15 Unmissable Things To Do In Pittsburgh, PA For First Timers

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Pittsburgh is a beautiful and historic city with a rich sporting culture and vibrant art scene, offering a plethora of things to do and places to visit.

As far as cities in the Midwest go, there’s no major tourist attractions between New York City and Chicago, but Pittsburgh is the perfect halfway point, offering a relaxed city vibe and a hub for exploring some of Pennsylvania’s best nature spots.

Pittsburgh city downtown skyline

Pittsburgh 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.

Things to Do in Pittsburgh

1. Take the Duquesne Incline up to Mount Washington

Duquesne Incline up to Mount Washington

The best place to see the skyline in Pittsburgh is taking the Duquesne Incline up to the top of Mount Washington to get stunning views of the city from above.

Take the cable car to the top, or a quick walk up the hill.

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!

2. Visit the Andy Warhol Museum

Andy Warhol Museum Pittsburgh

The Andy Warhol Museum is one of the must-sees in Pittsburgh. It’s here you can see a collection of the Pittsburgh native’s most impressive works.

With 7 floors, it’s the largest museum in North America dedicated to a single artist.

The museum tells the story of his life and legacy, and contains the largest collection of his work in the world.

3. Relax in Phipps Conservatory

Phipps Conservatory Pittsburgh

The Phipps Conservatory is an incredibly large indoor botanical gardens, butterfly sanctuary, and themed conservatory.

Being more than 130 years old, it has been the city’s number one green oasis for more than a century, and is one of the best public gardens in the city for those who love plants and botany.

It also hosts regular galleries and exhibits. These art events are cycled out each quarter and open for new themes, so there’s always something new happening when you visit. The Spring Flower Festival is a particular highlight!

4. Watch a Sporting Event

Pirates Baseball at PNC Park

Taking in a sporting event is one of the biggest and most unique experiences of the city.

Cheer on the Steelers at Acrisure Stadium, Pittsburgh’s hometown professional American football team, or go and cheer on the Pittsburgh Hockey Team, the Penguins, at PPG Paints Arena!

If baseball is more your thing, come and support the Pirates at PNC Park.

On a side note, good luck getting through the traffic on game days through North Shore and Downtown. I recommend you take public transport on those days, or plan ahead!

5. Explore the Neighbourhoods in Pittsburgh

oakland neighborhood skyline pittsburgh

There are many unique neighborhoods in Pittsburgh that are worth exploring and getting to know the local way of life.

Oakland is 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 classrooms and contains themed rooms from different time periods around the world, called nationality rooms. My favorite room is the orchid room.

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.

North Shore is another neighborhood to explore. It is the home of the Steelers’ and Pirates’ Stadiums as well as the local casino.

6. Get a Sandwich from Primanti Brothers

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 Strip District location is not only open 24 hours, but is the best to visit (and is also cash only!)

7. Explore the Pittsburgh Nightlife

skyline and bridge lit up at night in pittsburgh

When it comes to nightlife, South Side is the best area of town for those looking for a good bar crawl.

The neighborhood is full of boutique shops, tons of great restaurants, and many bars with happy hour to keep the night life going until the sun comes up.

Church Brew Works is a brewery in a converted church in Lawrenceville and serves great beer, good food, and has an unusual ambiance for sure.

There are many microbreweries and wineries found throughout the city, and there is even a whiskey distillery (Wigle) in the Strip District that opened up in early 2012.

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.

8. Eat Your Way Through Strip District

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.

9. Watch Some Fireworks in Pittsburgh

Fireworks 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.

10. Take a Day Trip to Ohiopyle State Park

Ohiopyle waterfall in river in Pennsylvania

Ohiopyle is our favorite day trip from Pittsburgh, roughly 90 minutes southeast of the city.

This beautiful state park is where you’ll find plenty of outdoor activities to keep you entertained.

In the summer months, it’s a great place for biking, hiking, and white water rafting.

Ski resorts open up in the winter time for novice to intermediate skiers wanting to hit the slopes.

11. Relax in Point State Park

people walking and bike riding in Point State Park

Point State Park is an urban public park located on the tip of the “Golden Triangle” of Pittsburgh.

It’s a National Historic Landmark, built on the place where forts and battlements were located during the Civil War. Be sure to visit Fort Pitt Museum in the park to learn all about this era.

Today it’s a serene park with walking and biking trails, a relaxing fountain, and incredible views of where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers meet.

12. See the animal at Pittsburgh Zoo and The PPG Aquarium

coiled snake at Pittsburgh Zoo

The Pittsburgh Zoo is an independent indoor nonprofit zoo and aquarium which opened more than a century ago in 1898, and is one of the oldest zoos in America.

It’s one of the best things to do in Pittsburgh with kids because of the Children’s Zoo section, Kids Kingdom, which has interactive exhibits designed specifically for kids to learn all about animals and the natural world.

Kids can walk through the mouth of a whale or climb on a giant cheese chunk and learn about mice. The Education Complex also provides educational programming for kids.

The aquarium was once the second largest aquarium in the country when it first opened.

What makes Pittsburgh Zoo special is that their enclosures are designed to look like the animal’s naturalistic habitats. You can see polar bears in the Arctic and elephants in the savannah and pygmy hippos in the jungle!

13. Go Museum Hopping

gold statue at Carnegie Museum of Art Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is not short of museums, so if you’re in the mood for culture and learning, you’re in the right city.

The most notable museums are the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, which features four world-class museums, the Carnegie Museums of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Science Center, and the previously mentioned Andy Warhol Museum.

Some other great museums worth checking out are Moonshot Museum, a newish 21st century museum all about the space industry, and The Mattress Factory is a contemporary art museum in North Side.

The Heinz History Center, also known as The Senator John Heinz History Center, is a great museum to learn about the people of Pittsburgh and the legacy of important people from Pennsylvania. It’s the largest history museum in the state and part of the Smithsonian Institution.

14. See classic cars race at Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix

Another unique experience to have in Pittsburgh is a visit to the annual Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, which takes place every July.

The festival is one of the biggest motorsport festivals in the country and takes place over 10 days of events.

The Schenley Park Race Weekend is the highlight of the festival though, where you can watch vintage cars race through the streets of Pittsburgh.

If you happen to be in the city in July, this is definitely worth checking out!

15. Check out Pittsburgh Rivers Arts Festival

View of the Allegheny River from Mount Washington in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The Allegheny River

Another notable festival in Pittsburgh is the Three Rivers Arts Festival, which takes place each year in May.

This is a seven day arts and music festival, featuring exhibits from local artists, performances from live bands, and a lot of delicious food.

Getting To and Around Pittsburgh

market square in pittsburh surrounded by buildings and cars
Market Square, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Megabus connects Pittsburgh to many major cities in the North East. 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). From the airport, you can catch the 28X bus to the city center.

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.

To get around, bus service covers most of the city. The rail system known as “the T” only has a select number of stops.

As traffic problems plague the city quite significantly, buses are known to get delayed quite a bit.

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.

Like everywhere else in the Midwest, temperatures can vary by the day, so don’t 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.

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Pittsburg, use the map below to find a selection of VRBO rentals and hotels throughout Pittsburg

Final Thoughts

pittsburg skyline with pink sunset
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA city skyline.

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 America adventure.

Tours of Pittsburgh

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Insiders guide to Pittsburgh - where to eat, sleep, drink, shop, explore and much more on the blog!

What are you most excited to do in Pittsburgh? Share in the comments.

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