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Architecture

Climb to the Top of These 5 Famous Staircases Around the World

By Fiona Mokry
Read time: 4 minutes

Staircases are found all over the planet, but not all staircases are run-of-the-mill. Some come with a long and complex history, while others became famous for their appearances in Hollywood films. Some are just as architecturally spectacular as the museums and monuments in which they are found. These are five famous staircases you should seek to climb on your travels.

Spanish Steps – Rome, Italy

Spanish Steps in Rome, Italy, decorated with flowers
Photo credit: Nicola Forenza/ Shutterstock

Don’t let the name confuse you — the Spanish Steps are actually in Rome, Italy. So how did this famous landmark get its name? Connecting the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Square) to the Trinità dei Monti, a spectacular Renaissance church, the 135-step staircase is known as the Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti in Italian. Its English name, the Spanish Steps, comes from the original location of the Spanish Embassy in the Piazza di Spagna in the 17th century. (And to make matters more confusing, the stairs were commissioned by a French diplomat.) Built between 1723 and 1725, the ornate staircase is a true Baroque masterpiece. The steps’ central location in Rome makes them an essential stop on the tourist agenda, and they are a beloved and picturesque spot for locals and visitors alike to hang out. 

The Rocky Steps – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

View of the famous Rocky Steps between columns at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Photo credit: Songquan Deng/ Shutterstock

The steps at the foot of the Philadelphia Museum of Art rose to fame following their Hollywood debut in the 1976 classic film Rocky. The scene — in which the titular character (played by Sylvester Stallone) powers up the museum’s staircase during his boxing training — served as inspiration for underdogs everywhere. The bronze Rocky statue that was built for scenes in the sequel Rocky III sits at the bottom of the steps and is a popular spot for visitors to snap a photo. Even if you’re not a Rocky fan, the view of Philadelphia from the top of the stairs is one of the best in the city. 

Bramante Staircase – Vatican City

Looking up at the Bramante Staircase in the Vatican
Photo credit: Sean Xu/ Alamy Stock Photo

The Pio-Clementino Museum in Vatican City houses some of the world’s most prized artworks. However, it’s not just the paintings and statues that catch the eye of art lovers: The museum is also famous for its stunning Bramante Staircase. There are actually two staircases with this name — the original, built in 1505, and the modern one, designed by Giuseppe Momo in 1932. The original Bramante Staircase follows a double helix design and was built for Pope Julius II. Unfortunately, that staircase is closed to the public, but the modern version — designed to mimic the original — is open to museumgoers today. It’s quite a sight to stand at the top of the stairs and watch the people below snake their way to the bottom of the seemingly never-ending spiral.

Angkor Wat Temple Stairs – Siem Reap, Cambodia

View from bottom of the Angkor Wat temple stairs in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Photo credit: H-AB/ Alamy Stock Photo

It’s a tall task to pick a standout element in a place as grand as Angkor Wat — the world’s largest religious structure — but the steep steps attached to the exterior of the temple are a worthy contender. Leading up to the top of Angkor Wat’s tower are three sets of staircases that become increasingly steep as they ascend. The third set of stairs is set at a 70% incline, purposely built to represent the difficulty of reaching the kingdom of the gods. It’s one of the world’s steepest staircases, but your reward for trudging to the top is an epic view over the temple and the rest of Angkor, which was the seat of the Khmer kingdom from the ninth to 15th centuries. 

Heaven’s Gate Stairs – Zhangjiajie, China

View up at the Heaven’s Gate Stairs in Zhangjiajie, China
Photo credit: Worawat Dechatiwong/ Alamy Stock Photo

To reach the stairs of Heaven’s Gate — located in the Tianmen Mountains in the northwest of China’s Hunan province — visitors must first take a 30-minute ride on the Tianmen Mountain Cableway to climb the 4,000 feet to the base of the stairs. Looming above the base are the 999 steps to the top of Tianmen Cave, popularly known as the “Gateway to Heaven.” The number is purposeful: As the highest single digit, the number nine represents eternity and longevity in Chinese numerology. Centuries ago, one side of the cave collapsed, leaving what now appears to be an actual door to the heavens above. Measuring 430 feet tall by 190 feet wide, and sitting roughly 5,000 feet above sea level, Tianmen Cave is the highest naturally formed arch in the world. 

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