Pittsburgh sports travel guide
Our city guides are meant to showcase the best of a metropolitan area from the perspective of a sports fan visiting to watch a game or two. Here’s our guide to the best of Pittsburgh sports travel.
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We’re not sure there’s an American city more in love with its sports teams than Pittsburgh.
It helps that the three pro teams in town are color-coordinated — the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates all sport some form of black and gold — and whether you’re in Pittsburgh or just around Pittsburghers, the pride and devotion they show in their teams is always rather astounding.
And the fans have been rewarded rather handsomely over the years, with six Super Bowl championships for the Steelers, five Stanley Cups for the Penguins, and the Pirates … well, they’ll always have Bill Mazeroski in 1960, and besides, they managed to reverse their 20-year downward trend with a few playoff appearances over the last decade.
While this guide (and this entire site, of course) is geared toward encouraging you to visit Pittsburgh for sports travel, there’s much more that the Steel City has to offer to the tourist, from great food to great scenery to great venues.
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The landscape: Where to watch sports in Pittsburgh
All the sports-related action in Pittsburgh is in or near downtown, which itself is on a peninsula created by the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers to form the Ohio River. PNC Park and Heinz Field are on the other side of the Allegheny from downtown, with several bridges connecting the two; PPG Paints Arena, Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh are all on the peninsula, east of downtown.
Pittsburghers have been used to frequenting these areas for their sports merriment for years — Three Rivers Stadium once stood on the piece of land between where Heinz Field and PNC Park are now, and one remnant of the late, great cookie-cutter stadium can still be found next to Heinz Field. The Pittsburgh Civic Arena, aka The Igloo and scene of such great events as this and this, was located across the street from where PPG Paints Arena stands now.
• Heinz Field: Home of the Steelers. Located at Allegheny Avenue and Reedsdale Street on the North Shore.
• PNC Park: Home of the Pirates. Located at Federal and General Robinson streets on the North Shore.
• PPG Paints Arena: Home of the Penguins. Located at Fifth Avenue and Washington Place in Uptown, east of downtown.
The strategies: Arriving and getting around Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) is about 18 miles to downtown via Interstate 376, a rather scenic and winding drive (for an interstate, anyway) that culminates in a pass through the Fort Pitt Tunnel and, at the end of that, a tremendous view of downtown. The airport itself, once a hub for US Airways, is big and spacious, but can be rather sparse these days as airlines cut service to Pittsburgh.
Train and bus service lead directly to downtown Pittsburgh, Union Station, also known as Pennsylvania or Penn Station, services Amtrak and is located at 1100 Liberty Avenue, close to the convention center and PPG Paints Arena; Greyhound and Megabus operate bus stops within a couple blocks.
By car, Interstate 79 runs north-south through the western part of the region, between downtown and the airport, and Interstate 76 passes north of downtown. I-279 and I-376 are the main highways into downtown. The Pennsylvania Turnpike runs the length of the state east-west and passes about 40 miles south of downtown Pittsburgh.
Where to stay
Downtown and the North Shore are the primary landing spots for tourists in town to see games. Downtown has a wide selection of hotels, particularly near Point State Park (the tip of the peninsula) and near the Lawrence Convention Center on the south bank of the Allegheny River. The North Shore boasts several hotels across the street from PNC Park and between the ballpark and Heinz Field. Beware, though, that on weekends when the Steelers are home, these hotels tend to fill up fast, and their rates are significantly higher than normal.
Hotels and motels aplenty can be found along I-376 heading toward the airport, usually among large retail centers, and east of downtown near the University of Pittsburgh.
For a Pittsburgh sports travel vacation, staying in a downtown hotel may come at a premium, but it also means that all of the venues listed above are within reasonable walking distance (know, though, that PPG Paints Arena is located up a hill from downtown). If your lodging is not within a mile or so of downtown, it would be best to have a car or rely on taxis.
