Last Updated on December 21, 2023

Pittsburgh was once a gritty steel mill city. Not anymore. Now it’s a place to have fun and enjoy some of the best food (and art) in the nation. It is filled with natural attractions, cultural centers, and historical sites, as well as water and sports teams. 

It sits at the confluence of three rivers: the Allegheny River and Monongahela River meet and form the Ohio River. With 446 bridges, it’s no surprise its nickname is the City of Bridges. 

Pittsburgh is composed of five separate sections each with their own personality.

  1. The Golden Triangle is the downtown area. 
  2. The North Side is home to various neighborhoods and attractions. 
  3. South Side was once a jumble of rail yards; today it is a mixed-use development with a riverfront park, trendy restaurants, and shopping. 
  4. The East End is the university section but is also home to many parks and public spaces including The Strip District. 
  5. The West End is where you’ll find Mt. Washington and a fantastic view of the city’s skyline.

Fort Pitt Blockhouse

Fort Pitt Blockhouse was built in 1764 making it the oldest structure in the city. You can tour the blockhouse free of charge and then visit the nearby museum for a more in-depth explanation of Western Pennsylvania history. 

The blockhouse and museum are both located in Point State Park, where Pittsburgh began. In the mid-1700s, France and England each sought to control the point, then known as the Forks of the Ohio. 

The English built the first fort, Fort Prince George, on the site. The French captured and destroyed the English fort and built Fort Duquesne in 1754 on its foundation. 

In 1758, during the French and Indian War, the French destroyed their fort rather than surrender it to the English. You will see a marker path showing where it stood. There is a medallion depicting the fort and the convergence of the rivers.

The fort you see today was rebuilt by the English after the successful recapture. Pittsburgh was named by General John Forbes in 1758 in honor of British statesman William Pitt.

Riverwalk

Next to Point Park there’s a trail that winds through beautiful Riverfront Park. It’s a pedestrian and bike path along the Allegheny River. The best spot to view the river is at a wide pier along the path. 

Another stopping place along the way is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Heinz Field

You won’t be in town long before you notice that Pittsburghers are crazy about their sports teams. You won’t make it through the city without seeing Pittsburgh Steelers bumper stickers, ads, and other promotional fanfare. You’ll notice many of the bridges are painted Aztec gold; Aztec gold and black are the city’s official colors in honor of their football and baseball teams, the Steelers, Pirates, and Pelicans. 

Heinz Field is the home of the Steelers and Pitt Panthers, and it is located just off the Riverwalk. There’s a 12-foot-long statue of a Pitt Panther, the University of Pittsburgh’s mascot, outside Gate A.

In the pavement at its base there is an image of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning. 

PNC Park

Also located off the Riverwalk, PNC Park is the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the city’s professional baseball team. Around the outside of PNC Park there are statues of Pirates’ Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente, Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell, and Bill Mazeroski. 

Next to the stadium’s left field entrance there is an exhibit honoring Pittsburgh’s Negro League baseball teams featuring statues of seven players. Legacy Theatre, a 25-seat facility, shows a film about the Negro Leagues in Pittsburgh’s history. 

The park has been a filming location for various films including She’s Out of My LeagueAbduction, and Jack Reacher.

Both stadiums host concerts.

National Aviary

© Kathleen Walls

This is where you can get beak to nose with some fantastic bird life. The National Aviary is filled with fascinating and colorful creatures from dignified penguins to wide-winged predators. 

The National Aviary is the only independent, indoor, and nonprofit zoo dedicated to birds, with 500 birds of 150 different species. You will find bright pink flamingos in their watery habitat and little shaft tailed finches perched on ropes.

Outside there are the larger birds of prey that you wouldn’t want to approach too closely like hawks and eagles.

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

© Kathleen Walls

For more of nature’s beauty, head to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. It is more than just flowers, the first glimpse of the conservatory is like finding yourself in a fairy tale. The conservatory, a gift to the people of Pittsburgh from Henry W. Phipps, opened in 1893. 

The first area you will enter is a Victorian garden reminiscent of the 1890s. There are sculptures dispersed throughout the plants in the gardens. You will find brightly colored Dale Chihuly glass art and other sculptures like Rube Goldberg type machines, trains, and model railroads.

