You’ll find plenty of things to do in Burlington VT including exploring shops along a pedestrian-only street, taking in a museum or two, exploring the nearby mountains, and spending time on or near Lake Champlain.
Any visitor to Burlington Vermont immediately recognizes the uniqueness of this small city located on the shores of Lake Champlain. There’s a strong community feel here that’s rarely experienced in other mid-sized cities.
Maybe it’s the pedestrian-only Church Street that creates an intermingling of locals and visitors. Or perhaps it’s the city’s burgeoning arts and culture scene as experienced at multiple museums and organizations throughout the city.
Whatever it is, Burlington is undoubtedly a city you’ll want to visit and take a few days to explore. Fortunately, given its size, it’s fairly easy to take in all – or at least most – of what the city has to offer in a short time.
23 of the Best Things to Do in Burlington VT
The following are 23 things you’ll want to add to your itinerary when visiting Burlington.
Stroll down Church Street Marketplace
One of the best destinations in Burlington is its pedestrian-only Church Street. This area, in the heart of the city, is lined with various locally and nationally-owned shops as well as restaurants and cafes. You’ll get a real sense of the city as you wander among locals and visitors, popping into stores and resting on benches for a little people-watching. Be sure to check out the outdoor store Outdoor Gear Exchange for some great consignment finds and the Vermont Flannel Company for a wide variety of – you guessed it – flannel clothing and products. Book lovers will enjoy popping into the Crow Bookshop and chocolate lovers will want to stop into locally produced Lake Champlain Chocolates for chocolate truffles, hot chocolate, or ice cream. (Click here for a full list of the shops on Church Street)
Explore Lake Champlain
One of the absolute best things to do in Burlington VT is to take advantage of the beauty of Lake Champlain. This 490 square-mile body of water truly is the essence of Burlington and a trip to the city isn’t complete without taking in the view. Standing on the edge of the lake on a clear day, you’ll see the New York Adirondack mountains in the distance, creating a majestic panoramic.
There are several ways to soak in the beauty of this landscape including renting a boat, catching a sunset tour, going fishing, or simply taking a stroll along the lakeshore. Cyclists will also enjoy catching glimpses of the lake as they travel along the Island Line Bike Trail (see more information below). If going on a cruise is your preferred experience, check out the Spirit of Ethan Allen which offers a variety of different cruising options.
Visit the ECHO Leahy Center
Among the fun things to do in Burlington VT is the ECHO Leahy Center, a science museum and aquarium located on the city’s waterfront. The museum’s mission is to inspire and engage families in the joy of scientific discovery, explore the ecology and culture of the Lake Champlain Basin, and educate people about environmental stewardship. Here you’ll be able to see over 70 live species of animals including fish, turtles, frogs, and invertebrates. There are also plenty of hands-on exhibits and interactive displays for children, making this a great destination for families. The ECHO center is open 10 AM – 5 PM, seven days a week. Admission tickets range from $14.50 to $18 depending on the age and status of the visitor. (1 College Street)
Enjoy local food and drink
Burlington has a well-developed restaurant scene with a variety of options to choose from. You’ll find everything from quaint bakeries and cafes to upscale restaurants here.
One of the best places for breakfast in the city is August First, a delightful bakery housed in what looks to be a former garage. There’s a neighborhood scene here as locals congregate and chat over morning coffee and delicious pastries. (149 South Champlain Street)
Dinner brings a variety of dining options, including Hen of the Wood, a farm-to-table restaurant that serves seasonal dishes using local ingredients (55 Cherry Street). And The Farmhouse Tap and Grill is a gastropub with farm-to-table burgers, local craft beers, and other elevated pub fare (160 Bank Street). For something a bit different, check out El Cortijo Taqueria Y Cantina, a cute hole-in-the-wall restaurant with a unique take on classic Mexican dishes served in a diner decor setting.
Attend a concert or event
Among the fun things to do in Burlington VT is attend a concert or event. This city’s alive with creativity and there are plenty of opportunities to take in a stage performance at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts (153 Main Street) or at the Vermont Stage Company (60 Lake Street).
