The Traveler’s Showdown: Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh
Fiercely loyal opinions aside, the truth is that each of Pennsylvania’s two largest cities offers exciting sights and experiences for today’s traveler. Here’s how these metropolises stack up in terms of art, food, music/nightlife, and places to stay. (We’ll leave the Eagles vs. Steelers debate to the sports fans.)
A Tale of Two Cities Rejuvenated By the Arts
Philadelphia: In the midst of its renaissance, The City of Brotherly Love is carving out a name for itself as a top destination for the arts. Examples of Philly’s artistic significance include the iconic Philadelphia Museum of Art (thanks, Rocky), the Philadelphia Art Alliance, which features contemporary craft and design, the Institute of Contemporary Art, the philanthropic Barnes Foundation, and the SPACE Gallery at the American Institute of Graphic Arts. And don’t forget Philadelphia’s striking murals, which deliver bursts of vibrancy throughout the entire city.
Pittsburgh: Just like Philly, Pittsburgh has been revitalized partly as a result of its thriving downtown arts scene. Whether visiting the Andy Warhol Museum, the Phipps Conservatory, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Glass Center, the Industrial Arts Co-op, or the ever-weird and delightful Mattress Factory, the city’s growing arts scene will impress travelers of all ages and aesthetic preferences.
Hip Fare vs. Upscale Eateries
Philadelphia: Cheesesteaks. Need we say more? We don’t, but we will—because Philly food goes well beyond this absurdly popular dish. From outdoor dining, to gourmet pizza, delicious brunches, sushi, and iconic dishes like hoagies and cannoli, Philly’s food scene has got it goin’ on. And then there’s the street food. Tourists and locals alike can enjoy everything from cupcakes to grilled cheese, Latin-inspired dishes, soul food, and pretty much anything else you can think of at any of Philly’s many food trucks. Finally, there’s the famous Reading Terminal Market, which is packed with vendors selling produce, sweet treats, and ready-to-eat foods.
Pittsburgh: What Philly boasts in eclectics, Pittsburgh makes up for in elegance. The city is packed with upscale, trendy restaurants (like Cure and Bar Marco) as well as James Beard Award-nominated chefs. Pittsburgh’s food is earning such a name for itself that Bon Appetit named Pittsburgh the next big food town back in 2013 (the ranking also cited the city’s impressive list of farmer’s markets). But Steel City hasn’t forgotten its grittier roots: It still hosts the annual Pierogi Fest, which features more than 30 vendors peddling the city’s old standby.
House Shows and Late Nights vs. Emerging Music Scenes
Philadelphia: Philly’s many music venues attract fans from all over the northeast and mid-Atlantic, while its house shows are legendary among people in the know. The city’s bar scene doesn’t disappoint, either—on any night of the week, locals flock to their favorite neighborhood haunts, which range from upscale to textbook dive bar. The relatively young population keeps Philly nightlife vibrant.
Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh’s nightlife is also driven by a young population eager to prove that Steel City is on the rebound. Emerging hip-hop and electronic music scenes create high-energy attractions every night of the week. And because Pittsburgh is located between Philly and Cleveland, it’s a convenient stop for traveling bands playing their last show on the way out of PA. The city is also packed with bars and clubs. While the cost of a beer might run slightly higher than in Philly (and bars tend to close earlier), it’s easy to see why one survey ranked the two cities in a dead heat when it comes to nightlife.
Downtown Historical Luxury vs. A Room (or Apartment) of One’s Own
Philadelphia: Philly boasts a wide range of hotels both downtown and on its outskirts. While the city has a variety of affordable hotels, its luxury options are worth the price for anyone who can afford it. Some of the best are Le Meridien Philadelphia, a Georgian-revival building with bold, contemporary décor; the Loews Philadelphia Hotel, housed inside the world’s first art-deco skyscraper; and The Rittenhouse 1715, a cozy bed and breakfast.
Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh’s hotel scene is a bit more grassroots than Philly’s classic lodgings. Affordable hotels abound, and the city also has more than 100 rentals listed on Airbnb, with private lodgings generally costing about the same as a hotel room. Still, luxury is available to those who seek it. Great options include the Omni William Penn Hotel, which combines beautiful architecture with a convenient location; the Monaco Pittsburgh, which includes unique amenities like in-room yoga mats and evening wine tours; and the Fairmont Pittsburgh, which features local artwork and a health club, sauna, and steam room (not to mention a canine ambassador).
So it turns out the Philly-versus-Pittsburgh debate is easily answered—they’re both great. For lovers of music and nightlife, the slight edge goes to Philly for its diversity of bars and music venues at a range of prices. Those looking for classic American luxury may prefer Pittsburgh’s slightly more upscale vibe. Better yet? See them both.