Capital Region

A person leaves a store with a sign that reads Bear Pond Books.
A large, white capitol building with a golden dome on a sunny day.

Capital Region

The nation’s smallest capital city, Montpelier, anchors a region where family farms and wooded uplands rub shoulders with urban environments built to human scale. The towns, villages, and two busy cities that flank the Winooski River Valley have long been hubs of industry and government. The citizen legislature that meets in Montpelier each year is Vermont’s bedrock of democracy, while less than 10 miles away, bedrock itself is the treasure of Barre, the “Granite Capital of the World.” And the little town of Cabot lends its name to cheese enjoyed across the nation and beyond.

The golden dome of the Vermont State House is nearly everyone’s first sight of Montpelier. It stands atop a handsome stone capitol that is the opposite of a forbidding government fortress—visitors are invited to stroll the halls on their own, though tours are also available. Nearby, the Vermont History Museum presents a massive mural that brings to life 350 years of human experience in and around the Green Mountains. Other exhibits include a full-sized Abenaki wigwam that invites you to step into the world of Vermont’s indigenous “People of the Dawn.”

The streets surrounding the State House bustle with some two dozen independent shops and restaurants, testaments to the spirit and hard work of the local community. Nightlife, too, keeps the city center humming, with performances by the award-winning Lost Nation Theatre and the Montpelier Chamber Orchestra, and art-house films at The Savoy.

In a long and uniquely Vermont tradition, the Farmers Night Concert Series brings artists from around the state to perform in the House Chamber each Wednesday night during the legislative session. The grounds around the State House also host community fun throughout the year, ranging from the Capital City Farmers Market’s local-food showcase to Juneteenth and Independence Day celebrations to winter ice skating beneath the golden dome.

Montpelier’s twin city, Barre, is a different sort of capital: a historic capital of granite, where the enduring stone has been quarried for more than 200 years. The Rock of Ages visitor center and tours offer a look into the workings of the world’s largest deep-hole quarry, a 600-foot-deep treasury of Vermont’s signature gray granite. On Barre’s northern outskirts, Hope Cemetery showcases the remarkable skill of generations of granite sculptors, many of them Italian immigrants who created memorials to their fellow craftsmen.

One of the most spectacular tributes to Barre’s granite history occurs every summer with the return of RockFire, an evening event held in the abandoned quarries in the village of Websterville. Along with fire-lit art installations and music across multiple stages, there’s a glorious FireWalk path that blazes with thousands of candles and dozens of bonfires.

Back in the Granite City, visitors can explore a busy, compact downtown that centers on the Barre Opera House. Built in 1899, it’s a splendidly restored venue for live performances, such as concerts by its resident Vermont Philharmonic. Throughout the streets of Barre, you can also spy granite sculptures that include traditional, modern, and quirky subjects (the 74-foot-long granite zipper is a standout).

The Capital Region isn’t all granite and government, though. The rugged Worcester Range, north and east of Montpelier, offers trails that can be challenging or Sunday-stroll-easy, depending on which you choose. From the summit of Spruce Mountain in Plainfield or Worcester Mountain in Worcester, you can see much of the northern Green Mountains as well as glimpse New Hampshire’s distant White Mountains. Kayakers and canoeists enjoy paddling the Winooski River, the Wrightsville Reservoir, and the quiet, powerboat-free waters of Berlin Pond, the capital’s pristine water source. Sitting against the border of the Northeast Kingdom, Woodbury is sprinkled with no fewer than 23 lakes, the most of any town in Vermont.

Two of Vermont’s favorite sugarhouses are just minutes away from the capital. At Bragg Farm in East Montpelier and Morse Farm in Montpelier, visitors in late winter and early spring can watch the transformation of maple sap into maple syrup, as sugary steam rises. Any season, of course, is the right time for a maple creemee—Vermont’s own maple-kissed soft ice cream—at either location. It’s a sweet reward for a visit to the Capital Region.