Travel

Actually Cool Things to Do in Pittsburgh

For a long time, the coolest thing about Pittsburgh was that you could put French fries on your salads. These days, though, this town has become a destination for more than quirky food culture, with annual events like Anthrocon (the world’s second largest furry convention), a slew of great breweries, and notable experiences you can only find in the ‘Burgh. We’ve put together a guide of things everyone should do at least once in the Steel City, ranging from blissfully cheap (or even free!) to worth the price of admission. Some are classic bucket list must-dos, and some may be things you’ve never heard of before, but all of them are sure to make for a fantastic day in Pittsburgh.

mister rogers display
Courtesy of Heinz History Center

Visit the Neighborhood of Make-Believe

$
Strip District
At the Heinz History Museum, Mister Rogers fans young and old can check out the display of the original set and items from the children’s show, including the entryway and living room where Mister Rogers would lace up his sneakers, King Friday’s castle, the Great Oak Tree where Henrietta Pussycat and X the Owl live, and more.

Defy gravity on an optical illusion hill

Free
North Park
Pittsburgh is no stranger to hills (see: Canton Avenue), and one of the most mysterious hill intersections in the region (and maybe the world) is between McKinney and Kummer roads in North Park. When you put your car in neutral, you will magically roll uphill. This is definitely worth the short drive just to head to North Park, which offers a variety of activities -- in addition to this Ripley’s Believe It Or Not head-scratcher -- like ice skating, trails, kayak rentals, a pool, and more.

Go round and round on the PNC Carousel

$
Oakland
From April to October, it’s both baseball AND carousel season in Pittsburgh (although for baseball, the season usually and unofficially ends in June). Located in Schenley Park, the PNC Carousel is a Victorian-style installation that boasts lively colors and old-fashioned organ music. The original carousel was located at the intersection of Panther Hollow Road and Greenfield Avenue in 1913, before being re-erected and moved to its Oakland location in 2006. Carousel rides are $2 (which can be purchased via tokens), and family season passes are available.

Get a silly toy with your cocktail at Bar 11

$
South Side
As an adult, do you ever go to McDonald’s and get a happy meal just for the toys? No? That's fine, we definitely don't either… but Bar 11 is a little like the McDonald's of bars, in that when you purchase drinks, the bartenders give you silly toys to go with it. They can range from finger traps and rubber ducks to candy necklaces, and add a layer of mindless entertainment to an already-enjoyable, dive-bar atmosphere.

Connect with the city’s past on a Carrie Furnace Tour

$
Rankin
Get to know what gave the Steel City its nickname on a Carrie Furnace Tour, which highlights iron-making technology, what the workers were like, and the gone-but-not-forgotten steel industry culture that Pittsburgh was once steeped in. There’s something for everyone with these tours, whether they're history buffs, artists (arts and ground tours), outdoorsy types (discover how nature reclaimed the landscape on a tour led by an area botanist), and those curious about the machines (guided machine shop tours). These tours are what Pittsburgh is all about, with the merging of history with the present.

Get close-up with sleight of hand at Liberty Magic

$
Downtown
Pittsburgh can feel like a magical place, especially when you come through the Fort Pitt Tunnels and find yourself immersed in the city with one spectacular view. And now the city’s literally even more magical with Liberty Magic, a space on Liberty Avenue designed to celebrate the art of sleight of hand. Talented prestidigitators take the stage each month, dazzling the crowd with everything from traditional close-up magic to stand-up comedy routines infused with conjuring. Recommended for ages 18 and up, Liberty has a speakeasy vibe (it’s BYOB) and invites patrons to dress up in cocktail or party attire for a more fun, unique experience.

Scarf down fried oysters at the oldest restaurant in Pittsburgh

$
Downtown
The ‘Burgh may be known for Primanti’s sandwiches and putting French fries on everything, but its oldest bar and restaurant is The Original Oyster House, located in Market Square. First opening in 1870, The Original Oyster House is a designated historic landmark and represents much of what modern-day Pittsburgh is about, fusing respect for history with delicious cuisine. Old photos and Pittsburgh memorabilia line the walls of this oyster house and evoke a charm that makes you feel like you’re traveling back in time.

