Although Burlington isn’t the capital of Vermont, this earthy-crunchy, uber-hip, progressive city seems to steal the spotlight within the state. With hundreds of restaurants, micro-breweries and live music venues, there’s a bustling food and entertainment scene, and with Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains nearby, there are tons of outdoor activities to enjoy as well. Although in summer there’s hiking, cycling, sailing and other lake activities, I set out to see what Burlington would be like in the dead of winter. After reading this post on Burlington, I think you’ll agree that it’s worth the trip no matter what time of year!
WHAT TO DO
Take to the slopes for a day of skiing:
Did you know that Vermont produces more US Winter Olympians per capita than any other state by a long shot? I’m no expert, but I assume that the overwhelming number of mountains to practice on within the state has a little something to do with it!
With mountains like Sugarbush, Smuggler’s Notch, Mad River Glen, and Stowe all under an hour drive from Burlington, skiing is a must while you’re visiting. That being said, I have a small disclaimer: I actually did not go skiing during this past visit! Since I grew up in New England, and have skied in Vermont multiple times in the past, I decided to try a different winter activity instead. Keep reading, to find out what I did in its place!
Go on a snowmobiling adventure with Snowmobile Vermont:
Since I’ve skied multiple mountains across Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire throughout my lifetime, I decided to switch it up this go around, and gave snowmobiling a try for the first time! Just 40 minutes from Burlington, you can link up with Snowmobile Vermont (Stowe location) and experience Vermont’s winter wonderland in a whole new way.
Snowmobile Vermont has four different locations, but their Stowe location is the closest to Burlington, so that’s what I opted for. This location offers a 2-hour backcountry tour which includes a guide that will lead you through 25 miles of the beautiful Mount Mansfield State Forest. Over the course of 2 hours, we rode through wide straight paths, up and down hills, around winding corners, over bridges, and through big open fields.
I’m an adrenaline junkie, so I loved the speed and excitement of soaring through the backwoods of Vermont on a brand new, high-tech Polaris Snowmobile. However, I decided to be a passenger on this trip (I’ve gotten into a few motorbike accidents overseas, so I’m a little timid) which allowed me to really take in the scenery as we whipped through the forest. My favorite part was really just observing the gorgeous countryside along the way. At one point during the tour, we were led through a part of the forest with the most perfect snow-covered evergreens that honestly looked like a painting or something out of a movie. Simply put, it was magical, and I probably wouldn’t have seen this stunning winterscape otherwise.
There were three other snowmobiles on the tour with us plus our guide, Chad. Chad was awesome and stopped throughout the tour to check and make sure everyone was doing alright and having fun. There were all different levels of drivers on the trip, which meant we kept at a moderate pace throughout the journey. Towards the end of the ride, we were led to an open field where those who had the need for speed could rip donuts in an open field and feel that rush of adrenaline they were searching for. After a few hours of snowmobiling fun, we returned to Umiak Outfitters where the tours depart from and were welcomed back with a piping hot cup of apple cider.
Tours depart every hour on the weekends and every other hour during weekdays. Snowmobile Vermont provides a helmet and boots for you to wear during the journey, but it’s recommended that you bring your own warm weather gear including gloves, hat, snow pants and a proper winter jacket. If you don’t have the proper gear, you can rent at the shop before the ride for a small fee. They ask that you arrive 1 hour before ride time for a safety video, briefing, shuttling to riding site, and fitting for helmets and boots. You are required to view the circa 1985 safety video before riding, but won’t want to miss it for the sheer fact of comedic enjoyment, so don’t be late! (Seriously, it’s hilarious.)
Overall, I had a really great experience with Snowmobile Vermont. The guides were awesome, the trails were fun to ride, the scenery of pure Vermont wilderness was beautiful, and it was a really enjoyable way to experience winter in Vermont. Although skiing is still my favorite outdoor winter activity, snowmobiling is a great alternative for non-skiers or anyone looking to try something different or enjoy a Vermont winter in a new and exciting way.
To book your snowmobile adventure with Snowmobile Vermont, visit their website or shoot them a call at 802-253-6221. (Location: 849 Main Street, Stowe – also have locations at Okemo, Killington, and Mount Snow.)
