Open once in a blue moon — places you really need to plan ahead to reach - Canada, Italy, Japan, Portugal, South Korea -

Some places are so awesome that the world can’t handle them being open all the time. Plan ahead to see these places and you’ll be rewarded.

I’ve collected a number of places from bloggers around the world, and added a couple from my own travels

See the Buddhist temple open one day a year in South Korea

Open once in a blue moon — places you really need to plan ahead to reach - Canada, Italy, Japan, Portugal, South Korea -

Where: Mungyeong city, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea
When: Buddha’s Birthday (April or May)

Bongamsa is one of the nine founding schools of Zen Buddhism in South Korea, and dates back to the 9th century. Monks selected to come here will spend most of their waking hours in meditation — as a result, tourists are supposedly met with a polite but firm rebuff most days of the year.

It’s on Buddha’s Birthday (the 8th day of the 4th month on the lunar calendar — usually April or May) where all that changes. Thousands of people from across the country will descend on the temple to take in some of the treasures and sights normally hidden from tourists. It’s a wonderfully solemn place, though the crowds can detract from that somewhat. See this post for more info on Bongamsa.

Visit a vintage computer museum in Ontario, Canada

Open once in a blue moon — places you really need to plan ahead to reach - Canada, Italy, Japan, Portugal, South Korea -

Where: Brantford, Ontario (about an hour from Toronto)
When: one Saturday a month

It’s not every day you can play on tech that’s older than you are. With several dozen computers dating from the 1970’s and 1980’s, the Personal Computer Museum is a great chance to show your kids what you used as a kid, or to get a little nostalgic with old games and programs. This site also has a great collection of video games, though there’s clearly more ‘collection’ than space to show it off!

It’s only open one Saturday a month, so check to see which day it is this month. You may also be able to schedule an appointment or book a group tour at this same page.

Watch apprentice geishas perform in Kyoto

Open once in a blue moon — places you really need to plan ahead to reach - Canada, Italy, Japan, Portugal, South Korea -

From Toni Broome at

Where: Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto, Japan
When: February 2nd and 3rd

Tourists and locals stake out the laneways of Kyoto every evening in the hope of catching a mere glimpse of a geisha passing by. So how incredible would it be if I told you that you could attend a traditional event where geisha will dance for you at their local shrine in Kyoto. Even better, it’s a community event and totally free!

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The catch is that it only takes place on two days every year. The event is called Setsubun-sai, a celebration of the coming of spring and it’s held on the 2nd and 3rd of February. Apprentice geisha called maiko will perform dances at 1pm and 3pm each day. The unique dance style is slow and mesmerising. Each movement is precise, graceful and timed to perfection with the tones of the shamisen.

Setsubun is celebrated at shrines and temples across Japan and is often attended by local celebrities but this is the only one where Japan’s most prestigious geisha perform. It’s held at Yasaka Shrine in central Kyoto which is an interesting place to visit at any time and conveniently located near many other attractions. Don’t miss these festivities if you visit Kyoto on one of these two days.

Visit Brunei’s King or Queen in their fantastic palace

Open once in a blue moon — places you really need to plan ahead to reach - Canada, Italy, Japan, Portugal, South Korea -

From Mar at Once in a Lifetime Journey.

Where: The Royal Palace (Istana Nurul), Brunei
When: the three days after Ramadan (for the next few years, June or July)

Brunei is a small country entirely surrounded by Malaysia and the South China Sea on the island of Borneo. As a tiny speck in Asia’s large population countries, Brunei is most famous for the eccentricities and excesses of the Sultan, once the richest man in the world, and one of the last remaining absolute Monarchs. Estimated to have accumulated a fortune amounting to $20 billion, the Sultan regularly makes the headlines for his indulgences in custom-built high-performance cars and lavish homes. The Royal Palace, Istana Nurul, is the world’s largest palace and family residence and it is open to the public only during the three days after the end of Ramadan. It’s here where when you will be able to meet the King or Queen (depending if you are a man or a woman).

During our visit, we were the only Westerners we could see. We arrived early, so that we could make it on time as the queues stops at lunch time, and indulged in a lavish buffet style brunch that had been laid out for the visitors before starting to queue. We waited through a very organised and policed queueing system with men and women following a different itinerary through the Palace’s gold painted rooms, all the time being offered seats to rest.

You do not get to see the Sultan’s favourite 100+ luxury car selection out of his 7,000+ collection or any of the 1,800 rooms and 200 bathrooms the palace is said to have, but you get a feel for the grandeur of the place. After a 2h wait, we got to the end of the queue. We had to go through final security checks and leave our cameras outside, but finally got to shake hands with the Queen who, intrigued by the visit of two Western women, asked where we were from and remarked “Spain has great shopping!”. I guess my country left a mark in her Majesty’s credit card. At the exit, everyone receives a well-wishing Eid card and a fruit cake, courtesy of the Royal Family.

