Vermont’s largest and only city, Burlington, offers amazing scenery for visitors along with a happening cultural district influenced by local art and student life. On one side of the city, you’ll have the beautiful Lake Champlain to explore while on the other, the Adirondack Mountains provide an epic skyline.
Burlington has a happening downtown area full of restaurants, cozy cafes and immersive galleries. There is a strong focus on community and the city’s busiest street, Church Street, is a pedestrian-only haven. Just moments away from the downtown, is the University of Vermont Campus along with outdoor adventures and classic ski resort towns.
Ready to visit Burlington, Vermont? Our guide to the beautiful city will help you experience the top attractions, eat like a local and explore the amazing natural world.
Where to Stay
The small city of Burlington makes it easy to walk around and with the likelihood that you’ll hire a car for adventures further afield, you shouldn’t feel pressure to stay directly downtown. Although having the bustling Church Street or Lake Champlain within a quick stroll is hard to beat.
If you have a car handy, you may want to take advantage of Airbnb and VRBOs that dot that lakeshore and offer impressive vistas without being far from the fun.
The Best Time of Year to Visit Burlington
Burlington, Vermont has something to offer travelers at any time of year. While the winter can see bitter temperatures and a loss of fall foliage, there are several fantastic ski resorts within proximity. Burlington is a great place to base yourself when you’re not carving up the mountains.
Spring in Burlington sees the landscape come back to life with blooming wildflowers coasting the valleys and hills. This is also a great time to enjoy some patented Vermont maple syrup.
The summer in Burlington is when life in town goes to another level. Although much of the student population dwindles, there are festivals to enjoy and the mountains and lakes are waiting to be discovered. Go fishing, camping and hiking under the sun, which isn’t stifling hot.
Having said all that, there’s something special about Burlington in the fall. The impeccable foliage is some of the best in the US. The amazing colors dramatically transform the landscape, and as the leaves fall, you will enjoy more eye-catching views.
Day 1: Church Street, Campus, and Cycling
When beginning your travels through Vermont’s largest city, begin on beautiful Church Street. The main drag of Burlington is a car-free sanctuary with shops and restaurants in abundance. While only four blocks long, the street is packed with things to see and do.
At any time of year, you may stumble upon a gathering of locals and travelers for a festival or live performance. The hungry restaurant-goers spill out onto the paths, creating a lofty atmosphere perfect for walking around and catching your first glimpse of life in the city.
If you’ve traveled all morning, stroll down the street and pick a place to eat that piques your interest. Or spend some time jumping between arts and crafts stores, while making your way to the street’s centerpiece, the First Unitarian Universalist Church. From anywhere along Church Street, you can admire the bell tower before enjoying the beautiful architecture up close.
One store you must stop by on your journey along Church Street is the iconic Frog Hollow Craft Center. For over four decades, the store has been welcoming curious guests, eager to see the best of Vermont artists and artisans.
Since the beginning, Frog Hollow has collaborated with over 500 local artists along with creating dozens of craft courses and arts classes. As you wander in, you will be captivated by the wonderful gallery that is always changing and promoting new work. This may also have to do with locals and travelers alike taking their favorite piece home with them.
Aside from the standard painting, you will discover a world of caricatures, glasswork, pottery and exceptional photography.
From Church Street, make your way to Main Street, which rises steadily behind the downtown area towards the campus of the University of Vermont. The hilltop campus, which first welcomed students in the late 18th century, offers superb views of Lake Champlain.
Over time, many prominent members of the local community built their stately homes above the busy downtown and waterfront area, choosing to forego lakeside views for higher elevation. On your way to the campus, you’ll pass well-preserved homes and mansions that date back over a hundred years, providing excellent examples of pristine New England architecture.
Later, when exploring the University of Vermont Campus, make a beeline for the impressive Williams Science Hall. The large red-brick structure is a striking sight to see and sits high upon the campus’ hill
Aside from exploring, there is another stop you should make on your walk through campus. That being the Fleming Museum of Art. The museum is home to over 20,000 artifacts, artworks and special collections. They combine to cover many eras of history and locations around the world.
