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Did You Know … ?
- Ben & Jerry’s opened its first shop in a rundown gas station in Burlington, in 1978.
- Ethan Allen, of Green Mountain Boys fame, lived in Burlington for his last 12 years.
- About a quarter of Vermont’s population lives in Chittenden County, for which Burlington is the county seat.
- The University of Vermont and State Agricultural College in Burlington was America’s first agricultural college (1791).
- Burlington is the smallest U.S. city to be the biggest city in its state.
The smallest biggest city
Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, sits on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain in the northwest part of the state. Vermont’s Green Mountains are to the east, and New York state’s Adirondacks rise to the west beyond Lake Champlain’s opposite shore. The city counts about 42,000 residents, but the greater Burlington area, has more than 150,000, or around a fourth of all Vermonters.
It’s a small metropolis with enough variety to whet the appetites of tourists of all personality types, whether they seek an activity-filled outdoor vacation or a quiet and relaxing break from busy lives back home.
The city experienced boom days in the late 19th century when it was a major lumber port. Cargo also passed from water to the railways at Burlington. The city’s architecture, particularly its collection of Victorian mansions, reflects this phase of its history.
The waterfront fell into decline after World War II, but today has been redeveloped with museums, art studios and retail spaces — and is the locale of some of Burlington’s summertime festivals. The rail line today is a 12-mile recreation path suitable for cycling and hiking, and the lake itself is now used primarily for recreational and research purposes. Visitors can take sightseeing cruises or do some of the work themselves on sailboats or in kayaks.
Fourteen districts in town are on the National Register of Historic Places, enhancing the visitor’s viewing pleasure. Also, the historic Church Street Marketplace is a pedestrian mall with tourist-pleasing shops, eateries and watering holes.
Burlington’s appealing in-town attractions are complemented by the area’s natural attractions. They begin with Lake Champlain itself, but the mountains are an even bigger draw for active travelers.
Burlington is within an hour or so of five major resorts, where guests can ski downhill or cross country, snowboard or trek in the woods on snowshoes. Winter choices also include ice skating, sleigh rides, snowmobiling, even ice fishing.
In summer, the resorts attract guests with golfing and tennis facilities, and the mountains lure active travelers who love to head down one of the area’s scores of trails, on foot or on a bike.
Things to do for Venturers
- Spend a weekend learning blacksmithing or boat building at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum at Basin Harbor in Vergennes.
- Join the local brewery tour which includes lunch and tastings of 18 to 23 beer samples.
- Get your winter sports fix at any or all of Burlington’s “white necklace” of nearby ski resorts: Bolton Valley, Jay Peak, Smuggler’s Notch, Stowe and Sugarbush.
- Rent a canoe or kayak for some fun on the Lamoille or Winooski River. Or take a boat out on Lake Champlain.
- Plan an August visit for the Festival of Fools, which offers street theater including circus acts, music and comedy. Or wait until October for the Storytelling Festival. The sponsor, the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, invites you to “hear some of the region’s best storytellers, historians and musicians share the lake’s history and legends.”
- Go to Mount Snow for mountain biking in summer. Take a ski lift to your bike trails.
Things to do for Centrics
- Inspect a range of boat types — long boats, canoes, kayaks and dragon boats — and perhaps get some experience with boat building at the Lake Champlain Maritime Festival on the city’s lakefront.
- Take a lunch or dinner cruise on Lake Champlain. You could even arrange to use a cruise boat as the venue for your wedding.
- Attend the spring Vermont Maple Festival in St. Albans. Eat the pancake breakfast, and join a sugarhouse tour.
- Look for the fabled Lake Champlain monster, a la Loch Ness!
- Join the Queen City Ghostwalk to hear about Burlington’s haunted history. The tours run from May through Halloween.
- Cycle on Burlington’s bike path, much of it close to the Lake Champlain shore. Choose autumn for a unique fall foliage tour.
Things to do for Authentics
- Visit the Ethan Allen Homestead. Bring a picnic lunch, and plan to walk the property’s trails.
- See area farms. Start with Shelburne Farms, in Shelburne, a model environmentally conscious working farm, and buy cheddar cheese made there. Or, visit Vermont Wildflower Farm in Charlotte to see six acres of wildflower gardens and buy wildflower seeds.
- Shop in the boutiques at the historic Church Street Marketplace, which is closed to traffic. Stick around for lunch in an outdoor cafe or social hour at one of the Marketplace’s pubs.
- Use Burlington as your base for excursions to area lake and ski resorts where you can play golf, play tennis or chill out in a spa.
- In Burlington, dine at Butler’s Restaurant and Tavern at the Essex, self-described as “Vermont’s Culinary Resort and Spa.”
- Choose a festival and time your trip to coincide with it. Choices include the Vermont Quilt Festival at Essex Junction and Burlington Wine and Food Festival, both in June, and the Vermont Brewers Festival and the Champlain Valley Folk Festival, both in Burlington’s Waterfront Park in July.
For more information, consult Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce at www.vermont.org