Sigiriya (Lion Rock)

Most Iconic Staircases Around the World

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Sigiriya (Lion Rock)
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania
Samuel Borges Photography/shutterstock

Philadelphia Museum of Fine Art

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

Spanish Steps

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: 25 Free and Cheap Things to Do in Rome

Loretto Chapel

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)

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 U.N. World Heritage Site.

Related: 50 Incredible Castles Around the World

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

Tulip Staircase

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.

Related: A Virtual Weekend Vacation in London

Potemkin Stairs

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."

Related: Best New Places to Vacation in 2020

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


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.

Related: 55 Free or Cheap Things to Do in New York City

Livraria Lello
Livraria Lello by WASD42 (CC BY-SA)
Tianmen Mountain
undefined undefined/istockphoto

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.

Related: 20 Heart-Stopping Roads to Drive Around the World

'The Music Box' Steps

'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.

Related: 21 Famous Movie Homes That Will Bring Back Memories

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

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: 20 Free and Cheap Underground Spaces to Explore

 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 (spoiler alert) one 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

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.

Related: 20 Famous and Unforgettable Festivals to See in India

Sprinkenhof Spiral Staircase
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.
Sean Pavone/istockphoto

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 closed to the public; the monument was closed from 2016 to September 2019 to add security and fix the elevator.

Related: 24 Free or Cheap Things to Do in Washington, D.C.