A city known for its grit that is, to some, surprisingly sleek and enchanting, Pittsburgh is the second-largest city in the state of Pennsylvania. It sits near the state’s western border at the headwaters of the Ohio River.
For decades, people have flocked to and moved through the city, seeking boundless opportunities or traveling beyond. It may not be your first stop on a cross-country trip, but its residents are fiercely proud of the city they call home — and for good reason.
Pittsburgh is famous for its dramatic topography, the meeting of three rivers, and its history of the steel industry. Pittsburgh is also known for major league sports teams, research universities, and its infrastructure like incline cable railways, tunnels and staircases.
Check out these 16 things that make Pittsburgh the city it is.
When walking down the steep streets of Pittsburgh, don’t be surprised if you overhear phrases like, “Yinz going down to the Stillers game today?”
The pronunciation and vocabulary might catch you off guard. Pittsburgh is the nucleus of a dialect called Western Pennsylvania English, marked by distinct pronunciation and vocabulary not used elsewhere.
In particular, Pittsburgh is famous for the word yinz. Yinz is the Steel City’s answer to the Southern y’all and the more standard you guys, so much so that its inhabitants are colloquially known as yinzers.
2. City of Bridges
With three major rivers and a history of steel production, it only makes sense that Pittsburgh is famous for its many bridges.
It’s almost impossible to go anywhere in the city without crossing over one bridge or another. 446 bridges span the rivers and ravines of the Steel City, more than any other city in the world.
Pittsburgh is also known for its tunnels, which allow motor vehicles and trains to traverse the city’s rolling topography. Tunnels are common and necessary through the Appalachian Mountains and in Pittsburgh there is no exception.
The tunnels and bridges make for a dramatic cityscape. The famous tunnel scene from the 2012 film The Perks of Being a Wallflower features the Fort Pitt Tunnel and Fort Pitt Bridge heading toward downtown Pittsburgh.
Speaking of movies, Pittsburgh is featured across screens in a number of iconic films, from the destruction of Heinz Field in The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and the Hill District setting of Fences (2016) to Night of the Living Dead (1968) and its sequel.
The skyline, topography and drama of the ‘Burgh and its surroundings make it an attractive location for filming blockbusters.
5. Cloudy weather
There’s a certain apt irony to its nickname as the Steel City, for Pittsburgh is known for its steely gray skies.
On average, the city experiences over 300 cloudy or partly cloudy days a year. Moist air pulled from the Great Lakes and unstable warm air in the Pittsburgh region combine for the perfect storm of near perpetual cloudiness.
Be sure to get some sources of extra vitamin D if you go for an extended stay, because the Pittsburgh sun is shy (though its friendly residents are not).
6. Three rivers
The City of Bridges has so many bridges for a reason. Pittsburgh is famous for the meeting of three rivers.
The Allegheny and Monongahela rivers flow from the Appalachian Mountains to meet and form the Ohio River, the third largest river in the United States. The rivers meet at the tip of the city’s downtown and from the surrounding hills, you can get a marvelous panorama of the skyline, bridges and rivers.
Due to the strategic location for trade, travel and fortifications, people have inhabited the land for centuries, from Indigenous civilizations to European settlers to the city’s modern-day residents. Today, the confluence of the rivers is commemorated at Point State Park, commonly referred to as “the Point.”
In the late 19th century, industrialists like Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie transformed Pittsburgh into a city defined by steel production. The introduction of innovations like the Bessemer process allowed for inexpensive, mass production of steel.
The industry led to an explosion of population in the city, with waves of European immigrants shaping the Steel City’s growth. While they made philanthropic contributions to the city, Carnegie, Frick and other industrialists were also responsible for mass labor exploitation and violent worker suppression through strikebreaking as workers fought for better conditions.
Today, the legacy of the steel industry lives on in Pittsburgh. Former facilities like the Homestead Steel Mill and Carrie Furnace are available for visitors to forge an understanding of the city’s history. Even the professional football team, the Steelers, make an homage to the importance of steel through their name.
The waves of immigration that drove the steel industry also produced a patchwork of distinct neighborhoods across the City of Bridges.
Ninety distinct neighborhoods top the hills and fill the gullies across the city, rooted in ethnic and cultural communities that persist to this day.
The vibrant Jewish community of Squirrel HIll, the German origins of Allentown, and the largely Black American population of the Hill District neighborhoods are just a few examples of the diversity of Pittsburgh neighborhoods.
Other, less-residential zones of the city, like the market Strip District, offer cultural, recreational and gastronomic opportunities for yinzers and visitors alike.
9. Primanti Brothers
Speaking of the Strip District, which is the center of Pittsburgh’s unique food scene born from the kaleidoscope of ethnic communities, you can grab a bite at the original Primanti Brothers restaurant.
Founded by Joe Primanti and his brothers during the Great Depression, the restaurant chain has made Pittsburgh famous for its iconic sandwich. No need to order any fries or coleslaw on the side, because when selling to truckers who need at least one hand to drive, Joe decided to toss them all together on the sandwich.
The sandwich is as so: grilled meat, cheese, sliced tomato, oil and vinegar-based coleslaw and French fries served hot and ready between two thick slices of Italian bread.
