Pittsburgh  is a city of about 350,000 in Southwestern Pennsylvania, although the population of its metropolitan area is about 2.4 million. It is situated at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers, which meet to form the Ohio River. Pittsburgh's triangular shape and steep hills have resulted in an unusual city design, a hodge-podge of neighborhood "pockets" with diverse ethnic and architectural heritage.
Like many cities, Pittsburgh is divided into districts:
This is not an exhaustive list; there are numerous others. For a complete list of districts and neighborhoods here is a list published by the City of Pittsburgh that includes a map of each which can be printed out.
Some of these areas are ethnic neighborhoods, such as Polish Hill, and Squirrel Hill (a largely Jewish neighborhood). Others began as independent cities; for instance the North Side, on the northern shore of the Allegheny river, began as the city of Allegheny and the South Side, on the southern shore of the Monongehela river, was the city of Birmingham, but now they are incorporated into the city proper.
Pittsburgh has a rich history and for its size, an unusual array of cultural treasures. The main reason for this abundance is the wealth that was generated when Pittsburgh was the hub of the steelmaking industry. During the US Civil War the city was known as "the armory of the Union" and this began a sharp escalation of industry, particularly iron and steel, but also glass. For a very brief but interesting history of this unique city see this article published by the Society of American Archivists.
Andrew Carnegie lived in Pittsburgh (in the then city of Allegheny as a matter of fact, now the North Side) where he began the Carnegie Steel Company which grew to be the largest steel company in the world. It eventually became USS, the United States Steel Corporation which, when first formed at the turn of the 20th century, was the largest corporation of any kind in the world, and it made Carnegie the richest man in the world, the "Bill Gates of his time" so to say. It is still headquartered in Pittsburgh, as is Alcoa - the largest aluminum company in the world. Another notable steel industrialist was John Hartwell Hillman Jr., who built Pittsburgh Coke & Chemical. A number of other Fortune 100 companies once called Pittsburgh their headquarters as well. All this affluence helped fund a world class museum, theaters, universities, and of course the Carnegie Library, which has branches in cities all across America.
At the height of this industrialization Pittsburgh was notorious for its severe air pollution. One journalist descriptively dubbed it, "hell with the lid off". White collar workers came home in the evening as brown collar workers. Frank Lloyd Wright, the noted architect, when once asked what to do to fix Pittsburgh, famously replied, and with characteristic frankness, "Raze it." Today it is a model of cleanliness due to the remediation of the polluting industrial plants in the late 1950's, and also, unfortunately, due to the gradual migration of the mills to other cities and countries. There is now only one operating steel mill in Pittsburgh, Carnegie Steel's venerable Edgar Thompson Works, now a USS, state-of-the-art integrated steel mill.
Like most other old cities, it was the rivers that made the city. Pittsburgh claims to have more bridges than any city in the world (only counting bridges over 20 feet, 440 or so within Pittsburgh, and over 1700 in the county at all heighths) many of quite unusual design - steel bridges, of course. The many locks and dams on the rivers still support extensive barge traffic. Point State Park, or simply, "The Point", so named because it is the delta where the Allegheny and the Monongahela rivers join to form the Ohio River, was the site of Fort Pitt, once known as Fort Duquesne and, as one might expect with a name change like that, a famous battle was fought there in pre-Revolutionary times.
The demand for labor, so-called "millhunks", was so strong in the late 1800's that immigrants flocked to Pittsburgh from all over Europe, but mostly Central and Eastern Europe, especially: Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), Lithuania, Serbia and Croatia. All these countries provided laborers for the mills, and later many engineers immigrated from these countries as well. They brought their families, their languages, their churches - along with their drinking traditions too. Pittsburgh is known as "a shot and a beer" town. Steeples and the bright copper onion-dome churches of the Eastern Orthodox tradition dot the old parts of town. Unusual for the area, there is also a beautiful Hindu temple as well, built later for the many engineers and doctors from India that came to the city during the second half of the 20th century. Pittsburgh truly was a great melting pot, and the tradition continues: it is home to thousands of foreign students that attend the many universities in the city, including, most notably, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. Today these schools are among the city's largest employers.
Pittsburgh is unique in other ways, too. It had the first Big Mac (wow), the first pull-tab on drink cans, the first commercial radio station (KDKA, still operating), the first US public television station (WQED, still operating), the first gas station (1912, bit the dust), and the first baseball stadium (Forbes Field 1909). Check out these other Famous Pittsburgh Firsts listed by the Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau. Many of them will surprise you. Most recently (2006), Pittsburgh is the first city in the United States to offer WiFi coverage.
