Explore Pittsburgh at Your Own Pace

Explore Pittsburgh at Your Own Pace: Six Free Self Guided Tours

Six Free Self Guided Tours Allow You to Take It Slow and Learn About the City

Warm weather is finally here and it is time to get outside. What better way to enjoy the sunshine than taking a stroll through downtown Pittsburgh? These completely self guided tours will take you through various parts of the city while explaining the interesting attractions our lovely city has to offer.

By Tre Harrington

Gateway Center Walking Tour

Where better to start a tour of the city than right in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh. This tour begins at the Gateway “T” Station on Stanwix Street and takes you through the Pittsburgh Renaissance Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. The tour gives you key details for fourteen amazing sights along the way. One notable sight on the tour is Point State Park, known as the Point, which was the birthplace of Pittsburgh. It was founded in 1758 and incorporated as a city in 1816. Today, the 36 acre park is one of downtown’s most prominent attractions. Point State Park is located at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, forming the headwaters of the Ohio River. Bring a picnic and enjoy the scenic views of the city. The Point’s 150 ft. tall fountain is a must see. It functions by drawing upon an aquifer that passes beneath the park known as the Wisconsin Glacial Flow. During your stroll around the park you will be able to view twenty three monuments, interpretive plaques, and historical markers documenting Pittsburgh’s history.The park includes the outlines and remains of two of the oldest structures in Pittsburgh, Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne. It’s also home to the Fort Pitt Museum.

Point State Park is ADA accessible and open to the public every day of the year from sunrise to sunset. The parking lot is open from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. and requires a parking fee.

Point State Park
Point State Park

Grant Street and Mellon Square Walking Tour

The Grant Street and Mellon Square Walking tour brings you to some of Pittsburgh’s major historic buildings and modern skyscrapers. The tour begins on Grant Street at the Omni William Penn Hotel and features sixteen unique stops. One of the most memorable stops on this tour is the Allegheny County Courthouse and former jail. The courthouse is one of two oldest surviving buildings on Grant Street and one of Pittsburgh’s most famous buildings. The courthouse and jail was originally designed in 1883 by Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson, and built between 1884-1888. The architecture is characterized by the classic symmetry of the Renaissance, with Romanesque details, including Syrian arches, Byzantine Capitals, late French Gothic dormer windows and French Renaissance roofs. Among the most impressive features of the courthouse and jail are the Courthouse tower, rising more than 229 feet; the picturesque silhouettes of the roof lines, towers and turrets; the soaring arches and dignified columns; and the practical arrangements of windows, which provide an abundance of natural light. The jail, which was officially closed in 1995, has been masterfully converted into a new combined home of the juvenile and family sections of the Common Pleas Court. The restored and readapted facility has won many national and international design awards.

You can also tour the jail for free! Self-Guided Tours of the Old Allegheny County Jail Museum are available on Mondays from May until October 31, from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm at 440 Ross Street in Downtown Pittsburgh.For further information––or to double-check that the Jail Museum will be open on a particular Monday, contact Mary Lu Denny: at [email protected] or call 412-471-5808, ext. 527.

Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail Complex
Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail Complex

Market Square Area Walking Tour

Recently, the Market Square area has been undergoing a period of redevelopment. Projects are incorporating historic preservation with environmentally friendly building principles. Most buildings along this tour were constructed between the late 1970’s and the 1930’s. The tour begins at PNC Triangle Park and takes you through the history of nineteen different stops along the way. One of the stops takes you to Pittsburgh’s Market Square. Pittsburgh was originally founded at the Point. As the community living at Fort Pitt grew, it became obvious the budding city needed direction. In 1784, Philadelphia surveyors George Woods and Thomas Vickroy were sent to plan and layout the new city. The pair created a common area. It was known as the “Diamond,” a Scottish term for a public square. Eventually, this Diamond would become known as Market Square. In 1794, the Diamond was the first location to the Allegheny County Courthouse and the first jail. It was also where the first newspaper published west of the Allegheny Mountains, The Pittsburgh Gazette, was located. In those times, goods were brought to the city by steamboat and offloaded at the Mon Wharf then brought to the square. Farmers and merchants also sold their wares at Market Square.

Today, Market Square continues to be Pittsburgh’s gathering place. It houses numerous shops and restaurants, including the Original Oyster House, which has been on the square since 1870. When the Oyster House first opened, oysters sold for a penny and a beer was 10 cents a glass. Market Square is still a public gathering place for the people of Pittsburgh. It offers a variety of restaurants and dining options, shopping, activities, accommodations and year-round programming. Check out some of the upcoming Market Square events here.

