Sometimes when a character ascends to a higher plane of existence they also have to ascend the stairs to that higher plane of existence, which is usually a Fluffy Cloud Heaven or a Celestial Bureaucracy.
For example, in Genesis 28:12, Jacob dreams of a stairway (or ladder, translators disagree) connecting Earth to Heaven with angels going up and down it. The Ancient Egyptians actually tried to build one (known today as the Step Pyramid of Djoser).
A more "modern" take is to replace the stairway with an escalator, though even that iteration of the trope dates back at least to the 1941 movie Here Comes Mister Jordan.
Sometimes an Absurdly Long Stairway. Contrast Hellevator. If the character doesn't make it in, the stairs may turn into a Surprise Slide Staircase to Hell. Not to be confused with Space Elevator. See also Ride the Rainbow. For cases when a character wishes to reach the sky in a physical way (while still being alive), see Journey to the Sky.
- In Cowboy Bebop, when Spike is high on mushrooms he hallucinates a staircase that he climbs infinitely (he is really just stepping on the the same step of a real set of stairs) and meets a frog:
Frog: This here's the stairway to heaven. You know that, doncha?
Spike: Obnoxious little frog.
- Subverted in Destiny of the Shrine Maiden. The stairway that Chikane goes up to at the shrine of the moon led to her solitary imprisonment, which is required to save the world. It's better in the manga, where Himeko decided to stay with Chikane at the shrine on the moon.
- Here Comes Mr. Jordan has an Escalator to Heaven.
- A Matter of Life and Death features an Escalator to Heaven as a key setpiece. The film was retitled "Stairway to Heaven" for the U.S. release much to the dismay of Michael Powell who thought the new title undermined the secular tone of the film.
- The Horn Blows At Midnight replaces the Stairway with a celestial Space Elevator for the angels to use in coming to earth.
- Averted/lampshaded in the movie Soultaker... leading to a hilarious exchange on the respective Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode:
Brad: Zach... Led Zeppelin was wrong, man.Tom Servo: Shut up!Brad: There is no Stairway To Heaven.Tom Servo: Zep is never wrong, man!Mike Nelson: Is Sabbath wrong too, man?
- Notable in that the movie does have an elevator to... some form of the afterlife. (Which looks suspiciously like a boiler room.) And a ladder.
- Jacob's Ladder's title is an allusion to this trope, and finishes with Jacob and his late-son ascending the stairs in their home as Jacob passes away.
- Unsurprisingly, in Angels in America, considering the story's biblical underpinnings, Prior Walter literally climbs a flaming ladder into heaven.
- Cabin in the Sky shows Eddie Anderson and Ethyl Waters ascending a Stairway To Heaven to close the movie.
- Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny has the Guitarway to Heaven which leads to the titular MacGuffin.
- Experimental short film The Life and Death of 9413: a Hollywood Extra has the protagonist ascend to heaven in a carriage. Given that the whole film was made for $97, this is represented by a figurine in a toy cart being pulled up by a string.
- The House That Jack Built calls to this imagery in this at the very ending, as it's a stairway leading "out of Hell and up". Jack attempts to weasel his way out of the eternity of Hell that awaits him, but he only makes it halfway across the chasm required to reach it before slipping and falling into the inferno below.
- In Keys to the Kingdom, there's a magical staircase that you can go on that will eventually take you where you want to go, but with a bunch of seemingly-random 'landings' that consist of various different places, worlds and times. While walking on the staircase once, Suzy Turquoise Blue runs into someone she used to know before she became a Piper's child.
- Satan travels past an ornate stairway into heaven in Paradise Lost.
- Angels of the Silences by Simon Bestwick uses one of these as the gateway for ghosts to cross over to the afterlife.
- In the Incarnations of Immortality series, Satan has a Hellevator which can go from Earth, to Purgatory, to Hell and to Heaven, but only certain people can use it.
- In the religion of Allsaints in ''Seraphina' the dead are lead by St. Eustace up the Heavenly Stair to Heaven.
- The little girls plan to decorate a ladder to show a journey to heaven in a play they're presenting in Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown.
- Harry Dresden ended up jogging up a (somewhat metaphorical) Staircase To The Cloud, thinking to himself that despite it involving a lot of magical power, some people would complain about it not being an elevator to make the trip pass quickly. He then proceeds to wonder why someone couldn't have installed an elevator instead.
- Guardian: The Lonely and Great God: Shown whenever a spirit enters heaven through Wang Yeo's tea room. In the last episode Wang Yeo and Sunny walk up it together.
- Teen Angel (the 1997 ABC sitcom one) has an elevator to Heaven in the first episode.
- Subverted in the Sanctuary episode "Metamorphosis." Will is transforming into an abnormal and dreams of himself as a human ascending a staircase towards a bright light. He follows, only to find himself on top of one of the Sanctuary's towers where he commits suicide.
- Meyerists, in The Path, go through initiatory stages represented by a ladder leading to the heavenly Garden of their afterlife. They believe Our Founder literally did climb such a ladder as he searched for a way to heal human suffering. (And since he had this experience on Huayna Picchu, which is full of ladders, bridges and stairways installed by the ancient Inca and maintained by their modern descendants, he probably did!)
- In Good Omens, a very long escalator in an office building takes Aziraphale to Heaven. Crowley takes its reflection in the shiny floor to Hell.
- Before Led Zeppelin, there was Neil Sedaka's "Stairway To Heaven", which he says he's going to build to meet his "heavenly angel".
- Wheelchair Sports Camp has a song called "Hard Out Here for a Gimp," containing the phrase 'There's a stairway to heaven' as part of the main refrain.
