36 Hours in Burlington, Vermont

By Jeremy Egner 
August, 19 2015

Burlington, home of the University of Vermont and the birthplace of Phish, Ben and Jerry’s and Seventh Generation, has long embodied the earthy progressivism and can-do independence that define the state’s spirit. Lately that ethos has taken on a sophisticated sheen, as chefs apply Vermont’s longtime obsession with local ingredients in exciting new directions. There are still plenty of Birkenstocks about; they’re just parked under tables spread with confit duck poutine, braised leek crepes and crisp, complex Vermont craft brews like Alchemist’s Heady Topper, a beer of near-mythic reputation among hops aficionados.

Burlington, Vermont’s largest city at just over 42,000 residents, comes alive in summer. The deep aquamarine Lake Champlain thaws and Waterfront Park, built on industrial land reclaimed in the 1980s during Senator Bernie Sanders’s tenure as the city’s mayor (he announced his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination there in May), teems with students and families. Kayaks and skiffs dot the water’s glassy surface while runners and bikers fill shoreline paths. Abundant recreational opportunities along with the city’s high walkability factor — you can stroll from the postcard-pretty downtown to the burgeoning arts scene in the South End — mean foodie tourists can burn off calories as quickly as they pack them on. (It’s a nice thought, at least.)


1. Bike and Brew | 4 p.m.

Hit the ground running — or rolling — by pairing two pillars of Burlington life: craft beer and biking. Small-town breweries like Alchemist and Hill Farmstead make some of the world’s most acclaimed beers, but you don’t have to leave Burlington to find top beermakers. Rent a bike at Local Motion, a nonprofit “promoting people-powered transportation and recreation” ($32 a day) and cruise south along the lake to Switchback Brewing Company, one of the city’s craft beer pioneers. The smooth and malty Switchback Ale, the brewery’s first offering in 2002, remains its most popular (beer flights include four samples for $5). Head up Pine Street to sample the suds at Zero Gravity, now in an airy industrial-chic space, and Queen City Brewery. Want a break from beer? Keep pedaling up Pine for flights at Citizen Cider, an award-winning hard cider producer. ArtsRiot Truck Stop, an event held every Friday throughout the summer, brings together favorite food trucks like Southern Smoke and Taco Truck All Stars, hungry hordes and live music. Note: Tipsy skippering is dangerous, even by bike, so embrace moderation.

2. A ‘Creemee’ Sunset | 7 p.m.

Vermont may share a border with Quebec, but resist the urge to Frenchify the name of this local summer staple. It’s pronounced “creamy,” and while it’s unclear to outsiders what makes a creemee different from regular soft-serve ice cream — the fat content is supposedly higher in some versions — make it a maple for maximum regional flavor. Grab a $3 cone at Burlington Bay Market and Cafe next to Waterfront Park, find a bench and watch the sun go down behind the Adirondacks across Lake Champlain.

Vermont pride meets gastronomic inspiration at Hen of the Wood, arguably the jewel in Burlington’s foodie crown. This casually refined restaurant, a two-year-old branch of the original in Waterbury, features local meat (rabbit leg with parsnips, for example) and vegetable (grilled cauliflower) entrees. The menu changes, but one constant is the mushroom toast, with house-cured bacon and a poached farm egg (dinner for two, about $120). Nearby, Bleu, in the Courtyard Burlington Harbor hotel, specializes in New England seafood; the Lake Champlain perch sandwich is the star ($15). Cap off the night with a cocktail by the fire pit at Juniper, in the Hotel Vermont. Try the Juniper Crush, made with Green Mountain gin, juniper berries and mint ($15).


4. Milk a Cow | 9 a.m.
Fuel up with pancakes or a “Vermonter” skillet at Henry’s Diner, a local favorite since 1925 (breakfast for two, around $20). Then head seven miles south to Shelburne Farms, a National Historic Landmark encompassing 1,400 verdant, rolling acres along Lake Champlain. The facility began life in the late 1800s as the agrarian estate of William Seward Webb and his wife, Lila Vanderbilt Webb. The estate’s design masterminds included Frederick Law Olmsted, of Central and Prospect Park fame, and the architect Robert H. Robertson, whose original house and magnificent gabled barns remain. The complex is still a working farm, but in the 1970s Webb descendants transformed it into a nonprofit educational organization focusing on sustainable agriculture. Visitors can milk cows, chase chickens and watch cheesemakers create award-winning Cheddars from the milk of the farm’s Brown Swiss cows. (Admission: $5 for children, $6 for seniors and $8 for adults.) The main house is an inn, for those who want the farm immersion experience.

