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A trip to Vermont conjures up images of green countryside, rolling hills, quaint towns, and organic farms. Burlington is Vermont’s biggest city, but it’s relaxed vibe and welcoming atmosphere don’t make it feel like a city at all. Yet there are so many things to do here, especially if you like good food and drinks, local events, history, and the great outdoors. This is also a great place to connect with local artists and scholars in this very livable college city.
Just beyond the shimmering waters of Lake Champlain, these are a few of the many must-see things you must do when visiting the city of Burlington.
Hiking around Burlington
The Burlington area is heavily populated with lovers of the great outdoors, and there are lots of Vermont State Parks worth visiting that are just a short drive away from Burlington. Mt. Philo State Park offers some easy hikes that are well-suited for kids, and Camel’s Hump and Mt. Mansfield are great for more well-seasoned hikers. Camel’s Hump reaches an elevation of about 4,086 feet and is one of the most distinctive landmarks in Vermont’s Green Mountains. And if you’re into long-distance trekking, the Long Trail has 270 miles to explore the nature of Vermont.
Cruise on Lake Champlain
In many ways, Lake Champlain defines life in Burlington. This is a beautiful lake that stretches north and south between Vermont, New York, and Canada, and it is full of history that dates back to the Revolutionary War. To treat yourself, consider booking a cruise on Lake Champlain to see the city from the water and appreciate the natural beauty of this part of Vermont. Some boat excursions last for 90 minutes and include lunch or dinner. You can also take the ferry between Burlington and Port Kent, New York, which takes about an hour and offers stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
The Burlington Waterfront
Definitely plan to spend an afternoon at the Burlington waterfront, which is great for a romantic stroll or a fun way to spend time with kids. The ECHO Lake Aquarium & Science Center is located here, as well as a wonderful bike path that’s a favorite among locals and visitors. There are a few food stalls that sell snacks and ice cream, or you can pack a picnic lunch to enjoy the views. Take a seat on the long swing benches, and plan to visit around sunset if possible.
Take the Bike Ferry
Not surprisingly, Burlington is a very bike-friendly city. So why not bring your bike or rent one to explore the city on two wheels? Break up your bike ride with a boat ride by hopping onboard the Local Motion ferry, which connects the villages of South Hero and Colchester to Burlington. It costs about $8 per adult to take the five-minute ride over to the other side. You’ll enjoy the company of pleasant nonprofit workers who run the ferry service and lovely views of the area while you give your legs a break from pedaling. Just make sure not to miss the last ferry ride back at the end of the day or you might find yourself with a much longer, round-about way back to where you’re staying. From forested paths to residential streets and the beachfront, there’s always something interesting to see along the Burlington Bike Path.
Burlington Farmer’s Market
Burlington is all about farm-to-table cuisine, and one of the best farmer’s markets you’ll find in the northeast is right here in town. It’s hosted at the Burlington city Hall Park, which is next to the Church Street Market. You can shop for all the organic produce your heart desires and also browse pottery and clothing made by local artisans. It’s a year-around market, but the festivities move inside the Burlington Memorial Auditorium in the winter months.
Sample Local Brews
Local is the name of the game in Burlington, and there are quite a few local brewing companies worth visiting here. The most famous one is Magic Hat Brewing Company, which offers tours, has a nice gift shop, and fills growlers. The décor is described as Victorian-Gothic circus, so you know you’re in for an eclectic treat when you visit. Other breweries in the area that you can visit and sample beers from include Switchback Brewing Company, which is located in a warehouse district, and Zero Gravity Brewing, which is inside a flatbread restaurant on a lively city street.
Church Street Marketplace
Burlington loves its pedestrians and bikes, and the Church Street Marketplace is a car-free zone that is great for shopping, dining, and watching street performers. There are some great pubs here to grab a drink in the evening, and lots of open-air cafes for daytime dining on warm days. This area has an offbeat vibe that’s unique to Burlington and often hosts fun events in the summer. It’s also an awesome spot for people watching, thanks to the variety of street musicians, jugglers, bohemian-types, and locals and visitors of all ages that frequent this space.
Head just outside the city to Shelburne to tour an authentic and inviting working farm in Vermont. This is a 1,400-acre farm, nonprofit education center, and National Historic Landmark that works with schools and environmental groups to teach people about sustainable farming that dates back to the early 1900s. You can sample different kinds of local cheeses and jams in the gift shop while you wait for your farm tour to begin. Tours generally cost about $11 per adult and give visitors a glimpse into how cheese is made and even the opportunity to milk a cow! In addition to milk and cheese, the farm also produces pasture-raised lamb, beef, veal, and eggs, as well as organic fruits and vegetables and maple syrup. The Inn at Shelburne Farms is a quaint bed and breakfast and restaurant in the area, open seasonally. Its 24 guest rooms, individually decorated in original furnishings embody the farm’s informal elegance and warmth of tradition.
Ethan Allen Homestead
Ethan Allen was a Revolutionary War hero, and his farmhouse on 1,400 acres of land is located just north of the city. Today you can visit his home and farm buildings to learn about the city’s history and archaeology. There are some trails on these farmlands that you are welcome to hike with interpretative signs to learn more about the natural environment. Consider taking a guided tour of Allen’s home, which is included in your entrance fee.
Burlington City Arts Center
The city of Burlington embraces the arts, and perhaps no place better embodies that spirit than the Burlington City Arts Center. This center was established in 1982 and is located in a former firehouse. Its goal is to make the arts accessible to everyone, regardless of status or wealth. This is a great place to view contemporary art, and it has a studio for artists in-residence. Check the center’s website for events that are happening during your visit, as concerts, theatrical performances, and film screenings are common here. It also has rotating art exhibitions, so there’s typically something new to see here every year.