Our Secret is Yours
Even in some of the world’s most trafficked locations, there are still mysteries lurking — from members’-only clubs and royal suites to abandoned subway stations and exclusive historic pubs.
There are dozens of such secret places around the world that you can experience with the right access and know-how. Some boast a pricey entrance fee, while others require that you simply open your eyes and pay closer attention to the world around you.
Here are some of our favorite hidden spaces inside the world’s most well-known cities and destinations.
Disneyland’s Club 33
There’s Disney magic, and then there’s Club 33. Located in Disneyland’s New Orleans Square, this exclusive members-only club is the height of Disney extravagance. The coveted club opened in 1967 as a place to wine and dine VIPs and today remains as shrouded in secrecy as any attraction in the social media era can be. Not only is Club 33 a culinary destination, but it’s also the only place in the park that serves alcohol.
The club’s initial membership fee is a hefty $25,000 with $12,000 in annual dues. Even if you’re willing to pony up the cash, it’s rumored that there’s a 10-year waiting list. If a membership of your own isn’t in the budget, you may want to start making friends. Entry to the much-desired club can be achieved if you know a member to escort you.
Gustave Eiffel’s Apartment in the Eiffel Tower
When the Eiffel Tower opened to the public in 1889, it was considered a modern marvel. But the tower’s creator Gustave Eiffel created an even more enviable space for himself in the form of a secret apartment high above the Parisian streets. Located on the third floor of the tower, the apartment included a kitchen, two bedrooms and even a greenhouse. While Eiffel received many offers to rent his coveted space, he always kept the apartment to himself.
Since his passing, the space has been restored to its original design, and visitors can now peer into the historic apartment and see how Eiffel once used the space. Keep an eye out for the lifelike wax figures of Eiffel, his daughter, Claire, and inventor Thomas Edison, who gifted Eiffel one of his new phonograph machines.
City Hall Subway Station
Decadent City Hall opened as New York City’s first subway station in 1904. But in the 1940s, when many platforms were lengthened to accommodate longer trains and more commuters, the lower Manhattan station was retired. For decades it was sealed off and inaccessible to the public, leaving its turn-of-the-century beauty — replete with glass tiling, bronze chandeliers and intricate skylights — perfectly preserved.
Curious travelers can catch a glimpse of the vintage station from the windows of the 6 train after it leaves the Brooklyn Bridge station. For those seeking a closer look, the New York Transit Museum offers walking tours of the station to its members a dozen or so times each year.
Tower of London's Secret Pub
You probably know that the Yeoman Warders — commonly referred to as Beefeaters — are the official guards of the Tower of London. But did you know that some of them still live with their families within the tower’s fortress walls?
There were actually once dozens of inns and pubs located within the tower walls, but now only The Keys, originally called the Yeoman Warders Club, remains. The 150-year-old establishment looks like a classic British pub and is full of pieces of the Tower of London’s history. The bar even serves two exclusive beers brewed especially for the Warders.
But before you try to belly up to the bar, you better be friendly. The only way to grab a pint at this exclusive pub is to be personally invited by one of the tower’s Beefeaters.
Secret Archives at the Vatican
With a rumored 53 miles of shelves and nearly 12 centuries worth of historic documents, the secret archives at the Vatican are a library nerd’s dream. The collection includes more than 35,000 volumes, and its oldest surviving document dates back to the end of the eighth century.
For much of their history, the archives were blocked to the public. But in 1881, Pope Leo XIII permitted outside scholars access to select pieces of the collection. While not just everyone is allowed in the Vatican’s archives today, qualified scholars — above the undergraduate level — can apply for access. If you, or someone you’re accompanying, can make a case for your research and the information you hope to obtain is more than 75 years old, there’s a chance you’ll be allowed inside the reading room.
Cinderella’s Castle Suite
Over the years, countless fairy-tale fans have no doubt dreamed of spending the night in Cinderella’s Castle. At Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Fla., a select few have had the opportunity to do just that.
A special suite inside the castle was initially built to accommodate Walt Disney and his family when they stayed overnight in the park. Unfortunately, Disney died five years before the Magic Kingdom opened and his dream was realized. For much of its history, the room inside Cinderella’s Castle was used as storage and utility space. But in 2006, Disney opened the redesigned royal bedchamber to potential overnight guests.
The lavishly decorated space includes French detailing, intricate stained-glass windows and plush upholstered beds fit for a king. And while access to the suite is typically limited to celebrities and special guests, each January, members of the public can enter to win a five-day, four-night stay at the Disney World Resort, including one night in Cinderella’s Castle.
