One of the most popular parts of the “Green Mountain state”, Burlington is located in the north western part of Vermont, on the shore of Lake Champlain, the largest freshwater lake in the United States (after the five Great Lakes). Burlington is home to Champlain College and the University of Vermont (with St Michael’s College and CCV Winooski nearby) and has over 500 acres of open, recreational space and almost three dozen parks. There are tons of biking and walking paths (see #10 on this list) and three sandy beaches (Oakledge Park, North Beach, and Leddy Beach) open to the public. The Sand Bar State Park and Mount Philo State Park are great options for swimming, boating, picnicking, and hiking. There are tons of family friendly attractions for each season (tons of winter recreation options and plenty of ways to explore in the summer sunshine), but this week on the blog, we’re highlighting 10 spots families can enjoy all year.
Stay Local: We usually choose to stay at Marriott hotels whenever we travel (read more about some of our favorite properties here). For our most recent visit to Burlington, we stayed at the Residence Inn Burlington Colchester (less then 10 minutes from downtown) which offers spacious suites, lots of amenities (pool, gym, morning breakfast), and helpful staff. The Essex Resort and Spa (less than 20 minutes from downtown) offers beautiful grounds and tons of amenities (see #8 on our list!) and we’re planning on a future trip there. A little farther out (about an hour from downtown) is the Smugglers Notch Resort, a full service year round resort with TONS of outdoor family friendly sports and activities (and indoor fun, too!). We just visited this past winter and loved the resort- read about our adventures here. For other lodging options, check out this index from Hello, Burlington, VT.
Eating Local: Burlington is well known for their variety of dining options (farm to table restaurants! Outdoor dining! Breweries! Cheese shops! Coffee shops!). Church Street Marketplace offers a wide variety of retail and dining options- check here for the full list of restaurants on Church Street and here for a comprehensive index of restaurants in the greater Burlington region. Here are some popular spots, many of which we enjoyed:
- Farmhouse Tap
- The Windjammer
- The Skinny Pancake
- August First
- Waterworks (in Winooski)
- Honey Road
- Hen of the Wood
- Church Street Tavern
10 Ways to Explore Burlington, Vermont this Spring:
- Climb high and at PetraCliff Indoor Climbing Center and Mountaineering School. The 10,000 square foot indoor center has over a dozen walls for bouldering, auto belaying, and toprope climbing. Climbers can boulder by themselves without being harnessed (great introduction to the center!), climb a variety of walls by themselves with an auto belay (which automatically lowers a climb to the ground slowly once they let go of the wall) or can rope climb in pairs for more experienced climbers. There are courses for every level of skill and confidence. The mountaineering school offers year round excursions guided by professional climbers. We met the owner, Andrea, for our indoor session and found her professional, patient, and very reassuring as we climbed. Indoor climbing and various children’s programs are best suited for ages 5+, but younger children can try the lower level climbing walls- more info here.
Travel Tips: The indoor center accepts reservations but welcomes drop ins- check the schedule here and pricing here; the website also has up to date information on availability and an occupancy counter; climbing shoes are not necessary (sneakers are fine!) but can be rented; restroom facilities located on site; no dining facilities; most sessions last 60-75 minutes.
Bonus: Check out the World’s Tallest Filing Cabinet, located across the street from the City Market, less than a quarter mile from PetraCliffs. The art installation was built to symbolically represent the 40+ year ongoing Champlain Parkway project to extend the highway and bring commerce to the area. Each drawer represents a year the project was delayed until it reached the maximum height ordinance set by Burlington.
- Sample chocolates at Lake Champlain Chocolates, which sells almost one millions pounds of chocolate confections each year. Their most popular items include truffles, caramels, and chocolate bars. The flagship store includes displays featuring cocoa pods and explanations of how chocolate is made, and a cafe with hot and cold drinks and homemade ice cream. There are daily samples and tons of seasonal chocolate novelties and gifts.
Travel Tips: The factory location on Pine Street is undergoing an expansion in summer 2023 and will be adding more guest experiences; check hours here; restrooms available on site and plenty of parking in front of the store.
- Learn how to make your own Vermont Teddy Bear at the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory in Shelburne, Vermont. The 40 year old company can make up to 700 bears a day in peak season and tour visitors can see employees hard at work! Stops on the tour include seeing the original “Bearcho” bear (creator John Sortino made him in 1980 for his kids), the stuffing station, the collection of 40+ years of bears, and the bear hospital. Guests can also make their own, personalized bear (additional fee applies).
Travel Tips: The factory offers guided tours every half hour from 10am-4pm daily; check up to date hours and rates here (kids 12 and under are free!); plenty of free parking; restrooms near the entrance; no dining facilities on site; plan on 30 minutes for a tour and longer to make a bear.
Read our full post here.
- Complete an art scavenger hunt at University of Vermont’s Fleming Museum of Art. The museum, opened in 1931, is home to 24,000+ objects from a wide variety of eras. Highlights include the Gallery of Asian Art with sculptures, furniture, bowls and jars; the Native American Cultures Gallery with jars, clothing, and drills; and the Marble Court. There are also several rotating exhibits- more information here.
Travel Tips: The museum is free to visit and open Tuesday through Saturday- more info here; free parking is available to the left of the museum, with additional lots around campus with the ParkMobile app; restrooms are located on the lower level; no dining facilities on site; see a list of special events and programs here; plan on 45-60 minutes to explore all exhibits. Kids will also enjoy running around the grassy green behind the museum.
