Bethlehem (Pennsylvania)

Main Street, Bethlehem

Bethlehem is a city in Pennsylvania, located along the Lehigh River 50 miles north of Philadelphia and 70 miles west of New York City. It is part of the Lehigh Valley metropolitan area, along with Allentown and Easton.

Understand

The town was originally settled by a small group of Moravians (a persecuted Protestant religious group from modern-day Germany and Czech Republic) led by Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf in 1741. As the story goes, Bethlehem was founded on Christmas Eve, and the town was named for Jesus' birthplace, Bethlehem, Israel, because it was mentioned in the Christmas carols that were sung by the Moravians.

During the Industrial Revolution it became home to one of the largest steel companies in the world, Bethlehem Steel, and its main manufacturing plant. By the early 1980s, local coal and steelmakers were struggling as prices were undercut by imports; in 1982, Billy Joel sang "Out in Bethlehem they're killing time, Filling out forms, Standing in line" in a popular tune named for nearby Allentown. Alas, the company folded in 2001, closing the steel plant and setting off a temporary local downturn.

Today, the city has a population of about 73,000, and is a thriving with a beautiful historic district, many cultural events, two colleges within center city, and a large casino/entertainment complex.

The official Visitor's Center is in the Historic District at 505 Main St., offering general information along with walking tours, literature, and the general gamut of tourist office services.

Get in

By plane

Lehigh Valley International Airport (IATA: ABE) serves the greater Lehigh Valley metropolitan area and is located about 10 to 15 minutes north of downtown Bethlehem by car. It is served by several legacy carriers, including Delta Connection, United Express, and American Airlines. Each offers several daily flights to their Eastern U.S. hubs. Air Canada Jazz offers flights to Toronto, and the airport usually has at least one low-cost airline with service to Orlando-Sanford. At present, there are two; Allegiant Air and Direct Air. The airline(s) flying this route tends to change fairly often; when one budget startup goes out of business, the airport tends to replace it with another one within a few months.

The airport is on the outskirts north of the town. Take Airport Road south and get on Route 22 east; get off at the next exit for Schoenersville Road. Make a left at the end of the ramp, and follow the road until it becomes Elizabeth Avenue, at which point you are now in Bethlehem. To get to the south side, take the Route 378 exit instead of Schoenersville. When the expressway ends, make a left at the light onto S. 4th St; you are now in the south side neighborhood.

Other airports in the general vicinity are Philadelphia International Airport (IATA: PHL) and Newark International Airport (IATA: EWR). As these are hubs for major airlines, and generally speaking much larger airports, flying into Philly or New York can save you a bundle. Expect a 90-minute drive from Philadelphia and about 2 hours from Newark, depending on traffic.

By car

Bethlehem is easily accessible by car from virtually any direction.

By bus

Several companies offer daily coach service to Bethlehem. Buses depart from the Park & Ride at I-78 and Route 412 in south Bethlehem, which can be reached by local mass transit.

Get around

There are several ways to get around Bethlehem, depending on where you are and where you're intending to go. If you're sticking to the downtown areas, you can easily cover it on foot. It's important to realize that there are two downtown areas. "Downtown" usually refers to the historic district on the northern side of the River, centered along Main Street. However, it can also refer to the area on the south side along 3rd/4th St. on the other side of the Lehigh River, usually referred to as "South Side". Both can be covered on foot, but to go between them probably requires a car/bus. You can walk it, but it is a little more than a mile walk, most of it over the Hill-to-Hill bridge. Your best bet for parking downtown is the North Street garage, a short walk from the historic district (downtown). If your travel involves going to other residential neighborhoods or neighboring towns, it's probably best to go by car, bus, or taxi.

By car

Driving is relatively easy in the Allentown/Bethlehem area, when compared to Philadelphia or New York City roads. The highways and expressways can be very congested at rush hour, and local drivers on US 22, I-78, PA 33, PA 309 and PA 378 can be reckless and exceed the speed limit at times. Local streets can be clogged at rush hour, mostly on the South Side. Some roads are not for an unexperienced driver. Rental car companies can be found at the Lehigh Valley International Airport.

