Sigiriya (Lion Rock)
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Most Iconic Staircases Around the World

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The Rock El Penol near the town of Guatape, Antioquia in Colombia.
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Spectacular Stairs

What is a staircase? A means of getting from point A to point B, sure (unless you're M.C. Escher). But stairs are more than functional. They can be figurative, fantastical, and worth a special journey just to climb them. These 17 staircases from around the world are some of the most awe-inspiring, historic, and just plain cool.


Note: Many tourist attractions remain closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Be sure to check before planning a visit.


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Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania
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Philadelphia Museum of Fine Art

Philadelphia
Boxer Rocky Balboa's training run up the 72 steps of Philly's art museum is one of the iconic scenes from the 1976 film "Rocky." A statue of the champ at the base of the steps, made for "Rocky III" and installed in its present location in 2006, is one of the city's most iconic (and most photographed) landmarks. The staircase itself dates to 1928, when the main art museum building opened to the public.


Related: Beyond the Museum: Spectacular Outdoor Art You Can See for Free

spanish steps
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Spanish Steps

Rome
Talk about complicated diplomacy. These famous Italian steps were built in the 1720s with French money in honor of the Spanish king, linking Rome's Piazza di Spagna with the church of the Santissima Trinità dei Monti above. Today, the terraced staircase is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Rome — too popular, if you ask some Romans. The city in 2019 passed a law instituting a 400 euro fine for anyone who dares sit on the Spanish Steps.


Related: America's Most Iconic Buildings and Monuments

Loretto Chapel
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Loretto Chapel

Santa Fe, New Mexico
According to legend, when this church was built in 1878 the builders failed to include a means of reaching the choir loft from the main chapel. Despondent, the Sisters of Loretto prayed to St. Joseph, patron saint of carpenters, for nine days. On the ninth day, a carpenter appeared and built a staircase that, with no center column, would appear to be defying the laws of physics. The carpenter's identity remains a mystery, and experts still puzzle over the staircase's structure.


Related: Holy Makeovers: 20 Former Churches That Have Been Born Again

Sigiriya (Lion Rock)
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Sigiriya (Lion Rock)

Dambulla, Sri Lanka
Soaring above the central Sri Lankan landscape, this fresco-adorned rock formation was once the site of King Kashyapa I's palace and guarded by a lion-shaped gate, of which only the paws remain. The surrounding plains, with their landscaped gardens and water features, are thought to have been royal gardens enclosed within a fortress. Believed to have been built during Kashyapa's reign, from 477 to 495 A.D., it was later abandoned and engulfed by the surrounding jungle. It was rediscovered in 1823 and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Related: 50 Incredible Castles Around the World

tulip staircase
tulip staircase by Mcginnly (CC BY-SA)

Tulip Staircase

London
Come for the stairs, stay for the ghost. This 17th century architectural wonder — it's Britain's first self-supporting spiral staircase, meaning it lacks the usual load-bearing center column — is part of the Queen's House in Greenwich. It's also the site of one of the most famous paranormal events of the 20th century. In 1966, a retired priest on vacation snapped a photo of the empty Tulip Staircase. The developed film revealed a spectral figure ascending the stairs, something that remains unexplained to this day.


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Potemkin Stairs
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Potemkin Stairs

Odessa, Ukraine
It has lost a few steps over time and the original sandstone blocks have long since been replaced with granite, but the monumental Potemkin Stairs have lost none of their grandeur. Built between 1837 and 1841, the 192 steps (originally 200) rise from Odessa's harbor. Film buffs will recognize the staircase from Sergei Eisenstein's iconic 1925 silent epic "Battleship Potemkin."


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vessel nyc stairs
vessel nyc stairs by Stefan Kemmerling (CC BY-SA)

Vessel

New York City
A focal point of Manhattan's tony Hudson Yards, Vessel contains nearly 2,500 steps that wind their way up, down, and along this structure, which opened in 2019. Rising 15 stories, this $150 million "stairway to nowhere" (as The New York Times dubbed it) has attracted tourists and scorn in equal helpings. Vessel is currently closed to the public.


