How to spend a weekend in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh might not be one of the top destinations that comes to mind when you think of the US – it’s a small city with an industrial past that’s mostly famous for steel and the Steelers (the local football team), but if you happen to be passing by for any reason – to visit friends or relatives, to catch a game or as part of a road trip, maybe – then it’s absolutely worth spending a few days in this compact and friendly city. After spending a week here to visit my sister who lives here with her Pittsburgh native husband, I’ve put together a handy itinerary for a weekend visit to the steel city.

Friday night – after arriving here you might be in the mood to check out the city’s nightlife. I recommend Sienna Mercato up Penn Avenue (one of the main downtown streets) where you can choose between tasty meatballs on the ground floor (or 1st floor in American parlance), or wood-fired pizzas on the second floor. I went for meatballs, and you can choose your meat and your sauce before adding cheese and turning it into a sandwich or picking a side depending on your preference. Afterwards you can take the lift up to the third floor where there’s a cool roof terrace (covered in the colder months) where you can have a few beers in style.

Saturday – After eating breakfast at your hotel or a local cafe, it’s time to sample the many delights of downtown Pittsburgh.

Morning: Do some shopping on the Strip. The Strip District is one of Pittsburgh’s most famous areas and the ideal place to browse for foodie goodies. It’s packed with great markets and shops, from authentic Italian delis laden with international cheeses, cured hams, tangy olives and quality olive oils; to a huge variety of tantalising spices; to freshly-ground coffees; to artisan chocolates. It’s not the longest street in the world, but it’s worth spending an hour or so browsing. Either pick up some Italian-style snacks for a picnic in Point State park (about a 15 minute walk away) or do as we did and grab a freshly-baked pizza from Enrico’s Italian pizzeria (they also make their own wines) and then hit the nextdoor bakery for biscotti or enjoy a coffee at the Tea and Coffee Exchange.

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Afternoon: Take a trip up the incline. The incline is a funicular railway that takes you up the side of Mount Washington. It’s $3.50 for a return trip. Up the top you’ll be rewarded by amazing views of the river and the city beyond. Take a walk along the top and enjoy the view. Then stroll along to the ice cream place or the bakery for a snack. You can either take the main incline back down again or walk further along to the Duquesne incline which will take you back down near to the bridge over to Point State park where you can take a walk along the river or just relax in the park for a while.

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Evening: Time for something a little more cultural! The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra play regular concerts at the Heinz Hall in central downtown. They’re a renowned orchestra and absolutely great to see live. Oh yes, and you can hear them play any time if you take public transport – all the ‘T’ (tram) stations downtown play their music 24/7. If classical music is not your thing, how about hitting the South Side where there are dozens of typically American bars.

Sunday: Wake up with a tasty American brunch! More or less any diner or cafe around will serve a great brunch. I had delicious banana-walnut hot cakes at the Dor-Stop in Dormont (out of town) and excellent fluffy blueberry pancakes at Hanlon’s on Liberty Avenue in central Pittsburgh. Pancakes, French Toast, huge omelettes or sausage and eggs are the order of the day. In the US you also get unlimited refills of drinks, so load up on plenty of coffee. If the portion sizes here seem huge to you (they are huge by UK standards) then either split a dish or save half for later in a box – this is pretty standard practice.

Morning: Visit a museum. You can either take a short (ten minute) bus trip up to Oakland where there’s the Conservatory (a huge greenhouse full of plants and flowers) or the Natural History Museum which is conjoined with the Art Museum. I visited the Natural History museum which rivals New York’s for dinosaur skeletons, plus exhibits on animals and birds, ancient Egypt and more. Worth a look is the extensive gemstone collection, which is more impressive than it sounds, with huge crystal formations from all over the world. There are also a few museums downtown – the Science Museum is worth a visit as it has a cool submarine outside that you can take a tour of, included in the price of your ticket. It’s also full of interactive, hands-on exhibits which are as fun for geeky adults as they are for kids, including an earthquake simulator, a replica model of Pennsylvania in the 1900s replete with moving trains, and playing games against robots.

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Lunchtime: This is a real Pittsburgh must: grab lunch at the famous Primanti Bros. There are three around town – I ate at the one on Market Square which is a lovely square in central Downtown with plenty of places to eat. Primanti Bros basically does Pittsburgh’s most famous sandwich – although don’t be fooled, they are absolutely massive. You’ll see them cooked up right in front of you, piled high with french fries, coleslaw and cheese. Tasty!

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Afternoon-evening: Take a bike ride along the river. You can rent bikes at Golden Triangle bike rentals which is basically on the bike trail near the river. They will give you a map of the trail which goes along the river in both directions. You can make a kind of loop by crossing any of the many bridges over the river – to make the whole Golden Triangle loop takes about 2 hours at a leisurely pace. Alternatively you can also rent a kayak if you’re feeling adventurous. Wind up either at Penn Brewery (on the North Shore) where you can get absolutely HUGE plates of German food (splitting a dish is a great idea here) and awesome local beers or the Hofbrau Haus (on the South Side), pronounced totally incorrectly by Americans, of course. This is a somewhat cheesy replica of the real Munich HB Haus – long wooden tables, girls dressed in Bavarian traditional outfits, huge litre Steins of German beer and typical German-style foods such as spaetzle (a cheesy egg pasta), schnitzel (breaded veal cutlets) or of course Wurst (sausage). However be warned – Pittsburgh has very strict alcohol laws so bring ID if you are under 30. I am 26 and was refused a beer because I didn’t have the accepted ID (if you’re not from the US, they’ll only accept a passport). The place is obviously not totally authentic but I found it really fun (although it would have been even better if I didn’t have to drink my friends’ beers hiding behind a menu!)

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So there you have it folks! There are more things to see and do in Pittsburgh but I think I’ve crammed in all the essentials. If you’re a sports fan though, you’ll be right at home here. There are three huge teams here – the Steelers (football), the Pirates (baseball) and the Penguins (ice hockey). If you can catch a game it would really be a great experience, or watch it on tv at a local bar and shout along with the fans. Everyone here is sport-mad and you’ll see Pirates shirts on almost everyone, as well as messages on buses such as ‘Get ’em Bucs’ or ‘Come on Pens’.

Has anyone else visited Pittburgh and have any comments? Or if you try anything on my list let me know what you think!

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