I Heart My City: Christine’s Pittsburgh

In the November/December issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine, now on newsstands, our editors recommend 20 must-see destinations for 2012. One of the top cities to visit next year:  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Why Pittsburgh, you ask? Well, travel writer Christine O’Toole nominated Steel City for “its natural setting that rivals Lisbon and San Francisco, a wealth of fine art and architecture, and a quirky sense of humor.”

We asked Christine to tell us more about the city she loves. Read her insider tips, then tell us what you love about Pittsburgh in the comments section below.

Pittsburgh is My City

The first place I take a visitor from out of town is Mount Washington, with its killer panoramic views of downtown Pittsburgh. Especially at twilight, it’s the best place to appreciate the city’s great setting: three rivers surrounded by mountains. Get there by cable car– here, they’re called inclines.

When I crave a sugar  high, I always go to Dozen for cupcakes. Mmmn.

To escape rush-hour tunnel traffic I head to Point State Park downtown to watch the sunset.

If I want to hear one of the world’s best orchestras, I grab a last-minute ticket to the Pittsburgh Symphony at its gilt-and-velvet home, Heinz Hall. Seats aren’t expensive (especially student rush.)

For complete quiet, I can hide away at Schenley Plaza— a little oasis, complete with carousels and cafes, between the two big universities, Pitt and Carnegie Mellon.

If you come to my city, get your picture taken with a local. Ask anyone– really. Pittsburghers are unbelievably friendly.

If you have to order one thing off the menu from Benkovitz‘s in the Strip District, it has to be the gigantic fish sandwich.

Antique shop in Pittsburgh's Strip District (Photo: Lindsey Zern/My Shot)


The Society for Contemporary Craft (also in the Strip District) is my one-stop shop for exquisite handmade gifts.

Locals know to skip South Side and check out Lawrenceville instead.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go to Good Fridays at the Andy Warhol Museum. For the price of a cocktail you can spend the evening mingling, seeing great bands or movies, and checking out Pop Art by this Pittsburgh homeboy.

For a huge splurge I go to Casbah, a great restaurant in Shadyside. Locavore lamb, superb service, and a cool Mediterranean vibe.

Photo ops in my city include its great 19th-century bridges and the best vantage points are along the North Shore of the Allegheny River.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be Tom Hanks: friendly, handsome, modest, and all-American.

The most random thing about my city is the weather.

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh (Photo: Stephanie M. Wood/My Shot)

My city has the most over-educated men (we’re tied with Washington D.C. for most graduate degrees among twenty-somethings).

My city has the most brilliant women (see above).

In my city, an active day outdoors involves running, inline skating, or cycling the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. Look for the interpretive signs that explain how the city turned its industrial riverfront into a clean, green playground.

My city’s best museum is the Mattress Factory, with some of the most wacked-out installation art in the world.

My favorite jogging/walking routes are the downtown riverfront trails.

For a night of dancing, go to Stage A.E. an indoor/outdoor venue on the North Shore (two words: Girl Talk!). Or, for live music, go to Brillo Box in Lawrenceville or Shadow Lounge in East Liberty.

The Original Hot Dog Shop, aka the “Dirty O,” is the spot for late-night eats in the beating heart of the University of Pittsburgh campus.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read the weekly City Paper or the daily Post-Gazette.

You can tell a lot about my city from how many people boast about it being their hometown.

You can tell if someone is from my city if they’re wearing Steelers jerseys. For formal occasions, work, or weddings (and even some  funerals), you simply can’t go wrong with black and gold. During hockey season, the Penguins’ retro jerseys (the old blue ones) are acceptable.

In the spring you should be prepared for one last snowstorm.

In the summer you should kick back and do some kayaking and whitewater rafting.

In the fall you should enter the city’s Great Race–a 10K that attracts over 10,000 runners.

In the winter you should go skating at the Southside Works rink, on the Monongahela Riverfront. Later, warm up with a cold beer at the Hofbräuhaus next door.

Pittsburgh's North Shore (Photo: Jamie Dietz/My Shot)


A hidden gem in my city is Kelly’s, a cool and mellow bar that’s an East Liberty institution.

For a great breakfast joint try Pamela’s. Even President Obama is a huge fan of their yummy sweet pancakes.

Don’t miss the Via Festival, an electronic music weekend with a growing buzz, each October.

Just outside my city, you can visit the Laurel Highlands, a great place for skiing, hiking, and mountain biking.

The best way to see my city is on a bike.

If my city were a pet it would be a robotic one–a lot were invented right here.

If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live in Mt. Lebanon, a cute trolley-car suburb.

The best book about my city is Wonder Boys. If you didn’t read the Michael Chabon original, rent the movie with Michael Douglas.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is Wiz Khalifa’s hometown homage, “Black ‘n’ Yellow.”

If you have kids, you won’t want to miss the Children’s Museum. (Kids aren’t on display– they’re splashing, painting, and enjoying cool electronic art.)

