Burlington has a way of inspiring outdoor pursuits. Skirting the eastern shore of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains, Vermont’s largest city is a marriage of fresh-air playground and hip downtown. Twelve miles of bike paths rim the waterfront, a necklace of white peaks offers world-class skiing within an hour’s drive, and a pedestrian-friendly core lets students from the University of Vermont stroll, skateboard, or cycle between coffeehouses and artisans’ shops.
With 40,000 residents living amid downtown’s tidy grid of streets, Burlington was named one of America’s prettiest cities by Forbes magazine. It’s no coincidence that the birthplace of jam-band rockers Phish and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream—not to mention a place that voted in a socialist mayor in the ’80s—has become a destination to escape the ordinary.
September sees Burlington’s fall foliage start to blush into a kaleidoscope of colors—though temperatures are still warm enough to paddle or cycle around Lake Champlain.
This month also marks the state’s largest art exhibition, the South End Art Hop. The festival—September 10 and 11—attracts more than 500 artists.
What to Do
The neo-Victorian Burlington Boathouse, at the end of College Street, is a good spot to admire the views across Lake Champlain. You can take in the scenery with an evening cocktail.
Bikers will like the Island Line Trail (802-864-0123), which follows the waterfront for 9½ miles, then takes you across the Winooski River to the Champlain Islands via bike ferry. You can rent bicycles at Local Motion’s Trailside Center.
Up the street, Echo Lake Aquarium and Science Center has hands-on exhibits for kids such as dinosaur-egg displays.
Sweet tooths may want to make the pilgrimage 30 minutes away to Waterbury for a tour of the original Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream factory. Watch the Ben & Jerry’s “moo-vie,” check out a bird’s-eye view of the production room, and lick fresh-off-the-line samples.
Starting in late November, there’s no shortage of skiing. The mountain resorts to the east are known as the “fantastic five”: Bolton Valley, Jay Peak, Smugglers’ Notch, Sugarbush, and the most challenging, Stowe.
Home to more than 100 shops and restaurants, Church Street Marketplace is Burlington’s centerpiece. Its four pedestrian-only blocks lined with 19th-century Art Deco buildings are the backdrop for some entertaining people-watching: Tattooed hipsters mingle with college preps, break dancers perform alongside classical violinists, and tourists rub shoulders with farmers.
Where to Eat
Al’s French Frys is Burlington’s version of Ben’s Chili Bowl in DC. Since the late 1940s, this retro joint has been serving burgers, dogs, fries, and shakes.
L’Amante offers upscale Italian made with local foods such as Vermont quail and rabbit.
Already known for its cheese, maple syrup, and ham, Vermont is fast establishing a reputation for microbrews. Get to know some of the state’s finest ales at Magic Hat Brewing Company. Free tours are conducted Tuesday through Sunday (self-guided tours daily), and visitors can sample brews on tap.
Where to Stay
The Willard Street Inn is a three-story brick-and-marble mansion built in 1881. The 14 guest rooms have private baths, and some look out over Lake Champlain.
For spectacular lake views, book the second-floor suite in Maggie Sherman’s 1910 house, One of a Kind Bed and Breakfast. Continental breakfast includes local cheeses and jams and fresh-baked scones and croissants, while the inn’s garden—complete with a tree swing—practically spills into the lake.
Originally designed as a ski lodge, the mountaintop Black Bear Inn is a quaint option at Bolton Valley ski resort. Eleven of the 25 guest rooms come with an outdoor hot tub.