Staying Warm in Burlington
My only memory of Burlington, Vermont prior to this past weekend was spending a sunny July afternoon having lunch on the water with my mom. It was a quick pit stop on our way to Montreal, which is only 94 miles north, and considering I had never been to Burlington, she thought it would be an appropriate place to stop. I immediately fell in love with the small-town, laid back feel of the city, and the beautiful views over Lake Champlain helped solidify Burlington as a worthy destination in and of itself.
Fast forward five and half years, and it seemed to be the ideal location for me and Max to take a mid-winter getaway. With a hopping food and beer scene, historical places of interest and plenty of indoor and outdoor activities, two and half days almost did not seem like enough time to fit everything in. However, as often happens in the Northeast, the winter weather helped to dictate our plans. With temperatures dipping into the negatives for most of the weekend, we probably had many people wondering why we would choose to go further north, but with some bundling (and craft brewery tastings), we were able to stay warm and prevent the weather from hindering too many of our plans (but we did eliminate some of the outdoor activities!).
On the banks of Lake Champlain, Burlington is a small city which draws from its natural surroundings to provide visitors with recreational activities to cover all interests. A walk through the compact downtown showcases a population which is vibrant, eclectic and progressive – distinctly different from many of its more serious Northeastern counterparts. And while Burlington may have perfected this stance, it is not entirely unique to the city. Those who have visited other areas of Vermont will find a similar attitude and independence radiating throughout the Green Mountain State. Vermonters take all things Vermont seriously, and are a perfect case study of a state which promotes and supports it local products. These local and sustainable communities were prevalent in Vermont long before the farm-to-table and locavore movements swept across the US. Cheese, ice cream, maple syrup, beer and teddy bears are amongst some of its most-well known products, and a good sampling of these can be found in and around the Burlington area.
While not the capital, Burlington is the state’s largest city. Despite this title, the downtown area is highly walkable and provides many worthy destinations in a small radius. If you find yourself in the Burlington area, here are some top things to do to help make a worthwhile weekend:
Where to Eat:
Hen of the Wood: Every city has that “foodie favorite” and while Burlington has many contenders, it is easy to see why Hen of the Wood would win every time. With a changing menu of creative and locally sourced ingredients, the decision-making part of the meal is hard, but the innovative flavors that result are top-notch. Max and I are currently contemplating how we can get back to this restaurant soon!
Trattoria Delia: This cozy-Italian eatery was the perfect place to escape the cold for a glass of red wine and some of the infamous homemade pasta which makes Trattoria Delia so well-known. The subterranean restaurant was everything we expected and more, and should be on any visitor’s list (especially in the winter months!).
The Skinny Pancake: A Vermont staple, we were able to frequent the Montpelier location for breakfast on our drive up, and the Burlington location for late night music (by none other than the Silver Bridget). Healthy, delicious and very affordable – you should definitely make a stop here for anything from breakfast to dinner and drinks (they have Heady Toppers for the beer fanatics).
Penny Cluse Café: The crowds at Penny Cluse Café on a Monday morning were a testament to how highly regarded it is. It was worth the hour wait and was a great last meal before hitting the road back to Boston. There is something for everyone on this menu with plenty of classic favorites as well as some dishes with interesting twists!
Folino’s: While there are many acclaimed pizza places downtown, head 15 minutes south of Burlington to Shelburne to try the wood fired pizzas attached to the Fiddlehead Brewery. As you walk into this BYOB pizzeria, you have to pass through the brewery where you are able to try the three beers on tap and can purchase a growler to take into Folino’s. The beer and pizza are both fantastic. Just make sure you get there as early as possible – it is no secret how good these places are!
Where to Stay: Hotel Vermont continues to find itself on the “Best Hotels” list only three years after opening and combines simple Vermont style with rustic charms such as an outdoor fire pit. Marriott and Hilton have locations right next door with lake-facing rooms as well. A couple of minutes down the road, the Sheraton offers free shuttles to the downtown area making it easy to get to all the highlights if you are not staying within walking distance.
What to Do (in the winter):
While Burlington is well-known for its bike paths and water sports, kayaking and biking were not high on our list on Saturday afternoon when we arrived as temperatures closed in on -9 degrees Fahrenheit. Luckily for visitors, there is plenty still to do in colder weather:
Cabot Creamery: One of the four Cabot stores located throughout Vermont and Maine, the store in Waterbury, Vermont allows a free sampling of most of their cheeses as well as great Cabot products and other unique brands. After doing a couple of laps around the cheese table (did I mention free cheese?) we purchased some Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter and BBQ marinating sauce as souvenirs.
Ben & Jerry’s Factory Tour: Who would want to eat ice cream in the winter? Well, we are not ones to turn down Ben & Jerry’s so we certainly did! A lot of people had the same idea though because it was very crowded (I can only imagine what it is like in the summer months). Even if you do not want to take the tour, there is plenty of room to read about the history of the brand that got its start in Burlington while you indulge.
Try the local brews: As the locals are proud to tell you, Vermont has the most breweries per capita of any state in the US. They take their beers seriously and have created a true craft beer culture. Many of these beers are not produced for mass consumption, and instead are released in small batches on certain days to specific locations. So where to go? Fiddlehead Brewery next to Folio’s was my favorite, and Switchback Brewery was another stop on our way back into Burlington. We did miss Magic Hat Brewery and Citizen Cider though so we have already added those to the list for next time! If you want to try a wide variety of craft brews, head to Farmhouse Grill & Tap on Church Street in brewery for a cozy atmosphere and some of Vermont’s best beers.
Shelburne Museum: This unique museum right outside Burlington offers a glimpse into what Vermont looked like in decades past. A Vermont town has been recreated on the property by transporting historic buildings from around the state. Three of the exhibits remained open in the winter, allowing us a reprieve from the cold as we ducked into the Birds of a Feather Decoy Collection, 32 Degrees: Art of Winter, and my personal favorite, Painting a Nation: American Art. Paintings from John Singleton Copley, Winslow Homer and Grandma Moses diversify the collection – just to name a couple. Few visitors ventured out in the cold so luckily we were able to have the museum and the property almost all to ourselves.
Drive through other parts of scenic Vermont: Each turn on our road trip was more scenic than the next, and when the weather is not conducive to walking, sometimes a scenic car ride is the best you can do! Montpelier, Stowe, Warren and Waterbury are all towns en route to Burlington if you are coming from the south and want to take Route 12 which runs parallel to the highway.
Skiing: While skiing was not on our agenda for the weekend, a popular reason why most people come to Burlington in the winter is to take advantage of its location close to popular mountains of Stowe and Sugarbush.
Watch the sunset over Lake Champlain: While I am sure the summer sunsets allow you to stand outside longer and admire the view, the winter sunsets were accompanied by steam rising from the water (proving the air was colder than the water!). We watched one night on foot and were smart enough to bring the car the second night so we could stay longer.
While the bright and busy downtown area I remember from that summer afternoon looked a little different covered in snow and ice, the charm and uniqueness of the city still radiated through. Had the temperatures been a little warmer, we would have spent more time outside, but as any native-Vermonter will assure you – these temperatures are a fixture in the winter. If nothing else, the weather may have been in our favor as it kept some of the crowds away on the holiday weekend and allowed us to experience parts of the area in a more enjoyable manner. Burlington – you were the perfect February getaway for #take12trips. We loved everything about you and will be back soon!