Bethlehem, Pennsylvania may be the best small city/large town you’ve never heard of. Full of both historic charm and a thriving arts and cultural district, Bethlehem also happens to claim the title of Christmas City USA—and with good reason. Every year in Mid-November the city transforms into a holiday oasis bursting with festive cheer and bonhomie—in addition to six weeks of holidays celebrations and events that would make even the Grinch crack a smile.
Where Is Bethlehem, PA?
While the original city of Bethlehem is on the other side of the world, PA’s Bethlehem is not so far away—and is extremely easy to get to. Conveniently located near the major cities of Philadelphia and New York (Philadelphia is less than an hour away, New York is less than two), it’s also part of the area’s Greater Lehigh Valley region that includes the cities of Easton and Allentown. It's also home to a convenient nearby airport (Lehigh Valley International Airport) that makes traveling to the city a snap.
Christmas City, USA
Bethlehem has a storied history that dates back to the mid-18th century, and, fittingly, was given its name on Christmas Eve in 1741. In the intervening centuries, it has embraced its historic heritage and traditions rooted in the Christmas holidays with an over-month-long celebration of holiday cheer that has since garnered it the title of Christmas City USA.
Oh! Little Town Of Bethlehem
While there are plenty of reasons to visit this historic city all year round, the holiday season is definitely when it shines its brightest. Follow the lighted Bethlehem star into this city by the Lehigh River that is lovely, welcoming, and filled with a charm all its own. While the city’s historic district is the heart of its holiday celebrations, the city’s equally historic SouthSide Arts District is home to its own unique events and attractions—including the famous Christkindlmarkt located at SteelStacks, the site of the former industrial giant Bethlehem Steel.
Bethlehem’s Top Holiday Events
- Christkindlmarkt is the annual holiday market held every year on the city’s South Side—recognized as one of the country’s best holiday markets, there are a plethora of vendors; delicious food options; and one-of-a-kind performances to get you into the holiday spirit. Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays beginning November 19, 2021 (Thursday hours available in December). Tickets start at $10 for adults, children under 5 are free
- See the Trees of Historic Bethlehem—over 25 decorated trees located across the city at five different historic sites—and an annual city tradition. This year the trees’ decor is inspired by classic holiday films. November 19th, 2021 through January 9th, 2022. Multi-site pass $25, One-Site Pass $12, Children $9
- Christmas in the Quarter is one of the best ways to experience the holidays in Bethlehem. With plenty of activities throughout the historic downtown area that includes walking tours, live music, and pop-up shopping spots, this is truly the gateway to Christmas City. December 11-12, 18-19, 2021 3-9 PM. Admission is free
- Check out the Live Advent Calendar, the only one of its kind in the country. Located on historic Main Street, the calendar can be seen from December 1-23, 2021 at 5:30 PM daily.
- Take a walk on the Holiday Putz Trail. ‘Putzes’ are traditional Moravian decorations used around the holidays, and this trail showcases them through mini replicas that depict scenes from the Nativity. Thursdays through Sundays 11 AM-6 PM, November 19, 2021, through January 9, 2022. Multi-Site Pass $25, One-Site Pass $12, Children $9
Take A Tour To Remember
- Head over to the SouthSide Arts District for the 5th Annual Naughty or Nice Cocktail and Cookie Crawl. Featuring ten sample-sized drinks and treats from local businesses throughout the South Side, there’s also plenty of live music, shopping, and, of course, holiday cheer! December 4, 11, and 18, 2021 1 PM-5 PM, Passport is $30 and includes ten cocktail samples, souvenir mini glass, and mini tote bag; and must be purchased and picked up in advance
- The Christmas City Stroll Tour is the perfect way to explore the city's National Historic District on foot. Led by knowledgeable guides, the tour is the perfect way to experience Christmas City’s history and scenic landmarks. Fridays through Sundays beginning November 19, 2021, and Thursdays through Sundays in December 2021; tours depart from Visitor Center @ 1 PM, 3 PM, 6 PM. Tickets $15.00 adults, $9 children
- The Holiday House Tour gives visitors a unique look into some of the area’s most historic homes. December 11, 2021, 10 AM-4 PM, Tickets $35 and benefit the Bethlehem Historic District Association
- Kick-off the season with the Wassail Party. Following the city’s Tree Lighting at Payrow Plaza (home of City Hall and the Bethlehem Public Library), the trail heads up historic Main Street to the Kemerer Museum. On this trail, visitors will learn all about Bethlehem’s storied past while enjoying the festive decorations and holiday spirit. November 19, 2021, 5:30 PM-7:30 PM. Admission is free
More Bethlehem Holiday Fun
- See Bethlehem in style on a Horse-Drawn Carriage Ride. Tickets are $75 per carriage, each carriage holds up to four adults and two children
- What’s better than a horse-drawn carriage? A Horse-Drawn Trolley, of course! Departing from Payrow Plaza, the trolley tours take visitors to some of Bethlehem’s most historic spots including Main Street, Church Street, and Market Street. December 11, 18, and 19, 2021. Tickets $25 per person
- Attend the Moravian University Vespers at the lovely and historic Central Moravian Church. A Christmas service all in music, the vespers are a historic Moravian tradition—the first service was held in 1756 and continues to this day. December 3-5, December 10-12, 2021 Friday and Saturday services begin at 8 PM, and Sunday services at 5 PM. Tickets must be reserved via a waiting list and are not guaranteed
- Shop local at the Moravian Book Shop and Donegal Square, and be sure to check out the pop-up outdoor Christmas Huts along historic Main Street for homemade gifts and treats
- See the city all lit up on the popular Bethlehem By Night Motorcoach Tour. Tickets $15 adults, $9 children
Bethlehem has been known as Christmas City USA for over 80 years, and with an over month-long celebration filled with events, tours, and holiday festivities, it’s easy to see why. The perfect holiday getaway filled with historic charm and Christmas spirit—Bethlehem is definitely worth a visit. So head to this amazing PA gem this holiday season to experience the warm and welcoming vibes of one of the best small cities/large towns on the map.