Prior to this weekend, my sole experience of Burlington, Vermont was spending a bright June afternoon on the water with my mother. It was a brief break on our way to Montreal, which is just 94 miles north, and she felt it would be an ideal spot to stop because I had never been to Burlington. I fell in love with the city’s small-town, laid-back vibe right away, and the stunning vistas of Lake Champlain helped cement Burlington as a viable destination in and of itself.
Fast forward five and half years, and it seemed to be the ideal location for me and Max to take a mid-winter getaway. With a hopping food and beer scene, historical places of interest and plenty of indoor and outdoor activities, two and half days almost did not seem like enough time to fit everything in. However, as often happens in the Northeast, the winter weather helped to dictate our plans. With temperatures dipping into the negatives for most of the weekend, we probably had many people wondering why we would choose to go further north, but with some bundling (and craft brewery tastings), we were able to stay warm and prevent the weather from hindering too many of our plans (but we did eliminate some of the outdoor activities!).
On the banks of Lake Champlain, Burlington is a small city which draws from its natural surroundings to provide visitors with recreational activities to cover all interests. A walk through the compact downtown showcases a population which is vibrant, eclectic and progressive – distinctly different from many of its more serious Northeastern counterparts. And while Burlington may have perfected this stance, it is not entirely unique to the city.
Those who have visited other areas of Vermont will find a similar attitude and independence radiating throughout the Green Mountain State. Vermonters take all things Vermont seriously, and are a perfect case study of a state which promotes and supports it local products. These local and sustainable communities were prevalent in Vermont long before the farm-to-table and locavore movements swept across the US. Cheese, ice cream, maple syrup, beer and teddy bears are amongst some of its most-well known products, and a good sampling of these can be found in and around the Burlington area.
While not the capital, Burlington is the state’s largest city. Despite this title, the downtown area is highly walkable and provides many worthy destinations in a small radius. If you find yourself in the Burlington area, here are some top things to do to help make a worthwhile weekend:
Where to Eat in Burlington
Hen of the Wood
Every city has that “foodie favorite” and while Burlington has many contenders, it is easy to see why Hen of the Wood would win every time. With a changing menu of creative and locally sourced ingredients, the decision-making part of the meal is hard, but the innovative flavors that result are top-notch. Max and I are currently contemplating how we can get back to this restaurant soon!
This cozy-Italian eatery was the perfect place to escape the cold for a glass of red wine and some of the infamous homemade pasta which makes Trattoria Delia so well-known. The subterranean restaurant was everything we expected and more, and should be on any visitor’s list (especially in the winter months!).
The Skinny Pancake
A Vermont staple, we were able to frequent the Montpelier location for breakfast on our drive up, and the Burlington location for late night music (by none other than the Silver Bridget). Healthy, delicious and very affordable – you should definitely make a stop here for anything from breakfast to dinner and drinks (they have Heady Toppers for the beer fanatics).
Penny Cluse Café
The crowds at Penny Cluse Café on a Monday morning were a testament to how highly regarded it is. It was worth the hour wait and was a great last meal before hitting the road back to Boston. There is something for everyone on this menu with plenty of classic favorites as well as some dishes with interesting twists!
While there are many acclaimed pizza places downtown, head 15 minutes south of Burlington to Shelburne to try the wood fired pizzas attached to the Fiddlehead Brewery. As you walk into this BYOB pizzeria, you have to pass through the brewery where you are able to try the three beers on tap and can purchase a growler to take into Folino’s. The beer and pizza are both fantastic. Just make sure you get there as early as possible – it is no secret how good these places are!
Where to Stay in Burlington
Hotel Vermont continues to find itself on the “Best Hotels” list only three years after opening and combines simple Vermont style with rustic charms such as an outdoor fire pit. Marriott and Hilton have locations right next door with lake-facing rooms as well. A couple of minutes down the road, the Sheraton offers free shuttles to the downtown area making it easy to get to all the highlights if you are not staying within walking distance.
What to Do in Burlington (in the winter)
While Burlington is well-known for its bike paths and water sports, kayaking and biking were not high on our list on Saturday afternoon when we arrived as temperatures closed in on -9 degrees Fahrenheit. Luckily for visitors, there is plenty still to do in colder weather:
One of the four Cabot stores located throughout Vermont and Maine, the store in Waterbury, Vermont allows a free sampling of most of their cheeses as well as great Cabot products and other unique brands. After doing a couple of laps around the cheese table (did I mention free cheese?) we purchased some Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter and BBQ marinating sauce as souvenirs.
Ben & Jerry’s Factory Tour
Who would want to eat ice cream in the winter? Well, we are not ones to turn down Ben & Jerry’s so we certainly did! A lot of people had the same idea though because it was very crowded (I can only imagine what it is like in the summer months). Even if you do not want to take the tour, there is plenty of room to read about the history of the brand that got its start in Burlington while you indulge.