Hidden Rooms at the Winchester Mystery House
Located in San Jose, Calif., the 161-room Winchester Mystery House is well-known for its eccentricity. The sprawling mansion was the home of rifle magnet Sarah Winchester, who began construction on it in 1884, and continued haphazardly adding rooms and features for decades. Since then the peculiar house has become an infamous tourist attraction. But there are still new discoveries to be made.
When a new manager came to the house a few years ago, he noticed boarded doors and locks with skeleton keys. It turned out there were a handful of secret spaces not yet explored by the public. Seeking to change that, in 2017, a new tour was launched to unlock the mysteries of these rooms.
The spaces on view during the limited-time “Explore More” tour include a spooky attic-like storage area and the South Turret Witch’s Cap, the home’s only circular room, where rumor has it Harry Houdini performed a seance in 1924.
The Roman Colosseum’s Hypogeum
Each year, Rome’s Colosseum welcomes more than 4 million visitors. But for decades few glimpsed the impressive infrastructure that exists beneath the arena’s surface.
The Colosseum’s hypogeum — meaning “under the earth” — is a series of winding tunnels below the storied amphitheater that was designed to hold gladiators and wild animals alike. In fact, during the days of battle, many challengers and even smaller animals were hoisted from the bowels of the building directly into the arena using a sophisticated pulley system.
A few years ago, the historic tunnels reopened, and they are accessible to visitors via a special guided tour (just note that, understandably, demand is high).
At street level, the average passerby would have no idea that beneath Washington, D.C.’s bustling Dupont Circle lies the Dupont Underground, a 15,000-square-foot space for visual, sound and performance art of all kinds.
The space originally opened in 1949 as a trolley station, replete with tunnels and platforms, but was closed off in the early 1960s when the trolley service shut down. At points in its history the space has been used as a fallout shelter and a short-lived food court. Otherwise, it sat abandoned.
In 2014, thanks to the efforts of a local architect, that all changed. Today, visitors are welcome into this subterranean venue just a mile from the White House, but only during the organization’s programs and events, which include concerts, play readings, art openings and more.
Britain's Smallest Police Station
Today, most police boxes are historical relics relegated to inspiration for "Doctor Who." But on the southeast corner of London’s Trafalgar Square, one unassuming outpost still holds some notoriety as the smallest police station in the UK.
The Trafalgar Square box was built in the 1920s so the London Metropolitan Police could keep a better eye on the sometimes rowdy area. To keep its existence inconspicuous, the small station was created inside a hollowed-out lamppost. During its use, it could hold up to two prisoners or one police officer, comfortably.
While the outpost still stands, today it’s used as a storage closet by the Westminster Council instead of by police. Many pass through the square without knowing what it is — keeping it a secret that only the discerning look for.
Stained Glass Mapparium
From the outside, Boston’s Mary Baker Eddy Library is so unassuming that many aren’t aware there’s a one-of-a-kind marvel inside.
Step inside this 11-story building originally designed as the home of the Christian Science Publishing Society and you’ll discover the glimmering Mapparium, a stained glass globe that allows visitors to explore the world from the inside of a globe.
The dome was designed by the building’s architect, Chester Lindsay Churchill, as a symbol of global outreach and a nod to Eddy, the Christian Science Monitor's founder who gave the publication the mission to 'to injure no man, but to bless all mankind.”
The colorful glass sphere is three stories high and spans 30 feet in diameter. While the countries listed on the map are a relic of the world pre-World War I, the library has brought the Mapparium up to speed with an audio and light component.
The Mapparium is open to the public, though there is an admission cost and limited space on the space’s brief tours.
Floor 103 of the Empire State Building
Anyone who has visited the top of New York City’s Empire State Building has likely snapped a photo from the windows of the 102nd floor. But the public-facing “top floor” of the building is actually one floor below its accessible peak.
At the actual top of the building is a private observation deck located in the tower’s metal mast, which was originally designed to help moor the airships thought to be the transportation of the future when the building was built. Once fearless visitors reach the top of the steep metal staircase, they can step out onto a small ledge with a low railing to take in New York City from above.
But don’t visit the Empire State Building expecting to just march up the stairs to Floor 103. The secret space has so far been accessible only to visitors with special permission, including members of the media, or to celebrities like Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande. So it won't be easy to find your way to the very top.