- Where the Locals Go
One visit to Burlington was enough to convince freelance journalist Lindsay Westley to trade Philadelphia’s skyscrapers and traffic for the mountains and lakes that typify Vermont’s largest city.
By the time she’d camped and hiked her way across 35 miles of the state while waiting for her new lease to start, she’d fallen in love with the place—rocks, roots, mud, and all.
“The world should heart my city because it’s got an active, authentic vibe that’s directly shaped by Lake Champlain and the mountains that surround Burlington,” Lindsay says. “It’s no big deal to show up to work wearing snowpants, bike spandex, or your running shoes; chances are your coworkers will be dressed in kind—and toting fresh-from-the-garden vegetables to share.”
Here are a few of Lindsay’s favorite things about the city she’s proud to call home.
Burlington Is My City
When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them to is the Burlington Bike Path—part of a 12-mile recreation trail skirting the shores of Lake Champlain—for a long walk for great views of the lake and the Adirondack mountains. I always tell first-time visitors to keep an eye out for “Champy,” the lake monster that reputedly lives in these waters. Champy fans think he might be a surviving plesiosaur or a giant eel; skeptics say he’s nothing more than a large floating log. But the whole town agrees that he’s a great mascot for our minor league baseball team, the Vermont Lake Monsters.
Summer is the best time to visit my city because Burlington’s farmers market and restaurants are overflowing with delicious, hyperlocal produce.
You can see my city best from the viewing deck of the Lake Champlain Ferry, which shuttles visitors (and their vehicles) between Port Kent, New York, and Burlington via Lake Champlain. Tip: If you take an evening ferry, don’t forget to look over your shoulder to catch the sunset behind the Adirondack Mountains.
Locals know to skip the indoor strip mall and check out the small, independent storefronts on Church Street, Burlington’s open-air pedestrian marketplace, instead. The street, with its colorful shop windows, sidewalk cafés, trompe-l’oeil murals, and sculptures, is reminiscent of car-free sections of Buenos Aires or Copenhagen and a great place to linger.
Whether you’re looking for a hand-turned bowl made from the burl of a (local) tree, a small sculpture to tuck in your suitcase, or a hand-knitted scarf, Frog Hollow on Church Street is the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs. I always keep an eye out for funny prints by Burlington artist Dug Nap, whose quirky, often tongue-in-cheek comments about Vermont’s culture (“Kale is the New Carrot!”) poke gentle fun at the state’s plaid-wearing, tie-dye-dipping inhabitants.
In the past, notable people like philosopher John Dewey, the members of jam-band Phish, and Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield have called my city home. Don’t recognize those last two? Call ‘em by their first names and see if that rings a bell. (If not, immediately put “Phish Food” on your grocery list.)
My city’s best museum is the Fleming Museum at the University of Vermont, because it perfectly melds a large permanent collection of treasures with edgy contemporary exhibitions.
If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s to explore by foot. Locals know to ditch their cars in the Marketplace Garage on Bank or Cherry streets (the first two hours are free!) and enjoy Burlington as a pedestrian.
The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is along the waterfront—or better yet, actually out on the water. You can book a cruise on the Spirit of Ethan Allen, but it’s much more fun to rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard. Or, if you’ve got the skills, rent a dinghy or keelboat from the Community Sailing Center.
My city really knows how to celebrate anything and everything local, because we can be authentic about it. Vermont farmers really do produce the best apples, organic veggies, maple syrup, beer, and dairy products, and we’re equally passionate about the local businesses that got their start here, from small-scale bike-frame builders to Ben & Jerry’s and Burton snowboards.
You can tell if someone is from my city if they call soft-serve ice cream a “creemee.” Every Vermonter has a favorite creemee stand, but locals know that maple—made with the real stuff—is the only flavor to get. You can find my favorite stand at Burlington Bay.
For a fancy night out, I go to Sotto Enoteca for an authentic Italian cocktail, have a locally sourced dinner at Hen of the Wood, and catch a show at the Flynn Center, an art deco-style former vaudeville theater that hosts a terrific lineup of music, dance, theater, and art exhibitions.
Just outside my city, you can visit the Green Mountains for hiking, mountain biking, or skiing. For a mellow day (or one with kids), you can’t miss the Shelburne Museum and a walk around Shelburne Farms. This 1,400-acre working farm dates back to 1886, and the restored barns there are an amazing testament to that history. Save time for a glass of wine or a locally grown feast on the terrace at the farm’s inn for one of the most beautiful views of the lake and the Adirondacks. Charlotte Berry Farm, in the town of Charlotte, is also worth visiting.
My city is known for being home to spry, socially conscious grandmas in Birkenstocks, but it’s really an amazing destination for tech start-ups and entrepreneurs. I think the area’s isolation breeds innovation—but we also have a lot of former big-city dwellers who have moved their businesses to Burlington, bringing urban flair with them.
The best outdoor market in my city is the Burlington Farmers Market, a year-round affair where you can find everything from just-harvested fiddlehead ferns to homemade root beer. The vibe is great on a Saturday morning.
Penny Cluse Cafe is my favorite place to grab breakfast, and Nectar’s Lounge is the spot for late-night eats. The gravy fries are legendary.
To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read the alternative newspaper Seven Days.
When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I head down to the South End Truck Stop, a gathering of food trucks that roll up every Friday night during the summer, to nosh on reasonably priced burgers and tacos while enjoying the live music.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
To escape the crowds, I head west on College Street to find an empty bench overlooking Lake Champlain or go to Red Rocks Park to stroll the nature trails or sit on the beach for a while.
The dish that represents my city best is a burger made with LaPlatte beef from nearby Shelburne, and Heady Topper Double IPA from Alchemist Brewery is my city’s signature drink. Sample them both at the Farmhouse Tap & Grill. Heady Topper is a delicious (and popular) choice around here, but you’ll find locals ordering Hill Farmstead or Fiddlehead’s Second Fiddle just as often, thanks to a now-booming microbrewery climate that’s emerged in the past ten years and given us plenty of delicious options.
Nectar’s Lounge—famous for frequently hosting Phish, Grace Potter, and a lineup of other great bands—is the best place to see live music, but if you’re in the mood to dance, check out Club Metronome.
In the spring you should stay home. It’s Mud Season, so unless you love spring skiing, it’s best to wait until your car won’t be swallowed by the mud. (The one exception should be a visit to a sugarhouse, to see sap boiled into maple syrup. Be sure to sample some Sugar-on-Snow.)
In the summer you should rent a bike and check out the Island Line Trail, uniting Burlington with the beautiful Champlain Islands. Be sure to check the ferry schedule if you plan to bike all the way up to the islands for a scenic—and mostly flat—ride.
In the fall you should leaf-peep like a pro, preferably via bicycle or on foot. To truly enjoy autumn’s colors, hike up Mount Philo for an incredible view of the Lake Champlain valley.
In the winter you should get outside and do something active every single day you’re here. It’s what gives Vermonters grit and keeps us sane during the long, cold season. Try cross-country skiing at Catamount, downhill skiing at Sugarbush, ice-skating or pond hockey on Lake Champlain, or snowshoeing anywhere you like. Fat-biking, kite-boarding, ice-climbing and ice-fishing are also options for true outdoors fanatics.
If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss Oakledge Park. A lakefront park with a beach (but no lifeguard), walking trails, and an amazing (and ADA-compliant!) treehouse, Oakledge is proof that Vermonters love to get active with their kids from day one.