What to Do in Burlington, Vermont, the Ultimate Fall Destination for Food and Outdoor Fun

Leaf your worries behind

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what to do in burlington vermont: aerial view of burlington vermont
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You visit Vermont every winter for skiing and snowboarding, but you’re missing out on some serious autumn fun if you wait for snow season to make the trek. Our suggestion? Take a flight to Burlington, a college town that’s known for its hippie vibes, bustling craft beer scene and natural splendor (which is arguably most gorgeous in the fall). Not only is there a ton to do, eat and see, but the adorably small—and shockingly clean—Burlington International Airport is just 15 minutes from downtown, making travel to and from a breeze. If you go the road trip route instead, you’re in for some seriously stunning scenery. Wondering what to do in Burlington, Vermont once you arrive? Read on for our reasons to visit this time of year.

The 15 Best Towns in Vermont That We Might Just Move to

what to do in burlington vermont: two people walking along a lake, a pumpkin farm stand and a woman riding a bike in burlington, vermont
Hotel Vermont

1. There’s Tons of Outdoor Seasonal Fun

Burlington may be Vermont’s largest city, but it’s retained its natural beauty over decades of growth. If you’re heading there in the fall, you’ll want to make leaf peeping your priority. You don’t need to head to a vantage point and glare, though: There are tons of ways to get out of your hotel room and soak up the autumn splendor. Here are a few of our top recs:

  • Ride the Burlington Bike Path: This eight-mile trail is stunning from start to finish. Complete with shoulders for runners and walkers, the paved path runs along the shoreline of Lake Champlain. You’ll pass art installations, a skate park, residential neighborhoods and—wait for it—a beach. Bring your own bike if you’re driving, ask your hotel if they have bikes available for guests or rent a bike at Local Motion on the waterfront.
  • Go for a Hike: TBH, you can’t go wrong with any Green Mountain spots. Rock Point Trails in Burlington proper offers more than two miles of walking and hiking trails on the shore of Lake Champlain. The site is home to many rare plants and unique habitats that wilderness lovers will adore. We also love the Intervale Center, which has recreational trails for walking, biking and even skiing. You can head to Centennial Woods Natural Area, which is less than two miles from downtown and boasts 65 acres of foliage to explore. As for serious hikers, make the drive from Burlington to Camel’s Hump State Park, the third-highest mountain in the state at nearly 4,100 feet.
  • Drive Along the Mountains: Route 100 is among the most breathtaking scenic drives in Vermont, dappled with farms, shops and all the New England charm you crave. If you have time to kill, check out this 100-mile loop from GoXplr, which will take you to iconic landmarks, picturesque covered bridges, pretty ponds, rushing waterfalls and more.
  • Sail Lake Champlain: Want a unique view of the changing leaves? Gaze at them from the water. You can book a charter boat with the Spirit of Ethan Allan, Whistling Man Schooner or Let’s Go Sailing, which are specifically designed to give guests killer views of the Adirondack Mountains. Just be sure to bundle up.
what to do in burlington vermont: burlington vermont church street
Hotel Vermont

2. There’s Much to Do in the City

Yes, the foliage is to die for, and there’s no shortage of natural beauty to take in. That said, Burlington’s neighborhoods are just as stunning, from the bustling Church Street Marketplace to the artsy South End district. Needless to say, you’ll want to spend as much time as possible outdoors while in Burlington. Here are a few ways to do it:

