What are the five best things to see and do in the Pittsburgh area?

Even though three decades have now passed since the decline of Pittsburgh’s steel and iron producing days, first-time visitors are consistently amazed by the city’s natural beauty and its wealth of artistic energy. Given the veritable bounty here of green spaces, arts events, and consequential American history, finding things to see and do is often as simple as stepping out your hotel’s front door. To get you on your way, here are Pittsburgh’s top five options:

1. Ride the inclines. In the late 1800s, when the riverside mills and factories of Pittsburgh were operated largely by immigrants who lived on the steep hills above, nearly 20 inclined planes — also known as funiculars — could be seen inching up and down the city’s sloping peaks. And yet today, only two such inclines — the Duquesne and the Monongahela — continue to operate. Both are still used by locals as public transportation, and no trip to Pittsburgh is complete without an exhilarating joyride up one, and down the other. An unbeatable view of Point State Park will greet you during the two-minute, six-mile-per-hour journey, which is even more spectacular at night.

2. Eat at Primanti Bros. With the exception of watching a Pittsburgh Steelers football game while downing  Iron City Beer, there is perhaps no Pittsburgh experience more authentic than enjoying a meal at Primanti Bros., a beloved sandwich shop with more than a dozen locations throughout the city and suburbs. (The original location is in the Strip District.) Indeed, a traditional Primanti Bros. meal is a thing to behold: The legendary sandwiches are served with French fries and coleslaw on the inside, making for an enormously solid creation that tastes much better than it looks. To experience the ultimate Pittsburgh trifecta, stop by during a Steelers game, and wash down your cheesesteak with an ice-cold I.C. Light.

3. Stroll through the Strip District. Pittsburgh’s international warehouse district is a genuine industrial area that plays two distinct but equally popular roles in the life of the city: Stop by on an early-morning weekend day, for instance, to enjoy the street musicians, ethnic vendors and grocers, and wonderfully tacky tourist shops lining Penn Avenue and Smallman Street. Once night falls, however, the Strip transforms into a rowdy village of bars and nightclubs.

4. Tour the Nationality Rooms. Located inside the nearly 75-year-old Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus, the 26 individual Nationality Classrooms were designed to authentically resemble historic classrooms from around the world. During a self-guided tour, visitors can experience a Minka-style Japanese classroom, a Byzantine-era Romanian classroom, and many others. Don’t forget to check in at the Cathedral’s ground-floor information center first, as the Nationality Rooms are regularly used as actual classrooms by Pitt students, and can therefore only be visited during certain hours.

5. Explore the Heinz History Center. A visit to this Smithsonian-affiliated mega-museum — located inside the seven-story former warehouse of the Chautauqua Lake Ice Company — is absolutely essential for those who wish to truly understand the story of Pittsburgh and the Southwestern Pennsylvania region. A surprisingly wide range of anthropological artifacts are on display here, from the tools used by early immigrant communities to actual uniforms worn by steel mill workers. Other attractions include the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, and a fascinating collection of historical memorabilia from Pittsburgh’s H.J. Heinz company.

  • On November 12, 2011
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What is Pittsburgh’s restaurant scene like?

    Ten years ago, it wouldn’t have been incorrect to describe Pittsburgh’s restaurant scene as virtually nonexistent. But lately, choices for demanding gourmands have increased exponentially, and today there’s even a small but important group of celebrity chefs who call Pittsburgh home. Chef Kevin Sousa, for instance, is a proponent of the molecular gastronomy movement, and his contemporary restaurant, Salt of the Earth, has taken the local food community by storm. The Big Burrito Restaurant Group is another major player that has influenced the dining scene here; it operates many of the city’s best restaurants, including Casbah, Soba, and Eleven. The recently gentrified East Liberty neighborhood is also on the forefront of the city’s culinary resurgence; there you’ll find everything from Parisian bistros (Paris 66), gourmet cupcake shops (Vanilla Pastry), Ethiopian restaurants (Abay, Tana), and a number of contemporary American eateries such as Spoon and Dinette. Lawrenceville’s Butler Street and parts of Shadyside have lately come into their own as well, with numerous international and Pan-Asian restaurants. In Lawrenceville, try Tamari, a Latin-Asian fusion bistro. And in Shadyside, check out Avenue B, a contemporary American spot, or Cafe Zinho, an out-of-the-way bistro operated by some of the city’s top talent.
  • On November 12, 2011
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    What are the five best kid-friendly restaurants in Pittsburgh?

