10 Best Spiral Staircases in London
Like any city, you see plenty more of London if you look up. But as well as historic little details, there are some stunning sweeping stairs (try saying that 5 times quickly) that deserve a bit of attention too. Here’s my personal top ten of the best spiral staircases in London.
How many have you visited?
1. The Wellcome Collection
There’s many reasons to visit The Wellcome Collection in Euston. The free, fascinating exhibitions, lovely cafe and beautiful interiors all making it worth a trip.
But if you’re still not convinced, at least go for this staircase.
The Wellcome Collection, part of the Wellcome Trust (fun fact – the world’s third richest charity) splashed out on the new stairs in 2015 and they were designed by Wilkinson Eyre for £1.1m.
Founded by Sir Henry Wellcome, who made his pharmaceutical empire turning powders into pills, the building houses his diverse medical collection. Wellcome gathered almost 2 million objects in his lifetime so this spot is one of London’s fantastic treasure troves!
2. Heal’s Department Store
There’s not many furniture shops that can fill you with wonder. But Heal’s on Tottenham Court Road has a trick up its sleeve.
Designed in 1916 by Cecil Brewer, it used to lead up to an art gallery. Their claim to fame was a ground-breaking exhibition of French Modern Art, when Matisse and Picasso were first shown to the British Public. Find out more here.
3. Fortnum & Mason’s Stairs
Founded in 1707, this staircase was a centrepiece of the iconic London shop’s refurb to celebrate its 300th anniversary.
Deisgned by architects Jestico and Whiles, it wasn’t universally liked when first unveiled. The Guardian suggested it “looks as if it has been stripped from a Las Vegas shopping mall, or some new Middle Eastern airport.”
4. The Tulip Stairs
One of the highlights of Queen’s House in Greenwich is this staircase.
Designed by Inigo Jones in 1635 it features a blue tulip pattern along the railings, inspired by ‘Tulip-mania’ in the 17th century, when we had imported a Dutch King (William III) and the colour flowers and bulbs could fetch £1,000s!
5. City Hall
A more contemporary addition to the best spiral staircase list, City Hall’s whirl is no less impressive.
Image from Wiki Comms
It’s the handiwork of Foster + Partners and was intended not to have a discernible ‘front’ or ‘back’. The openness of the spiral staircase is also symbolic; representing the transparency of democracy.
6. The Dean’s Stair
The first of Sir Christopher Wren’s staircases to make the list, the Dean’s Stair in St Paul’s is one of the most impressive sights in the Cathedral.
Built in 1705, you might recognise it as the entrance to Professor Trelawney’s divination classroom in the Harry Potter films, but it’s no less magical in real life (sorry).
Appearing to float, the cantilevered 88 stone steps rise for 50 ft and aren’t built into the masonry. Each step is specifically shaped to bear the weight of the next!
7. Barry’s Parliament Stair
One of the lesser-known spiral staircases, this one is hidden inside a truly iconic building, Victoria Tower in the Houses of Parliament.
Designed by Sir Charles Barry, if you looked down you’re staring straight into the ‘well’ onto the floor below. Today it comes in handy because it tells you exactly when HM Queen has entered parliament and that you should be raising the Royal Standard.
8. The Monument
Standing as the ‘world’s tallest free-standing stone column’ (catchy). The Momunemt commemorates The Great Fire of London in 1666.
Designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke, those cunning chaps also built it for another purpose too. No, not just for epic instagram shots, but as a pop-up laboratory for The Royal Society’s scientific experiments.
An ideal shape for a telescope, Wren was thwarted by the location, the ceaseless footfall near London Bridge shaking his instruments and causing him to abandon the plan.
9. The Courtauld Gallery Stairs
Not exactly a stairway to heaven, but not far off!
These steps lead up to the Courtauld Gallery, a fabulous art collection that was opened to the public in 1932 by Samuel Courtauld. Originally elsewhere, they only moved to Somerset House in 1989. But I think it’s a fitting location!
10. The Lutyens’ Stair
Part of the former Midland’s Bank HQ, 27 Poultry is now occupied by The Ned Hotel and almost every part of it is photogenic.
Edwin Lutyens (whose nickname ‘Ned’ gives the hotel its name) was a fan of spiral staircases and designed this 15 floor wonder for the original banker inhabitants in the 1920s.
Today it’s hidden from the public and is part of the staff area; allowing them easy access to all floors. Thankfully a friendly member of staff agreed to take me behind the scenes and show me, if you ask nicely they might show you too!
So, got a new favourite now? Or perhaps I missed the one staircase that leaves you starry-eyed? Let me know!
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Katie, My memory will not do this post justice but I think I remember climbing a spiral staircase in a tower where the steps were built at different sizes and pitches to foil anyone trying to run up them quickly. Could it be the jewel tower? I recall it having arrow slits and it was a stone building with a small entrance and tiny gift shop as you entered. I didn’t test the steps to see if I would trip running up them but I’m sure some evil persons in history fell prey to this ingenious design.
Wow, this sounds amazing, great memory! Could very well have been the spiral staircase inside the White Tower of The Tower of London? I know it was designed to go anti-clockwise to aide soldiers (who were mainly right-handed) in their defence of the fortress. But could easily have lots more sneaky details to it as well!
I really enjoy your posts and the one about spiral staircases is no exception. I would add one more staircase to your collection, that in Tate Britain.
Great shout Dorota! I may add that one, think I have a suitable picture 🙂
The Nelson stair in Somerset House – not quite spiral but sublime