14 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Burlington, VT
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Vermont's largest city – and only city of any size – lies in a beautiful location on a hillside overlooking Lake Champlain and the skyline of the Adirondack mountains, on the opposite shore in New York.
The thriving downtown reaches right to the shore, but its main shopping district is a few streets above on Church Street. There is almost always something happening in this broad, car-free space lined by shops and restaurants. Crowning the hill is the stately campus of the University of Vermont, which gives Burlington a young, hip vibe.
Don't expect a big city, but do expect to find a high concentration of arts and cultural attractions, as well as plenty of active options for tourists to enjoy. Burlington has a large population of artists and high-quality craftspeople, whose works you'll see in the many galleries and studios throughout the city and surrounding towns.
The Flynn Theater is a magnet for top national and international performers and music, and Burlington is home to the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, as well as music and theater groups at the university.
You'll have no trouble finding things to do here with our handy list of top tourist attractions in Burlington.
See also: Where to Stay in Burlington
1. Church Street Marketplace
Although it's only four blocks long, Burlington's Church Street packs plenty of action into its short length. The traffic-free street is wide enough to accommodate large gatherings of people for the many festivals and events throughout the year, as well as providing plenty of space for cafés and restaurants to spill onto the pavement, creating the air of an Italian piazza.
Overlooking the street from the upper end is the church it's named for, the First Unitarian Universalist Church. Notice the granite line in the brick pavement, with stones engraved with cities around the world that lie close to the same longitudinal line.
Among the many shops that open onto Church Street is Frog Hollow Craft Center, known for its selection of the finest works of Vermont craftspeople. Permanent public art works include a life-sized statue of local jazz artist Big Joe Burrell; a sleek metal Fish Fountain; and a mural, Everyone Loves a Parade! by Canadian muralist Pierre Hardy.
Listed as a National Register Historic District, Church Street has also been named one of the Great Public Spaces in America.
Address: Church Street, Burlington, Vermont
Official site: www.churchstmarketplace.com
2. Lake Champlain Cruises
Lake Champlain stretches in a north-south line between Vermont and New York, with a small portion of the northern end in Canada. Its width varies from less than half a mile to 12 miles, and most of its waters are in Vermont. Spirit of Ethan Allen III offers sightseeing cruises on Lake Champlain with a narration on the Revolutionary War and other periods of the lake's history.
Lake Champlain's largest cruise ship, at 140 feet long, it can carry 363 passengers, and along with several daily sightseeing cruises in season, it offers lunch and dinner cruises, even occasional dance cruises.
Other boat excursions from Burlington's downtown docks include daily sailing cruises and longer private charters on classic Friendship Sloops.
Ferries cross several times daily in the summer and fall, between Burlington and Port Kent, NY, offering beautiful views of the mountains and lake. The ferry crossing takes about an hour.
Address: Burlington Boat House, College Street, Burlington, Vermont
Official site: http://soea.com
3. ECHO Leahy Center
The ECHO Leahy Center, at the shore of the lake, features the natural history of the area, as well as the historical heritage of the Lake Champlain area. Permanent exhibits, many of them interactive, appeal to all ages as they explore the depths of the lake, showcase 15 frog species from six continents (including the world's most poisonous frog), and explore the geology of the Champlain Basin and the people who have lived in the region throughout history.
Kids can see themselves on TV at the Be a Watershed Weather Reporter studio, and young children have a hands-on discovery center all their own. The ECHO Leahy Center is one of the favorite things to do for families in Burlington.
The award-winning "green" building offers panoramic views of the Lake and Adirondack Mountains from its deck. Next to ECHO is the Lake Champlain Navy Memorial.
Address: 1 College Street, Burlington, Vermont
Official site: www.echovermont.org
4. Waterfront Park and Burlington Bike Path
A wide green swath of park with a bike path and promenade borders the lake shore, stretching some distance to the north and south of the town landing at the bottom of College Street. Near the docks, look for Vermont's only All-America Display Garden, where the newest varieties of flowering ornamental plants bloom all summer.
Waterfront Park is popular for running, cycling, walking, picnicking, and for frequent festivals throughout the summer and fall.
Above the shore, Battery Park lies at the top of Battery Street, marking the site of the battery built there in 1812. From this position, U.S. artillery fought British ships on Lake Champlain in August of 1813.
5. Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
Much of Burlington's packed music and performance calendar is thanks to the Flynn Center's 1,411-seat auditorium. The Flynn is home to the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, the Vermont Youth Orchestra, the Vermont Stage Company, the Lyric Theatre, and the UVM Lane Series.
The variety is astonishing, and any season might bring programs as diverse as a Gospel choir, violinist Itzhak Perlman, Celtic Women, a classical ballet, a Broadway touring production of Hairspray, Bonnie Raitt, Al Franken, pre-Broadway musicals, a cirque acrobat troupe from Quebec, and Afro-pop superstar Angélique Kidjo.
Along with the Art Deco auditorium, a 180-seat cabaret space hosts more intimate performances. A gallery showcases the work of local artists.