    Pittsburgh is an especially family-friendly city, and one of its very best kid-friendly restaurants — Eat’n Park — is one of its most enduringly popular adult-friendly restaurants, too. With dozens of locations in the tri-state area, Eat’n Park is nothing less than legendary among Pittsburghers of all ages. Of course, Pittsburgh is also rich in kid-friendly eateries with a bit more individuality and panache; here are the five best:

    1. Armstrong’s. A true Pittsburgh institution, Armstrong’s is essentially an Italian-themed diner where mountains of deliciously toothsome food — including regular ol’ American staples — are served at reasonable prices. And because the service is so personable, families with noisy children never feel awkward or out of place. There’s also a full bar for grown-ups, and kids go wild for the sugary, gooey goodness of the desserts.

    2. Juliano’s Restaurant and Pizzeria. What kid doesn’t love pizza? At the family-owned Juliano’s, where pizzas are served buffet-style, children are always welcomed with open arms. The kid’s menu here features simple Italian staples like spaghetti and rigatoni, and Juliano’s will even cater events, such as children’s birthday parties.

    3. Pamela’s Diner. Breakfast is always a fun experience at any of the city’s six Pamela’s Diner locations, which always seem to be filled with happy families - especially on weekends. What’s more, picky eaters are well looked after here by the always-cheery waitstaff.

    4. Hofbräuhaus Pittsburgh. A visit to a genuine Bavarian Bier Hall may not sound like a dining destination for children. But soups, salads and sandwiches are available for non-adventurous eaters, and grown-ups will be taken aback by the quality of the entrees here. A gluten-free menu is also available.

    5. The Quiet Storm. This vegetarian and vegan café in Garfield goes well out of its way to make kids feel comfortable. Toys, games and children’s books are always scattered about, and servers are always willing to accommodate kids (and adults) with special dietary restrictions.
  • On November 12, 2011
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    What are the best places to stay in the Pittsburgh area?

    On the whole, the best places to stay in Pittsburgh are clustered within the city’s downtown area, which is also where most business travelers tend to stay. Our favorite lodging option, the luxuriously sleek Fairmont Pittsburgh, also happens to be the city’s newest hotel. Yet if you’re looking for more of an old-money atmosphere, try the Omni William Penn, a stately and well-heeled hotel with chandeliers and a baby grand piano in the lobby. Downtown’s Renaissance Pittsburgh, with its old-world European ambiance, is also a decent option, as is the Westin Convention Center, a popular choice with both conventioneers and out-of-town celebrities. And while the university district of Oakland is unfortunately lacking in high-quality lodging, nearby Shadyside makes up for it with the historic Sunnyledge Boutique Hotel, a Victorian bed and breakfast. The nearby Inn at 714 Negley, a restored period home build in the late 1800s, is equally sophisticated and quaint. Visitors who prefer to stay in the heart of Oakland, however, will be perfectly comfortable and well looked after at the 198-room Wyndham Garden Hotel, where pets are welcome and a restaurant and fitness center are located onsite. Smart bed and breakfast options located throughout the city include the North Side’s Caribbean-themed Parador, an enormous inn with a 2,000-square-foot restored ballroom; the gay-friendly and luxurious Inn on the Mexican War Streets, also located on the North Side; and the South Side’s Morning Glory Inn, a cozy 19th-century Victorian with a backyard garden where wedding receptions are often held. Travelers needing to be based on the East End, meanwhile, should consider the Marriott Springhill Suites Bakery Square in East Liberty, which offers free use of an adjacent fitness center, and sits just a few steps away from Google’s corporate offices.
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  • On November 12, 2011
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    What is the best Pittsburgh nightlife?

