Best things to do in Pittsburgh
What is it? Built in 1893, the steel-and-glass Phipps Conservatory and its surrounding grounds house the Center for Sustainable Landscapes, an impeccably green botanical research facility.
Why go? Take the right-turn-only path that meanders in and around the Victorian greenhouse and grounds and through the numerous plant collections and exhibits, including desert plants, ferns, orchids and the butterfly forest. Come in the summer for the Gardens of Sound and Motion flower show, where wind sculptures and interactive installations add another dimension to the blooms.
What is it? This 1870 funicular that takes visitors 450 feet above the city is a National Historic Landmark.
Why go? After taking in the spectacular view of the Golden Triangle (downtown Pittsburgh and the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers), explore the rest of the elevated neighborhood of Mt. Washington. Pony up to the wide slab of a reclaimed wood at the Summit and sip a craft cocktail like the Cucumber Press (cucumber-infused vodka, lemon, soda).
What is it? The Monongahela and the Allegheny join to form the Ohio at the aptly named Point State Park, marked by a massive fountain.
Why go? It's the best spot to check out the tip of the Triangle at ground level. During the American Revolution, this land was Fort Pitt (the western headquarters of the Continental Army). The Fort Pitt Blockhouse (built in 1764) remains the only surviving structure and is open daily for free tours.
What is it? PNC Park may be small by Major League Baseball standards (seating 38,362), but many fans agree that it is the most beautiful ballpark in the country.
Why go? You can’t truly experience this sports-loving town without getting decked out in black and gold and going to root for the Penguins, the Pirates or the Steelers. With cityscapes in all directions and the highest perch in the upper deck only 88 feet from the diamond, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.
What is it? Two of Pittsburgh’s four Carnegie Museums are located in the 1895 landmark building founded by the Scottish-born industrialist.
Why go? A lifesize replica of Diplodocus carnegii, known as Dippy, guards the entrance to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, giving a clue to one of its main attractions—a dinosaur exhibition that shows the prehistoric giants in scientifically accurate habitats. After a restorative stop at the café, proceed to the Carnegie Museum of Art to see more than 140 plaster casts of architectural marvels, among other exhibits.
What is it? Whether you’re in the market for charcuterie or a yinzer souvenir, the quarter-mile “strip” of Penn Avenue delivers.
Why go? Locals buy produce, pierogi, fish and black and gold jerseys off the street, which is lined with specialty food stores, like Wholey’s Fish Market, and shops that showcase local craftspeople, such as Jonathan Moran Woodworks, where you can pick up a unique cutting board. Drop into Roxanne’s Dried Flowers to make your own potpourri or simply inhale the gorgeous scents.
What is it? The Office of Public Art offers self-guided tours with detailed explanations of the installations and surrounding buildings and bridges.
Why go? To navigate Pittsburgh’s hundreds of public artworks, it helps to have some direction. Start the Cultural District Tour on the terrace of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center (itself a striking 2003 structure designed by starchitect Rafael Viñoly), where Jenny Holzer’s monumental 688-foot-long LED installation, For Pittsburgh, streams text from Pittsburgh-related books overhead.
What is it? This original Prohibition-era bar is secreted underneath a slick hotel lobby.
Why go? Opened by Pittsburgh industrialist Henry Clay Frick in 1916, the Omni William Penn Hotel is known for its elegance and old-world charm. But what some might not know is that secreted in the basement is the aptly named Speakeasy. Order a Pimms Cup or other vintage cocktails like the Sazerac.
What is it? täkō (Japanese for octopus), is an eccentric Latin-Asian taqueria decked out with octopus sconces and pink chandeliers made out of bike chains.
Why go Chef Richard DeShantz and restaurateur Tolga Sedvik are the duo behind some of city’s hottest tables, including gastropub Meat & Potatoes, bourbon destination Butcher and the Rye and täkō. Take your pick from traditional tacos (al pastor, pollo) or new twists on the theme (Korean short ribs, octopus). And don't forget the choco taco for dessert.
What is it? Less than a mile down the Ohio River from its sister funicular Monongahela is the Duquesne Incline, which will take you up to the other end of Mt. Washington.
Why go? At the summit, you can look down the river to the Point and beyond to where the rivers flow into the countryside. Settle in for dinner at the Altius, a New American restaurant that commands a spectacular view of the skyline.