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Livraria Lello
Livraria Lello by WASD42 (CC BY-SA)

Livraria Lello

Porto, Portugal
The Crimson Staircase, a masterpiece of art nouveau architecture in Portugal, is the focal point of this storied bookstore, which opened in 1906. Climb the stairs, then look above at the massive stained glass skylight, which measures roughly 26 feet by 11 feet.


Related: 18 of the Coolest Bookstores in America

Tianmen Mountain
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Tianmen Mountain

Zhangjiajie City, China
You'll definitely need to be in good shape if you plan on conquering the 999 steps of the Stairway to Heaven leading to the Heaven's Door archway. A temple, originally built during the Tang Dynasty, occupies the summit of the mountain, which lies within this Hunan Province national park.


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'The Music Box' Steps
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'The Music Box' Steps

Los Angeles
In a city steeped in Hollywood history, this sidewalk's rambling concrete steps were made famous in a 1932 short film by comedic duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. The pair play a couple of piano movers struggling to schlep an upright piano up the stairs. Needless to say, it doesn't go well. When the film was shot, that part of Los Angeles was only starting to be developed, but today the stairs are hemmed in by residential developments, so be mindful if you visit.


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The Rock of Guatapé
The Rock of Guatapé by Sebastian Reategui (CC BY)

The Rock of Guatapé

Guatapé, Colombia
Climb the 650-plus steps that snake their way up the side of this 200-meter rocky outcrop for a commanding view from the observation tower. A major tourist attraction today, the rock wasn't "officially" climbed until the 1950s, a feat that took five days, according to Atlas Obscura.


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Batu Caves
©TripAdvisor

Batu Caves

Gombak, Malaysia
The 272 concrete steps leading to Malaysia's Temple Cave are the focal point of this Hindu shrine, a complex of caves and passages that snake their way through a massive limestone formation. Towering over the base of the steps is a 140-foot-tall statue of Murugan, a Hindu deity.


Related: Spectacular Caves You Can Rent

 The Exorcist steps in Georgetown, Washington, D.C
The Exorcist steps in Georgetown, Washington, D.C by Dmitry K (CC BY)

The Steps From 'The Exorcist'

Washington, D.C.
In the film "The Exorcist," the demon Pazuzu possesses the body of a little girl and two priests fight to free her — with one (spoiler alert) sacrificing himself by flinging himself through a window and down a flight of stairs. The iconic steps have been marked with a plaque since 2015 to commemorate their fame.


Related: 21 Horror Movie Locations You Need to Visit

Chand Baori
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Chand Baori

Rajasthan, India
Next to the Harshat Mata temple, this set of steps is one of India's oldest, with portions dating to the 8th century. More than 3,500 steps zigzag up and down the 13-story structure, which descends about 100 feet below ground. 

Sprinkenhof Spiral Staircase
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Sprinkenhof Spiral Staircase

Hamburg, Germany
Shutterbugs flock to this elaborately adorned Expressionist-style brick office complex built in the 1920s and '30s. The nine-story staircase is located in Hamburg's historic Kontorhaus district, itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Winchester Mystery House
John E./Yelp

Winchester Mystery House

San Jose, California
Sarah Winchester's estate contains plenty of mysteries, including this puzzle of a staircase that leads nowhere. What Winchester's intentions were when she began her yearslong renovation and expansion of the family home in the 1880s remains unclear, as does the reason why these steps don't go anywhere.


Related: 19 Virtual Tours of Famous Homes

Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.
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Washington Monument

Washington, D.C.
What about stairs you're not allowed to climb? This 555-foot obelisk on the National Mall was built to commemorate George Washington, America's first president. The monument and its 897 steps opened to the public in 1888, and has been a signature site in the nation's capital since. But those stairs to the observation deck 500 feet up (and a small museum) are currently closed to the public.


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