12 Photos of the World’s Grandest Staircases
From Spain to Mexico, Paris to Hawaii, Malaysia to Brazil; these are the world's grandest staircases.
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Who knew stairwells could be so picturesque? Many are beloved landmarks and others have been transformed with art; some are historic churches or extraordinary nature hikes, and you may even recognize a few from TV shows and movies. Not all of these stairs can be visited due to safety regulations, but they can all be enjoyed virtually through this photo gallery of 12 of the world’s grandest staircases. You’ll never believe the reason why escalator stairs have grooves.
The Sacré Cœur Basilica
The Sacré Cœur Basilica is the second-highest point in all of Paris after the Eiffel Tower and has its own epic set of stairs. It takes 270 steps to reach the gorgeous church. The first stone for the Sacré Cœur was laid in 1875. The church is also home to one of the largest bells in the world called Savoyarde. At the top be sure to take in panoramic views of the entire city of Paris and spot the Panthéon, Eiffel Tower, and River Seine. Paris has many lovely churches but oddly enough, the city doesn’t have any stop signs.
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe
You’ll find this jaw-dropping staircase in the Basque Country in northern Spain. The island of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe towers regally over the choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean and its wicked windy staircase traces along the cliff’s edge. It zigzags up sharply with a total of 241 steps to the tallest point of the island where a small church named for John the Baptist is located.
The staircase on the island looks like something right out of a fairy tale. The steep stairs may seem familiar since they were portrayed as Dragonstone, home of the Targaryens, in the seventh season of HBO’s Game of Thrones. In true history, the island was supposedly used as a prison for witches during the Spanish Inquisition. These are other iconic TV and movie sets you can visit in real life.
The Spanish Steps
The Spanish Steps in Rome need no introduction; for one, they’re sought-after by lovebirds who believe they’re the epitome of romance and have appeared in a wide array of films over the years. The stairway was built for the Trinità dei Monti church. Consisting of 135 steps, the landmark was named for the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican which was located nearby Piazza di Spagna—the building is now a McDonald’s. Here are seven off-the-beaten-path places to visit on your next trip to Rome.
El Peñol de Guatapé
This set of stairs in Colombia scales up a smooth 650-foot, 10-million ton rock of volcanic origin that jets up towards the sky. The height of the Rock of Guatapé is equivalent to an 80-floor building! It is believed that the Indigenous Tahamí tribe considered the massive rock a place of spiritual worship.
Wedged between a crack in the rock’s surface are 649 steps leading to breathtaking vistas of the countryside dotted with lakes and the colorful facades of village homes. There’s a building nestled at the top of the imposing rock that’s three stories tall, making the total count of steps to the highest point 705.
Batu Cave Temple
The staircase leading up to the Batu Cave Temple in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia got a colorful makeover in 2018. Climbing them is a wonderful experience made even better with the rainbow paint job. The vibrant 272 steps are quite the pilgrimage up to the mouth of the cave, which serves as a Hindu temple which is guarded by a gigantic 140-foot golden statue of the Hindu Lord Murugan and many not-so-friendly monkeys. On a clear day, you can enjoy sweeping views of the skyline of Malaysia’s capital city. Check out these 15 most colorful natural world wonders on earth.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
The grand stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Pennsylvania are famous around the world—they’re the Rocky Steps! Sylvester Stallone made his famous ascent to the top of the stairs as fictional boxer Rocky Balboa. According to Screen Junkies, these stairs are the second most famous movie filming location in the world. Way before Stallone was even born, the iconic stairs were built in 1899 in the Roman Classical style. Today, people still use the 72 broad steps as an outdoor StairMaster. In 2018, the Philadelphia Eagles used the steps as their grand stage to celebrate their first-ever Super Bowl win. These strategies will help you beat the crowds at popular destinations.
In Brazil’s seaside hub Rio de Janeiro you’ll find the Insta-famous Escadaria Selarón that were spotted in Snoop Dogg and Pharrell William’s music video for “Beautiful.” The stairway is made up of 250 steps that have been adorned with over 2,000 colorful individual tiles collected from over 60 countries around the world.
The functional art installation was created by Chilean artist Jorge Selarón. He began decorating a section of the steps near his home for fun and asked tourists to send him tiles so that he could expand the project across the entire stairwell. Today, all of the stairs are decorated with brightly-colored tiles and draw huge crowds of tourists.
The Miraculous Staircase in the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico are surrounded by mystery. In 1873, the Sisters of Loretto began the construction of the chapel and enlisted a French architect who died before access to the choir loft was built.
Legend states that the sisters prayed a nine-day novena to St. Joseph, the Patron Saint of Carpenters. On the final day, a carpenter appeared, but he only had a hammer. The staircase he built with wooden pegs has two 360 degree turns with no center pole for structural support—the weight of the staircase rests entirely on the bottom stair. After finishing the stairs, the carpenter disappeared without asking for payment. Some say the carpenter was none other than St. Joseph (Mary’s husband). These are 15 other mystical destinations around the world that also inspire awe.
The Ha’iku Trail in the Ko’olau mountain range Oahu, Hawaii, is named after the Kahili flower (not the Japanese poetry genre). The hiking trail is also known as the Stairway to Heaven. The area has been closed to the public since the 80s as it is private property. The forbidden trail has a steel staircase that ascends the ridge with a total number of 3,922 steps over 2.4 miles. Thousands of Instagram users have trespassed, disrespecting the regulations, and risking a $1,000 fine to post a shot of the stairs. Don’t do that. Likewise, you should think twice before taking any of these potentially dangerous photos in National Parks.
The Mayan archaeological zone Chichén Itzá in the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to a set of astonishing staircases. The Temple of Kukulkan, also known as El Castillo pyramid, is named after the Mayan god of wind, sky, and sun. One of the new 7 Wonders of the World, the pyramid is a calendar and is astronomically aligned. The stairs are carved into each side of the pyramid. Ninety-one steps are on each side, representing the days of each season. During the equinox, rays from the sun make the rails along the stairs appear like a serpent, which is how Kukulkan is often depicted. Learn the stories of the most mysterious places in the world.
One of the newest stand-out structures seen along the Manhattan skyline is The Vessel. The New York City landmark is the centerpiece of the Hudson Yards mega shopping center. The gigantic bronze-hued spiral staircase has 154 flights of stairs that interconnect and feature nearly 2,500 individual steps. The stairs are an interactive work of art that can be climbed for epic views of The Big Apple and the Hudson River from 80 different landings. If you prefer to explore places with fewer tourists check out these 13 abandoned places in New York City you can still visit.
The Bramante staircase within the Vatican Museum in the Vatican City State isn’t usually open to the public—you’ll have to get special privileged access to climb up the fascinating historic stairway.
The original Bramante staircase is located in the Pio-Clementine Museum. It was built in 1505 and features granite Doric columns and a double helix design which allows visitors to ascend and descend without interruption. It features a direct exit to the street which was used by Pope Julius II so he could remove his heavy papal vestments privately before climbing up the stairs to his private residence. Find out how you can virtually tour 10 of the world’s greatest landmarks.