What is it? The folks at craft distillery Wigle Whiskey, named after Phillip Wigle, a key player in the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s, are reviving Pennsylvania rye.
Why go? While Kentucky and Tennessee get all the glory, Pittsburgh was the birthplace of American whiskey. Take the tour to learn how the hard stuff is made and taste the wide selection of rums, gins, bitters and—of course—whiskeys, all of which are made from local organic grains as they were by local distillers centuries ago.
What is it? Formerly the 581 Moose Lodge in Lawrenceville, this 10,000-square-foot space is now a two-level pizzeria, bar and party venue.
Why go? Spirit's Slice Island dishes out pies made with fresh-baked foccacia, hand-pulled mozzarella, house-curdled ricotta and loads of locally grown toppings, like cannelini beans and broccolini. The cocktail list is equally inventive, with drinks like the Garden Negroni with thyme and the Iced Tea-quila with rooibos, Aperol and grapefruit oleo.
What is it? Pitt students often gather on the lawn at Schenley Plaza, hanging out with friends against the backdrop of a 42-story Gothic Revival skyscraper.
Why go? Anyone is welcome to wander through this National Historic Landmark and take the elevator to the top for a bird’s-eye view of the campus. When class is not in session, explore the elaborately decorated Nationality Rooms on the first and third floors, each representing the culture of a Pittsburgh ethnic group.
What is it? Named after the nearby Allegheny Arsenal, small-batch cider maker Arsenal Cider House and Wine Cellar occupies the converted first floor of a Lawrenceville home.
Why go? If it’s nice out, take your hard fruit cider (not just apple, but also pear, berry, ginger and the like) out to the backyard and listen to live tunes from local acts that range from acoustic duos to cover bands. You might run into a pup or two, because the Cider Garden welcomes dogs.
What is it? One of many public libraries founded by Andrew Carnegie, the imposing 1895 building also boasts an active athletic club and music hall.
Why go? The Carnegie Library of Homestead offers a lot more than books. Before catching a show, you can have a beer or a glass of wine while you peruse the shelves for your favorite author. Then, take your seat for anything from Smashing Pumpkins to the next big indie folk band.
What is it? At the heart of Frick Park are 151 acres of woodland, a nature reserve gifted to Pittsburgh by Pennsylvania-born industrialist Henry Clay Frick in 1919.
Why go? Explore miles of hiking and biking trails in the 644-acre oasis (plenty of land has been added on since Frick's original gift). The roughly mile-long Tranquil Trail is an easy stroll down a wooded slope, while the Lower Riverview Trail is more rigorous, traversing steep hills alongside the creek.
What is it? Located on top of Observatory Hill in Riverview Park, Allegheny Observatory is one of the major astronomical research institutions in the world.
Why go? This private research institution owned and operated by the University of Pittsburgh only opens to the public on Thursday evenings from April until October. Free two-hour tours take guests through the entire building, culminating at the Fitz-Clark refractor telescope. Hope for a clear night, because your tour guide will be happy to point out any celestial objects in range.
What is it? This historic neighborhood is known for its Victorian row houses, many of them painted in bright colors.
Why go? As you stroll the sidewalks, look out for the “River of Words,” the Spanish and English words on the fronts of some homes—a 2014 community-inspired art project led by a local artist collective. On Sampsonia Way, stop into the Mattress Factory, a one-of-a-kind museum showcasing installations in a variety of mediums.
What is it? Andy Warhol's eponymous museum (also part of the Carnegie legacy) is the global keeper of his legacy.
Why go? Though he moved to New York after attending Carnegie Mellon University, the pop art superstar is a Pittsburgh native. There are seven floors of his life’s work—from student sketches to self portraits and those iconic Campbell’s soup cans. Snap a photo on Andy’s famous red couch or wait in line to record your own Screen Test.
What is it? The Great Allegheny Passage (or GAP) rail trail runs along the riverfront all the way to Washington, D.C.
Why go? With its bridges and byways, Pittsburgh can be a travesty to navigate by car, but pedal around and things get easier. Even if you aren't ready to attempt the 'Burgh portion of the 150-mile GAP trail, it's still worth renting some wheels. Whatever you do, bike across a bridge, because the City of Bridges boasts an astonishing 446 of 'em.