Pittsburgh is known as the City of Bridges—with nearly 450 of them, it’s the most of any city in the world—but you could also call it the City of Neighborhoods. Downtown Pittsburgh is certainly a draw, with entertainment venues such as the Heinz Hall performing arts center and the Benedum Theater, tasty nightlife at Tako, Gaucho Parrilla Argentina and The Warren, and an urban getaway at Point State Park, where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers converge to form the Ohio. Yet the city’s other 89 neighborhoods have something to offer visitors, too. That’s a lot of ground to cover; so for this visit, we’re sticking to the easy-to-get-to East End.
Pittsburgh has shed its reputation as a grim, postindustrial city in the past decade and emerged as a destination for culinary delight, the arts, and natural beauty in the former Rust Belt. Here’s what you need to know about a Pittsburgh getaway.
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Getting to and around Pittsburgh
Fly to Pittsburgh International Airport, which is in the midst of a $1 billion-plus modernization project. From there, it’s a 30 to 40-minute drive to downtown Pittsburgh. The Port Authority of Allegheny County also offers rapid bus service to downtown and Oakland (home to the University of Pittsburgh) for $2.75 via its 28X Airport Flyer. On your way in don’t miss the panoramic view of the city and its three rivers when emerging from the Fort Pitt Tunnel; but also know there’s a rapid merging of four lanes of traffic in a span of a few hundred feet that’s a bit tricky. Also, there are some some hairpin turns drivers should plan to encounter. Downtown is relatively compact, and adjacent neighborhoods like the Strip District are easy to get to using a bike share or scooter rental. Having or hailing a car is handy if you’re planning on visiting other neighborhoods.
What to do in Pittsburgh
You know those cheesy tourist things that everyone says you have to do when you visit a city? Pittsburgh has one of those, and it’s fantastic. Jump on the Duquesne Incline—the rehabilitated 1877 cable car is one of the last remnants of a public transportation infrastructure that moved Pittsburgh residents up and down its steep hills. Take it to Mt. Washington and take in the stunning cityscape views on Grandview Ave.
Pittsburgh is also rich with museums, which include the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh: Carnegie Museum of Natural History, which among its extraordinary exhibits, includes one of the best dinosaur fossil collections in the United States; the adjacent Carnegie Museum of Art has a collection from antique to contemporary; Pittsburgh’s great pop art icon Andy Warhol is celebrated in The Andy Warhol Museum, which also features rotating exhibits; and there is wonder for all at the Carnegie Science Center. The immersive, experiential Mattress Factory, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Phipps Conservatory, The National Aviary and The Frick Pittsburgh are among the city’s other outstanding cultural institutions.
If you have a little extra time, a visit to famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s duo of Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob should be high on your list of scenic day trips; be sure to reserve tour times in advance. While you’re out there, enjoy a relaxing or strenuous hike, depending on your ability, in Ohiopyle State Park, one of the gems in the stunning Laurel Highlands.
Where to eat and drink in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh is a town that is still (unjustly) saddled with a meat and potatoes reputation. So visitors might find it surprising that the restaurant most rooted in modern Pittsburgh cuisine, Apteka, is a vegan spot. The menu is influenced by its owners’ eastern European and multi-generational Pittsburgh roots; Apteka’s cocktail and natural wine programs are also exemplary. In Oakland, Butterjoint’s top-notch pierogies and always-changing seasonal specials also capture the region’s spirit, and its bar is one of the city’s most charming spots.
Ambitious eaters can set out on a long walking tour up Penn Ave., starting in the Strip District with the always-delightful, Italian-influenced Bar Marco (inside you can also purchase natural and biodynamic wines to go at Nine O’Clock Wines). Salem’s Market and Grill, a Halal restaurant that is one of Pittsburgh’s most diverse spaces, offers a deep selection of Middle Eastern dishes. The Strip also hosts two of Pittsburgh’s top distilleries: Maggie’s Farm Rum Distillery serves award-winning rum at a dreamy little bar and Wigle Whiskey offers options from Pennsylvania rye to bottled, batched cocktails. Wigle’s owners also operate the charming Threadbare Cider in Spring Hill, where you’ll also find Spring Hill Brewing; go there for an off-the-beaten-path yet just-minutes-from Downtown adventure.
Moving northeast on from the Strip District to Lower Lawrenceville you’ll find Morcilla, charcuterie master Justin Severino’s Spanish kitchen; Driftwood Oven, a destination for naturally leavened pizza and pastries; and Poulet Bleu, restaurant impresario Richard DeShantz’s lovely French bistro.
In Upper Lawrenceville is Pusadee’s Garden. After undergoing years of renovations, the beloved Thai restaurant’s return is the city’s most exciting recent opening. Finish things off with a drink at Spirit, the indoor-outdoor funhouse where you might catch a local or national touring act while enjoying some pizza or The Allegheny Wine Mixer, the most chill wine bar around.
Finally head to Squirrel Hill where, over the last few years, regional Chinese cookery has taken off. You’ll find four-time James Beard award semifinalist Wei Zhu’s Sichuan restaurant Chengdu Gourmet, Shaanxi cuisine from Northern China such as dumplings, hand-pulled noodles and pork-stuffed pancakes at Sakura, and Taiwanese cooking at Everyday Noodles and Cafe 33.
Where to stay in Pittsburgh
Most of Pittsburgh’s hotels are located downtown. The Kimpton Hotel Monaco, housed in a 1903 Beaux Arts-style building, is a hipper spot for modern travelers. The comfortable rooms pop with color, and the hotel’s 9th-floor outdoor space, Biergarten, is a relaxing location for a beer and a snack. The hotel is pet-friendly and has amenities such as a 24-hour fitness center.
For more luxe accommodations, The Fairmont Pittsburgh is the place to be. Located on the edge of Market Square, the hotel features sizable 420 square foot guest rooms with plush beds and views to Mt. Washington or PNC Park. The hotel’s restaurant features a similarly high design, including its elegant brass-canopy-capped bar; it’s a top contender for the city’s most beautiful bar space.
The Oaklander in (of course) Oakland offers easy access to the neighborhood’s universities and museums, as well as a jumping-off point to Pittsburgh’s East End. The two-year-old hotel, part of the Marriott Autograph Collection, is in a historic district and features an expansive 10th-floor lobby, which also houses the swish Spirits & Tales where you can get one of the best breakfasts in Pittsburgh.
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