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 11, 2011
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    Which five Pittsburgh restaurants are best for brunch?

    As Pittsburgh’s restaurant scene has slowly but surely grown more mature over the past few years, its exceptional brunch choices have multiplied exponentially. These five restaurants are known for serving the best brunch in town:

    1. The Grand Concourse. With its historic, old-money ambiance, the Grand Concourse at Station Square has been serving a luxurious and locally-famous classic brunch for well over a decade. Located in the old Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad Station, it also offers a kids menu and an omelet bar. (Reservations recommended.)

    2. Casbah. For an especially non-traditional brunch, try Mediterranean-flavored Casbah, where patio seating is available during the warmer months. Try the braised lamb and eggs, or the mushroom and goat cheese omelet.

    3. Kaya. At the Caribbean-influenced Kaya, delectable island fare such as conch fritters and Jamaican jerk wings are often featured on the brunch menu, which changes weekly. On a typical Sunday, however, everything from Cuban sandwiches to huevos rancheros are available for the adventurous gourmand.

    4. The Quiet Storm Cafe. For a relatively relaxed and unusual brunch experience, try the Quiet Storm, a hip vegetarian and vegan cafe where many of your fellow diners are likely to be tattooed and pierced. Brunch options usually include frittatas, a Tex-Mex egg scramble, and a locally-famous breakfast burrito. The Fair Trade coffee is exceptional.

    5. Point Brugge. To enjoy the best of both brunch worlds, seek out Point Brugge, where classic Belgian and American dishes are served in surroundings that are both trendy and welcoming. (Order the waffles.)
  • On November 11, 2011
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best romantic restaurants in Pittsburgh?

    Pittsburgh is a city that is filled with romantic options and opportunities, especially in the dining and nightlife arenas. If it’s a uniquely romantic restaurant experience you’re looking for, simply start with our list of the city’s top five amorous eateries:

    1. Hyeholde. It doesn’t get much more romantic than Moon Township’s Hyeholde, a popular wedding reception spot that resembles a medieval castle and sits on four acres of farmland. The locally-sourced food is French- and American-inspired, and the wine list is second to none.

    2. Isabela on Grandview. The high-end Isabela on Grandview is a white-tablecloth restaurant popular with a middle-aged crowd; its view of the city far below is picture-perfect. The frequently changing menu usually features a prix-fixe option.

    3. Eleven. For something a bit more contemporary, try Eleven, where the sophisticated ambiance receives just as many high marks as the seasonal and artfully prepared entrees. Reserve the chef’s table to impress your date.

    4. Soba. Offering Pan-Asian cuisine in a minimalist, Zen-like setting, the hugely stylish Soba has a bar that’s popular with a singles, while the multileveled and low-lit dining areas are quiet and perfect for conversation.

    5. Dish. An Italian-influenced osteria known for serving some of the city’s most sophisticated food, Dish is a significantly smaller and more intimate restaurant than the others on this list. It’s popular with a young and fashion-forward clientele, and it’s perfect for a first date.
  • On November 11, 2011
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    Where can I go to watch sports in Pittsburgh?

    Pittsburgh has been described more than once as “a drinking town with a football problem,” so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that sports bars are plentiful here. Some of the very best are clustered in the North Shore, where PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Heinz Field, the Steelers’ stadium, are located. We love Mullen’s, McFadden’s and, former Steeler running back, Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36, which all cater to the sports fanatic with dozens of flat-screen TVs and plenty of pub grub. Stop by after a Pirates or Steelers game to experience these bars at their most energetic. Elsewhere in the city, popular sports bars include Piper’s Pub, where international soccer matches are screened, the friendly Silky’s Sports Bar and Grill, and Shadyside’s mammoth Buffalo Blues.

    And of course, Pittsburgh is a great place to see games played live. Steelers football is religion in Pittsburgh, and Heinz Field is the high church - the energy in the 65,000-seat stadium by the Ohio River is infectious. With tickets that are easier to get than those for Steeler’s games, watching the Pirates play at the gorgeous PNC Park is an experience not to be missed. The classic-style stadium, opened in 2001, has views of downtown Pittsburgh and the Allegheny River. If hockey is more your speed, stop in for a game at Consol Energy Center, where you can see the Pittsburgh Penguins play in their new home.
  • On November 11, 2011
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    Where are the best places to hear live music in Pittsburgh?

    Music-lovers are in luck when they visit Pittsburgh. The relatively small city has good options for hearing live music in venues from massive arenas and amphitheaters, to classic American music halls, to dark and dingy rock clubs. In terms of acoustics, it’s tough to beat Club Café, an intimate little room where singer-songwriters perform. Other worthwhile venues include Carnegie Music Hall’s Oakland and Homestead locations, where performers run the gamut between pop, rock, folk, and even chamber music. Little E’s, a jazz and blues club, is also noteworthy, as is Mr. Small’s Theatre, where jam bands, hip-hop acts, and metal groups ply their trade. Lesser-known independent bands of all stripes play at popular galleries and bars including ModernFormations, Garfield Artworks and the 31st Street Pub, while symphonies, operas and musicals are performed at elegant and historic Cultural District venues such as Heinz Hall, the Benedum Center, and the Byham Theater.
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    What are the best Pittsburgh museums?