Each of the 20 sections in the gardens has a different theme. Some of the gardens are changed seasonally, while others remain the same year-round. You can explore an outdoor water garden filled with lilies, aquatic plants, and a beautiful stature of Neptune. Then move on to an outdoor space devoted to urban farming.

Docents are available around the gardens to answer your questions.

The gardens are not only for adults: there is a special children’s section with kid activities. It has a big playhouse filled with plants to explore. 

Also onsite is the Center for Sustainable Landscapes. The building, rated one of the greenest on Earth, features an art gallery with a rotating display of nature-related art. There’s a boardwalk, water fountain, and lagoon all designed to minimize environmental impact. 

There is a SEED (Sustainable Education Every Day) modular classroom of the future at the end of the boardwalk built with recyclable non-toxic materials; it generates its own energy and recycles water onsite.

Andy Warhol Museum

© Kathleen Walls

The Warhol Museum is the largest in North America dedicated to an individual artist. Warhol was born in Pittsburgh. Most people only associate Andy Warhol with his Campbell’s Soup art; they may be his most recognized work, but there is a lot more to Andy Warhol.

The lobby is a comfy spot to relax and watch some of his videos. A portrait of Andy Warhol holds the place of honor over the sofa.

The museum is arranged chronologically, and you start at the top on the seventh floor. There are images of shy, sickly Andy Warhol and his mother and lots of memorabilia depicting his early life from the 1920s through the 1960s.  

The sixth floor showcases his best-known work, his Kennedys, Elvis, Marilyn, and the famous Campbell Soup cans. You can do a screen test on an interactive screen test machine.

The fifth floor moves to the 1970s. Silver Clouds Room is filled with floating silver balloons. This floor shows another side of the artist.

The fourth floor is devoted to his later works and the work of other artists influenced by him. His music productions paved the way for punk rock. 

On the third floor archives section, curators comb through the cardboard boxes where he stored what he considered time capsules. He might be called a hoarder today because he saved everything. 

The second floor displays rotating art exhibits. 

August Wilson Center

The August Wilson Center, located in the heart of downtown’s Golden Triangle, celebrates African American history and art. The art exhibits are free, and there is a 500-seat theater for the performing arts.

These events sell out quickly so book tickets in advance. There’s also a gift shop and a café.

Senator John Heinz History Center

The first thing most people think when they hear Heinz is ketchup. The center does have an exhibit about Heinz’s family history and how they dominated the ketchup industry, but there is so much more. From the Ferris wheel to the Big Mac, this museum shows how Pittsburgh influenced history. 

The Heinz History Center is a Smithsonian Affiliate that is actually several museums in one.There is the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum; the Conservation Center, where you learn about preservation efforts; and the aforementioned history museum which tells Western Pennsylvania history.

One of my favorite exhibits there is From Slavery to Freedom. It tells the story of the African American experience from the early days of slavery on to the Civil Rights Movement

Another great exhibit is Clash of Empires: The British, French & Indian War, 1754-1763, which brings to life a pivotal point in American history leading towards the American Revolution.  

This is a museum for all ages. Youngsters will enjoy many of the exhibits in the Special Collections Gallery such as Discovery Place and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, where you’ll find original set pieces and artifacts from the TV show.

Carnegie Museum of Science and Natural History

This museum is ranked in the top five natural history museums in the country

Out front you may want to take a selfie with a dinosaur or the statue of Andrew Carnegie. The most popular shot is with Dippy, a fiberglass dinosaur statue near the entrance.

Inside you’ll find 20 exhibition halls. The most popular exhibit, Dinosaurs in Their Time, has the third largest dinosaur collection in the country. 

The Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems is filled with more than 1300 samples, from diamond jewelry to meteorites. Their Polar World: Wyckoff Hall of Arctic Life explores what life is like for Inuit tribes in the frozen reaches of North America.  

Kids will love interactive exhibits like Discovery Basecamp and Bonehunters Quarry. 

Cathedral of Learning

The University of Pittsburgh’s 42-story Late Gothic Revival Cathedral of Learning is the tallest educational building in the western hemisphere. The architecture is gorgeous, but what you really want to see are the Nationality Rooms. 

Pittsburgh is home to many immigrants. Each room represents a different people and was funded by the nationality it represents. There are 30 rooms in all. 

The rooms are working classrooms, so tours are limited to weekends and when school is not in session. Self-guided recorded tours are available for individuals and small groups. Groups of 10 or more can request a guided tour. 

