Seeking to beat the summer heat below the Mason-Dixon line, I recently took a 3-day weekend trip north to Burlington, Vermont’s largest city (though not its capital). Prior to moving to Virginia, I spent eight years in Connecticut and knew the Green Mountain State, as Vermont is nicknamed, as a ski haven in the winter and a popular leaf-peeping destination in the autumn. It turns out Vermont is full of year-round gems, and summer is not an exception. The cooler temperatures made for pleasant weather for hiking, biking, strolling, and even swimming. And maple syrup, one of Vermont’s most famous products, is good year-round, after all.
Three days is a do-able length of stay for visitors to Burlington, though you could always take extra time exploring more of Vermont if you wanted. So, how should you spend your long weekend in this charming city? Here’s what I suggest:
Day 1: Arrive in Burlington + Explore the Downtown
Getting (and Staying) There
Fly into Burlington International Airport (BTV) in nearby South Burlington, and then rent a car or utilize rideshare to bring you to your accommodation in town. We stayed at the perfect Airbnb for our group of four: Z’s Guest Suite, located just far enough out of the downtown area to be beyond the hustle and bustle, but an easy 5-minute drive or 15-minute bike ride to all the action. Burlington also hosts a number of national hotel chains, as well as quaint bed-and-breakfasts and historic inns.
Church Street Marketplace
Burlington, located on the shores of Lake Champlain and a stone’s throw from the Canadian border, is a vibrant college town with an artistic and progressive persona (it was the first American city to run entirely on renewable energy). The city’s downtown, anchored by the picturesque, pedestrian-only Church Street Marketplace, hums with activity in the summer.
Outdoor seating for many of the restaurants line either side of the thoroughfare, and boutique shops offer curious window-shoppers something to look at. Buskers performing music, magic tricks, and other acts entertain both children and adults alike. And even when the sun goes down, the marketplace remains an enchanting setting for an evening stroll.
Burlington’s proximity to the lake, as well as the mountains further inland, makes it an ideal destination for outdoorsy sorts. When you’re done perusing Church Street Marketplace, stroll down to Waterfront Park to take in a spectacular Vermont sunset or board one of several sightseeing boats at the marina for a cruise on the water (check out the Spirit of Ethan Allen or Whistling Man Schooner Company). There are also a number of public beaches located along the Burlington Bike Path (more on this later): check out North Beach Park and Leddy Park for starters, but be aware in the summertime that blue algae blooms can make swimming dangerous for humans and four-legged friends. Always check local conditions prior to taking the plunge!
Day 2: Go for a (Bike) Ride
Burlington’s crowning glory is the eight-mile Burlington Greenway, a paved path that follows the curve of the lakeshore and is popular among walkers, bikers, and runners alike. Pick up the greenway in the downtown, by Waterfront Park, and follow it north. This will take you down a leafy, shaded trail that includes UVM’s Medical Fitness Trail and also features benches and pause-points if you need a breather. As you head north, the greenway also passes by some inviting beaches, which make for a great break.
Beyond Burlington, the path is part of the Island Line Trail. The greenway culminates in an exhilarating peddle along a gravel-paved causeway (formerly an old rail line) across a narrower stretch of Lake Champlain. You’re surrounded on both sides by the water, the smell of fresh lake air whipping in your face- it’s a wonderful feeling. (This is best done on a cloudy day, as there’s little shaded respite on the causeway.) At the end, take the unique Bike Ferry, a labour of love by a local couple, across “the cut”, a 200-foot gap in the causeway for boats to pass through. This connects cyclists to the Champlain islands, where you can take in some of rural Vermont and stop for a picnic along the lakeshore. Pack plenty of water and snacks, and take your time enjoying this wonderfully unique experience on the world’s longest bike path across water.
If you don’t have access to bikes, there are a number of options for rentals in Burlington: check out Skirack, Local Motion, or North Star Sports for a variety of options (including tandem and e-bikes).
Breweries, Cideries, and Distilleries, Oh My!
After your 15+ mile bike ride, you deserve to quench your thirst back in Burlington with an adult beverage. Check out Pine Street, where you’ll find a series of breweries (like Zero Gravity Craft Brewery), cideries (like Citizen Cider), and even a wine tasting room (Dedalus). It’s fun to do a “crawl” from one venue to the next, but if you don’t have a driver, Church Street Marketplace and the surrounding area is still full of options to slake your thirst.
