Last month when we were headed back from western Pennsylvania, we decided to make a pit stop for 24 hours in Pittsburgh. A town that boomed generations ago due to the steel industry, it’s a city filled with pride for its sports teams, an impressive number of museums featuring everything from history to modern art, and a restaurant scene that has earned James Beard recognition again and again.
24 HOURS IN PITTSBURGH
Let me begin with a caveat. We had a wonderful time in Pittsburgh, however, I would advise you not to visit on a Monday. I had an amazing itinerary mapped out (literally, mapped out in Google Maps) that included museums, galleries, shopping, and meals…and every single place on my itinerary was closed on Monday. Yes, it was Presidents’ Day, but these are closed on all Mondays. Fortunately, we found a cozy coffee shop housed in an old funeral home, The Abbey on Butler Street, and were able to make a Plan B that was jam-packed with worthwhile activities. But, believe me, I’ll be back for that Plan A with stops including the Andy Warhol Museum and the Mattress Factory.
That note on timing aside, I can’t recommend a visit to Pittsburgh enough. Everyone we met was incredibly friendly and the city is laid-back and easy to navigate . I’m going to take you through a 24-hour itinerary that spanned 3 awesome meals and some amazing views.
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT PITTSBURGH AND WHERE TO STAY
So, why should you visit Pittsburgh? It’s an urban destination that won’t break the bank. The mix of museums runs the gamut from fine art to history to modern art. Time your visit right and you’ll join the rabid fans rooting on the Penguins, the Steelers, and the Pirates. You’ll find stick-to-your ribs restaurants and hip chefs experimenting with new takes on old favorites.
We stayed at the Omni William Penn Hotel right downtown. Built in 1916 by Henry Clay Frick, one of Pittsburgh’s wealthiest industrialists, this classic hotel’s lobby is dripping in chandeliers and glamour that seems straight out of an era when people dressed up for travel and put on jackets for dinner. Presidents, celebrities, and Bob Hope’s 1934 marriage proposal have all graced the hallways of this stately building, so you know you’re in good company. The hotel’s Terrace Room is consistently voted one of Pittsburgh’s best restaurants and afternoon tea is served in the Palm Court. You could spend an entire evening just hanging out with a glass of wine and people watching as guests come and go through the storied entrance.
START YOUR MORNING OFF WITH GIANT PANCAKES AT PAMELA’S DINER
You totally need to carb-load for a day of exploring a new city, right? Right. So, we started our time in Pittsburgh with a delicious trip to Pamela’s Diner. Pamela’s has been serving their famous crepe-style pancakes since 1980 and has now expanded to 6 locations around the Pittsburgh area. What are crepe-style pancakes, you ask? Well, they’re thin like a crepe, but with a pancake consistency, they’re HUGE, and the edges are crispy. Yes, crispy. From someone who is meh on pancakes, this is a game changer. I’m now craving them as I write this…
Need another reason, beyond the mouth-watering pancakes, to visit Pamela’s? Well, Michelle Obama has stopped by for pancakes during 2 different trips to Pittsburgh (oh, and Barack, too!).
We went to the location in the Strip District, a neighborhood that has been home to factories and mills over the centuries because of its convenient location right on the river. Now, it’s being revitalized with restaurants, shops, and tech companies, while still maintaining much of its original character.
SPEND AN AFTERNOON EXPLORING THE CARNEGIE MUSEUMS
The Carnegie Museums were not on our original itinerary, but we ended up spending several hours wandering the halls of the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, which are 2 museums housed within a massive and stunning Beaux Art era building in the Oakland neighborhood.
When you walk in, you’re greeted by the gorgeous atrium below. A helpful docent let us know that the three materials used in the installation on the floor represent Pittsburgh’s three founding industries: steel, coal, and glass. We spent much of our time in the Museum of Natural History in the Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems and the Wertz Gallery: Gems and Minerals because who doesn’t love sparkly things?
The Carnegie Museum of Art‘s exhibits included the Hall of Architecture, the neon glass house, and a diverse collection of pieces ranging from Monet to Rothko to an awesome array of mid-century furniture.