The Irish Room imitates a 12th century oratory. The most notable treasure here is a Book of Kells replica. The stained-glass windows and wolfhound carvings are beautiful.

The Romanian Room transports you to a 17th century orthodox Christian monastery.  The mosaic is of the martyrdom of Constantin Brâncoveanu, a Romanian prince of Wallachia. The chairs were carved with a pocketknife.

The Swedish Room recreates an 18th century country home with painted brick walls and cheerful murals. 

The Syria Lebanon Room can only be glimpsed through the peephole. Through it you will see a library in an upscale 1782 Damascus home. 

St. Patrick Church

Ever wanted to do a pilgrimage? At St. Patrick Church you can climb the Holy Stairs. The 28 steps represent the distance between Pilate and Jesus at his condemnation. The trick is you have to ascend on your knees.

This is the fourth St. Patrick Church and second at this site. The preceding one burned down in 1935. The new St. Patrick church was dedicated on March 17, 1936. 

While visiting, look up towards the tower above the baptistery. A piece of the Blarney Stone from Blarney Castle in Ireland sits there. 

The Strip

The Strip is a neighborhood in Pittsburgh filled with restaurants, shops, and farmers’ markets, so if you’re getting hungry, you are in the perfect place. Here are just a few of The Strip’s dining choices:

Bakeries

© Kathleen Walls

Mancini’s Bakery is the go-to place for fresh Italian bread. They began 70 years ago by baking 90 loaves per night. Today, between their Strip location and two others, they make over 10,000 loaves nightly.

Colangelo’s Bakery has all kinds of sweet treats. They also do a tasty square pizza.

Enrico Biscotti Company makes biscotti in any flavor you can imagine.

Delis and Diners

Visit Primanti’s for its famous signature sandwich, The Primanti. Between slices of thick Italian bread, you get your choice of meat with coleslaw and French fries piled on top. The Primanti began in 1933 when truckers from the loading warehouses had to take their sandwiches and rush back to work, leaving behind the slaw and fries. To make sure everybody got their money’s worth Joe Primanti began piling all the extras on top to make one giant sandwich.

Jimmy and Nino Sunseri’s is a combination grocery, deli, and bakery with an Italian twist. Check out their pepperoni roll. 

S&D Polish Deli is owned by a Polish immigrant who serves traditional family recipes. Try the pierogi, a delicious dumpling made with potatoes and cheese. They also offer Kielbasa sausage, sauerkraut, cabbage, and if you are adventurous, tripe dishes.

Pamela’s P&G Diner is a must stop spot for breakfast. President Obama had breakfast here and was so impressed he invited Pamela and Gail to cook for him, his family, and the veterans on Memorial Day, 2009. 

And More

Luke Wholey’s Wild Alaskan Grill serves one of the most innovative Bloody Marys you can imagine. It’s a meal with crab, shrimp, and veggies topping the drink. 

Smallman Galley is an innovation of two young navy veterans, Ben Mantica and Tyler Benson. Seizing on the booming Pittsburgh culinary scene, they opened the first restaurant in December 2015. It was such a success they opened another, Federal Galley, a few years later. The restaurants rotate chefs who want to open a restaurant but need experience with the business end. 

There’s a small winery in the city, Carlo’s Garage Winery, which is Pittsburgh’s first urban winery. They crush the grapes and make the wine in the basement.

A good way to see the highlights of The Strip is with the Burgh Bits and Bites Food Tour. You get to visit and sample many of the places mentioned.

Wigle Whiskey 

© Kathleen Walls

Looking for something a bit stronger? Wigle Whiskey gives free tours and tastings. The tours are a lesson in premium crafted whiskies as well as post-revolutionary American history. 

Wigle Whiskey is the first whiskey distillery In Pittsburgh since prohibition. It was founded in 2012 and named for Philip Wigle, one of the two men sentenced to die in the Whiskey Rebellion. 

When Pittsburgh was America’s western frontier it was a popular place to distill whiskey. To fund the revolution, George Washington and the first Congress imposed a tax on whiskey; whiskey makers thought it was unfair and the Whiskey Rebellion followed. Washington led the army in a march to capture the whiskey rebels. Two of them were sentenced to hang. Washington pardoned Philip Wigle, who later started his own distillery. 