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Santa Maria di Sibiola Church, Serdiana (Sardinia, Italy)

Open once in a blue moon — places you really need to plan ahead to reach - Canada, Italy, Japan, Portugal, South Korea -

From Claudia Tavani at My Adventures Across the World.

Where: Sardinia, Italy
When: Sunday afternoons

Italy is packed with monuments — a few world famous, others just known to the locals and only open occasionally. In Sardinia there are many romanic countryside churches. One of them is Santa Maria di Sibiola, in the countryside near Serdiana, in the Parteolla district and not far from Sardinia main city, Cagliari. The sandstone church dates back to the 12th century and was most likely built near a nuraghe, thus representing the passage from pagan rituals to Christian ones.

Surrounded by fields, whose colours change from spring bright greens to summer burnt yellows, no community lives close to Santa Maria di Sibiola. It is only open on Sunday afternoons, when the priest celebrates mass for few that can fit in. Other than that, visitors must wait for the occasional ‘open monuments’ day organised yearly by the local authorities. The church is the perfect example of an off the beaten path place to visit in Italy.

1st century Roman structures in a… Lisbon sewer?

Open once in a blue moon — places you really need to plan ahead to reach - Canada, Italy, Japan, Portugal, South Korea -

From Sandra and Dhanish at

Where: Lisbon, Portugal
When: dates in April and September

In 1771, while rebuilding the city after the great earthquake that had destroyed Lisbon’s downtown sixteen years before, they found what they first thought to be Roman public baths. It was later established that these were supporting structures (known as cryptoporticus) built around the first half of the 1st Century AD when Lisbon was part of the Roman Empire. Lisbon is also known as the city of the seven hills so the Romans used this construction technique to level the ground and to support the buildings.

Twice a year in the Spring and in the Autumn, around International Day for Monuments and Sites (April 18th) and around the European Heritage Days (26th, 27th and 28th of September), a team of volunteer archaeologists gets ready to give guided tours to these underground galleries for three days, for a symbolic fee of €1,00 (free for children under 12). While what you’ll see may not be as impressive as looking at other Roman ruins, the effort that goes into making this possible explains why this only happens twice a year: the fire department drains the galleries a few days before and then it’s on call during the three open days; the police department diverts traffic during the tours in one of the busiest streets in the center of Lisbon, to keep the entrance clear (and by entrance I mean a sewage hole in the ground); the volunteers are passionate about showing you the ins and outs of the underground maze, and they willingly take time off their personal lives to do so.

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If you like to see the different cultural and historical layers of a city, then this is something you can’t miss if you happen to be in Lisbon around those dates. The opening dates aren’t announced with much time in advance due to the particular conditions of the site (for example, in the chance of heavy rains the galleries aren’t safe to visit), but usually the news of the opening spread like wildfire through social media and word-of-mouth. Simply keep an eye on their website:

Tips for visiting:

  • Starting September 2015, to avoid the long queues, the visits need to be prebooked by email ( or by phone (+351 218 172 505)
  • Wear shoes that are comfortable and that can get wet (although the galleries are drained, they are not completely dry)
  • Try to confirm beforehand if the volunteer who is guiding your group speaks English (the last time I visited, at least one of them spoke English)
  • The groups are kept small (around 10 people), because the space isn’t big enough to move around, and the tour lasts for about 15 to 20 minutes.

From Annalisa at

See the grounds where the Singaporean president lives

Open once in a blue moon — places you really need to plan ahead to reach - Canada, Italy, Japan, Portugal, South Korea -

Where: Singapore
When: Five days a year, scattered throughout the year — 2nd day of the Chinese New Year (typically February), Labour Day (May 1), Hari Raya Puasa (July 6), National Day (July 30), and Deepavali (October 29)

Beautifully designed in a 18th Century neo-Palladian style, the Istana houses the president of Singapore. Although the building is a grand display of quality architecture, the Istana is more commonly known for its extensive grounds. Being a small city state, most of Singapore is covered in both commercial and residential high rise buildings. The (lucky!) President however enjoys a vast piece of landscape at his front door, including 4 ponds, a Japanese Garden and a Spice Terrace. 5 times a year, the grounds of the Istana are open to the public in celebration of cultural holidays. Chinese New Year (2nd Day), Labour Day, Hari Raya Puasa, National Day, and Deepavali. Performances will be held as well, and visitors only need to pay $2 per person- definitely worth it! Residents of Singapore get to explore for free. Tours of the Istana building can be arranged as well, both guided and unguided. The money collected from tours and souvenirs go straight to charity. 🙂 More details are available at

Been to a place that’s only open infrequently? Share in the comments!

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