Take in the scene at Market Square

Free
Downtown
The center of all the action Downtown coalesces in Market Square. During the holidays, there are holiday markets for shopping, and during the rest of the year, there are art installations, pop-up events, and chairs for lounging and people-watching in the summer.

Supersize your brain at a Big Mac museum

Free
North Huntingdon
Even though going to McDonald’s seems like a mundane thing to do, this particular restaurant is truly special because it includes a Big Mac Museum -- yes, the Big Mac was invented by a Yinzer, specifically Jim “MJ” Delligatti. This museum/restaurant has seating for 122 people, a PlayPlace, McDonald’s memorabilia, and a bronze statue of Delligatti that you can eat French fries next to. Best. McDonald’s. Ever.

Cheers to Freunde and Familie at the Hofbrauhaus

$$
South Side Works
It’s not Bavaria, but it’s still pretty wunderbar: the Hofbrauhaus emulates Munich’s original brewhouse concept with German bier, live entertainment like polka bands, servers in traditional garb (bring your lederhosen), and a picturesque view of the river. You can dine outside in the biergarten that overlooks the waterfront when it's warm, but no matter the time of year, this is always an ausgezeichnet place to go.

Embrace your morbid side at some curiosity shops

$
Swissvale & Allentown
Twisted minds cannot leave Pittsburgh without visiting these galleries. First, there’s Trundle Manor in Swissvale. It seems like a normal house from the outside, but inside it has coffins, medical devices, and more (you may have seen it on MTV Extreme Cribs). Admission to Trundle Manor relies on donations, which can include “money, taxidermy, dead things, killing implements, and booze.” Then, head on over to Allentown to visit The Weeping Glass curiosity shop where you can purchase oddities or have your Tarot cards read. Plus, The Weeping Glass hosts Midnight Death Parlor every month, where a performance artist regales audiences with a tale of murder.

Drive the steepest street in the United States

Free
Beechview
With a maximum grade of 37%, Canton Avenue has been featured in car commercials for its steepness. Take a drive up or down it, but we don’t recommend cycling it unless you want to practice for Pittsburgh’s dangerous Dirty Dozen race.

Church Brew Works
Courtesy of Church Brew Works

Feel like a naughty Catholic school kid at Church Brew Works

$$
Lawrenceville
Pittsburgh has a thing for turning old buildings into bars, whether it’s a funeral parlor (The Abbey) or even a YMCA (The Ace Hotel). Church Brew Works was one of our first restaurants with a former history, as it used to be St. John’s the Baptist Church; today, vats of beer sit on the used-to-be altar and you can dine where pews used to be.

Make it Christmas all year long at Bob's Garage

$$
Blawnox
Even though it’s known as “the Christmas bar” thanks to its holiday lights and decor, Bob’s Garage actually changes its theme with each season -- but everyone’s favorite is probably Christmas. Come for the fun atmosphere, stay for the sandwiches and burgers.

See the most colorful side of Pittsburgh at Randyland

Free
North Side
Only in Pittsburgh would an artist invite you into his home as part of an art exhibit, but that’s exactly what Randy Gilson -- a friendly, Mr. Rogers-type neighbor -- does with his colorful North Side house. He purchased “Randyland” in 1995 on a credit card, and today it has become the face of curb art in the city. The house is open seven days a week, 10am to 7pm (except December 24-26), so feel free to stop on by.

Explore the Warhol Museum

$
North Shore
While he may be associated with New York’s arts and film scene, Andy Warhol was a Pittsburgher, and this North Shore museum commemorates the avant-garde soup-can icon. With rotating exhibits and daily/weekly events, there’s always something new and fun to do at the Warhol. Just make sure you go to “the cloud room,” as it’s a must-see.

Parade around Point State Park

Free
Downtown
On a sunny day in Pittsburgh (a rarity!), no one can resist a trip to Point State Park, especially for some reflection at the fountain, which is perfect for sitting and enjoying the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers.