Musical enthusiasts will want to catch the 10-day Burlington Discover Jazz Festival in early June featuring world-class jazz musicians performing at various venues throughout the city.
And if outdoor recreation is more your jive, be sure to catch the Vermont City Marathon over Memorial Day weekend. This event, the second-largest marathon in New England, typically attracts over 7,500 runners and follows a scenic course with views of the Adirondack and Green Mountains along the shores of Lake Champlain.
Take a bike ride
If you’re a cycling enthusiast or even a casual rider, the Island Line Trail running along Burlington’s coast is a great way to take in views of Lake Champlain and the surrounding vista. This trail, also known as the Colchester Causeway, is 13.4 miles long and relatively flat, making it an easy ride for beginners. Starting at Oakledge Park and riding north, you’ll pass through the city’s harbor front, cross bridges, and best of all ride down a scenic causeway with Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks to your left. For a shorter ride, pick up the trail at Waterfront Park and head north.
Explore the city’s arts and culture
Art and history enthusiasts will find several things to do in Burlington VT. First, the University of Vermont’s Fleming Museum features both world-class art and archeology with a collection of over 24,000 objects from cultures around the world (61 Colchester Avenue).
For more local history, head to the Ethan Allen Homestead Museum to walk through the restored 1787 house of Revolutionary War veteran and Vermont founder, Ethan Allen. Further exhibits allow visitors to explore what life was like on the New England frontier during and after the American Revolution. Open May 1st through October 31st with tours running daily at 10:00 AM, 11:30 AM, 1:00 PM, and 2:30 PM. Admission: Adults: $15, Students (5-17): $7, and children under 5: Free. (1 Ethan Allen Homestead)
And finally, visit the Burlington City Arts Center (BCA) Firehouse Center for the Visual Arts, to take in ever-changing exhibitions of contemporary art (135 Church Street). Or, seek out the BCA’s public art installations throughout the city.
Visit the Lake Champlain Chocolates flagship store
A trip to Burlington isn’t complete without a taste of its specialty Lake Champlain chocolates. These handcrafted chocolates have been produced in the city for over 39 years and feature a wide variety of different flavors such as dark, milk, and fruit & nut as well as truffles, bars, squares, and clusters. While tours are no longer available of the factory, visitors can watch a factory tour video, explore the interactive Storywalk, and of course, buy chocolate (including seconds!). (750 Pine Street)
Attend Burlington’s Farmer’s Market
A fun thing to do from May through October is to attend the Burlington Farmer’s Market. Given the deep agricultural roots in Vermont, it’s not surprising that its biggest city hosts an amazing farmer’s market. Here you’ll find local produce as well as a wide range of other products including baked goods, cutlery, chocolates, botanicals, and, of course, maple syrup. The farmer’s market takes place every Saturday from 9 AM – 2 PM from the middle of May to the middle of October and can be found at 345 Pine Street in Burlington’s South End.
See the world’s tallest filing cabinet
Among the quirkier things to do in Burlington VT is to see what’s considered to be the world’s tallest filing cabinet. Built in 2002 by architect Bren Alvarez, the structure – which consists of rusting filing cabinets stacked on top of each other – was a response to years of delays in building the Southern Connector bypass into downtown Burlington. You can see this 40-foot structure not far from Oakledge Park. (220 Flynn Avenue)
Take a hot air balloon ride
A unique thing to do in Burlington is to take a hot air balloon ride. Up in the air, you’ll be able to see an expansive view of the city, the Adirondack & Green mountains, as well as Lake Champlain. Autumn can be an especially good time to book a ride to capture the burst of color from fall leaves. You can book your adventure through the Essex-based company Above Reality which offers both group and private rides.
Things to do near Burlington VT
The following things to do are within driving distance from Burlington and provide additional opportunities to explore Vermont.
