Two days in Burlington, Vermont was a delight. Gray kindly invited me to stay with her and introduced this small and charming Vermont town. I liked Vermont over all, but Burlington has something that made me want to stay longer. Working at a cafe, having dinner and beer at a micro brewpub, walking down small streets, watching people and feeling the vibe; Burlington has its own vibe that hard to explain in words. It was a pleasant visit. I’ve known Gray quite a while now, but I didn’t even imagine I would meet her in her town in the US. She is as lovely as I imagined she would be. We shared our love/hate relationship about travel blogging and enjoyed the night with sweet desert. It was a short visit but certainly one of my highlights.
Now, let’s explore Burlington, Vermont with Gray.
1. Which words would you use to describe Burlington, VT? For example, I would use ‘historic and Modern’ for Seoul.
I would use “artsy,” “crunchy,” and “easy” for Burlington.
The city is very arts-friendly—all kinds of art, from gallery art and public sculptures and murals to music and other performing arts. It is also home to a very eclectic mix of architectural styles. By “crunchy,” I mean it tends to be a very environmentally aware and politically liberal atmosphere, but also because we have a fair amount of hippies here. And finally “easy” because I find it a very easy city to explore or live in. It’s just big enough that you can find everything here that you need, and there’s plenty to do, but it’s also small enough that it’s easy to get around, whether on foot, or by bicycle, public transportation or car. It’s a very livable city and not at all intimidating to visitors (in my opinion).
2. For you, when is the best season to travel Burlington?
Most people would probably say fall, because that’s foliage season. And certainly it is beautiful here in the fall. The explosion of reds, oranges and yellows contrasted against Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks is stunning.
But I’d say summer is an even better season to visit. There’s a festival in Burlington almost every weekend in the summer, because our “festival season” is pretty short; winters last six months long here, and the weather can be very unpredictable, so we try to cram a lot into our summers. There’s also the farmer’s market in City Hall Park, and free concerts in Battery Park. In the summer, you can dine outdoors at many downtown restaurants, enjoy water sports, and just enjoy long days of being outside. Burlington really shines in the summer.
3. How long have you been living in Burlington? Did you feel Burlington as a home?
I’ve lived here for 21 years, so yes, I consider it home now. When I first moved here, I came from rural Vermont, so Burlington was the “big city”. I find that pretty funny now, because it’s really not that big.
4. Tell us about your favourite and the least favourite thing about Burlington.
My favorite thing about Burlington is the waterfront on Lake Champlain. It’s a very welcoming place to hang out, and it’s a great spot for festivals, but mostly, it’s just gorgeous, especially at sunset.
My least favorite thing about Burlington is trying to find a parking space when I go downtown! There is not enough parking in this city.
5. Is there any local special food?
Well, pretty much anything with maple syrup in it, of course. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is pretty big here, because this is where they got their start. Burlington is also really on board with the localvore movement (restaurants serving food that was raised/grown/produced locally, here in Vermont). It’s a point of pride.
6. What is the first thing would you recommend us to do right after we arrive in Burlington?
Head down to Church Street. That’s the pedestrian marketplace where everyone goes to see and be seen, from tourists to locals. You’ll see people walking their dogs, and buskers, and street food carts, and outdoor dining, and lots and lots of coffee shops—not to mention shopping. There’s always something going on here. Grab a bite to eat downtown, and you’ll notice there are almost no chain restaurants here. The one and only McDonalds restaurant downtown closed and the space is now a wonderful gastro pub called the Farmhouse Tap and Grill. Most of the restaurants downtown are locally-owned, and I have to say, we’re ridiculously blessed to have so many good ones.
7. What is the most famous landmark? And which one is your favourite?
Church Street and Waterfront Park are the two most famous landmarks, although University Row at the University of Vermont is also fairly dominant in the layout and appearance of the city. The buildings on University Row are among the oldest and most architecturally interesting in the city. They face Downtown Burlington, looking down the hill toward the Lake. I’d have to go with Waterfront Park as my favorite. The water really draws me to it.
8. Where’s your secret hangout place? The place where you feel most comfortable, or had the most fun.
Fun for me is more about the people I’m with than the place. One place I do like to go, though, is Perkins Pier at sunset. It’s to the left of Waterfront Park, and fewer tourists know about it, so it doesn’t get as crowded as Waterfront Park. I can usually grab a spot on a bench here and enjoy the peaceful setting.
9. Right now, you are sitting outside of a café, and reading a book. Great weather, refreshing breeze comes and goes. Which book would that be? Which one is the suitable one for afternoon in Burlington?
Well, if you’re going to read a book some afternoon in Burlington, I would recommend a book by a Vermont author. If you like mysteries, try Archer Mayor; if you like horror, Joe Citro is our version of Stephen King. If you’re looking for something more mainstream that really explores the culture of Vermont, try something by Chris Bohjalian or Howard Frank Mosher.
10. How much is for a cup of coffee?
I’m really embarrassed to admit I have no idea. I don’t buy coffee regularly, so when I do, it’s a “treat,” and I don’t think about how much it’s costing me. Definitely over $1 and under $3, but that’s all I can tell you.
11. Would you recommend us one ‘off-the-beaten path’ place in Burlington?
¡Duino! Duende is a funky little restaurant on North Winooski (across Pearl Street) that specializes in global street foods. It’s got a very eclectic menu that you won’t find anywhere else in town. Right next door (and open to it) is a coffee shop called the Radio Bean that has live music nightly. Both are fairly popular with locals, so if you’re looking to mingle with the locals and sample real Burlington nightlife, give them a try.
12. Any extra ordinary customs that travelers should know?
I don’t know how extraordinary it is, but travelers who are driving through Burlington should be aware that Church Street is a pedestrian-only street from Main Street to Pearl Street. Trying to drive up one of the streets that cross Church Street can be a slow process, because pedestrians have the right of way.
You probably have a better idea of which customs in Burlington are unusual than I do; since I live here, everything seems normal to me. 🙂
13. I’m a fan of souvenirs. Which one should I buy in Burlington? (I bought a moose fridge magnet.)
Maple syrup is a safe bet, or if you like chocolate, bring some Lake Champlain Chocolates home with you. Of course, those souvenirs won’t last long. For longevity, I’d go with a tee shirt featuring a print of a Vermont scene by one of our more famous local artists, Sabra Field or Woody Jackson. Or maybe a University of Vermont hoodie.
14. As a local, would you like to share your secret travel tips about Burlington with us?
Be on the lookout for street art. There are some great murals around town, sometimes in the most surprising places.
Gray Cargill is a passionate solo travel advocate and Las Vegas enthusiast. A lifelong Vermonter, she has visited seven countries and 21 U.S. states. In addition to travel, her interests include writing, photography, and science fiction and she becomes positively giddy when she gets to have conversations on any of those topics with other enthusiasts.