    Many of Pittsburgh’s best nightlife options are located on the city’s always-fun South Side, where you’ll find everything from low-key shot-and-a-beer bars on East Carson Street to themed nightclubs at Station Square, a dining and entertainment complex. On East Carson Street, visit Fathead’s to sample dozens of different craft beers while watching pro sports on TV. To mix with a slightly edgier crowd, pop into Dee’s Cafe, a legendary dive bar, or visit Over the Bar Bicycle Cafe, where bike messengers and local activists congregate. The warehouse-filled Strip District, which acts as a tourist destination during the daylight hours, transforms into a popular nightclub locale after dark. At megaclubs with names like Altar Lounge and Bash, college kids pound shots and grind with strangers on neon-lit dance floors. To mix with a more mature and culturally-savvy crowd, explore the scattered nightlife options in the upscale and gay-friendly Shadyside neighborhood. Try Doc’s Place for a sporty crowd, and for a great gay scene, go with 5801 Video Lounge and Cafe, or Spin Bartini and Ultra Lounge. The artistic hipster outposts of East Liberty and Lawrenceville’s Butler Street are also good choices, but do your homework before venturing out, as the best spots aren’t always easy to find. In the East Liberty area, we’re partial to Kelly’s, Shadow Lounge, and AVA, while Lawrenceville’s best bets are Round Corner Cantina, New Amsterdam, and Remedy. On weekends, the university district of Oakland, where cheap and noisy bars are plentiful, is always welcoming to fun-seekers. The non-college crowd will likely feel most comfortable at cafés such as Hemingway’s and Fuel & Fuddle.
  • On November 12, 2011
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    What’s the best time to visit the Pittsburgh area?

    Pittsburgh is a city that very distinctly experiences all four seasons, which can sometimes make it difficult to choose the best time of year to visit. It’s worth keeping in mind that while Pittsburgh winters can often be painfully cold, summers tend to be just as bad, with scorching midday heat and sweat-inducing humidity.

    For a comfortable trip, you should consider visiting during the evenly pleasant days of spring or throughout the crisp and lovely fall season, when the hues of the city’s greenery begins to transform. Each season comes with sports, too. In the spring you can catch a Pittsburgh Pirates game, while in the fall you can join the devoted Steelers fans at Heinz Field.

    Then again, if it’s excitement and activity you’re looking for, consider braving the heat and visiting in June, July or August, when Pittsburgh comes alive with outdoor festivals, fairs, and concerts. Just remember to pack the sunscreen.
  • On November 12, 2011
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    Where is the best Pittsburgh shopping?

    It goes without saying that choosing the ideal Pittsburgh locale for an afternoon of retail therapy depends largely on what it is you’re looking for. The various neighborhoods of the city’s East End, however - especially Shadyside and Squirrel Hill - are generally good places to start. In upscale Shadyside, you’ll find everything from designer boutiques (selling lines such as Betsey Johnson, Anna Sui, and LAMB) to vintage apparel shop, to chain clothiers like Banana Republic and J.Crew. The nearby Jewish district of Squirrel Hill, with its multitude of coffee shops and highly regarded ethnic eateries — everything from Italian to Mediterranean, and from pizza parlors to kosher cafés — is a perfect spot for a quick snack or a sit-down meal. Pittsburgh’s up-and-coming Lawrenceville neighborhood, just north of the Strip District, is home to art galleries and hip retail outlets such as Wild Card, a quirky, Etsy-influenced gift shop where handmade arts and crafts are sold. And for an urban-shopping mall experience, visit The Waterfront in Homestead, or the much smaller SouthSide Works, which conveniently sits at the tail-end of the boisterous and boutique-rich East Carson Street. Both open-air malls are home to movie theaters, chain restaurants, and a wide array of mainstream shopping options, while The Waterfront has a great selection of big-box stores.
  • On November 12, 2011
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    What are the five best free things to do in the Pittsburgh area?

    Although it was known as the Steel City for decades, Pittsburgh has been steadily gaining recognition as a thriving cultural capital for years now. It’s no wonder, then, that it’s also a place with so many culture-rich activities. Thankfully, many are also free. There are your five best bets for free fun in the city:

    1. Check out a summer festival. Summertime visitors to Pittsburgh have a wealth of free activities to choose from, and at the top of the list are the Three Rivers Regatta and Three Rivers Arts Festival. The Arts Festival stretches on for ten days, and features top-notch live music and the work of hundreds of visual and performing artists. The Regatta, meanwhile, is a riverside festival featuring all manner of boat races and water sports.

    2. Explore the city on a walking tour. The Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation offers a wide range of walking tours that explore the little-known architectural history of the city, especially the downtown area. For self-guided tour ideas, visit the websites of both the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and the Pittsburgh Department of City Planning, where you’ll find a handful of creatively themed itineraries.

