Free Things to Do in the Pittsburgh Area
Whether you’re looking for art, history or something quirky, Pittsburgh offers an array of free attractions to add to your sightseeing adventures.
Sculpture Garden at Hartwood Acres Park
Fourteen large-scale sculptures representing the Minimalist movement have been recently conserved in their original grandeur, now situated on a fully accessible paved path arranged around the 1929 Tudor Revival mansion in this 629-acre park, considered the crown jewel of the Allegheny County Parks system. This is located about 12 miles north of Pittsburgh; use the Hartwood Acres Mansion entrance in your GPS.
Hampton: 200 Hartwood Acres
Big Mac Museum
Did you know that the signature McDonald’s concoction — two-all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame seed bun — was invented in Pittsburgh? Michael Delligatti introduced the sandwich at his McDonald’s franchise in Uniontown in 1967, charging just 45 cents for the big burger. McDonald’s Corp. launched the Big Mac nationwide in 1968, and it’s considered their all-time favorite hamburger. A museum dedicated to the Big Mac at Delligatti’s franchise in New Huntingdon opened in 2007 (inside the working restaurant), where there’s a 12-foot replica of the Big Mac, vintage wrappers and toys and other memorabilia.
North Huntingdon: 9061 Route 30
Both Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon purport to be Weird. Keep Pittsburgh Quirky might be a more appropriate appellation for the Steel City, and places such as Bicycle Heaven fulfill this mission. Established in 2011 on the North Side by Craig and Mindy Morrow, Bicycle Heaven is touted as the world’s largest bicycle museum and bike shop with a massive collection of 6,000 vintage and new bikes under one roof, plus all the accoutrements that go with them. Here you’ll find an actual red prop bike from “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” (one of four made) as well as bikes that appeared in “The Monkees” show and movies such as “Super 8” and the filmed-in-Pittsburgh “A Man Called Otto.” They’re most proud of their collection of 17 Bowden Spacelander bikes — among the most sought-after bikes by collectors. Bicycle Heaven is open every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and also includes sales, a repair shop and bike rentals. The museum’s Facebook page is filled with photos of smiling fans visiting the space. “It’s just an insane collection,” says one.
Chateau: 1800 Preble Ave.
Exhibitions at Contemporary Craft
Check out the relatively new digs for Contemporary Craft, a 52-year-old organization that fosters the use of traditional craft materials — ceramic, fiber, glass, wood and metal — to make art. Its 13,000-square foot permanent home offers rotating exhibitions in a light-filled space and a gift shop you won’t want to miss.
Upper Lawrenceville: 5645 Butler St.
Water Steps at North Shore Riverfront Park
Operated during the warmer months by the Sports & and Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh, the cascading fountain on the North Shore along the Allegheny River draws families and others who want to cool off with a striking view of the city’s skyline. It includes 500 blocks of sandstone cut from a Butler County quarry and another 1,000 smaller pieces of sandstone. Walk the waterfront near Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse and you’ll find it easily.
Fort Pitt Block House
British forces built Fort Pitt during the French and Indian War at what is now Point State Park, where the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers join to create the Ohio River. The only remnant left is the block house, which was erected in 1764 and is believed to be one of the oldest buildings still standing in Pittsburgh. It was first used to defend the fort from Native American attacks and then later as a trading post after the fort was decommissioned. It’s open year-round and is free, thanks to the Fort Pitt Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. (Operating days change during the winter, so check the website before you visit.) While you’re in the park, make sure to walk to the 150-foot fountain at the Point for one of the most brilliant views in the area.
Downtown: 601 Commonwealth Place
Old Allegheny County Jail Museum
This landmark is open on the first and third Mondays of each month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., except holidays. Docents are on hand from the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation to guide you through. The building, opened in 1886, was designed by famed Boston architect H.H. Richardson and was used it as a jail until 1995. It reopened as a museum in 2005, and includes a portion of one of the original cell blocks.
Downtown: 440 Ross St.