Discover Burlington Vermont, through the eyes of a seasoned home exchanger
Burlington, Vermont is tucked away in the State’s northwest corner, a mere 45 miles from the Canadian border along the shores of Lake Champlain. While you could easily make a one full-day out of visiting Burlington, I recommend spending several days to appreciate all it has to offer.
While I have been to Burlington many times, I never tire of its laid back, down-to-earth energy. With a population of 42,000, it is big enough to feel like a city but small enough to get around easily. It is home to the University of Vermont and its 16,000 students, giving Burlington that college town feel. Burlington has the honor of making many “lists” in various publications: “Top 10 Best Cities for Families”, “Best Small Cities in the U.S.”, “America’s Best Adventure Towns”, “The Most Hippie Towns in America”, and “The 10 Best Places to Live Now.” It doesn’t take long to see why.
Whether you visit Burlington for a day or a week, I recommend heading down to Waterfront Park to get your bearings and find the Information Center where you can get maps and find out about special events. Also at this location, are the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain (a lake aquarium and science center) and the docks for the Spirit of Ethan Allen cruise ship.
Where to eat
If you’re hungry, there are The Skinny Pancake (fantastic creperie) and The Burlington Bay Market and Café – home to THE famous Maple Creemee (Vermont’s own name for soft serve ice cream.) I recommend experiencing your creemee at the end of the day and catching the sunset from their balcony. If it’s nice weather, get there early as the line is sure to be long. If you listen carefully, you might hear some French Canadian being spoken. People come from all over for the creemees. And I will add, it is the best “creemee” I’ve ever had.
Church St., and the city for that matter, are loaded with outstanding restaurants. Many are connected to local farms which provides that eat good/feel good experience. I’ve enjoyed the Pascolo and The Farmhouse Tap and Grill. I keep trying to go to the Penny Cluse Café but the line is always too long. Handy’s Lunch is the oldest restaurant in Burlington where you can step back in time with its post-war lunch counter. I haven’t been able to get in there either. Not only does the line to get in speak for its quality, but also it has a 5-star rating to back it up. Just slightly north of the historic district is a relatively new restaurant that also has a 5-star rating called The Drifter’s Café and Bar. I am looking forward to going there on my next visit.
If you happen to be in Burlington on a Saturday, do not miss the Farmers’ Market. Burlington is considered the Locavore Capital of New England which is reflected in its superior market. Burlington had a farmers’ market long before it was “a thing”, beginning in 1980. Located just off Church St. in beautiful City Hall Park, you’ll find over 90 vendors. There’s not just lettuce here; you’ll find pasture-raised pork, fresh bread, all-things maple syrup, and everything in between.
If you are a more serious foodie, you can try the Burlington Edible History Tour. It’s a 3-hour tour that combines Burlington’s eateries, history, and food traditions; it’s definitely on my to-do list.
In addition to the food scene, Burlington is home to many craft beer breweries. While Vermont is mostly known for its maple syrup, the state actually holds the record for the most craft breweries per capita in America, and the City itself boasts over 10 breweries. And that’s a proud statistic. Combine a brewery and little nightlife, and you have finished the day in true Burlington style.
What to do
Lake Champlain adds a special dimension to Burlington. The lake is big and beautiful; it is 125 miles long and the eighth largest lake in the United States. It flows northward, with its northern tip dipping into Quebec and eventually emptying into the St. Lawrence River. The lake was discovered in 1609 by, you guessed it, a Frenchman name Samuel de Champlain. The City has developed a 12-mile bike path that mostly hugs the shore. My favorite aspect about the lake is that Burlington is located on the eastern shore where you can enjoy a sunset all year long. Battery Park, just up from Waterfront Park, offers a higher location to view the lake and take in the sunsets.
If biking is your thing, I recommended making it to the northern part of the path that takes you out to the Colchester Causeway Park. There’s a reason why this gets a 5-star rating: it is spectacular. Allow plenty of time so you can soak up the experience. And watch out for the 3-leaves poison ivy along the side! Bike rentals are close to the Waterfront Park; try Local Motion or North Star Sports.
From the lake, the city rises uphill. The famous Church Street is five blocks up from the waterfront in the heart of the historic district. Church St. is a 4-block pedestrian mall with over 85 storefronts, anchored at the north end by the classic colonial 1816 Unitarian Church of Burlington, the oldest remaining place of worship in the city. Church St. is THE happening place with cafés, street entertainers, and sidewalk games you can have-a-go with.
There is something for everyone on Church Street, but my favorite store is the Outdoor Gear Exchange. Since Burlington is the city for outdoor lovers, it makes sense there is a first-rate store for adventuresome types. The best part is they sell good used equipment in the basement. I always head for the massive shoe selection, but they also have kayaks, bikes, packs – you name it – in the “previously owned” section.
Not far from Burlington are great places for half or full day visits. Going south along the lake is the Shelburne Museum, a local must-do; a 45-acre museum with over 30 buildings with fine art, decorative arts, history, and gardens. You could spend a couple days at this unique and beautiful location.
Stowe is a 45-minute drive from Burlington and home to Vermont’s winter wonderland ski resort, as well as the Sound of Music’s von Trapp Family. Yes, they really did escape Austria and settle in the heart of the Green Mountains. On the way to Stowe, I recommend a stop at the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory – yum. There are also Cabot’s Cheese, antique shops, and farms scattered before you get to the village of Stowe itself. Stowe is also a great place with many hiking options from gentle to challenging.
And to complete the hip outdoor ethos of Vermont, festivals of all kinds have become a regular occurrence. From art to music to hot air balloons, there will be something going on in or near Burlington.
Burlington is big enough so that public transport is available from New York, Boston, and Montreal. I recommend experiencing Burlington in the summer and autumn, especially for first-time visits. On the other hand, I’ve managed to enjoy Burlington when the weather was cold and rainy. There’s just a certain charm that makes any visit pleasurable. Plus, they serve maple “creemees” all year long, so how can you go wrong?
Looking to visit Burlington, Vermont?