Pittsburgh Tour: Downtown Walking Tour
This tour will take you to the major historical points in downtown Pittsburgh that are all in walking distance to each other.
The tour will start at Monongahela Incline with a grand overhead view of the city from Grandview Avenue and then back down the Duquesne Incline. After crossing the Monongahela river we’ll visit Point State Park, the historical roots of Pittsburgh, and then cross over the Allegheny to visit the museums on the North Shore (Carnegie Science, Children’s Museum, National Aviary and the Warhol Museum). Then back again over to the Allegheny to finish in downtown at the Senator John Heinz History Center.
Stop 1: Monongahela Incline
The Monongahela Incline is a wooden car funicular built to climb Mount Washington and located near the Smithfield Street Bridge. From the top you have a breathtaking view of the Pittsburgh skyline.
You can purchase one-way or round-trip tickets and can start your trip at the bottom or the top of the incline. The top exits onto Grandview Avenue, which as its name suggests provides a spectacular view of downtown Pittsburgh. From the Monongahela Incline you can walk down Grandview Avenue to the Duquesne Incline and take in the views from Grandview Avenue.
The incline was built in 1870 by John Endres and is the oldest continuously operating funicular in the United States. Out of the original 17 passenger carrying inclines in the late 19th century, only the Monongahela and the Duquesne are still operating.
There is very limited parking at the Monongahela Include so better to park at the Station Square train station or at the Duquesne Incline or at the top on Grandview Avenue.
Stop 2: Duquesne Incline (1197 W Carson St, Pittsburgh, PA 15219-1003)
The Duquesne Incline is a wooden cable car inclined plane railroad that climbs Mount Washington right across the river from the Point State Park. It is 800 feet long, 400 feet in height, is inclined at a 30-degree angle and has an unusual track gauge of 5 ft. From the top you have a breathtaking view of the Pittsburgh skyline and there is a large viewing platform that extends over the cliff right above the point where the three Pittsburgh rivers intersect
You can purchase one-way or round-trip tickets and can start your trip at the bottom or the top of the incline. The top exits onto Grandview Avenue, which as its name suggests provides a spectacular view of downtown Pittsburgh. From the Duquesne Incline you can walk down Grandview Avenue to the Monongahela Incline and take in the views from Grandview Avenue.
The incline, designed by Samuel Diescher, was built in 1877 to carry cargo up and down Mount Washington. It later started carrying passengers but as more roads were built most of the other inclines closed until by the 1960s only the Monongahela and Duquesne were left.
Stop 3: Point State Park
The Point (Point State Park) is a 36 acre state park in downtown Pittsburgh at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, forming the Ohio River. It has fantastic views of the rivers, the river traffic and the downtown skyline. At the tip of the Point, its iconic fountain spouts water up to 150 feet in the air and is especially beautiful when it is lit at night.
The park includes the outlines and remains of two of the oldest structures in Pittsburgh -- Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne – and includes what is believed to be the oldest building in Western Pennsylvania – the Blockhouse.
By the 1930s the Point had become an area of warehouses and railroad tracks and by the 1940s much of it was not in use. The city and state purchased most of the area in 1949 and the park was finally completed in August 1974.
Stop 4: Fort Duquesne, Fort Pitt and the Fort Pitt Museum
The land (what is now Point State Park) at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, forming the Ohio River, was sought after by the French and English empires in the per-Revolutionary 1750s. Controlling this point in the rivers controlled the movement of commerce since with a lack of roads goods where shipped by water.
The French built Fort Duquesne in 1754 on the foundations of Fort Prince George which had been built by the colonial forces of Virginia. The French successfully defended the fort during the French and Indian Wars from the army of Major George Washington (later to become the 1st president) and British General Edward Braddock.
On November 25, 1758, General John Forbes and his army successfully took over the remains of Fort Duquesne (which had been destroyed the day before by the withdrawing French Army) and then built a much larger fort on the site which they named Fort Pitt. During the American Revolution Fort Pitt was used as the Colonist’s western theater headquarters but the Army decommissioned the fort in 1797.
