everyone a visa. You just have to believe." Hmm.
Russia's closed cities
Admittedly, there may not be a lot to look at in the likes of Seversk, Ozyorsk, Sarov and Znamensk, aside from mining facilities and missile testing zones and nuclear research stations (classic tourist fodder). But it's the very fact these Russian cities are "closed", with no access allowed for foreigners and in some cases none even for Russian citizens without a permit, that make them so attractive. Tell me I can't go somewhere and I will definitely want to know what's being hidden.
The Vatican Archives
There's much about the Vatican Archives that I find fascinating. This is the church's collection of papal letters and edicts, state papers, account books and other documents that go back as far as the 8th century AD, and include a request from Henry VIII to have his marriage annulled, and a letter from Michelangelo complaining that he hadn't been paid for the Sistine Chapel. Access to the archives is either strictly limited to qualified scholars, or banned completely. Which is a shame – this would make one great museum.
What would you like to see opened to the public? What are the world's great would-be tourist attractions? Have you ever tried to access something that's restricted?