When I first tried Primanti Bros in the early 2000s, I found the sandwich too avant-garde for my tastes. The foolishness of youth, I say, because I now find myself craving what is considered a cultural institution of Pittsburgh.
Lush and green as it is, Pittsburgh has a great variety of parks for all your recreational wants and needs.
Some spaces, like Schenley Park, offer hundreds of acres of trails, woodlands and grassy areas for urbanites seeking a nature escape. Spots like Emerald View Park, situated on a hillside above the Monongahela River, offer sweeping vistas of the city.
Pittsburgh is also known for Frick Park, the largest in the city and one of its four historic parks. I grew up frequenting the park when visiting my grandparents, who live a short stroll away in Squirrel Hill.
The park features a slick blue slide set into the hillside that children and adults alike zoom down on pieces of cardboard, granting it the nickname “Blue Slide Park.”
11. Rap legends
If the name “Blue Slide Park” rings a bell to any hip hop fans out there, you might be thinking of Mac Miller’s eponymous debut album. A Pittsburgh native, the late Miller raps a tribute to the famous park and the city in which it lies.
Miller was born and raised in the Point Breeze neighborhood and attended Taylor Allderdice High School. He’s not the only big name in hip hop to walk those halls — the legendary Wiz Khalifa is also an alum of the school and a Pittsburgher to the core.
Famous for a great deal of songs, Khalifa wrote the smash hit “Black and Yellow,” in which he raps about growing up in the Steel City. The song has become an anthem for the city’s three major league professional sports teams, each of which uses black and yellow in their official colors.
Pittsburgh is known for its three major league sports teams: the Steelers of the NFL, the Penguins of the NHL, and the Pirates of the MLB. The teams all share the primary colors of black and gold, a phenomenon unique among cities in the United States.
Through the three teams, Pittsburgh holds 16 national championships. The city’s people are fiercely loyal to the teams, which foster rivalries with teams like the Cincinnati Bengals (NFL), the New York Islanders (NHL) and the Philadelphia Phillies (MLB).
You can catch Steelers and Pirates games along the banks of the Allegheny River, with both stadiums offering impressive views of the skyline. The Penguins play at an arena across the river, located in the downtown district.
13. City of Steps
As stated, Pittsburgh is one hilly city, and Pittsburghers haven’t always had motor vehicles to work their way up and down its slopes.
Across the city there are more than 800 public staircases — more than any other in the United States — that aid pedestrians in navigating the city. That’s over 45,000 individual steps, enough to keep you busy and out of breath on a walking tour.
There’s a certain romance to climbing a tucked-away staircase that winds up the riverside hills, taking you through the patchwork of neighborhoods that define Pittsburgh. As it turns out, Pittsburghers are quite fond of the staircases.
The City of Steps conducted an outreach survey and found that over half of its respondents use the stairs weekly, primarily for exercise and transportation. Though it’s no easy task, the city is committed to maintaining the steps for the benefit of all who use them.
14. The Incline
Alas, walking is not always the preferred method of transportation. To ferry materials, steel mill workers and other passengers up and down the hills of Pittsburgh, the city devised a system of inclined cable railways.
Throughout the city’s history, there have been more than 20 incline cars. Today there are two in operation — the Duquesne and the Monongahela inclines.
The two, referred to locally as the Incline, are located near one another on the southern banks of the confluence of the three rivers. From them, you can catch stunning views of the Steel City while marveling at the infrastructure once essential and now iconic to the Pennsylvania metropolis.
15. Popular foods
At some point or another, we’ve all been asked “What would you do for a Klondike bar?” The frozen treat was created in the 1920s by the owners of Isaly’s restaurant, a chain of dairies and restaurants popular in the 20th century.
While Isaly’s was actually created in Ohio, the restaurant and the Klondike bar were so popular that it has come to be associated with Pittsburgh. The restaurant chain has mostly vanished, but there are still a few in operation in and around Pittsburgh. Its legacy lives on through the Klondike bar.
Additionally, Pittsburgh is home to the headquarters of the H.J. Heinz Company, one of the largest producers of branded food and, of course, the maker of the world’s beloved Heinz Ketchup.
I certainly don’t recommend eating a Klondike bar and Heinz ketchup together, but individually the two foods are staples of the American diet with deep links to Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh is famous for its universities and research facilities. Well-known institutions like Carnegie-Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh and Duquesne University are located within the city, with a number of smaller universities and colleges also present.
The concentration of researchers, professors and students has catapulted Pittsburgh to the status as a city of research and innovation. Carnegie-Mellon University is known for its robotics and digital technology research and development. In fact, the first digital emoticon, the iconic :-), was introduced to the Internet by a CMU computer scientist.
Pittsburgh is also known for the Cathedral of Learning, a 42-story, neo-Gothic tower on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus. It is the school’s centerpiece and makes you feel like you’re walking the halls of Hogwarts.
Other universities in the City of Bridges are known for computer, biomedical, health and information sciences, as well as law programs, business schools and engineering.
That’s all! If yinz have anything to add about the Steel City, feel free to drop a comment or a message down below.