Remember No. 21 at the Roberto Clemente Museum

$
Lawrenceville
Celebrate America’s favorite pastime and Pittsburgh’s favorite baseball player at this historic Engine-House-turned-museum, which showcases the world’s largest exhibited collection of baseball artifacts and other materials, with a focus on the great Roberto Clemente. Clemente came to the Pirates in 1954 and was not only a great player, but a humanitarian; en route to help earthquake victims in Nicaragua, he lost his life in a plane crash. A visit to this museum is necessary for any baseball fan, Pittsburgher, or both. 

Tour the closest thing to Willy Wonka’s Factory at Inventionland

$
RIDC Industrial Park
Pittsburgh is the home of many inventions, including the Polio vaccine, the Big Mac, and Heinz Ketchup. Inventionland is a 60,000 square foot work environment where area inventors work on the next big idea to change the world. Inside the giant warehouse are unique themed sets for inventors to work in, like pirate ships, treehouses, and more, and it’s fun to see the creative process pop up all around you. However, if you go on a tour note that photography is expressly prohibited. So, oompa- loompa-doopity-don’t post a pic on social media.  

Stock up on cheat-day treats at Prantl's Bakery

$$
Various locations
Sweet tooths can’t resist “the Greatest Cake in America” -- the burnt almond torte --  but you can’t go wrong with whatever you eat here. Enjoy Kaufmann’s Thumbprints cookies that come in more than 60 flavors or pretend you're getting married to sample wedding cakes and prepare cookie tables.

Take a trip up and down the Duquesne Incline

$
South Side/Mount Washington
Part historical, part fun, the Duquesne Incline fuses together the things that make Pittsburgh so special (and it’s still used for transit even today). Take a ride up the incline and then a short walk to an overlook from Mount Washington, where you’ll get a spectacular view of the city and its three rivers.

Experience a truly grand view at Grandview Park

Free
Mount Washington
If you can’t get enough of the Pittsburgh landscape, then a trip to Grandview Park probably has the best view of the city. During the summer, the park hosts movies and music festivals, but even without these activities, the overlook is more than worthwhile.

Relive your arcade heyday at Games N' At

$
South Side
The tagline of this game emporium practically peer-pressures you into playing: “It’s a Pittsburgh thing.” Choose from duckpin bowling, video arcades, pinball games, foosball, Skee-Ball, and more. Plus, it’s BYOB as long as you're 21 or over.

Take a stand-up paddleboarding class

$$
Various locations
The Gateway Clipper Fleet is one (admittedly excellent) way to experience the three rivers, but another option for getting on the water is to stand-up paddleboard. SUP3Rivers, Surf’s Up Adventures, and Stand Up Pittsburgh are just a few places to browse classes and options.

Attend one of the city's unique events/festivals

$
Various locations
Pittsburgh also has a stacked calendar of festivals all year long, including cookie tours, Doors Open (a two-day event which gives you access to landmark buildings), Art All Night (a free community art event in Lawrenceville), the Three Rivers Art Festival, Pittsburgh Comedy Festival, Pittsburgh Pierogi Festival, Picklesburgh, I Made It Market... the list just goes on and on.  

Get plucked at Banjo and Bluegrass Night on the North Side

$
North Side
Banjo Night at the Elks Lodge is an institution, something that has taken place every Wednesday at 8pm (doors open at 7) for nearly 30 years. "Banjos," you might ask? Yes, banjos, and it’s such a blast that you have to make reservations ahead of time to get a seat. Delicious cheap eats (fried shrimp) and drinks here make Hump Day a little easier to get through; after Banjo Night, the cool kids head around the corner to The Park House for a live bluegrass jam session (also every Wednesday).

Settle the Mineo's vs. Aiello's pizza debate

$
Squirrel Hill
They’re just a few doors down from each other, but people couldn’t be more divided on these two pizza places. It’s a rivalry that’s gone on for decades, and every Pittsburgher has an opinion on who's got the best pizza in town (including us). Weigh in on who comes out on top -- just don’t weigh yourself afterward.

