Both urban and outdoorsy, Burlington is Vermont’s largest city and a favorite tourist spot year-round for quirky Green Mountain culture.
By Cathryn McCann
Nov 30 2016
A warm fall day brought people out to the shore of Lake ChamplainPhoto Credit : Cathryn McCann
Tucked away in Northwest Vermont and set against the backdrop of the Adirondack Mountains and Lake Champlain’s eastern shore, Vermont’s most populous city has a seemingly never-ending, eclectic blend of outdoor and urban opportunities for adventure and entertainment. Even on a late fall weekend, Burlington is bustling with activity from the lakeshore to Church Street marketplace. This is of little surprise, given the college town offers big city perks – with its abundance of small shops and fine cuisine – while still maintaining the classic Vermont country character that New Englanders know and love.
While in town for Craft Vermont, the annual fine craft and art show that is a tourist destination in and of itself, I used my free time getting a little taste of Burlington. This is, of course, only a snapshot of what the Vermont destination has to offer, so check out the Best of Burlington list for more of our favorite things to do and places to eat, shop, and stay in every season.
Having spent Friday roaming the expansive craft fair, my Burlington explorations began on Saturday morning with a trip to the University of Vermont campus for what I heard was a “can’t-miss” farmers’ market.
Set up in the Dudley H. Davis Center, the market had booths everywhere, with multiple hallways and floors teeming with jams, maple frosted cookies, cheese spreads, salsas, and a smorgasbord of other seasonal treats. Although speckled with many traditional organic vegetables booths, there were also some unique options. Blank Page Cafe, a farm-to-table pop-up cafe, was serving up Butter Coffee – a blend of coffee, butter, and coconut oil. Sobremesa Vermont had artisan kimchi and sauerkraut for sale. Starbird Fish was nearly sold out of their sustainably sourced fish. Other options included organic meats, local rice, maple syrup, bone broths, flavored nuts and butter, and artisan popcorn; non-food items included beeswax candles, pottery, children’s clothing, plants, and even a perfumery – to name just a few.
All in all, the Burlington Farmers’ Market is a great summation of the Vermont local food culture, and an especially useful destination during the holiday season. The winter market is held every Saturday, November 12 to April 8 from 10 am to 2 pm. The summer market is every Saturday from the beginning of May to the end of October. Whether shopping for a week’s worth of groceries, or just a delicious lunch (such as the pork roast sandwich below), this truly is a lively, can’t-miss market.
Additionally, because it takes place at beautiful UVM, before or after the market is a great time to go for a stroll around campus. It’s pretty quiet on a Saturday morning, and there’s history and intricate architecture everywhere.
On the Saturday of my visit, the New England weather pendulum swung heavily in my favor with a balmy 65 degree, sunny late November day. It only felt right to take advantage of all the outdoor activities Burlington has to offer. Fortunately, I travel with my Specialized steed (bike), so I headed to Oakledge Park bordering Lake Champlain to take on the well-known and loved Burlington Bike Path.
I wasn’t the only one hoping to get some fresh air – squeals of small children on the playground, shouts from a pickup soccer game, and sneakers on the tennis courts could be heard from the parking lot. Some people had set up picnics on the beach, and one dad and young son were standing at the water’s edge tossing rocks into the glassy blue water.
The bike path itself, which has been deemed the “crown jewel of the park system,” was populated with every form of transportation – walkers, runners, bikers, roller bladers, and strollers. The first portion of the path follows along the shore of Lake Champlain to the left, with the Vermont Railway to the right. For a map and more information, click here.
There are multiple picturesque places to stop and eat lunch or just take a break to look over the water.
Biking along the path is also a great form of transportation to some of Burlington’s top destinations, such as the Echo Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, a lake aquarium and science center. Founded in 2003, the Leahy Center displays life in the Champlain Basin and works to educate visitors through events and programs, exhibits, and a theater.
During my trip a portion of the bike path was under construction, but the detour led me into town, which offered its own variety of destinations – such as the historic Louisa Howard Chapel. The late-1800s Gothic Revival chapel is named for the sister of Burlington philanthropist John Purple Howard.
The paved path is eight miles in total to the Winooski River. I biked six miles out before the decreasing daylight threatened my return trip. Heading home to the backdrop of the setting sun, however, was a treat.
Of note, there’s more to check out around Oakledge Park other than the bike path, such as the park, playground, beach, and Forever Young Treehouse – the world’s first public, universally accessible community treehouse.
If you opt for some active Burlington adventures, you’re likely to work up an appetite, which is not a problem because the town has a vast array of options for dining. I found myself at Leunig’s Bistro, one of Burlington’s oldest, continually operating restaurants on the corner of Church and College Street. The Bistro’s mantra is “the panache of Paris and the value of Vermont” and has a fun vintage-glam vibe with French-inspired fare.
