Do you take the time to explore your own backyard? Maybe you think you can visit your local sights “anytime,” but you never get around to it. Or maybe, like me, you aren’t even aware of the treasures nearby your home. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of discovering some gems in the historic town of Bethlehem, Pa.
Bethlehem is the home of Bethlehem Steel Corporation, a pioneer in steel manufacturing, that operated from 1904 to 1995. It was once America’s second-largest steel producer and largest shipbuilder. The steel produced there was used in the construction of some of America’s greatest landmarks — the Golden Gate Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, and the Chrysler Building in New York City.
And I found Bethlehem Steel by accident. I was searching for the Sands Casino in Bethlehem because I wanted to eat at the Carnegie Deli (without having to travel to New York City). When I drove up to the casino, I was surprised to see that it was built right in the middle of the old steel plant. I stopped in the visitor’s center and took a walking tour on a whim.
I toured the plant along the Hoover Mason Trestle, a walkway offering a close-up view into the American iron and steel industry. With platforms built at key vantage points that illustrate the magnitude of 100-ton fly wheels, huge ore cars and immense blast furnaces, the tour opened my eyes to the people and history of the Bethlehem area. According to the tour guide, the Sands Casino has committed to the maintenance of Bethlehem Steel so the structure can remain standing as a historical monument and educational opportunity. While the furnaces sit idle today, the site is being revitalized as an arts and entertainment district, with restaurants, music festivals, outlet shopping and more.
I discovered more in Bethlehem, too. On one side of the Lehigh River is Lehigh University, the Sands Casino Resort, Bethlehem Steel and the Steel Stacks entertainment area. On the other side of the river is the D & L Rail Trail – which offers stellar views of the river and Bethlehem Steel – and downtown Bethlehem with several shops and eateries. There are also several more walking tours and museums that I plan to check out in the near future.
Bethlehem is also known as “Christmas City.” Every December you can visit Christkindlmarkt, an arts and crafts market modeled after Europe’s open-air holiday marketplaces. Set under large heated tents, the marketplace offers the edible to the wearable and everything in between, including Christmas ornaments, Nutcrackers and artwork. And of course, St. Nick has been known to visit. Christkindlmarkt has become a favorite holiday tradition in Bethlehem and beyond. In 2006, Travel and Leisure magazine named it one of the top holiday markets in the entire world. I’m looking forward to checking that out this holiday season!
Where to stay in Bethlehem:
Where to eat in Bethlehem:
- The Steel Pub
- Carnegie Deli (yes, it’s just as good as the one in NYC!)
- Johnny’s Bagel & Deli
- Tapas on Main
- McCarthy’s Red Stag Pub and Whiskey Bar
For more info, visit Historic Bethlehem.