“The Dark Knight Rises” could only happen in my city— Christopher Nolan’s sequel to “The Dark Knight” was filmed here.

My city should be featured in your magazine … oh wait, it already is!

Tell us what you love about Pittsburgh. Leave the details in the comments section below.

Want to see your city on Intelligent Travel? Copy and paste our list of fill-in-the-blank questions into an e-mail, fill in your answers, and send your responses (with any photos, videos or links) to IntelligentTravel@ngs.org.

[Pennsylvania Guide]

[Best of the World 2012]

Photo: Lou Eppelsheimer/My Shot


    February 27, 2014, 5:35 pm


  2. Mike Peace
    January 21, 2014, 8:47 pm

    Pittsburgh is San Francisco without the stratospheric cost of living. The city is clean, safe, beautiful and friendly. Pittsburgh has a mix bag for every generation, education, sports, arts, and nature at its best.
    In my humble opinion it is” The City To Be In”

  3. Lauriellen
    May 25, 2013, 2:20 pm

    It is an awesome city and I love living here. I am planning on being a good GLAMBASSADOR when my Glamily comes here to see Adam Lambert at Pittsburgh Pride on June 15, 2013.

    The info in this article is great.

  4. jen kane
    Sewickley, Pasew
    March 15, 2012, 6:26 pm

    The best city in the world and i will forever be sad that I have to move to DC for family reasons. I will miss it dearly. Go Pittsburgh!

  5. Bonnie Siefers
    Pittsburgh, PA
    December 2, 2011, 6:14 pm

    Pittsburgh boasts 48 LEED-certified buildings including the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and (ironically) the Heinz History Center Smithsonian Wing. I love knowing that my hometown is building sustainably.

  6. Esther
    Arlington, VA
    November 30, 2011, 2:00 pm

    Great to see Pittsburgh written up as a tourist destination, but you missed the Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh. No tour is complete without it. The rooms clearly demonstrate the rich cultural history of the city. When I related my ethnic background to friends outside of Pittsburgh (Italian/Polish), many people were surprised, although the combination is common within the city.

  7. jjschoo
    November 5, 2011, 8:04 pm

    the views are fabulous and I never cease to marvel at how people have built their homes into the hilly, rocky hillsides, being so creative working around and with the exisiting topography..love the locks in the river, there are so many bridges, steps, trails and alternate means of transportation to navagate your way through a city whose organization is not immediately apparent…I also marvel at how the maintenance trucks manage the tiny, steep hills in the south side, north side and above, Pgh needs it own GPS, there are roads that exist only on paper..paper streets which are usually steps..hundreds of sets of steps all over the city..it is sometimes easy to forget it is also a college town, home to some 16 colleges and universities including some of the cutting edge medical and artificial intelligence research in the world

  8. Susan Sternberger
    Proudly from Pittsburgh
    November 3, 2011, 10:11 pm

    Please don’t tell too many people about this great city with it’s Gallery Crawls, Art All Night, Broadway shows, Three Rivers Arts Festival, First Night Celebrations, rabid sports fans, and the most genuine people you may ever come across. Oh, and the Chairs to reserve your parking spot once you’ve shoveled it out. Quirky? Yeah….and proud of it!

  9. Briarwood Julie
    Lawrenceville - Pittsburgh
    November 3, 2011, 7:48 pm

    It’s easy for us yinzers to forget how awesome Pittsburgh is. I own a B&B and it’s wonderful to see Pittsburgh reflected in the eyes of out of towners. Their reactions: fine dining is so cheap here! it’s so clean – I was expecting it to be dirty! The people are friendly and helpful! There’s so much to do here culturally!

    I’m not from here originally, but Pittsburgh is definitely my adopted hometown. For a city its size, it has so much to offer: low cost of living (including housing), safe, walkable city neighborhoods, first-class universities, world-class hospitals and healthcare, and a thriving, vibrant arts scene.

    The only thing that’s not great is the weather, it can get cold and gloomy in the winter. But that’s what vacations are for, right? :)

  10. Theresa
    Where else? Pittsburgh
    November 3, 2011, 7:16 pm

    I love my city and I am glad it’s getting the recognition it deserves.

  11. Barb Speer
    Clarion, PA (Formerly from PGH)
    November 3, 2011, 6:35 pm

    Don’t forget the Theater District! You can park, eat, go to theaters galore all within a block or two. Benedum, Heinz Hall, O’Reilly….and more. Go Steelers!

  12. Priyanka
    United States
    November 3, 2011, 6:12 pm

    I love Pittsburgh, because it is home to Carnegie Mellon University – my school a place where being called a nerd is a far greater compliment than being handsome :).

  13. karen howells
    November 3, 2011, 6:12 pm

    i loved this article but didnt enjoy the section about the southside. everybody that lives in and around the city knows that the southside is the heart of the city.