  • Stroll (and Shop) Downtown: Burlington has record shops, vintage stores (we recommend The Vault Collective, Old Gold and Dirt Chic), bookstores and quirky novelty shops galore. Church Street Marketplace, an award-winning pedestrian mall harbors more than 100 shops, restos and small businesses, is perhaps the most iconic hub. You can spend hours strolling, shopping and chatting with local business owners, no matter what’s on your list. We love Crow Bookshop, Lake Champlain Chocolates, Outdoor Gear Exchange and Quarterstaff Games.
  • Venture to the South End: Creators of all kinds will appreciate the artistry in this section of Burlington. The Soda Plant—a massive brick building that was once an industrial soda plant that now houses more than 30 local artisans—should be your first stop. Then, try the Supportive Places for Artists and the Creative Economy, or the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery. Photographers, woodworkers and painters alike house and create their work here. Conant Metal & Light and AO Glass are also must-sees for visitors. (The South End also happens to be the home to the world’s tallest filing cabinet.)
  • Visit the Waterfront: Whether you’re hopping a charter boat, strolling the boardwalk, playing volleyball in the park or digging into a maple creemee (more on that later) with a view, a visit to Burlington is incomplete without a walk to Lake Champlain. If you have kids, head to ECHO, a science and nature museum that’s right on the water. It offers an immersive 3D theater and tons of interactive exhibits.
  • Take Part in a Local Event: There are always festivals, concerts and more to attend in Burlington, especially in the fall. Oktoberfest Vermont on Waterfront Park is a must for beer lovers, since you’ll get to sample an array of local brews and German bites. The South End Art Hop supports tons of independent artisans. But most popular of all is no doubt the Burlington Farmer’s Market, which has been bringing local produce, meat and other goods to the Queen City since 1980. Check out the Burlington events calendar before booking your trip to see what’s on the agenda.
what to do in burlington vermont: gnocchi from juniper, a pork sandwich and a dessert from hen of the wood in burlington, vermont
Taryn Pire

3. The Food Scene Is Next-Level…

Vermont was on the farm-to-table wave before most U.S. states; when you’re so close to farmers and purveyors slinging stunning seasonal produce, top-tier dairy and quality meat, it’s easy to eat locally sourced on the reg. It’s not uncommon for most restaurants and eateries to serve up ingredients from nearby farmers and artisans. Here are a few spots that are sure to thrill any foodie:

  • August First: We could wax poetic about this spot’s sandwiches (and award-winning griddled maple biscuits) all day long. The cult-favorite is the Vermonter, a handheld with smoked turkey, cheddar cheese, apple chutney, red onion and cranberry mayo, but we also adored Tony’s Roast Pork Sandwich (slow-cooked pork, Dijonnaise, pickled onions, cheese and arugula) and the Day Maker (egg, cheddar, bacon fat aioli, tomato-habanero jam, arugula and red onion).
  • Juniper Bar & Restaurant: Yes, it’s a hotel restaurant. And yes, it’s damn delicious. For dinner, we recommend starting with the limited-edition, whiskey-washed Willoughby cheese drizzled with barrel-aged maple syrup and the fried artichoke with thyme-brown butter aioli. As for mains, the mushroom chevre gnocchi with pickled ramps is unreal. If you’re there for brunch, go with the Red Flannel hash, starring Montreal-spiced brisket, or the breakfast burrito with chorizo.
  • Honey Road: This hotspot for Mediterranean small plates is beloved by locals and tourists alike. Here, you’ll find dishes like lamb kofta, halloumi with pomegranate hot honey, grilled cauliflower with pecan romesco and a flurry of shareable dips, like hot pepper labneh and house ricotta. (FYI, Honey Road’s sister restaurant, The Grey Jay, is delightful for brunch; we love the shakhuka, pistachio sticky buns and Turkish coffee.)
  • Hen of the Wood: Any well-traveled foodie has heard of this highlight, which is colloquially referred to as the best restaurant in Burlington. The menu changes daily based on what ingredients the kitchen can source from nearby growers, ranchers, artisans and bakers. Whatever the entrée and starter options are the night you go, you *need* to start with the revelatory Parker House Rolls.
  • The Café Hot: Start your day at this unconventional breakfast spot that’s famous for its bonuts (those are biscuit donuts, the most notorious being the espresso glazed) and off-the-wall vegetarian sandwiches. First-timers should treat themselves to the Number 8, Chicken-Fried, which is piled high with pickled zucchini, tartar sauce and a chicken-fried egg. (Yes, you read that right.)
  • Pingala Café: Calling all vegans. Plant-based comfort awaits at this food truck-inspired spot. Score everything from chili to maple-sriracha broccoli to burger bites, as well as shakes and smoothies. We’re eager to try the resto’s assortment of Crunchwraps, including one that Guy Fieri himself has raved about: The Supreme.
  • Hong’s Chinese Dumplings: This Chinese spot started as a food cart in 2000. After years of local success, Hong’s opened a brick-and-mortar location on Pearl Street. The menu is simple yet drool-worthy, including scallion pancakes, steamed bao, cold sesame noodles and four types of hand-made dumplings. Don’t leave without trying the house hot chili oil and sweet cranberry sauce.
  • Burlington Bay Café: You must stop here for a maple creemee (aka soft serve) before heading home. We also love the black raspberry variety—and recommend asking for a swirl of both flavors. Little Gordo Creemee Stand is also a delicious choice.
what to do in burlington vermont: group of people drinking beers outdoors in burlington, vermont
Hotel Vermont

