When you think of government headquarters, military or intelligence agencies, and other high-security facilities, you might be surprised to learn that some of these locations allow public entry. Although the following global landmarks are protected by elite forces and sophisticated technology, they also double as popular tourist attractions.
The Korean DMZ
This demarcation line that divides the Republic of South Korea from its Communist neighbor, North Korea, stretches across the entire Korean peninsula. Established on July 27, 1953, following the post-Korean War Armistice Agreement, the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) creates a buffer between these opposing nations.
Although both sides are heavily guarded by tanks, land mines and electrical fences, a 2-kilometer wide “no man’s land” surrounds the DMZ where military activity is strictly prohibited. Therefore, this truce line has become known as the PLZ (Peace and Life Zone). In effort to promote pacifism within this historically volatile region, designated sections are open for visitation. Tourists and citizens can tour observation towers, museums, war memorials and the South Korean “Peace Dam,” located along the DMZ route.
Still, despite recent tourism initiatives, this area is considered highly unstable, and United Nations troops must patrol the South Korean side to maintain ceasefire. After all, one miscalculated move across the border could erupt in chaos.
The White House
This iconic U.S. landmark, where the Commander-in-Chief resides, is among the nation’s most surveillanced buildings, but public tours have resumed as of 2013. Pending approval from an applicable Congress representative, visitors can participate in self-guided tours around the residential East Wing. The Oval Office, Situation Room and other West Wing chambers, however, are significantly more restricted.
Despite public access, though, the President and First Family receive superior protection and unrivaled home security. An iron gate surrounds this property’s perimeter, and underground alarm sensors activate at the slightest movement detection. In addition, bullet-resistant windows shield the interior, while armed guards patrol the grounds, snipers crouch along roof, and Secret Service agents stand sentry around every corner.
The White House opens its legendary doors Tuesday through Thursday, 7:30–11:30a.m., and Friday through Saturday, 7:30a.m.–1:30p.m. Although these tours are free, they occur on a first-come-first-serve basis and can be cancelled anytime.
This architectural gem, gracing the London city center, has been a British royal residence since 1837, and currently serves as the monarchy’s administrative center. Charged with protecting this imperial dwelling, the Queen’s Guard can be seen outside Buckingham Palace at all times. Throughout their 2-hour posts, these sentinels remain silent and motionless, but if harassed by bystanders, they retaliate at gunpoint.
Specified areas of the palace are occasionally on-display for visitors, including the Queen’s Gallery, State Rooms (still actively used by the royal family) and the Buckingham Forecourt, where the guard changes every morning at 11:30. Tickets must be purchased in advance, and each guided tour lasts about 2 ½ hours.
The Greenbrier Bunker
This Cold War-era bomb shelter was erected in 1961 to defend Congressional members against potential nuclear attacks. Located in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, this classified bunker remained hidden from public awareness beneath the region’s exclusive Greenbrier Resort. While operational, the facility maintained a constant state of readiness — should the Russian arms race cross over onto American borders.
Photo taken by Bobak Ha’Eri
Comprised of four entrances and a 25-ton blast door that only opens with 50 pounds of pressure, this shelter could accommodate over 1,100 inhabitants. Despite these security measures, Greenbrier Bunker is now “declassified” as a tourist attraction.
The Vatican City
This independent city-state within Rome’s borders houses both the Papal Palace and the official Catholic Church headquarters. Besides the Pope’s personal security detail who escorts him at all times, the Vatican is also protected by expertly trained Swiss Guard troops and Gendarmerie Corps (Vatican City police force).
While on duty, these guards are equipped with full-range weapons, including Glock pistols and Beretta sub-machine guns. Their tactical teams use Carbon-15 pistols and highly specialized FABARM Italian shotguns. In addition, the Gendarmerie Corps commission counter-assault and anti-sabotage teams for explosive ordnance disposals.
The Swiss Guard is the world’s smallest army, comprised of 110–125 soldiers who serve a minimum two year term. Like the Gendarmerie Corps, these mercenaries also carry long-range firepower. When the Pope travels abroad, the Swiss Guard works closely with local police to implement security procedures during his visit.
Although the Vatican is extensively protected, public tours are available for various historical and religious sites within these city limits, including the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, Raphael’s Rooms and the Vatican Museum.
Bold Lane Car Park
This parking garage deck in Derbyshire, England, is peculiarly considered among the most secure locations on earth. Pedestrians can only gain access with a Bold Lane-issued ticket that indicates their exact parking spot number. Drivers occupying this lot must also pay a considerable fee in order to ensure their vehicles’ safety.
Photo taken by Jerry Evans
Once a car has been parked, it will be protected by motion sensors that activate if any movement whatsoever is detected, causing the entire premises to enter lock-down. In addition, advanced CCTV cameras, panic buttons and other surveillance technology constantly monitor the garage’s interior for trespassing or suspicious activity.
The Grand Palace
This opulent compound, located in Bangkok, has been the administrative seat of Thai government and the royal court’s dwelling for 150 years. Although the king no longer lives here, the Grand Palace still houses Thailand’s war ministry, state departments and mint treasury. Security is heightened around the perimeter, as locals consider it sacred.
Despite its striking beauty and sprawling size, the complex architectural design is difficult to navigate, and some sections are restricted from public view. However, visitors can access the Grand Palace Central Court and Temple of the Emerald Buddha. When entering this shrine, men must wear pants and long-sleeve shirts, while women cannot show inappropriate amounts of skin — like bare shoulders, for example.
The Grand Palace is open daily from 8:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m., unless a state function takes place. Tickets cost $11.24 USD which, besides touring the Grand Palace, also includes Vimanmek Museum admission and other Bangkok attractions.
Federal Reserve Bank
This pillar of the New York City Financial District stores an estimated 25% of global gold resources in a vault, located 80 feet below street-level (50 feet below sea-level). Due to these sensitive assets, the Federal Reserve is patrolled by expert marksmen, making it among the world’s most closely guarded buildings.
If scheduled in advance, free guided tours are available for both the public and school groups. Visitors can peruse the various on-site museum exhibits and learn how the Federal Reserve has influenced monetary policy and promoted financial stability.
The Topkapi Palace
This sprawling and opulent structure, a spiritual relic within Muslim culture and longstanding pride of Istanbul, is among the oldest surviving palaces from ancient civilization. For over 400 years, sultans ruled the Ottoman Empire from this royal residence, and today, it remains under thorough surveillance by legions of armed guards.
According to TripAdvisor, numerous travelers who have toured the Topkapi Palace can attest to its heightened security protocol. A gun-wielding terrorist was quickly shot dead by guards on November 30, 2011, a testament to the effective security at Topkapi Palace. Following that incident, visitors now must walk through x-ray body scanners before entering the premises. However, despite these extensive measures, countless tourists still flock to this landmark for the on-site Turkish coffee and calligraphy exhibits.
Have you visited these historical sites throughout your own travels? Can you think of any other secure locations that are also open for visitation? Tell us in the comment section below!