10 Popular Things to Do in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is a diverse city with many attractions! One list cannot do justice to the variety of nightlife, history or children’s activities that have grown in the city over recent years. This list ranks the top 10 things to do in Pittsburgh, based on a combination of annual visitors, quality, and apparent interest within the Southwestern Pennsylvania Guide as a whole.

#10: National Aviary

The National Aviary is one of many things to do in Pittsburgh.
The National Aviary is the only indoor bird zoo in the United States.

Located in Allegheny Commons West Park on the North Side, the National Aviary is the only indoor zoo for birds in the country. With over 500 birds representing more than 150 species, the Aviary houses an impressive collection from all over the world. Many of the birds are free to fly around, and some can be hand-fed. The Aviary runs programs for environmental education and outreach and holds special events year-round.

The Aviary was opened in 1952, but the site has been used as a conservatory for plants since the late 1800s. It was recently expanded in 2009. This site was also that of the Western State Penitentiary back in the mid-1800s.

Other Things to Do in the Area:

West Park, which surrounds the Aviary, is an oasis in the urban North Side area. Two other attractions are in close proximity. The Mattress Factory Museum is located to the north, and the Children’s Museum to the west, in Allegheny Commons. Two bed and breakfasts are also nearby: The Parador Inn and the Inn on the Mexican War Streets. The Mexican War Street Historic District is a quiet, sleeper attraction worth checking out, with unique, residential architecture that has undergone restoration.

#9: Phipps Conservatory

Phipps Conservatory is one of many things to do in Pittsburgh
The main entrance to Phipps Conservatory

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is situated in the corner of Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park. It is located across from Flagstaff Hill, which is known for its popularity with college students and summertime movies in the park. Phipps is a neighbor to both Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1889, Phipps has been a popular attraction with its ever-changing flower and garden shows, as well as remaining active in promoting benefits of the public garden and botanical education. In 2005-06, Phipps underwent major expansion and renovation projects, becoming LEED Certified.
The greenhouse construction at Phipps allows it to be open year-round, with its Christmas and Easter Flower Shows being especially popular. There is always something new to discover, both inside and out the adjacent, beautiful gardens. There are continuous special events throughout the year as well.

Other Things to Do in the Area:

Schenley Park offers secluded hiking and biking trails in the city, along with an outdoor ice rink with an excellent view of Oakland. Both CMU and Pitt are within walking distance to Phipps as well. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is located just across the Panther Hollow Bridge, as are the Carnegie Museums (see #6 below). Several bed and breakfasts are also located in nearby Shadyside, including Mansions on Fifth, the Mansion at Maple Heights and the Inn on Negley.

#8: Downtown Pittsburgh

Visiting Downtown Pittsburgh / Market Square is one of many things to do in Pittsburgh.
Market Square is a hub of activity in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Visiting Downtown Pittsburgh is in itself a top destination since there are so many attractions and points of interest within the compact “Golden Triangle” of the city center. Bounded by rivers on two sides and an Interstate on the other, Downtown Pittsburgh features cultural, historical and recreational opportunities.

At the tip of the triangle where the rivers meet lies Point State Park, with its iconic fountain. The park is popular with walkers, bicyclists and outdoor enthusiasts that love to gather on “Pittsburgh’s Front Lawn”. It is the foremost location for various events throughout the year, including the Three Rivers Arts Festival and Pittsburgh Regatta. This was once an industrial site, and before that was the site of Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne, because of its strategic value to control waterway access to the country’s interior. Outlines and remnants of the forts are still visible, and the world class Fort Pitt Museum is open daily to visitors.

Downtown Pittsburgh has undergone tremendous revitalization over the last twenty years. No more is this evident than in the Cultural District and in Market Square. The Cultural District is centered around Liberty and Penn Avenues, and is the home of many of the city’s art, dramatic and musical venues. The Pittsburgh Symphony at Heinz Hall, the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, and the Byham Theater are just a few of the venues within a few block radius, accented with various restaurants and shopping.
Close by is Market Square, which has been a primary public gathering space since the City’s inception. The perimeter is densely populated with several restaurants, with the center space active with seasonal events. During the summer, Market Square features a weekly concert series along with a weekly farmers market. During the winter, the square is transformed into a Christmas Village with unique and quaint shopping opportunities. Market Square is adjacent to PPG Plaza, which is known for its summertime fountains (popular with children) and winter ice skating.

