Watch your step!
From the simple, straight-flight staircase to the medieval spiral (designed to give an advantage during a sword fight), here’s our list of the world’s most amazing staircases!
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WHERE: Rome, Italy
The Spanish Steps, one of Rome’s most recognizable attractions, was originally intended as a gateway to the Trinità dei Monti church. The elegant staircase of 135 steps was inaugurated in 1725 by Pope Benedict XIII and named after the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican that has been located in the bordering Piazza di Spagna since the 1600s. The steps have been featured in many films, had fashion runway shows staged on them, and are beautifully decked out with pots of azaleas in spring and a 19th-century nativity scene during the holidays.
WHERE: Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
Climbing the Lion Rock is one of the must-do things in Sri Lanka. The rock is 660 ft tall and the over 1,500 years old preserved ancient palace ruins on top can only be accessed by climbing 1,200 (!) steps. Halfway up the rock on a small plateau, two lions paws mark the entrance to the final ascent. To reach the top, visitors have to master steep, narrow, slippery limestone stairs, man-made walkways, and a vertical winding staircase (enclosed within a wire cage). The rewards are close-up views of frescos along the rock wall and incredible views.
WHERE: Abhaneri, India
Chand Baori is a stepwell built in the 9th century in the Abhaneri village of Rajasthan. With 3,500 narrow steps arranged in perfect symmetry, it is India’s largest and steepest stepwell and one of the most unusual staircases in the world. The steps descend 13 stories (65 feet) to the bottom of the water storage facility. On three sides, the stairs encircle the water, while on the fourth side a three-stored pavilion boasts carved jharokhas (a type of overhanging enclosed balcony), galleries supported on pillars, and two projecting balconies enshrining beautiful sculptures.
WHERE: Vatican Museums, Vatican
The Momo Staircase, also called the Snail Staircase or Simonetti Staircase, is formed by two separate wrought iron stairways–one going up, one going down–which twist together to form a double helix. This design allows people ascending without meeting people descending, thus guaranteeing uninterrupted traffic in each direction in the popular Vatican Museums. It is unlikely that the Vatican realized in 1932 when commissioning the Italian architect Giuseppe Simonetti that this staircase would become one of the most photographed in the world.
Monumental Steps of Bom Jesus do Monte
WHERE: Braga, Portugal
Bom Jesus do Monte is a pilgrimage site outside the city of Braga with an outdoor Baroque staircase that climbs 381 feet. The staircase of dark granite covered in white plaster is known as the Sacred Way and leads to the 18th-century sanctuary of Bom Jesus (Good Jesus) on top of the hill. Although there are no visions or saints associated with the place, many pilgrims choose to uphold tradition and climb up the zig-zagging 577 steps on their knees. Each sense (sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste) is represented by a different fountain along the stairways giving the idea of purification of the faithful.
WHERE: Munich, Germany
Hidden within an office building complex in Munich, this is a stairway to heaven … or nowhere at all. Umschreibung, which means “transcription” or “rewriting,” was erected in 2004 by Danish sculptor and installation artist Olafur Eliasson. The steel structure is nearly 30 feet tall and shaped like a double helix. While it doesn’t actually lead anywhere, there is a small opening at the bottom of the steps and a quick climb guarantees great views or a welcome distraction from work.
Baroque Spiral Staircase of Melk Abbey
WHERE: Melk, Austria
Melk Abbey was founded in 1089 and sits on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Danube River. The spiral staircase with Roccoco grate leads from the small library room to other library rooms, which are closed to the public. The undersides of the stone steps have been painted in great detail, adding to Melk Abbey’s reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful monastic sites. Other highlights are the stately royal rooms, the golden, glittering church, and the ceiling fresco by Austrian painter Paul Troger.
WHERE: London, England
In the Queen’s House in Greenwich, the elegant Tulip Stairs, an original feature from the 17th century, were the first geometric self-supporting spiral stairs in Britain. The bright shade of blue paint that coats the wrought-iron structure is made of crushed glass, and restaurateurs have followed this method ever since. The name of the stairs comes from the floral patterns on it, though the flowers in the balustrade are believed to be fleurs-de-lis. In 1966, the Rev R. W. Hardy’s took a famous “ghost” photograph which appears to depict two or three shrouded figures on the Tulip Stairs.
Red Staircase at Livraria Lello
WHERE: Porto, Portugal
One of the oldest bookstores in Portugal, Livraria Lello or Lello Bookshop features an opulent red staircase. The bookshop and with it the staircase were designed by Francisco Xavier Esteves, an engineer who made the flight of steps stand with very little support from below. Seen from atop, the staircase resembles two streams of water flowing into one. Additionally, Livraria Lello also features a stained glass ceiling and carved wooden shelves which hold centuries-old books. The bookstore proofed inspirational for J.K. Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter series, when she taught English in Porto.
Rococo Staircase at Palazzo Biscari's
WHERE: Catania, Italy
Palazzo Biscari, a privately owned villa in imperious Baroque style in Catania, is home to an elegant white Rococo-inspired staircase. Its décor is unparalleled in all of Sicily and features panels of dense rococo stucco, a complex balustrade design and magnificent 18th-century frescos above the door of the gallery. Built in several stages from 1707 to 1763, Palazzo Biscari’s ornate interior is decorated in the rococo style and houses collections of paintings, vases, coins, and other antique exhibits.
