If you’ve ever been in downtown Pittsburgh during the day, you’ve probably seen the duckboats. They’re only boats part of the time, when they’re actually on the river. The rest of the time, they’re duck-shaped vehicles navigating the streets of our fair city, potholes and all.
Despite living here the majority of our lives, neither of us had ever been on a duckboat. I mean, why would we need to go? Surely we knew everything they could possibly tell us about our favorite city! But since we believe in bringing the full Pittsburgh experience to our devoted readers, we decided it was time to take a journey on one of the ducks.
Just Ducky Tours, Pittsburgh’s duckboat company, departs several times each day (rain or shine) out of Station Square. Tickets can go fast, so if you’re picking a weekend or a lovely day (we went on a Monday, but it was perfect weather and still quite crowded), it’s smart to make a reservation. This boat is called Nor’side Nelly, and she is a majestic, duck-like vehicle.
The only bad thing about a duckboat is that there’s very little legroom. So, if you’re freakishly tall like me, I suggest getting there early to snag a comfy seat, preferably one where you can stick your legs in the aisle.
Since you leave from Station Square, the first beautiful sight you see is the city from the Smithfield Street Bridge, across the Monongahela. This is the part of the tour where they ask where everybody’s from, and we were suprised to learn that we were two of the few native Pittsburghers on the boat. I was so excited for all the tourists to see our city on one of our rare sunny days!
Up at the front there are Kevin (in the yellow shirt) our tour guide, and Captain Andy (that’s the back of his head, in the blue shirt). Captain Andy definitely got my Yinzer-of-the-Day award. After hearing him point out landmarks and facts about our city, I feel like every tour should be given by true Pittsburghers with fabulous Yinzer accents! Kevin, don’t worry, you’re still young, and you’ll surely grow into your accent after a few more losing Pirates seasons. We have faith!
Just when I started to doubt I would hear anything new about Pittsburgh, we turned this corner onto Grant Street. Did you know that Pittsburgh used to have a Chinatown area? To the right of this photo, on Third Avenue, there’s a single building with the traditional Chinese design (like the buildings in Chinatown, San Francisco). It’s all that remains of the old Chinatown stretch. What’s there? The Chinatown Inn, an appropriately-named Chinese restaurant. Going to have to check this one out!
Next, the duckboat wound through the city, where we learned about Pittsburgh’s efforts to be environmentally friendly. The new PNC building downtown is a green building, which has to meet certain requirements in terms of energy use, sustainable resources, and also the addition of ‘green space.’ In PNC’s case, they made a small park in front of their building, which is a lovely place to sit on your lunch break if you work downtown!
We also found out that the Steel Building (my favorite Pittsburgh landmark) is made with liquid-fireproof columns. This means that the outside columns of the building are filled with enough water that they could hold off a fire for several hours on their own, before help from the fire department.
I was cracking up, because when we were stopped at red lights, office workers on their lunch breaks would stand on the sidewalks and yell things like, “Can you guys quack for us?” or just quack at us first, in the hopes that we would return the favor! In all of my years working downtown, never once did I quack at a duckboat!
Eventually, the duckboat made its way across the Clemente Bridge and onto the North Shore. This is the Ft. Duquesne Bridge, which is a pain to drive (inbound, outbound is not so bad), but quite lovely to look at from the ground.
It’s a little scary to be in the duckboat as it goes into the water. I’ve been on boats on our rivers before, but none of them were quite so close to the water! You could actually stick your hand down into the water from your seat (if you really wanted to, of course). We cruised down the Ohio a bit, then turned around and went back to shore. Here is the submarine at the Science Center.
There are quite a few other pretty shots from the river, but I will save those for another Achievement that we completed on the ducky tour: #17: See a River from 2 New Perspectives. This is the Mr. Rogers monument, in front of the old Manchester Bridge pier. You don’t get beautiful views like this anywhere but Pittsburgh <3
So, if you’ve got friends and family visiting for out of town, or even if you’re a native Pittsburgher looking for some different perspectives on our city, I highly recommend the Just Ducky tours! Pick a cool day, but not too cold, because the breeze on the river can be a bit much, and be sure to bring your camera! We had a really lovely time. Check back soon for more of our river photography!