Pittsburgh in a Nutshell: 7 Things To Do & See

Things To Do in Pittsburgh

When I tell people I went to Pittsburgh, the response is always the same: Why? The answer is quite simple. It was to be the weekend of Hurricane Irene in NYC and my friend and I had not stocked up on any water or food. Almost everything was sold out so we figured hey – let’s just leave town. We looked on Google maps and picked the nearest city out of the storm’s path, rented a car online, and immediately left Manhattan to go pick it up in Newark. A couple hours later, we were on the road to Pittsburgh. Hurray for random, spontaneous trips!

Knowing practically nothing about the city, we still managed to have a blast. Despite the negative comments I hear from people when I mention Pittsburgh, it’s actually filled with lots of fun things to do (and it’s not bad looking, either). So whether you’re there on business or pleasure, or really for no reason at all like me, here are my recommendations for what to do in Pittsburgh:

Wander through the South Side. The eclectic bohemian neighborhood of Pittsburgh is also one of the best places to go out. The main street, East Carson Street, is lined with shops, restaurants and bars but you’re just as likely to spot groups of hippies sitting on the ground, playing instruments. Explore the South Side Slopes, a very steep residential neighborhood where you’ll find that some parts are accessible only by public staircase.

Visit the Strip District. Once home to Pittsburgh’s mills and factories, the Strip District is now filled with specialty shops, restaurants, night clubs and bars. Locals flock to the mile-long stretch along the Allegheny River on weekends in the summer, when it transforms into a bustling street market offering a mix of ethnic eats, local food and shopping.  Go early if you plan to drive – because it’s a popular destination, parking can be tough.  Also, the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center is located right at the entrance to The Strip if you’re interested in learning about the city’s history. neighborhsinthestrip.com.

Andy Warhol Museum – This museum on the North Shore (across from downtown) houses seven floors devoted to the pop art legacy, who grew up in Pittsburgh. It’s a great destination for a rainy day. Or stop by on any Friday night, when admission is half price, there’s a cash bar and the museum stays open until 10PM. 117 Sandusky Street, warhol.org

The Mattress Factory – About a mile from the Andy Warhol Museum is this lesser known contemporary art museum. It’s definitely a unique place to visit, particularly because all of the exhibits are “room-sized” and created on site by artists from around the world (like James Turrell and Yayoi Kusama). The Mattress Factory hosts artists for a year as part of their residency program, completely supporting them while they live in the museum and dedicate their time to creating new work. 500 Sampsonia Way, mattress.org

Ride the Duqesne Incline. For the best view of the city, you’ll have to ride a century-old cable car 400 ft to the top. It only costs $5 round trip for adults. 1197 West Carson Street, duquesneincline.org.

Kayak Pittsburgh. The bridges are one of the best sights in Pittsburgh, and what better way to see them (and the skyline) but from the water? It’s affordable to rent a kayak from Kayak Pittsburgh in the summer (about $13 per hour) and makes for a great outdoor activity. Just don’t forget sunscreen. Multiple locations, kayakpittsburgh.org

Explore Oakland. Stroll through the picturesque campuses of Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh and you’ll feel like you’re back in college. The Carnegie Museum of Art and Carnegie Museum of Natural History are also located here.

So there you have it – Pittsburgh in a nutshell. I should probably also add that this is a city of crazed sports fans, so when there’s a game you can bet everyone will be watching. I stayed at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh, where I could actually see into Heinz Field, home to the Steelers, from my room. But I’m really not into sports so this wasn’t too important for me!

New York City in 2 Days: A Fun + Affordable Itinerary!

This weekend I had 2 friends visiting me in NYC from Italy and Chile. This weekend would be their first time in New York – how would we squeeze everything into two days? I think we managed to do quite well, so I thought I would share our itinerary for others who are also short on time!

Guide to 2 Days in New York

Friday Night

On Friday night I decided to take my guests out in Williamsburg, the official “hipster” neighborhood of Brooklyn. There are many trendy restaurants there, and we picked one called La Superior. In typical Williamsburg style, it’s a hole in the wall that is not much to look at, but is always packed. We each had a michelada, two tacos (yum!!) and guacamole and our bill for 3 was only $47 with tip – $15.67 each.

