Pittsburgh is a down-to-earth city that is welcoming for families to visit. If your image of Pittsburgh is that of “Steel City” for the industry that once dominated, your perception needs to be updated. The smoky trail of industrial soot that once covered this town is long gone. The industrialists who profited here have endowed the city with a wealth of world-class museums and attractions. Pittsburgh is making waves in foodie circles with its classic diners and sandwich shops, where blue-collar prices mean dining is casual and budget-friendly. If you are traveling with sports fans, locals eat, sleep and breath sports all year long. Pittsburgh’s Western Pennsylvania location is a tourism bonus, as half of the U.S. population lives within 500 miles of the city. It is a six-hour drive from New York City and four hours from Philly, so it has great weekend getaway potential for East Coast families.
There is so much do in Pittsburgh. Must-see attractions include the Carnegie Science Center, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the Heinz History Center and Sports Museum.
1. Carnegie Science Center
This the perfect place for curious minds to explore. Hundreds of hands-on exhibits with a focus on science and technology guarantee fun for kids of all ages. The Science Center features four floors of interactive exhibits, including Roboworld, the world’s largest permanent robotics exhibit. Popular add-ons include an actual Cold War-era submarine, an Omnimax theater with a four-story domed screen, and Laser Shows. The theater program is amazing, with live demonstrations throughout the day.
2. Carnegie Museum of Natural History
A recently renovated and expanded Dinosaur Hall boasts one of the nation’s largest dinosaur collections, and first permanent exhibition in the world to feature scientifically accurate, immersive environments spanning the Mesozoic Era. See paleontologists in action as they work in the lab, making new discoveries! In addition to this feature, the gemstone collection is dazzling, and there are hands-on activities dispersed throughout the museum. Plus the museum is connected to the Carnegie Museum of Art, which is definitely worth the visit, and admission covers both museums if you want to make a day of it. If, on the other hand, you are short on time, visit after 3 p.m. and the entry fee is discounted by 50 percent.
3. Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
Kids’ learn through tactile play with a variety of medium in this well-regarded museum. The Makeshop is an innovative studio space where a team of skilled makers and educators help translate kid’s visions into tangible objects. The indoor jungle gym is the place to expend youthful energy.
The 19 distinct gardens, some indoors under a picturesque glass dome, are stunning. Glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly decorate the floral beds in a whimsical fashion. Live butterflies fly freely in warmer months. Walking through the garden in its entirety takes the average visitor 90 minutes to give you a sense of size. there is also a great hidden area behind Phipps down the cobblestone path younger kids can explore.
5. Heinz History Center
Part of the Smithsonian, this museum is dedicated to history as it connects to Western Pennsylvania. Kids can play in Kidsburgh, a kids-only, interactive play zone, as parents sip coffee in the café while they monitor the kids on a television screen. There is a delightful collection of original antique vehicles, including a trolley, fire engine, and Heinz ketchup delivery truck. The fourth floor Special Collections Gallery is home to the largest original collection of items from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, including King Friday’s Castle, the Great Oak Tree, and McFeely’s Speedy Delivery tricycle.
6. Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum
Located in the Heinz History Center, this museum-within-a-museum captures the importance of sports to this city. Learn about great sportsmen and women through sports artifacts and interactive exhibits. Lesser-known sports such as marbles and bocce are covered too. Don’t miss the baseball card collection.
7. The Toonseum
A visit here is a must for kids who like cartoons and graphic art. Exhibits of original cartoon art combined with dynamic programming, promote a deeper appreciation of this unsung art form. This is a great museum for older kids as the focus is on comic and cartoon arts (not actual cartoon watching). Quite a bit of fun can be had when they have their superhero costume rack set out for dress up time!
8. National Aviary
Get nose-to-beak with more than 500 birds of more than 150 unique species from around the world, including owls, flamingos, and penguins.
9. The Andy Warhol Museum
As the largest museum dedicated to a single artist in the country, Warhol Museum's merging of art and pop culture is appealing to kids. Head down to the basement studio, where each afternoon you can create your own pop art project. Other fun activities include a Warhol photobooth and screen test.
10. Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium
This venerable zoo has been around for over one hundred years. It is home to thousands of animals representing more than 400 species, including 22 threatened or endangered species. The underwater polar bear and otter experiences are good fun. Kid’s Kingdom is where you will find a petting zoo and animals native to Pennsylvania. The PPG Aquarium presents sea creatures from every type of watery habitat.
11. Watch a professional sporting event
With the Steelers playing football, the Penguins ice hockey and the Pirates baseball, all at in-town stadiums, watching a professional sporting event in this sports-obsessed city is an experience. Not to mention, the skyline views from PNC Park (home to the Pirates) are among the best stadium views in the nation. Residents have a deep affection for their teams. All of the teams share team colors, so whatever sport you choose to view, you will be surrounded by a sea of black and gold. And if the game is a winner, you can almost always expect fireworks.
12. Ride the Duquesne Incline
Ride a hundred-year-old cable car straight up for a spectacular view of Pittsburgh’s three rivers and skyline. Any kid who likes trains should love this. The Duquesne Incline is open daily.
13. Just Ducky Tours
Tour the city by land and water all in one tour. Travel the streets of Pittsburgh in a WWII amphibious vehicle that culminates with a dive into the Allegheny River. The tour is fully narrated, so you can learn a bit of history and geography as you quack around town.
14. Take a River Cruise
With three rivers converging here, the Gateway Clipper Fleet of riverboats offers family-themed excursions that are a fun way to site see, including holiday-themed cruises, a Princess cruise, and a Superhero cruise.
Pittsburgh has some really fun destination playgrounds with features that draw people from all over the city, like the big blue slide at Frick Park or the Super Playground in Highland Park. Use the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy website to plan park time near your outings.
