Greater Burlington

A person sits on a chair on a hill looking at the view of a large lake.
People walk on a pedestrian street on a warm day.

Greater Burlington

Nicknamed “the Queen City,” Burlington couldn’t have asked for a better throne. With the northern Green Mountains to its back, it sits on a slope overlooking the widest part of magnificent Lake Champlain, with views of the Adirondacks beyond. The twin magnets of Vermont’s biggest city and New England’s biggest lake have long pulled visitors to the state’s northwest corner, whose metropolitan cool is matched by the laid-back welcome of its smaller towns. Clustered on Lake Champlain, along the Winooski River, or in the rising mountains, these places offer cultural and recreational opportunities all their own.

Long before the 1609 arrival of French explorer Samuel de Champlain, the 435-square-mile lake at the heart of this region was a hub for fishing, camping, and trading among indigenous peoples. Among them were the Algonquian-speaking Abenaki, sometimes called “the original Vermonters.” Today their story is shared at Burlington’s Ethan Allen Homestead Museum, which hosts a re-created 19th-century hunting village and the exhibit “Abenaki: The First People” in partnership with an intertribal cultural organization.

The history of native peoples is among the many fascinating topics explored at ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. Set on the Burlington waterfront, this science and nature museum celebrates the lake and those who have called it home—humans, plants, and animals alike—over thousands of years. For a more literal plunge into Champlain, the nearby Waterfront Diving Center has gear rental and charters for certified scuba enthusiasts, while the Community Sailing Center gives sailors the chance to test their skills on “America’s Sixth Great Lake.”

Not everything in Burlington is lake-centric, though. Just steps from the water is Church Street Marketplace, a four-block pedestrian mall that is hands-down Vermont’s liveliest shopping and people-watching destination. The South End Arts District, meanwhile, offers a dynamic mix of small-business incubators, galleries, and studios, plus an increasingly buzz-worthy dining scene.

Among the communities immediately surrounding Burlington, the town of Shelburne packs a triple punch. It would be worth a day trip for Shelburne Museum alone: At 45 acres, this is New England’s largest art and history museum. But there’s also Shelburne Farms, a National Historic Landmark where visitors can explore endless trails, meet friendly farm animals, and see delicious cheese being made. On the same picturesque lakeside property is the Inn at Shelburne Farms, which offers the rare chance to spend the night in a Gilded Age country estate home once owned by a member of the Vanderbilt family.

Green spaces abound in the Greater Burlington region. Founded in 1924, Mount Philo State Park in Charlotte is the state’s oldest state park—and some might say its prettiest. Hikers make a beeline for Camel’s Hump State Park to conquer its iconically shaped mountain; farther north, a trip to Underhill State Park provides the chance to take on Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak. Easy-cruising cyclists glide along Burlington’s famed Island Line Trail, which juts right out into Lake Champlain itself on the Colchester Causeway, a former railbed. Just 20 minutes from downtown, mountain bikers pick up the pace on 20-plus miles of forested trails at Williston’s Catamount Family Outdoor Center.

Skiing and snowshoeing opportunities—at places like Bolton Valley, Camel’s Hump Nordic Center, and Sleepy Hollow—complete the picture of Greater Burlington as a year-round destination for outdoor adventures. But that’s matched by a calendar of events that fills all four seasons with art, culture, food, and fun. Annual headliners like Burlington’s sprawling Discover Jazz Festival and Essex Junction’s 10-day Champlain Valley Fair are worth planning for. On the other hand, serendipity provides lots of happy discoveries among the ever-changing exhibits and performances at venues such as Shelburne Museum, the University of Vermont’s Fleming Museum of Art, and the region’s performing-arts hub, The Flynn.

For food lovers, filling up on local flavor here is easy. Burlington has long been one of New England’s premier dining destinations, with James Beard Award honorees that range from upscale farm-to-table (Hen of the Wood) to Eastern Mediterranean mezze (Honey Road). The nearby city of Winooski is also a draw for foodies, with places like Waterworks, Our House Bistro, and Mule Bar holding their own with their Burlington counterparts.

This is also the birthplace of Vermont’s modern craft-beer culture: The state’s first brewpub was opened in Burlington in 1988. On beer menus throughout the region you’ll see a wealth of names—Foam, Zero Gravity, Four Quarters, Queen City, Black Flannel, and more—proudly carrying on that brewing tradition today.