Although Burlington has a population of fewer than 50,000 people, it is the largest city in Vermont, and its natural and cultural characteristics make it one of the most desirable places in the state to visit. Home to the University of Vermont and other smaller colleges, Burlington has the youthful and vibrant feel of a college town, but with a healthy dose of classic New England charm.
Must see in Burlington
Burlington sits on the shores of Lake Champlain, and getting out on the lake, or at least visiting one of the lakefront parks or beaches, is a must when you are in the area. The scenery is breathtaking, particularly in the evening when you can watch the sun set over the Adirondack Mountains across the lake. For such a small state, Vermont has a thriving craft brewery scene, so be sure to visit one of the local taprooms like Switchback Brewing or Citizen Cider to taste their delicious concoctions. Burlington also serves as a hub for Vermont's impressive music scene, and well-known Nectar's on Main Street features various musical acts nightly, and is a great place to start off or wind down a night on the town.
Where to stay in Burlington
There are some quaint inns and B&Bs scattered throughout Burlington's neighborhoods, but most of the larger chain hotels and cheap motels are clustered around areas like Williston Road and Dorset Street east of the UVM campus, and Shelburne Road south of downtown. Two downtown hotels that will allow you to be close to all the dining and nightlife of Church Street are the Hilton and the Hotel Vermont.
Best and worst time to go to Burlington
If you are taking a ski vacation in Vermont, then Burlington is worth a stop during the winter; otherwise, avoid the often bitter cold and wait until August or September, when the city takes on the magic of summer in Vermont. Festivals and events take place almost every weekend during the summer, and the lake provides the perfect backdrop for outdoor summer activities. When fall starts to arrive in mid to late September, the famous Vermont foliage is glorious to behold.
Where to get lost in Burlington
Burlington is a small city, so it is easy to cover a lot of ground during even a short visit. Once you have wandered the Church Street Marketplace, Burlington's pedestrian-mall center of town, head down College Street to Waterfront Park, then explore Burlington's neighborhoods and the lake shore via the Burlington Bike Path. Bike rentals are available through several shops in town, but you can also explore the Path on foot. If you head south you will hit Oakledge Park, and if you head north you will pass through North Beach and Leddy Park before crossing the Winooski River, where the trail merges with the Colchester Bike Path.
The best deal in Burlington
Wandering along the Church Street pedestrian mall on a summer evening, you will likely be enticed by the many restaurants offering al fresco dining. On weekends a table at your restaurant of choice can be hard to come by, but if you stop by Leunig's Bistro between 3:30 and 5:00 or 9:00 and 10:00 p.m., you can have a fabulous two-course French meal for less than $20 (times may vary on weekends). Add a glass of wine for an additional $2-$8.
Transportation in Burlington
Burlington is a very walkable city, but if you need a rest or want to get further out of the center of town, the Chittendon County Transportation Authority runs an extensive bus system. With a hub at the Cherry Street Station, CCTA buses allow you to access different parts of Burlington as well as attractions in neighboring towns, such as the Magic Hat Brewery and the Shelburne Museum. The CCTA also operates a free shuttle that runs up and down College Street between the UVM campus and Waterfront Park. If you want the freedom to explore the Vermont countryside on your own, it can be worthwhile to rent a car.
Getting in from Burlington International Airport
Burlington International Airport is only four miles from downtown Burlington, so it is an easy taxi ride. It is also accessible via the CCTA route 12 bus.
Local tip for visitors to Burlington
You shouldn't visit Vermont without at least setting foot in the Green Mountains or engaging in some outdoor activity, and Burlington is the perfect base for some breathtaking day hikes. Red Rocks Park and Mount Philo State Park offer short and easy hikes, while Mount Mansfield and Camel's Hump, both about a 30-minute drive from town, are two of the more famous and challenging hikes in the state, and afford glorious vistas from their summits.
Julia O'Connor is a full-time editor and part-time freelance writer who has spent the last 10 years traveling from Vermont, to Boston and to Denver, and enjoyed the exploration of everything in between.