5. Shop on Church Street | 2 p.m.

Locals can seem ambivalent about the Church Street Marketplace, an open-air mall featuring chain stores like Gap and Patagonia. The historical architecture, central location and town square vibe make the corporate incursion more palatable, and there are plenty of local stores like Lake Champlain Chocolates, the throwback Burlington Records and the Vermont Flannel Company. Grab a bite and a beer at the Farmhouse Tap and Grill, which — you know the drill by now — specializes in Vermont beer and fare. Recharge at Muddy Waters, the platonic ideal of a funky coffeehouse with a pressed-tin ceiling, church pews and Christmas-light chandelier. Wind down with a cocktail at the Daily Planet. (Try the Prime Thyme, made with vodka, thyme lemonade and ginger liqueur, $9.)

6. Root for the Home Team | 6 p.m.

Centennial Field, home of the Vermont Lake Monsters, an affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, is one of the oldest professional baseball parks. It opened on the University of Vermont campus in 1906 and has hosted diamond greats like Tris Speaker and Ken Griffey Jr. The field got some much-needed upgrades recently, but the frills are still few. Even baseball agnostics will be vulnerable to the charms of a summer evening in the old grandstand. (Tickets $5 to $15.)

7. Well Lit Live Acts | 10 p.m.

Lamp shopping and live music might not seem like the most obvious pairing, but it makes for an elegant end to the day. The Light Club Lamp Shop, which opened last year on North Winooski Avenue, glimmers with the soft light of dozens of vintage lamps, most of which are for sale, and provides an inviting ambience for jazz combos and other conversation-volume acts. The vibe is more belle époque salon than music club, but those in search of a more traditional live venue can find one without leaving the building. Light Club is part of a complex that includes the jumped-up street-food cafe Duino Duende — the volcano fries ($12) are your friend — and Radio Bean, a cozy and eclectic music spot. Grab a Heady Topper and wander between them.


8. Hit the Water | 9 a.m.

Lake Champlain offers a stunning backdrop for anything you do in Burlington, but to really appreciate its beauty you have to get out on it. The glacier-carved lake, stretching some 120 miles from New York to Quebec, is around 400 feet at its deepest, but there’s plenty of delight — and exercise — to be found paddling in the shallows and exploring the rocky shoreline. The Community Sailing Center can set you up with a sailboat, kayak, canoe or paddle board (from $15 an hour) for communion with nature and aerobic penitence for all that noshing.

9. Dim Sum Brunch | Noon

Humans cannot live on New Vermont cuisine alone, so spice things up with a dim sum brunch at A Single Pebble on Bank Street. The chicken and cabbage buns and “mock eel,” made of shiitake mushrooms, are standouts. (The celebrity chef Alton Brown called the latter his “all-time favorite chopstick food.”) But the dim sum, on offer every Sunday, is always chef’s choice. (Dim sum courses are $2.99 to $7.99.) Other favorite ethnic spots include Pizzeria Verità, purveyor of top-notch Neapolitan-style pies; El Cortijo Taqueria y Cantina; and Pho Hong, a Vietnamese restaurant.

10. Cruise the Lake | 1:45 p.m.

Kick back and say farewell to Burlington with a leisurely cruise aboard the Spirit of Ethan Allen, a 140-foot vessel that docks in the heart of the waterfront. Sightseeing and dinner cruises (adults $19 to $29) highlight the geology and history of the lake, which was the site of pivotal battles in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. Keep an eye out for Champ, the lake’s very own Loch Ness Monster analog. Continue your Champ studies at the ECHO Lake Aquarium, which offers a colorful history of Champ lore, as well as more scientifically rigorous exhibitions on the ecology and wildlife of Lake Champlain, with lots of hands-on activities for children.


The Hotel Vermont has landed on “top hotels” lists since opening in 2013. Its interior and 125 rooms, most with lake views, combine clean Scandinavian lines with rusticity. The building materials, art and products are primarily local, and the restaurant Juniper features local fare and Vermont beers. The hotel’s beer concierge (rough gig), Matt Canning, leads brewery tours and helps guests negotiate the scene. Summer rates start at $279. Marriott Courtyard and Hilton offer waterfront locations nearby.

Less expensive options include the charming, family-owned Bel-Aire Motel, which is centrally located, quiet and very comfortable, though some rooms could use updating. Summer rates start at $79.