One Day at Pittsburgh: the Abandoned Industrial City

Experience American’s Urban Decay

Ratings Best Travel Date Cost Length


Summer $80 1 day

TLDR tips:

  • may not be a fun family trip, but certainly memorable to experience the aftermath of the urban decay
  • don’t travel during winter, it will be more depressing

Time Stamps:

(this can be crunched to one day)

Day 1

  • 12:30 PM: Lunch at Jade Grille
  • 1:45 PM: Duquesne Incline
  • 2:45 PM: Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
  • 4:00 PM: Hotel Indigo Pittsburgh University Oakland, an IHG hotel
  • 6:00 PM: Dinner at downtown: Central Oakland

Day 2

  • 10:00 AM: tour at Carnegie Mellon University
  • 10:30 AM: tour at University of Pittsburgh
    • 11:00 AM: St.Paul Cathedral


  • Duquesne Incline ticket: $5 round trip
  • Botanical gardens ticket: $22
  • (optional) Hotel stay: $50 per person per night
    • Parking: $10
  • Food: $30
  • Total: $70-$120

Urban Decay

During mid-20th century, US sees a decline in major industrial manufacturing city along the “Rust Belt” such as Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, this leads to a significant job losses and economy downturn. Many people move out of the urban areas, leaving poverty and crime remain. I get to see what it looks like first-hand in Pittsburgh, just 2-hour away from where I lived: Columbus Ohio.

Duquesne Incline

Our first Pittsburgh stop was the Duquesne Incline, a century-old cargo and passenger incline. The parking lot is under construction with us being one of the few cars there, showcased the city’s sparse population. The $5 parking fee (equivalent to the round trip incline fare) is mandatory as street parking was non-existent.

Boarding the cart was swift due to being the sole passengers. The uphill ride, ascending 400 feet at a 30-degree angle, took only a minute or two. Atop Mt. Washington, we sort of enjoyed a panoramic view of downtown Pittsburgh and its three rivers. Because despite being touted as one of America’s top 10 beautiful views, we only spent just 15 minutes there. The gloomy weather rendered the city somewhat bleak and lifeless and no reason for us to stay longer.

The must see view of Duquesne Incline was underwhelming

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

However, the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens provided a pleasant site. Amid Pittsburgh’s desolation, it felt like a hidden oasis, a lively core sneaking in a dead shell. We had a 90-minute stroll through the winter-greened Botanic Gardens that offered various flower and plant-themed rooms, some adorned for weddings and others for the holidays. The central room housed a miniature train track I think symbolizing Pittsburgh’s history? Parking was tight but free, contrasting the Duquesne Incline experience, the central pavement was specifically converted for parking to accommodate the amount of visitors.

Miniature train track at Botanic Garden

We arrived at our hotel: Hotel Indigo Pittsburgh University Oakland, an IHG hotel Later, it is located near the university district (the district is newly constructed, being very safe and quiet, other places are all too old and dangerous). The hotel fit our budget and preferences, being relatively new with friendly staff. However, the additional parking charge despite available space was a downside.

The night arrives early in the winter time, and it was full dark when we head out in the downtown of the university district of Pittsburgh for food and boba tea. The street around Fifth Avenue is very quiet, but old and dirty making us feel unsafe, uncomfortable and unwelcome. There are just not a lot of people and not a lot of warmth surrounds us, so we quickly headed back.

Hotel resides in a newly planned and constructed district

University Tour

Exploring both Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh was another reason we came. The two universities are separated by the district near 5th Avenue, which was the place we had dinner last night. It was still on winter break, so not many students were on the campus for each university. We first toured Carnegie Mellon and then the University of Pittsburgh. We took about 30 minutes to walk around and take pictures of their famous landmarks. Since both universities live in a declining metropolitan city, it is not a surprise that the campus was not beautiful nor big. Our last stop was at the St. Paul Cathedral and Cathedral of Learning before running away from this aging city.

Carnegie Mellon University

St. Paul Cathedral of University of Pittsburgh

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