All is right with the world when you're gazing down from the rooftop of Milan's Duomo. That is, until you remember the steep marble stairs that got you there--and are your only way down.
Stairways can leave just as much of an impact on your memory as the places they lead you. Some are so eye-catching they look like they belong in an M.C. Escher painting, while other stairs are downright intimidating, especially when they stand between you and a site you flew half way across the world to experience.
All it takes is a misstep for any old staircase to become treacherous (just ask Jennifer Lawrence), yet some standout for being especially scary. A set of stairs in Hawaii is so precariously perched that climbing is now illegal. In China, there's a stairway with an age requirement. Other stairs are intimidating for more psychological reasons, such as the creaking noises made by the world's longest wooden stairway in Norway, or the eerie atmosphere at "The Stairway to Hell," part of an abandoned industrial complex in Japan.
Travelers with nerves of steel--and eager for bragging rights--follow these stairs because of what they find at the end, whether a sacred Hindu temple or the top of a spectacular waterfall. There's nothing quite like the thrill of accomplishment that comes once you've taken that last step. Safely, that is.
See All of World's Scariest Stairs
See More of the World's Scariest StairsIn this super-humid hotbox of Buddhist history, there’s no shame in bowing down on your hands and knees or pulling yourself up with the provided ropes to scale the nearly 70 percent inclined stairs of Angkor Wat’s uppermost temples. Guides claim the steps were made to be so steep to remind people that heaven was hard to reach—though you might make the same argument about Earth as you try not to tumble on the way down. Photo: LOOK Die Bildagentur der Fotografen GmbH / Alamy
See More of the World's Scariest StairsIt takes guts just to reach the starting point of the world’s tallest and fastest water slide, opened July 2014. To get to the top, you’ve got to climb the 264 steps that snake up the slide’s tower in 25 turns. When you’ve summited at 168 feet—that’s one foot taller than Niagara Falls—pat yourself on the back and take a selfie. Then brace yourself for the water slide’s initial 50-foot linear drop, which can reach 65 mph. The only alternative is to turn around and suffer the 17-story walk back down those nauseating steps. Photo: Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts
See More of the World's Scariest StairsAt first it’s lovely to notice that the staircase adjacent to these waterfalls was designed to blend in with the tropical landscape. But consider the name—in English, the Devil’s Cauldron—and the evil tricks the steep steps can play. They are made of smooth, oversize pebbles that provide little traction, and when you're looking down, they blend together, creating an optical illusion of a stone slide. They’re also slippery from the constant mist from the falls and even though there’s a metal railing to save you from any spills—but don’t count on that too much—it too is drenched with water droplets. Photo: Xinhua / Alamy
See More of the World's Scariest StairsWhat’s between you and the most iconic peak in Yosemite Valley? A seven-mile (one-way) all-incline hike through the wilderness that culminates with climbing up the rock face along a cable ladder for more than 400 vertical feet. If you’re up for the challenge, snag one of the 300 hard-to-get daily permits available for Half Dome between Memorial Day and mid-October. (Check your footwear and the forecast; rainy conditions have proven fatal.) From the summit, you’ll take in panoramic views of Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra. Photo: iStockphoto
See More of the World's Scariest StairsAt Machu Picchu, 600 feet or so of steep, slippery, cloud-covered granite rocks the Inca carved more than 500 years ago into the side of Huayna Picchu (the peak in everyone’s photos) lead to the rarely visited Moon Temple—and a spectacular view of the ruins. The park limits the climb to the first 400 visitors each morning and has added some metallic chains in the worst parts, so hold on because on one side is a sheer, damp wall and on the other, a straight drop into the Urubamba river. Photo: National Geographic Image Collection / Alamy
See More of the World's Scariest StairsIf you want to gaze out from Lady Liberty’s crown, check your claustrophobia at her feet. The platform’s only access is via a cramped, 146-step double-helix spiral staircase with just six feet of head clearance—and it’s teeming with tourists. Real troopers, however, will make the entire tight 377-step hike up all the way from the lobby, the equivalent of climbing a 20-story building. These physical challenges all come after you’ve managed another feat: snagging one of the hard to get passes that allow entry into the crown. They have to be booked at least three months in advance, are name and date specific, and are limited to four per order. Photo: Steven JM Sinski / NPS
See More of the World's Scariest StairsNorway’s Flørli Power Station is the starting point for the best hikes around the town of Lysefjord—and its stairs will make you gasp for two reasons. First, there are 4,444 steps that ascend a staggering 2,427 feet from the bottom. Second, it is the longest staircase in the world made entirely out of wood, meaning you should be paying close attention to each mysterious creak and crack you hear. Photo: Karla Brunet
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