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How often do you look down at the stairs you’re climbing? Typically, it’s just to watch your step, and the staircase below is unremarkable — simply a way of getting from one floor to the next. However, these seven spots around the world have taken staircases to a whole new level. Whether it’s a massive stone staircase covered in flowers, or a set of steps with thousands of mosaic tiles, these stairs are anything but typical.
Montagne de Bueren, Liège, Belgium
The Montagne de Bueren — which translates to Bueren Mountain — is a 374-step staircase leading from the city center of Liège up to the former barracks of the hilltop citadel. Built in 1880, it was named after Vincent de Bueren, a local soldier who helped lead a battle in the city in 1468. De Bueren and fellow soldier Gossuin de Streel gathered 600 men in a failed attempt to capture Charles the Bold and Louis XI.
The reason the steps were built in 1880 is also military-related. Locals tell two stories: one, the steps were just an easy way for soldiers to get down to the city if someone tried to invade. The other theory is that the steps were built so soldiers could get back up the hill easily without being waylaid by the red-light district they’d otherwise have to walk through. If you want to climb the steps yourself, make sure to visit in June, when the steps are covered in gorgeous flowers for an annual event called Bueren in Bloom.
16th Avenue Tiled Steps, San Francisco, California
In 2003, residents of San Francisco's Golden Gate Heights Neighborhood worked together to design and create a tiled mosaic on the 163-step staircase that leads from 15th to 16th Avenues at the Moraga Street intersection. The collaboration resulted in a spectacular piece of street art flowing up the steps (also known as the Moraga Steps), representing the transition from the sea up to the stars. Before the project began, residents learned how to make mosaics at workshops held by the neighborhood. It took them two years to complete the artwork, but their meticulous efforts clearly paid off.
Rainbow Stairs, Istanbul, Turkey
In 2013, Huseyin Cetinel, a retired forestry engineer and community-minded resident of Istanbul, decided to task himself with beautifying two city neighborhoods — all just to make people smile. He spent $800 and four days painting a huge staircase that ran through the Findikli and Cihangir neighborhoods in vibrant rainbow hues. But Istanbul’s government had other plans, and three days later, painted over everything with a dull gray. The community was furious. After the city admitted what it had done, citizens took to the streets, paintbrushes in hand, and repainted not just the original rainbow staircase, but staircases in several other neighborhoods as well.
Mount Haguro, Tsuruoka, Japan
At the top of Mount Haguro in Tsuruoka, Japan, there’s a Buddhist temple and shrine — but the journey up the mountain is a destination in itself. That walk consists of a 2,446-step staircase rising through a serene old-growth cedar forest. The trees lining the stone steps are more than 350 years old. When you finally reach the top, you can get a certificate saying that you conquered the stairs — and you can even stay the night at the temple and enjoy a meal foraged from the surrounding mountainside. And if you need a break while climbing the stairs, stop about halfway up for a teahouse with expansive views of the forest below.
Weaving Rainbow Mountain, Knoxville, Tennessee
One of the shorter staircases on this list, Weaving Rainbow Mountain in Knoxville is only 43 steps — but each one makes a splash. Connecting the University of Tennessee to nearby World's Fair Park, the staircase features a colorful and bold quilt-like pattern by artists Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn, who completed the project in 2017. Both the name of the steps and the design honor a specific time period in Knoxville’s history: the craft revival movement from the 1890s to about 1945, which was a desire to return to traditional craftsmanship in the midst of the Industrial Revolution.
Stairway to Heaven, Zhangjiajie, China
The path to Heaven is not easy, and nowhere is that more evident than on Tianmen Mountain, where a stairway of 999 steps heads up to the world’s highest naturally formed cave arch. The arch is called Heaven’s Door, and the steps to get there make up the Stairway to Heaven. The site has been well-known since at least the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), when a temple was built near the cave. Getting to the base of the stairway is no easy feat, either. You’ll need to take either the world’s longest cable car ride to get to the bottom of the stairs or a bus ride on a road with 99 hairpin turns. All the nines are important — it's a lucky number that means good fortune.
Escadaria Selarón, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
On the border of Rio de Janeiro’s Lapa and Santa Teresa neighborhoods, a vibrant mosaic staircase stretches more than 200 steps up. It’s called the Escadaria Selarón, named after its creator, artist Jorge Selarón. He moved into a little house across from the staircase in 1983 and began to renovate the steps in 1990, making a mosaic on every step with bits of tile, mirror, and ceramic he recovered from antique shops and garbage heaps. Over the years, however, the staircase project became so popular that people started donating tiles to him — the steps now feature pieces from more than 60 countries. While Selarón claimed his project was never finished, the steps were mostly covered by 2000, and it became a city landmark in 2005.