Each year, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania hosts a traditional German Christmas Market (Christkindlmarkt). Having enjoyed several of these festive markets in Europe, we decided to head out with the kids a couple of years ago to see what this local traditional market, billed as one of the top holiday markets in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine in 2007, had to offer.
The market had been held at the bottom of Main Street in historic downtown Bethlehem, adjacent to Monocacy Creek. However, in 2011, they are moving it to PNC Plaza at 645 E. First Street on the SteelStacks Campus.
In the past, you arrived to two large white tents separated by a courtyard housing over 100 vendors offering everything from hand-crafted ornaments to freshly baked goods. Shopping isn’t the only activity, although there is a special area just for kids. The market also offerd music, live entertainment, glass blowing, ice carving and of course, the opportunity to visit with Santa. Combine those activities with over a dozen food vendors and you have a great place for a mid-day outing.
The market is very popular with seniors and by the looks of things, families were outnumbered by about 50 to 1 during our visit. However, we were able to comfortably use our umbrella stroller and had little trouble getting around. In the courtyard there was a huge 26 foot Christmas tree that proved to be a great photo spot. The ice carver was hard at work on this blistery day – I’m sure there was no danger of it melting, so he was taking his time.
Unfortunately, there was no glass blowing demonstration, but Santa was in residence at the very back of the craft tent. This area was designated as the Kindermarkt, although other than Santa, there was only a small toy vendor that kept the kids occupied for about 5 minutes. This area also housed most of the food vendors, offering everything from Pizza to BBQ. Of course, you’ll also find some traditional German favorites – Bratwurst anyone? Don’t forget to top this off with some delicious apple strudel.
In the center of the craft tent was the entertainment stage and plenty of seating around large round tables. We had the privilege of listening to the Chime Choir from the Senior Adult Activity Center who provided some entertaining Christmas music for the onlookers as they enjoyed lunch. Three to five shows are offered daily by different groups. You can check the schedule in advance.
For convenience, there were restrooms (located off the courtyard) and two ATM machines in the event that you ran out of cash. We found, however, that most craft vendors accepted credit cards. Rounding out the conveniences was a small family rest area at the very front of the market, consisting of two rocking chairs and a small changing area shielded by a screen. We are unsure if the setup will remain the same at the new location, so stay tuned for any significant changes.
Admission to the market, if purchased in advance, is $7 for adults ($6 for ArtQuest members). Admission at the gate is $8. Children 12 and under are free. A season pass is also available for $13 in advance ($11 for ArtQuest members) or $15 at the gate. Major credit cards are accepted. The market runs Thursday through Sunday beginning November 17 and ending on December 18 (closed Thanksgiving). Hours are 11AM-8PM Thursday through Saturday and 11AM-6PM on Sunday. If you want to avoid the crowds, Thursday or Friday is best.
There is ample free parking across the steet from the market. It is a short walk to the market. Use this map as your navigational guide.
Overall, this is a good destination for a family outing. There are enough food and entertainment options to make it work. However, don’t expect to spend more than 2 hours there. You may find it challenging, especially on weekends, to get around the crowds and to find a space to sit and relax. No worries, there are some great spots nearby that will provide endless entertainment for the kids.
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