Burlington, Vermont is a city that’s incredibly near and dear to my heart. I’ve lived in Vermont on and off for over 15 years, and in that time, Burlington has remained my favorite part of the state. Today, I’m finally sharing my list of the best things to do in Burlington, VT, in the hopes that you’ll have an amazing stay and that you’ll come to love Burlington as much as I have.
Burlington, VT is the state’s largest city, but it is by no means a large city. The population was just over 42,000 in 2017, which is smaller than Manchester, New Hampshire, Boston (by far), and even smaller than Portland, Maine, which is a fairly comparable city.
Burlington’s modest size is part of its charm. You’ll never feel like you’re in a big urban center when you’re here; in fact, nature is so prevalent here in the Green Mountain state that visitors are likely to think of Burlington as feeling surprisingly rural.
It makes sense. Just 10 minutes from downtown Burlington can bring you to sprawling fields and farmland, with ridges of the Green Mountains in easy reach for hiking and skiing. At the other side of Burlington is the massive, glittering Lake Champlain, which divides Vermont from it’s nearest neighbor, New York. Yes, natural beauty is everywhere, and you’ll embrace both the outdoors and the indoors during your stay in Vermont.
Let’s jump into this Burlington Vermont travel guide by starting off with the top things to do in Burlington VT.
What to Do in Burlington, Vermont
Spend time on Church Street
You can’t visit Burlington, VT without hearing about Church Street. This well-known thoroughfare is a bricked, pedestrian-only walkway that stretches from the church at the top of Church St. and down for half a dozen blocks.
It’s the center of downtown activity, with numerous streets branching off of it filled with cafes, bookstores, shops, and more. The Church Street area is great for shopping, especially if you’re looking to shop locally. From top to bottom, Church Street boasts eclectic boutiques and stores of all kinds.
When you’re not shopping, this is a perfect spot for people watching. It’s crowded nearly every day with locals, visitors, and street entertainers. Pause on a bench for a few moments to listen to a local busker playing their tunes. Watch as a bevy of college students strolls by. And keep your eyes out for the quirkier characters you’re likely to come across, too. It’s a very funky city.
Church Street is home to tons of restaurants. In the summertime, these establishments spill out into the streets, setting up beautiful outdoor spaces for customers to enjoy. Dining al fresco is a pleasure on Church Street and you have dozens of places to choose from for your meal.
Traveling with a dog? A huge number of spots in Burlington are dog-friendly, so your canine friend can dine with you when you sit on the patio.
Walk along the Lake Champlain Waterfront
One of the most stunning Burlington VT points of interest is the lake itself. Burlington is perched on a hill overlooking Lake Champlain. When you drive in from the east into downtown (which you will if coming from the direction of the airport) you will suddenly see the city of Burlington with the glistening expanse of the lake behind it. It’s a spectacular sight and one that never fails to make me smile.
There are many activities to check out on, in, and near Lake Champlain, but the easiest way to access it and take in its views is along the waterfront.
The Burlington Waterfront Park is situated at the bottom of College Street and stretching up to the north past Pearl Street. It’s pretty easy walking distance from Church St. and the main portions of downtown.
I love the waterfront just for walking, relaxing on the grass, or sitting in one of their many bench swings. The boardwalk runs along the lake’s edge and the views here are absolutely gorgeous, with the lake in front of you and the Adirondack mountains framing it from behind. If you can catch a sunset here, I promise it will be worth it.
Get out on the water
Don’t just look at the Lake, get out on it! There are many ways to make the most of Lake Champlain. Taking a sailboat excursion might be my #1 choice. You can hop onboard a schooner and set sail on the lake with an accomplished crew. Choose a private sunset cruise to ensure you’ll have the best seat when it comes to catching a Lake Champlain sunset.
Would you prefer a bigger boat? No problem. There are ferries and scenic cruises of Lake Champlain that depart directly from the Burlington waterfront. One of the most well-known vessels is the Spirit of Ethan Allen, offering daily cruises as well as special cruise events.