    3. Join a gallery crawl. The family-friendly Gallery Crawl organized by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust takes place, appropriately enough, in the heart of the downtown Cultural District. Dozens of venues both large and small open their doors to a gallery-hopping public every three months, and some venues offer live performances, live music and libations. Schedules can be consulted online at pgharts.org. Unblurred, meanwhile, attracts an edgier and younger crowd on the first Friday of every month in the Penn Avenue Arts District. What’s more, Unblurred events tend to resist easy categorization; visitors can expect to encounter experimental art, music and performance of all sorts.

    4. Explore the legacy of a Pittsburgh entrepreneur. Situated in the East End neighborhood of Point Breeze, the Frick Art and Historical Center is a collection of museums and buildings on the land once owned by Henry Clay Frick, a pivotal 19th-century industrialist. Wandering the grounds here is a free experience, as is admission to the Frick Art Museum, where a selection of Frick’s famous collection of paintings is on display. The Car and Carriage Museum, also free, is home to a vintage automobile collection. A visit to Frick’s former mansion, known as Clayton, is in fact the only experience you’ll pay for here.

    5. Watch a movie in the great outdoors. Watching a film and enjoying a picnic as evening turns to night is a summertime tradition in Pittsburgh. Cinema in the Park is the program that screens the mostly family-friendly fare at six different city parks from June through the end of August. Movies are shown nearly every day of the week at one of program’s six locations — Oakland’s Schenley Park is a perennial favorite. And while alcohol is forbidden, picnics are encouraged, and the atmosphere is one of conviviality and joy.
  • On November 12, 2011
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best things to do on a romantic trip to Pittsburgh?

    With all its history, not to mention the gorgeous and often-unexpected nature, Pittsburgh can be a much more romantic place than you might assume. Here are the five best things to do during an especially romantic trip to the city.

    1. Dine atop Mount Washington. For multiple generations now, the classic lovebird itinerary in Pittsburgh has always included a formal dinner at a white tablecloth restaurant atop Mount Washington�s Grandview Avenue, otherwise known as Restaurant Row. The awe-inspiring views of downtown Pittsburgh are the main draw here, so be sure to request a window-side table. There are nearly a dozen dining options here, although we suggest Isabela (French), Tin Angel (American), or Monterey Bay Fish Grotto. For something a bit more casual, try the Grandview Saloon, a bistro and bar with an outdoor deck.

    2. Stroll along Grandview Avenue after dark. Conveniently enough, the Duquesne and Monongahela Inclines are located far enough apart on Mount Washington�s Grandview Avenue to make a walk between the two a perfect pre- or post-dinner activity. It�s common to combine a ride up or down the inclines with a Grandview Avenue stroll, but don�t forget to take in the view on one of the street�s circular outlooks as well. Throughout the summer, community rocking chairs can often be found outside the Monongahela Incline station.

    3. Spend the night in a historic bed and breakfast. Pittsburgh is particularly rich in historic and beautifully-decorated bed and breakfasts, many of which have just as much character and ambiance as the city�s finest hotels. Two of our favorites include the gay-friendly Inn on the Mexican War Streets, on the North Side, and the Morning Glory Inn, on the South Side. The Caribbean-themed Parador, located within walking distance of most North Shore attractions, is also a smart bet.

    4. Take a date to a show in the Cultural District. Located in the heart of downtown, the city�s date-friendly Cultural District is where you�ll experience shows by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Pittsburgh Ballet. Broadway-quality performances are staged regularly at classic American venues such as the Byham Theater and the Benedum Center, while smaller houses like the O�Reilly offer a more intimate theater experience.

    5. Take a day-trip to Fallingwater. For a truly unforgettable date, travel 90 minutes outside the city to Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright�s legendary architectural masterpiece. Generally agreed upon by architects worldwide as one of the most brilliant homes every built in the country, Fallingwater�s gorgeous rural location is the perfect setting for truly intimate moments. Angelina Jolie, in fact, famously took Brad Pitt on a tour of the grounds as a birthday present. Also worth a visit is Frank Lloyd Wright�s unique Kentuck Knob house, located just seven miles away.
  • On November 12, 2011
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    What are the five best things to do with kids in the Pittsburgh area?

