Burlington, Vermont is kind of a passionate love story of mine. It began two and a half years ago, when a girl studied abroad with an amazing group of people from Champlain College and, at the end of the semester, had to sever herself from them as she returned to school in Boston. I swore up and down while we were away that I would visit campus at some point. I wanted to see my friends and I wanted to see for myself the city everyone buzzed about.
Four months after we all parted ways, I seized the opportunity to board a Greyhound bus headed for Montreal, which deposited me near the University of Vermont on a gorgeously sunny day. A friend met me there, and for the next couple of hours she gave me a tour of the campus. It was so different than my campus experience at Emerson College, which is the whole of downtown Boston, and I was smitten.
The rest of the weekend, I was crushing harder and harder on Burlington’s youthful vitality, the local businesses and restaurants, the authentically hip culture, the gorgeous spring weather, and the damn mountains. (One of my best friends who still lives there and I used to try to keep a tally of how many times I commented on or thought about the Adirondacks tucked into Champlain Valley.) I was among some of my favorite company, and loved getting a taste of everyone’s favorite spots to shop or do homework. By the time I left Sunday afternoon, I was looking forward to our next rendezvous. It was always somewhere in my head, floating around, giving me butterflies until I finally returned again seven months later.
Burlington first meant reunion with people, and now it encompasses place, too.
I first loved it so much because it held people that are so dear to me, and through them I love it all the more. I came, and continue to come, back for many reasons, but the one that remains constant is the serious grasp its hand has around my heart.
Burlington is a small city, which makes it even more charming; still, there always seems to be something new to do, and somewhere new to check out. I’ve been twice so far this year, and just looking at photos again sends me spinning into a jumble of affection.
When you go–not if, because it would be a shame to miss out on Burlington–I hope you have a similar heart-exploding-because-it’s-so-charming time. These are just a few of my many explanations for my love.
Because the food rocks.
Where farm-to-table is concerned, Burlington’s got it all. Like Paris, the Vermont Pub and Brewery and American Flatbread Co. are always a good idea, serving up classics in deliciously fresh ways. I ordered the shepherd’s pie at the Vermont Pub, and every flavor was deep and warm. American Flatbread is perfect for ordering multiple pizzas and sharing with the table, so you get a full-range sample of the offerings. It’s the best kind of mix and match out there, especially since the slices are cut in long, narrow strips. And it’s fun to watch them cook the pizzas in their wood-fired ovens, on display in the middle of the restaurant.
I stopped at August First for the first time a few weeks ago, and got there in the nick of time. It was some serious clockwork–at 11am, a surge of diners formed a line that snaked out to the patio. By then I was already a quarter of the way into my cinnamon roll croissant, which is just as flaky and rich as its name suggests. Their counter of pastries is dizzying in selection; and after also ordering their home fries, seasoned with rosemary and cracked black pepper, I took a seat at a four-person table. For the next thirty minutes, I slowly swallowed up my meal and enjoyed the company of a book, surrounded by the bright warehouse space and its antique-chic decor.
For El Cortijo, a farm-to-taco approach conquers.
To boot, it’s based in a 1950s diner, retaining nostalgia while reinventing its charm with locally inspired Mexican dishes and a tequila bar. The way string lights droop from the ceiling adds to its iconic feel.
Other local joints I’m obsessed with are Henry’s Diner and Mirabelle’s, both of which are cozy and probably looking at a wait time. They definitely aren’t a secret among the locals. At Henry’s, some hot apple cider and one of their skillets (my favorite is the Athena, a biscuit on the side) hits every spot. At Mirabelle’s, brunch time french toast is right in all the right ways.
Saving the best for last, of course, is Burlington’s indelibly exquisite dessert scene.
Like My Little Cupcake, where mini cupcakes using local ingredients might make ordering a running-rampant ordeal. They’re precious to the point of onsetting cute aggression. On Friday nights, the bakery hosts wine and dessert pairings for $10, meaning three treats and three wine samples for ten dollars.
Ben and Jerry’s hallmark storefront was just around the corner from its current location at the Church Street Marketplace, intersected by, yes, Cherry Garcia Street. Eat this ice cream where and how it was meant to be enjoyed, at the very center of its upbringing.
