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Big World Atmosphere in Burlington, Vermont

Big World Atmosphere in Burlington, Vermont

When you’re looking for an escape from the humdrum of your work routine, of seeing the same things and doing many of the same tasks day in day out, the livelier and more stimulating the destination the better. Ok, sure, some folks go the R & R route—which is just as important, and totally has its place—but sometimes a radical change of pace and scenery makes for a good reminder of what life can be. Now, when I say lively, radically different, and stimulating, you’re probably thinking exotic: Tahiti, or Southeast Asia or some remote Mediterranean island nation. But sometimes, I want to suggest, an exhilarating store of adventure and novelties is in the city next door, just waiting to be discovered.

Burlington, Vermont is the perfect example of such a subtle trove of sights and smells, rich histories and future stories. To start, it’s all based on the scenery. Driving into Burlington from the south on Route 7, visitors are greeted by the shimmering expanse of Lake Champlain, adorned with the reflection of the surprisingly lofty Adirondacks that loom in the background. Rare are the cities that come paired with such stunning, breathtaking sights. To me, it’s a little slice of Vancouver or Juneau transplanted into Northern Vermont—which quickly transports me elsewhere.

Burlington is in the business of combining foreign, exciting elements into its own unique atmosphere. Beyond the lake and peaks that seem all too big for New England, the long, brick-covered, pedestrian-only Church Street Marketplace feels like a European city square that’s been tilted onto a gradual slope. A broad assortment of boutique shops, restaurants, bakeries and brewpubs line the street, each with its collection of servers and tables, wafts of fresh dishes and racks of sale items all spilling out onto the awninged and umbrellaed street edges.

Of special note are Leunig’s Bistro—a Burlington institution that’s been pleasing UVM parents for over 40 years—and Honey Road, whose Mediterranean small plates highlighting Vermont ingredients make for a one-of-a-kind experience. Cut down an inconspicuous alley and you’ll be in the recently redesigned City Hall Park, whose grassy expanse and kid-friendly fountain make for the ideal family picnic spot. Don’t miss the famous American Flatbread pizza joint at the other end of the park.

During the summer months, Burlington’s downtown plays host to a revolving door of concerts, theater festivals, nature shows and more. In nearby Shelburne, local company Ben and Jerry’s sponsors a world-class outdoor concert series, well downtown features the weeklong Burlington JazzFest in mid-June. Combine this influx of global musical talent with Burlington City Arts public visual art exhibitions, the Quebecois radio stations blaring in from across the nearby border and the state-of-the-art international airport, and Burlington really begins to feel like a cosmopolitan hub hidden in the hinterlands of the Northeast.

Come winter, well, this is Vermont after all. Skiing is big in Burlington, and with good reason. Perfectly situated within 45 minutes of some of the best Nordic and Alpine terrain around, visitors have their pick of winter wonderlands. The Catamount Outdoor Family Center offers over 35 km of expertly groomed trails designed for cross country skiing, fat biking and snowshoeing, whose loops alternate between dense woods and open, quintessential Vermont fields. Head a bit further East, and Bolton Valley Backcountry and Nordic will wow veterans with its heavily wooded and steep-pitched terrain.  


Families will find friendlier territory further on in Stowe, where the Trapp Family Lodge maintains 37 miles of gently rolling and looping trails, groomed widely for skate and classic skiing—be sure to make the gradual, gorgeously wooded climb to the Slayton Pasture Cabin to warm up with a bowl of soup by the fire. (If the name Trapp sounds familiar, it is because the Vermont Trapps are the very same Swiss von Trapps of Sound of Music fame—just another instance of finding the greater world in little Northern Vermont.)

Looking for a more intimate experience, try Edson Hill, a distinctive country inn and dining experience with 9km of historic rolling trails.

But it’s not just the food, or the music, or the city planning or the semi-great lake that allows Burlington to offer such a welcome change of pace to visitors and locals alike. At bottom, it’s the people who make the food, who make the music, who run the shops and clean the streets and create art and give tours and groom trails—it’s these people whose love is split fairly between their home and the diversity and uniqueness of the folks who make it up, these people who make it the heartwarming and, dare I say, transformative place it is. SO what are you waiting for? Come to Burlington, or perhaps better, find the version of Burlington nearest you!

About The Author

Pete Wilson

Pete is a Vermont native with a lifelong love of being outside. Ever since he bushwhacked a ski trail through his parents’ property, he’s been hooked on getting into the woods--whether it’s on skis or snowshoes, or going out for a trail run or a long hike. He studied English at Carleton College, and now after four years in Minnesota is back in the Green Mountains exploring the endlessly beautiful and intriguing locales across the Northeast.


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