Operating strictly on a shoestring budget? You’ve come to exactly the right city. Budget living is practically a religion in some quarters of Pittsburgh, where a night on the town can be accomplished for as little as $20, and a day exploring the urban jungle can be had for almost nothing at all.
For budget sightseeing, Oakland is more or less your best bet. Take a free, self-guided tour of the Nationality Rooms (412/624-6000, www.pitt.edu/~natrooms ), located inside Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning (Corner of 5th Ave. and Bigelow Blvd., 412/624-4141, www.pitt.edu ), and then explore Schenley Park (Schenley Park Visitors Center, Panther Hollow Rd., 412/687-1800, www.pittsburghparks.org ).
Other freebie sights abound, from the ruins of the historic Forbes Field on the University of Pittsburgh campus to the University Art Gallery (http://vrcoll.fa.pitt.edu/uag ) in the Student Union. Off-campus, the lovely and peaceful Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve (614 Dorseyville Rd., Fox Chapel, 412/963-6100, www.aswp.org/beechwood.html ) is perfect for hiking or birdwatching; the August Wilson Center for African American Culture (425 6th Ave., Ste. 1750, 412/258-2700, www.africanaculture.org ) offers a wide-ranging schedule of educational and performance programs throughout the city; and the Rodef Shalom Biblical Botanical Garden (4905 5th Ave., 412/621-6566, www.biblicalgardenpittsburgh.org ) has a large collection of plants meant to recreate the experience of a stroll through the Holy Land.
Looking for a cheap city tour? Try the 54-C, a public bus that passes through Oakland on its way to the South Side, Bloomfield, the Strip District, and the North Side; it’s a bargain at $1.75. Strolling the various paths of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail (www.friendsoftheriverfront.org ) on foot is another fun and cheap way to see often unseen parts of Pittsburgh; many visitors enjoy walking the 2.6-mile-long Eliza Furnace Trail (Schenley Park, www.friendsoftheriverfront.org ). Also known as the Jail Trail, it begins Downtown at the PNC Center alongside the Monongahela River and has a convenient exit point in Oakland, just steps from the commercial strip of North Craig Street.
For cheap eating, think Indian buffets and half-price deals. People’s Indian Restaurant in Garfield offers a $6.95 all-you-can-eat lunch spread daily (closed Sundays). It’s the same deal at Highland Park’s Taj Majal (7795 Mcknight Road, 412/364-1760, www.tajmahalinc.com ). Eat enough and you won’t be hungry again until, say, 11 p.m., which coincidentally is when the half-price feeding frenzy starts at Mad Mex (370 Atwood St., 412/681-5656, www.madmex.com ), Fuel and Fuddle (212 Oakland Ave., 412/682-3473, www.fuelandfuddle.com ), and India Garden (328 Atwood St., 412/682-3000, www.indiagarden.net ), all located in Oakland.
The Sharp Edge Beer Emporium (302 South St. Clair Street, http://sharpedgebeer.com ) in Friendship/East Liberty serves half-off American-style pub grub 10 p.m.–midnight, Monday–Friday. Other cheap eats can be had in and around Oakland; some restaurants offer discounts to students with ID.
For über-cheap vegan dining, Sree’s Indian Food (701 Smithfield St., 412/288-9992, www.srees.com ) simply can’t be beat. For a mere $4, Sree’s offers a massive plate of authentic Indian food; non-vegetarians can choose to add meat for an extra dollar. The restaurant’s main locations are in Squirrel Hill and Downtown.
You know what they say about pizza: Even when it’s bad, it’s still good. Bloomfield’s Pizza Italia (4512 Liberty Ave., 412/621-8960), however, serves a surprisingly toothsome pie for less than $7, tax included (large, cheese only). It’s takeout only, but trust me: It’s worth it.
Pittsburgh simply abounds with cheap nightlife options and great dive bars; some of the most popular include Gooski’s (3117 Brereton St., 412/681-1658) on Polish Hill, the South Side’s Dee’s Café (1316 E. Carson St., 412/431-1314, www.deescafe.com ), and Jack’s Bar. On Thursdays, the budget beer crowd heads to the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern (4412 Liberty Ave., 412/682-8611) in Bloomfield for Dollar Night, when a wide selection of obscure imports and microbrews go for just a buck.
Some South Side taverns even offer live music for nothing more than the cost of a cheap pint. At The Smiling Moose (1306 E. Carson St., 412/431-4668, www.smiling-moose.com ), vicious punk and metal bands whip the small pub into a frenzy every weekend (and occasionally on weekdays). Down the street at Piper’s Pub (1828 E. Carson St., 412/381-3977, www.piperspub.com ), traditional Irish duos or trios can be found tucked into the bar’s front corner most weekends.
If you’d prefer to mix with the college crowd, head to Peter’s Pub (116 Oakland Ave., 412/681-7465) in Oakland, where a deejay, a dance floor—and, if you’re lucky, a swarm of comely youngsters—can be found upstairs. There’s no cover charge.
For decent but cheap shopping of all sorts, try not to miss the Red White & Blue Thrift Store (935 Ohio River Blvd., 412/766-6098), where you’ll find one of the best collections of clothing and flatware in the ’Burgh.
For shoestring-budget souvenir shopping, make the scene on Penn Avenue  in the Strip District, where everything from fake Steelers T-shirts to Peruvian finger puppets are on offer. Try to go on a Saturday morning, when the sidewalks are jam-packed with vendors.
You’ll want to jumpstart your exploration of the arts with a bit of research. Pick up a copy of Pittsburgh City Paper (www.pghcitypaper.com ), a free alternative weekly with a useful events listing section. Next, look up a few of the better-known events websites: This Is Happening (www.thisishappening.com ) lists free and low-cost cultural and political goings-on, while the more mainstream Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Events Calendar (www.post-gazette.com/events ) is fairly all-encompassing. No computer? Stop by any branch of the Carnegie Library (www.clpgh.org ) for high-speed access; a driver’s license or passport is required to apply for a temporary membership.
During the summer season, free movies are screened outdoors in seven different parks, including Schenley Park in Oakland (Sundays and Wednesdays at dusk), Arsenal Park in Lawrenceville (Fridays at dusk), and Grandview Park in Mount Washington (Saturdays at dusk). For movie listings and times, call 412/937-3039 or visit www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us .
The most obvious free recreation activity in Pittsburgh—and probably the most popular—would have to be walking, jogging, or just generally goofing around in one of the many city parks. Yet slightly more arresting activities can be experienced for just a small amount of cash.
Kayak Pittsburgh (412/969-9090, www.kayakpittsburgh.org ), for instance, offers a fantastic way to experience the city from a duck’s-eye view, assuming you’re willing to part with $15 or so. Canoes, kayaks, and even hydrobikes can be rented by the hour. Grab a Venture Outdoors newsletter while you’re there; the organization sponsors all manner of unusual outdoor activities and classes throughout the year.
To tour Pittsburgh via bicycle, visit Friends of the Riverfront (33 Terminal Way, off E. Carson St., 412/488-0212, www.friendsoftheriverfront.org ). There, you can sign up for the free Dasani Blue Bikes program; trail riders can pedal the company’s bicycles gratis along the paths lining the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers.