The Deep Dive
Burlington Tips + FAQs
What are the local, must-see attractions or hot spots?
If you’re lucky enough to be spending time in Burlington, you’re guaranteed to be finding your way to Church Street. Closed off to traffic, this pedestrian avenue is one of the heartbeats of Vermont’s largest city. A stroll any time of year will reveal more than 100 restaurants, shops, and galleries - but our favorite times of year here have to be early Summer and late-December. In the Summer, all of the restaurants have their outdoor patios bustling with food and drink, and depending on when you visit, you’re guaranteed to hear some great live music coming from multiple hot-spots (we’re looking at you Leunig’s). In the Wintertime, Church St. truly shines with festive music playing through the speakers, glistening holiday lights, and a 40ft. tree beautifully displayed at the top of the block. Ah, Church Street!
Located downtown on Pine Street (more on Pine St. to come), during the warmer months, be sure to find yourself at the Burlington Farmers Market. Food, art, produce, and music all in one place. Find Green Mountain Potstickers (just look for the line!) and order their breakfast Scallion Pancake with scrambled egg…amazing!
In a city known for its breweries (20+ in the surrounding area by last count), we will always have a special spot in our pint glasses for Fiddlehead Brewing. While they moved the majority of their production to a separate building a few years back, their tasting room is still front and center and easily accessible on Rt. 7 in nearby Shelburne. Pro Tip: Make a night of it and grab a pizza from the attached Folino’s Wood Fired Pizza and enjoy with a growler (or two) of the eponymous IPA.
If you only had one night in town, where are you going for dinner?
This can be a tough one, especially in a town of truly excellent food choices. That being said, the folks at Farmhouse Tap and Grill always seem to go the extra mile to make sure you’re having a memorable and delicious experience. With a plethora of seating options (the beer garden sets a vibe, the dining room is always fast-paced and lively, and the basement tavern is nothing short of a cozy hideaway), scrumptious, locally-sourced food choices, and a beer list that will knock your socks off, we’ve quite honestly never had anything but a great time here.
We’re looking to splurge a little - where are the best digs in town?
We have two great choices for you, depending on your mood and the time of year. In the Summer and Fall, if you are open to staying a bit outside of town, Basin Harbor is quite simply a dream. As soon as you step onto the Basin Harbor property any stress or anxiety just melts away. Lake-side cabins that are cute as a button, creative and delicious dining options, and a sense of community togetherness that leaves you feeling as fabulous (and fashionable) as Mrs. Maisel!
If you’re after more of the downtown vibe, Hotel Vermont has got you covered. Situated just two blocks off of bustling Church Street, Hotel Vermont just feels cool. With high-quality finishes and detailing everywhere you look, this boutique property makes you feel like a million bucks. Pro Tip: Be sure to visit the rustic-chic in-house Juniper Bar and Restaurant for some of the best cocktails in town.
Where should we go for unique, one-of-a-kind shopping?
As we’ve mentioned, if shopping is your desire, Church Street has what you’re looking for. With a delightful blend of designer national brands as well as local, artisan storefronts, Church Street is an experience unto itself and one of the best introductions to the city of Burlington.
A block and a half off of Church Street, be sure to visit Common Deer for our favorite selection of Vermont-y gifts and decor. This women-owned, community-supporting boutique has just the right touch of humor and style that leaves us wanting to bring home just about every item they carry.
Keeping in line with that community-based shopping hub motif, keep traveling a few blocks South on the wonderfully quirky, Pine Street until you come to The Soda Plant. In what was originally a bottling facility for - yup, you guessed it - a soda company, you'll now find a home to more than 30 makers, producers, and artists. From exotic, aromatic cocktail fragrance companies, to local, hand-crafted jewlers. Wild flower-inspired greeting card creators, to groovy, retro leather accessories - every turn and corner you take at the Soda Plant reveals another gem.
We have our kids with us, where should we go with the entire family?
If you’ve got the kids in tow - you absolutely need to head down to the waterfront and visit ECHO. A lake-front science and nature museum with aquariums, rotating national exhibits, hands-on activities, and a super knowledgeable and helpful staff to help guide you on your family’s journey. Pro Tip: Be sure to check out the sturgeon display, as this might be the closest you come to a Champ sighting during your stay!