Address: 153 Main Street, Burlington, Vermont
Official site: https://www.flynnvt.org/
6. South End Arts District
A former industrial zone along the lakeshore south of the center has morphed into one of Burlington's liveliest art and dining scenes, filled with galleries, art spaces, and events. Your first stop should be the S.P.A.C.E Gallery, an art collective on Pine Street, where dozens of artists work and display their paintings, drawings, prints, collages, sculpture, photography, silver and stone jewelry, ceramics, and art in all media.
The S.P.A.C.E. Gallery holds monthly exhibits, with opening receptions during First Friday Art Walks, another feature of the South End Arts District. In September, and throughout the fall, the South End Art Hop in Space showcases more than 50 Vermont artists, providing the public a chance to purchase affordable works in all mediums directly from the artists. Look also for ArtsRiot, a music and restaurant hub in a converted warehouse.
Address: Pine Street, Burlington, Vermont
Official site: https://spacegalleryvt.com/
7. Shelburne Museum
On the outskirts of Burlington, this large, open-air museum gathers original buildings from different eras of Vermont's past into a campus that doesn't pretend to be a real village, but shows each house, barn, and shop with period furnishings and the activities of rural life in its time.
The 39 historic buildings, even the historic lake steamer SS Ticonderoga – hauled here by rail and restored, are either furnished or used as display settings for some exceptional collections of decorative arts, paintings, folk art, and Americana.
The grounds include a railroad depot; private car and locomotive; covered bridge; jail; print shop; apothecary; schoolhouse; country store; meeting house; lighthouse; and a round barn, one of the few to survive in New England.
The two-room log Settlers' House shows Vermont life in the 1790s, with an open hearth fireplace, furnishings, and a vegetable garden. The reproduction barn houses demonstrations of early crafts and cooking.
Particularly outstanding among the collections are rare hatboxes, quilts, hooked rugs, costumes, decoys, tin and woodenware, 18th-century English furniture, and paintings. The latter represent not just American artists, but include the French Impressionists and even Rembrandt.
An entire horseshoe-shaped building was constructed just to display a 500-foot-long handmade circus parade. The round barn is used to showcase special exhibits.
Address: 6000 Shelburne Road, Shelburne, Vermont
Official site: http://shelburnemuseum.org/
8. Ethan Allen Homestead
On 1,400 acres of land north of the city is the farmhouse that was the home of Revolutionary War hero, Ethan Allen. Allen and his brother, Ira, were landowners under New Hampshire grants, which they defended ardently against New York's attempts to claim.
In the end, neither state could establish its authority, and the residents finally formed the Republic of Vermont, which later became the state. So along with being a hero of the Revolution, Allen became something of a folk hero in Vermont.
His home has been restored, and other farm buildings house archaeology and history exhibits. Hiking trails throughout his land have signage to explain the natural environment.
In the adjacent Ethan Allen Park, an observation tower reveals views over Lake Champlain and the surrounding area.
Address: 1 Ethan Allen Parkway, Burlington, Vermont
Official site: www.ethanallenhomestead.org
9. Day Trip to Stowe
One of the top tourist attractions in Vermont, Stowe is an easy drive from Burlington. Follow Interstate 89 south to Waterbury and take Route 100, known as "The Skiers Highway" for the number of ski mountains it connects on its way through the state.
The classic New England town begs to be photographed, along with Mt. Mansfield, which forms the skyline to the northwest. Stowe's primary fame is as one of the nation's first ski resorts, and skiers still fill its inns and lodges in the winter.
But there are plenty of places to visit here year-round as well, with a beautiful bike and walking path through the valley and into the hills. Shoppers and art lovers can gallery hop to admire works of Vermont artists and craftspeople, and the Helen Day Arts Center features Vermont artists.
Learn the story of skiing here and elsewhere at the Vermont Ski Museum in the former church on Main Street, or ride the gondola at Stowe Mountain Resort to the summit of Mt. Mansfield.
10. Day Trip to Smugglers Notch
For those who don't mind winding mountain roads, the trip through Smugglers Notch is an unforgettable one. High on the shoulder of Mt. Mansfield, Vermont's highest peak, Smugglers Notch is a narrow pass – so narrow, in fact, that the road closes in the winter because snowplows can't maneuver among the boulders that force the road to twist and squeeze between them. The road lies below 1,000-foot cliffs, the source of the gigantic boulders strewn throughout the pass.
Follow Route 15 through Jericho to Jeffersonville, from which Route 108 heads past Smugglers Notch Ski Area and into the notch. Stop at the Smugglers Cave information center near the top to read about the glaciers that dropped the boulders, and to explore the caves once used by smugglers. You can stop at other points to walk among the boulders.
11. Robert Hull Fleming Museum of Art
On the University of Vermont campus, the Robert Hull Fleming Museum of Art features more than 20,000 objects in collections covering American, African, European, Ancient Egyptian, and Middle Eastern art, as well as work by Vermont artists. African artifacts represent the continent through sculpture and other media and include contemporary interpretations of traditional forms; the more than 400 ancient Egyptian objects include a mummy and coffin.