While visiting Downtown, visitors can learn more about the historic and beautiful architecture of many of the buildings. The golden triangle is home to a integrated mixture of old and new buildings. Some historic structures of note include the First Presbyterian Church (built in 1903), the Fort Pitt Blockhouse and the Firstside Historic District above the Mon Wharf. Newer buildings include the 64-story Steel Building and the Tower at PNC Plaza, which opened in 2015. The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation offers self-guided walking tours of historical and other Pittsburgh points of interest. Finally, Just Ducky Tours operate daily from Station Square, providing sightseeing and colorful commentary of Downtown.

Other Things to Do in the Area:

Downtown is literally the hub of activity in southwestern Pennsylvania, but other vibrant city neighborhoods lie in every direction from the Golden Triangle. Among the most popular with visitors are the attraction-heavy North Shore / North Side areas, gritty South Side & Strip District corridors and youthful Oakland.

#7: Kennywood Park

The Racer at Kennywood Park
The Racer at Kennywood Park

Although known as a seasonal attraction, no Pittsburgh list would be complete without the inclusion of Kennywood, a quintessential landmark. In addition, Kennywood Park has expanded its operations for Halloween and Christmas / Holiday hours, so it is open for over half of the year! Kennywood opened in 1898 as a “trolley park”, providing a reason for people to ride the streetcar to the end of the line. Originally a picnic and recreational area, it has grown into a modern amusement park while maintaining a homey and quaint atmosphere. Generations of Pittsburghers have grown up riding the same classic rides! However, Kennywood does keep things fresh with new renovations and rides each year as well.

Kennywood was once promoted as “the roller coaster capital of the world”! It has an unusual number of coasters for its size, featuring three old-style wooden coasters: The Jack Rabbit, The Racer and The Thunderbolt. Kennywood also has a few water rides, a train and a “Kiddieland” for the tykes.

Other Things to Do in the Area:

Kennywood is located to the southeast of Pittsburgh, along the Monongahela River. Access to the park is a bit cumbersome for those not familiar with the area, but its location is fitting in one sense. This iconic Pittsburgh landmark lies within the upper Mon Valley, and the shadows of the region’s steel heritage are all around. This is most evident in the view across the river, seen best from the train ride. US Steel’s Mon Valley Works – Edgar Tomson Plant is situated directly across from Kennywood. This steel mill has been active since 1872. On the river itself is the Braddock Locks & Dam, open since 1902.

Downstream of Kennywood in Homestead lies The Waterfront, a unique shopping district that opened in 1999. It was developed on the wide, flat expanse of land that once was the site of US Steel’s Homestead Works. Adjacent to the Waterfront is Sandcastle, the area’s only major water park – another one of the top things to do in Pittsburgh during the summer.

There are two bed & breakfasts, both about 20-25 minutes away: the Oak Noggin in Jefferson Hills and the Larimer Mansion in Irwin, PA.

#6: Carnegie Museums of Art / Natural History

Tyrannosaurus Rex is always a hit at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Tyrannosaurus Rex is always a hit at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Two world class museums are located within the same historic building, along with an expansive library and a famed music hall. The complex was a gift from Pittsburgh’s man of steel, Andrew Carnegie, in 1895. The architecture and nuance of the buildings are worth a visit in of themselves.

The Carnegie Museum of Art was founded in 1896. It is a contemporary art museum, housing 30,000 objects displayed within featured exhibits. Literally down the hall is the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. With millions of objects and specimens in its collection, the Carnegie has become one of the top natural history museums in the country. Popular permanent exhibitions include “Dinosaurs in Their Time” and the “Hillman Hall of Minerals & Gems”. There are also featured traveling and interactive exhibits. These museums are popular with families, schools and researchers alike. The museum complex houses ongoing special events and programs routinely throughout the year.

Other Things to Do in the Area:

The Carnegie Museums are conveniently located in Oakland, adjacent to both the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. Across the street (Forbes Avenue) is the towering Cathedral of Learning, the second tallest university building in the world. Within lie the Nationality Rooms, and on the outside grounds is situated Heinz Chapel. Due to its beautiful architecture, it is a favorite site for weddings year round!

Also across Schenley Plaza are the remains of Forbes Field, widely known as the setting for Bill Mazeroski’s Game 7 walk-off home run during the 1960 World Series. The portion of the left field wall over which the ball cleared has been preserved. Home plate is situated in the lobby of Posvar Hall. It had to be moved from its actual location, or else it would be located within a women’s restroom!
Phipps Conservatory (#9 Above) is located just across the Panther Hollow Bridge (see #9 above), as is Flagstaff Hill and Schenley Park.

