My husband grew up on the outskirts of Pittsburgh in the sleepy suburb of Charleroi. We still have family in the area and we love to visit them as often as we can. Not only because we have wonderful relatives but because Pittsburgh is a perfect place to visit for some family fun.
From the moment you come out of the Fort Pitt tunnel and catch sight of Pittsburgh’s spectacular skyline and mighty rivers you just know that all kinds of adventures await.
With so many outdoor excursions and exciting attractions from amusement parks to zoos, museums and more it’s easy to too see why Pennsylvania’s second largest city has dubbed itself “Kidsburgh.”
There’s always something new to discover each time we visit. The hardest part is deciding on what to enjoy. We’ve put together this list of the very best family-friendly attractions, so you know just what to do on your next trip to Pittsburgh with kids.
Ride the Incline
A great way to get a lay of the land is to hop aboard a beautifully restored cable car and take a ride on Pittsburgh’s famous funiculars to the top of Mt. Washington. Known in the Steele City simply as “inclines” there are two of Pittsburgh’s original 19 still in operation.
Choose from the Monongahela Incline the nation’s oldest and steepest incline in operation or the Duquesne Incline offering a Welcome Center, pictorial history of the city and a look at the hoisting equipment used to scale the slopes of Mt. Washington.
The inclines were built more than a century ago and once served as a popular mode of transportation for steel mill workers to travel down the steep hills into the city and back home again. Rescued and restored by local citizens they now operate seven days a week.
Whether you choose to ride the Dusquene Incline or the Monogahela Incline both will treat you to spectacular sweeping views of the city. In fact, the Pittsburgh skyline was named one of “America’s Most Stunning Views” by USA Today in 2014.
Kids of all ages will enjoy the slow ride and watching the cable cars going up and down the hill and the boats and barges that frequently travel on all three rivers. Parking is available at the lower station on Carson Street or at Station Square. The inclines are cash only, but ATMs are available inside.
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
From colossal dinosaurs to gems millions of years in the making there’s a lot to sink your teeth into at the Carnegie Museum of Natural history. This world-class museum plays a unique role in the region with educational and cultural programming and exhibitions that families love to visit together – including the world’s third-largest dinosaur repository. Our kids could have spent the entire day exploring the Dinosaurs in Their Time section alone, especially the Bone Hunter’s Quarry where they could dig up dinos just like a real paleontologist.
Each of the Carnegie’s four floors of exhibits is filled with hands-on activities and beautiful displays. You’ll want to hit the Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems and don’t miss the mummies in the Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt. The 1,900-square-foot Discovery Basecamp is also a huge hit with kids. This interactive learning area is designed to let you discover the wonders of the natural world through touch.
Carnegie Museum of Art
The Carnegie Museum of Art is connected to the Natural History Museum and included under the same admission ticket. You’ll quickly realize what an amazing deal this is when you step inside the expansive galleries.
The museum features both permanent and temporary exhibits covering a broad spectrum of visual arts. With a dynamic collection of nearly 35,000 works of art there’s something to inspire everyone. You’ll find creativity around every corner as you experience paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, architecture, decorative arts and digital imagery.The Art museum also offers drop-in gallery activities, guided tours for families and hands-on art making for creative kids.
We are particularly impressed by the incredible collection of French impressionist paintings. You’ll spy pieces from Monet, VanGogh, Degas and Gaugin on prominent display.
The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh offers hands-on learning and serious fun for families. When our kids were younger this was their absolute favorite spot in the city.
What started in a historic building expanded into a massive five stories of play and learning. You’ll find an awesome MAKESHOP® filled with crafting and creating supplies, and cutting edge digital media perfect for thinking up and building exciting projects. Kids can try their hand at pottery and a variety of crafts in the Studio! You can even ink your own silk screen.
Active kids will love the Limb Bender, a two-story climbing structure and the Garage, a massive room where you can build a car and send it down a test track, drop parachutes from the top level and slide the super spiral slide.
The top floor features a huge water play area. Kids can throw on a smock or just get soaked while they pump and move water in all directions at the fountains, channels, dams and water tables.
Adults may even find themselves a bit nostalgic over the areas dedicated to famous Pittsburgh native Mr. Rogers and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. The famous, heart-warming puppets from the Neighborhood of Make Believe are part of the exhibit.
You won’t want to miss the fun optical illusions in the Attic or the Gravity Room and the outside play area. The traveling exhibits are also spectacular!
The Carnegie Science Center
The Carnegie Science Center is another four stories of amazing hands on learning for any age. There’s is just so much to see here!
Visit Roboworld, where you can challenge a robot to a game of basket ball or air hockey. Investigate the wonders of the human body in Bodyworks. Discover river science in H20h or view the stars in the Buhl Planetarium. You can also enjoy an educational shows or popular movies on Pittsburgh’s biggest screen at Rango’s Giant Cinema.