After dinner we wandered over to The Woods, a local bar that has everything from a low-key backyard for hanging and chatting with friends to a DJ and dance floor. The prices here are also quite good for New York – $7 for standard drinks – and it’s an excellent place to people watch. There are always some interesting characters at The Woods! Since it was freezing and we wanted to wake up early the next day for sightseeing, we splurged on a taxi back to my apartment.

Saturday 

We lucked out with a beautiful sunny day on Saturday. After grabbing breakfast at a local bakery, we took the subway into Manhattan and started off the morning with the Statue of Liberty. Skip the expensive tours for this one: the Staten Island Ferry is completely free and goes right by the statue, offering a great photo opp as well as stunning views of lower Manhattan. A ferry departs every half hour on the weekends.

Statue of Liberty

After the Statue of Liberty, we moved on to Central Park. We took the 1 train heading uptown to Columbus Circle and spent about 45 minutes wandering through the park. We walked all the way across and came out on the Upper East Side.

Central Park We strolled down Madison Avenue, where all the luxury stores like Hermès, Lanvin, etc. are, for some window shopping, finally ending up at Bergdorf Goodman to see their famous holiday window displays.

Hermes on Madison Avenue, New York

Bergdorf Goodman Windows

Next we decided to walk to nearby Rockefeller Center and see the Christmas tree. It was absolute madness! We snapped photos of the tree and then fought through the seemingly endless crowds until we could make our way to Grand Central Terminal.

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

I think Grand Central is definitely one of my favorite places in New York – not only is it beautiful but there are so many interesting things to do inside. The girls kept saying they wanted to eat “American” food so of course I took them to GC’s dining concourse for some Shake Shack, where we each had a $3.50 hot dog.

By now it was dark out, and Times Square is better at night. We took the subway shuttle from Grand Central to Times Square which took about five minutes. We didn’t spend much time here – it’s not exactly a great place to hang out, but I guess every tourist has to see it once and take a photo.

Saturday Night

After the madness of Rockefeller Center and Times Square, we took some time to relax at home before a late dinner of more American food! We made our way to Butcher Bar in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Astoria, Queens. Butcher Bar is another of my favorite wallet-friendly restaurants in New York. It’s BYOB, so we brought our own bottle of pisco to share. We split two “platters” which meant 6 plates of BBQ meat and 4 side dishes and it was the perfect amount for our group of five. The bill came out to $16 each with tip – and we were stuffed. You can’t beat that!

Next we headed into Manhattan for drinks at Kingston Hall, one of my favorite bars in the East Village. It’s especially great to go there in the middle of winter because you can get a “Drunken Coconut” tropical drink served in an actual coconut ($13 each, possibly less if you befriend the bartender).

After filling up on coconuts, it was time to burn off all these American calories with some dancing. Our group walked about ten minutes to Blind Barber, a bar that out-of-towners usually get a kick out of because it is a “speakeasy.” Everyone knows about it so there’s a quite obvious entrance, but you have to walk through a barber shop to get to the “hidden” bar in the back. They almost always play good music and it’s a fun scene.

Sunday

I was shocked to discover that my Chilean and Italian friends had never had brunch. Imagine a whole life deprived of mimosas and eggs benedict? Since brunch is practically a sport in New York, I knew we had to go. We went to William Hallet, another Astoria restaurant that serves (you guessed it!) more American food. They even deep fry their poached eggs for the eggs benedict, which I didn’t know was possible. Every entree at this restaurant comes with a free mimosa AND coffee, so our total bill came out to $15 each.

Since it was a cold and snowy day, we wanted to do something indoors so we took the subway to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, aka the Met. Admission to The Met is $12 for students and $25 for adults, but these prices are “recommended” – you can actually pay whatever you want. It’s easy to spend an entire afternoon here wandering through the different galleries (grab a free map so you don’t get lost).

Met Museum, NYC

After we left the Met we realized that we had not had a bagel yet, which is definitely a must-eat in NYC. Even though we were still full from brunch, we had to stop at a spot on the Upper East Side to get bagels before the girls caught their bus back to Boston.

I wished we had been able to see Soho, Union Square and the West Village, and walk along the High Line, but I think that for a two day trip we did quite well. My friends also wanted to see the Empire State Building but I explained that there’s usually a long line and it’s a pricey $22 to get in, so we skipped it. Hopefully they can make it to New York again, and we’ll do all these next time!