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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Great Destination:

Value for Money:

Total Stars:

Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • The first U.S. public TV station was Pittsburgh’s WQED (1954).
  • Heinz ketchup is no longer made at the firm’s Pittsburgh plant.
  • Dr. Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine at the University of Pittsburgh (1954).
  • The Nickelodeon in Pittsburgh was the first movie theater in the U.S. (1905).
  • There are 44,645 outdoor steps built into the city’s hilly terrain.

The Cinderella among cities

Steep hills and three rivers. Steel and sports. Andy Warhol and Gene Kelly. The Big Mac, the Klondike and Heinz ketchup. The Ferris Wheel. Emoticons.

Emoticons? Pittsburgh, a modest-sized city, is well known for its terrain, steel production and sports teams, not to mention native son Andy Warhol and the Heinz food business that was born in the city.

Other features of interest may require some fleshing out. Dancer Gene Kelly was born in Pittsburgh — as was dancer Martha Graham. Like ketchup, the Big Mac and the Klondike ice cream bar were created here. George Ferris, an engineer who came to town to build bridges, designed the first Ferris Wheel (for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair).

As for emoticons, Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist Scott Fahlman created the first Internet emoticon, the smiley :-), in 1982. All of which suggests a city with an eclectic charm and one that can appeal to visitors with widely varied interests.

There is more to the story, the part that appears in textbooks. In the French and Indian War, the British and French fought for this strategic location at the junction of three rivers. The British took it from the French (1758) and founded the city, known early on as the Gateway to the West.

More recently, it was famous as Smoky City, due to the dreadful pollution produced by the steel industry’s smokestacks. Such pollution, though dirty, was once considered indicative of a city’s economic success — but it was not a place for a vacation.

Now comes the Cinderella story.

Focused public-private partnerships reclaimed and redeveloped defunct steel mill and other industrial sites. Other projects converted rail beds to recreational trails and cleaned up the rivers — which now host fishing competitions. In the wake of the extreme makeover (which has taken decades), National Geographic Traveler in 2012 called it one of the world’s great places to visit.

Now tourists come to enjoy the cleaned-up views from hillside perches, attend sports events, descend on the educational — and the edgy — museums, kayak in the rivers or cycle alongside them and check out highbrow and not-so-highbrow nightlife.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Depending on the season, buy tickets to a Steelers football or Pirates baseball game.
  • Go rock climbing or rappelling at Laurel Caverns Geological Park, open seasonally, at Hopgood, 50 miles south of Pittsburgh. You’ll also want to go underground to explore the state’s largest caverns.
  • Test your memory at one of the several regular trivia shows staged at a selection of Pittsburgh’s bars and restaurants.
  • Get a workout cycling up and down some of the city’s steep hills.
  • A few churches have been converted into nightspots. Seek them out — they’re the nightspots with the stained-glass windows.
  • Hike or cycle some part of the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail. It is 150 miles of repurposed rail beds, stretching from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Md. An urban section is the 37-mile Three Rivers Heritage Trail, which starts in Pittsburgh’s Point State Park.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Fish in Pittsburgh’s three rivers. The rivers support every species of fish found in Pennsylvania, more than 50.
  • Take in a sweeping view of the city from the Duquesne Incline, riding in a wooden cable car.
  • From the viewing platform at Meadowcroft Rockshelter, look down upon a 16,000-year-old campsite, the oldest known site of human habitation in North America. Remains of 149 animal species were found here. The site is 30 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.
  • Attend the September Dragon Boat Festival, which showcases Asian cultures with performances and dragon boat races.
  • Take a guided tour by kayak. The Three Rivers Rowing Association offers the tours, as well as lessons, as needed.
  • Attend a reenactment event at the reconstructed Fort Ligonier, 50 miles east of Pittsburgh. The original fort was built to aid the British effort during the 18th century French and Indian War.

Things to do for Authentics

  • For a new twist on housing, overnight at the Priory Hotel and have breakfast in the former monks’ dining room. The hotel was a Benedictine monastery.
  • See a show — which could be dance, drama, music or photographs — at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. The playwright grew up a few blocks from the $36 million facility.
  • Sip soup at the South Side Midwinter Soup Contest, held in February when you might need something hot. Contestants are local chefs. Buy tickets early or you’ll sip lunch elsewhere.
  • Visit the Andy Warhol Museum. The facility honors a native son who made good. Complement that with a visit to the Mattress Factory, a contemporary art museum that specializes room-sized works called installations.
  • Eat chipped ham and a Klondike Bar. Both were born at a local store called Isaly’s. Also, have a Pittsburgh Salad, meaning any salad topped with French fries. Or, a Big Mac, another local creation (1967).
  • Picnic in the 36-acre downtown Point State Park, located at the confluence of the city’s three rivers in a once-rundown industrial area. Before that, it was the site of Fort Duquesne, which figured in the French and Indian War. The site is now a National Historic Landmark.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult VisitPittsburgh at www.visitpittsburgh.com