Take this merry and bright 9-stop Downtown Pittsburgh holiday walking tour

Downtown downright dazzles during the holiday season.

From sky-scraping evergreens to artful gingerbread houses, the city teems with seasonal merriment this time of year.

Make a new holiday tradition with this wintry walk spotlighting all the glimmer and glitz of the Golden Triangle. Take a walking tour to these nine sites, snapping photos along the way. We’ve sketched out a map of where to go and where to warm up (with cocktails and/or coffee).

Note: This tour is easy to follow as a DIY activity, but if you’re into something more structured (with PG&H coffee and Wigle Whiskey cocktails!), join me for a guided tour.

The logistics:

  1. Wear comfortable shoes. Expect to walk about 4,000 steps.
  2. Bundle up! It’s the holiday season in Pittsburgh, after all.
  3. If you simply walk from stop to stop, pausing just to take photos, budget an hour. If you want to stop for drinks, shopping, or skating, allocate extra time.
  4. Late afternoon is a great time to start, so you’ll be able to see the lights as they’re turning on, but it won’t be too cold and dark yet.

The route:

The route begins at the Point, but you can reverse the route or customize it however you like. We’ll walk you through each step, and you can load the interactive map here.

Christmas Tree at Point State Park. Point State Park on a gray Pittsburgh day. | Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Stop 1: Point State Park

Look for: The tree at the confluence

Start at the tip of the Golden Triangle by checking out the large Christmas tree at the confluence of the three rivers. You can admire the tree from afar, or if you’re up for a few extra steps, walk around the park to see the tree with the skyline in the background like photographer Dave DiCello did.

As you walk back, head toward the intersection of Penn Avenue and Stanwix Street, pausing for a moment to peek through the windows of Gateway Center and admire the lobby decor.

The Unity Tree (a.k.a. the Horne’s Tree). | Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Stop 2: The Horne’s Building

Look for: The Unity Tree

Yes, it’s officially called the Unity Tree (and has been since 1996, and it’s not about political correctness). But Pittsburghers still tend to call it the Horne’s Building tree after the defunct department store (it’s part of our DNA, basically). This resplendent tree is among the most unique Pittsburgh decorations, as it wraps around the corner of the building.

From there, continue along Penn Avenue. Stop for a second to admire the Cultural District’s long stretch of light posts adorned with wreaths before turning right onto Sixth Street and heading into Market Square.

Dear Santa … | Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Stop 3: Fairmont Hotel lobby

Look for: A spot to send your letter to Santa

On the way to Market Square, pop by the Fairmont Hotel’s ultra-modern lobby to admire the glitzy white tree. The entire lobby is decked out with red, gold, and silver decor. There’s even a spot to write and mail a letter to Santa Claus.

If you’re hungry or looking for a drink, head upstairs to Floor 2. If you can, score a spot near the fireplace for extra coziness.

After that, it’s onward to Market Square.

Market Square in the heart of the city. | Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Stop 4: Market Square

Look for: A cozy holiday market and Santa’s house

Holiday cheer abounds in the heart of the city’s public square. Check out the tree made up of red-and-white LED lights, listen to some live music, shop the holiday market and even say hello to Santa. If you can only make one stop on this journey, this is the one.

Skating through the winter. | Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Stop 5: PPG Plaza

Look for: Iconic ice rink and a swoon-worthy tree

Next up: The glittering, glowing tree nestled among Pittsburgh’s glass castles. Lights, ornaments, and bows bedeck this 65-foot tree. Be sure to build in some extra time if you’re up for some ice skating. Even if you’re not interested in gliding around the ice, the 116′ x 116′ rink serves as the perfect photo opportunity.

Fun fact: Pittsburgh’s rink is 67 percent bigger than the one at Rockefeller Center in New York City. Take that, Big Apple.

The Ukranian version of Santa. | Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Stop 6: PPG Place, Buildings One and Two

Look for: Santa statues

Just steps away from the rink, stop by Two PPG Place to learn about Santas from around the world. Officially called the Spirits of Giving exhibit, this gallery features 16 life-size Santas and original paintings depicting holiday traditions from across the globe. Note: A handful of the Santas are located in One PPG Place (that’s the tall one right next to the skating rink), so don’t miss those ones, as well.

After all of that, it’s a good time to warm up with a drink nearby. Check out Miracle on Liberty or The Wine Bar at Market Street Grocery. Then head up Forth Avenue to our next stop.

City-County ready to celebrate. | Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Stop 7: City-County Building

Look for: A five-story tall blue spruce and gingerbread houses

A massive tree decorates the front steps of the City-County Building each year. This year’s specimen, a 50-foot blue spruce, hails from Springdale. And it had quite a journey to get to Pittsburgh.

The annual gingerbread display moved inside the City-County Building this year (for many years, the gingerbread houses were displayed at the PPG Place Wintergarden). Head inside to admire the creativity of handmade gingerbread houses, including several inspired by the sinkhole bus.

A gingerbread Omni inside the Omni. | Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Stop 8: Omni William Penn Hotel

Look for: A giant gingerbread house and jaw-dropping chandeliers

Continue along Grant Street to the next location — the century-old Omni William Penn Hotel. Look for a soaring tree, garlands, and a giant gingerbread house under the glow of three shimmering chandeliers. The gingerbread house is modeled after the century-old hotel with Hershey bar windows, peppermint cornices, and gumdrop garlands.

If you’re looking for a break to warm up, there’s a Starbucks and a restaurant in the lobby, plus a speakeasy in the basement. Also, the Commoner at Kimpton Hotel Monaco Pittsburgh is just next door.

An international gem. | Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Stop 9: US Steel Tower

Look for: The Pittsburgh Crèche

The last stop on our journey is an international stunner. This nativity scene is the world’s only authorized replica of the Nativity Crèche that stands outside Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, according to the Diocese of Pittsburgh. A tradition since 1999, find this massive scene next to US Steel Tower.

And to all a good night

Here we are — the end of the journey. If you parked near the Point, hop on the T at Steel Plaza and head to Gateway (for free) or rack up some more steps and a few more breaths of fresh wintry air on your walk back.

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