- The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
Quirky, industrial architecture
Fun fact: Pittsburgh has 446 bridges, more than any other city in the USA.
Once home to the largest steel producers in the world, Pittsburgh has a seriously industrial façade. Don’t expect any flouncy, decorative buildings. Expect functionality, a decent splash of both old and new, clean lines, and yes – many, many bridges. While it might not be the prettiest of faces, it cannot be denied that it’s at least very different. And since when were travellers the kind to shy away from the unique?
Its rough around the edges quirk also makes Pittsburgh an absolute dream for anyone who loves urban photography. Pittsburgh is a one-way ticket to raw, inner-city, honest photos that you wouldn’t be able to find a city overrun with tourism. Mix that with the sleek and modern skyscrapers that litter downtown Pittsburgh, and you’re onto something special.
While downtown Pittsburgh has a pretty straightforward city feel, you can venture outside of the central districts to find some charming Pittsburgh neighbourhoods. I stayed in an area in the north called Lawrenceville, and all the way through this neighbourhood runs Butler Street. Along this street, you’ll find local haunts such as independent cupcake shops and cafés, a couple of vintage boutiques, record stores aplenty, and one spot called 720 Café which is actually a combination of all three.
I took a break in this café one afternoon, and got chatting to the waitress. After talking about my travels, I asked her where the best parts of Pittsburgh were. She told me with conviction that I was sitting in one of them at that very moment – Lawrenceville. Well, that would explain the 12 (not joking, it really was 12) people sat on MacBooks in the tiny espresso bar down the road then. Lawrenceville is where all the Pittsburgh hipsters hang out, proof that there is at least a smidgen of cool in this underrated city.
There’s a rumour going round that Pittsburgh has the longest street with the most bars on it in the USA. After a little research and having found results saying both the negative and affirmative, I’ll just put my hands up and say I have no idea if that’s true or not. (Locals, feel free to chime in with a comment if you happen to know if it’s true or false!) Even if it isn’t, it’s fair to say that East Carson Street in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighbourhood has the most bars I’ve ever seen on one street.
I took a stroll down East Carson Street with my local Couchsurfing host one night, and I asked him how he and his friends ever manage to agree on which bar(s) to go to. His response was, ‘We don’t. We just find a parking space and go from there. It would be impossible to decide on just one place to go, so most of the time it’s best to just take a walk around and see what’s happening.’
If you thought Pittsburgh would be the kind of place where you’d only find a handful of run of the mill bars and clubs, a place where using the word ‘nightlife’ would be a stretch of the imagination, you can think again.
We’re all very familiar with the stereotype that Americans take an obnoxious level of pride in being from the US of A. While that is actually false for most of the Americans I’ve met, you can still sense a feeling of pride in where they come from. New Yorkers are very happy to call themselves locals to one of the most vibrant cities in the world, and a small towner’s eyes will glaze over with nostalgia if you ask them about home.
Almost every Pittsburgh local I met was totally and utterly in love with their city. I even met a number who were very well travelled, but still claimed that, to them, there was no place in the world like Pittsburgh. That might make you think that everyone from Pittsburgh springs into competition with every other city they hear about, but I didn’t get that feeling. To me, the Pittsburgh locals were unassumingly proud of where they’re from. They didn’t need to brag about Pittsburgh at every opportunity they could. Pittsburgh is a cool place, and they don’t feel the need to prove that to anyone else. It was a refreshing attitude to experience, and it made me appreciate the city even more.
Because No One Else Does!
As much as I believe ‘off the beaten path’ is overused by the travel community, Pittsburgh is the very definition of the places I would describe as such. It’s on the beaten path in the respect that it’s accessible and easy to reach by public transport, and close enough to other much visited cities like New York or Chicago. However, it’s off the beaten path in that you’ll barely find any tourists there, leaving it completely unspoiled by tourism – because there isn’t any. Which means you don’t need to go on a hunt for those hidden gems away from the tourist traps, because there are no tourist traps; every spot in Pittsburgh is a local treasure. We’ve all visited cities that are spoilt by an influx of tourists, but Pittsburgh is definitely not one of them.