Take a tour of the Ben & Jerry’s factory
Just a short drive from Burlington in Waterbury, you can tour the original Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory. Throughout the tour, you’ll see how ice cream is made as well as try several samples. You’ll also hear about Ben & Jerry’s humble beginnings as a small Burlington-based company and into a worldwide brand. In addition to tasting samples, visitors also have the opportunity to buy ice cream in the on-site scoop shop. Tour tickets are published two weeks in advance and purchasing ahead of time is highly encouraged. Each tour is about 30 minutes long and the price per ticket is $7. (1281 Waterbury Stowe Road, Waterbury, VT)
Hike in the Green Mountains
Vermont is the place to be for hiking enthusiasts and Burlington is no different. The city is located in the foothills of the Green Mountains, which offer some of the best hiking trails in the country. A few nearby hiking options include Camel’s Hump, a challenging hike located in Huntington, offering stunning views from the summit. Mt. Philo, located in Charlotte, is another popular spot with stunning views of Lake Champlain and the surrounding area. And Stowe Pinnacle, located in the town of Stowe, offers beautiful views of the Green Mountains and the town of Stowe.
Visit the Shelburne Museum
A 10-minute drive south of Burlington will take you to the Shelburne Museum, a unique and expansive collection of art, Americana, and history spread across 45 acres of landscaped gardens and historic buildings. Here you’ll find artifacts from the 18th and 19th centuries, and 39 unique structures that house the museum’s collection. Many of the structures were moved to the museum’s grounds from elsewhere in New England. The Weathervane Cafe is also available on the museum grounds for lunch or a quick bite to eat. The museum is open from mid-May through mid-October and is open daily 10 AM to 5 PM excluding select holidays. Admission is $25 for adults, $12 for children ages 5-12, and $14 for children ages 13-17. Other discounts apply, see the website for details. (6000 Shelburne Road, Shelburne, VT)
Visit the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory
Also in Shelburne, and a short drive from the Shelburne Museum, is the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory. Here you can take a tour of the factory and see how the famous teddy bears are made, with a chance to make your own bear. The tour takes you through the steps of making a bear from cutting the fabric to the final touches. You’ll also learn about the history of the company and conclude the visit with the opportunity to browse the gift shop. (6655 Shelburne Road, Shelburne, VT)
Go skiing or snowboarding
With its proximity to the Green Mountains, it’s not surprising that one of the things to do in Burlington is to go skiing or snowboarding. Burlington is just a short drive from premier ski resorts, including Stowe Mountain Resort (40 miles northeast) and Jay Peak Resort (65 miles northeast). The smaller mountains of Bolton Valley (25 miles east), Smuggler’s Notch Resort (40 miles northeast), and Sugarbush Resort (50 miles southeast) are also a short distance from the city’s center.
Go on a birdwatching tour
Northern Vermont and the Burlington area are home to a variety of bird species, including bald eagles, ospreys, and great blue herons. Bird enthusiasts can take a guided tour to see these creatures in their natural habitat. New England Bird Tours offers several weekend trips throughout New England including its summertime Bicknell’s & Boreal Birds tour in northern Vermont.
Take a scenic drive
Northern Vermont is full of charming towns and picturesque scenery, with plenty of opportunities to stop and explore. A few of the scenic drives near Burlington include The Green Mountain Byway, an 11-mile stretch of road that winds through Vermont’s Green Mountains and includes the towns of Stowe and Waterbury. The Lake Champlain Byway, 110 miles in total and consisting of US Route 2 and US Route 7, is also a great way to take in the gorgeous views of the lake and Adirondack mountains. And finally, there’s the Smugglers’ Notch Scenic Drive, an 18-mile drive that offers stunning views of Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield, as well as the rugged Smugglers’ Notch pass.
About Kerry Flatley
Kerry Flatley has lived in New England for the past 26 years. She has roots in Maine & Massachusetts, family in New Hampshire, and grew up close to the Connecticut border. She loves all that this region has to offer – the ocean, mountains, islands, history, villages, and cities. When she’s not writing about New England, she’s relaxing at home in the Boston suburbs with her two teenage daughters and husband.