O Little Town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania Read Guide >
Bethlehem is a rapidly changing city and no matter where you choose to live, there are bound to be some big changes in your neighborhood in the years to come. Gentrification of the south side is causing home values and rental rates to go up, and in response, many low and middle-income renters are moving to other parts of the city. So, if you don’t quite love your neighborhood now, give it a couple of years and things may turn around.
Just north of Bethlehem’s city center is the most desirable part of town. The farther north you go will see home prices increasing and stretching even into the luxury category, if that’s what you’re after. If you’ve got kids in tow or just want some extra isolation from the city’s undeniable riff raff (how Louis XVI of you), In the northeast side, most homes are owner-occupied, making for a strong sense of community and the stability that comes with it, so scooping up a rental home is not always easy, but decidedly worth the hassle.
West Bethlehem lies in a separate county, Lehigh County, whereas the rest of the city is in Northampton County. Most of the neighborhood is very laid back with a couple of neighborhood parks and pubs, lots of shopping, a nearby golf course, and a thriving nightlife on the eastern edge, which shares a few blocks with the downtown area. It’s great for young professionals or those who want a mellow abode with proximity to an après-work pint.
Bethlehem has historic downtown districts on both the north and south sides of the river, known simply as North Side Downtown and South Side Downtown. For 10 days in August, this area is transformed into the insanity that is Musikfest, where hundreds of bands roll into town for some great, mostly free, music. A quaint urban atmosphere, north side downtown is a little more upscale. The streets are very ornate with Victorian-style streetlights, brick crosswalks, and flower bins throughout the area. Here, you will find brick buildings which house galleries, shops, restaurants, and bars at the street level, with high-priced lofts and condos above. There are also more affordable brick row houses and twins in the surrounding areas. Hipsters can check out the club on Broad St. known as 40 Below, as well as the nearby Pop Market. Low-key loungers must see the Friday night jazz at the Bethlehem Hotel.
The south side of Bethlehem’s downtown is where you will see the most diversity. Beautiful murals and a strange, but awesome, blue mule statue welcome pedestrians to the south side where the all types of groups live side by side in relative harmony. Renovated brick buildings and mills now house shops, restaurants, and art, art, art. The Banana Factory, an old banana warehouse converted into artist lofts, is here, and next door you can find live music at Musikfest Café. The South Bethlehem Greenway is a great path for cyclists and pedestrians, and can take you to the many and varied hot spots like the Sands Casino, Bethlehem Book Loft, Irish pubs, and ethnic eateries. Rentals come in all shapes, sizes, and colors here from eclectic single family homes, to brick row houses, townhomes, and twins, to resort-style luxury living in the lofts and condos surrounding the Sands Casino area. If Bethlehem has a sweet spot, this is it.
If you think the Latin spice is nice, then this is the neighborhood for you. It can get pretty gritty close to downtown, especially in the neighborhoods with streets named after Native American tribes, such as Seminole St., Mohican St., Cherokee St., and so on, but the cultural flair is second to none. Desirability goes up the farther south you go, with mostly quiet, affordable streets. Olé!
Whether you own a car, rely on public transportation, or plan on walking and bicycling around town, transportation is an important factor to consider, especially in Pennsylvania where Amish buggies trundling down the street are a not-infrequent sight. There is heavy (motor) traffic between the north and south sides of the Lehigh River which can be easily avoided by living and working on the same side of town. Public transportation is provided by LANTA, with bus routes that run Monday through Saturday, but finding an apartment, grocery store, and job that all line up on a convenient bus route will take a fair amount of luck and ingenuity. Cyclists and pedestrians should look to the downtown area, which has a number of trails that run on the north and south sides of the river.
North, east, south, or west, each of Bethlehem's enclaves has a unique character and taste for life and almost none of the Mideast conflict. It’s a vibrant, artsy town that may be small, but knows how to get down with all walks of life. To top it off, if you do get fed up with the city grind, you can always escape on a mountain snowboarding excursion. There really is something for everyone here, and all you have to do is pick your flavor. So start tasting!
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