Downtown Pittsburgh at night
Downtown Pittsburgh is the main business district and urban center of life in the city. It is bordered by the Allegheny River on the north, the Monongahela River on the south, Duquesne University and the area surrounding Mellon Arena on the east, and the railroad tracks at the very northeastern corner of downtown.
Downtown Pittsburgh is constrained by two rivers, the Allegheny on the north and the Monongahela on the south. They join at what is known as the "Point", forming the Ohio River. Because it is thus limited it has been forced to grow upwards, and although Pittsburgh is in some ways a small town, its downtown contains some big town structures and is a bustling center; office workers stream in and out on the weekdays, packing buses, light rail trains, and the bridges during rush hours.
Driving in over the bridge offers a stunning view
If you're arriving in Pittsburgh by bus or train you'll likely be getting off in Downtown anyway. For detailed info on getting off via those modes, see the Get in section on the Pittsburgh article.
Downtown Pittsburgh is readily accessible by a number of freeways and bridges. From the east, I-376 (The Parkway East) connects downtown to the eastern side of Pittsburgh and I-76 (the Pennsylvania Turnpike), with three exits into Downtown: Second Avenue (right lane exit), Grant Street (left lane exit), and Stanwix Street (left lane exit). I-376 is also the best option for coming in from the airport and western suburbs, coming across the Fort Pitt Bridge (take the middle lane to exit into Downtown). I-279 (Parkway North/West) is your best option for coming in from the north - either exit on I-579 (the Veterans Bridge) or continue across the Fort Duquesne Bridge and exit there. From the southeast, Liberty Ave (which enters the Liberty Tunnel and then becomes the Liberty Bridge) is a good option.
By public transit
Because most bus routes terminate downtown, it is usually easy to access from any direction. From the south, Pittsburgh's light rail system ("The T") provides quick access, with four stops in the district: First Avenue, Steel Plaza, Wood Street, and Gateway Center (temporairily closed). From the east, the MLK East Busway (bus rapid transit line) provides traffic-free service to a few East End communities. To the west, the West Busway operates on a separate right-of-way for most of its trip. There is also a South Busway, though it is less useful.
If you're flying into Pittsburgh, the Route 28X Airport Flyer will bring you directly downtown from Pittsburgh International Airport, via the West Busway.
Map of Downtown Pittsburgh
Downtown Pittsburgh is optimal for walking as it is small (covering approximately 0.7 square miles) and very dense. Buses are the norm downtown as well as the light rail/subway ("The T") which has three subway stops at: Steel Plaza, Wood Street, and Gateway Center (temporairily closed), as well as a surface station at First Ave. Fares on buses and The T are free within downtown. Taxis are more difficult to come by and typically accessed by request at one of the various hotels.
Anyone interested in American architecture will love downtown Pittsburgh; there are numerous prime examples of 19th-century and early 20th-century architecture scattered throughout the area, as well as many notable and interesting structures of more recent times.
Pittsburgh's tallest skyscraper, the U.S. Steel Tower
- U.S. Steel Tower (formerly known as the USX Tower), 600 Grant St (between 6th and 7th Avenues). A 64 story office building which is the tallest in Pittsburgh, and briefly held the honor of being the tallest building in the world outside of New York City and Chicago. It is constructed of a special type of steel, "Corten" steel, developed by USS. It is not painted and is intended to rust to a tough, brown finish and then stop rusting. (One hopes.)
- One Mellon Center, 500 Grant St. A sleek 55 story building which holds the title of the city's second tallest building. It is situated directly across from the U.S. Steel Tower, separated by only a street and a small park, standing as if to challenge the older and larger lion that is the Steel Tower. One of its unique features is the building's eight-sided design.
- PPG Place, between Forbes Ave and Boulevard of the Allies, east of Stanwix Street, . A unique set of buildings developed by Pittsburgh Plate Glass as their headquarters. All the buildings are faced entirely with a glittering, sun inhibiting plate glass and sport ornate, yet modern, glass pinnacles like candles on a birthday cake. One PPG Place (the tall one) is one of the most recognizable buildings in the skyline and the city's third tallest. Among these buildings is an unusual park which, in the winter, is flooded with water and used for ice skating, like Rockefeller Center in Manhattan.
- Highmark Place, between Penn and Liberty on Stanwix. The city's fourth tallest building, this building is easily recognizable due to it's pyramid-shaped top with its tall mast.
- Oxford Centre, 4th and Grant. A gleaming white set of buildings, the tallest of which is the city's fifth tallest. At night they are lit up rather nicely.