The only existing intact remnant of Fort Pitt is a small one-room brick building called the Blockhouse (free to visit), which was outside the fort and used as a defensive redoubt (a separate fortified place outside of the fort for troops). The Blockhouse was built in 1764 and is believed to be the oldest building in Western Pennsylvania. While the fort was dismantled the Blockhouse was spared since it was turned into residential housing and eventually a multi-family tenement before it was gifted to the Pennsylvanian Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and restored back to its original form in the 1890s. The Blockhouse is a registered National Historic Landmark of the Forks of the Ohio.
Stop 5: Fort Pitt Museum (601 Commonwealth Pl, Building B, Pittsburgh, PA 15222-1213)
This is a small museum which focuses on Pittsburgh’s history during the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. The museum receives good reviews but may be a bit expensive given its size (reduced admission possible if also visiting the Heinz History Center).
Stop 6: Carnegie Science Center (One Allegheny Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15212, 412.237.3400, open 7 days/week 10am to 5pm)
The Carnegie Science Center is one of 4 Carnegie museums in the city and this one is the most visited museum in Pittsburgh. It has four floors of interactive exhibits.
The science center holds what is supposed to be "the world's largest permanent robotics exhibition" and has more than 30 interactive displays featuring "all things robotic".
It also has one of the larger science and sports exhibitions (offering rock climbing, obstacle course, high ropes course, etc.) in the world, the Highmark SportsWorks .
The museum also contains a planetarium (the Buhl Planetarium), the largest movie screen in Pittsburgh (the Rangos Theater), a miniature railroad & village and the USS Requin (a World War II submarine).
The Center opened in October 1991 and was due to a merger of the Carnegie Institute and the Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science (which had opened in 1939).
Stop 7: National Aviary (700 Arch Street Pittsburgh, PA, 15212)
The National Aviary is the country’s largest aviary and the only independent indoor nonprofit aviary in the US.
It is home to over 500 birds representing more than 150 species, many of which are endangered or threatened in the wild. It contains many walk-through exhibits which allow for up-close interaction between visitors and birds and includes many opportunities to hand-feed the birds.
Stop 8: Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh (10 Children's Way, Pittsburgh, PA 15212, (412) 322-5058, daily 10am to 5pm)
The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh houses several ongoing interactive exhibits that encourage touch and play. It includes several iconic items from the Mister Rogers' Neighborhood show including the original puppets, one of Fred Rogers' sweaters, and his sneakers.
The museum was founded in 1983 in the old Allegheny Post Office and added the neighboring Buhl Planetarium building when it was vacated in 1991. The museum grew from a traveling mobile museum started at the Three Rivers Arts Festival in 1972, and was part of the first wave of children's museums spreading across the county at that time.
Stop 9: Andy Warhol Museum (117 Sandusky St, Pittsburgh, PA 15212)
The Andy Warhol Museum is the largest museum in North America dedicated to a single artist and contains an extensive permanent collection of art and archives from Andy Warhol. It is one of the four
Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and was created by the Carnegie Institute, the Dia Art Foundation, and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. The museum opened in May 1994 about 8 years after Andy Warhol’s death.
The museum is located in an 88,000-square-foot building on seven floors. Containing 17 galleries, the museum features 900 paintings, close to 2,000 works on paper, over 1,000 published unique prints, 77 sculptures, 4,000 photographs, and over 4,350 Warhol films and videotaped works.
Andy Warhol was born in Pittsburgh on August 6, 1928 and lived in the South Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh. He graduated in 1949 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in pictorial design from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and later that year moved away from Pittsburgh to New York City.
Stop 10: Senator John Heinz History Center (1212 Smallman St, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, (412) 454-6000)
This is the largest history museum in Pennsylvania and is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.
It is named after US Senator H. John Heinz III (1938–1991) from Pennsylvania who died in a plane crash.
It has six floors of permanent and temporary exhibitions and is housed in the century-old Chautauqua Lake Ice Company building. The museum moved to this location in 1996 but was originally established in 1879.
The Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum spans 20,000 square feet of exhibit space over two floors and exhibits a range of sports from amateur to professional.