There's something about visiting a well-known place that takes the luster out of any trip. Sometimes it's hard to meet the expectations that surround a popular destination. That's why a city like Pittsburgh has so much more than you realize. When you go in with zero expectations, leaving amazed feels that much better. Let's see just how much Pittsburgh has to offer.

The City of Fountains

In its old, gritty way, Pittsburgh is a beautiful city. It sits at the confluence of three rivers, and if you're anything like me, you love that river city feel. Make the trek up to Mount Washington in a railcar on either the the Duquesne or Monongahela Inclines, and you'll get this watery view. From here you can count at least 18 of the city's 446 bridges. While you're at the top of Mount Washington, check out the new Grand View Scenic Byway Park, too.

From here, you can also gaze down at our next destination, Point State Park. It's basically a large, regal fountain on the end of a peninsula. It stands proudly in front of a beautiful backdrop that includes the park and the city's huge skyscrapers. Naturally, the fountain is a hangout spot for just about everyone. Since it's positioned on two rivers, you'll want to bring your camera and stay a while. 

The City of Magic

Without taking a trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter or splurging on a vacation to London, this is as close as you can get to anything outside of the muggle world. Located on the University of Pittsburgh campus, the Cathedral of Learning looks like the American satellite campus of Hogwarts. I'd argue that it's even better than the set at Universal Studios, because this is an actual school. You can feel it. Tourists do snap photos while the kids are studying, but they're used to it. Feel free to bring your wand, too.

The artsy side of Pittsburgh also feels magical. Don't skip the the Andy Warhol Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, or the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. If you're traveling with kids, the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh is worth a stop, too.

The City of Steel

One of Pittsburgh's nicknames is The City of Steel, since it was the heart of the nation's steel industry at one time. You can still sense the industry, especially when you wander through Pittsburgh's South Side. Here, you'll find a maze of brick warehouses, fire escapes, and railyards, along with examples of contemporary reuses by Google, Apple, and Facebook.

The South Side has come of age, and now it's one of the most popular parts of this incredibly livable city, which almost always ranks in the top 10 on national lists. Take an afternoon stroll down East Carson Street, stop into the shops, grab a pastry from the weekend farmers markets, and take it all in. When you get hankering for a meal, try Dish Osteria and Bar, Doce Taqueria, or Carmella's. Whatever you do, always leave room for Milkshake Factory.

Where to Lay Your Head

If you can nab a hotel on Pittsburgh's South Side, that's the perfect place to stay. Otherwise, downtown is great, too. The beauty of Pittsburgh is that there are plenty of hotel options at great prices in the most desirable areas of the city. You don't have to stay near the airport or go into the suburbs just to avoid breaking the bank. It's a livable and reasonably priced city, no matter which way you look.

With fascinating history, intriguing sights, and affordable prices, Pittsburgh should be at the top of your list. It's still far enough off the beaten path that you don't have to make sacrifices — as long as you aren't around for a Steelers home game, of course!

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