- Gulf Tower, 435 Seventh Ave. Completed in 1932, this building was the city's tallest (and for that matter, the state's tallest) until the U.S. Steel Tower was completed in 1970. Today, it's the city's sixth tallest. The building is named for the Gulf Oil company, and the top of the tower is designed to resemble a step-pyramid/mausoleum which is illuminated at night.
Other interesting buildings
- 200 Block of Fort Pitt Blvd. Facing the Monongahela River, this area was once a major commercial hub due to its proximity to the now long-defunct Monongahela Wharf. Along the 200 block of Fort Pitt Blvd is a surviving fragment of the commercial architecture of the late 19th century which defined this neighborhood. Cast-iron ornamental elements and Queen Anne style structures reflect the architectural tastes of the time.
- Alcoa Building (also known as the Regional Enterprise Tower), 425 6th Avenue. The first all aluminum building ever constructed. It stands 30 stories tall and was built of aluminum panels in 1953. Alcoa recently built a new building on the North Side and no longer occupies this landmark building.
Allegheny County Courthouse
- Allegheny County Courthouse, on Grant between Forbes and 5th Avenues. A gorgeous stone building built in 1884 that serves as the seat of the Allegheny County government. You can walk into the lovely courtyard with its fountain, overshadowed by the building's prominent tower. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and widely regarded as one of the most beautiful courthouses in the nation.
- There are a few churches in downtown that have somehow survived amidst much skyscraper construction. The lovely First Lutheran Church on Grant Avenue between 6th and 7th Avenues looks particularly out of place next to the massive office buildings surrounding it, but serves as an interesting reminder that this was once a residential area. Near Mellon Square is the Smithfield United Church on Smithfield Street between 6th and 7th Avenues and the intricately decorated Trinity Cathedral on 6th Avenue between Smithfield and Wood Streets.
- City-County Building, 414 Grant Street. Built in 1917, the City-County Building is a grand structure which still serves as the seat of government for the city of Pittsburgh.
- David L. Lawrence Convention Center, 1000 Fort Duquesne Blvd. The convention center is quite a sight, with its sweeping design facing the Allegheny River. Be sure to walk up to the entrance on 10th Street near Penn Avenue - a walkway starts there that runs underneath the building towards the shore of the Allegheny River, flanked on both sides by waterfalls.
- Dollar Savings Bank Building, 4th Ave. and Smithfield Street. Fourth Avenue used to be the financial center of Pittsburgh, and a lot of great architecture remains on Fourth even if most of the banks have moved to taller, shinier buildings. However, a branch of the Dollar Savings Bank remains, with impressive classical architecture and lion statues flanking the entrance.
- Frick Building, 437 Grant Street. A 20-story building constructed by the industrialist Henry Clay Frick in 1902. The building sports many lavish features, such as marble ceilings, intricate grillwork, and stained glass windows.
- Koppers Tower, 436 Seventh Avenue (at Grant Street). One of the best examples of Art Deco in Pittsburgh, this building is constructed with Indiana limestone and has a polished granite base, a dark copper roof, and marble walls in the lobby.
- Union Trust Building, 435 Grant Street. A gorgeous Flemish-Gothic structure built in 1916 by Henry Clay Frick, the structure is decorated with a steep mansard roof, terra cotta dormers, and two chapel-like towers. The church-like appearance of the structure owes to the previous use of the land, a nineteenth century catholic cathedral.
Point State Park
101 Commonwealth Place (at the western end of downtown), ☎ +1 412 471-0235 ([email protected]), . Daily 7:30AM-10PM. Free. (latitude,)
Point State Park is a delightful 36 acre park located at the tip of downtown where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers join to form the Ohio. Lawns, gardens, riverfront promenades, and sweeping views of the rivers, hillsides, bridges, and skyscrapers of Pittsburgh make it a very scenic place to stroll and relax. At the parks apex, where the three rivers meet, is a large fountain. Currently, the park is undergoing a long renovation and parts of it may be closed off for the moment.
The Point has a very rich history, as indicated by the many plaques and monuments throughout the park. In the 1700s the Point was a very strategic location for the British and French forces in North America to claim control of this portion of the continent. George Washington, who at the time was fighting for the British, said:
- I spent some time in viewing the rivers, and the land in the fork; which I think extremely well situated for a fort, as it has absolute command of both rivers. -- journal entry by George Washington, November 1753
In 1754 the French built Fort Duquesne at the Point. George Washington was sent to capture the fort, but suffered his only defeat before he could reach the Point, at Fort Necessity 50 miles to the southeast. Other British attacks in the area were repelled until 1758 when a large British force led by John Forbes threatened the fort, forcing the French to burn down Fort Duquesne and abandon the site just before the British arrived. Soon Fort Pitt, one of the most elaborate British forts constructed in North America, was built on the site.
