There may be more beautiful cities than Pittsburgh, but few mix the seemingly contradictory aesthetics of filigreed beaux-arts elegance with muscular art-deco swagger. This is a city of stone and steel, with old public libraries and brick row houses beside wide bridges and towering skyscrapers. There's an old-school class to Pittsburgh's good looks, underlined by an attitude towards dining, drinking and the arts that is genuinely innovative.
Pittsburgh's surroundings also set the city apart. Situated between the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers and the upland ridge of Mt Washington, this city has a distinctive geography; physically, it is very much defined by its mountains and rivers. While this is the main urban center for western Pennsylvania, it has avoided the economic depression of the surrounding region by investing in 'meds and eds' – hospitals and universities – buttressing its economy with expansive intellectual energy.
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Pittsburgh.
Since 1977, this art space has hosted the avant-garde. It now occupies several buildings in the Mexican War Streets neighborhood, and always has something surprising on, from pitch-black sensory deprivation rooms to surreal caricature galleries to oddly angled experiments in room layout. The summer Urban Garden Party event is always popular – it's a fundraiser party held in June every year and over 90 restaurants cater food and beverages for it. Why is it called the Mattress Factory? The name originates from the original owners of the building and its purpose – Stearns and Foster Mattress Factory Warehouse. The gallery (they also refer to themselves as a laboratory due to the nature of the art) now occupies three historic buildings in Pittsburgh's North Side. It is considered one of the best installation art galleries in the USA and the exhibits are often completely subversive and engaging in the best possible way. Keep in mind that this is installation art, not interactive art. The gallery does not allow visitors to touch the works and some may not be suitable for younger visitors. Always ask at reception if you're not sure. How much is it? Tickets are $20 each and children (6 and under) get in for free. If you are attending with young children, check that all the exhibits are suitable for them as some installations contain mature content. Tickets for students are $15 and admission is free for students from local universities. Tours led by Museum Educators are available to book for $10. There are sometimes interactive classes available for kids in which they're guided by artists to create their own works.
This nifty funicular and its Monongahela Incline twin down the road, both built in the late 19th century, are Pittsburgh icons, zipping up the steep slope of Mt Washington every five to 10 minutes. They provide commuters a quick connection, and give visitors great city views, especially at night. History The Duquesne Incline was first opened on May 20, 1877. It was originally used to transport cargo up and down Mt Washington, but local residents who were tired of the steep walk also started using it. It fell into disrepair over time as new forms of transport became more popular, until the local community came together to restore it to its former glory in 1963. They managed to retain all the original features of the ornate wooden cable cars and are the reason it's such a popular tourist attraction to this day. What's at the top? The funicular station at the top of Mt Washington has a museum, gift shop, and observation deck. The deck offers some beautiful views of the Pittsburgh skyline. At the top, you can pay 50¢ to see the interior of the machinery that powers the cable cars, watching all the gears and cables at work. You can make a loop using the two funiculars, going up one, walking along aptly named Grandview Ave (about 1 mile, or take bus 40) and coming down the other. Enjoy some delicious New American cuisine along with an incredible view at Altius. However, if you only have time to ride one, make it the Duquesne (du- kane). The upper station is wheelchair accessible.
This six-story museum celebrates Pittsburgh's coolest native son, Andy Warhol, who moved to NYC, got a nose job and made himself famous with pop art. One of the four Carnegie museums in the city, this holds the largest collection of Warhol's work in the world and is the largest single-artist museum in North America. Exhibits The exhibits start with Warhol's earliest drawings and commercial illustrations and include a simulated Velvet Underground happening, a DIY 'screen test' and pieces of Warhol's extensive knickknack collection. They are spread across seven floors and there's also a basement-level exhibition space that houses The Factory education space. The Warhol also houses every piece of the artist's work in video, made up of over 4000 videotapes. The Warhol Store The on-site shop has the same opening hours as the museum and sells all kinds of souvenirs and curios inspired by Warhol's art – for instance, cans of inflatable Campbell's soup are for sale. You don't need to ticket to the museum to access the shop and they also have an online shop if you forget to stock up on gifts before you leave Pittsburgh. There's also a cafe on site selling drinks and light snacks. How much is it? Adult tickets are $20 and kids' admission is $10 – children under three get in for free. Admission is half price on Friday evenings after 5pm; it's the only day the museum opens late. The museum is closed on Tuesdays. Your ticket gives you access to everything in the building, even special exhibitions.
Soaring 42 stories, this Gothic tower at the center of the University of Pittsburgh is a city landmark. It has a 4-storey common room at ground level and also houses classrooms, a theater, a print shop, computer labs, offices, libraries and a food court. Towering over the neighborhood at 535 ft, the Cathedral is the second tallest educational building in the world. The tower's focus on a diverse range of cultures and ethnicities was an intentional effort to show all the good that immigrants brought to the USA. History This Gothic skyscraper was commissioned by the university Chancellor, John G. Bowman, in 1921. The university experienced a huge surge in student applications after WWI and Bowman realised they needed to build more classrooms on the existing campus to accommodate demand. However, ground space was limited and the only way was up. Rather than erect a run-of-the-mill concrete tower, architect Charles Z. Klauder was tasked with creating a beautiful skyscraper that would inspire and honor the spirit of the citizens of Pittsburgh. The proposed construction inspired local industries to donate resources like steel, cement, and glass. There was also a funding outreach program to the local community and even the smallest donation was welcome. Many Pittsburgh locals still have certificates they received as children after contributing as little as 10 cents to buy a brick for the Cathedral. Nationality Rooms A visit to the delightful Nationality Rooms is an absolute must. Made up of 31 classrooms themed to localities ranging from Russia to Syria to Africa to the Philippines, it's an ode to the global benefit of education. Communities from all over the city were invited to help in the creation of their respective rooms as a celebration of Pittsburgh's diversity. New rooms may be added in the future. Is it open to the public? Self-guided audio tours (adult/child $4/2) are available daily in summer, or weekends during school term. The Nationality Rooms are functioning classrooms during term time. Virtual tours are also available on the university's website.
Founded in 1895, these neighboring institutions are both tremendous troves of knowledge. The Carnegie Museum of Art has European treasures and an excellent architectural collection, while the Carnegie Museum of Natural History features a complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton and beautiful old dioramas. The art museum is open until 11pm on the third Thursday of the month.
An impressive steel-and-glass greenhouse with beautifully designed and curated gardens, at the northwest corner of Schenley Park.
Hey, did you notice the giant yellow house with enormous floor-to-roof wall murals and a small army of garden statuary and a junkyard's worth of painted furniture and a bunch of painted signs from around the world and vintage toys and a general sense that the man who lives here has embraced the world's weirdness in a full-throttled embrace? Of course you noticed Randyland. You can't forget it if you've seen it, and if you haven't seen it, get here.
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.
'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 human -ipulated.