Church Street in Burlington, Vermont | Things to Do in Vermont
Photo Credit : Aimee Tucker
Burlington is a vibrant Vermont city located on the eastern shoreline of Lake Champlain, and — given its perfect combination of attractions, culture, and proximity to nature — it’s a popular Vermont vacation destination. Here’s a list of some of our favorite things to do in Burlington, Vermont, plus our picks for where to eat, shop, and stay in the area. Read on, then let us know your favorites!
Best of Burlington, Vermont | Yankee Editors’ Choice Awards
In 2017, RateBeer named Burlington’s fun-loving Waterfront Park brewhouse one of the world’s 10 best new breweries. Inside the cavernous brick space—a former door factory built in 1853—brewers Todd Haire and Bobby Grimm craft small-batch beers using Champlain Valley grains malted at Bristol’s Peterson Quality Malt. Steps from the brew kettle, drinkers sip resinous IPAs, delicate saisons, and barrel-aged sours flavored with summer fruits and herbs, while tapping their toes to the live bands that play several nights a week.
Community activist Allen Johnson founded Frog Hollow as a shared artisan workspace and gallery in Middlebury in 1971. The organization added a Burlington gallery in 1991; since then, the latter has become a destination for handmade Vermont wares. A juried application process ensures that everything—from stoneware bowls to jewelry, furniture, and more—exemplify the finest craftsmanship the state has to offer.
One of America’s colonial folk heroes spent his final years in a foreign country: the Vermont Republic. Ethan Allen settled along the Winooski River in 1787, four years before Vermont became a state, and today his reconstructed cottage offers a look at his legacy as well as 18th-century farm and home life. For those who like a little exercise with their education, the museum has miles of trails through woods and wetlands.
Cruising under sail—with only the sounds of water and wind—has a timeless appeal for many travelers. If that includes you, hop aboard the 41-foot sloop Friend Ship, and you’ll be sight-seeing from the only sailboat on Lake Champlain certified for passenger service. From spring to early fall, the Friend Ship offers two-hour daytime and sunset cruises that include a fascinating recap of the lake’s geology, history, and legends—and you might just spot Champ, Vermont’s very own lake monster, before you’re done.
How do you get from Vermont to California? Try putting up good numbers with this Oakland Athletics farm club. If you can’t make the team, though, you can still get in on the action at Centennial Field, where the Monsters play their home games from mid-June through mid-September. There’s ample baseball talent on display, tasty food, and the between-inning antics of Champ, who emerges from the depths to root for Burlington’s boys of summer.
Refreshed by an extensive 2016 renovation, the art and anthropology museum of the University of Vermont houses the state’s most broad-ranging collection of painting, sculpture, decorative arts, and cultural artifacts from civilizations ranging from antiquity to the contemporary U.S. The cache of some 20,000 objects includes African masks; an Assyrian bas-relief; works by Corot, Goya, Rodin, Homer, and Warhol; and an Egyptian mummy in its coffin. The book-filled museum shop also has a pleasant café serving snacks and desserts.
Sail or paddle the waters of beautiful Lake Champlain from this conveniently located downtown boathouse. Craft available include dinghies, kayaks, paddleboards, and sailboats of various sizes and designs.
The last of Burlington’s movie palaces has been beautifully restored to its Art Deco splendor and now serves as the region’s most distinguished venue for an eclectic schedule of big-name music, theater, and dance. It’s also home to the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, led by the renowned Jamie Laredo.
Turning downtown’s main drag into a pedestrian mall created Vermont’s liveliest shopping, dining, and people-watching scene. Boutiques, bars, and buskers line this strollable four-block stretch, and eateries offer plenty of sidewalk seating. On summer Saturdays the action spills over into nearby City Hall Park, site of a bustling farmers’ market.
Lake and mountain views abound. Head to North Beach, onward to rustic Charlie’s Boathouse, or up the Causeway through Colchester to the Island Line and Champlain Islands. Or just meander along the Burlington waterfront south to Oakledge Park. Rentals and maps at Local Motion.
In 2012, Chittenden County fell in love with the doughnuts at Winooski’s Misery Loves Company, where baker Ren Weiner crafted pillowy sourdough rounds flavored with in-season fruits, veggies, and even flowers. Then, in 2014, Weiner went solo. These days you can find her sweets—glistening with local ginger glaze or plump with wild grape jelly—at locations ranging from Burlington’s Scout & Company and Onyx Tonics to the farmers’ markets in Burlington and Winooski.
