As part of a new series, Travel + Leisure is exploring America one three-day weekend at a time. Here’s what to do on a short vacation to Pittsburgh.
Pennsylvania’s second-largest city has always been fiercely loved by its locals. Now, word of Pittsburgh’s gritty-meets-quirky charm is spreading. Without some guidance, it’s hard to blend the classic must-stops with the latest crop of hot-spot restaurants, and still manage to toss in a few off-the-path finds, too. But not to worry, we mapped out all of that and more.
If you’ve arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport, you’ll be heading into the city through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, so make sure you have your eyes peeled (away from your phone) for the first glimpse of the skyline on the other side. It’s a stunning welcome, one that never gets old even for locals.
Check in at the Ace Hotel or the Hotel Indigo in East Liberty, and if you’d rather stay in the area for the evening, walk down South Highland Avenue toward Shadyside, where you’ll pass Dinette, Muddy Waters, and The Livermore, all highly recommended dinner spots.
If you’re keen on exploring more, take an Uber—about a 10-minute ride—over to Butler Street in Lawrenceville. Here you’ll find some of the best shopping in Pittsburgh; for ‘Burgh-themed gifts, clothes, and other oddities, don’t miss Wildcard, No. 14 Boutique, and Von Walter & Funk.
When it’s time for dinner, you’re just a few blocks from three of the city’s best restaurants. Try Cure for award-winning Mediterranean cuisine, The Vandal for casual, contemporary American, or Morcilla for Spanish-style charcuterie and traditional pintxos.
There’s no better place to fuel up for an active day ahead than Pamela’s. Heading to the Strip District location around 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. will help you beat the incoming crowd also looking to get their forks on a plate of the diner’s famous crêpe-style hotcakes.
After you’ve cleaned up any stray drops of syrup, spend some time perusing the shops and Old World markets along Penn Avenue for locally crafted wares, gourmet treats, and every kind of Pittsburgh sports fan gear imaginable. When you reach 17th Street and Penn, rent a bike at the Healthy Ride station—just $2 for every 30 minutes—and pedal toward the trail along the Allegheny River. This path will take you all the way downtown to Point State Park, where a fountain marks the intersection of the three rivers.
You’ll pass four bike-able bridges, and the trail across the river on the North Shore is beautiful, too. If you want to spend more time biking, the ride out to Washington’s Landing is one of my favorites—about 30 minutes out and back along the river.
Once you make it to the Point, stop for a photo op and a break at the fountain, and then head to Market Square to return your bike and check out downtown. For an early dinner in an Instagram-worthy interior, make a reservation at Tako or Butcher in the Rye.
You’re in the perfect place to catch a show or check out a gallery in the Cultural District, but if you’re up for a more panoramic view, take the Wood Street T to Station Square—$2.50—and head up the Monongahela Incline—also $2.50 one way—to watch the sunset above the skyline from the overlook on Mt. Washington. If you’re planning anything romantic for your trip, this is the place to do it.
From there, East Carson Street in the South Side—the main nightlife stretch in the city—is just a few minutes’ drive, and bars like The Urban Tap are sure to be lively until they close at 2 a.m. If you’re thirsty for something a little (OK, a lot) sweeter, The Milk Shake Factory right down the street is open until 10 p.m.
After a hearty brunch at Whitfield, which is either in or a few minutes away from your hotel, take an Uber over to the North Side to spend a few hours with contemporary installation art at the Mattress Factory or the Pittsburgh-born Prince of Pop Art at the Andy Warhol Museum. If you have some extra time, spend it strolling the cobblestoned sidewalks of the historic Mexican War District.
And finally, your trip wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the Steel City’s notorious sports culture firsthand. If you can’t score seats at a Steelers game, Pirates tickets run as low as $18 for bleacher seats at the beautiful PNC Park. If you try a coleslaw-and-French-fry-piled sandwich from Primanti Brothers for dinner—there are locations at both stadiums—you just might reach peak Pittsburgh.