The idea of Pittsburgh generally evokes images of its industrial past, looming factories, and its place as a manufacturing powerhouse, none of which sound much like an ideal Christmas wonderland. The reality, however, is quite different.
The bygone brick row houses and historic towns surrounding the city offer a uniquely Western Pennsylvania charm, especially when dusted in snow. Early European settlers to the area left their mark on the city, and visitors can still visit old-time Christmas markets that pop up each December. Pittsburgh has also become a hub for culture, and there are holiday expositions at renowned sites like the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Phipps Conservatory. So if you haven't been to Pittsburgh, don't discount it. The city is sure to surprise you.
Celebrate Christmas around the world between November 9, 2019, and January 18, 2020, at the University of Pittsburgh as the Nationality Classrooms in the Cathedral of Learning are decorated in the traditional holiday styles of the countries they represent. The 29 rooms depict Pittsburgh's diverse ethnic heritage with examples from Eastern and Western Europe, Scandinavia, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. You can take a guided tour of the rooms to fully experience and learn about each of these cultures.
Miniature Railroad & Village
A Pittsburgh tradition that has enchanted visitors for 100 years, the Miniature Railroad & Village features handmade scale replicas of historic sites from around Western Pennsylvania and will be celebrating its centennial celebration in 2019. These replicas started in Brookville, Pennsylvania, on Christmas Eve in 1919, showcasing day to day life in Pennsylvania from the 1880s to the 1940s. See how people worked and lived during the turn of the century, in addition to notable landmarks—in miniatures—such as Forbes Field and Fallingwater. It's free with a paid admission to the Carnegie Science Center.
Carnegie Museum of Art
Each holiday season, five fancifully decorated 20-foot holiday trees grace the Grand Hall of Architecture at the Carnegie Museum of Art. The opening this year is on December 4, 2019, and you can view the decorated trees up through January 6, 2020. This year, the trees' decorations are inspired by famous works of art inside the museum.
During the holiday season, visit the Neopolitan presepio, or Nativity scene, set up at the museum. The presepio has been an annual tradition at the museum since 1957 and features handcrafted figurines from 18th century Italy. It's one of the most complete and elaborate Nativity scenes of its kind.
PPG Place, a business complex located in downtown Pittsburgh, looks ready for the holidays all year long; it resembles a perfect ice castle with a glittering glass exterior that Elsa would be proud of. It opens for the 2019–20 winter season on November 22, which is Light Up Night in downtown Pittsburgh. On Saturdays in December, Santa even comes out with his skates so kids can take part in an unforgettable experience to skate with him.
Take your celebrating on foot by skating around the breathtaking 65-foot lighted tree in the center of the beautiful outdoor Rink at PPG Place. Then warm up in the PPG Wintergarden as you enjoy the annual Spirits of Giving From Around the World exhibit. The ice rink is open until March 1, 2020.
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
The colors of the holiday season explode at Phipps Conservatory each winter, as colorful poinsettias, delicate winter flowers, and fragrant evergreen trees entice visitors to the annual Winter Flower Show, complete with a Winter Light Garden, candlelit pathways, and live music. The garden is open extended hours from late November through early January. Plus, Santa Claus makes an appearance each weekend and the full week before Christmas for visits and photos.
The Harmony Museum
Christmas at the Harmony Museum in Butler County is like stepping through a time machine into the past. The main museum building, the Wagner House annex, the Ziegler log house, and other homes in this restored old German village are beautifully decorated for the holidays. The charming town of Harmony, located about 30 minutes from Pittsburgh, was founded in 1804 by German immigrants and has a long history in Western Pennsylvania.
The museum also hosts a traditional German Christmas Market called WeihnachtsMarkt, held on November 8–9, 2019, where are the items for sale are either locally crafted or directly imported from Germany. Don't miss out on the German snacks for sale to get the full cultural experience.
Hartwood Acres Mansion
Every room in the lovely 16th-century mansion at Hartwood Acres is decorated for the holiday season. The annual Hartwood holiday tours run from mid-November through early January, and there are two holiday-themed tour options to explore this colonial-era building. One is the Candlelight tour, which takes place in the evenings and allows visitors to step back in time. The second option is the Holiday Musical and Tea tour, which features live music as well as tea and small snacks.
Pittsburgh Light Up Night and Creche
Pittsburgh goes all out for the holidays with its Light Up Night, which takes place on November 22, 2019. There are several tree-lightings along with fireworks to top off this holiday opener, plus live music, food trucks, and a whole Christmas market. As part of that celebration, the Pittsburgh Creche opens a larger-than-life nativity scene in front of the U.S. Steel Tower, Pittsburgh's tallest building. It is the world’s only authorized replica of the Vatican’s Christmas creche, which is on display in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
Old Economy Village
Experience German Christmas customs and traditions of the early 19th century at Old Economy Village in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. You'll see the entire village decked out in its holiday finest, plus music, crafts, traditional German food cooked by a local church, and family events. Children can even go and visit Belsnickel, the traditional Pennsylvania Dutch version of Santa Claus. Christmas at the Village this year takes place on December 7–8, 2019. The holiday Weihnachtsmarkt sells unique handmade gifts made by local artisans.