Have you ever wondered if Burlington, VT, has lots of things to do? It’s a vibrant city on the water with lots of green space and a green mindset. You’ll find many activities in and around this active community, both inside and out. Before we start our adventure, here’s a word of advice: Save room for ice cream! Settle in for the scoop on Vermont’s biggest city.
Where Is Burlington, VT
With a population of around 43,000, Burlington is in northwestern Vermont, on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain. The northeast corner of New York State lies just across the lake. You’ll reach the Canadian border 45 miles to the north, and a trip to Montreal is just over twice that distance.
Though the region is home to both the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks, the city of Burlington is not mountainous. It’s low in terms of elevation – just 200 feet above sea level.
What Is Burlington, VT, Known For
When you think of Burlington, you might think of the department store that specializes in coats. But that Burlington resides in New Jersey. This one is a forward-thinking New England city with deep roots in colonial times. It’s had a significant impact on our contemporary culture as well.
The Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company and the Vermont Teddy Bear Company are based in the area. It’s also the birthplace of the jam band Phish and the home of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. He was Burlington’s mayor in the 1980s and helped to spearhead the city’s alternative energy program. Since 2014 the town has operated solely on renewable energy sources.
Burlington has some big annual events that attract many visitors, including the Festival of Fools, the Vermont Brewers Festival, and the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival. Burlington is also a college town home to the University of Vermont, Champlain College, and a branch of the Community College of Vermont.
Things to Do in Burlington, VT
We’re going to kick off our time in Burlington by experiencing the lively arts and retail scene. Then we’ll see what the creative craft beer community is brewing up and take in some sights along the lakefront. We’re going to have to hustle to take advantage of all of the great things to do in Burlington. We’ll reward ourselves with a sweet treat that, for many, is their first taste of Burlington, VT.
Church Street Marketplace
In many ways, this thriving retail center is the heart and soul of the community. Turning a downtown district into a pedestrian mall worked out well for this town.
The historic marketplace, paved with bricks and cobblestones, covers four city blocks on Church Street. It has around 75 retail businesses, including specialty shops, galleries, and restaurants, active day and night.
You can view lots of public art or just sit down in one of the comfortable common areas to pass the time. There’s even a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop, but you might want to wait till you visit their factory nearby.
Burlington Beer Trail
After you visit Church Street, take a stroll down the beer trail. You probably know that brewpubs rule the Burlington scene. Currently, there are seven different taprooms scattered around the city. You can find most of them concentrated in a relatively small area within walking or bicycling distance.
To sample some of the different tastes and styles on tap, you can start at either end of the Burlington Trail. The participating breweries include Simple Roots, Queen City, Zero Gravity, and Switchback.
Burlington Greenway Waterfront Bike Path
You’ll see lots of sailboats, canoes, and kayaks on Lake Champlain. Along the shore, at Waterfront Park, you can also enjoy a 12.5-mile walking/biking path that snakes through an incredible greenbelt. The trail is five feet wide and mostly paved with either asphalt or concrete, but it also has gravel stretches. Dogs will love it too, but you have to keep them on a leash.
Along the waterfront, you can relax on bench swings and take in the view. Gaze across the lake to see the Adirondack Mountains in the distance.
Ben & Jerry’s Factory Tour
Two hippies, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, started a little ice cream business in an old gas station in 1978. That building was demolished a few years later, but Ben and Jerry have gone on to worldwide success and acclaim. Their creative and outrageously delicious flavor combinations have made them famous.
You can get a behind-the-scenes look at their operations at their sprawling and colorfully painted plant just outside of town at the Ben & Jerry headquarters in Waterbury. Daily factory tours run every day but Wednesday.
During this entertaining peek behind the creamery curtain, you’ll get to sample some ice cream and see how they make it. You might even learn about some flavors that got away because they were just too wacky.
Note that tours are unavailable due to construction but will resume on November 11, according to the company’s website.
Drive Through Smugglers Notch
On your return trip to Burlington, take the scenic drive up through Mt. Mansfield State Forest in the heart of the Green Mountains. The elevation rises to over 2,100 ft. You can visit the state park and a resort here, but the main attraction is the mountain pass. Years ago, a narrow horse trail led travelers through the staggering thousand-foot cliffs.
Today a winding 3.5-mile highway gives you an amazing view of Smugglers Notch and the surrounding scenery. It has outdoor opportunities for hiking, cave exploring, skiing, and bouldering. Get a sample of the area and decide whether you can mark it down as a future trip.
Visit the Trapp Family Lodge
These hills are alive with … Hollywood inspiration. If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Sound of Music,” you may know about the talented von Trapp family. The family of singers was from Austria and toured the United States in the 1940s as a professional musical act. They settled down on a ranch near Stowe, Vermont, because it reminded them of their homeland.
The von Trapps opened their expansive mountain lodge to guests in 1950. Sadly, it burned down 30 years later, but a 96-room resort stands in its place. It is owned and operated by members of the same family and stands as a tribute to the von Trapps. It’s less than 10 miles from Smugglers Notch down State Highway 108.
Where to Camp
You’ll find many places to stay in Burlington, VT, but in such a green and rich area, you might enjoy spending the nights in nature. You can find some camping options, but we recommend North Beach Campground.
North Beach Campground
North Beach Campground in Burlington doesn’t feel like it’s in the city. The clean and well-kept facility sits on the waterfront. It has 137 shaded sites for tents and RVs with a natural sand beach and inviting picnic areas.
The campground has water and electrical service, a dump station, restrooms, and showers. It can get crowded, but you can’t beat the location and proximity to downtown Burlington.
Stretch Out or Explore Burlington, VT
When you visit Burlington, VT, you’ll find a warm and friendly community with lots of personality. Stretch out a little, and you’ll discover the stunning beauty of the verdant Vermont countryside. Whether you hang close to town or venture out a bit, there’s no shortage of things to do. What do you love most about Burlington, VT?