A view of Pittsburgh city skyline before sunrise from Duquesne Incline.

Pittsburgh, PA

Innovative restaurants, fascinating museums and tech-savvy companies are upping the cool factor in the Steel City. (Getty Images).

Pittsburgh has had a lot of comebacks over the years. Celebrating its bicentennial in 2016, this lively and diverse city, once known as a Rust Belt town, is now known as the City of Bridges (there are 445 of them to be exact). Plus, high-tech businesses, such as Google and Uber, have dubbed Pittsburgh the Robot City. With a beautiful skyline, excellent museums, burgeoning theater and arts scenes and a rich cultural heritage throughout 90 distinct neighborhoods, Pittsburgh's newfound energy is bound to surprise and entertain you. And if that's not enough, there's plenty of sports action to get your blood pumping. While late spring to mid-fall offers pleasant weather conditions for experiencing the city, many of Pittsburgh's best attractions are indoors and plenty of vibrant holiday festivities take place during the cooler months, making winter an ideal time to plan a trip.

[See: 8 Winter Trips Worth Planning a Trip Around.]

If you want to see what this forward-looking city is all about for yourself, here's your guide to can't-miss experiences and attractions across the Steel City.

You Can Capture Jaw-Dropping Views From the Duquesne Incline

Make the Duquesne Incline your first stop and ride the 138-year-old railcar up 400 feet to the Observation Deck overlooking the city. This is one of two remaining historic funiculars in town. Sunset is the perfect time to see how spectacular Pittsburgh is at night and you'll understand why this has been called one of the 10 most beautiful views in the country.

You Can Eat Your Way Through the Strip District

Like most large cities, the culinary scene in Pittsburgh is quickly evolving with new restaurant concepts and talented chefs. However, one of the best reasons to visit Pittsburgh is to head to the eclectic Strip District to enjoy some of the city's traditional foods. Pittsburgh has deep international and cultural roots and the foods and dishes that were originally brought here from Europe and other countries can still be found, while new immigrants have brought tremendous growth to the city along with broadened culinary offerings.

This former warehouse district, once home to old foundries and mills, is now one of the hottest neighborhoods in the city with its specialty shops, international grocery stores, seafood markets, butchers and restaurants. Still gritty, this area is a classic example of urban revitalization. Come hungry and start with breakfast at Pamela's Diner, which is known for its over-the-top stuffed pancakes. Then, head over to 21st Street and sample your way through the Strip District with the best specialties in town. Also make sure to stop inside S&D Polish Deli for authentic pierogies. The cheesy and meaty pepperoni rolls dipped in warm homemade sauce are not-to-be-missed at Mancini's Bread. And for dessert, Enrico Biscotti Co., which was named one of the best bakeries in Pittsburgh, makes traditional Italian pastries as well as hand-cut biscotti in a multitude of flavors. Taste cheeses from around the world and take home imported Italian foods from Pennsylvania Macaroni Co., but be sure to save room for the sandwich that is a Pittsburgh institution – The Almost Famous Sandwich at Primanti Bros. Piled high and served with either turkey or ham on soft Italian bread, this concoction gets its notoriety from the addition of crispy coleslaw and French fries.

If noshing through the streets is not your thing, then try a new unique dining concept at Smallman Galley. Pull up a seat at the first-known chef incubator and restaurant launch pad in the country. This idea was conceived by two U.S. navy lieutenants who were inspired by the amazing food halls they visited while traveling around the globe. Housed in an old tomato processing plant, Smallman Galley offers diners the chance to choose between craft cocktails or local beers from one of two bars and then select dishes from one of four restaurants operated by different chefs, each with their own individual cooking style and cuisine.

[See: 7 Great German Markets Around the U.S.]