    When you consider the fact that Pittsburgh has twice been named “America’s Most Livable City” by Rand McNally’s Places Rated Almanac, it’s no wonder the area is so rich in family-friendly activities. The city’s tourism board, in fact, once rebranded the town as “Kidsburgh” for an advertising campaign, and the moniker seems to have stuck. Here are the five best activities to experience with your littlest traveler:

    1. Kennywood. It’s simply not possible to discuss Pittsburgh’s top kid-friendly attractions without mentioning the beloved Kennywood, a classic amusement park packed with attractions for thrill-seekers of all ages. Founded in 1898 and now a National Historic Landmark, Kennywood offers the perfect combination of modern-day mega-coasters and classic, old-style rides, like paddleboats and bumper cars. Don’t miss the vintage merry-go-round, and consider indulging the kids when it comes time to gorge on theme park junk food; fries at the Potato Patch, for instance, are nothing less than a local institution.

    2. Carnegie Science Center. Budding young scientists won’t be able to get enough of the hands-on exhibits at the Carnegie Science Center, where kids can actually have fun while learning about the intricate mysteries of the world around them. Inside the Kitchen Theater, for instance, children and grown-ups alike look at science through the art of cooking. Other popular draws here include the four-story Rangos Omnimax Theater, and the seriously sophisticated Buhl Digital Planetarium.

    3. Highmark SportsWorks. Affiliated with the Carnegie Science Center and located right next door, scientific knowledge of the human body comes about through physical activity and play at Highmark SportsWorks. Here, kids can race with a virtual Olympic sprinter, climb a rock wall, and interact with more than two-dozen other pulse-pounding exhibits.

    4. Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. Following a recent expansion, the Children’s Museum has become of an educationally-driven youth village, where kids of all ages — including toddlers and infants — can become immersed in some of the nation’s most forward-thinking exhibits, including a replica of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Experimental play in real-world scenarios is the motto here, and kids can’t seem to get enough of the art studio, the garage or the many other interactive exhibits.

    5. Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium. Any child fascinated by animals should spend a day visiting the thousands of creatures at the 77-acre Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, where the majority of critters exist in their natural habitats. Explore the African Savanna and the Asian Forest, and don’t miss Kids Kingdom, a playground with equipment build to replicate the motions of various animals. Aquatic species of every kind, meanwhile, including penguins and sharks, are on display at the state-of-the-art PPG Aquarium.
  • On November 11, 2011
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best Pittsburgh food experiences?

    Pittsburgh most certainly has its fair share of traditional gustatory experiences, but hardcore foodies should consider themselves forewarned: Due to the fact that most of the city’s traditional foods were created specifically to satisfy the hunger of hard-toiling, blue-collar immigrants who held physically demanding jobs, this is largely the food of the working man. In other words, if it’s fancy or expensive, it probably isn’t the real deal.

    1. Perogi and kielbasa. You may know them as fried dumplings and sausage, respectively. But in Pittsburgh, this Polish dish is known as the ultimate local cuisine. And while these greasy foods are high in both fat and calories, when they’re cooked properly — with lots of butter — they’re sublime. Visit the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern or S&D Polish Deli (in the Strip District) for a taste of the genuine article.

    2. Primanti Brothers sandwich. If there is any foodstuff that can genuinely be referred to as a native Pittsburgh dish, it’s a sandwich from Primanti Bros., where you can choose from nearly any deli meat imaginable: pastrami, corned beef, turkey, even knockwurst. But the real surprise is the pile of French fries and coleslaw that are served inside your sandwich, between two massive slices of Italian bread. Chili and soup are also available.

    3. Iron City Beer. Although it’s now brewed in Latrobe, Iron City was Pittsburgh’s hometown beer for nearly 150 years. This certainly isn’t the finest ale you’ll ever sample, but Iron City Beer is afforded a huge amount of respect by locals, many of whom have been loyally drinking it for decades. You’ll find it on tap almost everywhere, and you shouldn't leave town without trying a bottle or two.

    4. Eat’n Park. To most outsiders, Eat’n Park is simply a spruced-up chain of diners serving standard American fare. But going to Eat’n Park with friends and family is much more than a Pittsburgh institution — to some, it’s practically religion. Breakfast is served around the clock, the prices are reasonable, and the food — whether it’s a chef’s salad, a Superburger, or one of the famous Smiley Cookies — has a unique was of always hitting the spot.

    5. The Original Hot Dog Shop. Located in the heart of Oakland and near the University of Pittsburgh, “The O,” as it’s known by locals, cranks out cheap pizza and hot dogs at all hours of the day and night. And yet most people — college kids especially — come for the enormous baskets of French fries, which are nearly impossible to finish. Keep your eyes open if you’re visiting after dark, when the atmosphere at The O tends to get a bit dicey.
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