The so-called City of Bridges might only be home to 300,000 folks, but boy does it pack a punch.
Famed for its steel industries, largely long since died with the rest of the embers of the Midwest’s industrial boom, the metro area here is a place of red-brick facades, countless depots and arched bridges, utilitarianism oozing from each pore and pocket.ccoff
However, delve a tad deeper and you’ll see Pittsburgh’s more characterful edge.
There are more bars per capita than any other town in the US, believe it or not, all hidden in the basements and old workshops and mills.
Steel City’s museums punch heftily above their weight too – thanks largely to the endless investments of one Andrew Carnegie in the 19th century.
Parks abound, draped over the hills and riverside ridges of the downtown, while there’s Major League Baseball, packed cheese-steak sandwiches, Bavarian beers and oodles, oodles more on the menu besides. Check out the best things to do in Pittsburgh!
1. Explore Asian forests and Polar icecaps at the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium
A whopping 475 individual species await visitors to the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium, making the sprawling institution on the banks of the Allegheny River one of the most enticing animal parks in the United States.
Founded more than 100 years ago, in 1898, this iconic attraction has since grown to incorporate the likes of the Tropical Forest, home to formidable mountain gorillas, endangered sloths and swinging gibbons, The Islands enclosure, where crocodiles meet colossal Galapagos tortoises, and the African Savanna, crossed by lions and giraffe, springbok and rhino.
The adjoining aquarium is also uber-famous, boasting ecosystems that go from the piranha-bitten tropics to the penguin-trodden arctic!
2. See mummies and a tyrannosaurus at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Mysterious mummies meet ancient fossils between the seemingly endless exhibition rooms of the great Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
A place of countless curiosities, this research and education institution is considered one of the finest of its kind in the world.
Visitors can see the bones of dug-up dinosaurs next to glimmering ancient gem stones forged under the earth thousands of years ago.
They can wonder at painted totem poles while discovering the evolution of the Jurassic age. They can see majestically beautiful minerals and unravel the secrets of archaeologists. In short: this one’s a fine place to while away a rainy day in Pittsburgh!
3. Get a panorama of the city atop Mount Washington
For some of the most breathtaking 360-degree panoramic views of the Pittsburgh downtown and the joining waterways of the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, Mount Washington simply can’t be beaten.
But this hill of green parks and swish mansions offers plenty more than just a picture-perfect broadside of the city’s skyscrapers and steely high-rises.
It’s got two funicular railways, the swanky eateries and joints of appropriately-named Restaurant Row (some of the best evening dining views in town), historic spots supposedly once trodden by George Washington himself, and the leafy reaches of Emerald View Park – perfect for escaping the urban fray for a spell!
4. See one of America’s finest collections at the Carnegie Museum of Art
For more than 100 years the Carnegie Museum of Art has reigned as the most prestigious art gallery in all of Pittsburgh, showcasing a sprawling collection of more than 35,000 individual pieces, predominantly from across Europe and North America.
Visitors are invited to tour the Hall of Architecture, where friezes and casts of iconic constructions from Greece to Egypt to Italy to France all draw the eye.
Then there’s the Forum Gallery, booming with often mind-boggling displays of cutting-edge contemporary American art.
And that’s not even mentioning the acclaimed fine arts section, which includes classic masters like Durer and Abbott McNeill Whistler.
5. Discover your inner botanist at the Phipps Conservatory
A veritable icon of Pittsburgh city if there ever was one, the Phipps Conservatory has stood its ground amidst the beautiful parklands and revered institutions of Oakland since the very end of the 19th century.
That makes it one of the oldest greenhouses in the country and a truly deserving listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Elegant and Victorian in appearance, the building is home to blooming fern gardens and the winding courses of the Serpentine Room exhibition space, not to mention the colors and flower beds of the Orchid Room, and the humid climes of the so-called Tropical Forest.
The whole space is also surrounded by some gorgeous manicured lawns and ponds, making it a fine spot for a little rest and relaxation in Steel City.
6. Sample the potent delights of the Wigle Whiskey Distillery
Reanimating Pittsburgh’s love for good whiskey, the Wigle Distillery opened its doors in 2012 – the first locally-owned, family-run craft whisky distillery in the city since the days of Prohibition.
Nestled amidst the boutiques and bars and nightclubs of the iconic Strip District, the space offers regular tours to visitors, who can come to see the barrelhouse or the distillery itself, uncovering the intricacies of whiskey brewing and tales of Pennsylvania’s historic brewers from the 1700s as they go.
Of course, there are plenty of chances to sample the local produce too, with oodles of whiskey-based cocktails flowing from the al fresco on-site bar: the blackberry-topped Whisky Bramble; salty Whiskey Daisy; lemony Whiskey Buck – all good!
7. Understand the past of western Pennsylvania at the Heinz History Center
Housed in a gorgeous post-industrial red-brick build that’s typical of the reinvigorated riverside Strip District, the Heinz History Center is the go to place for gaining an understanding about the history of western Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh itself.
An affiliate of the Smithsonian, this one’s exhibitions are both rich and wide-ranging.
There are sections showcasing the town’s reign as America’s glass workshop, collections chronicling Steel City’s penchant for innovation and invention (from the Big Mac to major vaccines), and a colossal area – the western Pennsylvania Sports Museum – that encompasses artifacts, films and interactive shows related to the Keystone State’s competitive prowess over the decades.
