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.
But our list isn’t limited to modern designs; one of the most ingenious staircases was built for entirely practical reasons outside the city of Jaipur, India, around the ninth century. The 13-story-deep step well served a common good, enabling locals to climb up and down to access water despite fluctuating levels.
We only considered cool staircases that are accessible to the public, ruling out some enviable ones within private homes. One notable exception is Antonio Gaudí’s skeletal staircase at Barcelona’s Casa Batlló. What was originally the Batlló family’s private home is such a fine example of Modernist architecture that it was opened to the public in 2002.
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. —Lyndsey Matthews