Parking

Bethlehem has many lots and a few public garages to park in. The North Street and Walnut Street garages are located in Center City, and the Riverport garage is on the South Side. The rate is $1 per hour, or $6 maximum rate (all day). For details, including directions and a complete list of parking lots and garages, the Bethlehem Parking Authority's website is listed here. In addition to garages and lots, metered parking is available throughout the city. The rate is $0.50 per hour from 8AM-9PM.

By bus

By taxi

Several taxicab companies are in the Lehigh Valley. Taxis do not often drive around the streets, like in New York City. In the Lehigh Valley, you will often need to call ahead and arrange for the taxicab to pick you up.

On foot

The best way to see Bethlehem's Historic District is on foot. Just about all its notable landmarks are on Main St., or close to it. When referring to places along Main, "the top" of Main is at the intersection of Main and Broad, which is on top of a hill; "the bottom" is at the Brethren's House, and all points past there. If you want to walk to the South Side (not recommended; save your feet by forking over the two bucks for the bus), go over the bridge at the bottom of Main next to the Hotel Bethlehem. Make a left when you reach another bridge, the Hill-to-Hill Bridge. When you get to the end of the bridge, turn left on 3rd or 4th St. to reach the South Side. There are also several pathways which lead to the Monocacy Creek from Main St.

See

Tours

Do

If you were to give a typical building in each of Bethlehem's two main destinations, the Historic district would be "18th-century industrial museum" and the South Side would be "college bar" (or as of late, "casino"). If you don't fit either of those (and especially if you have kids) you'll still find stuff to do; you'll just need a car and maybe a GPS to get there. Most of the city's parks, recreational facilities, sports teams, etc. are on the outskirts of the city, and the bus system leaves a lot to be desired here.

Events

Buy

Shopping (at least the outdoor, non-chain store variety) in Bethlehem centers on two streets; Main Street in the Historic District and 3rd Street on the South Side. Expect a fair share of mom-and-pop stores and art galleries. If you're just looking for a mall, Bethlehem has two, the Promenade Shops and the Westgate Mall. The former is new and somewhat ritzy; the latter is dead most of the time.

Eat

Downtown is where most of Bethlehem's most popular restaurants are located, but for the best bargains, you'll have to venture into the residential neighborhoods of the town. Generally speaking, the closer to the Historic District, the more expensive the restaurant, although you will find a few quirky cafes on Main St. Bethlehem's most popular upscale restaurants can be found on W. Broad St., known as "Restaurant Row."

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

If you're new to Pennsylvania, you will learn that there is always a place to drink, no matter where you are. There are many more bars than those listed here. With thousands of college students attending Lehigh University, Moravian College, and Northampton Community College, Bethlehem has its fair share of bars. Most are located on the South Side (close to the school) on 3rd and 4th Sts. You can find places to have a drink downtown too, but these cater more towards a more touristy, older crowd. The Historic District, particularly Main St., is well-preserved and clean, and the city government prefers to keep it that way; head to the South Side for a more uptempo scene, and stick to downtown for a more relaxed atmosphere.

Sleep

A number of hotels are located on Airport Road near LVIA and the immediate areas surrounding it. Most hotels are located on the outskirts of town along Route 22. If you're going downtown figure about a 10-15 minute drive, cab, or bus ride. For those who would prefer to stay downtown, the Comfort Suites on the SouthSide of downtown Bethlehem and the Hotel Bethlehem on the North side are your two options; the locations are great and are some of the best places to stay in the entire city.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

Bethlehem by most accounts is relatively safe for a city of its size. Most visitors to the downtown areas or the Sands Casino won't encounter any sort of crime or danger. Some areas of the Southside off of 3rd St. can be sketchy at night, and Lehigh students have a notorious reputation for drinking, so be wary of visiting at night if you'd rather not deal with inebriated college kids. The same type of drunken misconduct can also break out late at night during Musikfest as patrons make more trips to the beer tent, and it occasionally results in scuffles on and around Main St. (which gets extremely crowded around at closing). If you use common sense and don't stray from the main attractions you should have no problems, and Bethlehem is far safer than neighboring Allentown or Easton.

Connect

Go next

Bethlehem's central location in the Lehigh Valley make it a good starting point for exploring the region and visiting other cities in the US Northeast.

Routes through Bethlehem

Allentown Hellertown  W  E  Easton New York City


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, January 31, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.