You can explore exhibits which highlight works and objects from around the United States, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and even Ancient Egypt. The African and Egyptian exhibits are particularly striking, with sculptures, media and contemporary interpretations of history on display. You will also find hundreds of Ancient Egypt artifacts, including a mummy and a coffin.
Also on display are prominent local artists along with an important exhibit on Native American art and culture, covering much of the country.
On your way to our next activity, head back through Church Street and take in some of the local street art. The main one being a mural called ‘Everyone Loves a Parade!’ by Pierre Hardy.
After witnessing Lake Champlain from the campus, finish your day by exploring the shorelines in more detail. One of the best things to do in Burlington, Vermont, is to tackle the Burlington Bike Path. The paved path stretches along the stunning shoreline for miles, and is a popular place of exercise for locals.
In total, the path is 7.5 miles (12km) one-way, making the return trip a bit difficult on foot. But if you have several hours to spend, you could challenge yourself to do the full trip from downtown Burlington to the beautiful North Beach and back.
After dinner, if you feel like keeping the night rolling, you will have plenty of bars and live music venues to choose from. Burlington, after all, is a college town. So if class is in session, you can expect a happening scene, especially on and around Church Street.
For something casual and fun, head to the Archives for craft beer, cocktails and vintage pinball. If you want to catch some live tunes, make your way to Nectar’s for local acts and cheap eats.
Where to Eat On Your First Day
For lunch on your first day in Burlington, head to the local favorite, Sweetwaters. The diverse menu and large space makes it the perfect place for larger groups to gather, with something delicious for everyone.
If you’re undecided on your dinner plans, make a trip to the new top restaurant in town, Pascolo Ristorante. Serving upscale Italian cuisine with a wonderful evening atmosphere, you can’t go wrong.
Day 2 Homesteads, Road Trips, and Stowe
Before or after breakfast, a great way to begin day two in Burlington is to explore the local Farmers Market. In the warmer months of the year, Burlington puts on a bustling market along the open spaces of Pine Street, just out of downtown.
With crowds and lack of parking, enjoy a pleasant morning stroll through the picturesque town and arrive at the market on foot. Vermont’s reputation as an environmental state is on full display at the vibrant market, with excellent local produce and amazing food to try. Who knows, you may even want to skip breakfast to leave more room in the belly.
Beyond fresh food, you’ll love walking among the local community who gather and create an exciting market. If you want to pick up a souvenir or memento of your travels to Burlington, this is also a great place to do it.
After completing the rounds at the Farmers Market, it’s time to get on the road. A big day of exploring the surrounding countryside awaits! First stop is the Ethan Allen Homestead. Found on 1400 acres of gorgeous New England land, the homestead was once home to a famous member of the Revolutionary War, Ethan Allen. Under the banner of New Hampshire, Allen fought off New York’s attempts to claim the land, leading to the creation of Vermont.
For obvious reason, Allen became a local hero and his homestead has been restored and preserved for you to enjoy. The various buildings house historical and archaeological exhibits. While casual hiking trails meander through the woods with interpretive signage along the way.
Before leaving, wander across to the Ethan Allen Park. Home to an observation tower, enjoy immaculate views of the lake and city.
Next up, a road trip to Stowe! Rather than take the quick 45-minute journey along the interstate, choose the scenic route. Head north towards Cambridge where you can join route 108, aka Smuggler’s Notch. If you can handle the winding mountain roads, then you and the crew will be in for a visual treat.
Along the way, climb the side of Vermont’s highest peak, Mt Mansfield via the notch. Smuggler’s Notch is so narrow that it closes during winter because snowplows cannot meander their way past the massive boulders and along the road. The cliffs rise to one side, and giant rocks dot the roadside. Throughout is bright foliage and an immersive driving experience.
Be sure to stop by Smuggler’s Cave information center to learn about the natural phenomena that created such dramatic scenery. You can also explore the caves where smugglers once hid to escape captivity.
Once you’ve arrived in Stowe, you’ll be treated with a beautiful afternoon in a classic Vermont town. Flanked by the towering Mt Mansfield, Stowe is famous for being one of the United States’ first ski towns.
