Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, retains its Steel City reputation, so some visitors expect a city with grime-covered buildings and a smoky atmosphere. But the steel mills are long gone, and Pittsburgh is rapidly becoming known for its three major industries: health care, education and technology. Finance and tourism also play important economic roles.
These days, Pittsburgh is a very pleasant place to visit, with striking downtown architecture (the soot was scrubbed off decades ago) and tightly knit ethnic neighborhoods that are characterized by friendliness and charm. Pittsburgh is consistently ranked among the most livable cities in the U.S., perhaps because it possesses the heart and soul of a small town. Yet it is abundantly rich in cultural attractions and recreational activities.
As you enter the city via the Fort Pitt Bridge, Pittsburgh greets you with a sparkling skyline, rows of bridges, a grand fountain and three rivers. Pittsburgh's downtown, known locally as the Golden Triangle, stands at the convergence of these waterways. There lies the city's scenic center, as well as the headquarters of several Fortune 500 businesses.
The Strip District, which runs along Penn Avenue downtown, was once run-down, but today it's a thriving commercial market with funky shops and fashionable restaurants. At night, it transforms into a clubgoer's paradise.
In conversation, residents frequently allude to the name of a Pittsburgh township or neighborhood. Oakland, Shadyside and Squirrel Hill, for example, are a few miles/kilometers east of downtown and together constitute the East End. The area is a short ride by taxi or bus from downtown. Across the Monongahela to the south are the neighborhoods of the South Side and Mount Washington, which sits atop a mountain of the same name. Across the Allegheny River lies the North Side, which is home to PNC Park (Pirates baseball field) and Acrisure Stadium (formerly Heinz Field, the Steelers football stadium). The Pittsburgh International Airport is about 20 mi/32 km to the west. These locations are all in the metropolitan area.
The site of today's Pittsburgh—the point where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet to form the Ohio River—was once a Native American village. It developed into a fur-trading post in the 1600s, and in the mid-1700s, as the British and French squared off in the French and Indian War, the area became a battleground. The French built Fort Duquesne at the confluence of the rivers. When the English captured it in 1758, they renamed it Fort Pitt: the basis for the later name of Pittsburgh.
Incorporated in 1816, Pittsburgh thrived throughout the 1800s, especially after the Pennsylvania Railroad was completed. Immigrants flocked to the city. By 1870, it was the nation's leading producer of iron and steel, and industrialists such as Andrew Carnegie, George Westinghouse, Andrew Mellon and Henry Clay Frick made their fortunes there. But all this heavy industry laid a blanket of black soot over the city. Not until a strong push for urban redevelopment surfaced in the mid-1940s did Pittsburgh confront its air-pollution problem.
The decline of steel manufacturing in the 1960s increased the city's environmental awareness. Since then, skyscrapers have taken the place of blast furnaces, and Pittsburgh has become one of the nation's leaders in turning brownfields (former industrial sites) into centers for high-tech research and commerce.
Point State Park is located at the site of the original Fort Pitt, where the city itself began. The park is currently undergoing a massive renovation, and areas may be closed to the public.
The city's downtown area is known as the Golden Triangle. Don't forget to look up and take in the magnificent, old architectural elements that grace so many of Pittsburgh's downtown buildings. In winter, check out the ice-skating rink in the square at PPG Place; in summer, it becomes an interactive fountain that you are welcome to walk through—if you don't mind getting wet.
A short walk east of downtown leads you to the lively market atmosphere of the Strip District. The Senator John Heinz History Center offers displays about the city's immigrant and industrial past.
Many of Pittsburgh's must-see tourist sites are on the east side of the city. This is the home of The Carnegie: Andrew Carnegie's legacy to Pittsburgh and one of the nation's outstanding cultural repositories. The complex, located in the Oakland neighborhood, includes the main branch of the Carnegie Libraries, Carnegie Music Hall, the Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History.
Across the street from The Carnegie, on the University of Pittsburgh campus, is the Cathedral of Learning. Inside the cathedral are 26 Nationality Rooms designed by different ethnic groups that have resided in Allegheny County. On the grounds of the cathedral you'll find the Heinz Memorial Chapel. Look for the historical and religious figures depicted in the 23 enormous stained-glass windows. Just east of campus in the Point Breeze neighborhood is the restored home of wealthy industrialist Henry Clay Frick. The best part of the estate is the Frick Art and Historical Center.
The city's North Side is where you'll find the Andy Warhol Museum (he was a native of Pittsburgh). With more than 500 paintings, prints and other artwork, it contains examples of nearly all of Warhol's many styles. Another North Side art attraction is the Mattress Factory, a gallery of contemporary-art installations (mobile displays and live performances) in addition to more typical works of art. Also on the North Side are the Pittsburgh Children's Museum, The National Aviary and the Carnegie Science Center.
On the city's South Side, across the Monongahela River, is Station Square. A longtime favorite of both tourists and locals, Station Square features a wide variety of bars, restaurants, live-music venues and the state-of-the-art fountain at Bessemer Court featuring a water show. Choreographed to music, hundreds of jets blast multicolored water 40 ft/13 m in the air (May-November).
From Station Square, take one of two cable railways—known locally as inclines—to the top of Mount Washington. Admire the view of Pittsburgh's skyline. As you make your way back down the mountain, head east on Carson Street to check out the funky shops and assortment of pubs, bars and live-music venues that line the streets of the South Side.
Whether you want an Iron City beer or an icy martini, a quiet tavern or a hopping dance club, you can find it in Pittsburgh. On almost any night there's music—everything from jazz and rock to polka and bossa nova. The Strip District, the South Side and Station Square are where much of the action takes place. Most bars close their doors around 2 am.
Pittsburgh's ethnic diversity is reflected in restaurant menus throughout the city. Sample Spanish, Italian, New American and French dishes on the South Side. In the East End you'll find Portuguese, Russian, Jewish and Asian specialties.
At Station Square, a restored train station, you'll find a collection of restaurants offering eclectic cuisine and such American fare as fresh seafood, high-end steaks, and good old-fashioned burgers and fries. Mount Washington, high above Station Square, is one of the loveliest settings for formal dining. Several restaurants there offer superb menus along with lovely views.
Dress is typically on the casual side, except at the finest restaurants.
Dining times are generally 6-10 am for breakfast, 11 am-2 pm for lunch, 5-10 pm for dinner.
Expect to pay within the following guidelines, based on the cost of a dinner for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$15; $$ = US$15-$25; $$$ = US$26-$50; and $$$$ = more than US$50.
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