8. Discover perhaps Pittsburgh’s most famous son at the Andy Warhol Museum
Opened only shortly after the death of the great modern artist in 1987, the Andy Warhol Museum is the top spot in the entire United States for tracing the ground-breaking work of perhaps Pittsburgh’s most famous son.
The center showcases a collection that spans from the artist’s early student days to his time spent painting portraits of global VIPs and megastars, whilst also hosting exhibitions dedicated to continually pushing the boundaries of American art and the artistic world in the same way Warhol did during his lifetime.
That means the Campbell’s Soup Cans rub shoulders with appearances from the likes of Ai Weiwei, avant-garde performance art, artistic workshops and more.
9. Sample Bavarian beer and food at the Penn Brewery
Once one of the most iconic leaders in the Pennsylvanian brewing scene, the Penn Brewery led the way with its dedication to age-old Bavarian purity laws and a focus on real, hearty German beers.
Unfortunately, the spot was closed in the late noughties, only to reopen shortly after with a new focus on everything from classic pilsners out of Munich’s beer halls to more creative IPAs, AIPAs and more.
Today, the spot is the oldest and largest of all the microbrews in Pittsburgh, offering a taste of the German flavors that so heavily influenced the city after mass migrations from Europe.
That means visitors can expect a menu of schnitzels and sauerkraut, pretzels and poutine, Polish pierogi and sausage sandwiches. Nice.
10. Get some macarons at Jean-Marc Chatellier’s French Bakery
With a kitchen that’s run by the guiding hand of master pastry chef Jean-Marc, a family baker who hails in from the rural towns of Brittany, it’s hardly surprising that this charming little spot between the streets of quiet Millvale is one of the top places to come for morning pastries in all of Pittsburgh.
The menu is a medley of brioche buns and all-butter croissants, chocolate mousse tower cakes and Danish pastries, all rounded off with one of the best and most colourful selections of macarons in town!
Other specialities include tasty Breton cake, poppy seed rolls and mini pastries of all shapes and sizes. Mouth watering yet?
11. See a game at PNC Park
Rising against the waterside where the Allegheny River becomes the Ohio, PNC Park is the much-loved home of Pittsburgh’s Major League Baseball franchise: The Pittsburgh Pirates.
Famously built to mimic the styles of America’s classic baseball fields, this multi-tiered stadium in the shadow of the 6th Street Bridge has hosted all-star games and playoffs alike, while it’s also home to a series of eateries serving up Pittsburgh’s own Primanti Brothers sarnies, Polish pierogis and classic all-American steaks to boot.
Tickets throughout the season range from around $10 to $40 a seat, but you can always be guaranteed a raucous time with roaring crowds of locals all around!
12. Sample a Primanti Brothers sandwich
No culinary trip through downtown Pittsburgh could possibly be complete without at least a quick sampling of Steel City’s iconic Primanti Brothers sandwiches.
Now found all over the eastern United States, this famous name started life in the Strip District here.
The flagship store can still be found nestled between the old red-brick industrial depots and warehouses, serving up those iconic stacked breads, booming versions of that Philly cheese steak, jumbos creaking at the crusts with baloney and cheese, Cajun chicken, American coleslaw and hand-cut French fries by the bucket load. This one’s simply not to be missed!
13. Get a fix of colour and psychedelia at Randyland
Billed as ‘Pittsburgh’s Most Colorful Landmark’, Randyland really does live up to its name.
Stuck between the straight-laced homes and terraces of the Mexican War Streets area of town, it’s impossible to miss this kaleidoscopic boom of colour and creativity.
It comes courtesy of owner and namesake, Randy Gilson, who’s now nothing short of a local legend in Steel City, known for his dedication to recycling used materials and spaces throughout town into vegetable gardens and ad hoc works of art.
This location on Arch Avenue is the prime place to come and explore the bombastic work of art and colour wrought by Randy, with a chance to meet the perennially-smiling man himself and learn more about his sustainable art projects.
14. Take a stroll through Schenley Park
A patchwork of oak tree groves and beeches, winding pathways and arched stone bridges, elegant memorials and historic cabins, Schenley Park certainly deserves its reputation as one of the coolest and most interesting urban gardens in the country.
Covering a whopping 300 acres of land just south of the Carnegie Museums and the University of Pittsburgh, the spot is home to disc golf courses, running tracks and the likes of Panther Hollow, where an elegant bridge reflects beautifully in the lake waters below, gilded on the sides by carvings and sculpture works by Giuseppe Moretti.
Walking, picnicking and sports are all top attractions between the borders of Schenley.
15. Have an artisan coffee brew at 4121 Main
Part hipster coffee shop, part curiosities boutique, part wedding planners, part floral arrangers, 4121 Main (conveniently located at 4121 Main in Pittsburgh) is leading the new wave of off-beat drinkeries in Steel City.
Housed in a charming building dating from the pre-war era, the joint’s owners – Kira Hoeg and Thommy Conroy – serve up speciality beans roasted by Heart Coffee Roasters based out of Oregon (all fair trade and packed with a smooth, rich flavor).
There’s a loyal following of local patrons and always something to look at while sipping a brew at this cool and quirky establishment.