Fort Pitt lasted for several decades, defending the small settlement on the Point against various Native American attacks and serving the Americans as a headquarters for the western theatre of the Revolutionary War before being decommissioned in 1792. The growing settlement of Pittsburgh built on top of the remains of the old forts. The Point was occupied by commercial and industrial structures until the 1950s, when the city used eminent domain to acquire the land and construct the current park.
- Fort Pitt Block House. Wed-Sun 10:00AM-5:00PM. A former redoubt - a structure that extends the line of fire beyond the walls of a fort - the Fort Pitt Block House is the only extant relic of Fort Pitt and is the oldest structure west of the Allegheny Mountains. It has functioned as a museum of the French & Indian War era since 1894 and has a small gift shop. Free.
- Mellon Arena  is the home of the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL hockey club. The arena also hosts many other events including NBA basketball and concerts — both rock and classical. Check the link for the current event schedule. It will be torn down in 2010 after its replacement, Consol Energy Center, opens across the street.
The northern part of downtown (along Penn Avenue) is the Cultural District , where you can see symphony orchestra performances, opera, plays and many other events.
- August Wilson Center for African American Culture, . Theater.
- Benedum Center, 719 Liberty Avenue, +1 412 456-6666, . A large and very historic theater, built in 1927 and very faithfully restored. The Benedum is home to the Pittsburgh Opera , the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre , and the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera .
- Byham Theater, 101 Sixth Street, +1 412 456-6666, . A grand historic theater with many lavish decorations, the Byham plays host to a variety of events.
- Harris Theater, 809 Libetry Avenue, +1 412 456-6666, . Originally opened as a movie theater, the Harris plays both movies and live performances.
- Heinz Hall, 600 Penn Avenue, +1 412 392-4900. A magnificent concert hall, Heinz Hall is the home of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra .
- O'Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Ave, +1 412 456-6666, . Home to the Pittsburgh Public Theater .
- Three Rivers Arts Festival Gallery, 937 Liberty Ave, . An extension of the Three Rivers Arts Festival held annually in June.
- Wood Street Galleries, 601 Wood Street (above the Wood St "T" (Subway) Station), . Tu-Th 11AM-6PM, F-Sa 11AM-8PM. A contemporary art gallery with some interesting exhibits, with a focus on new media.
Festivals and events
- The Three Rivers Arts Festival  provides seventeen days of art through the month of June for the people with a mix of art, live music, food, and festival fun. The most popular parts of the Three Rivers Arts Festival are the program of free outdoor concerts, and the vibrant artist market where artists from all over the country display and sell their wares. The festival is located around Point State Park and the Gateway Center. On weekends, street closures will expand the area, creating a plaza to accommodate the larger events.
- The Three Rivers Regatta  is the region's biggest Fourth of July event. Taking place on the Fourth of July weekend around Point State Park and just across the river on the North Shore, this massive event plays host to a lot of music, food, stunt shows, boating events, family activities, and (of course) a huge fireworks show over the river.
- During the summer, Market Square  and Mellon Square play host to free concerts and other events.
- Christmastime in Downtown can be quite fun. Among all the holiday decorations, there are a few highlights: At PPG Place, the fountain in the plaza is turned into an ice skating rink, the lobby of One PPG Place (the tall building) holds an massive holiday display, and throughout the complex are displays of beautiful gingerbread houses created by local school children. The U.S. Steel Tower puts up a nativity scene (creche) just outside the building which is a reproduction of the one at the Vatican. Another highlight is the Macy's department store, which puts up elaborate holiday displays in their shop windows, complete with music.
Downtown doesn't have a particularly impressive shopping scene; shops here mostly cater to office workers and are usually run-of-the-mill places - copy stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, the like. However, there are a couple of large department stores still in downtown, as well as a scattering of some small, interesting shops. Most shops of interest to the visitor are located along Smithfield Street or in the "Cultural District".
- Macy's, 400 Fifth Ave, +1 412 232-2395. M-F 10AM-7PM, Sa 10AM-6PM, Su noon-5PM. The oldest of the remaining department stores in Downtown. The elegantly styled clock on the building's corner (at Forbes and Smithfield) is a popular meeting place.
- Saks Fifth Avenue, 513 Smithfield St, +1 412 263-4800. M-W 10AM-6PM, Th-F 10AM-7PM, Sa 10AM-6PM, Su noon-5PM. Another large department store.
- Sports World Specialties, 645 Smithfield St, +1 412 232-3343, . M-F 9:30AM-4:30PM, Sa Su by appointment. A small dusty shop holding a lot of terrific Pirates and Steelers merchandise, some of it vintage and most of it autographed by the players themselves.