Our top spot to see inside the Science Center is the renowned Miniature Railroad and Village. This full working model fills an entire large room and features dozens of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania landmarks including the famous Fallingwater house, Forbes Field and Luna Park. Look for all the secret moving surprises and the change from day to night. Each year something fresh pieces are added so there’s always a new wee wonder to discover.
The fun continues outside where you can dive deep into history with a tour of the USS Requin. Located outside the museum right in the Ohio river. A tour of this authentic navy submarine is included in your Science Center admission.
Also included in your Science Center admission is access to the adjacent Highmark SportsWorks center. Here, you can climb to new heights on the ropes course and rock wall. Or challenge your kids to a sprint all while learning about the physics of sports.
Senator John Heinz History Center
The Senator John Heinz History Center, the largest museum in Pennsylvania, is also huge on family fun. With six floors of long-term and changing exhibitions, the History Center presents compelling stories about Pittsburgh’s rich tradition of innovation and connection to 250 years of America’s growth and progress.
Artifact collections and educational programs help solidify the city’s connection with the past, present, and future, and hands-on learning is not only allowed, it’s encouraged. Fun exhibits include a toy display, original set pieces from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and even life-sized hometown hero displays like Rosie the Riveter. Kids will love the scavenger hunt that includes a different stamp for each floor.
You’ll find yet another two-for-one deal here as the Heinz History Center is also home to the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum which is included in your admission. Artifacts and interactive activities celebrate the legendary moments and players that have been a part of Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium
The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is one of only six major zoo and aquarium combinations in the United States making it yet another two-for-one deal and awesome destination for family fun! The 77 acre zoo is laid out in an easy-to-tour circular path. This is great because it enables you to see the over 2,000 animals that call the Pittsburgh Zoo home very easily. From anteaters to zebras everyone is sure to find their favorite.
If you are visiting in the summer we suggest heading into the zoo section first and then heading to the aquarium later in the day when its hotter. You can also cool off in the fun misting fountains outside. The kids loved the ray touch tank and the shark tunnel but their favorite has to be the playful penguins who can be seen splashing around in and out of the water in their exhibit.
Don’t miss Kid’s Kingdom and Discovery Pavilion. Here kids can take a break from viewing the animals and climb on the climbing structures, slide down slides, ride on a scooter, and enjoy some interactive fun.
Fort Pitt Museum and Block House
Step back in time to Pittsburgh’s birthplace at the Fort Pitt Museum and discover the world-shaping events that took place in this part of Pennsylvania. The museum explores the history of the region from 1754 through the present including Pittsburgh’s role in the French & Indian War and the American Revolution.
Kids will love the challenging scavenger hunt and costumed characters on hand to answer questions and engage in living history lessons. Our crew enjoyed playing period games and learning how to fire a canon from the museum’s artillerist.
The Blockhouse outside the museum is the only surviving structure of the original Fort Pitt and the city’s oldest building. Admission is free and open to the public year-round. It’s a quick in and out for families that want to learn a little more about the city and its pivotal role.
The museum and Block House are both located in Point State Park. Take some time to stroll the park grounds. Don’t miss the giant fountain where you can catch a view of where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers converge to make the Ohio River. It’s a great place to just slow down and take in the city or enjoy a picnic.
Visit Kennywood Amusement Park
Fifteen minutes from downtown Pittsburgh you’ll find Kennywood, one of the oldest amusement parks in America. Designated a National Historic Landmark this famous institution combines nostalgic charm with modern thrills and kid-friendly classics.
Featuring 31 rides that go from mild to wild you’re certain to find something for everyone to enjoy. Little ones will love Kiddieland while brave big kids and adults alike will enjoy the park’s six coasters. Our crew was crazy about the historic wooden coasters the Jack Rabbit, the Racers and the thrilling Thunderbolt. Phantom’s Revenge is another must-do for anyone who enjoys coasters.
Noah’s Ark an old-school walk-through attraction that recently celebrated its 80th anniversary is also must-do experience, even if just once.
You can bring your own food into the park but be sure to try The Potato Patch that serves fresh cut fries with an assortment of toppings….bacon, cheese or gravy!! You also won’t want to miss the ice-cream dipped in chocolate and covered with nuts, sprinkles or both!
When it comes to Pittsburgh eateries none are more famous than Primanti Brothers. This chain of sandwich shops began in the Strip District in the 1930s. Originally a wooden lunch stand serving huge, hearty sandwiches to Depression-era truckers pulling up to the loading docks across the street Joe Primanti’s sandwiches became famous in part because they are so unusual.