After your time at ECHO, head South down Route 7 until you reach the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory in Shelburne. Open every day from 10AM - 4 PM, you’re going to want to take a tour of the campus with one of their Bear Ambassadors, who will show you not only the massive Bear shop, but also the hand-made process that every bear takes before heading straight to your home. While on the tour, you’ll be able to visit the Bear Hospital, as well as have the chance to make your very own teddy bear. The kids are gonna love it! Local Tip: Fiddlehead Brewery and Folino’s Wood-fired Pizza are right up the street - you know, for any after-bear-making celebrations!
We’re looking to start the day off right, breakfast recs? Is there a famous, local breakfast sandwich?
Sadly our favorite breakfast spot in the entire state just recently announced they’re hanging up their chef’s hat - we love you and miss you already Penny Cluse! BUT! The good news is that there are still many excellent (and equally iconic) breakfast options.
Now, our first suggestion might be somewhat controversial as many may argue that this is not an actual breakfast choice as much as it is a hangover-prevention heaven. We’re talking of course, about the famous Rise & Shiner at Kountry Kart Deli (we’re old school, it’ll always be the Rise & Shiner for us). Eggs, cheese, golden hash browns, your choice of bacon, ham, or sausage on a toasted bulky roll. Sounds simple, we know, but whether you’re soaking up any brews and spirits the night of, or instead the morning after, there is something just magical about a Shiner from Kountry Kart. Local Tip: Ask for grilled peppers and onions added to your Shiner.
If sit-down is more your style, Sneakers Bistro in nearby Winooski has been serving up phenomenal Breakfasts and Lunches every day since 1980! Our go-to is their famous eggs benedict with grits, but to be honest, you can’t go wrong with any of their menu choices.
If you’re looking to rub elbows with some of the real locals that make this city amazing, head on over to Handy’s Lunch. Now they do, of course, serve an excellent lunch, but we prefer to head over first thing in the morning and cozy up to the 1958 horseshoe counter for what can only be labeled a damn good breakfast. You might not find an avocado toast or mango chia bowl at Handy’s, but that’s part of the charm - this is after all, a no-frills, no nonsense type of joint - and that's precisely why it’s one of our favorite places to start the day.
We want to get out and breathe in some fresh air, what do you suggest we check out?
Burlington practically lives outdoors. And with so many picturesque outdoor amenities within a short distance to downtown, it's easy to see why!
First things first, head down the hill towards Lake Champlain and you’ll find yourself on Waterfront Park. Now, Waterfront Park is a destination in itself with the marina, restaurants, skate park, and piers, however, the feature that really sets it apart in our opinion has to be the Burlington Greenway (or the Bike Path to locals). Traversing eight miles along the shores of Lake Champlain, the bike path is a paved thoroughfare for walkers, joggers, and bikers to take in one hell of a view. You really can’t go wrong no matter what direction you go, but if you head South you’ll find yourself at Oakledge Park, which is the perfect location for a quick dip, picnic, or sunset hideaway. Bottom line, the Bike Path is your quick access to many outdoor adventures and something that should be explored as soon as possible.
If you’re still looking for additional impressive vistas, just a short drive away in Charlotte is the Mt. Philo State Park. With multiple trails and paths to the summit, Mt. Philo is a local favorite that is a relatively easy hike, but has a big payout in the spectacular views at the top. Pro Tip: In the Summer, after a sunset hike up Mt. Philo, you can never go wrong with the freshly baked Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich at the nearby Vermont Cookie Love.
We’re coming up for a couples getaway - where should we go for a romantic dinner?
Again, there are a ton of really top-notch choices for this question (Leunig’s, Single Pebble, Trattoria Delia to name a few) - but we’re particularly partial to what Chef Eric Warnstedt has created at Hen of the Wood. Many would make the argument that Hen of the Wood is what helped put Vermont on the culinary map, and we certainly see the merit to that statement. With their constantly evolving menu crafted of hyper-local and seasonal offerings, paired with their excellent wine selection and creative craft cocktails, you always know you’re in for a treat at Hen of the Wood. Pro Tip: Depending on your definition of romantic, you can always request to be seated at the prep-kitchen counter. We’re of the firm belief that seeing your food expertly prepared directly in front of you is nothing short of an aphrodisiac.
How about local music or entertainment?
Of the many things that Burlington really does right (beer selection, restaurants, shopping), perhaps the most brightly shining beacon to this testament may in fact be, live music. It truly seems that no matter where you go, you are virtually guaranteed to hear some amazing music. In the interest of brevity, here are a few of our favorites:
Nectar’s will always hold a special place in our hearts and this is even despite being the birthplace of Phish (we kid, we kid!). In all seriousness, the iconic nature of that spinning neon sign on Main Street, is nothing short of emblematic of a town that embraces and identifies with their love of music. If you’re after live music, you owe it to yourself to view what many consider to be a mecca to the art form. Also, while tater tots may have gotten the axe, Gravy Fries are back, baby! We feel this is more than fair.
