Nestled in the valley formed by the Winooski and North Branch rivers, Montpelier, Vermont, is a small town (population less than 8,000) with an outsize appeal. Not only is it the Vermont state capital, but it’s also home to the state’s largest urban historic district, a lively arts scene, plenty of recreational opportunities, and a mix of independently owned businesses that helped make it the No. 1 best small town for shopping in a 2021 USA Today readers’ choice poll.
You could easily spend a week or more exploring this Green Mountain State hub of history, government, and culture. But if you have just a day or two, here are the five best things to do in Montpelier, Vermont.
Time-travel through more than 400 years of Vermont history at the award-winning exhibit “Freedom and Unity,” which re-creates everything from an Abenaki wigwam to the Green Mountain Boys’ Catamount Tavern, and marvel at the massive Salute to Vermont mural, a 50-foot painting originally installed in the Montpelier-based National Life Group headquarters in 1961 and moved here in 2017 for permanent preservation. The engaging museum is run by the Vermont Historical Society, founded in 1838, whose history center and library in nearby Barre offer a treasure trove for visiting researchers.
A $2 million restoration in 2018 gave fresh polish to this stately c. 1859 Greek Revival building, including a regilding of its iconic dome and the installation of a new statue of Ceres, goddess of agriculture, carved in Barre. The Victorian interior is equally magnificent, and you can explore it via self-guided tours that take in the oldest legislative chambers in the U.S. that are still in their original condition, as well as the Cedar Creek Room, with its Civil War mural and stained glass skylights, and the Hall of Inscriptions, featuring a bust of Abraham Lincoln by Larkin Goldsmith Mead that was a study for a larger statue at the Lincoln Tomb in Springfield, Illinois.
A visit to Vermont in late winter or early spring is prime time for maple sugaring, and Montpelier claims two of the best practitioners of this classic New England tradition. At Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks, you might be lucky enough to bump into seventh-generation maple sugar farmer Burr Morse on the job, but if not, look for his folksy memoirs in the gift shop. There are tours, a nature trail, a farm life museum, and a scattering of chainsaw sculptures by Burr himself. In East Montpelier you’ll find Bragg Farm Sugarhouse & Gift Shop, another family sugaring operation that goes back several generations, located just a stone’s throw from the historic Coburn Covered Bridge. Both Morse Farm and Bragg Farm are open year-round, and both serve up plenty of sweet mementoes of a trip to Montpelier.
Montpelier’s commercial side has retailed a distinctly local flavor, with nary a Starbucks or Walmart in sight. Among the many independently owned shops worth checking out is Artisans Hand, one of just five galleries to have earned the designation of Vermont State Craft Center Gallery, and which showcases the wares from more than 140 local artists and craftspeople. Bear Pond Books has been an indie institution since 1973, as has music shop Buch Spieler Records; Capitol Stationers, meanwhile, has been going strong since 1950. Don’t miss the four-legged ambassadors at the Quirky Pet, where resident Bergamasco sheepdogs add extra charm to this homegrown pet-supplies store.
From biking along the Winooski to tacking the trails at nearby Hunger Mountain, Montpelier offers some great reasons to get outside. But one of our favorite excursions lies within easy reach, just behind the State House: Hubbard Park, a forested swath of 185 acres (with an 80-acre expansion now being eyed as well). There are a number of trails, including a stroll up to the 54-foot tower whose first stones were laid more than a century ago, in 1915, and from which you can soak up terrific views of Montpelier and the surrounding landscape.
Have your own list of the very best things to do in Montpelier, Vermont? Leave your picks in the comments below!