Burlington may be Vermont’s most populous city, but it still manages to feel like a small town where everyone seems to know one another. Its location on Lake Champlain surely helps, as it encourages everyone to enjoy the great outdoors. Cycling, jogging, and paddling are all popular activities here. But if you prefer urban pleasures over outdoor adventures, Burlington also offers great shopping, art, museums, and -- my favorite -- food! It’s the perfect place to spend a long weekend relaxing and exploring.
Here are some of the best things to do during a visit to the area.
Take A Lake Champlain Cruise
Lake Champlain has the distinction of being the largest lake in New England, and it’s certainly one of the most scenic as well. An hour-long sightseeing cruise in a replica of a 19th-century steamboat is a perfect way to drink in the views. Lunchtime cruises include a buffet lunch for about $30, and on Thursday evenings, there are murder mystery dinner cruises for about $55.
However, the real draw isn’t the food but the chance to spot Champy, Lake Champlain’s very own aquatic monster. Champy was first spotted by Samuel de Champlain himself in 1609, though the monster has been quite elusive ever since.
You can learn more about Champy and his many aquatic friends at the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. This is an especially nice destination for anyone traveling with kids, since it’s a very hands-on place to visit. There are fun demonstrations covering all aspects of the environment. Adult admission costs $14.50, and admission for children costs $11.50.
Tour The Magic Hat Brewery
No trip to Vermont would be complete without a brewery tour. Magic Hat Brewing Company offers fun, lighthearted tours seven days a week for only $3 per person, and each visit includes plenty of samples to round out the experience. Magic Hat isn’t just a brewery -- it’s also an event space. In the evenings, there are themed trivia nights (like Harry Potter nights and football nights) and painting classes.
Visit Shelburne Vineyard
Just a few miles south of Burlington, the award-winning Shelburne Vineyard offers $9 tastings of eight different types of sustainably focused wine. For $18, you can try four wines paired with four local cheeses. When the weather is nice, you can enjoy your wine indoors or outdoors. From May through October, tours are offered on the hour between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.
Sample Lake Champlain Chocolates
Quite possibly the most delicious tour experience Vermont has to offer, Lake Champlain Chocolates offers a 30-minute tour that covers the process of cocoa production and how cocoa is transformed into chocolate. The tour includes a peek at the in-house factory production as well as plenty of tasty treats. I’m personally a big fan of the company's hot chocolate and sipping chocolates, which are often described as some of the best in the United States.
Tours take place from Monday through Friday at 11 a.m., 12 p.m., 1 p.m., and 2 p.m. During peak summer hours, you should pop in in the morning to sign up in advance for an afternoon tour slot. However, you’ll also want to make plans to stop by on the weekend: On Saturdays and Sundays, the company offers guided chocolate tastings from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Both the tours and tastings are free. Lake Champlain also offers vegan-friendly and keto-friendly chocolate options.
Get Some Exercise On The Burlington Bike Path
Popular with bikers, joggers, and walkers, this 7.5-mile trail along the shores of Lake Champlain offers beautiful views and several waterfront parks. If you don’t have your own bike with you, you can rent one at Local Motion ($25 for 4 hours or $55 for a daylong e-bike rental).
Planning to explore farther afield? Local Motion operates a bike ferry to take adventurers and their gear to more remote areas along Lake Champlain.
Stop By The Fleming Museum Of Art
Located at the University of Vermont, one of the oldest universities in the United States, this eclectic museum contains art and anthropological objects ranging from works by Rodin and Goya to works by Homer and Warhol. Admission costs $5 and includes access to events, lectures, and presentations.
Eating In Burlington
If you had to sum up Burlington’s food scene in one word, it would be “local.” The city was one of the first in the country to make farm-to-table cuisine trendy, and support for local farmers, producers, brewers, chefs, and gardens is high. The city is also home to Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, and no visit to Vermont would be complete without a scoop. Beyond ice cream, you can find everything from casual pubs to upscale Parisian cuisine.
