Travel Guide: Soaring Scenery and Delicious Dining in Burlington, Vermont

Even in the fall, this foodie-friendly city on the banks of Lake Champlain offers plenty of reasons to get out on the water.

Sailing Lake Champlain at sunset aboard a Whistling Man Schooner Co. vessel. / Photo by Whistling Man Schooner Co.

If Geneva, Switzerland, had an American cousin, it might very well be Burlington. With Lake Champlain stretching out at its side and unparalleled views of the Adirondacks in New York, it’s an easy way to get your water and mountain fix in one quick weekend jaunt. The city is also a top leaf-peeping destination, as the trees surrounding the lake come alive with the vibrant colors of fall this month.

If the weather’s cooperative, an outing on the lake is practically mandatory, whether you opt for a dinner cruise aboard the Spirit of Ethan Allen, a sunset sail with Whistling Man Schooner Co., or a paddle out to the islands with a kayak rental from PaddleSurf Champlain. Landlubbers, of course, will find plenty to see and do as well. Just grab one of Hotel Vermont’s complimentary bikes and peddle through Waterfront Park, or take the scenic drive to nearby Charlotte for a hike up Mount Philo, which boasts astounding views of the region.

For those whose idea of exercise is retail therapy, one of New England’s most well-known pedestrian malls—Church Street Marketplace—beckons with chic home goods at Slate, elegant menswear from MK Clothing, and subversive streetwear and collectibles at the Underground Closet. Like Boston, Burlington also has a North and a South End, the latter of which is split into two sections. The Old North End is a great place for treasure hunting at Junktiques and fresh-produce hunting at the farmers’ market (open Tuesdays from 3 to 6:30 p.m.), while the New North End houses historical points of interest such as the Ethan Allen Homestead Museum. In the South End, grab a coffee at Brio Coffeeworks and browse Rackk & Ruin for handmade jewelry before refreshing yourself with a pint at one of the neighborhood’s four craft breweries: Zero Gravity, Queen City, Switchback, or Burlington Beer Company.

When it comes to food to go along with those drinks, Burlington punches way above its weight. For breakfast and lunch, August First offers absurdly good baked goods and sandwiches, while fine-dining options include Hen of the Wood, where the locally sourced menu changes daily, but the Parker House rolls and magnificent local cheeses are constants. Despite the ubiquity of Ben & Jerry’s, the local delicacy everyone screams for is the “creemee,” the Vermont version of soft-serve ice cream (try it at Ice Cream Bob’s and Burlington Bay).

After hours, the city’s bar scene comes alive: There’s the self-explanatory Whiskey Room, the superb speakeasy Deli 126, and the Archives, a combination arcade and lounge where you can play classic pinball while sipping a Manhattan. Of course, like any good college town, live music abounds at venues like Radio Bean, the Monkey House, and Club Metronome.

One other thing Burlington has in common with Geneva? World-class chocolates. On your way out of town, stop at Lake Champlain Chocolates for a sweet reminder of your Green Mountain idyll.

The swanky lobby at Hotel Vermont. / Photo by Hotel Vermont

Getting There

The city is a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Boston, much of it on I-89, one of the most scenic highways in America.

Staying There

A block away from Lake Champlain, the hippie-chic Hotel Vermont is Burlington’s premier boutique hotel, featuring whimsical amenities such as flannel pajamas, hot toddies, and aromatherapy diffusers delivered to your room—and a hotel bar and restaurant, Juniper, that’s among Burlington’s best.