In the warmer months, do yourself a favor and order a maple creamee from one of the many waterfront stalls. Get a maple raspberry twist, and say goodbye to your favored vanilla-chocolate swirl. It. Is. Everything.
And if you don’t think Vermont can’t infuse maple into anything, read on and try me.
Drinking couldn’t be craftier
Burlington’s bars really pack a punch. Coupled with the city’s soaring microbrewery businesses, drinking local is oh so satisfying. Visit Citizen Cider first and sample all ten of their on-tap ciders. It’s a hoppy bar, crowded with twenty-somethings on any given Saturday afternoon and giving off the vibe that this is the place to be. When I was up there one weekend, my friend Scarlett and I decided to make an hour or so of it, and loved taste-testing the amber-shaded bubbly ciders. And if you feel so inclined, order a platter of their poutine. You will be the polar opposite of disappointed.
Drink is a young socialite’s fantasy. The cool blue lighting enhances the experience of sinking into a deep couch, cocktail in hand, and playing a rousing game of Trivial Pursuit. Though it looks out onto St. Paul Street, you don’t really notice being in the thick of downtown. For a while, you’ll drift away on the lull its enticing drinks and easygoing energy.
One time I went to the Archives, and I didn’t play any of the vintage arcade games they offered, but I really enjoyed the bar’s bordering of games. Set in an exposed brick building, it is a bar that harkens nostalgia and Wonder Emporium-esque glee. It’s also just really cool. I dug it.
Then there’s the Three Needs, which covers all of your bases: food, drink, and entertainment.
The bar sells pints of their microbrews, made on-site, and at the entrance is a small kiosk where you can grab a late-night slice of pizza. Pool tables are scattered around the back room, and on every table you’ll find a board game. It’s a cool place to end the night.
In another realm of beverages, Uncommon Coffee Grounds whips up a dreamy maple latte. Sure, I’m all jitters for the next few hours, but when I’m sipping on its natural sweetness, I have no choice but to accept the fate. Believe me, I do so ecstatically.
The Burlington farmer’s market
Every Saturday between May and October, the sprawling park on St. Paul Street is a vision of vendors selling their homegrown products. Come to the Burlington Farmer’s Market to browse stalls of pottery, spirits, produce, and sweet treats. Throw Theo’s maple lemonade (it’s a thing, it’s a terrific thing) into the mix and call it a day. Really, though, you can indulge all of your foodie imaginings. What better way to greet the day than by centering yourself around Burlington itself?
When I went, I tucked a bag of Karen’s Artisan Popcorn into my tote bag, also juggling my maple lemonade and a blueberry donut from the Rolling Donut. I was up to my eyes in decisions, being lured in every direction by the scents wafting together harmoniously. We also stopped at Pak-Afghan Foods for a kick of spice with a samosa. It was plain old delish.
Yes, so food plays a huge role for me here, but the communal air is equally splendid. Live music, for one, is a huge can’t miss. Grab a spot in the grass by the gazebo, at the edge of the market, and plant yourself down with your spoils.
The Burlington Farmer’s Market brings the community together. You feel like another cog in the wheel, a part of something bigger. Chatting with passersby and vendors is common and very welcomed.
People are exceedingly friendly
I grew up in Everett, Massachusetts, an urban three-square mile city where the Boston skyline is visible from most spots. Our high school’s library had a rotunda with prime views. In and around Boston, people don’t generally want to be bothered with smiles and good mornings. It might not be at the New York level, but Boston has its aloofness about it and anyone who strays from that doesn’t get a smile in return, but a do I know you? in the shape of narrowed eyes and a brisker step.
People in Burlington are out-of-their-way friendly, and you immediately accept it. There’s a genuine kindness that’s extended to everyone whose path locals pass, leaving you with a new spring in your step. Whether about dogs, food products, or general life, there’s a strong community here built upon the overt care people truly have for people and making connections, even ones that might never surpass a good morning.
No matter where you are, someone is bound to strike up a conversation, and suddenly the two of you are old friends.