Rent an easy-to-handle kayak right in Downtown at Kayak Pittsburgh. Kids ages 3-12 are allowed in a tandem kayak with an adult. First-timers welcomed. The kayaks are rentable seasonally, usually through October, weather permitting.
17. Kennywood Amusement Park
Kennywood is one of the oldest amusement parks in America and a favorite with roller coaster fans. There are six major roller coasters, from the classic Thunderbolt to the ultra modern Phantom. There's also a kiddie park, shows, water rides, and classic rides.
18. Schenley Plaza
With food kiosks, a grassy field, shade and a beautiful carousel (not to mention free WiFi) everyone can recharge their batteries. In summer there are lots of free programs and events to catch, including Final Fridays featuring free concerts on the lawn.
19. Idlewild Park and SoakZone
This classic amusement park is set in the Laurel Highlands in Ligonier, about an hour from town. It is the third oldest amusement park in the country and consistently garners accolades. Adventure awaits at Story Book Forest and Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood-themed sections of the park.
This water park is a must visit on hot days. Set along the Monongahela River, experience 15 waterslide attractions, the Mon Tsunami Wave Pool, scenic Mushroom Pool, the relaxing lazy river, and two children’s area – all located on a boardwalk that is sure to make you feel like you're on vacation!
Randyland is “the most painted house in the galaxy.” Visit this eclectic home/art museum of artist Randy Gilson. Admission is free and you can visit daily.
The North Shore Riverfront Park includes 11.25 acres of public and green space.With a public lawn, river walk, walkways, memorials, and public art. During the summer months, the water steps are a huge hit for kids, and there are plenty of dining options great for people watching.
The Go Ape North Park course is a fully immersive outdoor experience. Go Ape features five action-packed treetop obstacle course sections leading you higher into the forest canopy. For the climbers, you can navigate 41 exciting crossings like the Pirates Crossing, Chantemerle Bridge, two Tarzan swings and five exhilarating zip lines. The nearby OTB at the Boathouse has great, family friendly snacks
When to visit
This annual Children’s Festival takes place each May, showcasing troupes from around the world. Expect to see puppetry, acrobatics, dance, musicals and more, with reasonable ticket prices. The theater has a regular family series from October-April.
25. Three Rivers Arts Festival
Each June, Pittsburgh hosts 10 days of art, crafts, dance, music, food and partying in downtown’s Point State Park. Lots of family-style entertainment makes this a winner for all ages.
26. Fourth of July Fireworks at the Point State Park
The point of confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers is here. The 36-acre downtown park is a respite from city life, and locals flock here year round, but July Fourth is special. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performs a rousing, patriotic program under the stars at this yearly event. In true Pittsburgh style, an extravagant fireworks display tops off the celebration.
This is a wonderful market, brimming with seasonal produce. Food carts sell local treats like pierogi, and handmade crafts are for sale. Market Square also hosts kids programming throughout the summer, with arts and crafts, music and fun!
From August through September, experience medieval fun! Costumes are available for rent if you want to go all the way, otherwise just enjoy the revelries.
29. Spooky Halloween Events
Throughout the month of October, Pittsburgh attractions get a scary makeover and haunted attractions pop up all over the city. From Fright Night
at Kennywood to the seriously frightening ScareHouse,
to the more family-friendly Boo at the Zoo, this is a great spot for Halloween lovers.
Where to eat
Pittsburgh is full of traditional diners and other causal, low-priced eateries that work well for families on a budget or those seeking local color. Also, don't be surprised when you order a salad and it comes with fries on top! You can check out Primanti’s, the often recommended sandwich spot that is iconic to Pittsburgh, or one of these local favorites:
30. Original Hot Dog Shop
Located near the University, succulent hot dogs and giant servings of fries are what you will find at this college hangout. It is known locally as "the O" and is a Pittsburgh institution.
31. Kelly O’s
Located in the popular Strip District, diner classics are served at breakfast and lunch. There is also a selection of Eastern European comfort foods, a nod to Pittsburgh’s heritage.
If you're in Shadyside, check out this delicious Thai restaurant featuring yummy noodle soups for all spice levels. Service is quick and if you have room after, make a stop in at Millie’s
right next door for the best ice cream around.
33. Square Café
If breakfast is your favorite meal of the day, this is your place. This no-fail crowd pleaser has spacious booths or outdoor seating, and there are vegetarian options as well.
Also located in the Strip District on Penn Avenue, this no-frills diner offers fantastic breakfast choices at low prices for breakfast and lunch. Locals are willing to wait to get a table. Note the hours before you visit as they are limited to lunch.
The pancakes here are award winning, and it is rumored to be Michelle Obama's favorite place to dine when she is in town. There is a full menu of comfort foods at breakfast and lunch. Expect crowds at all three locations and bring cash because credit cards are not accepted.
Where to sleep
Most large chains have properties in town. Here are three downtown suggestions that are well suited to families. You can walk to many attractions, or ride the free light rail. There are also plenty of Air BnB options if you want a homey-feel
The Omni William Penn
With 603 guest rooms located in downtown, this old-world hotel is big and formal, but not stuffy. Kids and pets are welcome. Even if you don’t stay here, the Mad Hatter’s Tea offers traditional afternoon tea with fun twists that most kids will love.
Cambria Suites at Consol Energy Center
This all-suites property is located downtown. Spacious rooms, a great location, and an indoor pool make this a good choice for families.
Hampton Inn & Suites, Pittsburgh Downtown
Clean, comfy and well located, this hotel features a money-saving hot breakfast each morning.
For more trip-planning information, go to VisitPittsburgh.com.
This post was updated in March 2017