In years past, Pittsburgh was known as the Steel City, thanks to its 300-plus steel-related businesses, and as the City of Bridges (there are 446 in all!). For decades, the city was associated with industry and building. But in recent years, all that has changed. Today, the city is just as famous for its food and art scenes as it is for its aluminum manufacturing and corporate headquarters. Pittsburgh is laid-back, friendly, down-to-earth, and eager to welcome visitors. It’s the perfect place to spend a weekend, with enough to see and do to easily pack two to three days -- plus provide plenty of inspiration for a repeat visit.
Here are 12 reasons to make Pittsburgh your next weekend getaway.
1. It’s Spook-tacularly Fun
I know that hauntings, ghosts, and poltergeists are not your average tourist attraction. But in Pittsburgh -- a very haunted city, according to locals -- things that go bump in the night are part of what makes the city so special. Every Friday and Saturday from May through November, the history lovers at Haunted Pittsburgh host one of the most unique walking tours in the city. If you love ghost stories, this tour should be at the top of your list -- it’s a fun, memorable way to discover the city. Tickets cost a reasonable $10 for children and $18 for adults. If you ask me, it’s the perfect Friday-night activity to launch your weekend. Be sure to ask the tour guides to recommend some pubs to check out in the area.
2. The Hard Cider Is Easy To Find
With all due respect to the beer lovers out there, the microbrewery scene is just not my thing. But swap out the hops for apples, and suddenly all that changes. I love hard cider, and Pittsburgh does too -- so much so that the city is the third-largest consumer of hard cider in all of the United States. Threadbare Cider House & Meadery is a local favorite, and it offers tours and special events. Its Bouquet de Rosé cider has a delicate pink hue thanks to the addition of rose hips and hibiscus, while the Northern Spy is made from Northern Spy heritage apples. Delicious peach and pear ciders are also on offer.
3. There Are Hundreds Of Places To Run
You can blame Philadelphia for stealing all the running thunder in this part of the world. There’s just no competing with that iconic scene in which Rocky triumphantly runs up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But running, hiking, and trekking are big in Pittsburgh, too. The city is home to a whopping 90 neighborhoods, each with its own style, heritage, and traditions, and there are hundreds -- maybe even thousands -- of running routes. These are six of the most popular routes, with options for making them longer or shorter. If you’re short on time, I recommend the downtown Strip District routes, which are flat, manageable for beginners, and great for sightseeing.
4. The Big Mac Is A Big Deal
Fast food on a travel list? When Pittsburgh is involved, the answer is a resounding yes! That’s because local Jim Delligatti made the first Big Mac in Pittsburgh in 1967. The burger won’t exactly taste any different in Pittsburgh, but there’s something decidedly cool about eating a Big Mac in the city that started the food mega-craze. And if you get a chance, choose Heinz ketchup over Hunt’s. Heinz is another hometown brand that everyone loves.
5. It’s A Paradise For Bookworms
Pittsburgh is home to six independent bookstores, plus chain bookstores, magazine vendors, used book depots, comic book stores, and more. In a digital era in which many bookstores are struggling, Pittsburgh is reversing the trend. And it’s easy to see why: These aren’t ordinary bookstores. For example, Penguin Bookshop, which has been going strong since 1929, hosts Stephen King book signings, an event so popular that fans camp out just to buy tickets. At Riverstone Books, signing events are occasionally combined with whiskey tastings. And those loyal to the mystery genre will love the Coffee and Crime author readings at the Mystery Lovers Bookshop. All stores are happy to recommend works by local authors, which make perfect gifts or souvenirs.
6. You Can Snack On America’s Best Cake
Chocolate or vanilla? Red velvet or black forest? How about none of the above? In Pittsburgh, there’s just one flavor to choose when ordering cake -- burnt almond torte. Originally created at Prantl’s Bakery in Market Square, the dessert was named the best cake in America by The Huffington Post in 2014. Since 1970, it’s been made with fresh homemade custard, smooth buttercream frosting, toasted almonds, and a few extra-secret ingredients. You can find copycat versions at most Pittsburgh bakeries -- even the grocery stores do a decent job making it. But for the real deal, you have to head to Prantl’s, which sells all kinds of yummy local favorites.
7. It’s Home To A Great Cooking School
Whether you want to prepare some local favorites, like bagels, pretzels, or pierogies; hope to try your hand at Greek cuisine with your kids; or are looking to take on a major challenge, like perfecting the French choux pastry, the place to go is always the same: Crate Cooking School. It offers 200 different classes and workshops throughout the year, ranging from beginner-friendly 90-minute lunch-and-learn sessions starting at $30 to more advanced instruction in Thai cooking or paleo cuisine for about $70. It’s really popular with locals, which makes Crate the perfect place to bond with some new friends. Note that the classes often sell out far in advance, so when planning your weekend getaway, be sure to book this activity early.
8. It’s One Of The Nation’s Top Food Destinations
There’s no doubt that Pittsburgh is a culinary megacenter in the making. According to af&co. hospitality consultants, Pittsburgh is the top American food city of 2019. And I can’t think of a better way to get to know the city than by eating your way through it! You can always put together your own food tour, but if you're looking for a bit more guidance and entertainment, the ’Burgh Bits and Bites food tour will take you to Pittsburgh’s best and most memorable foodie spots. You can choose from eight different neighborhood tours, each of which lasts about 2 hours, costs about $43, and includes an average of six stops with samples.
9. You’ll Love The Views From The Funicular
Pittsburgh is one heck of a hilly city, and I’ll take any opportunity I can to avoid a stressful uphill hike. The local funicular is a godsend! In Pittsburgh, this helpful shortcut comes with a nice extra perk: The incredible cityscape you can enjoy while riding the Duquesne Incline -- better known as Pittsburgh’s funicular -- has been described as one of the top 10 views in the world. Opened in 1877, the line still uses the original wooden cable cars. Fares cost a reasonable $2.50 each way, and students and seniors over 65 with identification ride for free.
10. You Can See 189 Tiffany Windows In One Building
Built in 1895, Calvary Methodist Church would be remarkable for its age and beautiful architecture alone. But the real showstopper at this house of worship is the interior, designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany (yes, of that Tiffany family). The church’s 189 stained glass windows are considered to be among the finest, largest, and most elaborate that Tiffany ever created, and the three largest are believed to be among the top 10 largest Tiffany works in the world. You can see them every Sunday at the 11 a.m. worship service; people of all backgrounds are welcome. And if you happen to be visiting during the summer solstice, the church hosts a wonderful sunset event so that guests can enjoy the windows in the bright light.
11. There’s A Fabulous Warhol Museum
Many celebrities and other notable people have called Pittsburgh home, including the pop art artist Andy Warhol. The city’s Andy Warhol Museum is the largest museum in North America dedicated to a single artist. It contains 17 galleries, more than 900 paintings, some 2,000 works on paper, and more than 4,000 photographs. A number of hands-on activities are available; you can even try out some of Warhol’s artistic techniques! At the museum, which is closed on Mondays, admission costs $20 for adults and $10 for students and seniors.
12. You Can Walk With Dinos
The grandchildren will adore the Carnegie Museum of Natural History: It’s home to the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered! It’s also home to the world’s largest collection of Jurassic dinosaurs. For budding paleontologists, there’s no better place to be. Other exhibits include displays on minerals and gems, birds, ancient Egypt, African and North American wildlife, botany, Arctic animals, and reptiles. The interactive children’s programming is wonderful, but visitors of all ages will love this museum. Note that the $19.95 adult admission is half off on weekdays after 3 p.m., and that tickets also include admission to the Carnegie Museum of Art.