My son and I recently attended a press trip in Pittsburgh, focused on families. I always knew that Pittsburgh, like Boston, is a big sports city, but my knowledge of the city beyond that was pretty limited. It’s not necessarily a spot I would have immediately thought of when planning a family vacation. However, after visiting some of these fabulous things to do in Pittsburgh with kids, I’d definitely recommend a family visit to Pittsburgh. We had such a wonderful time.
Things to Do in Pittsburgh With Kids
The first stop on our Kidsburgh trip was to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. We started with lunch in the cafe, which was surprisingly good. Then, we headed out to explore the museum, stopping first at the Limb Bender, a two-story, ant-farm type crawling area. We also checked out the MakeShop (best for slightly older kids – maybe 8 or 9 years old), the Attic (with some fun optical-illusion type exhibits), and the current visiting exhibit – Clifford the Big Red Dog (best for younger kids). The Waterplay area looked like lots of fun, but we didn’t bring any extra clothes, so we just stopped by quickly. My son really enjoyed the Garage, a huge room with parachute, magnet, and ball exhibits. An active kid could easily spend all of their time in the that room!
My son, however, is more interested in art, so once we walked into the studio area, I couldn’t get him to leave. He loved it in there, and I was so impressed with the patient, friendly staff, who helped the kids with each of the products. My son especially loved learned how to screen print (pictured above). Overall, expect that a visit will take about 3 hours (and bring a change of clothes if your kids will want to play in the water area).
Located adjacent to Heinz Field, the Carnegie Science Center includes an Omnimax Theater, a Planetarium, Highmark SportsWorks, and the USS Requin Submarine. While we had only a few hours to explore, you could easily spend the day there.
We started in the roboworld room, where both my son and I were fascinated by a robot that (almost) always made a basket.
We then went over to the Miniature Railroad & Village, which originated in 1920 in the home of a PA resident. It moved to the museum in 1992 after a stay at the Buhl Planetarium. The village includes many realistic features, and fills a whole large room. We enjoyed checked out each of the sections, and especially loved the amusement park area. Museum employees are located throughout the room to offer tidbits about the exhibit.
After quickly viewing some of the other exhibits in the museum, we went outside to the USS Requin submarine, which is included with museum admission. Guests are able to do a self-guided tour of the sub, although guides are available to answer questions. My son enjoyed seeing how tiny the living quarters were in this WWII-era sub.
Adjacent to the main museum, and part of the same admission is the Highmark SportsWorks. Featuring trampolines, motion simulator rides, and more, SportsWorks is a great place to visit with kids in Pittsburgh. We only had a few minutes to explore, so we only did one motion simulator ride. I’d definitely want to return to see the entire center.
PNC Park and Heinz Field
Pittsburgh residents definitely take their sports seriously, which makes a visit to one of their stadiums a great way to explore the city’s culture. We attended a game at PNC Park, which is a beautiful, relatively new stadium where every seat is a great one. My son had only attended games at Fenway Park, so he really enjoyed seeing the differences between the older stadium and this newer one. We sat in “all-you-can-eat” seats, where hot dogs, hamburgers, peanuts, ice cream bars, soda, popcorn, and nachos are free.
I knew that my son would love the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, because they have a popular penguin exhibit. My son loves penguins. Upon entering the zoo, we immediately headed out to find the aquarium. Admission to both the zoo and aquarium are included in one ticket, and the aquarium is actually located right inside the zoo.
Admittedly, it was a bit difficult for us to find the aquarium. The whole complex is one large circle, and it really makes sense to start at the beginning, rather than skip around. We wasted a lot of time. But it was all worth it to see my son press his nose against the window and stare at those adorable little penguins.
In addition to the aquarium, the zoo features lots of other exhibits including the African Savanna, the Asian Forest, the Kids’ Kingdom, a Bear exhibit, the Tropical Forest, and Water’s Edge (home to the polar bears). There’s a food court and numerous retail shops located throughout the zoo. Expect to spend at least a half day there.
The Gateway Clipper Fleet offers several different sightseeing cruise options, but for families visiting Pittsburgh with kids, the Good Ship Lollipop is the best option. It’s an hour-long narrated sightseeing cruise that is very kid-friendly. An onboard friendly pirate makes balloon swords for the kids, takes them on a treasure hunt around the ship, and teaches them how to be a pirate. Snacks are available on board, or at the snack bar at the dock.
For the adults, the views from the river are fabulous, so make sure you go outside and get some photos. It was a little rainy when we rode, so we sat inside, but I would probably choose to sit on the top deck in better weather.
Some other spots to hit on your visit to Pittsburgh include the Senator John Heinz History Center (which also houses the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum) and the Duquesne Incline (which offers a peek into Pittsburgh’s past as well as gorgeous views of the city). I’d recommend having at least one breakfast at Pamela’s Diner, a cash-only hotspot that makes the most delicious crepe-style pancakes. I don’t even like pancakes, and I grabbed more than a few bites off my son’s plate.
Finally, if you are looking a family-friendly hotel in Pittsburgh, we really enjoyed our stay at the Hampton Inn & Suites – Downtown Pittsburgh. They offer a free hot breakfast buffet in the morning, along with free parking and free WiFi. The hotel room is pretty standard, but it’s a nice spot for a family vacation.
Disclosure: Our trip to Pittsburgh was complimentary for purposes of review. All opinions are my own.