Here are some of my favorite places to eat in the area.
Vermont Pub & Brewery
The Vermont Pub & Brewery has the distinction of being the oldest craft brewery in the state. It opened in 1988 and became the first brewery to operate in Vermont in 94 years.
Today, it offers an excellent menu of pub classics at very reasonable prices (burger platters start at just $10!). Look closely at the sandwich platters, fish and chips, and nacho plates, and you’ll see that the establishment uses a host of local ingredients, including Vermont cheese and maple syrup. There’s a good selection of vegetarian options, too.
The perfect twist on pizza and beer, American Flatbread serves -- you guessed it -- creative flatbread made with fresh, local ingredients. Every week, there’s a different list of specials, including meat- and veggie-focused flatbreads, inventive salads, and even breakfast specials. Expect the restaurant to be crowded on weekends during peak times.
Leunig's Bistro & Cafe
One of the oldest restaurants in Burlington, Leunig’s Bistro & Cafe serves upscale French cuisine prepared from local ingredients. But fine food doesn’t have to come at a fancy price. Leunig’s offers a great-value table d’hote for early birds (dinner before 5:30 p.m.) and night owls (last hour of the day). For $21, you can choose from appetizers like white bean soup with Asiago and pesto followed by entrees of maple walnut-crusted salmon or steak frites. You can add a glass of wine starting at just $5. It’s a lovely spot for a romantic meal.
A Single Pebble
Szechuan cooking fused with local Vermont ingredients? It’s no wonder A Single Pebble is so popular. Steamed fish with ginger, black bean, and spinach; red oil chicken; and pork potsticker dumplings are some of the popular dishes here. The family-style chef’s tasting menu is a fun way to indulge if you’re traveling with friends and family.
At this funky coffee shop-meets-bar, you can try the pupusas, or masa corn cakes filled with black beans, pickled jalapenos, and mozzarella and topped with cilantro-lime crema, pico de gallo, and curtido slaw; the lettuce-wrapped bulgogi with local skirt steak, shiitake mushrooms, housemade kimchi, shallots, sesame garlic sauce, and coconut rice are also delicious. Weekend brunch plates range from simple avocado toast to eggs Benedict to shakshouka with feta. It’s so much more than just a coffee shop!
Shopping In Burlington
Church Street Marketplace
This four-block open pedestrian mall is the place to go for shopping, art, and artisan food products in Burlington.
Crow Bookshop, Burlington’s independent bookstore since 1995, offers new and used books and has an especially wonderful children’s department.
Another cool spot is Burlington Records. This funky shop offers new and used vinyl, stereo equipment including gorgeous custom-painted turntables, and rare original concert posters that make cool souvenirs.
Meanwhile, The Cosmic Grind claims the title of the best coffee shop on Church Street.
You can easily pass several hours wandering in and out of all the shops and eateries here.
Where To Stay In Burlington
Burlington has a good selection of chain hotels and, in summer, the empty dorm rooms at the city’s universities offer inexpensive accommodations. But Burlington’s gorgeous inns and bed and breakfasts are the highlights of the city’s accommodations scene. Ranging from homey and cozy to stately and elegant, there are a variety of properties to choose from.
Lang House On Main Street
With dark wood and luxurious finishes, Lang House on Main Street is the nicest bed and breakfast in Burlington, and it gets high marks for its homemade hot breakfast.
Willard Street Inn
Refined and elegant, there are 16 guest rooms in this romantic inn. The property dates to 1881 but is fitted with modern touches. Champlain’s Lookout is a particularly nice room with views of the garden and Lake Champlain.
Known as a culinary resort, The Essex has amenities far beyond those typically offered, including a luxurious spa, beautiful pool, and in-house culinary program.
Inn At Charlotte Bed And Breakfast
About 10 miles away from Burlington, this snug bed and breakfast is down to earth with a homey feeling, nice outdoor common areas, and pretty gardens.