  14. Matt Taylor
    November 3, 2011, 6:09 pm

    It takes a lot for a city to impress me, but Pittsburgh did just that. Sensational skyline views, cool and hip neighborhoods, great restaurants, abundant museums and culture. It’s a great sports town. We all the Steelers and Penguins are the toast of the town, but the Pirates have the best ballpark in baseball with PNC Park. Unbelievable views and seats close to the action. There is no better way to spend warm summer night in Western PA. I saw the Pirates play the Red Sox. I wrote about it on my blog http://mattytsmind.blogspot.com/#!/2011/09/pros-and-cons-of-pnc-park-in-pittsburgh.html

  15. leafy
    Pittsburgh, duh!
    November 3, 2011, 4:38 pm

    Did you know that Pittsburgh also has one of the world’s best examples of urban ecosystem & stream/wetland restorations within the city limits? Check out: http://www.ninemilerun.org

  16. Rebecca
    clifton VA
    November 3, 2011, 4:34 pm

    i loved my evening in Pittsburgh when I left for college! We would come home, go to cambodican kitchen in south side, go to the opera, and then go to Pegasus (a gay bar) to dance until like 2am! After that we would hit up eat n park (I miss that restaurant so much!) and drive back up to clarion… I love pittsburgh!

  17. MikeW
    LV, Pgh
    November 3, 2011, 2:34 pm

    I’ll take the Steelers Polka over Black n’ Yellow any day… every day!

  18. Catherine Orlando
    Pittsburgh, of course!
    November 3, 2011, 2:26 pm

    Flying into Pittsburgh, over the Point, be it at night when the city is so many sparkling jewels or in the daylight, and in any and all of the four beautiful seasons. It thrills!
    Hearing Pittsburgheze spoken, especially when I least expect it.
    Standing on the ground floor of the Union Trust Building looking up into what appears like the inside of a multi-tierred wedding cake, capped with a domed stained glass window!
    Awe inspiring beauty!
    Having dinner at the Grand Concourse, an exquisite Edwardian train station turned upscale restraunt, delightful food to go with the grandeur of the surroundings!
    Taking disbelievers to the rotunda of the former Penn Station for them to hear my whisper from the opposite side, facing into the wall. Mind blowing accustics.
    Taking the Pittsburgh Water Limo from the Cork Factory in the Strip to PNC Park for a Pirates Game – glorious views and the anticipation of the Pirates baseball game.
    Taking the Water Limo in reverse, after a game, in the beauty of the city-skyline at nigth from the river view.
    The Pittsburgh Pirates and summer, seeing downtown from the 3rd baseline seats. Grand!
    Watching Perogies race during the 7th inning stretch, hilarious! And only in Pittsburgh.
    Bicycling down any hill in Pittsburgh, without brakes! Exhilarating freedom!
    Navigating potholes like a pro in the early spring, after snow and ice melt.
    Missing the potholes in the winter when covered by snow and ice melt!
    Drinking a boilermaker at a local bar with friends, everyone is friends in Pittsburgh, and leaving with a bar tab under $10 with tip.
    Going to a sports bar in Paris (France) to watch the Steelers play and finding a gang of Pittsburgh fans there, in Black and Gold, of course. What a blast!
    Coming home through the Fort Pitt Tunnels to the vista that blasts upon me on the City side! Do I hear the Halaluia Chorus?

  19. Mimi Koral
    Pittsburgh, of course
    November 3, 2011, 9:52 am

    I love that PIttsburgh finally has a burgeoning restaurant scene. From the innovative cuisine at Salt of the Earth in Garfield to authentic Turkish offerings at Daphne Cafe on Ellsworth Ave., new wonderful eateries are opening up all over town. So much great food and so little time. *sigh*

  20. btezra
    PGH PA
    November 3, 2011, 9:51 am

    I’m a huge fan of shooting the bridges that spam the three rivers, even finding a few vantage points along the banks of all three rivers as I bass fish…interesting piece, I am going to send it to a few friends who have yet to visit this great city of ours.

  21. Beth Rom
    Sewickley PA
    November 2, 2011, 6:38 pm

    A friend said years ago, “If you have to live around Pittsburgh, Sewickley is the place to live”, I continue to love our village. My content with the city continues to grow. I moved here 20 years ago from Boston. On Sunday a friend flew in for the Pats game, with his pats jersey on his back. One Steelers fan next to us said to him, “I’m sure you’re a nice guy and Boston is a great town but just now I hate the Patriots”. This was the worst comment we heard and were pleasantly surprised as we expected some nastiness. There was NONE, gotta love PGH!!! Thanks for the article.

  22. Angelo
    November 2, 2011, 4:16 pm

    I love the challenge of biking Pittsburgh’s hills and the surprising welcome of the North Side with its art museums (see above)! Great tips

  23. William Ford
    McDonough, GA
    November 2, 2011, 3:41 pm

    I am a former resident of Pittsburgh. I agree with you about accolades for the city. I am happy that you mentioned the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Too often in gets lost in the Steers/Penguins hype, but it is truly one of the great orchestras in the world. Its home, Heinz Hall, is among the top handful of concert halls in the US. Both are not to be missed.