While visiting, why not sample their honey spirit, Landlocked? It’s a Western Pennsylvania rum made with Pennsylvania buckwheat honey. Tasty!

Kayak Pittsburgh

© Kathleen Walls

This is a great way to see Pittsburgh from a different angle. Kayak Pittsburgh has three locations, but I found the 6th St. Bridge location to be the best for viewing the city from the rivers. You can paddle around the point into the Ohio River or paddle up the Allegheny River.

If you just want a peaceful paddle, you might try the North Park Lake location. 

The company offers guided tours and lessons for those who have never kayaked. If you have your own life jacket, bring it as the ones they provide are not the most comfortable. Boat shoes or tennis shoes are the best footwear. Bring sunscreen.

Gateway Clipper Tours

Another way to see Pittsburgh from the river is with Gateway Clipper Tours. It’s like stepping into a different time: you ride on a replica of an old-fashioned steam wheeler paddleboat.  They offer several tours, but my favorite choice is the Three Rivers Sightseeing Cruise. 

As the name implies you cruise all three rivers. The captain narrates the tour and is very knowledgeable about Pittsburgh’s history from its frontier days to present. It’s an hour long and there is a snack bar on board. There are both indoor and outdoor decks.

Molly’s Trolleys

© Kathleen Walls

Molly’s Trolleys is a good way to view the Pittsburgh sights while riding in comfort on an old-fashioned trolley. The drivers cover more of Pittsburgh than you could see on your own, plus it lets you avoid trying to navigate Pittsburgh traffic. Our driver was very knowledgeable about the historic buildings and neighborhoods.

Your fare also includes a one-way trip on the Duquesne Incline. Your driver drops you off at the top of the incline and picks you up at the bottom.  

Duquesne Incline

The Duquesne Incline is a funicular railway that ascends 400 feet up Mt. Washington. If you don’t take the trolley, you can board at the bottom and ride up the slope to the top of Mt. Washington. The boarding station is furnished with interesting artifacts from the early days of operation. 

The railcars are balanced, so as one ascends another descends; they pass one another midway through the ride. When you arrive at the top, you will be on Grandview Avenue. There are telescopes to enjoy the view. USA Today Magazine named this “one of the most beautiful views in the country.” 

About two blocks to your right on Grandview there is a fantastic bronze statue by James A. West called Point of View. It depicts George Washington and Seneca Chief Guyasuta sitting face-to-face in discussion while Washington was surveying here in 1770.

1Drury Plaza Hotel

The Drury Plaza Hotel, built in 1931, was once the Federal Reserve Bank of Pittsburgh. The Drury has kept many of the historic features. The lobby space, which was once the main banking area, retains its original marble wall cladding and stainless-steel trim and castings. 

The eighth floor was once a practice firing range for bank security teams. Now it’s where the indoor swimming pool, fitness center, and rooftop deck are located. 

The Grant Street entrance, where the valet parking lot is now, still uses the former guard station where the armored trucks brought in money. It still has the bullet proof glass and gun turrets. 

In the basement, the vaults are restored and used for meeting rooms. The three feet thick vault walls offer a very quiet space.

The rooms are equipped with modern amenities and decorated with vintage artwork of Pittsburgh scenes. Besides the free breakfast, they offer Kickback, a free light dinner, at 5.30 p.m. 

Many of Pittsburgh’s attractions are walking distance from the hotel. 

Traffic in the city can be heavy, so parking in a long-term spot and walking makes the most sense. Most of Pittsburgh is very walkable; wear comfortable shoes. 

Downtown is the highest priced area, and parking near The Strip or across one of the bridges is cheaper. Prices for daytime parking when I visited ranged from $9 between The Strip and Downtown to $29 in the heart of downtown. There is bus service throughout the city.

Because of Pittsburgh’s steep hills there are 712 sets of outdoor public stairways with 44,645 treads. They have a range of 24,090 vertical feet. Hundreds of the city streets are composed entirely of stairs for sidewalks. It’s a unique and eclectic city.

Pittsburgh is a health-conscious city and attracts hikers and fitness walkers. There are many bike and walking trails along the city’s rivers and parks. 

Author

  • Kathleen Walls

    Kathleen Walls, a former reporter for Union Sentinel in Blairsville, GA, is publisher/writer for American Roads and Global Highways. Originally from New Orleans, she currently resides in Middleburg, FL and has lived in Florida most of her life while traveling extensively.