Try the local brews
As the locals are proud to tell you, Vermont has the most breweries per capita of any state in the US. They take their beers seriously and have created a true craft beer culture. Many of these beers are not produced for mass consumption, and instead are released in small batches on certain days to specific locations. So where to go? Fiddlehead Brewery next to Folio’s was my favorite, and Switchback Brewery was another stop on our way back into Burlington. We did miss Magic Hat Brewery and Citizen Cider though so we have already added those to the list for next time! If you want to try a wide variety of craft brews, head to Farmhouse Grill & Tap on Church Street in brewery for a cozy atmosphere and some of Vermont’s best beers.
This unique museum right outside Burlington offers a glimpse into what Vermont looked like in decades past. A Vermont town has been recreated on the property by transporting historic buildings from around the state. Three of the exhibits remained open in the winter, allowing us a reprieve from the cold as we ducked into the Birds of a Feather Decoy Collection, 32 Degrees: Art of Winter, and my personal favorite, Painting a Nation: American Art. Paintings from John Singleton Copley, Winslow Homer and Grandma Moses diversify the collection – just to name a couple. Few visitors ventured out in the cold so luckily we were able to have the museum and the property almost all to ourselves.
Drive through other parts of scenic Vermont
Each turn on our road trip was more scenic than the next, and when the weather is not conducive to walking, sometimes a scenic car ride is the best you can do! Montpelier, Stowe, Warren and Waterbury are all towns en route to Burlington if you are coming from the south and want to take Route 12 which runs parallel to the highway.
While skiing was not on our agenda for the weekend, a popular reason why most people come to Burlington in the winter is to take advantage of its location close to popular mountains of Stowe and Sugarbush.
Stowe Mountain Resort, Smugglers’ Notch Resort, Mad River Glen, and Bolton Valley are all located near the Lake Champlain Valley and are less than an hour from the Burlington International Airport. Vermont is home to several of the country’s greatest skiers. William “Billy” Kidd, born in Burlington, Vermont, and Barbara Cochran, born in Richmond, Vermont, are two famous Alpine Skiing Olympic Medalists from this region.
Vermont is the place to go if you want to ski (or want to learn). Vermont ski resorts offers something for everyone, from expert to beginner.
Watch the sunset over Lake Champlain
While I am sure the summer sunsets allow you to stand outside longer and admire the view, the winter sunsets were accompanied by steam rising from the water (proving the air was colder than the water!). We watched one night on foot and were smart enough to bring the car the second night so we could stay longer.
Frequently Asked Questions about Burlington Vermont
What food is Vermont famous for?
Vermont is well-known for its products such as Vermont cheddar cheese, maple syrup, and the ever-popular Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. It also has a large number of farms, artisan cuisine, fresh vegetables, vineyards, and breweries. Local items are available at Vermont Farmers’ Markets and farm stands throughout the year.
Sugar on snow is a refreshing American delicacy that originated in Vermont. It’s made using only two ingredients: maple syrup and a lot of fresh, pure snow. To make the candy, fill a pan halfway with fresh, clean snow. The maple syrup is cooked before being sprinkled over the snow.
In the fall, sugary, apple-y dough orbs are a fall classic at Vermont apple orchards and farm stands. They taste best when freshly prepared and washed down with cold cider, so travel to Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury (not far from Ben & Jerry’s) for the ultimate experience. While you’re here, you may observe a doughnut robot continually producing these delectable delicacies.
What is the best time to visit Vermont?
Although Burlington, Vermont is never out of season, the best months to come (and get the nicest weather) are May/June or September/October. Maple syrup, mild crowds, and the Vermont City Marathon are all available in late spring and early summer.
From May through September, the event calendar fills up and the city blooms with greenery. The shoulder months of April and November have less tourists and lower accommodation costs, but they are less appealing to adventure visitors. The weather in April may be rather muddy, and the tourism business slows down in November to prepare for the winter sports season.
Burlington is also an excellent location for winter sports. However, the temperatures can be too cold for others – ranging from the single digits to the low 30s – and several of the city’s main attractions will reduce their hours or close entirely during severe weather.
What is Burlington VT known for?
Burlington is a regional college town and home to the University of Vermont (UVM) and Champlain Institution, a minor private college. The UVM Medical Center, Vermont’s biggest hospital, is located inside the municipal borders. Burlington is a compact and lovely city with a bustling cultural scene, museums and educational possibilities, wonderful shopping, three colleges and a university, and a complete range of four-season outdoor hobbies.
It’s no surprise that this little, pleasant community continually receives national recognition. The Church Street Marketplace is set against a backdrop of fountains, a brick-paved pedestrian walkway, and historic buildings, where niche stores and major retailers mix with restaurants and cultural institutions.
While the bright and busy downtown area I remember from that summer afternoon looked a little different covered in snow and ice, the charm and uniqueness of the city still radiated through. Had the temperatures been a little warmer, we would have spent more time outside, but as any native-Vermonter will assure you – these temperatures are a fixture in the winter. If nothing else, the weather may have been in our favor as it kept some of the crowds away on the holiday weekend and allowed us to experience parts of the area in a more enjoyable manner. Burlington – you were the perfect February getaway. We loved everything about you and will be back soon!