Pittsburgh's beaux-arts elegance and muscular art-deco swagger, together with its stunning surroundings of mountains and rivers, set this city apart. From quirky museums and live music events, to street art and hikes with incredible skyline views, you can enjoy much of the city's art, culture, and history for nothing at all. There is even a Free Fare Zone on the rail network! Here are 13 of the best free things to do when you're next in Pittsburgh.
Editor's note: during COVID-19 there may be additional travel restrictions. Check the latest guidance in Pennsylvania before planning a trip, and always follow local government health advice.
They call Pittsburgh the "city of rivers," so it's only appropriate that it has a park from which to admire its internal waterways. Allegheny Landing was one of the first urban riverfront sculpture parks in the country, and while it can get a little littered, the modern sculpture plus waterfront biking and walking trails make for an altogether lovely slice of city green space. It's pleasant in spring and autumn, and dramatic in winter snow.
Rivers of Steel Homestead Streetside Gallery
Rivers of Steel is committed to preserving Pittsburgh's industrial and cultural heritage through exhibitions, tours and events. Some, such as a tour of Carrie Blast Furnace, a huge and derelict structure on the riverfront, will cost US$21, but others, like the Homestead Streetside Gallery, are free. Here, you can wander the neighborhood admiring a series of murals that have been created by local artists.
Emerald View Park
To enjoy fabulous free views over the Pittsburgh skyline, head for Emerald View Park, which links up the hillside neighborhoods of Duquesne Heights, Mount Washington and Allentown, and includes several significant viewpoints. There are also public art displays and suggested hiking routes. Learn more about Pittsburgh's history on a 1.5-mile-long walk along the Grand View Scenic Byway.
The Allegheny Observatory is part of the University of Pittsburgh located in Riverview Park, a few miles north of downtown Pittsburgh. It's a major astronomical research institution and only opens to the public for free pre-booked tours, which run Thursday and Friday evenings in the summer months.
Randyland is an outdoor art museum that promotes a message of love and happiness. It's made up of a giant yellow house with enormous floor-to-roof wall murals. There's a small army of garden statuary and a junkyard's worth of painted furniture with a bunch of painted signs from around the world. All this gives a general sense that the man who lives here has embraced the world's weirdness in its entirety. You can't forget it if you've seen it, and if you haven't seen it, get here.
Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation
The PHLF group works towards sustainable development in Pittsburgh through preserving the city's history and building a strong sense of community. The organization offers free downloadable self-guided walking tours of several city neighborhoods.
Bicycle Heaven Museum
Bicycle Heaven, the largest bicycle shop in the world, also happens to contain a free bicycle museum with a fascinating collection of nearly 6000 vintage bikes from around the world. Best part: it's free to visit the museum (donations welcome), and when you're done browsing, you can pick up any bike gear you need.
Frick Art and Historical Center
Henry Clay Frick, of New York City's Frick Collection fame, built his steel fortune in Pittsburgh. The Frick Art and Historical Center shows a small art collection (including beautiful medieval icons), plus his cars. Admission to the grounds, the Permanent Collection and the Car and Carriage Museum is free.
Nationality Rooms at the Cathedral of Learning
Soaring 42 stories, the Gothic tower at the Cathedral of Learning, part of the University of Pittsburgh, is a city landmark. Visit to see the delightful Nationality Rooms, 30 classrooms themed to localities ranging from Russia to Syria to Africa to Ireland. Make a reservation in advance to tour the rooms, or take a digital tour, which is available online anytime.
Center for PostNatural History
"Postnatural history," according to the artist-founder of this quirky museum, is the field of plants and animals designed by humankind. Learn all about spider-silk–making goats, selective breeding and more. Probably not your best first-date spot, but definitely a fun and unconventional place to learn about all things.
Banjo Night at Elks Lodge
Find out why Pittsburgh is known as the Paris of Appalachia at the Pittsburgh Banjo Club on the North Side. From 8pm on Wednesday nights at Elks Lodge the stage is packed with players and the audience sings along to all the banjo classics. Reservations recommended.
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh does not lack for beautiful, muscular buildings and the main branch of the Central Library is no exception to this rule. The main branch of the library system is a beautiful, multilevel hybrid of neoclassical and beaux-arts influences, and serves as a nice spot to relax and rest your feet while exploring around the Carnegie Museum complex.
Fort Pitt Block House
Fort Pitt Block House, originally constructed in 1764 as a defensive redoubt for Fort Pitt, is the only remaining part of the fort. It's the city's oldest building and a national historic landmark. It's free to visit the Block House and wander through lovely Riverside Park. However, if you're keen to know more about the French and Indian War of the mid-18th century, tickets to the nearby Fort Pitt Museum cost $8.
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