Surrounded by stunning scenery, wherever you look, you’ll enjoy simply walking through the city and experiencing the quiet and peaceful setting. There are several galleries to explore, including the Helen Day Arts Center. Another top activity is riding the gondola at Stowe Mountain Resort and make the journey to the Mt Mansfield Peak.
On your way back from Stowe, take the quick route, also known as the ‘Skier’s Highway’. Along the journey, you’ll pass several of the top ski resorts in Vermont.
End your day with an amazing sunset on board Lake Champlain Cruises. The huge lake flanks the entire town and stretches as far south as New York. Aboard the Spirit of Ethan Allen III, you can explore the lake under the falling sun, while learning more about the Revolutionary War and important historical events that took place around the lake.
Where to Eat
Vermont is home to an envious number of great brunches that are elevated by the cozy scenery. Our tip for day two is the Friendly Toast. With unique decor and delicious breakfast eats, the spacious restaurant means you won’t have to wait long for a table.
When making your way through Stowe, be sure to stop by the Stowe Sandwich Company for lunch. The hearty and healthy sandwiches also come with several vegan options and will have you fueled for the rest of the day.
After a big day on the road, kick back and relax at Ri Ra’s, an unpretentious pub serving mouthwatering Irish style plates. Once the meal is over, walk out onto Church Street and enjoy an ice cream at the original Ben & Jerry’s location!
Day 3: Lake Champlain, Watersports, and Plenty of Beer
Your third and final day in Burlington is all about enjoying the dazzling Lake Champlain. Begin your day at the lake by visiting the ECHO Leahy Center on the water’s edge. The center shows off the natural history of Lake Champlain along with the region’s heritage.
This is one of the top things to do in Burlington with kids, with several permanent and rotating exhibits. The interactive displays are sure to keep the young ones captivated. Some of the most popular exhibits include exploring the depths of Lake Champlain, the dozen frog species that cover six continents along with exploring the human history of Burlington.
However, nothing beats the kids catching themselves on TV or being a weather reporter.
If the sun is out, then it’s time to get on the water at last! Walkers may want to tackle the hike to North Beach, but it’ll be hard to pass up sailing or paddleboarding on the pristine water of Lake Champlain.
The nearby Community Sailing Center can set you up with a dinghy-style sailboat and give you the opportunity to explore the far reaches of the lake (wind permitting). Other options include jumping in a kayak or canoe and venturing to North Beach. For something a bit more laid-back, hire a SUP for just $16 and slowly adventure around the water while soaking in the amazing views.
Finish it off with some relaxing at North Beach and enjoying the atmosphere by the lake!
With a day of excitement on the lake, enjoy some craft beer and a bite to eat at Foam Brewers. Located on the edge of Lake Champlain, the small and independent company is all about creating imaginative beverages for the adventurous palate.
Regardless of how much you like craft beer, nothing can top the location of the brewery. It’s the perfect place to end your time in Burlington, Vermont, as you look out over the mesmerizing lake and reflect on all that’s come to pass.
Whatever beer you set your sight on, be sure to complement it with Foam Brewers’ delectable cheese plate.
Where to Eat on Day Three
When it comes to breakfast on your final day in Burlington, Vermont, why not leave it all up to chance and dine at A Single Pebble. This off-beat breakfast option will be a novel experience. Here the chef is in control and serves whatever he or she decides, and upon delivery you get to choose whether or not to try it.
If you don’t dine at Foam Brewers, then be on the lookout for one of the many food carts operating in Burlington during the warmer months. The top one is Hong’s Chinese Dumplings. Highly rated among local students, the so-called Dumpling Lady has a killer recipe and unforgettable dumplings.
Three days in Burlington, Vermont will grant you an excellent insight into the local community and a chance to explore Vermont’s iconic scenery. The city itself is a wonderful place to walk around, coffee in hand while taking it all in.
Especially in the summer, you’ll discover events and festivals that provide another layer of fun for couples, friends and family. While the sun beats down on the lake, creating the perfect opportunity to explore.
Whatever time of year you decide to visit the classic New England town, you will be treated with smiling faces, stunning views and plenty of delicious eats.