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Bethlehem: Discover a City That Shines Brighter Than Most

At the base of Bethlehem Steel’s iconic blast furnaces – now shuttered for 20-plus years – there is a sculpture, a public artwork that so perfectly symbolizes the city of Bethlehem. “The Bridge,” an arching band of steel, reflects the city’s rich industrial history and the natural gas-fed blue flame is the light of revitalization, the promise of preservation, and the commitment to put Bethlehem on the map where culture meets commerce.

Fun Facts About Bethlehem

  • The Moravian Book Shop is the oldest continuously operating bookstore in the world, dating back to 1745.
  • The Bach Choir of Bethlehem is America’s oldest Bach choir, having performed in 1898 at Central Moravian Church on Main Street.
  • Bethlehem Steel Corporation was the second largest steel producer in the country and the largest ship builder. It manufactured steel for the George Washington Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, Empire State Building, Hoover Dam, and many other American landmarks.
  • The historic Moravian area is home to more original 18th Century structures than Colonial Williamsburg and was awarded the designation of being a National Historic Landmark District in 2012.
  • Just Born makes its famous marshmallow PEEPS® and Mike & Ike® candies in Bethlehem.

Founded by Moravians as a communal society in 1741 and named on Christmas Eve that year, Bethlehem, the self-named “Christmas City,” is situated between Allentown and Easton. By 1758, 35 industries were located in Bethlehem, along with the original businesses set up by the Moravians; this area is now known as the Colonial Industrial Quarter and features the original water works, tannery, and grain mill structures.

In addition to the city, the congregation of Central Moravian Church, in the heart of the historic district, marked its 275th anniversary in 2016. The congregation first worshiped in the Saal in 1742 on the second floor of the Gemeinhaus or community house, now part of the Moravian Museum. In 1751, the growing congregation moved to the Old Chapel, which served as a place of worship for 55 years. In April 1803, the cornerstone was laid for the new sanctuary – the largest church building in Pennsylvania when it was completed in 1806.

In 1899, with the organization of Bethlehem Steel Corp., the city became the center for heavy industry and trade. Since the decline of the manufacturing industry in the 1970s and 1980s, this Lehigh Valley city has been transformed into a hub of fashionable and exciting dining, shopping, and nightlife.

In the last decade, Bethlehem has experienced its own renaissance. The historic district, originally an area rich with the cultural traditions and religions of its many immigrants, is now home to the affectionately named “Restaurant Row” as well as art galleries and shops. The First Friday of every month shows off the best of the South Side district with music, entertainment and food at each of the eclectic shops and galleries.

Travelers flock to Bethlehem every December to enjoy the sparkling white lights in the windows of original Germanic stone Moravian structures, and lit evergreens adorn every major intersection. They shop along tree-lined streets for Moravian stars, beeswax candles, and other ornaments or soak up the sights and wonders at its Christkindlmarkt, a German-style holiday market.

Guided by the glow from the 81-foot-tall steel “Star of Bethlehem” radiating from atop South Mountain, visitors can immerse themselves in the rich musical traditions of the Moravians, view miniature crèches – known locally as putzes – found in churches and homes, and take home a Christmas memory from a city that knows how to do Christmas.

Bethlehem also offers year-round entertainment and diversions, from annual events such as Musikfest® (the largest non-gated, free outdoor music festival in the country), Bach Festival and Celtic Classic, to an ever-expanding menu of performing arts, film, family programs and festivals at SteelStacks™, a 10-acre community campus at the former Bethlehem Steel plant on the city’s South Side, and the neighboring Sands® Bethlehem Event Center.

Visitors can also test their luck at Sands® Bethlehem, the region's only casino. Moravian College, Lehigh Valley’s first coeducational institution of higher learning and the picturesque Lehigh University also calls the area home.