You'll find Pittsburgh the focus of many recent travel stories, from National Geographic to the New York Times. The stories always carry a hint of surprise that the Steel City turns out to be such a great town. Even the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sounded surprised to find the 'Burgh as the only American city on the United Kingdom-based National Geographic Traveller Cool List for 2019.
"Eritrea, Matera, Setouchi, Zimbabwe, Sibiu, Pittsburgh. Wait. What?" the Post-Gazette wrote.
But this city deserves all the accolades. I recently spent a long weekend in Pittsburgh -- the place Mr. Rogers called home -- with my husband and kids, ages 7 and 9. Our goal was to visit many of the attractions that have earned Pittsburgh a new nickname: "Kidsburgh."
Here are five attractions your family won't want to miss:
Photo by Kara MurphyChatting with one of the birds at the National Aviary.
1. The National Aviary
The National Aviary is America’s only independent indoor nonprofit zoo dedicated exclusively to birds. You'll find more than 500 birds representing more than 150 species from around the world here. I'd never seen many of them before. My kids loved the walk-through habitat, where we got to see toucans and flamingos up close. My daughter was fascinated by an unusual bird that joined her on a bench -- apparently as curious about my daughter as my daughter was about it. We also had a great time watching the penguins in the outdoor enclosure, where a tunnel that ended in a plastic tube allowed my kids to get nearly nose-to-nose with one curious black-and-white bird.
Photo by Kara Murphy
Kids can program robots at the Carnegie Science Center.
2. Carnegie Science Center
The four-floor Carnegie Science Center is perched over the Ohio River on Pittsburgh’s north shore and recently underwent a $21 million expansion. Each floor has its own wonders: the kids pretended to float through a replica of the International Space Station, were wowed by the capabilities of the human body in the interactive BodyWorks exhibits, programmed a robot in Roboworld, and sat rapt during a live fire show. Outside we climbed and crawled through a real submarine.
You'll also want to make time to visit the Highmark SportsWorks building next door, which is included in the price of admission to the museum. Nearly 30 interactive experiences are designed to inspire learning and curiosity through the experience of sports and exercise. Your kids will love the climbing wall, a ropes challenge, and a chance to test their speed against an Olympic medalist.
Photo by Kara MurphyThis art installation, "More Light" by Dick Esterle, can be found at the Pittsburgh Children's Museum.
3. Children's Museum of Pittsburgh
Voted one of the 10 best museums for families by USA Today readers in 2017, the Children's Museum delights and inspires kids of all ages. My advice: head to the water exhibits first, as your kids will likely end up wet. Mine were soaked by the time they were done pumping, channeling, and damming the flow of water, as well as playing with rain, spray, and ice. But they dried off quickly as we explored other museum highlights like the "Garage," a former planetarium repurposed into a cavernous room of creative play. If you're a Mr. Rogers fan (and who isn't?) you also won't want to miss his exhibit, where you can see his original puppets and famous sweater.
Photo by Kara MurphyThere are more than 475 species of animals at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.
4. Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium
Pittsburgh's zoo and aquarium are unique because they are on the same grounds, one of only six zoo and aquarium combinations in the United States. You'll find more than 475 species represented by 4,000 animals here. We spent nearly four hours at the zoo and aquarium and didn't begin to see everything, mostly because the animals we did see were so fascinating to watch that we spent a long time at each exhibit. Our favorites were the sea lions, which put on an amazing show for us, and the polar bears, which we watched from a tunnel while they played and tumbled in the water right above our heads. They were so much fun to watch that my kids eventually had to drag me away.
Photo by Melissa McMasters / VisitPittsburgh
The Duquesne Incline first started operating in 1877.
5. The Duquesne Incline
The kids wanted to ride the Duquesne Incline, which we'd watched go up and down the hill from the windows of the Science Center. Originally opened in 1877, at a cost of $47,000, the cable car travels a scary 30.5-degree grade up and down Mount Washington. It's worth the stomach-churning ride just for the amazing view from the top. You can see downtown, along with all three rivers that converge here -- the Allegheny, the Monongahela, and the Ohio.
We jammed our long weekend full of fun, but we didn’t get to do so much more — like the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the Mattress Factory, and the Andy Warhol Museum. Reading through the list of what we still had to see, my kids wanted to know when we could come back to visit Pittsburgh -- I mean Kidsburgh! -- again.
Want to visit Pittsburgh? Find package deals, itinerary ideas, free attractions, and more at VisitPittsburgh.com.
We received complimentary entry to attractions from Visit Pittsburgh. No other compensation was received. All opinions expressed are my own.
This story originally appeared in Macaroni Kid Family Travel. If you're looking for family travel inspiration, subscribe for free to Macaroni Kid Family Travel today!