WHERE: New York City
Ever since Barneys New York, one of the city’s most iconic clothing retailers, opened their new downtown location in early 2016, shoppers have spent less time looking for clothes and more time taking pictures of the glamorous white marble space. Connecting the five floors is an iconic element of the original Barneys store: a soaring Andrée Putnam-designed spiral staircase. The 58,000-square-feet flagship store has no escalators, instead, the spiral flight in the center of the space acts like a runway for shoppers to see and be seen from one floor to the next.
Grand Staircase at the Museum of Islamic Art
WHERE: Doha, Qatar
The Museum of Islamic Art in Doha Bay houses a collection of 4,500 pieces in galleries surrounding a soaring, 164 feet domed atrium. The grand spiral staircase in the center of the foyer has stairs which are carved on the underside to invoke the illusion of an upside-down staircase. Seen from above, the staircase is offset from the patterned chandelier hanging above it.
Musical Piano Stairs on Wulin Plaza
WHERE: Hangzhou, China
There are many piano inspired staircases in the world, but this one located in Hangzhou makes the appropriate musical notes when people set foot on it. The 54 steps were installed next to an escalator to encourage people to walk instead and play a melody while doing so. Just like in the piano sequence in the movie Big, each step plays a different musical note which can make for quite some noise if larger crowds take to the stairs. Needless to say, it’s a kid favorite!
Sprinkenhof Spiral Staircase
WHERE: Hamburg, Germany
Hamburg’s Kontorhausviertel was built in the Expressionistic style of the 1920s and features buildings with reinforced concrete and red brick facades, wide windows, and imposing entrances. In 2015, together with the Speicherstadt (warehouse city), it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. In one of the office buildings, the Sprinkenhof on Burchardstraße, visitors can find Hamburg’s most photographed staircase. Access is permitted to visitors, though the front door might be locked on weekends, and there is even a lift to cover the nine floors coming back down again.
WHERE: Calpe, Spain
Rising from the rocky cliffs of Calpe, La Muralla Roja–Spanish for The Red Wall–is a housing project. Looking like an impossible structure, the complex of 50 apartments includes many elements of classic Arab/Mediterranean architecture. Perhaps best described as a labyrinth or puzzle, the staircases zig-zag and are held in jewel-like blues and shades of indigo, contrasting with the vertical walls painted in pink and red tones.
WHERE: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The Batu Caves, located only 8 miles north of Kuala Lumpur, is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India, dedicated to Lord Murugan (a Hindu deity). To reach the awe-inspiring natural limestone caverns (three main caves–Temple Cave, Dark Cave and the Art Gallery Cave–and a few smaller ones) visitors must climb 272 steps. Located outside the caves, standing at 140 feet high and covered in 66 gallons of gold paint, is the world’s tallest statue of Murugan.
16th Avenue Tiles Steps
WHERE: San Francisco, California
Possibly the world’s largest mosaic staircase, the 16th Avenue tiled steps were a community project led by Irish ceramicist Aileen Barr and San Francisco mosaic artist Colette Crutcher. Located in the quiet residential Golden Gate Heights neighborhood, the 163 steps contain 2,000 handmade tiles on which over 300 locals worked. The 75,000 tile, mirror, and stained glass fragments come together as a sea-to-stars themed mosaic. The exact location of the colorful steps is on Moraga Street between 15th & 16th Ave, and tourists are asked to visit between 9 am and 7 pm.
Spiral Staircase in Taihang Mountains
WHERE: Linzhou, China
In the hope of boosting tourism, a 300-foot spiral staircase called the “Stairway to Heaven” was installed in the Taihang Mountains, where most peaks range from 5,000- 6,500 feet. The staircase is meant to give climbers the thrill of mountaineering without the danger, but just looking at these narrow stairs is enough to give anyone vertigo. Only one person can fit widthways at any time, so turning back is impossible. This staircase is not for the faint-hearted, and all climbers have to be under 60 years of age without heart or lung problems.
Vertigo Staircase in QVB Building
WHERE: Sydney, Australia
Syndey’s Queen Victoria Building and its Vertigo Staircase were designed in 1898 by architect George McRae as a monument to the British monarch. Construction took place when Australia was in a severe recession and the elaborate Romanesque architecture of the building provided work for craftsmen like stonemasons, plasterers, and stained-glass artists. The QVB spans an entire city block and features an inner glass dome, an exterior copper-sheathed dome, stained glass windows, arches, pillars, balustrades, and intricate tiled floors.
WHERE: Würzburg, Germany
Located in Bavaria’s Franconia region, the Würzburg Residence is one of Europe’s grandest baroque palaces and home to a world famous, then architecturally groundbreaking, staircase. Beneath an unsupported through vault, an area of 59 by 98 feet, court architect Balthasar Neumann designed a staircase with three flights and an ambulatory. From the reception hall, the stairs lead towards a blank wall, then split into two stairs which double back. When visitors turn and approach, the world’s largest ceiling fresco, created from 1750-3 by Venetian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, is revealed in full view.