A quick Google search for “Pittsburgh travel” reveals plenty of articles that boast a ‘new and improved city’ that’s been ‘reimagined and transformed’. In these articles, Pittsburgh is a city no longer tethered to its historical reputation as the mecca of manufacturing. With over 24 miles of hilly riverfront trails, 90 neighborhoods welcome to visitors of all sorts and statures, and a myriad of performing arts spaces, eateries, and public venues, the ‘Burgh is a vastly different city than the one charged with producing over 95 million tons of steel during World War II. There’s a lot to explore before you move! One thing is certain, Pittsburgh doesn’t shy from the soot-stained roots that have given the city so much character. Though Pittsburgh is no longer producing the steel it once was, the steel industry and the immigrants who moved to the area to work it have made a lasting impact on the city’s many neighborhoods and can be found in its historic architecture, its vibrant art community, and the passion projects of its inhabitants. If you’re planning on leaving, follow this itinerary of things to do in Pittsburgh before you go.
Pittsburgh residents pride themselves on being unassuming, off-the-beaten-path kind of people. This is evident in many of the city’s independent venues and organizations. It’s home to the City of Asylum, which provides a sanctuary space for writers who have fled their home countries to continue writing; the Center for Postnatural History, a museum dedicated to the preservation of lifeforms that have been intentionally manipulated by humans via artificial selection or genetic engineering, and The Church Brew Works, a historic Baptist church built in 1902 turned bar by some of the city’s residents after the church was abandoned in the 90’s.
History certainly lives on in this upper Appalachian city, and you’ll miss it when you’re gone. It’s where history buffs and art lovers alike will find pure delight at The Frick Pittsburgh (free admission!), where after exploring across 5.5 acres of splendid gardens, they’ll step inside the Gilded age mansion of Henry K. Frick and out of this century to peruse Frick’s famed art, industrial automobile, and carriage collections. After that, travel to the Oakland neighborhood to find the Carnegie Museum of Art, which has coined itself the “first museum of Contemporary art in the United States.” The museum, which was founded in 1895 by another famed industrialist, Andrew Carnegie, is home to over 30,000 objects and installations to include everything from painting and sculpture to architectural casts and digital video displays. While this museum charges for admission, guests can access the museum for 50% off regular admission price after 3pm each day. In addition to its regular admission days, the Carnegie Museum of Art hosts a variety of exciting and specific events for visiting patrons. Enjoy a live woodworking workshop with a featured artist, or indulge yourself with a boozy evening spent learning how to craft bitters for your own cocktails before exploring the ‘bearded’ subjects of the museum’s many paintings. The local museums sure know how to liven up an evening full of dead guys.
Pittsburgh is so jam-packed with history that it can sometimes feel like it’s hard to break beyond the surface and understand how people lived during the age of steel. For those who hope to take full advantage of a quick trip, take a tour with Rivers of Steel Heritage Tours. These folks offer a variety of tour lengths to accommodate every time-table, and will have visitors exploring the Carrie steel blast furnaces on a photo safari that illuminates the history of Pittsburgh’s steel industry, examining the city’s underground graffiti culture during their Urban Art Workshop, or finding their inner Babushka during their Babushka and Hard Hats tour.
For those more enlivened by modern oddities and infectious joy than hard hat labor history and stories of steel, take a stroll down Arch Avenue on the city’s Northside to find Randyland, the passion project of local artist Randy Gilson. In 1995, Gilson purchased what was then a dilapidated building in an overlooked neighborhood and transformed it into what he calls his “house of junk and joy”. Visitors will find themselves transported to a wonderland of absurdity and ‘what ifs’ in this public house turned art gallery, where trash is frequently recycled into new treasure with shoestring budgets and a lot of love. According to Gilson, Randyland is all about community. He says, “When you do more for others, you find that you do more for yourself. And that’s the story of Randyland.”
For other visitors who tend towards more nature-oriented survey, explore the Rodef Shalom Biblical Botanical Garden, a magical garden featuring over 100 plants that hail from the Ancient Near East. Here, sightseers might happen upon the ‘Moses in a Basket’ plant or ‘Joseph’s Coat.’ It’s a good place to visit after The Church Brew Works if you need to recharge your reputation in the eyes of the big guy, if that’s your thing. Regardless of spiritual orientation, the Rodef Shalom Biblical Botanical Garden will render a new perspective on the area’s rich history of horticulture, agriculture, and archeology.
It’s obvious that the growth of Pittsburgh has changed the city, but these changes are accompanied by a reverence for its history and a refreshing self-awareness of the ‘Burgh as an ongoing project. Whether hoping to take a week-long excursion or a two-day adventure before you leave, Pittsburgh features enough variety in its exhibits, history, and entertainment to entertain visitors in unexpectedly delightful ways that will have them wishing they could return for round two the very next week. Alas, if it’s time to move, this list should give you plenty of things to do before you go.