Length of stay: 1 day
Visited: November 2021
The city of Pittsburgh is located in southwestern Pennsylvania at the junction of three rivers. It is often referred to as Steel City because of its hundreds of steel-related businesses. It is also known as the City of Bridges as there are 446 of them, which is more than any other city in the world. Pittsburgh provides plenty of opportunities to step back in time to learn about its history, appreciate American art and just enjoy the skyline.
We’ve spent the past two years exploring Ontario during the pandemic. While we’ve enjoyed visiting as many provincial parks as we can and experiencing more of Ontario’s rugged wilderness, we were ready for a change of scenery. We’ve been a bit hesitant to hop on any planes, so when the United States announced that it would be opening its land border to us Canadians in the beginning of November, we planned a last minute road trip south of the border. And the first stop on our itinerary was Pittsburgh.
We drove down to Pittsburgh the night before and had no issues crossing the border. It was actually one of the easiest border crossings we’ve ever had. There was no line to get into the United States. We were asked a couple of questions about where we were heading and for how long, and then we were on our way. We weren’t asked to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.
To start our day, we booked tickets to the Phipps Conservatory for the first available time slot. Since we arrived early, we decided to visit the University of Pittsburgh since it’s located nearby. It’s notable attraction is the Cathedral of Learning, a 42-story building that is the second-tallest university building in the world.
We walked through the main campus and went on a scavenger hunt to find some of the red painted doors on many of the various buildings around campus. Each one showcased a unique shape or design.
We then headed to the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Every year, Phipps hosts an annual Holiday Magic! Winter Flower Show that includes elaborate displays of holiday trees, twinkling lights, poinsettias and other festive floral delights and decorations. There are several different indoor gardens with rotating seasonal exhibits, including a palm court, a tropical forest conservatory, an orchid room and a desert room. There are also a few outdoor gardens, including a Japanese Courtyard Garden with several bonsai, but most of these were closed or rather uneventful given the time of the year we visited.
Afterwards we drove to the Mount Washington neighbourhood to check out some of the viewpoints along the Pittsburgh skyline. It was a bit of an interesting drive since many of the roads are steeply sloped. Alternatively, there are two funicular railways to get up and down Mount Washington, the historic Duquesne Incline and Monongahela Incline. But since we had a car, we opted to drive. We walked along Grandview Avenue where there are several viewing platforms overlooking downtown Pittsburgh from across the river.
We hopped back in the car for a short stretch and stopped at Point State Park, which is located at the confluence of three rivers. This is where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers join together to form the Ohio River. The park includes brick outlines and remains of Fort Pitt (built by the British between 1759 and 1761 during the French and Indian War) and Fort Duquesne (built by the French in 1754). The park also features a 150-foot fountain at the tip of the Point (which wasn’t operational when we visited), several monuments, and interpretive plaques.
On our drive out of the city we made one last stop at The Frick Pittsburgh, which contains a complex of various museums and historical buildings spread across six acres that provide more information about the Frick family. Henry Clay Frick’s claim to fame was that he founded the H.C. Frick & Company which at one point produced almost 80% of the coke used by Pittsburgh’s iron and steel industries. He also financed the construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad, owned a lot of real estate and had an extensive collection of art and fine furniture.
We started at the Frick Art Museum which showcased a temporary exhibit on Victorian Radicals: from the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts & Crafts Movement. This included a collection of paintings, sketches and decorative arts by three generations of revolutionary British artists and designers that offered a radical artistic and social vision inspired by the pre-industrial past.
Afterwards we walked through the Car & Carriage Museum which houses the Frick’s collection of historic carriages and automobiles dating back to the turn of the 20th century and the Greenhouse which once served the Frick family from 1897 through the 1970s. There are a few other historical buildings scattered around the grounds, including the Clayton, the restored home of the Frick family from 1882 to 1905, but these were unfortunately closed at the time we visited due to COVID.
We then hopped back in the car and continued our drive through Pennsylvania.