American art is especially strong in 19th- and 20th-century landscapes and works by artists active in Vermont since the mid-19th century, such as Audubon, Bierstadt, Winslow Homer, and Andy Warhol. European art is represented by Corot, Daumier, Dürer, Goya, and Rodin.
More than 2,000 objects from Native American cultures include bead- and quillwork, Southwest ceramics and baskets, masks from the Northwest Coast, and carvings. The Pre-Columbian collection is known for its ceramics, textiles, and stone carvings.
Address: 61 Colchester Avenue, Burlington, Vermont
Official site: http://www.uvm.edu/~fleming/
12. The Hill and University of Vermont
Main Street rises steadily from just above the lake shore to the hilltop campus of the University of Vermont (UVM), founded in 1791. Burlington's prosperous merchants and leaders built their stately homes and mansions on the upper slopes, above the commercial and waterfront areas, and many of the finest of these have been preserved and maintained as residences and as part of the smaller Champlain College.
Follow any of the streets to the right or left of Main Street to see examples of several architectural styles, mostly built in the latter half of the 19th century. Crowning the UVM campus is the ornate Williams Science Hall, a massive brick building with a granite block foundation. The Perkins Geology Museum displays fossils and minerals.
13. Lake Champlain Islands
The Lake Champlain Islands, connected to each other and to the mainland north of Burlington by causeways and bridges, are summer recreation areas with beaches, campgrounds, and state parks. The irregular coastline of the islands creates a number of bays that are favorites for kayaking.
The gently undulating landscape is known for its apple orchards, and has the longest growing season in the state, thanks to the moderating influence of the lake. St. Anne's Shrine on Isle La Motte is at the site of Fort St. Anne, and there is also a statue of Samuel de Champlain on the island marking the spot where he supposedly landed in 1609.
Official site: www.champlainislands.com
14. Shelburne Farms
Once a 3,800-acre agricultural estate, its landscape design inspired by Frederick Law Olmsted, Shelburne Farms was a model horse farm and a leader in agricultural innovation. The massive Farm Barn, constructed between 1886 and 1890, is five stories high, and the courtyard alone covers nearly two acres.
Today the farm is a non-profit dedicated to sustainability and quality of life on earth, with programs that foster individual awareness and stewardship. The barn houses a dairy, where you can watch the making of the farm's award-winning cheese from the milk of the farm's pasture-raised herd of brown Swiss cows. A Sun to Cheese Tour follows the entire story of the farm's self-sustaining cheese production.
In summer, the Formal Gardens overlooking Lake Champlain are among the finest example of American gardens, especially beautiful in mid-June, when the peonies are in full bloom.
Programs for children and adults include introduction to maple sugaring, using native plants, bird conservation, medicinal plants, herbal teas, and a gardener's tour of the Formal Gardens. There is a Children's Farmyard and 10 miles of walking trails.
Address: 1611 Harbor Road, Shelburne, Vermont
Official site: https://shelburnefarms.org
Where to Stay in Burlington for Sightseeing
Burlington's lively urban buzz centers on the pedestrianized Church Street, with its restaurants, cafés, and shops, and the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts across the street. Just down the hill are more things to do at Lake Champlain, with its parks, bike path, science center, and watersports. Burlington is a good base for visiting tourist attractions in the area, including the Champlain islands and Shelburne Museum. Here are some highly rated hotels in Burlington:
- A block from pedestrianized Church Street and close to lakefront parks, Hotel Vermont is hip, modern, minimalist, and green, with a strong use-local ethic.
- Overlooking Lake Champlain, Courtyard Burlington Harbor is close to all the downtown attractions, and has a heated indoor pool, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and a seafood restaurant.
- Hilton Garden Inn Burlington Downtown is a block from Church Street and next to the Flynn Center, with valet parking and a pool.
- On a hillside overlooking the lake, Hilton Burlington Lake Champlain has a large indoor pool and sweeping views to the Adirondack Mountains.
- In South Burlington, DoubleTree by Hilton Burlington Vermont has a pool and free airport transportation, plus a complimentary shuttle to downtown. Rooms have refrigerators, coffee/tea machines, and work spaces.
- South of downtown and convenient to lakeside parks and the Shelburne Museum, Smart Suites Burlington has kitchenettes, free breakfast, free parking, and several nearby restaurants.
- Comfort Inn & Suites South Burlington is at the I-89 interchange, just past the university, with balconies, full kitchens, free breakfast and parking, an outdoor pool, and airport shuttles.
- In South Burlington, Best Western Plus Windjammer Inn & Conference Center is an economical choice with in-room refrigerators, free Wi-Fi and parking.
More Must-See Destinations near Burlington
One of the favorite things to do in Burlington in the winter is to head for one of Vermont's many ski areas, which – along with the ski resorts in neighboring New Hampshire – offer some of the best skiing in the Eastern United States.
In the summer, Vermont's Green Mountains are favorites for their many hiking trails. From Burlington, the views of the Adirondack Mountains in New York may tempt you to cross Lake Champlain, and just to the north is the border with Canada's French-speaking province of Quebec. The vibrant city of Montreal is less than a two-hour drive from Burlington.