I would undoubtedly come to Burlington just for the views. Give me my journal, my camera, and some cupcakes, and set me up along the waterfront, and I’d be fine for hours. Lake Champlain gleams along the horizon, and from most points in the city you’ll catch a breathtaking glimpse. I don’t know if it gets old for people who live there–**anyone who lives here, care to answer?**–but I know it never loses its wonderment for me.
Burlington is precariously perched on top of endless outdoorsy activities. For one, there’s the bike path that runs by the waterfront, and plenty of walking and green spaces. Within an hour, you can make it to a number of reserves and woods for a hike. Once winter strikes, Burlington is also a jumping off point for hitting the slopes.
As a rule, anywhere outside of Burlington proper requires a car, but who doesn’t get pleasure out of driving with the windows rolled down and fresh mountain air spilling through? There’s already a casualness that oozes over the city, but the added perk of nature enhances that tranquility. It gives the best of both worlds a real name. Plus, reading spots are simple to spot and hard to leave.
What about the sunsets? Ooooh, whee. Words do it no justice.
Its quirky local flavor
Home to the original flannel-toting, craft beer-slinging Vermonters, Burlington already reigns highly in hip-ness. Where there’s maple syrup, there’s something new a-brewing. Walk along its charming Church Street Marketplace to find stores specializing in festive socks, imported handmade jewelry, quirky home goods, and olive oil.
At the Saratoga Olive Oil Co., come with your appetite; you have to be prepared to sample things like chipotle olive oil and wild blueberry vinegar. It’s the perfect little pick me up as you shop. Tradewinds is a gorgeous shop to peruse and admire handcrafted decor, and the rings on display always keep me there for ages.
Circling back into the food zone, Lake Champlain Chocolates sells melt-in-your-mouth chocolate truffles, fudges, candies, and hot chocolates that define heaven. The whiff of freshly-made treats hits immediately, and I’m always overwhelmed with choices! (Think: cornered, surrounded by chocolate covered everything, all appealing to your lack of willpower and temptations, and having to settle on buying relatively everything.)
Burlington is the place to be for down-to-earth, unique gifts and fashion staples. For those with bookdar, head into Phoenix Books, an independent book store luring you in from the first with its window displays. In Common Deer, it’s hard to not feel a swell of happiness at the local color it so deftly advertises, including woodcut Joe Biden mugs. They even captured him eating his beloved ice cream!
In early June, check out the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival. Rather, it will probably fall into your lap over and over. Just walking around Church Street is a call to arms, and you’ll hear a blend of musicians rolling into one another as they perform and audiences gather. The city hosts the Festival of Fools as well, where buskers and tomfoolery will keep you in stitches.
You’ll also find works of art scattered in and out of plain sight. Like a hummingbird, whose wings you can imagine are beating furiously against the brick wall. Or words of encouragement, spray-painted on the sidewalk and on rusted fences overlooking the lake. A wooden post denotes the distance from Burlington to cities around the world, including Dublin, where Champlain’s satellite campus resides. And on Church Street, a mural stretches over the side wall off of the main drag narrating the history of Burlington.
They place you somehow, welcoming you into the fold and asking for your attention and thought.
Among rows of Victorian houses and college campus buildings, Burlington is vibrant and, simply, darling. Hidden benches reside among an overgrowth of trees and shrubs, and man-made paths from the main drag down to the waterfront incite polite secrecy. That’s the other half of it: you have to let Burlington appear to you. Taking time to meander through “back” roads reveals the masterpiece that it is.
Getting (and Staying) Here
From almost anywhere, you can get a bus to Burlington. Or, fly into the Burlington International Airport, and pick up the bus into town. For lodging, you can book your nights with the Holiday Inn Burlington, the Hilton Burlington, the Courtyard by Marriott Burlington Hotel, the Hotel Vermont, or the Sunset House B&B. Visit AirBnb for a host of really lovely, local places to stay that are generally less than $100 per night.
It’s not cheap, since for a Bostonian it feels normal, but you will save money. Being in the great outdoors, for me, acts as a suppressant. As the mountains crest over the town, you return to that peaceful affection.
Burlington, Vermont encompasses all that a city has the potential to be: young, trendy, and attainable to indoor and outdoor types alike. It is one of my happy places, and I can’t wait to return for my eleventh trip!