Staying fit when traveling can be tough. Sunshine filled days that extend well into the night are often packed with eating and sightseeing, not spending time in the gym. Being too busy to exercise is a good excuse when time in places like Florence, Provence and the Vatican City are limited. But incorporating your exercise routine into your touring itinerary is easier than you think. All that walking adds up, and then there’s the stairs… lots of stairs. Some of Europe’s best views involve heart pumping climbs. So pack good shoes and add these high reaching sights to your must-see list.
The Duomo, its Dome & Giotto’s Bell Tower, Florence, Italy
Florence sports two scramble-worthy sights, within steps of each other. For a great view of the cathedral and the city, conquer the Duomo’s Dome. Visitors must climb 463 steps, but the reward is worth the sweat. Enter on the north side of the cathedral, via the Porta della Mandorla. Giotto’s Bell Tower is almost 85 meters (nearly 280 feet) tall and has just shy of 50 steps less than its Dome neighbor, but it views are equally stunning and have the bonus of including the colorful Dome. As you make your way up, there are plenty of spots to stop, catch your breath and take in the views. You can buy your entry tickets right at the door. The higher you go up the 414 steps, the tighter the climb gets, so be prepared to stop at times to let folks going the opposite direction get by.
It’s also a great excuse to rest for a while. Be sure to climb both towers with camera in hand; the views of Florence are brag-worthy from every direction. There are no elevators at either location, so there’s no temptation to slack off on the step count!
Where to stay in Florence
Sagrada Família, Barcelona, Spain
A construction project that’s been underway for more than 100 years, the Sagrada Família is expected to be finished in 2026. Arguably architect Antoni Gaudi’s most famous work, even unfinished, the church is grand. To avoid long waits, buy your entrance and elevator tickets online ahead of time. The Nativity Façade elevator offers a one-way ride up, a bridge walk between two towers, Barcelona city views and a fairly roomy (by 100-plus year old standards) stairway adventure back to solid ground.
Where to stay in Barcelona
Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
With so much to see in the Vatican City, time to climb to the top of Saint Peter’s Basilica could be tight, but after dealing with the crush in the Sistine Chapel, climbing to escape the crowds will be a welcome exercise. Adrenaline rush aside, the steps offer the best view of the Dome, Basilica and Rome. You have two soaring options; climb all 551 steps or take the elevator and than just tackle 320 steps.
It takes 200-plus steps to reach the base of the dome. Snap some pictures here because this is your only shot to visit the inside of the Basilica from above. The higher you go, the more, what I’ll call exciting, the climb gets. With every step, the stairs get a little narrower. You’ll know you’re close when the hand railing disappears and all there is to grab onto is a rope that hangs down the center of the spiral staircase.
Le Sentier des Ocres, Rousillon, France
You’ll forget about the set of stairs you need to climb to get in and out of the heart of Le Sentier des Ocres (pictured right) when you lay eyes on the cliffs streaked with hues of red, orange and gold. Depending on the trail you choose, the former open-pit ochre quarry is a beautiful 30 to 60 minute walk any time of day.
Where to stay in Provence
Acropolis, Athens, Greece
The way up to the Acropolis is a steep and uneven mix of paths and steps. It can get hot and crowded, so going first thing in the morning or later in the day is a good idea if your schedule allows. Tackle the stairs, walk through the Propylaea and the Parthenon will reward your efforts. Spend some time wandering the archaeological site and taking in the views that change from every vantage point, before starting the trek down again.