Looking for travel tips on what to do in Pittsburgh?
Jeremy and Angie share with us their insider travel tips on Pittsburgh for those looking for the best places to see, eat, stay, drink, and explore.
Why Visit Pittsburgh
As far as cities go in the Midwest USA, between New York City and Chicago there are no major “must see” tourist stops.
Pittsburgh is a great city halfway through for those passing by that has a great history, dozens of museums, a few of the country’s top sports teams, and is just a fun place to hang out for a day or two.
Whether you like sports, food, or a good view, Pittsburgh has it all.
What to Do in Pittsburgh
Our favorite highlight in Pittsburgh is taking the Duquesne Incline up to the top of Mount Washington to get stunning views of the city from above.
Of course, now that we actually live on Mount Washington we get the view every day.
Other popular attractions in the city include:
1) Andy Warhol Museum – a collection of the Pittsburgh native’s most impressive works, North Shore.
2) Phipps Conservatory – incredibly large indoor botanical gardens, butterfly sanctuary, and themed conservatory. Artwork is cycled out each quarter for new themes, and the spring flower festival is the highlight, Oakland.
3) Steelers/Penguins/Pirates Sports – taking in a sporting event is one of the biggest prides of the city, but good luck getting through the traffic on game days, North Shore and Downtown.
Best Neighbourhoods to Explore in Pittsburgh
There are many unique neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, but here are the top three that are worth exploring depending on what you want to see.
1) Oakland – The college district of Pittsburgh. Home to Carnegie Mellon, University of Pittsburgh, and several other universities. There is always something going on in Oakland, which maintains a downtown-like feel (even though it is a few miles away). Check out the Cathedral of Learning, a lone skyscraper in the area that houses many of Pitt’s classes and contains themed class rooms from different time periods around the world.
2) Mount Washington – Not only is this part of Pittsburgh where we call home, Mount Washington is famous for stunning views overlooking the entire city of Pittsburgh. Take one of the two 100-year-old cable cars to the top of the mountain for some of the best views the city has to offer. The Duquesne Incline is the recommended choice of the two for better views of the city. Take a quick walk up the hill to the right after exiting for an even better vista.
3) North Shore – A must for sports lovers as it is the home of the Steelers’ and Pirates’ stadiums as well as the local casino.
Where to Eat in Pittsburgh
How can we talk about Pittsburgh and not mention Primanti Brothers?
This iconic sandwich shop is famous for putting common sides, french fries and coleslaw, right on top of their sandwiches.
With half a dozen shops around Pittsburgh, you cannot go far without finding one, although their location in the Strip District is not only open 24 hours, but is the best to visit (and is also cash only!)
With living in and visiting the city for nearly four years, we have come to appreciate a number of other restaurants that are highly recommended:
1) Kaya, Caribbean inspired food and a killer hamburger (Kaya Burger), in the Strip District.
2) Point Brugge, Belgian style food and amazing red curry mussels, in Point Breeze.
3) Razzy Fresh, a surprisingly addicting frozen yogurt phenomena, in Squirrel Hill and two locations in Oakland.
4) Pamela’s, delicious hotcakes and other diner breakfast and lunch foods, in Squirrel Hill, Oakland, and the Strip District.
Where to Drink in Pittsburgh
South Side is the best region of town for those looking for a good bar crawl. The neighborhood is full of boutique shops, tons of great restaurants, and many bars to keep the night life going until the sun comes up.
Church Brew Works is in Lawrenceville and is a brewery in a converted church. Great beer, good food, and unusual ambiance for sure.
Many microbreweries and wineries are found throughout the city, and there is even a whiskey distillery (Wigle) in the Strip District that opened up in early 2012.
Best Place for a Night on the Town in Pittsburgh
There are several parts of the city that are worth checking out for a night out. As mentioned above, South Side is always great for a bar crawl and the Strip District is always good for a night out at the bars when a game is on.
The Cultural District in downtown Pittsburgh is another avenue to explore as the half-dozen theaters located right in the heart of downtown are sure to always have a production on every night.
