On the outside, Burlington is a college town. Home to the University of Vermont, the city’s foot traffic is comprised heavily of students wearing Toms and skinny jeans. But when you start to peel away the layers, you’ll find that this northern Vermont town is more than just backpacks and poly-sci majors. It’s home to many microbreweries, has a breathtaking view of the Lake Champlain shoreline and has a vibe, culture and attitude that makes it a hip tourist place for people of all ages.
On a recent trip to Burlington, I fell in love with the low-key, chill vibe of the people and the city. But even more, it was the massively developing food and drink scene and focus on fair trade, organic and locally sustained products that really hooked me. But food isn’t the only local push you’ll see in Burlington. Most of the shops and stores feature primarily Vermont-made artisan goods, and the city has put thousands of dollars in restoring the waterfront, giving locals a bike path and boardwalk from which to gaze at the Adirondack Mountains. It’s a city you’ll fall in love with in just 24 hours.
Start your morning with a stroll, bike ride or rollerblade around Oakledge Park and the Flynn Avenue beach. Being outside is a way of life for Burlington locals, and you’ll find them riding, running or playing by the water no matter what the temperature. To rent a bike for cheap (just $28 a day), check out North Star Sports. Although the view of the city from the shore is stunning, the real reason to go is to check out the handmade Burlington Earth Clock. If you stand in the middle and look toward the mountains, the stones will represent where the sun sets and rises. It may not be as reliable as a watch, but it’s definitely cooler.
After checking out the clock, stop for breakfast at Magnolia Bistro on Lawson Lane. The menu is mostly vegetarian and locally sourced, and it’s a place where the phrase “can I have tofu instead?” is heard daily. I loved the chipotle black bean and cheddar tofu scramble and the lemon ricotta pancakes, which are sweet, fluffy and just tart enough. After breakfast, grab a java to go at the Radio Bean. The exposed brick, local art and live music make it a fine place to just chill with a big cuppa. If you’re feeling fancy, try the Five Dollar Shake, which is a mix of beer, coffee and syrup.
One of the things to love most about Burlington are the amazing local shops along College and Church streets. One of my favorite shops in town, and one of the coolest I’ve ever been to, is Bennington Potters. From exposed brick to a trendy loft space to a very Anthropologie feel, this store is a home-decorating hipster’s dream. Here you’ll find dinnerware, art, serving pieces, books, pillows and blankets all crafted by Vermont artisans.
After stocking up at Bennington, make your way to the Church Street Marketplace, the main shopping and eating “drag” in Burlington. A few must-see stores include Lake Champlain Chocolates for a rich and hearty hot chocolate and a few of the homemade peanut-butter cups, Sweet Lady Jane for hip and trendy women’s clothes, Frog Hollow for homemade paintings, knickknacks and doodads and Bella’s for fun and funky jewelry. End your shopping extravaganza with a stop at Crow Bookshop. The floors creak and smooth jazz plays while you thumb through strangers’ old books. It’s a piece of history and hidden gem for local hipsters.
After a few hours of shopping, do a little fish gazing at the ECHO Lake Aquarium, right on the shore of Lake Champlain. The center explores the rich ecological systems in Lake Champlain, like the world’s oldest coral reefs and the hundreds of species of fish that call it home. Plus, you can find out about the age-old question: Is the sea creature Champ real or fake?
Vermont as a state is home to more breweries per capita than any other state in the country, and Burlington is home to quite a few of them. A little outside of the city’s center is Magic Hat Brewing Company, one of the most well-known in the state. The factory is like Willy Wonka’s chocolate shop on crack (or drunk) with bright colors, punk-rock music and a lot of mannequin heads. To see how the sausage is made (or better yet, beer), do a self-guided factory tour, which ends with a free tasting.
After a few small pints of Magic Hat, head back into the center of town and go to American Flatbread Burlington Hearth for a very happy Happy Hour. Order a few of the flatbreads (like the Dancing Heart or Medicine Wheel) for noshing while you guzzle down a few of the Zero Gravity house beers. After Happy Hour, stumble your way to the Farmhouse Tap and Grill. The farm-to-table gastropub is a local favorite. It has more beers on tap than most restaurants and offers decadent dishes like big and hearty burgers (made with grass-fed, locally sourced meat, of course), beer-battered fish and double-fried chicken.
Be sure to save a bit of room in your stomach for a few of the city’s oldest and finest pints at the Vermont Pub and Brewery. The VPB is one of the oldest on the East Coast and has been named the best place to have a beer and the best place for couples by local Burlingtonites. Its Burly Irish Ale is the top seller, but the beers change frequently so ask what’s on tap.
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