- Eat ice cream at the world famous Ben & Jerry’s Factory Experience in Waterbury, Vermont. Ben & Jerry’s has three factories: Waterbury and St. Albine’s (which has 5x the factory space as Waterbury) Vermont which distributes ice cream throughout the United States, and Helendore in Holland, which distributes ice cream throughout Europe. The first factory opened in Waterbury in 1985 and guided tours began in 1986. The Waterbury Factory is still the only factory open to the public and produces 300,000-400,000 pints a day. Tours are offered throughout the day and can average 800 people on a busy summer day.
Travel Tips: The factory is open Tuesday through Saturday and tours are offered every 15 minutes during peak tourism months-check here for up to date info and to reserve tickets; plenty of parking to the left of the factory; multiple ice cream Scoop Shops are open during peak summer months; plenty of picnic tables and a playground; restrooms are located in a separate building in front of the factory; plan on 30 minutes for a tour and more time for exploring the complex and shopping.
Red our full post here.
- Hike some of the five miles of trails across the 250 acre Green Mountain Audubon Center. The trails traverse the hardwood forest, hemlock swamp, and Huntington River. Be sure kids print the sugarbush scavenger hunt and bring it with them on a hike. There are also several events each month that are family friendly- check the calendar here.
Travel Tips: The trails are open from dawn to dusk all year; the Visitor Center is open Monday through Friday 9am-4pm; restrooms are located near the Visitor Center; there are three parking lots (near the Visitor Center, near the River Trail, and near Horseshoe Bend); be sure to dress for the weather and wear closed toe sneakers or hiking shoes.; stay on the marked paths!
- Experiment and the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. The 34,000 square foot science and nature museum, right on the waterfront of Lake Champlain, has over 100 interactive exhibits, experiments and activities and is home to over 70 live species of turtles, snakes, frogs, and fish. There are tons of hands-on activities for the preschool crowd, a special toddler space, a weather forecast television studio, a resource library room, rotating exhibits and tons of aquarium tanks.
Travel Tips: ECHO is open every day from 10am-5pm- information on hours and admission fees here; the center does participate in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums reciprocity program; there is a large parking lot in front of the center- use with the ParkMobile app; restrooms located on each level; nursing pods and space for nursing mothers throughout the center; no dining facilities on site but snacks and drinks available for purchase near the gift shop; museum map here; plan on 90 minutes to fully explore the museum.
Read our full post here.
- Take a cooking class at the Cook Academy at The Essex Resort, located twenty minutes east of Burlington. The full service resort, in addition to its popular spa and luxurious amenities, offers a variety of weekly, two hour cooking classes with resident chefs. Class sizes are kept small so each participant receives hands-on instruction focused on technique, preparation, and entertaining. Kids will especially be interested in the Junior Chef series, with themes such as cake decorating, crepes, and cream puff themed classes.
Travel Tips: Reservations are strongly encouraged- check here for up to date information on dates, themes, and pricing.
- See democracy in action at the Vermont State House, located 30 minutes away from Burlington in Montpelier. The State House, built in 1859 in an Italian Renaissance revival style, is home to the 30 member Senate (the Senate Chamber is the oldest, actively used chamber in America!) and the 150 member House of Representatives. Vermont legislators have no private offices at the Capitol; they conduct business at their chamber desks or in groups in large committee rooms, which means that the public will often see them at work in the chambers. Visitors are allowed to sit in the chambers during open sessions. Visitors can also explore the Governor’s Ceremonial Office and the Cedar Crook Room.
Travel Tips: Self guided and audio tours are available during the week; free, guide tours are offered from July through October; on street metered parking is available on side streets and in lots in Montpelier; restrooms are located on the first floor; on site dining options include a cafeteria serving breakfast and lunch and the Capitol Food Court offers grill, sandwich, soup, and salad items; plan on 60-75 minutes to fully explore the State House.
Read our full post here.
- Get some fresh air with outdoor exercise. Burlington, and the Lake Champlain downtown area, is home to several bike paths, including the Island Line Trail (14 miles along the coast from Burlington to the Champlain Islands) the Burlington Greenway bike path (an eight mile paved path along the shores of Lake Champlain that is part of the Island Line Trail), the Colchester Causeway and (a 10 mile biking and walking gravel path).
Bonuses: There are several other great activities to enjoy throughout the Burlington area during the summer and fall. These sites were not open during our April visit, but we’ve heard so many positive reviews, we’re including them here in case you visit during more popular months:
- Shelburne Museum: The 45 acre complex has over 40 buildings and gardens with live docents, a massive collection of textiles and American artwork on display, and a 250 foot steamboat. A variety of guided tours are offered daily.The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday mid May through mid October, with summer Monday holidays.
- Ethan Allen Homestead Museum: Explore a recreated Abenaki village and ceremonial site, Franny’s produce garden, a 19th century barn (home to the interior museum exhibits), Tavern (kids will want to play colonial area games), and the gift shop, all of which honor Revolutionary War hero Ethan Allen. The 293 museum is located within the 294 acre Ethan Allen Park, which is free and open to the public year round- check out the hiking trails. The museum is open from May 1st through the end of October. Guided tours, and a 15 minute introductory video, are offered several times a day.
- Lake Champlain Shoreline Cruises: Hop aboard the Spirit of Ethan Allen, a 360+ passenger ship, for a narrated, 90 minute cruise. There are typically 3 tours a day, with occasional specially themed cruises, including dinner cruises, moonlight cruises, and lunch-on-the-lake cruises. Decks are covered and air conditioned and there are bathrooms aboard the ship, as well as a snack bar. Cruises run early May through mid October; information on schedules and pricing here.
Disclosure: Our family was given a media pass to some of the locations mentioned in this post; all opinions expressed are my own.