Each sandwich comes topped with coleslaw, and French fries –something you’d typically see as side items. These toppings are wedged between two thick slices of Italian bread, along with tomatoes, provolone and a meat of your choosing. They deliver it wrapped in paper and it is definitely a two-handed meal.
We recommend going for the “Pittsburgher” for the fully iconic experience. Our kids also enjoy the small man fries.
With several locations throughout the city it is easy to add a visit to Primanti Brothers into your plans. If you can though try and visit the original location. A colorful mural of notable Pittsburghers hangs along one wall and is something of a landmark itself.
Pittsburgh is known as the City of Bridges and the best way to see them is by boat. The Gateway Clipper Fleet offers several kid-friendly cruise option aboard the old-fashioned paddle boat style ships. Choose from the Ice-Cream Sunday, Galactic Battle Cruise, Good Ship Lollipop Cruise, Princess Cruise, Superhero Cruise, Pirate Dinner Feast or you can simply select a Three River Sightseeing cruise. You really can’t go wrong with any of their excursions.
The hour-long narrated sightseeing cruises offer exceptional views of Pittsburgh from the Alleghany, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers while giving you all kinds of interesting insight into the city the water surrounds.
There is seating both indoors and on the open-air top-deck but we like to sit outside on the covered patio in the shade. Snacks are available on board, or at the snack bar at the dock.
Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball Game
No matter where you go in the City of Champions you’ll find Pittsburghers proudly waving banners and wearing black and gold the colors of the three major professional teams. The Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins offer so many opportunities to catch a major league game. All are great but there’s nothing quite like a baseball game at PNC Park.
The classic-style ballpark sits right on the river and every seat has an amazing view of the city skyline. If you visit on a Friday you’ll get a free T-shirt just for being there! We also suggest that you spring for the All you can eat seats! This special section in the park gets you all the food and drink you could want from the concessions. Perfect for kids to chow down on hotdogs, hamburgers, popcorn, peanuts and ice-cream while rooting for the Buccos!
We recommend parking at the Ft. Duquesne and Sixth Street garage and walking across the Roberto Clemente bridge to PNC Park.
Just Ducky Tours
Another awesome option if you want to change up your view of the city is to climb aboard Just Ducky Tours. We’ve enjoyed these iconic tours in several cities across the world and they don’t disappoint but Pittsburgh’s prime position at the convergence of three rivers is particularly ideal for this type of tour.
The fully-guided adventure starts with an entertaining drive through Pittsburgh’s vibrant downtown. You’ll learn interesting facts and quirky trivia about the important buildings and historic sites as you pass them.
But that’s not all! Once the tour of the city by land is over, then it is time to venture into the water. No need to disembark to board a boat! The WWII amphibious vehicle becomes the boat in a matter of minutes. You’ll cruise the serene waters and greet friendly Pittsburgh neighbors with a quack, quack, quack.
The height of excitement for the kids is getting a chance to drive the duck boat! This is a fun and unique way for the entire family to enjoy a guided tour of the city.
If you have never visited a Hofbrauhaus then we highly recommend having dinner at the one in Pittsburgh. Modeled after it’s impressive namesake in Munich it will make you feel like you are experiencing a bit of Europe right in the Steel City.
Not only is the German food and beer there delicious, but you can’t beat the waterside views from the restaurant’s bier garten deck and the lively atmosphere.
The large communal tables inside are perfect for families and the generous appetizers are made for sharing. Our kids loved the giant pretzels and potato pancakes with applesauce.
Hofbrauhaus also features a fabulous children’s menu that includes a Kinder Schnitzel- perfect for easing the kids away from the chicken fingers and fries towards some more traditional German food.
Us adults enjoyed the selection of four freshly brewed biers that Hofbrauhaus offers year-round, along with the seasonal selection. There’s nothing like a huge mug of Sommer Weizen at the end of a hot July day!
The Strip District
Located just outside of downtown along the banks of the Allegheny river is the Strip District. Home to a large assortment of international grocery stores, and retailers, eclectic shops and cafes. We always make sure to stop here whenever we are visiting Pittsburgh for great food and shopping.
Although we have visited many times it seems that every time we walk down Penn Avenue we discover a new business worth exploring. Even so, our kids have a few hard-core favorites. We can’t miss a visit to Grandpa Joe’s Candy Shop where they carry every kind of sugary candy you can imagine. Our kids love to fill a box to the brim from a huge selection on the walls for just $5.
Another fun stop is Yinzers. The perfect place to pick up some Pittsburgh paraphernalia. They have all the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates black and gold gear one could ever want. There are tons of other fun souvenir shops that line the main street. If your family wants to take a piece of Pittsburgh home with you these shops are where to do it.
Want to know how you can visit many of these amazing attractions in Pittsburgh for FREE? Check out my Secret to Saving Money at Museums, Zoos and Aquariums across the U.S. and abroad.
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