I was seated in a small offset of the main dining area, which was cute and comfortable – a bit like sitting in a vintage boxcar – with a great view of the outside hustle and bustle and twinkling holiday lights. The restaurant itself is not as small as it may seem upon entering, and the the full menu is served at the bar. It could be a great choice for dinner with friends and family or a date for two. The atmosphere is warm and the decor is fun, from an old fashioned clock in the middle of the bar dining area to the classy chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. And the food…
The restaurant has a dedicated gluten-free menu, and can accommodate vegetarian and vegan diners as well. If you’re a wine connoisseur, Leunig’s offers four pages worth of options. For dinner, I ordered the Wild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash, which was bright, flavorful, and – most importantly – delicious. The roasted acorn squash was stuffed with a mixture of brown and wild rice with roasted beets, carrots, butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, toasted hemp seeds, and white cannelloni beans, all over a bed of sautéed baby spinach. It tasted like healthy comfort food – which seemed to be a theme among many of the menu options. Between the great service and tasty food, I left wishing I lived a little closer to Burlington.
Not every November night will be as unseasonably warm as it was during my visit, but downtown Burlington is a fun place to wander in the evening. Many stores stay open into the later hours if you’re looking to do a little holiday shopping, but walking around, window shopping, and enjoying the holiday decor is also a pleasant undertaking.
Or go see a show at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts – a performance venue for creative, educational, and cultural events and shows located on Main Street.
On Sunday, the aforementioned New England weather pendulum swung the other direction, in the form of pouring rain. But, alas, it’s not a trip to Burlington in the late fall without a little Church Street Marketplace holiday shopping. Here are a few of the places I checked out…
Crow Bookshop: Located at 14 Church Street, this is a quaint bookstore with a vintage feel, complete with creaky floors, a small reading nook, and the classic smell of books new and old. For a small shop, it has no lack of variety, with everything from cookbooks to classic literature, history, and children’s books. My fellow avid readers – set aside time to explore this store, as it is a great place to visit for a wide and unique range of literary options, and was named one of the best independent bookstores in New England by Yankee.
Earthbound Trading Company: Located at 24 Church Street, this store is a fun holiday shopping destination for the outdoorsy, traveler, or free spirit in the family. It has an eclectic array of clothing, jewelry, home decor, furniture, bags, and seemingly every unusual item in between, including records (and record players), fisherman’s trousers, dishes, and coloring books.
Vermont Flannel Company: I’m not sure how it’s possible to fit so much softness and comfort into one small store, but the Vermont Flannel Company has it figured out. From the moment I walked in from out in the cold rain, I could only imagine dressing myself head to toe in flannel and sipping hot chocolate by a warm fire. For a locally made flannel in every possible shade, style of plaid, and weight, this is the store to head to for a comfortable addition to any New England wardrobe.
Lake Champlain Chocolates: What goes better with flannel than chocolate? Located at 65 Church Street, this store is full of handcrafted, aromatic chocolates made using local Vermont cream, sweet butter, maple syrup, honey, fruit, and nuts. A portion of the shop is dedicated to a display of the chocolates being made, while on the far end you will find a full cafe menu with quintessential Vermont options. Grab a box of chocolates for the road, or order a maple latte and sit at the small bar while watching (and smelling) some delicious fudge come to life.
Danforth Pewter: In operation since 1975, this store at 111 Church Street has a range of items made by hand in a Vermont workshop from 100 percent lead-free fine pewter. For a beautiful, simplistic ornament, this is the store to check out. If your tree is already full, there are a number of other options, including jewelry, lamps, frames, and silverware sets. Go the extra mile and get something engraved for your loved one!
Homeport: For everything you could possibly need for your home, yard, or life, this is the expansive catch-all store to explore. Extending three floors, when you think you’ve seen it all, you haven’t. Items include lawn and garden supplies, home furnishings, kitchen utensils, bathroom decor, holiday necessities, and organizational equipment. As I am trying to furnish a new apartment, this was a great stop for many of the items I’ve had trouble finding.
Ten Thousand Villages: This is a worthwhile shop to check out not only for the variety of items on sale, but because of its mission. Located at 87 Church Street, its purpose is to “create opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to our markets through long-term, fair trading relationships.” As a result, you can find trinkets from all over the world in the Burlington store.
The Sox Market: Located at 99 Church Street, The Sox Market is entirely dedicated to bright, unique, and printed socks of every shade and height. This would be a great stop after picking up that flannel and chocolate.
Burlington Records: This is the place to shop for your musically-inclined family member or friend. As the name suggests, Burlington Records is packed nearly floor to ceiling with vintage vinyl, concert posters, and memorabilia from every period and genre. The store is located just off of Church Street at 170 Bank Street.
The descriptions above were just a few of the places I was able to explore during my brief visit! Check out this directory for a full list of Church Street Marketplace stores and descriptions.
For a treat at any time of the year, stop by Juicebox after your shopping (or for some energy to keep shopping). This bright, modern cafe is owned by a husband-and-wife team and the menu includes fresh juice, smoothies, snacks, and other quick pick-me-ups. I ordered an acai bowl (a creamy blend of acai berries) with banana, hemp seeds, and granola. The sweet treat and bright decor of the cafe made me completely forget about the dreary weather outside, and was a great meal before hitting the road back to New Hampshire.
I wouldn’t have left Burlington, but the real world beckoned. And speaking of that weather pendulum, I aptly drove home in a surprise Vermont snowstorm – just another day in New England. With only a short visit, the unique city of Burlington makes a lasting impression. It seems to not only be a destination, but a way of life, and a worthy trip no matter what time of year. I will personally have to return, because I know there’s so much more to do!
What is your favorite thing about Burlington, Vermont?