Pittsburgh’s Market Square
Pittsburgh’s Market Square

Penn-Liberty Cultural District Walking Tour 

This tour will guide you through the Penn-Liberty Historic District. This district is one of the best preserved and mostly intact portions of Pittsburgh’s retailing district. The ancient district has been constructed by varied architects. The most prevalent styles from the structures in the district are the Queen Anne and the Italianate style of architecture. Due to the immense monumental significance, the district stands listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has helped to transform a formerly rundown area into an arts and entertainment section of the city. The Penn-Liberty Tour will show you twenty different stops such as restored performance halls and hotels, renovated commercial buildings that now house galleries, restaurants, shops as well as homes. The tour begins at Katz Plaza. Agnes R. Katz Plaza is arguably one of the city’s most recognizable and lovely sites. Drawing inspiration from Pittsburgh’s rising topography, the late, famed American artist and sculptor Louise Bourgeois created the 25-foot bronze fountain centerpiece of this 23,000 square foot public plaza. The sculpture is notable as the largest public art commission by Bourgeois. The artist also furnished the central terrace with three pairs of large granite benches sculpted like human eyes – hence the plaza’s colloquial nickname, “Eyeball Park. Katz Plaza offers a 23,000-square-foot urban oasis with innovative seating, beautiful linden trees and often outdoor concerts.

Agnes R. Katz PlazaAgnes R. Katz Plaza

Fourth Avenue Historic District Walking Tour

The Fourth Avenue district was the center of finance and banks for the city during the decades surrounding the turn of the 20th century. This walking tour will take you through the district where many ornate structures still exist from that era. The tour begins at Smithfield Street and Fourth Avenue and has twenty one stops in the area that was Pittsburgh’s “Wall Street” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The final stop of the tour will take you to the crown jewel of the Pittsburgh skyline, PPG Place.

PPG Place sits atop a 5.5 acre, three-city-block site in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh. The shimmering glass complex is centered on a 40-story office tower, reflecting the skies, hills, rivers, and buildings of the surrounding city. Nearly one million square feet of PPG Solarban 550 clear reflective glass was used to create the magnificent building. During demolition and preparation of the site, a team of University of Pittsburgh anthropologists collected over 10,000 artifacts dating to the 18th century. The team also discovered several stone-lined wells and cisterns dating to around 1800 that were subsequently filled with refuse and artifacts in the early 1800s as the early settlement expanded and the wells went dry.

During the winter the PPG Place Plaza is converted into an ice skating rink for Pittsburghers to enjoy. The rink opens mid-November and stays until mid-February. If you find yourself in the plaza in the summer, there is an incredible water fountain that you will enjoy. Water pulses from the surface up to a height of over fifteen feet, with no barrier between the fountain and the rest of the plaza. The water disappears into the plaza surface and is recycled. The 140 columns of water are dramatically accented by underground multi-colored lights, providing a breathtaking display at night.

PPG Place and Plaza
PPG Place and Plaza

Bridges and River Shores Walking Tour

Pittsburgh has 28 bridges that span the Allegheny, Ohio and Monongahela Rivers. This tour begins at the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel and will take you across the Roberto Clemente Bridge and into downtown Pittsburgh. There are fifteen different stops on this tour that is geared towards Pittsburgh’s history along its rivers. This tour is also perfect for anyone who is a Pittsburgh sports fan since both the Steelers and Pirates stadiums are part of the sights you will learn about.

One of the tour stops is Allegheny Landing. The name of this park comes from a ferry that once operated between Allegheny Town and Pittsburgh. Allegheny Landing is quite possibly one of Pittsburgh’s most photogenic (and photographed) riverfront parks. It is situated on Pittsburgh’s North Shore between the Roberto Clemente and Andy Warhol Bridges next to PNC Park. Allegheny Landing’s location on the northern bank of the Allegheny River, across from Downtown, gives it breathtaking views of the water and city skyline.The Landing was dedicated in 1984 as one of Pittsburgh’s first modern riverfront parks and one the nation’s first riverfront sculpture parks. It was established in recognition of Pittsburgh’s riverfront potential for recreation and incorporating arts within the urban landscape. The park is home to four sets of sculptures: “The Builders” by George Danhires, “The Forks” by Issac Witkin, “Piazza Lavoro” and “Mythic Source” by Ned Smith and “Pittsburgh Variations” by George Sugarman. The modern sculptures plus waterfront biking and walking trails make for an altogether lovely slice of city green space. It's pleasant in spring and autumn, and dramatic in winter snow.

View From Allegheny LandingView From Allegheny Landing

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