conson_energySome of the best travel experiences involve unexpected, behind-the-scenes’ destinations. And there’s one waiting for you in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh. Paul McCartney christened it. Lady Gaga rocked it. And Mario Lemieux practically lives there.  And who could blame him? The CONSOL Energy Center, new home to the Pittsburgh Penguins, is more than the first NHL LEED gold-certified state-of-the-art arena, it’s a work of art.Literally filled with millions of dollars of it (including original Andy Warhol silkscreens), packed with history (from jerseys to bricks of Duquesne Gardens–Pittsburgh hockey’s first home), and brimming with interactive opportunities, this is a must-see landmark whether it’s bustling or empty. And it’s hardly an empty nest-only destination. The kid-friendly facility boasts the Highmark Kid’s Zone, a wonderful child-centered educational and entertainment experience, while also saluting high school and college hockey accomplishments via the Highmark Wall of Champions.

Off-hour tours are scheduled monthly (tickets are $10) and allow you to see endless details and symbolism you’d never notice during packed concerts, games, and nacho runs. Roomy seats. Gorgeous suites. Lots to eat (There’s one concession site per every 158 visitors! P.S. They’re not open during the tour but you’ll be impressed.). The Mario Mosaic, constructed from 21,000 photos of fans and Lemieux Foundation supporters, is lowered for close-up viewing and computerized identification of individual photos. High above the seats, tucked in between the black beams, you can spot a small yellow one signed by the 2008-2009 Stanley Cup winners. Fan Warning: The Penguin locker room is off limits. Still, visiting this beautiful new arena will leave you feeling like you need a season pass.

Tip: Schedules vary. Check out tour details.

Photo credit: David Aschkenas