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Pittsburgh – a steel city now making its mark

Viewing the city from the Duquesne Incline near Pittsburgh's South Side neighbourhood
Viewing the city from the Duquesne Incline near Pittsburgh's South Side neighbourhood
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

Mention Pennsylvania and no doubt you’ll be pointed in the direction of Philadelphia but it’s the north eastern U.S. state’s second largest city that’s now bidding for a slice of tourism.

With a population of just over 300,000, Pittsburgh has long tended to sit in the shadow of its bigger state sibling yet more and more people are giving the city a second look as it carves out a new identity.

Once an industrial powerhouse of the 20th century, the iron city has found itself in the midst of a cultural and economic renaissance, attracting a new wave of young residents.

Other cities may have struggled with the decline of coal mining and steel production, but Pittsburgh has bounced back and was recently ranked as one of the most liveable cities in the US.

The factories may have long gone but the city has been transformed into a hi-tech hub of modern robotics research where a car driving itself is now a familiar sight.

The new-found confidence in this cutting-edge city means it’s also attracting its fair share of tourists.

That has been boosted by the recent launch of a non-stop four-times-a-week service from London Heathrow to Pittsburgh by British Airways with regular connections from Belfast and Dublin.

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Viewing the city from the Duquesne Incline near Pittsburgh's South Side neighbourhood
Viewing the city from the Duquesne Incline near Pittsburgh's South Side neighbourhood

Customers can fly on one of the newest aircraft in the airlines’ fleet, the state-of-the-art Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner which accommodates 214 customers across three cabins - economy, premium economy and business.

Pittsburgh has been adding new hotel rooms at a furious pace in the last few years, and one of the newest to the market is the 133-room AC Hotel Pittsburgh Downtown, which opened in the summer of 2018 and is a great base for exploring some of the world’s greatest galleries.

Food manufacturer Henry John Heinz and steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie were among the first to put Pittsburgh on the cultural map while in the more recent past, a world-class exhibition has opened up to the city’s most famous son, the artist Andy Warhol.

The pop-art genius was born in the city in 1928 and the seven-storey museum dedicated to his life guards more than 12,000 of his works – paintings, photos, sculptures and videos including some of his classic screen prints.

Elsewhere in the North Shore area, the Mattress Factory is home to a contemporary art museum and experimental lab featuring site-specific installations created by artists in residence from around the world.

The city owes its existence to its three rivers: the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio and Point State Park is the beautiful space where the trio meet.

With Andy Warhol's nephew - Donald Warhola (centre) - at the city's Andy Warhol Museum
With Andy Warhol's nephew - Donald Warhola (centre) - at the city's Andy Warhol Museum

One of the best ways to get your bearings is on Molly’s Trolley tour of Pittsburgh and its neighbourhoods.

The trolley ride gives a glimpse at the city along with some fun facts while a ride on the famous Duquesne Incline, an antique funicular that has been trundling up its 30-degree gradient since 1877, offers the best view of the distinctly photogenic Downtown Pittsburgh skyline.

When it comes to food and drink, Pittsburgh has a thriving culinary scene.

Start off your day at Pamela’s, a classic American diner famous for its crepe-like pancakes, which are a favourite of President Barrack Obama.

A trip to Pie for Breakfast is the essential stop-off for comfort-food lovers and while they offer several selections beyond their namesake but their vinegar pie is a must.

Another popular spot is The Commoner, a hip gastropub serving farm-to-table eats and filling breakfast entrees, which is located inside the Kimpton Hotel Monaco. 

Visiting Brew Gentlemen brewery and taproom in Pittsburgh's Braddock suburb.
Lunch in the Strip District at Cinderlands Beer Co
Visiting Brew Gentlemen brewery and taproom in Pittsburgh's Braddock suburb. Lunch in the Strip District at Cinderlands Beer Co

Or swing by Primanti Brothers, famous for their mouth-watering sandwiches, all served on thick hunks of delicious Italian bread.

Fine dining is also catered for, especially at Eleven, which offers a seasonal menu and outstanding wine list in an elegantly rehabilitated warehouse in the city’s Strip District.

Pittsburgh also has many alternative dining options if you want to get out into the great wide open.

Superior Motors is a new restaurant, housed in an old Chevy dealership in the Braddock borough, with an eclectic, farm-to-table menu where chef Kevin Sousa is well-known in the area for his creative concepts and community-driven mission.

Fancy a culinary tour around the world? Look no further than the ‘Burgh Bits and Bites tour of the historic Brookline neighbourhood, just south of Downtown Pittsburgh.

The tour allows you to meet local business owners and sample a true diversity of foods from many regions; pita from a Mediterranean bakery, tacos from an authentic Mexican Carniceria, Italian meatballs from a local diner and more.

Visiting Brew Gentlemen brewery and taproom in Pittsburgh's Braddock suburb.
Visiting Brew Gentlemen brewery and taproom in Pittsburgh's Braddock suburb.

The Pittsburgh brewery scene is growing at an incredible pace and giving the steel city an added economic boost.

Among those making their mark are Matt Katase and Alaina Webber of Brew Gentlemen, situated just up the road from Superior Motors.

The business was started by the pair in their dorm room while students at Carnegie Mellon University.

They opened the 2,000-square-foot brewery in May 2014 and are now expanding to create a full-scale production brewhouse and canning line, alongside an outdoor space called BG Open Air which has just opened for the summer season.

Back in the Strip District you’ll find a warm vide at Cinderlands Beer Co. where there is an open setting with an outdoor space and table games.

Cinderlands opened its two-storey, 300-seat facility in May and people have been packing the place ever since.

The scratch-kitchen serves up snacks, sandwiches, small plates and sweets and there’s a brew to suit every taste.

Travel fact file

Fly

British Airways from Heathrow to Pittsburgh from £536 return. ba.com

Stay

Rooms at the AC Hotel by Marriott Pittsburgh Downtown start from $127 a night: www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/pitar-ac-hotel-pittsburgh-downtown

Explore

Tourist information: visitpittsburgh.com

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