Road Trip: Pittsburgh
In the Adventure Seekers Road Trip Series, we set out to discover an iconic American metropolis; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The city has a history of conflict and creation; known for it’s industrial prowess, sports teams, bridges and hidden gems along the Allegheny Mountains, Pittsburgh offers a lot more to the casual vacationer than one would think – follow along for our guide to the Steel City.
If you are in the mood for a road trip and don’t want to break the bank, Pittsburgh is only a 5-hour drive from our Headquarters in Toronto. You’d only need to write the directions down on a napkin; drive until you cross the border in Buffalo, then head West on I-90 and after a few hours, hang a left onto I-279 and you will know you have reached the city when you cross one of its 446 bridges (the main core is surrounded by water; the Monogahela and Allegheny rivers meet to form the Ohio river) and is backed by the tall ridge of Mt. Washington. The views of the rivers, bridges and high-perch puts Pittsburgh in a unique position for a major city; it is situated with its’ back against a wall, divided by water and the initial views of the city as you drive down into it is worth noting.
You’re going to want to stay in the core of the city, or the “pizza slice” using I-579 as the crust and Fort Duquesne (“DU-Kane”) as the tip that puts you right in the middle of the action and within walking distance of most of the nightlife, sightseeing and eating options. Keep mind of the schedules of the three big teams in Pittsburgh however, if there are overlapping home games (or just a Steelers game) then the chances of you finding an available Hotel room diminishes greatly.
One of the ways to get around cities you aren’t familiar with are the inter-city tour buses (some drive right into the water, too) that allows you an insiders look to all the note-worthy sights and venues that the city has to offer, all in one package. Instead of taking a cab or hoofing it all over the city, hop onto a tour bus and let the guides do the work and show you what’s what THEN you can decide what you want to see after, returning whenever it’s convenient for you. Use the services offered, don’t make it difficult.
If you do decide to walk; keep in mind that there are SO many bridges that your destination has to be accessible; good news is that many of the bridges are walkable. The city is loud and alive; walking along the bridges takes some care and paying attention to what’s happening around you is paramount – the railings to the water below are low (and the grates have gaps large enough to drop a smartphone through) and the cars zip beside you at near freeway speeds with the rumble, exhausts, big truck noises reverberating off the big steel beams and enclosed areas make for an unbelievable aural experience. The sound just encloses you as you stand suspended 60 feet above the river below; it’s a carnival ride just to cross to the other side!
It’s easy to get turned around or have to alter your route to find a bridge that you can walk across and also there’s tunnels and stairs to deal with as well; The approach to some bridges require one to walk up quite a number of stairs to reach the road level; wear comfortable shoes! The sheer amount of bridges is almost comical; have the people in your group count every one they see (there are even cases where there is a walking bridge, underneath a driving bridge or even an office building tucked right below another bridge). This makes the Pittsburgh Skyline and cityscape incredibly unique experience; soak it in.
The street-life is bustling and unique; similar to many other cities that are experiencing an emergence of growth and rebuilding which Pittsburgh is very proud of; very little garbage strewn about or unkempt, abandoned buildings are a thing of the past (and it’s no secret they are prevalent in other North Eastern cities) but Pittsburgh has been resilient in feeding industry and hosting two top schools and a quiver of industry leading technology / R & D companies now line the streets of a once great city of Manufacturing (The famous Heinz complex is still standing, as are many others)
As mentioned before, Pittsburgh is backed by Mt. Washington (although at your perspective, it just appears to be a tall shelf) and there is a fantastic way to experience it. There is a trolley that is built into the side of the incline that functions as just another way to get around the city (your bus transfer will get you a ride up, effectively a huge short cut). Built in 1887 and still virtually unchanged, the Duquesne Incline offers a postcard worthy view of the city.
The little cable car seats 12-14 people; wooden seats and a gruff sliding door aren’t the pinnacle of modern convenience but not to complain; it only enhances the experience. If you are in a tourist packed car, pick your seats accordingly; there are windows but only so many sight-lines to the view but sometimes, it’s the small things that make the view.
Once atop Mt. Washington, treat yourself to the viewing deck and grab a photo from the same perspective as millions of people before you have; this is THE shot to have of Pittsburgh and is found on a great deal of marketing and tourism material throughout the city; Sometimes though, plans change. Wait for your turn or get creative; Social media brings the world together, but also makes experiencing some things a bit difficult…
If you aren’t worn out from driving; it is highly recommended to use an available morning or full-day to explore what the surrounding areas of Pittsburgh has to offer. Pennsylvania is home to the ancient Allegheny Mountain range and the Laurel Highlands that has state parks, hiking and biking trails, white water rafting, scenic drives, quaint towns and if your timing and luck is just right, you never know what you will come across. An hours drive from downtown opens up unlimited possibilities; go explore.
Pittsburgh takes preserving it’s history and developing its culture as a top priority. Home to world-renown artists Andy Warhol and Burton Morris along with countless other artists, musicians, architects, museums and art galleries. If culture and art is your thing, put Pittsburgh on your list of great cultural centers. It’s easy to see where all the inspiration comes from; industry, nature and still-life art possibilities are at every turn hidden under bridges or in the shadows of their stadiums, along the river or up in the trees – it’s there.
Only in town for 3 weeks, the world-traveling Rubber Duck Project made a stop in Pittsburgh to celebrate the artists vision of; “[The Duck] doesn’t discriminate people and doesn’t have a political connotation. The friendly, floating Rubber Duck has healing properties: it can relieve mondial tensions as well as define them.” It was a huge attraction, seeing huge crowds every day and after sitting on the steps with Mt.Washington behind us and the October sun setting on the day while watching people interact with each-other around the duck…who knew it would have such an impact on daily life; lots of laughter and picture taking and each taking away a little bit of that duck and what it means as it sat silently, staring blankly, reserving judgement on all of us.
The ‘Burgh seems to have ended up with all the great elements of other cities; It is full of texture, of a gritty hard-working past that has the benefits of having rolling hills, waterways, unique landscapes and cityscapes, friendly people, a huge sporting culture and a great sense of pride.
Toronto can learn a thing or two from Pittsburgh in how to market itself to tourists and one needs only to stop at the beautiful Heinz History Center to learn about all the mistakes, greats and everything in-bewteen that the city has offered over the years.
Go. You won’t be disappointed.