- SW Randall Toyes & Gifts, 630 Smithfield St, +1 412 562-9252, . An old-fashioned toy store, SW Randall is a survivor from Pittsburgh's heydey and worth a visit for its idiosyncratic collection.
- City Deli and Catering Co, 436 7th Ave (corner of Grant St and 7th Ave), ☎ +1 412 471-1222. 7AM-2PM. Serving breakfast and lunch. Delicious sandwiches, homemade soups, handmade burgers, pizza, beautiful salad choices and more. moderate.
- Mancini's and Prantl's Bakery, 430 Market St (on the north side of Market Square), Mancini's: +1 412 281-8116, . Prantl's: +1 412 471-6861, . M-F 7AM-3PM. Two excellent bakeries serving delicious goods. Prantl's specializes in deserts, while Mancini's does bread and rolls. Mancini's pizza rolls are surprisingly filling, making for an excellent lunch. There is no seating inside, but there's plenty just outside in Market Square, weather permitting.
- Primanti Bros., . Two locations: 11 Cherry Way (at Forbes Ave), +1 412 566-8051; M-Sa 7AM-6PM; South Market Square, +1 412 261-1599; 11AM-11PM daily. The definitive Pittsburgh chain, noted for their popular sandwiches, has two locations in Downtown.
- Sree's Foods, 701 Smithfield St (at Liberty), ☎ +1 412 860-9181, . M-F 11:30AM-3PM. Simple, no-frills Indian restaurant with great food. Their selection isn't big (they usually have only about five dishes per day) and it's pretty low-key (all dishes are served in styrofoam take-out containers), but it's very tasty and inexpensive. $5, cash only.
- Wiener World, 626 Smithfield St, ☎ +1 412 471-3013. A small hot dog stand tucked on Smithfield St. There's no tables or chairs here; just one small counter inside and an order window facing the street, but the franks are excellent, as are the fries and fish sandwiches. Cash only.
- Seviche, 930 Penn Ave (next to the convention center), ☎ +1 412 697-3120, . M-Sa 5pm-1am. A tapas restaurant and bar with small plates delivered in an artistic presentation. The Caipirnha and Pisco Sour are the best drinks, along with mojitos, margaritas and martinis.
- Sonoma Grille, 947 Penn Ave, ☎ +1 412 697-1336, . Lunch daily 11AM-3PM, Dinner daily 5PM-11PM. A casual restaurant with an airy dining room. International cuisine; good wine list.
- Nicholas Coffee, 23 Market Square (NW corner), ☎ +1 412 261-4225, . M-F 7AM-5:30PM, Sa 8:30AM-5:30PM.
- Patty Kraus (The Oyster House), northeast corner of Market Square. This is a "must do" if you like seafood and historical places. Go back in time while eating the best fish sandwich you'd ever want to eat. Wash it down with creamy buttermilk or a beer. Of course, there are oysters, lightly breaded, or their specialty oysters which are sort of like a fritter. Other seafood dishes and foods are available and all delicious.
- Tavern 245, 245 Fourth Avenue, ☎ +1 412 281-4345, . Friendly downtown bar with a good beer list and good food, open til 2 am.
- Pegasus, 818 Liberty Avenue, ☎ +1 412 281-2131, . Because 18 year olds are allowed in on certain nights, it is the most popular gay dance club for university students.
There are numerous hotels in downtown Pittsburgh, from the venerable old Omni William Penn, where innumerable political deals were cut and business deals sealed, to the Hilton hotel near Point State Park.
- Courtyard Pittsburgh Downtown, 945 Penn Ave, +1 412 434-5551, .
- DoubleTree Downtown Pittsburgh, 1 Bigelow Sq, +1 412 281-5800, . Located in the heart of Pittsburgh, this $12 million in recent renovations hotel is within walking distance of the U.S. Steel Tower and Mellon Arena. It also hosts the Bigelow Grille; an American-themed restaurant; and a complimentary swimming pool, on top of all the normal DoubleTree features, such as the warm cookie at check-in and SweetDream bedding.
- Hilton Hotel, 600 Commonwealth Pl (across the street from Point State Park), +1 412 391-4600, .
- Marriott City Center, 112 Washington Pl, +1 888 456-6600, .
- Omni William Penn, 530 William Penn Pl, +1 412 281-7100, . Located in the heart of the downtown business district, the renowned Omni William Penn Hotel is a historic landmark elegantly renovated for the 21st century traveler, while retaining its 1916 charm.
- Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel, 107 6th St, +1 800 468-3571, .
- Westin Convention Center Pittsburgh, 1000 Penn Ave, +1 412 281-3700, .
- Fairmont Pittsburgh, 510 Market Street, (412) 773-8800, .
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