Tucked into an alley behind Church Street Marketplace, the Queen City’s first all-vegetarian restaurant woos herbivores with dishes that balance elegance with creative surprises. You might lament that the kitchen spaced the guac atop your black bean nachos, only to delight in finding it corralled within crisp won ton pockets moments later. And if you catch yourself thinking that the skewers of ginger-kissed seitan satay, pungent with tamari and grilled to a tantalizing crunch, far outpace your memories of eating “real” chicken-on-a-stick, all the better to revel in it.
When balmy weather hits, Burlington residents look to the lake to pass the time. Last year, local entrepreneur Russ Scully opened the Spot on the Dock, a sister restaurant to his popular surf-inspired breakfast and lunch café (dubbed simply the Spot) across town. At the lakeside location, with its sweeping Adirondack views and epic sunsets, locals gather for midday mojitos, crisp Cobb salads, and tuna poke on a windswept teak patio. Come evening, you can shoot the breeze over a pork belly banh mi sandwich. Open May through October.
As a young student-chef, Bistro de Margot owner Hervé Mahé trained at France’s elite Ecole Supérieure de Cuisine Française. Then he spent 30 years honing his skills at Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris, London, and Seattle. In Burlington, he carefully crafts each dish—from an exquisite foie gras torchon to a pan-seared cod filet—in a way that’s refined yet approachable.
Line up with locals for a table at Burlington’s most popular breakfast spot. It’s worth the wait for moderately priced ham’n’egg alternatives such as “Bucket-o-Spuds” (home fries with melted cheese, salsa, sour cream, and scallions), the smoked-salmon plate, and gingerbread pancakes. Not that you’ll need lunch, but that’s served here, too.
Award-winning chef Eric Warnstedt and his partner, William McNeil, who still operate their popular establishment in Waterbury, have once again created restaurant magic in their chic new spot next to the Hotel Vermont. The menu features an ever-changing but always sophisticated selection of locally sourced foods, including the signature hen-of-the-wood mushroom toast for which the restaurant is named.
It’s really all about the spuds at Al’s–freshly cut, quickly blanched, and double-fried. A local institution since the late 1940s, Al’s was named one of “America’s Classics” by the James Beard Foundation.
Light bistro dishes range from Southern fried chicken to sweet-potato yellow curry to pan-roasted duck breast with BBQ peach glaze. In the solarium, gaze up to watch the night sky, or catch the changing local art on the walls.
With savory crepes featuring local apples and Cabot cheese, or sweet ones such as the “Choco-Monkey” (Nutella and banana slices), Skinny Pancake suits most tastes. Elaborate dinner crêpes (such as Thai veggies and noodles) are available Thursday through Saturday evenings; brunch crêpes on weekends.
Hotel Vermont guests could spend many happy, well-fed days while barely leaving their Cherry Street environs: On the hotel’s ground floor, Hen of the Wood offers some of the best food in town, and the hotel lobby provides a fine people-watching scene. Then again, all of the Queen City’s amenities are just steps away. So why not don your walking shoes to window-shop on Church Street, sip a beer on the patio at the Farmhouse Tap & Grill, or head to City Hall Park for the Saturday farmers’ market?
Burlington’s neighborhood of grand Queen Anne Victorian homes begins right where downtown ends. This 1881 beauty has been transformed into a posh B&B, whose 11 rooms still display the home’s lavish original craftsmanship while incorporating all the modern conveniences. The two rooms in an 1851 carriage house, set well back from the street, have a country-cottage feel.
Book well in advance: This tiny lakefront turn-of-the-20th-century lodging, just a short walk from downtown, offers a two-room suite in the main house, and a small separate cottage. Both are sun-filled and offer wonderful water views. Described by owner/artist Maggie Sherman as “eclectic vernacular Victorian with a bit of Arts and Crafts,” the property has lovely gardens and provides guests with an in-room breakfast.
What tops your list for the Best of Burlington?
Best of Burlington, VT, selections originally appeared in previous print editions of the annual Best of New England Editors’ Choice Awards. This post is regularly updated.