When it comes to swimming in Lake Champlain, the waterfront is not the spot for this. For those wanting to take a dip in the cool lake waters, head to one of the nearby beaches. These are in driving distance from downtown, or can be accessed via the Burlington Bike Path that stretches along the shoreline.
Recommended Burlington beaches include North Beach, Leddy Beach, and beaches in Oakledge Park. North Beach is the largest in the area. It has seasonal lifeguards as well as paddleboard and kayak rentals. Definitely a fun place to spend a day in Burlington VT.
Go brewery hopping
One of the absolute best Burlington Vermont things to do is to sample our local craft brews. This is a city that LOVES beer! There are many breweries in the city and beer fans will want to try them all.
Foam Brewers remains one of the most popular breweries for visitors to Burlington with frequent releases of new brews. In nearby South Burlington, Magic Hat is a staple of the Burlington brewery scene. These funky, hoppy beers are crisp and refreshing, and you can take a fun tour of the Magic Hat Artifactory.
You can read our post on our favorite Burlington, Vermont breweries for more detailed ideas:
Explore the artsy South End
When it Burlington, don’t limit your visit to Church Street and downtown. There are several other cool parts of town that are worth your time. One of the most compelling is the South End.
Once a bland industrial stretch of the city, the South End is now an art-filled hub of restaurants, thriving businesses, and more. There are several breweries down here (including the much-loved Citizen Cider) and a number of art galleries. Check out this site for up-to-date listings of where to find open galleries, art events, and more.
I also highly suggest making time to visit ArtsRiot. This renovated warehouse is a lively music venue and restaurant. In the summer months, they host Truck Stop, which is a gathering of local food trucks featuring live music and more. Super fun.
If you’re interested in staying in the South End during your visit to Burlington, here’s a cozy-looking AirBnb in the area.
Explore history at the Shelburne Museum
The Shelburne Museum combines history, art, and more across sprawling, beautiful grounds. It’s definitely worth a visit, especially if you’re looking for things to do in Burlington with kids.
The 1906 steamship Ticonderoga is on display here, and touring it is a fascinating look into life in the 1920’s, when the ship toured passengers around Lake Champlain in style. The Ticonderoga is a National Historic Landmark and is the last walking beam side-wheel passenger steamer in existence.
Cycle, walk, or blade along the Burlington Bike Path
One of my favorite things to do around Burlington, VT is to spend time along the bike path. The bike path is situated directly next to Lake Champlain and runs for 7.6 miles along its edge.
On any given day, you’ll see many Vermonters and visitors alike enjoying this gorgeous path. You can pick up the path right at the Burlington waterfront, or further south at Oakledge Park, where it begins.
Fans of cycling may want to venture even further on the Island Line Trail, which combines the Burlington Bike Path with several additional miles of trail, literally bringing you out into the Champlain Islands in the center of the lake. It’s a breathtaking journey and a unique experience.
Need to rent bikes? Local Motion has a rental office right along the bike path at the waterfront, and they also offer a one-of-a-kind bike ferry that can bring you and your wheels from the Island Line Trail onto South Hero Island.
Enjoy a few scoops of Vermont’s Finest – Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream!
You’ve probably had Ben & Jerry’s before, but have you had it in the place where it originated? Ben & Jerry’s is the most delicious ice cream, and they have a shop offering scoops, shakes, and much more right on Church Street. The shop is super cute and colorful and (bonus) it smells incredible.
Once you’ve got your Half Baked or your Cherry Garcia, head down to the corner of College Street and St. Paul Street and see where the OG Ben & Jerry’s was located. It’s now a gravel parking lot, but there’s a plaque showcasing where Ben & Jerry’s got their start in the 1970’s.
If you’re a real ice cream fan, you might consider a day trip to Waterbury, where the official Ben & Jerry’s factory is located. Take a factory tour, enjoy a free scoop of your favorite flavor, and pay your respects at the flavor graveyard, where failed creations find eternal rest.
