It looks like any old roller coaster, with curves and heart-stopping loops. But instead of zooming by, people are walking--on inclines fitted with steps. This creation in Germany's Rhine Valley is an interactive sculpture, but it's also one of the world's most unique staircases.
While staircases are fundamentally a means to get from one point to another, they become cool -- and worth seeking out -- when the form is made at least as important as the function. Whether in shops, museums, or the great outdoors, the staircases we've found are inspiring works of public art and provide interesting perspective on a destination.
Another kind of architectural feat came courtesy of Apple, a brand known for obsessing about design, even down to the details of its retail stores. Ultra-modern floating glass staircases are centerpieces at most of their shops; the staircase that spirals twice to the second and third floors at the West 14th Street Apple Store in New York City is the most impressive. And in the age of Apple's iPad and other e-readers, Portugal's Lello Bookshop attracts most travelers for the sight of its lavish red staircase with Art Nouveau flourishes rather than its volumes.
So next time you travel, skip the elevator and take the stairs. We bet you'll be so amazed by the world's coolest staircases you won't notice you're getting a workout.
It looks like a standard roller coaster from a distance, but upon closer inspection, you’ll be faced with an ingenious staircase stretched through all kinds of curves. German artists Heike Mutter and Ulrich Genth made this interactive sculpture, unveiled in late 2011, so that visitors could explore the 249 steps both at day, taking in views high above the Rhine, and at night with LED lights on the handrails illuminating the staircase. If you’re wondering how to climb around the loop, well, you can’t. It’s closed off by a barrier. See More of the World’s Coolest Staircases Photo: Uwe Schmid
Opened in 1906, Lello is one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores, thanks largely to its centerpiece: this glossy red staircase with carved wooden banisters that leads up to a glass atrium. The stairs are just as beautiful from underneath, with carved leaflike flourishes and the same bluish-green and gold paint as the ceiling above it. Look for lovely neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau elements to the rest of the shop as you browse. See More of the World’s Coolest Staircases Photo: Davide Cazzola
You may recognize this mazelike Benedictine abbey overlooking the Danube River as inspiration for Umberto Eco’s popular novel The Name of the Rose. It’s full of architectural flourishes like this Rococo-style spiral staircase—best viewed from underneath to catch a glimpse of the pink-and-gold painted underside. While the staircase leads to other rooms of the library, they aren’t open to the public. See More of the World’s Coolest Staircases Photo: icepucks
You’ll climb 999 grueling steps to an opening in the mountains considered to be the door to heaven. A cliff collapsed years ago, leaving this more-than-400-foot-tall hole. The number 999 was selected as lucky since the number 9 has the same pronunciation as the word that means “eternal,” or “perpetual,” in Mandarin—which may seem cruelly appropriate to those who attempt the climb. Just to get to the base of the staircase, visitors must first take a cable car that climbs 4,000 feet or a bus along a mountain road so winding it’s been compared to a dragon’s back. See More of the World’s Coolest Staircases Photo: Josep Folta
This small village outside the northern city of Jaipur has a concentration of distinctive step wells called baoris, developed for collecting rainwater. Chand Baori is one of the deepest and largest of these wells, with some 3,500 steps that descend 13 stories deep. While it is possible to see down all 13 flights, it isn’t currently used as a well as the bottom few stories are gated off. Dating from around the ninth century, this step well is located in front of the medieval Harshat Mata Temple. See More of the World’s Coolest Staircases Photo: Kenneth Lu
If you’re afraid of heights, this staircase is definitely not for you. The “Stairway to Heaven” begins at the base of a fir tree and spirals round and round, reaching 82 feet into the sky. Climbers arrive and face another challenge: a rainbow-colored suspension bridge that stretches 43 feet over the forest floor. It’s the only way to reach the Treehouse Observatory, which provides expansive views of Mount Rainier and the Nisqually Valley. Guided tours cost $80 for two people; make a weekend of it and book the Cedar Creek Treehouse ($300 a night, observatory tour included), which is 50 feet up a nearby tree. See More of the World’s Coolest Staircases Photo: Cedar Creek Treehouse
There are 163 mosaic panels—one for each step—that make up this staircase at 16th Avenue and Moraga in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Heights neighborhood. The panels begin depicting the ocean and, by the time you reach the highest step, you’re in the sky with the birds. Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher designed the thematic mosaics and enlisted the help of community members. After several years of work and fundraising, the stairs were completed in 2005. See More of the World’s Coolest Staircases Photo: John F. Hughes
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