If there’s one thing about Pittsburgh that never fails to surprise visitors, it’s the hills - the many, many hills. To outsiders, the city is known for its sports teams and former steel industry. And yes, those are big parts of the city. But it's the topography that determines so much of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods and history.
Located at the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers, Pittsburgh is sliced apart by water, hillsides, and a web of bridges. Navigating this web confuses everyone, including locals, but the confusion is a worthy price, as historic gems, museums, restaurants, and parks are scattered everywhere.
Some neighborhoods rest on the banks of the rivers, others cling to the hillsides above, but they all maintain the gritty pride that’s characteristic of Pittsburgh. The city is easily explored in a few days with a car, map, and lots of recommendations. Here's the best neighborhoods in Pittsburgh.
Best neighborhood for hotels
Downtown is situated at the fork of Pittsburgh's three rivers. It’s small, which is perfect because you can walk from one end to the other in 20 minutes. The major attractions can be seen in one morning, so consider it a jumping-off point to the rest of the city.
At the very tip of Downtown is Point State Park. Here you can stand at the fork and admire the rolling foothills of the Allegheny Mountains. Stroll Fourth Avenue to see extravagant Gilded Age buildings, a remnant of Pittsburgh's wealth during its industrial heyday.
The Cultural District holds Pittsburgh’s theaters. Most hotels are located Downtown, and aside from parking, it’s a convenient place to stay. There are tons of restaurants, and you can easily get anywhere via car or bus.
Best neighborhood for the whole family
The neighborhood Pittsburgh refers to as “the Northside” is actually 18 neighborhoods, all located, you guessed it, north of the city. Because the Northside encompasses so many pockets, anyone can find something to do here.
The Northside was once an autonomous city named Allegheny City. Pittsburgh annexed Allegheny City in 1907, but remnants persist. The Allegheny Post Office is now the Children’s Museum, a must-visit for families. Next door is Allegheny Commons Park, a Victorian-era park with promenades, arch bridges, and fountains.
The Allegheny Observatory is perched atop Observatory Hill, surrounded by hiking trails. A rainbow of 19th-century mansions and row houses can be found along the streets of Allegheny West, Manchester, and the Mexican War Streets.
At the southernmost edge is the North Shore, bedazzled in black and yellow and home to Pittsburgh’s stadiums. Walk along the shore to see PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Heinz Field, home to Pittsburgh’s beloved Steelers.
The North Shore also holds the Andy Warhol Museum. Due to these attractions, chain restaurants dominate the area. Stay Downtown instead. It’s just across the river, and the Three Sister Bridges have pedestrian access.
The Strip District
Best neighborhood for food lovers
"The Strip", as locals call it, is like Pittsburgh’s Epcot. Well, if Epcot also featured a Steelers paraphernalia store on every block. For over 100 years, the neighborhood has been the best place in Pittsburgh to shop for specialty foods.
Smallman Street and Penn Avenue, which run parallel through the neighborhood, are crammed with international markets featuring goods from Poland, Italy, Asia, the Middle East, and everywhere in between.
Despite this fact, the first thing you’ll notice about the Strip is the black and yellow. The sidewalks are brimming with vendors selling Pittsburgh merchandise. This dichotomy of local pride mixed with international cuisine is what makes the neighborhood so special. And so Pittsburgh.
The Strip is within walking distance from Downtown, and driving distance from the rest of the city. There are hotels within the Strip, and it’s a fun place to stay because it’s always busiest in the early morning. Regardless of what time you come, be sure to come hungry.
Best view of the city
To be fair, other than the view and a small collection of expensive steakhouses, there’s not much to do on Mount Washington. But the view is so spectacular, no trip to Pittsburgh would be complete without it. The aptly named Grandview Avenue runs along the crest of Mount Washington, offering views of the entire city.
You could drive to the top, but while you’re here, partake in another Pittsburgh tradition: riding the Incline. The slope of Mount Washington was once covered in funiculars to transport people and goods. Only two remain. From Downtown, either walk or drive across the Smithfield Street Bridge. The funicular stations are at the base of the hill.
Best neighborhood to stroll
Lawrenceville is Pittsburgh’s trendiest neighborhood, and its story is similar to other trendy neighborhoods. Over the past decade, this former working-class neighborhood fell headfirst into the gentrification cycle.
It’s now bursting with high-end restaurants, bars, and boutiques. Almost every business is centered along Butler Street, which runs from 34th Street all the way to the 62nd Street Bridge.
Explore Lawrenceville on foot, but make sure your explorations take you down a few side streets. They are filled with candy-colored row houses that attracted people to the neighborhood in the first place.
Best neighborhood for museums
Oakland is Pittsburgh’s university and hospital district, home to students, medical workers, and the fast-casual restaurants and dive bars that fuel them. This busy neighborhood holds many of Pittsburgh’s cultural institutions, bequeathed to the city during the steel boom, when industrialists competed to display their wealth.
The Carnegie Museum of Art and Natural History sits side-by-side the Carnegie Library on Fifth Avenue. Inside you’ll discover dinosaur fossils, casts of ancient buildings, and an impressive modern art collection, including the archive of photographer Teenie Harris.
Phipps Conservatory, an 1893 Lord & Burnham glass greenhouse sits up the hill in Schenley Park. Oakland is centrally located and easy to get to from almost anywhere in the city.
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