Further up the street you’ll find the twin powerhouse that is Radiobean and Light Club Lamp Shop. On first entrance to either of these venues (they’re connected via a delicious middle restaurant that due to Covid is currently in flux), you can not help but be blown away by both the eclectic decor and, more importantly, eclectic patrons. From old-time locals to new-age punks, college kids to people with kids, the diversity and creativity that flows through these doors is positively palpable. Grab a seat, enjoy a cocktail, and just sit back and enjoy the show.
And of course, there is the Flynn Theatre, entertaining Burlington for more than 90 years. A 1,439 seat venue, constantly putting out some of the best entertainment in the area. A show at the Flynn harkens back to the art deco design in which it is housed - a true, and stylish event. Whether you’re watching standup comedy, taking in a play, catching a nationally touring music act, the grand nature of the Flynn always shines and amazes.
It is truly difficult to stop short when it comes to excellent places to take in local music in Burlington. Go to Leunig’s, Manhattan’s, and Orlando’s. Higher Ground! Just get out there and follow your ear!
We’re looking for something special for lunch - suggestions?
Absolutely! You need to go to Zabby and Elf’s Stone Soup. Part delicatessen, part buffet, part hippy, part bougie - 100% delicious! The love with which this food is prepared is nothing short of stupendous and is why it has always been a local favorite.
Equally loved by locals and visitors alike, find your way over to Tiny Thai just outside the traffic circle in downtown Winooski. Besides the best deals in town on lunch specials, you’ll enjoy traditional Thai dishes with special local twists.
After a long, fun day a cocktail sounds perfect! Where are we headed?
Just as quality beer selections abound, you can’t throw a shoe in Burlington without hitting a damn fine craft cocktail. For our money, we love everything that the folks at Honey Road are doing (seriously, how can you go wrong with a James Beard Nominated Eastern Mediterranean Restaurant that slings pure fire in a martini or tumbler?).
Also, while well-deserving of their reputation as a beer haven, Mule Bar in Winooski is always spicing things up with creative and delicious cocktails. Additionally, Deli 126, the speakeasy, jazz club, located on lower College Street, is staffed by bartenders who are in complete control of the libation lexicon. You absolutely will find something to pique your interest on-menu, but if you feel like exploring the off-menu possibilities, the barkeeps at 126 are certainly up to the task.
We don’t want to be complete tourists - where are the locals going?
As we’ve already discussed Burlington is music mad. This is clearly a good thing. With the fortunate geographic position between the metropoli of Montreal, Boston, and NYC, Burlington as a tour stop is uniquely situated to play host to large and famous, nationally-touring bands in what is otherwise a small and intimate setting. One such setting is the much-loved Higher Ground. Located in South Burlington, Higher Ground is actually two music venues in one, with a large HG Ballroom and the smaller Showcase Lounge. Do yourself a favor and check out their seriously impressive lineup and pick out a few shows for your next BTV visit. Pro Tip: This proximity also means that you will frequently find said bands having a drink and even hopping on stage for an impromptu set after a show (we’re looking at you, Nectar’s and Club Metronome). So you know, food for thought.
Also, be sure to visit The Intervale! This 360-acre community garden/event space/farm/trail system/sanctuary is host to one of our favorite Summer weekly festival series, Summervale! Local food trucks, live music, and activities for the whole family, on a scenic farm setting, mere minutes from downtown. During the rest of the year, there are always classes or activities going on, in addition to the miles of interconnecting trails perfect for cross-country skiing, jogging, walking, and just general exploration. It’s a Shangrila!
And what locals-oriented visit to Burlington would be complete without a visit to City Market. This downtown linchpin marketplace may be ‘just’ a grocery store, but it’s also a sandwich shop, a beer lover's mecca, a community meeting ground, and an excellent opportunity to resupply on your Burlington adventure. Much love for City Market!
One thing to remember, this is a college town. The University of Vermont and Champlain College add an amazing dynamic to the lake-side city, almost doubling the population when school is in session. If you really want to get a taste of the local collegiate flavor, do yourself a favor and be sure to take a stroll through both of these gorgeous campuses. And, if you are either a prospective college student or the parent of a prospective college student, let us be the first to say that Burlington as a college town, is the absolute cream of the crop.