Attend a show at the Vermont Comedy Club
You’re sure to be in for some laughs at the Vermont Comedy Club, a relatively new venue that hosts some amazing big-name acts.
If you’re not keen on comedy, check out the Flynn Theatre, just down the street, which offers a variety of entertainment from touring theatre productions to symphonies.
Explore nearby hiking trails
Burlington is blessed by its proximity to the mountains. (Seriously, a town nestled between mountains and a giant lake? What’s not to love?) So avid hikers will adore this area.
If you want to go hiking near Burlington, VT, you have a range of options.
For a quick hike with a rewarding view of the lake, consider Mt. Philo. This hike is located in Charlotte, VT, a 30-minute drive south of Burlington. The trail up Mt. Philo is rated as easy-moderate, and is a 1.9 mi loop.
Camel’s Hump is one of the most popular and best hikes near Burlington, especially for the experienced hiker. Tackling this iconic Vermont peak is a fairly lengthy endeavor. The Burrows Trail route to the summit is 5 miles in length and is expected to take between 3-5 hours to hike round trip. Still, you’ll find amazing views at the end of this awesome accomplishment. Get more information on this trail here.
The area around Stowe, Vermont is also tremendous for hiking trails. While Stowe is a considerable distance away (45 minutes-1 hour) it is 100% worth a visit if you have time during your trip to Vermont. Stowe is classic New England, with a white-steepled church, magical mountain views, and a quaint Main Street.
And of course, great hiking. Trails to consider include Sterling Pond, Mount Mansfield, and Stowe Pinnacle (pictured below).
Experience a night out in Downtown Burlington
Downtown Burlington has some pretty great nightlife. While this is no Miami, there are a number of fun bars and pubs that offer a low-key, Vermonty vibe. We’re pretty sure you’ll find something you enjoy.
The Three Needs is a hip, rustic bar with plenty of seating, pool tables, and good beers on tap. Drink is a smaller venue that offers cocktails and board games. The Gryphon is a classy joint and has delicious food on top of its solid cocktail options. During weeknights they often have drink specials.
Want to grab some live music? Nectar’s always has something playing, or you can grab an Uber to Higher Ground in South Burlington, where most major musical acts play when they come to town. For dancing to the wee hours, check out Metronome, a nightclub above Nectar’s, as well as the Half Lounge, a tiny, speakeasy-like place right off Church Street.
The Whiskey Room, attached to Irish pub Ri Ra is a nice surprise in Burlington. This austere whiskey lounge feels like it fell right out of Britain.
After your night out, you’ll be pleased to discover a number of food trucks lining Church Street. Nathan and I recommend without reservation the Philly cheesesteak cart. These are THE BEST Philly cheese steaks we’ve ever had, and when we’re away from Vermont, we honestly crave them.
Eat a Vermont creemee & other local & Vermont specialties
Vermont is all about the food. Cheese, chocolate, ice cream, maple….. You are going to want to try all of the local VT specialties while you’re here. Not to mention the vast number of farm-to-table restaurants. You’ll be eating local here and you’ll be eating delicious.
In Burlington, The Skinny Pancake is a great restaurant worth visiting. They are famous for their sweet and savory crepes (aka ‘skinny pancakes’), and have a serious emphasis on sourcing locally.
Lake Champlain Chocolates on Church Street is also calling your name. Amazing chocolate made right here in VT? Say no more.
The Vermont creemee will be a staple of your visit, especially if visiting Vermont in the summer. Creemee is just our cute name for soft serve ice cream. Maple creemees are to die for. They sell some right at the waterfront, by the way. Go get ’em!
Our famous Cabot cheddar is easy to find in nearly every Burlington restaurant or shop. But you can patronize an entire Cabot cheese shop up in Waterbury if you’re super into le fromage.
While poutine isn’t a traditional Vermont food (it’s French Canadian), you can get it here in many places. Poutine consists of french fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. It might sound odd at first, but it is insanely delicious. For the best poutine in Burlington I recommend Citizen Cider in the South End, and Leunig’s on Church Street, which has a delectable duck confit poutine.