#5: Senator John Heinz History Center

The Senator John Heinz History Center is one of many things to do in Pittsburgh
The Senator John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh

Located in the Strip District adjacent to Downtown, the Heinz History Center is the largest history museum in the state of Pennsylvania. It is affiliated with the Smithsonian and is one of several museums operated by the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania. Situated in a 6-story warehouse that is representative of the area, the History Center is highly visible from the nearby Veterans Bridge, especially with its Heinz Ketchup sign affixed to the side.

The History Center is a hit with kids and adults alike. With 370,000 square feet of space, there is something for everyone. Exhibits include “Discovery Place” and “Kidsburgh” for the kids, as well as 6 floors of varied local themes such as “Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation” and “Clash of the Empires”. There is so much to see and do that you could spend all day here and not see everything. If you are into local history, you have found your destination!

The History Center offers events weekly, and provides educational opportunities in line with its mission to preserve and promote local history. It also maintains a growing artifact collection, currently numbered at around 40,000.

Other Things to Do in the Area:

The Strip District is a destination in of itself, with its blue-collar history. These days, it is truly a colorful, diverse and vibrant neighborhood. Known for its restaurants, nightlife and grocery / specialty retail shopping, The Strip is an eclectic mix of old and new – a great example of the latest resurgence in Pittsburgh!

The David L. Lawrence Convention Center is only a few blocks away as well. As the major exposition center in the region, there are usually shows and events open to the public on most weekends.

#4: Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh is one of many things to do in Pittsburgh
The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

OK, so this one is mainly for kids, but parents will have a great time here as well. The Children’s Museum is a hands-on labyrinth of fun & educational exhibits for kids of all ages. It is located in the old “Buhl Planetarium” in the Allegheny Commons section of the North Side, not far from the National Aviary (#10) and North Shore destinations. There are three floors of themed fun, including 15 exhibits. Come prepared – there is a floor of “water play” that the kids love, where they can get as wet as their parents allow. In the basement there is a small theater as well.

The Children’s Museum offers special events and classes, including weekly “story time” and art opportunities. Birthday parties and rentals are also very popular.

Other Things to Do in the Area:

The New Hazlett Theater, built in 1889, is located adjacent to the museum. This historic theater is home to shows and events in a variety of art disciplines. To the west is the National Aviary (#10 above), the nation’s only “bird zoo” of its kind. Finally, North Shore attractions can be easily reached through the Federal Street underpass. Although the railroad and highway unfortunately divide the neighborhood, PNC Park and the Andy Warhol Museum are in the immediate vicinity on the other side.

#3 Carnegie Science Center

The Carnegie Science Center is one of many things to do in Pittsburgh
The Carnegie Science Center on Pittsburgh’s North Shore

The Carnegie Science Center is popular with kids, but the exhibits are fun and educational for adults as well. In fact, the Science Center holds periodic “no-kids nights” for adults only. With four expansive floors to discover, the exhibits cover many branches of science, from “roboplace” to “H2Oh” to “Space Place”. Many of the exhibits have a Pittsburgh flavor, none more so than the Miniature Railroad Village, with hundreds of Pittsburgh landmarks on display! Also be sure to explore the OmniMax Theater, featuring the largest movie screen in Pittsburgh.

Adjacent to the Carnegie Science Center is Highmark Sports Works, with 30 interactive sports-related activities that relate and educate to anatomy, physics and biology. On the river side is docked the USS Requin, a World War II era submarine. The USS Requin is open for tours daily.

Other Things to Do in the Area:

The Carnegie Science Center is located on the fringe of the North Shore, but is in walking distance to most destinations, including Stage AE and numerous restaurants. It is situated between Heinz Field (home of the Pittsburgh Panthers and Steelers) and the Rivers Casino. It also lies along the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, which runs along the Allegheny and Ohio rivers from Millvale Riverfront Park (near the 40th Street Bridge) to nearly the McKees Rocks Bridge. This trail is a favorite for walkers and bicyclists, especially in the North Shore area.

#2: Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium

The Pittsburgh Zoo is one of many things to do in Pittsburgh.
The Pittsburgh Zoo is home to over 100 species of animals.

Opened in 1898, the original “Highland Park Zoo” quickly became a Pittsburgh landmark. Over the decades the zoo has changed with the times and has grown in size and complexity. Today, the Pittsburgh Zoo is renown in the region and nationally for its quality and diversity of animal exhibits, consistently ranking in the top 10 of zoos nationwide. With over 1,000 animals of 100 species, the zoo is committed to providing naturalistic habitats. Its focus in not only a great family experience for its visitors, but on education and scientific research as well. In 1994, the Pittsburgh Zoo opened its educational complex, which is the center for zoo camps, programs, and other special events.