Find function at Construction Junction

$$
Point Breeze
Construction Junction is a large warehouse filled with recycled materials and appliances at reduced prices. Recycling isn’t a glamorous activity, but this place is a wonder, with everything but the kitchen sink (oh wait -- they have that, too!), including doors, floors, hardware, glass, mirrors, and more. This place is a DIY enthusiast’s heaven, but even if you’re not the crafty type, Construction Junction is a sight to behold. 
 

Highland Park Fountain, Pittsburgh
Highland Park Fountain, Pittsburgh | Smitha Prasadh/Flickr

Stroll through Highland Park Entry Garden

Free
Highland Park
You could go to the zoo in Highland Park, but you could also spend some time at the Highland Park fountain and garden. Plants, flowers, benches, and a walkway line the fountain and make for beautiful afternoon.

Drink up at this Step Brothers-themed wine bar

$$
Lawrenceville
It’s the friggin’ Allegheny Wine Mixer, located in Upper Lawrenceville! From the outside (and maybe even the inside), it doesn’t appear to be anything Step Brothers’ Dale and Brennan would ever drink at, but there are little homages to the 2008 comedy, like the name of the establishment and the Incredible Hulk Hands above the bar. The cheese toasties complement the wine selection like, well, Boats ‘N Hoes.

Get starry-eyed at Mellon Park Walled Garden

Free
Mellon Park
Gifted artist, dancer, and ceramist Ann Katherine Seamans used to frequently visit the Mellon Park walled garden throughout her life, before dying tragically in an automobile accident in 1999 at the age of 19. A decade later, artist Janet Zweig paid tribute to Seamans with a special art installation that casts the pattern of the night sky on the day of her birth into the lawn through fiber-optic “stars.”

Sing karaoke with strippers at Tennyson Lodge

$
Bethel Park
There are plenty of Pittsburgh strip clubs you can visit, and there are plenty of karaoke bars as well -- but only Tennyson Lodge offers Bare-oke, which involves people singing karaoke songs while fully nude dancers do their thing (Fridays only). You’ll never think of karaoke the same way.

Watch (and do) a little improv at Arcade Comedy Theater

$
Downtown
Every weekend, Arcade Comedy Theater offers comedy shows in a variety of genres, from stand-up to improv to experimental -- it’s also BYOB, which definitely ups the laugh factor significantly. Want to get in on the performing yourself? Every third Thursday of the month is Improv Pop-Up Night when you can take a two-and-a-half-hour class on the fundamentals of improvisational comedy.

Hit up one of the city's experimental food halls

$$
Strip District or North Side
Smallman Galley and Federal Galley (think food markets with collections of unique vendors) provide a variety of eating options, perfect for when you’re out and about with a group consisting of disparate dining tastes.

Do brunch at Square Cafe

$$
Regent Square
We’ve spoken at length about Pittsburgh’s best brunch options, but if you’re truly unable to decide, you can’t go wrong at this beloved Braddock Avenue diner, which features local artwork on the wall and ceramic square mugs for drinking delicious java. Unique dishes include smoked salmon crepes, lemon-berry ricotta pancakes, and brussel sprouts bowls.

Do anything but sleep at the Mattress Factory

$
North Side
For more than 40 years, the Mattress Factory has gifted the city of Pittsburgh with experimental and site-specific art installations, including Infinity Dots Mirrored Room by Yakoi Kusama. The museum includes a main factory building, in addition to Victorian houses that also support exhibits.

Visit one of America's best record stores

$
Squirrel Hill
Rolling Stone magazine named Jerry’s Records in Squirrel Hill “one of the best record stores in the United States,” and for good reason: it’s home to half a million albums. Even if you’re not a vinyl enthusiast, it's worth taking a trip through the past with this expansive collection.

See most of Western PA in a matter of minutes at the Carnegie Science Center

$
North Shore
When there’s too much to get to in Pittsburgh, you can always walk through Western Pennsylvania when you visit Carnegie Science Center’s Miniature Railroad & Village, which includes mainstays like Primanti’s and Fallingwater, and former landmarks like Forbes Field and Crawford Grill. See everything without getting stuck in 376 traffic.

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