Upstream from Easton along the Lehigh River and US-222, the remarkable small city of Bethlehem (pop. 74,982), famous for its Christmas festivals and as a fun place from which to mail Christmas cards, was originally established in 1741 by a group of Moravian missionaries. The missionaries’ chapel built from 1803 to 1806 still stands at the heart of the compact, gas-lighted downtown district, its cemetery full of 200-year-old headstones laid flat so as not to offend God.
The Moravian Museum (66 W. Church St., 610/691-6055, Fri.-Sun. 11am-4pm, $12) is housed inside the circa-1741 Gemeinhaus, the oldest building in Bethlehem. Besides showcasing historic artifacts, the museum also offers guided walking tours of the downtown area. Another engaging historic site is the Sun Inn (564 Main St.), a well-preserved former tavern “where the leading figures of the Revolutionary era were entertained,” says a plaque on the wall.
Every May, Bethlehem hosts a hugely popular Bach Festival (610/866-4382), rated as one of the best in country.
Across the Lehigh River from the tidy homes and shops of downtown Bethlehem, Lehigh University stands above the rusting remains of the Bethlehem Steel Company. Famous for fabricating engineering marvels such as the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge—cast here in sections, then shipped through the Panama Canal and assembled in San Francisco—the mill was in business for over a century before being closed down in 1995. The hulking structure, the massive blast furnace, and most of the cranes and other machinery and equipment are slated for eventual preservation as part of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Industrial History, while the bulk of the complex has been converted into the massive Sands Casino Resort (877/726-3777, $149 and up), where the huge old furnaces are lit up in brightly colored lights as an architectural feature.
Downtown, the bistro-style Apollo Grill (85 W. Broad St., 610/865-9600) is perhaps the nicest place in Bethlehem for a bite to eat. For a place to stay, try the large, centrally located Hotel Bethlehem (437 Main St., 610/625-5000 or 800/607-2384, $139 and up).