- Older Than Dirt: The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts refer to a ladder or stairway by which the deceased king may Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence, and many Egyptologists think that the Step Pyramid of Djoser, the first stone pyramid ever built, was designed to physically provide this stairway.
- Genesis 28:12, Jacob dreams of a stairway (or ladder, translators disagree) connecting earth to heaven with angels going up and down it.
- This may have been the intention of the builders of the Tower of Babel.
- Often featured (indirectly or directly) in paintings depicting freemasonic initiation. Freemasons call this ladder "Jacobs Ladder" after Genesis 28:12.
- Many faiths and esoteric groups speak of the progress of the soul as going up a stairway or ladder with each step representing a stage of the journey.
- Within the Heaven of In Nomine by Steve Jackson Games is "Jacob's Ladder" which reaches up into the Higher Heavens and the direct presence of God. Only mortals can climb the ladder; angels must stay in the lowest Heaven (unless called) until the War is won.
- In Dungeons & Dragons, Mount Celestia (or the Seven Mounting Heavens of Celestia) is both Heaven and Stairway To. Lawful Good mortal souls arrive on the lowest layer upon death, some joining the lowest ranks of the archons, and must gradually ascend the mountain through service and understanding of the nature of Law and Good. Once a soul (or archon) has grown in understanding enough, it can eventually pass into the Seventh Heaven from which (almost) nothing returns, where most guess they merge with the plane or find a realm of pure rapturous bliss that lives up to the name. (The one archon that regularly passes in and out of the Seventh refuses to explain what goes on in there.)
- The King and I: At the end of the interpolated ballet "Small House of Uncle Thomas," Little Eva dies and goes to the arms of Buddha. She is given wings and she climbs an onstage staircase through the clouds up to where Buddha is sitting, as the chorus sings "Praise to Buddha!"
- In the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats, the way to the cats version of heaven, the Heavyside Layer, is apparently a large golden staircase that descends from the rafters during the final number.
- More specifically, a staircase shaped like a cat's paw.
- Referenced in Castlevania 64 and Legacy of Darkness by the Castle Keep music, "Stairway to the Clouds" which begins, fittingly, with the iconic stairway leading from the Clock Tower to the Castle Keep proper, usually the highest point in the castle.
- May and her pops, and later Albert and his mother Dorothy ascend the stair version in Clock Tower 3.
- In The Simpsons Game, the characters go to heaven by ascending a stairway made of everything in the town of Springfield.
- In Super Mario 64, there is a staircase that you can get to, but if you open the door to it before you have collected enough Power Stars, it goes up basically forever, no matter how much you climb there's still more ahead. But turn around and you've only gone up a handful of steps.
- Scribblenauts has a level where you must get some bad guys into heaven. Now, you could just tie them to a pegasus and drag them up with chains, but if you summon a stairway, hey presto, they just float up and you win the level.
- Touhou Project has the stairway that physically leads to Hakugyokuro, and the land of the dead around it. Not exactly Heaven per se, but it is a land of the peaceful dead.
- Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne Subverted, In the Tower of Kagutsuchi, it's an elevator and it doesn't take one to heaven, but to have an audience with the titular being of creation, also the elevator is on Floor 666.
- Silent Hill 2 subverts this for Angela's last scene: it is a stairway that the character goes up and is the last time seen in the game, but everything's on fire. Angela's in her own hell from her guilt in murdering her father (even if she's rather justified), and she ain't coming back.
- In Kingdom Hearts III, the final world is called "Scala ad Caelum", which literally means "Stairway to Heaven".
- The Order of the Stick's Lawful Good afterlife once had an escalator, but the monks thought it made things too easy. So they reverted to climbing a mountain in order to reach enlightenment. The strip is appropriately titled "Led Zeppelin Lied to Us All".
- There was an escalator to hell featured in an early Schlock Mercenary strip... 'course, since that takes place in the far future, escalators are probably anachronistic by then. Or not...
- Housepets! has the stairway to Heaven, which King and Fox travel because King was given an audience with the head honcho (in this case, Bahamut).
- Looney Tunes "Satan's Waitin'" - escalator to both Heaven and Hell. Unfortunately for Sylvester, the up escalator is corded off.
- The Simpsons:
- "Bart Gets Hit by a Car" - escalator. He spits over the side clearly pushing his Karma Meter over to the dark side and gets sent to hell, by Hellevator.
- Another example from The Simpsons, this time a subversion: one of the foolish projects that the people of Springfield embark upon is an escalator to nowhere that looks an awful lot like an escalator to heaven. This is a parody of the bridge to nowhere (which several near-useless bridges have been dubbed), except this escalator literally just ends in a giant fall.
- Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation - appears as theme park rides; there's the titular Stairway To Heaven (pictured above)...and the Bullet Train To Heck!
- Tom and Jerry "Heavenly Puss" - escalator
- Woody Woodpecker cartoon "Wild And Woody" - Buzz Buzzard has just been crushed by a large object, and he arrives at a lobby with elevators to both heaven and hell with Woody as the doorman: one opens and the angelic operator says "Going up" and woody forces it closed, the other opens and the demonic operator says "going down" and Woody gives Buzz Buzzard a kick in the rear forcing him into the elevator
- Futurama - During The Beast With A Billion Backs, when Yivo invited all creatures in the universe to live on shklerself (which, for all intents and purposes, IS heaven), shklee transported everybody in via golden escalators. Barring being unceremoniously dumped onto Bender's invading pirate ship, this was apparently also the way out of heaven, as shklee was about to call an escalator back to earth when Leela had a hard time getting over her misgivings about the whole setup.