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 gaslit 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, Sat.-Sun. 11am-4pm, $10) 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,” according to a plaque on the wall It now hosts a full bar and microdistillery alongside a rotating menu of gourmet cuisine.
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 National Museum of Industrial History is housed inside the mill’s electrical building and features two of its cranes. The bulk of the complex has been converted into the massive Sands Casino Resort (877/726-3777, $139 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, $169 and up).
The seat of Lehigh County, Allentown (pop. 118,032) spreads west of Bethlehem, across a bend in the Lehigh River. The downtown area has two worthwhile stops, the bigger and better of which is the Allentown Art Museum (31 N. 5th St., 610/432-4333, Wed.-Sun., $12 adults). After a recent expansion, you’ll find a good collection of paintings and photography as well as an entire library moved from the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Little House. Allentown’s other main attraction lies two blocks west at Church and Hamilton Streets: the Liberty Bell Museum (610/435-4232, Mon.-Sat. noon-4pm Feb.-Dec., $2), an old church that houses a replica of the famous bell that was hidden here for safekeeping during the Revolutionary War battles at Philadelphia.
Allentown boasts some great places to eat, thanks to the multiple branches of Yocco’s “The Hot Dog King” (3300 Lehigh St., 610/351-4222; 1930 Catasauqua Rd., 610/264-1884; 2128 Hamilton St.; 610/821-8488). These local landmarks have been serving up chili dogs (and a few burgers) bathed in a top-secret chili sauce since 1922. Allentown also has one of the country’s oldest, largest collections of roller coasters and a fine old carousel at Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom (610/395-3724, daily summer, around $50). There’s a water park too.