Having heard and seen beautiful images of this lovely city, I was excited to be spending a day touring Pittsburgh and getting a flavor and first impression of the city. An early two hour drive from Cleveland brought me to the outskirts of the city by 9 in the morning. I had a big list of places to see in just one full day of touring and visiting as many attractions one can squeeze into the days adventure (I know, I just love a challenge of seeing as much as I can in a limited time frame).
So let me show you how my full day of sightseeing turned out, and yes it was a packed back to back with exciting visits historical venues mixed in with quirky landmarks all around the city.
Here’s what to see and do in Pittsburgh, PA
Morning hike along the North Shore riverfront trail
I was fortunate to meet up with a fellow blogger and travel enthusiast Jeremy Jones and his wife Angie for a morning stroll around the North Shore riverfront trail facing downtown Pittsburgh. Jeremy runs a popular website dedicate to Pittsburgh called Discover the Burg, which is the definitive site sharing the best of everything around Pittsburgh. So needless to say, I was in good hands with this couple with their sweet dog, Tamale.
Our morning walk started on the popular North riverfront trail along both sides of the Allegheny River. For a newbie to the city, I thought that walking along the riverfront was the perfect introduction to seeing Pittsburg and it’s three iconic rivers. The views of the entire downtown skyline were magnificent with all these cool bridges spanning the three rivers and meeting together to form the Golden Triangle, a lovely park on the tip of downtown Pittsburgh with unobstructed views of the mountains and surrounding landscape. Jeremy shared some interesting facts about Pittsburgh’s history while pointing out some of the main attractions, architecture and landmarks along the downtown and riverfront area, including the two main stadiums on the waterfront.
A first impression of Pittsburgh – colorful sculpture on the North riverfront
Even though it was a cloudy day, the dramatic sky, unusual bridges and scenic vistas made the walk enjoyable and fun to photograph while we were passing through the North shore walks. I’m glad that Jeremy and Angie didn’t mind showing off their magnificent city to a newbie and pointing out many of the cool attractions along the way. I was fascinated by different types of bridges (446 total bridges) around the city and further down the three rivers. Many of the older bridges were painted in this iconic yellow color called Aztec Gold. I found out later that this color symbolically represents the famous golden triangle and the main downtown area of Pittsburgh. For some reason, it all seemed to work perfectly to me and looks fantastic in the photographs.
A first impression of Pittsburgh – Point State Park and fountain
One of the most scenic spots in downtown Pittsburgh is on the tip at the Golden triangle. The open area is called Point State park where the three rivers of the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela rivers converge into this point. In the center is a majestic central fountain spraying a solid jet of water 150 feet into the air. The fountain and park have gone through an extensive renovation process and is now one of the most popular spots for tourists and locals to hangout and enjoy the water views and surrounding landscape.
Close to the fountain are the foundations of two early forts that were located in the Golden Triangle. There is still one surviving structure, a block house (image below) that was used primarily as a defensive barrack located outside of the fortress from any land invasion. There is a volunteer inside who can give you a wonderful introduction to the history of fortress and settlement during that early timeframe. I peppered him with a lot of questions and he was very generous with his time, so if you are interested in learning more about the early history of this area, go inside the block house and take a look around.
Exploring Fort Pitt Museum
Right next to the Block house, is the Fort Pitt museum. I would have loved to visit and learn more about the fascinating history and people of that era, but unfortunately, I didn’t really have enough time to check it out. If you would like to do a virtual tour, this is the link to the Fort Pitt museum website Hopefully you can see this in person and tell me if it was worth a visit.
In the grassy lawn behind the Block House, I took a picture of Jeremy, Angie and Tamale (below) posing around a plaque with the outline of Fort Pitt. There is an outlined cement pattern on the grass lawn which represents the actual fort foundation, and beyond the fort is the main fountain in the background. It’s a perfect spot to take in all the lovely views around Point State Park and spend a few hours or morning if you want to do more exploring or walking through the downtown district.
Visiting the Phipps conservatory and botanical gardens
After our morning walk, I said goodbye to Jeremy and Angie and raced through the crazy highways and convoluted streets of Pittsburgh to visit the Phipps conservatory at Schenley Park. This historic and landmark botanical garden with glasshouses was a gift to the city from philanthropist, Henry W. Phipps. The conservatory and grounds are not only historic but it is a spectacular place to visit and enjoy the amazing glass house gardens and landscape. You can get more highlights, pictures and information from a recent post I did about the Phipps conservatory here. Highlights to the center include a series of themed garden rooms, outdoor environments and green technology buildings that are well presented and filled with inventive sculpture, art, unusual plantings, educational signage and interactive displays. I must admit, I could have easily spent the entire day exploring and I did see everything around the entire complex, but could have easily spent more time explore all the cool places around the center.