If you prefer the harder stuff, try out Mad River Distillers or Smuggler’s Notch Distillery, both local distilleries putting out their own variations on whiskey, bourbon, rum, and other hard liquors. If you don’t like to drink these neat, they also offer thoughtfully-crafted cocktails that capture some of the region’s most notable flavours (I especially liked Mad River’s maple cask old-fashioned).
Day 3: Escape to the Mountains
Confession: the itinerary for Day 3 involves venturing out of Burlington, to the incredibly picturesque ski resort town of Stowe. A 45-minute drive from Burlington, Stowe is the heart of the area’s ski country, its resort encompassing Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield. In the summertime, the drive here is leisurely, as you climb up through the Green Mountains and head for higher ground. The air is also notably cooler in this region, making it a good option if you have a hotter day.
Once you turn off the highway, you’ll pass through Waterbury, a historic village with two stops you should make, the first being the Ben & Jerry’s Factory. Book your tour ahead online, as this popular activity often fills up weeks in advance: $6 gets you a half-hour tour of the world of ice cream manufacturing and, of course, a free sample. Ben & Jerry’s is a uniquely Vermont product that has broken out on the national (and international) stage, and it’s fun to see how they’ve “made it big.” (PLEASE note: the factory does not guarantee ice cream production during tour times, so don’t be disappointed if you don’t get to see it in process. At time of writing, the factory floor is only in operation Monday through Thursday.)
Then, stop for lunch at Cold Hollow Cider Mill. More than a cidery, this place is also a deli, gift shop, and cider donut stand. “Vermont to the core”, as they bill themselves, Cold Hollow Cider Mill perfectly captures the classic ideal of Vermont. Enjoy local flavours (Cabot cheddar, maple syrup, crisp apples) in a variety of their specialty sandwiches, paninis, and wraps at their restaurant, then pop across the parking lot to their large shop filled with local products and freshly-made cider donuts. If you’re feeling it, poke your head into the tasting room to try a flight of ciders: you’ll be amazed at how varied their flavours can be!
Once you’ve fueled up, head to Stowe Mountain Resort. This ski resort is open year-round; in the summer, its gondola is a great way to gain some height on Mount Mansfield (for a $35 fee), though it won’t take you all the way to the top. There is also a toll road for vehicles, managed by the resort, that brings you up a winding 4.5-mile road to the ridge of the mountain.
The views on Mount Mansfield are awe-inspiring, but there’s another way to get to the top for the adventure-minded: the very challenging Cliff Trail. Starting near the upper gondola station, this trail is for experienced hikers only, requiring a strenuous vertical climb over boulders, across deep gaps in the rock, and along nearly-sheer rock faces, aided by the use of iron rungs. Those partaking of this trail should be aware: if conditions are wet, the scramble up to the top is extremely hazardous. (Truly, it’s more bouldering than hiking, and they aren’t overstating anything when they say the trail is for advanced hikers.)
But if you’re comfortable and capable, this difficult path rewards you with views from the top- you can even head all the way up to the “chin”, the highest point on Mount Mansfield. Along the ridge of the mountain, the ecosystem is extremely delicate as a fragile, alpine zone; visitors should take care to abide by posted signage and not venture off-trail. Take in the scenery before you, but remember to budget enough time to make it down before the last gondola ride of the day!
On your drive back to Burlington, be sure to stop at the plaza of shops in the town of Waterbury Center: you’ll see it off of route 100. This is the perfect place to pick up any last-minute goodies before your flight home tomorrow; there’s the Cabot Farmers’ Store for your favourite cheeses plus other rare Cabot products not always found in grocery stores, Lake Champlain Chocolates for (of course) chocolates, coffee (including maple lattes), and some of the best hot chocolate around, and the Barrel House Tasting Room by Smuggler’s Notch Distillery for more of the hard stuff.
Burlington is the perfect base for a long weekend in Vermont. With a convenient airport, bustling downtown, and proximity to a number of outdoor activities, the city is easy to get to and full of options for all kinds of travellers.
Have you been? What did you think of it? I’d love to know- leave me a comment or send an e-mail with your thoughts!