Every fall, when the trees turn, the gilded dome of the State House gleams against a backdrop of scarlet, vermillion and gold. This picture-postcard setting is Monpelier, Vermont’s capital city. This diminutive northern Vermont city, with a population hovering right around 8,000, ranks as the smallest state capital in the nation.
State and Main Streets anchor the compact commercial center of this city tucked away in the foothills of the Green Mountains. The laid-back, walkable downtown makes Montpelier feel more like a small town than a bustling government center. Tourists may stop by Montpelier’s Capitol Region Visitor Center at 134 State Street to obtain maps and information about top attractions around Montpelier.
A visit to Montpelier should begin with a tour of the State House. The white Renaissance Revival-style building, the third one on this site, was completed in 1859. It incorporates the stately Greek-inspired portico from the second capitol building, which burned down in 1857. Reflecting one of the state’s key industries, a statue of Agriculture crowns the 57-foot-high dome, which is covered in gold leaf. Much of the capitol’s interior has been restored to its mid-19th-century appearance. On the second floor, the Hall of Flags in the vestibule displays 68 silk Civil War flags borne by Vermont regiments.
Next to the State House, another of the city’s top attractions is the Vermont History Museum. Visitors amble through an Abenaki wigwam and see a re-creation of the Catamount Tavern in Bennington, which served as the headquarters for Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys. These are both contained in the museum’s permanent exhibit, Freedom and Unity. This phrase echoes the state motto and details Vermont’s storied past from the early 1600s to the present.
Hardy tourists can hike uphill to Hubbard Park. Pine, hemlock, white birch and sugar maple trees adorn the 185 acres with seven miles of trails. One of the best things to do in Montpelier is ascending the 54-foot observation tower. The tower is the highest point in the park, offering a bird’s-eye view of Montpelier and environs.
Foodies find the local Montpelier restaurant scene delightful, thanks in part to the existence of the New England Culinary Institute (NECI). Supplied by fresh, organic ingredients from the vendors at the Capital City Farmers Market and helmed by graduates from NECI, Montpelier’s independently owned restaurants and cafes dish up plenty of tasty fare. The seasonal farmers market is held Saturdays at the corner of State and Elm streets downtown.
No one should leave town without sampling some local Vermont maple syrup. Among the favorite things to do in Montpelier is a trip to Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks. The best time to go is during sugaring time in the spring. A real treat at the farm is “sugar on snow,” or hot maple syrup drizzled over shaved ice.
Of course, northern Vermont is synonymous with skiing. Montpelier is just a 30-minute drive from Stowe, the renowned ski resort set at the foot of Mt. Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak.