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Overlooking Pittsburgh from Mount Washington: The Best Urban Vista in the World

During my travels around the world, I’ve visited more than 30 countries and hundreds of different cities. However, I’m not sure if I’ve ever visited a city that had a better overlook than Pittsburgh. Sure, some have come close, but it’s really hard to beat the beauty of downtown Pittsburgh from the top of Mount Washington.

Best urban vistas in the world
There are many great urban vistas, but few can compare with the beauty of Pittsburgh from Mount Washington (Clockwise from top left: Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul, Seattle)

Mount Washington was originally known as Coal Hill and was settled by immigrant factory workers in the early 19th century. However, the steep hill was hard to climb, even with the assistance of switchbacks and stairs.

So, in the 1870s, several inclines were built to ascend the hill. These inclines allowed not only people but also horses and goods to be sent up the hill more easily than before, spurring development of the neighborhood.

Sunrise from Mount Washington in Pittsburgh, PA
The sun rises over downtown Pittsburgh.

As the neighborhood grew, the name was changed from Coal Hill to Mount Washington, to honor the nation’s first President. According to history, Washington stood on the hill while he was a young British officer in the French and Indian War and surveyed the land and water around Pittsburgh.

Today, roads take residents and visitors alike to the top of Mount Washington; however, for those looking for a unique experience, two of the inclines still run on a daily basis and whisk visitors to the top of Mount Washington for a stunning view of downtown Pittsburgh.

Mount Washington in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Looking up the Monongahela River in downtown Pittsburgh from the top of Mount Washington

The oldest of these is the Monongahela Incline. The lower station of this incline is located close to Station Square, a popular shopping and dining destination, as well as Station Square Station, a stop on Pittsburgh’s Light Rail. Completed in 1870, it is the oldest operating incline in America.

The other incline that scales Mount Washington is the Duquesne Incline. This incline is a few years newer than the Monongahela Incline (built in 1877) and is slightly less steep as well. However, this incline is more well-known for two reasons. First, it was featured in the 1983 film “Flashdance.”

Visiting Mount Washington in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh at night as seen from Mount Washington.

Secondly, since this incline is slightly further from downtown Pittsburgh, it offers a better view of the city. From here, you can more easily see The Point, the location where the Monongahela River meets the Allegheny River and form the Ohio River.

Because of this, I’d definitely recommend riding the Duquesne Incline to the top of Mount Washington. However, you’ll need a car to get there, as public transit doesn’t run near the base of the Duquesne Incline.

Ultimately though, either incline provides a great view and the ability to see downtown Pittsburgh from Mount Washington.

(Check out some of my other top picks for a great view of downtown Pittsburgh!)

Mount Washington Downtown Pittsburgh IMG_6146-001
Further down Mount Washington is this beautiful statue of George Washington meeting Guyasuta.

Once at the top of the hill, there are many observation points along Grandview Avenue to view the beauty of the city below.

In several places, circular overlooks have been built that extend over the edge of the hill to provide a more encompassing viewpoint. However, the best views are from the observation deck next to the Duquesne Incline or points further east.

It’s also worth noting that you don’t have to ride the Duquesne Incline to access their viewing platform. This is great news for those that ride the Monongahela Incline or choose to drive to the top of Mount Washington.

The view from another angle from Mount Washington in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
No matter which way you turn your camera, the views from the top of Mount Washington in Pittsburgh are spectacular.

No matter which incline you take, the mile-long walk between the two inclines is simply breathtaking, providing a variety of viewpoints that will leave you reaching for your camera every few feet. For those who are hungry, there are also many restaurants at the top of Mount Washington, several with views of downtown Pittsburgh.

So, the next time you are in Pittsburgh, take the inclines to the top of Mount Washington. You won’t be disappointed with the views from one of the best urban vistas in the world.

(If you love great views, also give the nearby West End Overlook Park a visit the next time you are exploring Pittsburgh.)

Looking for even more places to visit in Pittsburgh? Check out Seldom Seen Greenway, the best Pittsburgh breweries, and the Cathedral of Learning’s Nationality Rooms.

See map for other area attractions.

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3 thoughts on “Overlooking Pittsburgh from Mount Washington: The Best Urban Vista in the World”

  1. Except for flying in and out of Pittsburgh several years back, my only experiences with Pittsburgh (about a half dozen) have been driving there for a meeting, gathering, or errand. Those driving experiences were not enjoyable, as it was not easy to find my way around, traffic moved quickly, and construction was everywhere. However, I must compliment you for the great photos in this article, and the explanations do make me want to come back to visit in better conditions.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Barbara. Visiting in a big city can be challenging at times, but I would definitely encourage you to spend some time in Pittsburgh. There are a ton of great things to see and do!

  2. I lived in Pittsburgh thirty years ago for three years and I still have nightmares about trying to find my way around town. There is no easy way to get anywhere. Driving just plain sucks.

    That said, I still tell everyone that it is the most beautiful town I have ever seen (I’ve lived on both coasts and in several places in the midwest). I took some foreign exchange students there many years ago, and THEY said it was the most beautiful skyline THEY had ever seen.


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