4. …and So Is the Local Beer

Craft beer nerds on the East coast are well aware of the groundbreaking brews in Vermont. Plenty travel there, growlers in tow, to fill up on the latest and greatest pours of the moment. The cool thing about Vermont’s craft beer scene, despite being relatively “old” and thriving, is that it’s still very, very local. Many popular breweries don’t export their wares, remaining small enough in operation to give new meaning to the term microbrewery. So, while you’re in town, you’ll need to sample as much as possible:

  • Zero Gravity: It doesn’t get more crushable than an easy-drinking Green State Lager from this local mainstay dedicated to sustainability and community. If IPAs are more your vibe, Conehead won’t disappoint. Dark beer lovers will jive with the Black Cat Porter, while sour fans will love Golden Goose and Strawberry Moon.
  • Queen City Brewery: This Burlington staple has more than 16 taps flowing with a rotating selection of brews. Queen City specializes in lagers, including the crisp South End, Bushwick and Vienna varieties. You can also sip some killer German beers in the fall, from the roasty Schwarzbier to the old-school Oktoberfest.
  • Foam Brewers: The tap list is always fresh and rotating, so you’ll surely find something to quench your thirst. They have several IPAs to choose from (see the citrusy Built to Spill and the boozy Pop Crimes), but they also have a soft spot for mouth-puckering wild ales, since they host a wild ale festival called Funk on the Water every fall. Grab a bite at Deep City, the brewery’s sister restaurant, to turn your happy hour break into a bonafide meal.
  • Burlington Beer Company: You may have spied cans from this brewery around New England and New York. Sipping one in the taproom, though, hits different. Located near Oakledge Park in a 120-year-old brick building, BBCO serves seasonal fare and bevs alike. If you love dark beer (’tis the season, after all), look no further: There are currently a dozen to choose from, including a maple porter and several imperial stouts.
  • Switchback Brewing Company: The Switchback Ale is an easy-drinking, unfiltered, naturally carbonated beer that just about anyone can get behind. But there’s also the Zaboo Hazy IPA for hop lovers and the uber-crisp Karsten lager.
  • Citizen Cider: If you prefer cider to beer, add Citizen to your must-visit list. While you can find their products in liquor stores all over, you’ll need to go to Burlington to sit in the cider pub. Unified Press is the traditional semi-dry, but we adored The Dirty Mayor, a ginger-infused cider, for its punchy, spicy flavor when we taste-tested a bunch of popular hard ciders back in 2020.

P.S.: If cocktails are more your thing, we recommend heading to The 126, Devil Takes a Holiday, The Archives—which is an arcade bar—and Mule Bar in nearby Winooski for a nightcap. As for distilleries, Smugglers’ Notch Distillery is easily accessible on the Church Street Marketplace, and Mad River Distillers’ tasting room is a brief walk away. If you have the time, drive 40 minutes to Montpelier for a tour, cocktail and meal at Barr Hill.

what to do in burlington vermont: hotel vermont
Hotel Vermont

Where to Stay: Hotel Vermont

Burlington’s only independent hotel couldn’t be in a better spot. Nestled between Church Street and Lake Champlain, you’ll be walking (and biking) distance from tons of hotspots around the city. The bedrooms and suites have a unique open design that’s cozy, breezy and elegant all at once. The hotel also sources many of its amenities and décor pieces from Burlington- and Vermont-based artisans and makers, so everything from the lobby art to your room’s toiletries are hyper-local. Hotel Vermont is also home to Juniper Bar & Restaurant, where you can get artisanal cocktails (we love the Paisley Park and the Bee’s Knees) and killer brunch and dinner, made with ingredients from small Vermont producers.

taryn pire

Food Editor

Taryn Pire is PureWow’s food editor and has been writing about all things delicious since 2016. She’s developed recipes, reviewed restaurants and investigated food trends at...