The former industrial city of Pittsburgh has been working hard to transform itself into family-friendly “Kidsburgh,” with kid-centric fun around every corner such as a waterpark, a children’s museum worthy of Mr. Rogers himself, and an entertainment complex. Honestly though, other than having a husband who has been a Steelers fan since childhood, I knew almost nothing about the city before a recent stay and was hesitant to visit. I’m glad I didn’t give in to my misgivings. As soon as I entered the gorgeous city boasting three sparkling rivers, 446 bridges, and 90 diverse neighborhoods liberally sprinkled with museums, historic sites, and gorgeous parks and recreation areas, I was hooked. And the family highlights were a revelation.
My family just visited The Burgh on a three-day press tour trip courtesy of Visit Pittsburgh. We loved it so much, we extended our trip another night to visit a couple of additional sights we wanted to see. And we still didn’t get to experience all that Pittsburgh offers.
Here’s our big guide to family fun in Pittsburgh:
Where to Stay
Pittsburgh offers many options when it comes to hotels, resorts and accommodations. We stayed at the SpringHill Suites Pittsburgh North Shore, which had modern and spacious suites and a great location—right across from PNC Park (Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates) and many other area attractions. A nice choice for families.
Downtown Pittsburgh is a very walkable city. If you need to go out of the area, you can take the subway, know as the “T.” Rides within the T’s Free Fare Zone won’t cost you a cent. If you’re traveling out of that zone, there is a small fare. The T is clean and convenient. Taxi cabs can be found at most hotels, but don’t expect to hail one (it’s not usually done in Pittsburgh). Uber is another option.
What to Do
Take a Tour: There is so much history in Pittsburgh, I recommend a city tour on your first day. We did both the Just Ducky Tours (a 1-hour adventure through the city on land and water) and the Gateway Clipper Tour (a 1-hour boat tour on the three rivers). Both were good (and both begin at Station Square, a great entertainment complex), but families with younger kids should go for the Just Ducky Tours. Our guide was funny, knowledgeable, and the captain let the kids take the wheel during the river tour part. And, really, we dare you to not enjoy yourself when you’re quacking at the top of your lungs.
Ride the Duquesne Incline: Get a spectacular view of the city and ride on a bit of history by boarding the century-old cable car up the steep incline to Mount Washington. Once on top, you can tour the museum and learn all about the cable cars.
Play at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh: This hands-on interactive children’s museum was one of my favorite Kidsburgh stops. It will appeal to babies, toddlers, older kids, and even their parents. Many of the museum’s core beliefs are inspired by Pittsburgh native Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood (my childhood idol). Some of the highlights include an art studio, a Maker’s Space, a wonderful Eric Carle exhibit, a water play floor, a Garage room, a Backyard play space, reading nooks throughout. I loved that CMP truly understands education and children. It teaches and inspires.
Dinosaur lovers will be very happy at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Carnegie MNH is ranked among the top five natural history museums in the country and is world famous for its dinosaurs, including the first-ever discovered T. Rex. Through more than 20 galleries and the Powdermill Nature Reserve research field station, the museum maintains, preserves, and interprets an extraordinary collection of 21 million objects and scientific specimen, instilling a love of science, nature, and the environment. And the staff are so cool, some even wear dinosaur dresses.
The Andy Warhol Museum: The museum features seven floors of drawings, prints, paintings, sculpture, film and video, as well as an extensive archive of ephemera, source materials, and other documents of Pittsburgh native Andy Warhol’s life. It also offers many family-friendly activities, programming, and exhibitions. My youngest daughter loved Andy’s Toybox, which offered toys and dress up, and everyone loved the room with Warhols Silver Clouds.
Catch a Pittsburgh Pirates game: Pittsburgh is a sports city and PNC Park is considered one of the best places to watch a baseball game. My family did not see a game while we visited (my oldest daughter has a severe peanut allergy and baseball and peanut allergies do not mix —You know, “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,” and all that), but other families that we traveled with did and loved it.
Museums and places we didn’t get to visit, but hope to on our next trip:
- The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium: One of only six major zoo and aquarium combinations in the country, the 77-acre naturalistic habitat facility is home to thousands of animals representing hundreds of diverse species.
- Carnegie Museum of Art: Connected to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (and your tickets gives you admission to both!) , CMA has an extensive art collection, including Impressionist and contemporary works. CMA offers many hands-on art-making activities for children.
- Carnegie Science Center: Four floors of interactive experiences, including the world’s largest permanent robotics exhibit, a zero-gravity simulator, the Miniature Railroad & Village, the Buhl Planetarium, and hundreds of hands-on exhibits.
- Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens: Indoor and outdoor gardens, flowers shows, a Children’s Discovery Garden, and a Butterfly Forest.
- My husband would love to catch a Steelers home game at Heinz Field.
Where to Eat
Pittsburgh is a foodie town, so I won’t attempt to name all of the places to dine. (We didn’t get to try a famous Primanti Brother’s sandwich this trip, but it’s on my list for our next visit.)
Here are three family-friendly choices that won’t let you down:
Pamela’s Diner: Located in the Strip District ( a real foodie neighborhood), Pamela’s has a cult-like following for its Hotcakes. The crepe-style pancakes are light, buttery, and have crisp edges that made these the best pancakes I’ve ever eaten. President Obama is a big fan too. Also delicious are the Lyonnaise potatoes and a great French Press coffee.
Double Wide Grill: Located in the South Side Neighborhood, DWG is a retro Texaco gas station turned bar and restaurant offering an eclectic BBQ and vegetarian/ vegan menu. It offers a fun atmosphere where tattooed servers bring you great beer and good food (try the Junkyard Nachos and Pulled Pork with Creamy Cherry coleslaw—trust me).
Hofbräuhaus: Modeled after the legendary 400+ year-old Hofbräuhaus in Munich, Germany, Pittsburgh’s Hofbräuhaus is a must stop. Great beer (I recommend a Dunkel, or two), authentic German food (the Bavarian Jägerschnitzel was delicious and the pretzels perfect) , live music, and lots of festivities will be enjoyed by young and old. You’ll be sure to say danke schön!