Fall is a great time to get outside with kids and find free things to do, whether exploring parks, trails or city neighborhoods.
We’ve compiled a list of things to do with kids of all ages that are not only free but many offer opportunities to exercise kids’ minds and bodies—an added benefit, says Karen DiFiore, physical education teacher at Shady Side Academy.
“We do a lot of movement in school and we tell the kids that it is preparing their brain for learning,” says DiFiore, who likens neurons in the brain to the leaves of a tree. “When you exercise, it makes those ‘leaves’ reach out and connect to each other and bloom.” It’s great for adults as well!
Take a walking tour
Download a walking tour of Downtown by Robert Morris University to hear stories about the classic and modern skyscrapers as you go. Students recorded these tours in 10 languages. It’s a great way to teach kids a civics lesson about the business owners, politicians, architects and engineers who built Pittsburgh. Don’t miss the Allegheny County Courthouse, an architectural masterpiece.
In Homestead, the nonprofit Rivers of Steel Heritage Area features steel heritage exhibits and restored rooms in its Bost Building headquarters, open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Other attractions: The Historic Pump House, site of the 1892 Battle of Homestead and trail head for the Great Allegheny Passage, and the amazing Carrie Blast Furnaces, the nation’s only pre-WWII iron furnaces still standing. Guided tours of the furnaces are offered on Saturdays at 10 and 11 am. and Sundays at 1 p.m., May through October.
“We have free cell phone tours that can be downloaded,” says Jeff Leber, Rivers of Steel spokesperson. “One of the tours we did with Sprout is by GPS coordinates only, for some additional adventure.” Kids will love it.
Admire public art
Download the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council’s free guide to public art Downtown, such as the sculpture in Mellon Square, Katz Plaza’s eyeball-shaped benches and the blue scrolling text on the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
The city’s first all-glass public art installation, Rivers of Glass: Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue, in the lobby of 11 Stanwix St., a 1960s-era office tower Downtown, is open weekdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Don’t miss: The MLK Community Mural Project, a big, bright art venture engaging hundreds of artists to paint 26 walls. So far the project has produced more than a dozen murals along the MLK East Busway, spanning eight neighborhoods. There are more than 250 throughout Allegheny County.
Take a ride on the T
Kids and adults ride Pittsburgh’s subway for free within the Golden Triangle. Downtown stops include Wood Street, Steel Plaza, First Avenue and Gateway. It’s another way to teach kids about landmarks, infrastructure and the benefits of public transportation.
Don’t miss: the Romare Bearden mural at the Gateway T-stop. Kids will love this modern and dramatic all-glass structure.
Climb city steps
Pittsburgh has 712 outdoor stairways within city limits, totaling 24,090 vertical feet. South Side Slopes, the neighborhood with the most, holds its annual StepTrek event in October to benefit step maintenance. Many of the steps are considered part of the transit system. Explore a fun neighborhood in a different way and get your 10,000 steps in!
Explore a park or playground
Sightseers never miss a chance to view the city from Mt. Washington’s vantage point. But there’s more beyond the scenic overlook. Visit Emerald View Park, a 280-acre green space that takes you into urban and forest settings, through hills and trails and yes, along sidewalks, all around the neighborhood.
Want something more elaborate? Try Chatham University’s arboretum and labyrinth. The idyllic campus has elements designed for the original Andrew Mellon estate. It includes a 32-acre arboretum with 115 varieties of species. The labyrinth, on a small rise above Woodland Road, is hidden by landscaping until visitors gradually discover it as they walk the slight incline to the entry path.
Highland Park is home to a “super playground” whose wooden tunnels, slides, ladders and places to hide give kids ample reason to burn energy. This and other city parks provide families with a place to spend a day, hiking and exploring.
Visit a museum
Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Oakland gives visitors a unique perspective of American history, with collections of cultural artifacts from the mid-1900s to today. “The museum does not idealize war but honors and educates about the sacrifices,” its website says. It offers free admission to military members and veterans, as well as families and guests of those currently serving.
The Fort Pitt Block House in Point State Park, built in 1764, is the only surviving structure of the original fort and is the city’s oldest building. Inside, kids can learn the story of western Pennsylvania’s role during the French & Indian War and the American Revolution. Stay as little or long as you like and spend some time in beautiful Point State Park, a gem in our city.
The Frick Pittsburgh offers free admission to the Frick Art Museum, Car and Carriage Museum, and the grounds surrounding them. Kids and adults alike will be fascinated by the sleek and antique cars. (Tours of Clayton, the Frick family’s house museum, are available for a fee.) Especially for kids, check out Saturdays at the Frick.
Holocaust garden and religious relics
Temple Emanuel’s Holocaust Memorial Garden on Bower Hill Road in the South Hills was founded by the late Marga Randall, a Holocaust survivor, with the help of master gardener Lynn Rubin. Each plant has a symbolic relationship with the Holocaust. A visit here could be a difficult but important lesson for older kids.
St. Anthony’s Chapel on Troy Hill houses 5,000 religious relics, the largest public collection in the world. The chapel is open to visitors Saturdays through Thursdays from 1 to 4 p.m., for free or a goodwill donation. Light a votive for $3. Visitors come here from all over the world. You’ve got to see it at least once.
Pitt’s Nationality Rooms
The 30 Nationality Rooms in the University of Pittsburgh’s 42-story Cathedral of Learning have awe-inspiring décor with stained glass, carved stone and inlaid wood. Each tells the story of a culture that Pittsburgh immigrants brought from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. When school is in session, the rooms function as classrooms and audiotape tours are available only on weekends. The main floors of the Cathedral will fascinate kids as well.
What would a trip to the North Side be without a stop at this unique home in the Mexican War Streets? Billed as Pittsburgh’s most colorful landmark, the three-story building painted in bright yellow, orange and teal is artist Randy Gilson’s testimonial to neighborhood revitalization. He opens the courtyard most days from 1-5:30 p.m. and invites people to explore the many public art displays, including a 40-foot mural. Kids of all ages will be in awe.