And of course, we Two Drifters always recommend trying out the local coffee shops. Burlington has an abundance of great ones. We profiled our favorites in this post:
Catch a sunset over Lake Champlain
Every evening, the sun goes down in the west, and from Burlington, the views over Lake Champlain and the distant Adirondacks are phenomenal.
Make it a priority to catch at least one lakeside sunset during your visit to Burlington. A cloudy evening is usually best, providing plenty of dimension for the dusky sky.
Things to Do in Burlington VT in Winter
Now let’s talk seasonal. While there are an endless number of fun things to do in Burlington, VT year round, certain activities lend themselves better to certain seasons. Burlington is fabulous throughout the year. Depending on when you’re visiting, here are some special recommendations for must-do activities in Burlington, VT.
Catch the Penguin Plunge
A Burlington VT winter is a cold one. Are you amazed to discover that some people jump into the frigid waters of Lake Champlain every year? The Penguin Plunge is an event designed to raise money for Special Olympics Vermont. It’s definitely something to catch if you’re passing by in the wintertime.
Go skiing in the Green Mountains
Vermont doesn’t slow down in the winter; in fact, we’re busier than ever! Winter sports abound throughout the state. We’re definitely known for our skiing and snowboarding. From Burlington, there are many mountain options available to you. Bolton Valley is one of the closest, but Stowe and Smuggler’s Notch are popular spots a bit further afield.
Go holiday shopping on Church Street
Church Street looks especially beautiful during Christmastime. The city puts up tons of twinkling lights along the walkway, and it illuminates the space with joy. It makes holiday shopping extra fun, particularly when the snow begins to fall. Visiting after the holidays? Don’t worry; the lights stay up all winter long.
Things to Do in Burlington VT in Summer
Summer is my personal favorite time of year in Vermont. It is SO. GREEN. June is usually a spectacular month with perfect weather, but July and August offer traditional summer heat. What will you do in summer in Burlington? Here are some ideas:
Try stand up paddleboarding on the lake
With its fairly calm waters, Lake Champlain is a perfect place to try stand up paddleboarding. Several different businesses offer paddleboard rentals or lessons. WND&WVS has a range of opportunities for guided tours and lessons at reasonable prices. Check them out!
Enjoy a picnic on the waterfront
Head down to Oakledge Park or another waterfront spot and bring snacks. We love a lakeside picnic, especially during the gorgeous summer months. If you want to keep it local and Vermonty, do your shopping downtown at the City Market Co-op. This grocery store has a great selection of cheese, produce, wine, beer, and so much more, with lots of locally-sourced and locally-made items.
Grab local produce at the Farmer’s Market
It’s always so exciting when the Burlington Farmer’s Market starts up again each summer. This year, the market has moved from downtown to the South End, where there’s lots more space.
A Vermont farmer’s market is a must-do when it comes to Burlington VT activities. This is a big market with produce, flowers, baked goods, crafts, art, hot food, and coffee. Best of all, it’s dog-friendly, and everyone brings there adorable pups to the market with them. For me, that’s a major draw!
Things to Do in Burlington VT in Spring
Spring can be an underrated time in Burlington. Unfortunately, it can still be a bit chilly or even rainy, but if you plan ahead, you can have a lovely stay and avoid the crowds of the high season.
Sample some fresh maple syrup
Spring is when the maple sap starts to “run” which means sugar shacks start heating up and producing our famous Vermont maple syrup. Visiting one of these is an essential springtime activity, and you can try not only fresh syrup, but a Vermont specialty: sugar on snow (a chewy maple candy created by pouring hot syrup onto a chilly packed snowbank). In March and April, you might catch one of New England’s maple festivals in action as well.
Visit Shelburne Farms
Enjoy the nature of springtime to its fullest by visiting a working farm. Take a wagon tour of Shelburne Farms and interact with the animals in the Children’s Farmyard. You might even see some baby animals at this time of year.