You Can Explore Iconic Art Institutions

There are four impressive Carnegie museums in the city. Founded in 1895 by industrialist Andrew Carnegie, the Carnegie Museum of Art, known to be the first museum of contemporary art in the U.S., is now recognized as one of the most influential major art institutions in America. "Dinosaurs in Their Time" at the Museum of Natural History is one of the world's most recognized dinosaur collections and The Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems showcases a spectacular exhibit of more than 1,300 minerals and gems. Contemporary art fans will appreciate the Andy Warhol Museum with the iconic pop art classics such as "Campbell's Soup Cans" and his paintings of Elvis, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy. And of course, kids will love the interactive activities and exhibits at the Carnegie Science Center.

The Frick Pittsburgh is situated on 5½ acres in the city's East End neighborhood and was founded by another one of the city's wealthy families, Henry Clay Frick, an industrialist and financier, and his daughter Helen Clay Frick. Visit the property's original 22-room mansion that takes you back in time to the Gilded Age and the Italian Renaissance-style museum built by Helen, which is known for displaying early Italian Renaissance and French 18th-century paintings, along with decorative arts. There are permanent collections and rotating exhibits as well as gallery talks and tours.

You Can Brush Up on History at the Nationality Rooms

One of the most fascinating places to visit is the Nationality Rooms at University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning in the Oakland neighborhood. An impressive work of architecture that began with Dr. John Gabbert Bowman, chancellor of the university after World War I, Dr. Bowman's goal was to build a university that would represent the heritage of the city's first generation immigrant families. Today, with the help of the current director of the project, E. Maxine Bruhns, there are 30 Nationality Rooms used as classrooms in the Cathedral that are designed by groups of local residents wanting to showcase and share their ancestral roots and traditions.

[See: 10 Underrated Places With Fantastic Holiday Celebrations.]

You Can Enjoy Festive Holiday Activities

Don a parka and gloves and visit downtown Pittsburgh for an array of special holiday events. The Peoples Gas Holiday Market in Market Square is inspired by the original German Christkindlmarkt and features live performances highlighting Pittsburgh's cultural diversity and a European-style Christmas market in an alpine-style wooden chalet village. Go ice skating at the MassMutual Pittsburgh Ice Rink and then warm up indoors at PPG Wintergarden while visiting the "Spirits of Giving From Around the World," an exhibit filled with life-sized Santas from around the globe. And don't miss a visit to the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in the Oakland neighborhood with their magical holiday Winter Flower Show and Light Garden display.

Tags: travel, vacations, Pittsburgh


Gwen Pratesi is a James Beard Finalist in Journalism, award-winning food and travel writer, and coauthor of PratesiLiving.com, where she shares the stories of her international food and travel experiences. She also freelances for other regional, U.S., and international publications. You can follow her at Twitter (@pratesiliving), Linkedin, Google+, Facebook, and Instagram.

Recommended Articles

How to Find Cheap Flights

Holly Johnson | Dec. 13, 2018

These tips can help you see the world at prices you can afford.

5 Ways to Save Money on Honeymoon Travel

Nicola Wood | Dec. 11, 2018

Create priceless honeymoon memories without breaking the bank.

9 Small Towns That Go All Out for Christmas

Dec. 4, 2018

You don't have to travel to a big city to experience nonstop Christmas fun.

17 Family Ski Vacations to Take This Winter

Nov. 26, 2018

These family-friendly mountain resorts offer exceptional snow sports and activities for all ages.

The 50 Most Scenic Mountain Resorts

Nov. 19, 2018

Get away to enjoy the views and activities at these properties around the world.

The 5 Top Health and Wellness Trends in Cruising

Nicola Wood | Nov. 13, 2018

Find out how taking a cruise can support your health, fitness and nutrition goals.

10 New Cruise Ships and Amenities to Check Out

Nov. 13, 2018

See how cruise lines are raising the bar with tech-savvy touches and improved luxury experiences.

The 2019 Best Cruise Lines for the Money

Nov. 13, 2018

Find out which lines will help you save big on your next cruise vacation.

10 Travel Photography Tips for Getting Better Photos

Nov. 8, 2018

These tips can help you snap stunning and creative images without a fancy camera – or any experience.

What Is a Boutique Hotel?

Lyn Mettler | Oct. 22, 2018

Learn more about these accommodations and why they are so popular.