From local performances from the city’s symphony and many colleges to full productions of the world’s best shows, it may be an incredibly difficult choice to pick only one show to see.
Where to Stay in Pittsburgh
Affordable hotel accommodations are relatively lacking in Pittsburgh.
Our personal favorite recommendation for family and friends is the Quality Inn University Center in Oakland.
There is nothing special to report about this particular hotel except that it has an easy-to-find, central location and decent room rates.
Otherwise the best hotels in the city are centralized in downtown, and have price tags to match.
For more places to stay in Pittsburgh choose from the largest range of hotels, apartments, and guesthouses with our partner Booking.com.
Markets & Shopping in Pittsburgh
For all food lovers, head to the Strip District, a converted warehouse district that is comprised of many specialty food stores, farmers markets, ethnic grocery stores, and international restaurants.
At last count there were at least 4-5 Asian grocery stores, a Mexican grocery store, a Middle Eastern grocery store, and several Italian grocery stores, each with a corresponding restaurant or street food stall.
Events & Festivals in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh loves fireworks. There is no other way to say it.
From late spring until late fall, there are great fireworks shows every month corresponding with Pittsburgh Pirates baseball games.
Fourth of July fireworks are launched from the river and best viewed from the less-visited lookout spot on Mount Washington we mentioned above.
Light-up-Night in November is a similar event where the city lights up the downtown Christmas tree. Of course, fireworks are included.
Getting Around Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh is ever-so-slightly past the point of being a walkable city, and public transport is one thing that has been cut quite substantially in recent years.
The rail system known as “the T” only has a select number of stops; bus service covers most of the rest. As traffic problems plague the city quite significantly, buses are known to get delayed quite a bit.
Finding WiFi in Pittsburgh
The city itself has been slow to embrace WiFi, although many local business provide WiFi to guests of their establishment.
Downtown Pittsburgh is full of WiFi hotspots that offer 2 hours of free internet per day for those looking to connect, which will hopefully be expanded in the future.
Favorite side-trip from Pittsburgh
Ohiopyle is our favorite day trip from Pittsburgh, roughly 90 minutes southeast of the city.
Outdoor activities are plentiful in the area with the summer months being great for biking, hiking, and white water rafting. Ski resorts open up in the winter time for novice to intermediate skiers to hit the slopes.
Related Post – 10 best things to do in Gettysburg PA
Best Time of Year to Visit Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh is best seen in spring when the flowers are in bloom and the fall when the trees turn colorful.
But like everything else in the Midwest, temperatures can vary by the day. Do not be surprised if one day in the spring it is quite warm and the next day it is snowing. It comes with the location, sadly.
Getting there and Away
Megabus operates a hub in Pittsburgh through many major cities in the North East and Amtrak has a station just on the edge of downtown, within walking distance of the Strip District.
Pittsburgh’s airport is not a major hub and is located approximately a 20-25 minute drive from the city during non-peak hours (40-60 minutes when traffic is bad).
Best insiders tip for Pittsburg
Our previously mentioned tip for the Duquesne Incline is our favorite insider tip. Every time we walk along the main road outside of the incline we spot dozens of visitors viewing the city from the enclosed lookout point attached to the incline station.
Only a small fraction (< 10%) know to make the 2 minute walk to the much nicer viewing area nearby.
To reiterate, as you exit the incline station, turn right and walk the sidewalk up the small hill. You’ll know when you make it to the viewpoint we speak of, and the beautiful statue that sits there is an even bigger hint!
I Love Pittsburgh because…
…it is not what you’d expect.
The first thought of Pittsburgh is always of the crash after the steel bust several decades ago, often lacking the necessary follow up question of “whatever became of them?”.
Luckily the city has recovered in more ways than one.
With many great universities, hundreds of fantastic restaurants from every corner of the world, some of the country’s best sports teams, and a collection of museums that rival the world’s best cities, Pittsburgh is truly a unique gem in the Midwest USA.
While we are not advocating Pittsburgh as being the largest tourist destination in the Midwest, it is definitely one that should be on your list for a day or two if you are passing through on a great North American adventure.
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