There are countless things to do in the ’Burgh, from catching a game at PNC Park to strolling through lush Victorian greenhouse Phipps Conservatory and getting a taste of the best restaurants and bars. Whether you’re a newcomer or a lifelong local, check off these essentials.
Best things to do in Pittsburgh
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. 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. On Fridays, when the conservatory stays open until 10pm, the illuminated glass structures and choirs of insects create a magical atmosphere after dark.
Not only will the Monongahela Incline take you 450 feet above the city, the 1870 funicular is a national historic landmark. After taking in the spectacular view of the Golden Triangle (downtown Pittsburgh and the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers) from the elevated neighborhood of Mt. Washington, hang a left on Shiloh Street and walk down to popular local hangout the Summit on Sycamore Street. Pony up to the wide slab of a reclaimed wood and sip a craft cocktail like the Cucumber Press (cucumber-infused vodka, lemon, soda). On Wednesdays, you can ride up and roll out your mat for a yoga class on the Grandview Overlook (weather permitting) where you can see all of downtown from downward facing dog.
Alternatively, check out the tip of the Triangle at ground level—the Monongahela and the Allegheny form the Ohio at the aptly named Point State Park, marked by a massive fountain. 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. A varied schedule of events includes the Three Rivers Arts Festival, which fills downtown with local artists and known performers (like Jenny Lewis and Edward Sharp and The Magnetic Zeroes) for ten days each June, and the Three Rivers Regatta, a three-day Fourth of July festival in and out of the park, including fireworks, music and a 90-foot-tall Ferris wheel.
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. PNC Park may be the second-smallest stadium in the MLB (seating 38,362), but many baseball fans agree that it is the most beautiful ballpark in the country. 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.Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Jaime Dillen-Seibel
Two of Pittsburgh’s four Carnegie Museums are located in the 1895 landmark building founded by the Scottish-born industrialist and you can see both for the price of one admission ticket. 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 everything from more than 140 plaster casts of architectural marvels to the photo archive of Charles “Teenie” Harris, which documents African-American life in Pittsburgh from the mid ’30s to the mid ’70s.
Shop the Strip District
Whether you’re in the market for charcuterie or a yinzer souvenir, the quarter-mile “strip” of Penn Avenue delivers. 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, buy a bag of lavender, or simply to inhale the gorgeous scents. Stop for lunch at 1933 institution Primanti Brothers on 18th Street, where it’s not a sandwich if it doesn’t have fries on it.Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Kurt Komoda
Ogle amazing public art
To navigate Pittsburgh’s hundreds of public artworks, it helps to have some direction. The Office of Public Art offers self-guided tours with detailed explanations of the installations and surrounding buildings and bridges. 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. Head down Tito Way to Ursula Lavrenčič and Auke Touwslager’s Cell Phone Disco. Make a call, look up, and see what the Dutch artists have created with the electromagnetic field of a mobile phone.
Sleuth out an authentic speakeasy
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, an original Prohibition-era bar. Order a Pimms Cup or other vintage cocktails like Martini forerunner the Martinez. If you prefer to drink suds alfresco, head to the city’s newly minted Biergarten on the roof of chic Hotel Monaco for a choice of more than 60 Eastern European beers and house-made pretzels.
Chef Richard DeShantz and restaurateur Tolga Sedvik are the duo behind some of city’s hottest tables, including gastropub Meat & Potatoes and bourbon destination Butcher and the Rye. Their latest creation, täkō (Japanese for octopus), is an eccentric Latin-Asian taqueria decked out with octopus sconces, pink chandeliers made out of bike chains and a bar stocked with 300 tequilas, 60 mescals, and 20 rums. Take your pick from traditional tacos (al pastor, pollo) or new twists on the theme (waygu short rib, octopus).
Less than a mile down the Ohio River is the Duquesne Incline (similar to its sister funicular The Monongahela), which will take you up to the other end of Mt. Washington. At the summit, you can look down the river to the Point and beyond to where the rivers flow into the countryside. Then splash out on the seasonal prix fixe at fine-dining fixture Isabela on Grandview, which commands a spectacular view of the skyline.
While Kentucky and Tennessee get all the glory, Pittsburgh was the birthplace of American whiskey. 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. 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.
Formerly the 581 Moose Lodge in Lawrenceville, this 10,000-square-foot space is now a two-level pizzeria, bar and party venue that hosts a slew of recurring events. End the week with “Sunday Fundays,” where you can get a bucket of Buds and a pizza for $15 and play games like Bingo Bango or horseshoes. “Tune in Tuesdays” are for the ’90s fans: Get your fill of vintage MTV videos, old-school game consoles, and $2 Yuenglings from 6 to 9pm.
Pitt students often gather on the lawn at Schenley Plaza, hanging out with friends and laptops against the backdrop of a 42-story Gothic Revival skyscraper. The Cathedral of Learning, built in 1921, was made from steel, cement, glass and fixtures donated by local industries. 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, from the rustic, wood-beamed Early American Room to the Syria-Lebanon Room with intricate gesso-painted walls transplanted from a 1782 house in Damascus.
Named after the nearby Allegheny Arsenal, a crucial ammunition manufacturer for the Union Army during the Civil War, small-batch cider maker Arsenal Cider House and Wine Cellar occupies the converted first floor of a Lawrenceville home. If it’s nice out, take your hard fruit cider (not just apple, but also pear, berry, plum 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.
The Carnegie Library of Homestead offers a lot more than books. One of many public libraries founded by Andrew Carnegie across the country and beyond, the imposing 1895 building has an active athletic club and pool, but lately the big draw is the Music Hall. Before the 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.
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. Explore miles of hiking and biking trails in the 644-acre oasis. 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. Keep your eyes peeled for hawks, warblers and more on Clayton Hill, a magnet for local birders, or play a game of lawn bowling on Pennsylvania’s only public green dedicated to the old timey sport.Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Jacob Caddy
Located on top of Observatory Hill in Riverview Park (four miles from downtown) is one of the major astronomical research institutions in the world. The Allegheny Observatory is owned and operated by the University of Pittsburgh, but on Thursday evenings from April until October the facility is open to the public. 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 of Fitz-Clark.Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Kordite
Stroll the Mexican War Streets
This historic neighborhood is known for its Victorian row houses (built around the time of the Mexican-American War, strangely enough), many of them painted in bright colors. 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, from Chiharu Shiota’s intricate webs of yarn in Trace of Memory to James Turrell’s Pleiades, which can only be seen without light.
Though he moved to New York after attending Carnegie Mellon University, the pop art superstar is a Pittsburgh native. The Warhol (also a Carnegie Museum) is the global keeper of his legacy. 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. Every Friday is “Good Friday,” when the museum offers half-price admission with a cash bar in the lobby from 5pm to 10pm.
Bike the ’Burgh
With its bridges and byways, Pittsburgh can be a travesty to navigate by car, but pedal around and things get easier. The city has been making great strides to be bike-friendly with a new bike-sharing program, Healthy Ride. Alternatively, you can rent a set of wheels from Golden Triangle Bike Rentals. Feeling ambitious? The GAP (Great Allegheny Passage) rail trail runs along the riverfront all the way to Washington, D.C. But, whatever you do, bike across a bridge, because Pittsburgh has the most bridges in the world—446, which is three more than Venice.Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Dave Gingrich