CHECK OUT PITT’S CATHEDRAL OF LEARNING
While we were in Oakland, we stopped by the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning building. Reaching 42 stories into the sky, the Cathedral of Learning is the second-tallest academic building. The second and third floors are filled with the Nationality Rooms, which represent 30 countries from around the world. Below is the French room.
It doesn’t take long to explore the rooms, but, it’s free to visit and you can go in any room as long as class is not in session. We enjoyed seeing the thought that was put into each room and reading the stories behind some of the decor. Plus, Adam always likes to check out universities when we’re traveling, so that was a plus!
GRAB HAPPY HOUR AT FEDERAL GALLEY
While the $3 happy hour craft beers had Adam convinced we should 100% move to Pittsburgh, I was more enamored with the cool, industrial vibe. Federal Galley is an indoor food market with 4 restaurants and a bar (for DC people, it’s like Union Market on a smaller scale). We actually had its sister market, Smallman Galley on our original itinerary, but…closed on Mondays.
We arrived a little after 4, grabbed 2 local beers at the recommendation of the bartender, a Detroit-style hot dog Michigan & Trumbull and fries from Provision PGH. You know I always love a hot dog, and if you’re serving one with bean-less chili, I’m in. And those fries…I’m not sure what that sauce is, but I was hooked.
Back to the friendly people I mentioned earlier, the woman from Michigan & Trumbull (who I’m thinking based on their website is one of the owners) came over and asked how we liked the hot dog. Just super friendly, genuine service.
As we were leaving around 5, the Galley was filling up with a happy hour crowd…I mean, $3 beers. You can’t beat that.
HEAD BACK TO THE HOTEL FOR A DRINK AT THE SPEAKEASY
After happy hour at Federal Galley, we headed back to the William Penn Hotel to freshen up for dinner. We had planned on grabbing a drink at the Speakeasy at the hotel, which I’ve heard is dimly lit and worth a visit, but, unfortunately, this was…also closed on Mondays. However, any other day of the week, this is absolutely what we would have done. It’s a Prohibition-style bar that’s been restored to its 1920’s swagger, and who doesn’t love a secluded little spot, particularly when it has the convenience of being hidden away in your hotel.
TAKE A NIGHT RIDE ON THE DUQUESNE INCLINE
Before dinner, we took a ride on the Duquesne Heights Incline. Built in 1877, the Duquesne Incline is a funicular which rides to the top of Mount Washington for incredible views of Pittsburgh (see the photo below!). While I’m sure the views are wonderful during the day, I was glad that we heeded the advice to go at night. How amazing is it to see the cityscape lit up?!
This was a perfect way to spend a half an hour before dinner and get a sense for the elevation of the city. Bypass the lookout at the station and walk just a few minutes down the road to Grandview Overlook. It’s a quick (well…slow, but short) ride up and back down, and the Incline goes until 12:30 AM at night.
INDULGE IN A COZY MEAL AT BUTCHER AND THE RYE
Y’all, I wish I had photos of the interior at Butcher and the Rye, a restaurant that was just a short walk from our hotel. It was so, so well designed. Rustic, yet sophisticated. Hipster, but grown-up. Just so good. We made a reservation and were seated at a table upstairs, right where I could look down at the groups below (you know I love snooping!).
We had just eaten at Federal Galley about 3 hours prior, so we weren’t starving, and decided to order a few small plates. We opted for the duck liver pate, dry aged tartare, the Sunday gravy, the dirty pasta, and the chocolate tart. All were delicious, but that dirty pasta…omg. I’m still thinking about it. We ordered the smaller size and, just one bite in, we regretted not going big. If only we’d thought to order some more to-go…
A FEW FINAL NOTES
Again, this itinerary was not at all what I had mapped out, so I will absolutely be planning a trip back to Pittsburgh. I’m dying to go to the Warhol Museum, the Mattress Factory, to explore some of the up and coming neighborhoods, and hit some of the hip cocktail bars and restaurants. However, I thought that our trip came together perfectly in the end. Everywhere we ate was excellent, the museums were great, and y’all know I love a hotel that just screams 20th century glamour.
Thank you to the Omni William Penn Hotel for hosting us for the evening and to Visit Pittsburgh for helping with my planning! As always, all opinions are my own and thank you to the companies that make it possible to bring my readers travel guides like this one!