The zoo is generally laid out in a hilly loop. Along the way, visitors encounter the Tropical Forest, Waters Edge, The Islands, and PPG Aquarium. Each provides a unique experience to view and sometimes interact with the animals. There is also a play area (Kids Kingdom) for the kiddos, and upgraded restaurants throughout. More expansion is planned for the upcoming years; the first of which being an overhaul of the bear exhibits. With over a million visitors annually, the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is the top cultural attraction in southwestern Pennsylvania!

Other Things to Do in the Area:

The Pittsburgh Zoo is located in Pittsburgh’s Highland Park neighborhood, located in the northeastern part of the city. Actually, it is situated within Highland Park itself, which offers typical park amenities such as hiking, biking, swimming and picnic shelters. City neighborhoods in close proximity include Morningside, Lawrenceville and Bakery Square. These areas are prime examples of Pittsburgh’s latest renaissance, where blighted communities have seen a drastic resurgence. Be sure to visit the eclectic restaurants and shops in these areas, as well as several “artsy” things to do in Pittsburgh.

#1: Station Square / Mt. Washington

Downtown Pittsburgh as viewed from Mt. Washington, the #1 thing to do in Pittsburgh
Downtown Pittsburgh as viewed from Mt. Washington

So, what is the “go to” or “must see” attraction for visitors to the city of Pittsburgh? Taking a ride on the incline to see the awesome views from Mt. Washingon, then stopping at Station Square for shopping and a bite to eat.
Station Square is a retail, office and entertainment complex located at the southern end of the historic Smithfield Street Bridge. It is directly across the Monongahela River from Downtown Pittsburgh, spread along a strip of flat land bounded by Mt. Washington. The area was historically a meeting place for visitors arriving by train. In 1976, the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation began development of the site into what it is today. In fact, the main “Freight House Shops” of Station Square is a remodeled train shed. Today, the building houses specialty shops, offices and restaurants. Outside is located the newer Bessimer Court, with even more restaurants and things to do, including the Hard Rock Café, Joe’s Crab Shack and Buca di Beppo. Station Square is also known for its night life.

Across Carson Street lies the lower station of the Monongahela Incline. This is the oldest continuously running such incline in the United States, having opened in 1870. The passenger incline, along with 16 others in Pittsburgh at the time, was built to transport workers from Mt. Washington (Coal Hill) to Downtown Pittsburgh with ease, since the geography was rough and roads were few. Today only two remain.
For a small fee, visitors can ride the incline up the mountain in a small car, watching the view out the window unfold as they ascend. At the top lies Grandview Avenue, which runs along the ridge of the hilltop. This is a constant hotspot for visitors, wedding parties, and photographers. There are numerous “lookouts” that extend out from the mountain for better and unique views of the city. From here, Downtown Pittsburgh lies in the forefront, but one can see Oakland (Cathedral of Learning), the North Shore and various other communities dotted within the hills to the north. The view from Mt. Washington is “essential Pittsburgh”! Once finished, it is customary to head back down the incline to Station Square.

Other Things to Do in the Area:

Having been a draw for visitors for so long, the area in and around Station Square has developed with other entertainment venues. For example, be sure to take a “Just Ducky Tour” of Downtown Pittsburgh, based from Station Square, on a World War II Era amphibious truck along land and across the water. Each narrated tour is about an hour long and presents history, facts and jokes about the city. Also, docked at Station Square is the Gateway Clipper Fleet, offering river cruises of all types. Cruise themes included sightseeing, kids, music, and holiday for unique experiences, up and down the three rivers of Pittsburgh. Finally, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds soccer team has found a home in Highmark Stadium, located on the western edge of the Station Square Complex.

Downtown Pittsburgh (#8 above) is located right across the Smithfield Street Bridge as well. And to the east along Carson Street, visitors can check out the busy South Side with even more bars and restaurants, all within a redeveloped urban shopping landscape.

These are just the most well-known and arguably the most popular attractions in Pittsburgh. For more things to do in Pittsburgh, including local events and hidden gems, visit our Southwestern Pennsylvania Guide and monitor daily. The RSS feed rounds up informative blog posts relating to the city, and new content is continually being added. Now, get out and explore!

10 Popular Things to Do in Pittsburgh
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10 Popular Things to Do in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh is a diverse city with many attractions! One list cannot do justice to the variety of nightlife, history or children’s activities that have grown in the city over recent years. This list ranks the top 10 things to do in Pittsburgh, based on a combination of annual visitors, quality, and apparent interest within the Southwestern Pennsylvania Guide as a whole.
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Southwestern Pennsylvania Guide
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Brett Cobbey

Owner and Webmaster of swPenna.com

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