Drive time from NoVA: 4 hours
Forging its industrial past and Moravian heritage with modern sensibility, this former Pennsylvania steel town beams a warm welcome for the visitor who craves history with a side of shopping, crafty sips and inspired dining.
Where to Stay
The facade and marquee on the Historic Hotel Bethlehem have been an anchor on Main Street since its current iteration was constructed in 1922. Its 125 restored guest rooms and suites overlook the city and the Bethlehem star on South Mountain; Tap Room offers laid-back dining while the palladium windows and Moravian tile floor of 1741 on the terrace mirrors its elevated dining culinary experience. Sayre Mansion is a restored inn set on 2 acres of tree-adorned grounds. Nineteen classic mansion guest rooms are joined by three spacious Carriage House suites and common rooms; an included full breakfast features pastries, fruit, hot entrees, freshly squeezed juice and coffee.
Fuel up with a quinoa veggie and potato bowl, Billy Kristo sandwich or coconut- and beet-based red velvet pancakes at Billy’s Downtown Diner, considered one of the best breakfasts in the state. Take a guided tour of Hoover Mason Trestle on the reclaimed industrial site of Bethlehem Steel; once used as a railroad to transport coke, limestone and iron ore, the 46-foot-tall, 2,000-foot-long trestle has been converted into a museum, recreational center and historical attraction that takes you up close to the former blast furnaces.
Nosh on blue crab croquetas and calamares fritos at Tapas on Main with one of nine sangrias, like pineapple mint or blood orange berry, before meandering through Main Street’s cute shops. Founded in 1745, Moravian Book Shop is the oldest bookstore in America and the oldest continuously operated bookstore in the world and stocks Bethlehem-themed gifts like the iconic 26-point Moravian stars hanging all over town. Donegal Square sells authentic hand-knit sweaters, kilts and jewelry and helps connect visitors to their Celtic roots.
Housed in the former Gosztonyi Savings and Trust building, which helped Eastern European steelworkers in the early 20th century settle in Bethlehem, Social Still is Lehigh Valley’s first distillery since Prohibition. Follow up a tour with a flight of its ultra-premium vodka, gin, rye or rum, or cocktails like a Manhattan riff stirred with coffee-infused bourbon. Stay for the barbecue pork buns and Jail Island salmon paired with wines from sister property Franklin Hill Vineyards, the area’s oldest winery.
Rakkii Ramen downtown is overseen by chef Marco Lu, who studied the art of ramen making in Yokohama, Japan before returning to open noodle shops; on the menu are several varieties of ramen and udon, as well as gyoza, sweet and spicy chicken wings and black sesame panna cotta.
Start the day at the bustling The People’s Kitchen, where regulars flock for breakfast mac and cheese and croissant French toast. Head to the neighboring town of Nazareth for a visit at Martin Guitar, which pioneered the dreadnaught style that’s become the standard for acoustic guitars. During the hour-long factory tour, see how the company’s instruments—preferred by musicians from Elvis to Kurt Cobain—are handcrafted; afterwards, strum limited-edition models in the Pickin’ Parlor and purchase apparel and souvenirs in the 1833 Shop.
Fegley’s Brew Works pays homage to the city’s industrial history and blue-collar culture through brews like Steelgaarden Wit, Steelworker’s Stout and Blueberry Belch; lunch on grain-fed burgers, brisket poutine, flatbreads and other brewpub fare. (The Steelgaarden Lounge downstairs offers a more speakeasy-esque vibe.) Nearby, the Banana Factory Arts Center is situated in a former banana distribution warehouse; today the space is home to ArtsQuest’s vibrant artistic programs. Visit resident artists in their studios, see revolving exhibitions and participate in activities, demos and lectures.
Located in the city’s SouthSide Arts District, ZEST bar+grille touts New American cuisine and seasonal dining al fresco in the shadow of the city’s landmarks; start with roasted avocado with mango salsa and togarashi-dusted fried cauliflower, then sample Berkshire pork cheeks or cast iron strip loin with fennel and chard. After dinner, catch a free or ticketed concert, comedy act or movie at SteelStacks, the former steel plant turned 10-acre entertainment venue hosting shows, festivals, events and celebrations throughout the year.
Save the Date
The 32nd Annual Celtic Classic (Sept. 27 to 29) promotes Celtic heritage through musical presentations like pipe bands, Irish step dancing, food and drink and the Highland Games, where athletes compete in traditional sports like throwing the hammer and the caber toss.
Oktoberfest (Oct. 4 to 6 and Oct. 11 to 13) at SteelStacks is a free festival with brew samples, German food and beer, live music and schuhplattlers (folk dancing), artisans, a 5K and Beer-Lympics.
Later in the year, The Christmas City comes alive during Christkindlmarkt (weekends Nov. 22 to Dec. 22) with handmade goods by more than 150 artisans, live Christmas music, ice carving and glass blowing, handmade ornaments, nutcrackers, collectibles and breakfast with St. Nicholas.
The signature “Hotel B” breakfast at the Historic Hotel Bethlehem’s cozy Tap Room comes with a side of morning sun streaming in through its arched windows; built in 1794, the property also purportedly counts several ghosts as permanent residents that frequent the exercise area, lobby, restaurant and Room 932. Learn about the religious beliefs, daily life, missionary work and education of Bethlehem’s settlers on a tour at the Moravian Museum of Bethlehem, during which you’ll visit the 1741 Gemeinhaus log structure and Old Chapel.
After studying the art of ramen making in Yokohama, Japan, chef Marco Lu returned to Bethlehem to open noodle shop Rakkii Ramen (the name means “lucky.”). Tote your own brews or wine to drink alongside shoyu, tonkotsu, miso, spicy miso or vegetable ramen or tempura or sukiyaki udon. The National Museum of Industrial History, located on the largest private brownfield in America, is charged with preserving the country’s industrial heritage through permanent exhibits on machinery, iron and steel, silk and textiles, propane and energy.
Intimate, rustic and chic, The Bayou Southern Kitchen & Bar serves inspired New Orleans cuisine. Kick off dinner with a classic Sazerac or Whiskey Crush, then tear through Southern favorites like fried green tomatoes, collards, dirty rice, po’boys, ox tails with citrus relish and shrimp and grits. A pint of Intercooler Berliner Weisse, Stupid Kitty New England Bitter or Tarte Plumberry Tart sour at casual southside microbrewery Bonn Place Brewing is a perfect place to end the evening.