Pittsburgh is a city of about 350,000 in Southwestern Pennsylvania, although the population of its metropolitan area is about 2,000,000. It is situated at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers, which meet to form the Ohio River.
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 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 century, was the largest corporation of any kind in the world, and it made Andrew the richest man in the world, the Bill Gates of his time. It is still headquartered in Pittsburgh as is Alcoa, the largest aluminum company in the world. 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 1950s, 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 old cities it was the rivers that made the city. It is said that Pittsburgh has more bridges than any city in the world and, while this claim may be apocryphal, it certainly has a lot of bridges, many of quite unusual design--steel bridges, of course. The many locks and dams on the rivers still support extensive barge traffic. Point 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 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--and their heavy 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. Unusually, there is also a beautiful Hindu temple as well, built later for the many engineers and doctors from India that came to the city in the second half of the twentieth century. Pittsburgh truly was a great melting pot, and the tradition continues: Pittsburgh 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. It had the first Big Mac (wow), the first pull-tab on drink cans, the first commercial radio station (KDKA, still operating), the first U. S. public television station (WQED, still operating), the first gas station (1912, bit the dust), the first baseball stadium (Forbes Field 1913). Check out these other Famous Pittsburgh Firsts listed by the Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau. Many of them will surprise you.
WikiPedia:Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT airport code) is the normal way in, although the area is also served by a smaller county airport, primarily used by private airplanes. It's about 20 miles west of downtown, which translates to about a $35 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 such as TGI Fridays, McDonalds, Nine West, The Body Shop, Ben and Jerry's, and many, many others. 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 a "hub" of U. S. Airways and serves as a gateway for the region to many northeast and southeast destinations. There are a number of other airlines serving this airport as well, but U. S. Airways is predominant. The airline is in troubled financial straits, and there have been suggestions that it will no longer use Pittsburgh as a hub, but for now at least, they're here.
Pittsburgh is served by Greyhound Bus which maintains a station at 11th and Liberty, Downtown. Phone 412-392-6513 or 800-231-2222 for routes and schedules. You can also get information from the Port Authority web site.
Amtrac services Pittsburgh and has a station just across the street from the Greyhound station at Grant and Liberty Downtown.
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 MapQuest or another of the online mapping services.
The Port Authority of Allegheny County runs an extensive bus service and you can use their link here, or call them at: 412-442-2000
Taxi is 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 near areas of the city itself (as opposed to the suburbs) the most commonly used taxicab is Yellow Cab. Phone 412-321-8100.
By car Major highways include the Parkways East, North, and West Mon-Fayette Expressway and PA Turnpike (toll road).
For a comprehensive schedule of all significant current events anywhere in the city go to PGHevents.com.
Pittsburgh has several popular shopping districts. To name only a few:
Use the links above for more detailed information about certain of them.
The Pittsburgh restaurant scene is a little different than most cities: while there are numerous chain restaurants in mall settings, the most interesting are not in malls, and they are often difficult to find and patronized mainly by locals. Because of the hills and rivers the roads are convoluted and tricky. If you're from out of town your best bet is to select a restaurant and call for instructions on how to get there, or take a taxi.
Listed below are some especially interesting Pittsburgh restaurants. Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh provides a comprehensive list of restaurants as well as references to reviews and comment.
Pennsylvania generally still has a number of conservative laws on the books; all liquor stores are state-run. The quality of these varies widely. To find liquor stores, visit the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.
Beer lovers should check out the Sharp Edge and the Church Brew Works. The Sharp Edge offers a wide selection of beers of all nationalities, and the Church Brew Works lives up to its name, as it's located in a lovely old church and serves brews created by the resident brewmaster. The food is good, though a bit on the pricy side depending on your budget.
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 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. You do not use a 1 prefix when dialing these codes locally.