Pittsburgh operates a light-rail system, known locally as the T, that consists of two lines connecting downtown with the southern part of the city and its suburbs. However, it does not run to the airport. It can be used to reach each venue — the Allegheny station (the northern terminus of both lines) is right next to Heinz Field; the North Side station is a block from PNC Park; and the Steel Plaza station is about four blocks from PPG Paints Arena.
One uniquely Pittsburgh way to go to the game is by ferry — the Gateway Clipper fleet services both Heinz Field and PNC Park on game days. Board the ferry at Station Square on the South Shore.
There is ample parking, both in the form of lots and structures, on the North Shore near PNC Park and Heinz Field. For Steelers games, Heinz Field’s lots are typically reserved for season-ticket holders; those without permits are encouraged to park downtown and either walk or take the T (the walk from the center of downtown is about a mile and not difficult, at least as long as the weather cooperates). Fans who park downtown for Steelers games at a city-owned lot pay $5 are also granted free access to the T.
The same rate and T access are also granted to fans parking in the downtown structures for Pirates games. If you’re coming from downtown, it’s best not to try to drive to PNC Park — 6th Street, or the Roberto Clemente Bridge, closes to vehicles on Pirates game nights, and besides, it’s a nice walk across the bridge.
Lots and structures are also plentiful around PPG Paints Arena, mostly north of the arena where the Igloo once stood.
The highlights: Points of interest in Pittsburgh
Even if your reason for coming to Pittsburgh is sports travel, the region has so much more to offer. Here are just some of the things to see:
See natural beauty
Pittsburgh’s rivers and hills give it an interesting topography for a major metropolitan area. Street layouts can be difficult to navigate for the uninitiated in certain areas because of natural obstacles, but drives can be scenic and fascinating. The most popular place to experience this is by traveling up one of two inclines on the South Shore, the Duquesne Incline (1197 W. Carson Street) or the Monongahela Incline (125 W. Station Square Drive). Both ride steep tracks up Mount Washington, with stunning views of downtown and the surrounding area waiting at the top.
Eat the Pittsburgh way
Pittsburgh has quite a few dishes and restaurants it claims as its own. Here are the ones most commonly sought out by visitors:
• Primanti Brothers (many locations; original at 46 18th Street in the Strip District): Primanti’s distinctive sandwich is starting to become more available in other parts of the country, but it’s synonymous with Pittsburgh. The sandwich comes with choice of meat, French fries and cole slaw between pieces of Italian bread. Primanti’s also operates stands at Heinz Field, PNC Park and PPG Paints Arena.
• Quaker Steak and Lube (many locations; closest to downtown at 3602 Forbes Avenue in Oakland): Known primarily for its hot wings, this restaurant chain also is present at Heinz Field and PNC Park. The original location is in Sharon, Pa., a town near the Ohio border.
• Original Hot Dog Shop (3901 Forbes Avenue in Oakland): A favorite of University of Pittsburgh students, known for large hot dogs and orders of fries.
• Wholey’s (1711 Penn Avenue in the Strip District): A busy fish market that also sells prepared food, including a popular fish sandwich.
Other food items popular in town: cabbage rolls, pierogies, Iron City beer and Heinz ketchup.
Love the nightlife
There are two popular districts for restaurants and nightlife within close proximity of downtown. The Strip District, just east (and north of PPG Paints Arena), is a collection of old warehouses and buildings transformed into lively bars and restaurants. Across the Monongahela River from downtown, Station Square and Carson Street also offer many popular bars and restaurants, especially for game-watching in the evenings.
There’s more than just the pros to see on your Pittsburgh sports travel trip.
The University of Pittsburgh is the primary college athletic program in town. The Panthers play their football games at Heinz Field, and basketball can be seen at Petersen Events Center on the campus in Oakland. (Another fun fact about Pitt for the sports fan: The old Forbes Field, the Pirates’ onetime home, was located on its campus. Remnants still stand as a tribute to the park.)
Duquesne University is located just east of downtown, close to Pitt’s campus, and also boasts Division I basketball, Penn State University, its football program quite popular among western Pennsylvanians, is a two-hour drive to the northeast in State College.