National Geographic’s Must-See Places for 2012

Imagine my immense surprise to discover that National Geographic Traveler had named Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania one of the must-see places for 2012. This wasn’t a list of 100. This was a list of 20 places worldwide and only two from the United States (the other was Sonoma, California, which from all I’ve heard about it is quite a lovely area). Outside of the United States, I’ve found that many people aren’t familiar with Pennsylvania let alone Pittsburgh, so perhaps this is the best tourism publicity the city could have ever received.

I first came out to Pittsburgh in 2003 for college and minus periods of time I’ve lived abroad, I’ve been here ever since. I have my qualms with Pittsburgh, mainly that it’s not Philadelphia, residents call soda “pop,” its Spanish speaking population is only slowly starting to grow, and I feel its focus as a city is entirely too much on sports. So activities like the performing and visual arts receive nowhere near to the same degree of attention as the Steelers football team or the Penguins hockey team.

The magazine called Pittsburgh “an extreme metropolitan makeover.” Although I never lived here during its steel production heyday, subtle reminders of its industrialized past still exist. In downtown Pittsburgh, some of the older buildings from the early 20th century are still covered with dark, sooty spots. Homestead, a borough in Allegheny County seven miles southeast of the city’s downtown, was once home to multiple industrial plants and the site of  one of the most infamous strikes in United States labor history (the Homestead Strike of 1892). Today its industrial past is only visible through a series of smokestacks. The former steel mill was torn down to make way for an immense shopping complex (a favorite of mine to visit while a college student). Where thousands of immigrants once lived, worked, and died in often horrific conditions, today people shop, watch a movie, and lead carefree lives. But that is how Pittsburgh has had to reinvent itself in order to survive in the 21st century. Remember its industrial past but transformed to a more promising future.


The magazine goes on to note one of the city’s major assets, “a natural setting that rivals Lisbon, Portugal and San Francisco.” I’ve not been to either city but am anxious to visit both one day and compare. Pittsburgh is home to three rivers (also the name of its former sports stadium) and where they all meet is quite a beautiful scene. It’s not my first choice for living, but it’s not an entirely bad choice either.

Here is the complete list of National Geographic Traveler’s Best of the World: Must-See Places for 2012 (and ironically enough it features a couple of spots I hope to visit next year):

  • Virunga Volcanoes (Africa)
  • Istria, Croatia
  • Muskoka, Ontario
  • Oman
  • Iceland
  • London
  • Peru
  • Guatemala
  • Sonoma, California
  • Sri Lanka
  • Greece
  • Belfast, Ireland
  • New Zealand
  • Panama
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Costa Brava, Spain
  • Dresden, Germany
  • North Colombia
  • Koh Lipe, Thailand
  • Mongolia

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  • Reply
    November 8, 2011 at 2:39 am

    How exciting for Pittsburgh! J & I (and my parents) are very excited to be visiting San Francisco next year. I am looking into a day trip bus tour of Sonoma for J & I.

    Living in Pgh my whole life, and spending many years driving through South Side when it was full of remnants of abandoned steel mills, it’s amazing to live in the same neighborhood now.

    This is where my grandparents grew up, and I would love to have seen South Side from their eyes. And a side note–Mario’s restaurant, which is in the building that once housed my family’s business and my family, was the first place that took the gamble on a run-down neighborhood. Bob really saved this neighborhood, and I hope people come to visit!

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    November 8, 2011 at 3:29 am

    I love driving through areas of the city that are so historic, trying to imagine what life was life in times past. Have you ever read “Out of this Furnace” by Thomas Bell? It’s a great historic read on Pittsburgh’s past, based on the author’s ancestors here.

    Sonoma sounds terrific! I hope you’ll be able to swing it.

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