    Pittsburgh has a decent number of small and lesser-known museums that are certainly worth searching out, but the city’s very best museums tend to be among the finest of their sort in the country. The Heinz History Center, for instance, is a must-see for anyone wanting to learn about the history and culture of Western Pennsylvania. The varied subjects of the museum’s many permanent and changing exhibitions range from the Pittsburgh area’s earliest settlers, to its largely Eastern European immigrant population, to its long-gone steel industry. The storied Andy Warhol Museum on the North Side is the largest museum in the country dedicated to a single artist, and aside from featuring hundreds of famous and obscure Warhol works and personal artifacts, the changing exhibitions often feature work by Warhol contemporaries. The museum also has an onsite theater that regularly screens Warhol films. (Fans of contemporary art, and especially installation art, should also visit the nearby Mattress Factory.) A visit to any of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh is always a sure-bet. The separate Museums of Art and Natural History, for instance, sit side-by-side in Oakland. Visitors there can have the unique experience of seeing Egyptian mummies, Jackson Pollock paintings and an internationally-regarded dinosaur exhibit, all in the same day.
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    What is the best way to see Pittsburgh in one day?

    If you have just one day to experience Pittsburgh, choose a downtown hotel (we recommend the lavish and upscale Fairmont Pittsburgh or the old-money opulence of the Omni William Penn), and enjoy an early-morning stroll along the Strip District’s Penn Avenue, where fruit vendors, food carts and street musicians can be found, especially during weekends. Fuel up with a hearty breakfast at Pamela’s Diner before expending some mental energy at the Heinz History Center, a fantastic Smithson-affiliated museum that artfully tells the story of Western Pennsylvania, and of the many people who’ve made it what it is today.

    Next, walk across the Seventh Street Bridge to the North Shore, where a westward stroll along the Riverfront Trail will take you past many of the North Side’s top attractions, including PNC Park and Heinz Field, home of Pittsburgh Pirates and Pittsburgh Steelers, respectively. Other attractions located on or near the Riverfront Trail include the Andy Warhol Museum (where his films and his famous Campbell’s Soup Cans can be seen); the fantastic and kid-friendly science museum known as the Carnegie Science Center, where nearly all the exhibits are hands-on; and the new Rivers Casino, where the siren song of one-armed bandits can be heard around the clock. You’ll also notice something of an outdoor sculpture garden as you wind your way up the Ohio River; look for the mammoth bronze statue of Mister Rodgers, and climb atop it for a unique view of downtown.

    Finally, cross the Fort Duquesne Bridge to downtown’s Point State Park, where the city’s iconic fountain awaits. And if you’re up for one last adventure, cross the Smithfield Street Bridge on foot and explore the shops, restaurants and nightclubs of Station Square. Afterwards, ride the Monongahela Incline to Mount Washington, where lookout platforms along Grandview Avenue offer jaw-dropping views of the city below.
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    What should I pack for a trip to Pittsburgh?

    Proper packing for your trip to Pittsburgh depends entirely on the time of year you’ll be visiting. We think the best times to visit are the spring and fall, when the weather is evenly tempered. But fair-weather days have a habit of turning into chilly nights, so bring along an all-purpose sweater or hooded sweatshirt, as well as clothing that can easily be layered. And since Pittsburgh is a much rainier city than most travelers realize, don’t forget a sturdy umbrella.

    As for the remainder of the year, here’s everything you need to know: Pittsburgh winters are brutally cold - think gloves, scarves, thermal underwear and knit hats, while summers are just the opposite, and require light clothes, and even sunscreen and flip-flops.

    For dining out and social engagements, casual is the rule in Pittsburgh; you’ll see locals wearing jeans and even sports jerseys just about everywhere — football fans don’t get any prouder than the Steelers boosters - so leave the eveningwear at home unless you’re planning to attended a black-tie event.
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    What is Pittsburgh’s cultural scene like?

    For a city with a modest-sized population, Pittsburgh’s cultural scene will certainly take you by surprise. The city’s East End is considered ground zero for all things artistic, and it’s there that you’ll find the Penn Avenue Arts District, complete with art galleries and studios, hip cafés, live music venues, and outdoor murals. Lawrenceville, meanwhile, is the Pittsburgh neighborhood that most recently experienced a cultural transformation. The 16:62 Design Zone, which runs along Penn Avenue and Butler Street from 16th Street to the 62nd Street Bridge, is packed with creative offerings, from quirky boutiques and tattoo parlors to antique shops and art galleries. Pittsburgh also has an active literary community, above-average theatre and dance scenes, scores of top-notch museums, and a downtown Cultural District where Broadway-quality entertainment can be found every day of the week.
  • On November 11, 2011
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    What is the best way to see Pittsburgh in two days?

    If you have two days to spend in Pittsburgh, start with the suggestions mentioned in the one-day itinerary, above. It takes you through the internationally-flavored Strip District, over the Allegheny River to the grown-up playground of the North Shore, and then over the Monongahela River to the shops and eateries of Station Square, and even to the peak of Mount Washington, where a gorgeous view of nighttime Pittsburgh caps your day. On day two, spend the daylight hours exploring the various neighborhoods of the East End. Start in the university district of Oakland, where you’ll find scads of affordable dining opportunities as well as the 456-acre Schenely Park, which is packed with wooded walking trails. If you’re in the mood for a bit of window shopping, make your way on foot along Shadyside’s high-end and boutique-heavy Walnut Street. For a more low-key experience, hit the trendy and up-and-coming Lawrenceville neighborhood; the city’s creative class comes to mingle and relax there in the cafés, pubs and art galleries on Butler Street. If the singles scene doesn’t appeal, however, head back into downtown Pittsburgh as night falls, and take in a show at one of the historic American theaters in the Cultural District. Live jazz and a cocktail at Little E’s is also a great way to end an evening downtown. And for late night dining, nothing beats the sushi at the Original Fish Market, which sits on the ground floor of downtown’s Westin Hotel.
  • On November 11, 2011
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    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.