Pittsburgh International Airport (IATA: PIT) is the normal way in, although the area is also served by the smaller Allegheny County Airport, primarily used by private and corporate airplanes. The International Airport is located in Findlay, about 20 miles west of downtown, which translates to about a $45 cab ride. Hotel shuttles and buses are also available, and can be cheaper (the city bus, route 28X, is only $2.25, and takes a reasonably fast route to downtown, mostly along freeways and dedicated busways).
The airport terminal is relatively new and when built was the first "airport mall" in the country, which contains many shops and restaurants. It has been much copied since it was completed.
When you come in you will arrive in the "air-side" building. If you are transiting to another destination you don't have to leave this building, and this is where most of the "mall" shops are which makes window shopping a pleasant way of passing the time. If you are going to the Pittsburgh-area though, you will take a light rail shuttle a short distance underground to the "land-side" building where you will find the baggage claim and the various transportation modes to the city and other regional locations.
This airport is served by all major airlines, but US Airways and Southwest Airlines are predominant.
Pittsburgh is served by Greyhound  (+1 412 392-6513 or +1 800-231-2222 for routes and schedules) which maintains a station at 11th and Liberty, Downtown. Currently, the Greyhound station is undergoing maintenance; the temporary station is at 990 2nd Avenue. You can also get information from the Port Authority web site.
The interstate system links Pittsburgh from many cities. If coming from the east or west, your best bet into the city is the I-76, the Pennsylvania Turnpike. From the west, take exit 28-Cranberry to I-79 and then I-279; from the east, take exit 57 to I-376. From the north or south, take I-79.
Pittsburgh is difficult for strangers to get around in because the roads go every which way, constrained by the rivers and hills. Many are one-way and nearly all are narrow, as they were laid out in the days of horse-and-buggy transportation. If you can afford it, take a taxi until you get used to it. If not, find where you want to go on the internet, call them, and get detailed directions. Failing that, use an online mapping service. If you do find yourself lost or unsure, however, do not be afraid to ask for help. Most locals are very friendly and will be happy to assist you.
The Port Authority  (+1 412 442-2000) runs an extensive bus, light rail, and incline service.
Although Port Authority (or PAT as some residents refer to it) is generally quite reliable, the fare system it utilizes can be confusing, especially to visitors. Most bus and all light-rail routes utilize a "pay enter/pay leave" system: If you are travelling INTO or TOWARDS Downtown ("inbound"), you pay the fare as you board the bus. If you are travelling OUT OF or AWAY from Downtown ("outbound"), the fare is paid when you reach your destination. Travel within Downtown is free. The buses sometimes have signs in their front windows indicating whether fare is paid upon entering or leaving, but not always. Further adding to the confusion, from 7PM-4AM, ALL fares on all trips are paid upon boarding the bus, regardless of destination.
The base bus and light-rail fare is $1.75 for destinations within Zone 1, which encompasses the city limits and a few nearby suburbs. For an extra 50 cents, passengers can also purchase a transfer ticket, valid for three hours to use on any other route. Before boarding a bus or trolley, always check Port Authority's schedules (all of which are available on their website) and confirm its destination with the driver.
Taxis are a very good (if expensive) way of dealing with Pittsburgh's spaghetti roads until you get used to them (in about ten years). In the downtown and inner areas of the city itself (as opposed to the suburbs) one of the most commonly used taxicab companies is Yellow Cab  +1 412 321-8100.
Major highways include the Parkways East (Interstate 376), North (Interstate 279 to the north of downtown), and West (Interstate 279 to the west and south of downtown), Mon-Fayette Expressway, and PA Turnpike (toll road).
The Gateway Clipper fleet of riverboats offers shuttle services from Station Square to the North Side near the stadiums. Particularly useful when attending a game at Heinz Field or PNC Park.
Pittsburgh has several popular shopping districts. To name only a few:
The Pittsburgh restaurant scene is a little different than most cities. In many neighborhoods, they can be difficult to find and are often patronized mainly by locals. The hills and rivers make the roads tricky. So, if you're from out of town your best bet is to call for directions, fire up Google Maps, or take a taxi.
Downtown has the greatest concentration of hotels. For those visiting the universities or other attractions in the Oakland area, there are a number of convenient options:
Pittsburgh is routinely ranked as one of the safest cities among others of comparable size in the US. Nonetheless, as with all cities, there are areas which visitors should avoid wandering into (especially at night), including the Hill District (the area between Downtown and Oakland), Homewood, some parts of the North Side, and Wilkinsburg. Common sense guidelines regarding safety apply at all times.
Pittsburgh is one of those cities where you must use an area code even when dialing locally. There are three regional area codes 412, 724 and 878. Use of a "1" prefix when dialing these codes locally is optional.