Take a guided food tour
Did I mention how great our Vermont foods are? To get a serious cuisine experience, I recommend taking a guided food tour of Burlington. The Edible History walking tour is one of the most well-known and popular options, which connects you with Burlington’s early ethnic groups and their culinary history.
Things to Do in Burlington VT in the Fall
Oh, Fall in New England. It’s one of the best times of the year and our foliage is out of this world. We recommend all of the main things to do in Burlington Vermont that we’ve listed above, plus any special fall activities.
Go apple picking
Apple picking is a blast during autumn. Bring home a basket of fresh Vermont apples that you can use to make a pie, jam, or your favorite apple-based item. Take a look at our list of Vermont apple orchards to see where you can go apple picking near Burlington. Be sure to try a cider donut!
Get cozy (and fed) inside American Flatbread
There are lots of yummy places to eat in Burlington VT, but for a cozy fall meal, you can’t go wrong with American Flatbread. This is a cozy pizza restaurant with wood-fired flatbread that is absolutely delicious. Sit near the fire if you want to keep warm. Or, keep cool with one of their amazing beers.
Attend the South End Art Hop
Every September the South End is home to the Art Hop, a huge open-gallery event that attracts nearly 30,000 visitors each year. Visit artists in their studios, attend live demos, fashion shows, and so much more during this annual multi-day event.
The Best Places to Stay in Burlington
As you plan on where to stay when visiting Burlington you’ll want to consider choosing the best location. We’ve got a quick rundown below, but there are also more options in our full article: Where to Stay in Burlington, VT
Getting around Burlington, Vermont is fairly simple. The downtown is largely walkable, and there are a number of hotels to choose from in the downtown area. If you choose to be further from downtown, you may need to have a car at your disposal. But it’s also easy to get a ride. Uber and Lyft run frequently in the city as well as local company Green Cab.
All of the Burlington VT lodging we recommend is within walking distance (or very short Uber ride) to downtown.
Made INN Vermont B&B
Do you love unique, hip accommodation? You will love Made Inn Vermont, an urban chic Burlington bed & breakfast with 4 distinct rooms.
These Burlington VT accommodations are cozy, homey, and beautifully designed. It’s like a boutique hotel in a massive Victorian mansion.
One of the best parts of staying here may be its location. While it’s not right in the heart of downtown, it’s just a short walk away. Located up on South Willard Street, in the Hills section of Burlington, Made INN Vermont is tucked on a historic street next to other impressive homes. This is a quiet spot just up the hill from downtown, so you get the experience of being in a local neighborhood while remaining within convenient reach of all of the major Burlington VT attractions.
Would you prefer to be in the heart of things? Hotel Vermont is a clean, centrally-located independent hotel that is very popular with visitors. You’ll be staying super close to both Church Street and Lake Champlain at this property, and you’ve got an onsite restaurant, a swimming pool, and free use of bicycles.
Hilton Garden Inn Burlington Downtown
One of the best hotels in Burlington, VT for a great value is the Hilton Garden Inn. This hotel may have the best location so far. It’s just a hop, skip, and jump from Church Street, and very close to City Hall Park, American Flatbread, and one of our favorite coffee shops, Onyx Tonics. This is the ideal accommodation choice for a person who wants to go out in the evenings downtown.
While you’ll be slightly farther from the lake at this hotel, some rooms do offer partial lake views. And either way, you’ll be in a comfortable, well-appointed guest room.
Hopefully one of these options gives you an idea for the best Burlington hotels!
We hope we’ve given you enough ideas for what to do in Burlington, Vermont! Discovered something new? Tell us about it!
Amy Hartle is the co-founder and owner of Two Drifters, where she blogs about romantic and couples travel, relationships, honeymoons, and more. With a Master’s in English and a BA in Musical Theatre, Amy loves to write quality content as well as to entertain, and she hopes to do a bit of both here on the blog! Amy is happily married to her husband Nathan, and when not working on their sites, Amy & Nathan can be found cuddling, reading, and enjoying delicious lattes.