Tip: there is a wonderful restaurant on the premises and a seasonal outdoor café overlooking the gardens, so you can have a wonderful meal right at the conservatory. For more information about Phipps, programs and their monthly calendar, check out their website here.
Dale Chihuly sculptures adorn many of the gardens at Phipps
The Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh
I got a tip to visit the Cathedral of Learning from Jeremy because it is an easy and short walk from the Phipps Conservatory, so I went over to check out this fascinating landmark. The centerpiece of the University of Pittsburgh, the Cathedral of Learning is the tallest education building in the western hemisphere at 42 stories or 535 feet. Functioning as an administration center and classrooms, the center has over 29 unique Nationality rooms, patterned after the building styles and interiors of each particular country or international region represented by the community. I was not able to take a guided tour when I visited, but a few of the floors and rooms were open for the public to walk through the individual rooms on display. I’ve included a few photographs of the rooms (below) that I visited. They were fun to check out and see all the detailed craftsmanship, artwork and artifacts that made each room unique to the country being represented. It would have been nice to take a tour of the rooms and building to get more information and history about the entire facility, but I was okay with just visiting the open rooms at my leisure.
Detailed interiors of a typical Nationality Room
Interior entry and hall of the Cathedral of Learning
Lunch at the University of Pittsburgh
The big grassy area surrounding the Cathedral of Learning has an outdoor quad area with a variety of cafes and pop up eateries to choose from with casual outdoor seating. I chose to eat at a recurring pop up called the Conflict Kitchen which serves food with countries that have a conflict with the United States. At the time of my visit, they were highlighting the foods of Cuba which was peaking my interest to check out their menu and story. The menu was interesting and filled with tasty appetizers and main dishes. I opted for a Empanada de Picadillo ($3.50) and an entrée of Lechon Asado ($8.00) along with a tasty drink of a tamarind Agua Fresca ($2.00). It was a filling lunch and I could have just done the empanada, but everything was delicious and worth a try.
Carnegie Museum of Art
After lunch, I quickly toured around the campus grounds and then checked out the façade of the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. But again, I didn’t have enough time to explore either of these museums. I’ll have to visit another time to show you some of the amazing artwork and natural artifacts that is displayed in both world re-known museums and what I was able to check online and it looks quite impressive..
The Frick Art and Historical Center
Another mad dash around the streets of Pittsburgh and I am in a quiet residential area that used to be one of the most posh neighborhoods of the industrial elite. Only one grand home remains completely intact and open to the public to visit. The Frick Art and Historical Center was given to the city by the last descendant of the Frick family, Helen Clay Frick. The daughter of one of the wealthiest industrialist, Helen wanted to preserve the entire complex and buildings of the Frick estate as a museum for the public to experience and learn what it was like for the privilege elite to live in these grand homes. The estate shows how decadent and elaborate these Victorian homes were and the term ‘ More is more’ was perpetuated as a status symbol to collecting art and lavished decorations in these homes. Unfortunately, they don’t allow photographs to be taken of the interiors in the Mansion so you’ll just have to visit on your own to really see some over the top Victorian bling.
I ended up visiting everything at the center including the art museum, glass conservatory and gardens and a guided tour around the mansion. It is amazing to note that almost 90 percent of the personal collections, furniture and artwork are intact and preserved at the estate for the public to visit and get a glimpse of the lifestyle of the Uber wealthy and industrial magnates of the time. The guided tour of the mansion covers the entire home including the private bedrooms of the family and our guide shared a lot of wonderful stories and details about the family and their claim to fame in the industrial era as Coal producers collaborating with the biggest industrialists of the country.
The Strip District
I hear that weekends are a popular time to explore the Strip District along the riverfront facing the Allegheny river so I head out there after finishing the guided tour of the Frick mansion. The Strip district was the warehouse district and railroad industrial area of the city and has been recently converted into a place of shopping for international food, galleries, markets and dining out. This popular venue is a casual place to explore the streets to sample a variety of international cuisine or just check out the fun and quirky shops along the strip. By the time I arrived at the Strip it was close to end of day Sunday, and many of the shops were already closed outside of the restaurants. So I actually just did a quick tour and picked up something to go on my long drive back to Cleveland, Ohio.
I definitely would have loved to come earlier to explore more of the district including many other attractions that were on my list but ran out of time to visit. Pittsburgh is really a cool and fun city to explore and I think it definitely needs more than one full day to discover and enjoy.
So perhaps another time and I’ll visit and stay just a little bit longer and I’ll be able to update you on the many other attractions and fun places I didn’t get a chance to explore.
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