Relax & refresh at the Spa at The Essex:
After a few days of winter activities and exposure to the winter weather, I was ready for a little reprieve. Although snowmobiling didn’t tucker me out quite like skiing would have, the cold wind whipping against my face certainly did a number on my skin. Whether it’s to relax and unwind after a rigorous day in the mountains or to rejuvenate the skin from the harsh conditions, a spa day at the Spa at The Essex is sure to have you feeling refreshed.
My skin had been screaming for help, and a facial with Erica was just what the doctor ordered. By the end of the treatment, my dry skin was feeling hydrated and happy and was exactly what I needed to get out of this winter skin rut I was going through. Erica really went above and beyond by writing up a skin regimen for me with products she thought would help improve the look and feel of my skin. I have since been using all of the products Erica recommended and can already see and feel a huge difference in my skin health. She’s a wizard!
Alex (my travel buddy for the weekend – I’m not always solo, folks) received a Tranquility Hot Oil Cocoon which is a luxurious full body cocoon that is designed for anyone seeking deep relaxation while delivering great nourishment; increased circulation and a sense of total well being. He said that it felt like he was on the beach wrapped in a warm blanket and that his skin felt extremely hydrated after the treatment.
Following our treatments, I retired to the woman’s lounge area where I relaxed with a warm cup of tea, read some magazines by the fire, and detoxed in the sauna and steam room. When you book a treatment at the Spa at The Essex, not only do you have access to the facilities just mentioned, but also the 25-yard heated indoor pool, outdoor hot tub, multiple relaxations lounges and the fitness center. Since this is a culinary resort, you will find an emphasis on food even within the spa, through ingredients used in the various skin and relaxation treatments, and the wellness beverages and snacks offered throughout the spa area.
To me, there’s really nothing like indulging in a spa day, especially on a cold winter’s day following multiple hours of skiing or traveling. After a facial, and multiple hours spent relaxing and rejuvenating at the Spa at The Essex, I felt like a million bucks!
You can book your treatment at the Spa at The Essex here or give them a call at 802-764-1452. (Location: 70 Essex Way)
Taste the local flavors of Vermont:
One of the first things you will likely notice when dining out in Burlington is that nearly everything seems to be locally sourced. It’s not uncommon to see signage reading “we support local farmers” or something of the like throughout the town. Burlington natives are known to be progressive, forward-thinking people and it shows in the way they source, produce, and serve their food. Here are a few places that stood out to me during my visit. I suggest you add them to your “where to eat in Burlington” list ASAP!
Hen of the Wood:
This upscale yet casual dining establishment serves inventive and carefully crafted cuisine using (you guessed it) locally sourced produce, meats, cheeses and beyond. Their goal is to provide a true Vermont dining experience, and in my experience they most certainly did!
I’d recommend some of the dishes I tried, but since their menu changes daily, just keep an open mind and experiment! Make sure to sit at the bar for a front-row look at the chefs working away in their open kitchen. (55 Cherry St)
The Farmhouse Tap & Grill:
I heard this local watering hole was the go-to place for burgers, gastropub style food, and a nice selection of craft brews. I opted for the veggie burger, and it was the best veggie burger I’ve ever had. Seriously. (160 Bank St, Burlington)
Myer’s Bagels & Cafe:
This unassuming bagel shop is located within an industrial park but is said to be home to the best bagels in Burlington. After trying the famed Montreal Spice style bagel, I’m going to say it’s a title they definitely deserve!
They were so good that we took a dozen of these wood-fired bagels home with us! (377 Pine Street)
For artisanal pizza and salads, and craft beer brewed on-site, American Flatbread is your spot. They bake their all-natural pizzas in a giant wood-fired oven and only serve up Zero Gravity hand-crafted beer. We tried a salad and two small pizzas from the daily specials menu and were very impressed. (115 St. Paul St)
This tree-house like cafe serves up various caffeinated beverages, fresh pressed juices, and locally baked goodies, but is really known for the handwritten notes found in the crevices of their walls. In addition to exposed beam ceilings and warped wooden floors are plenty of small spaces in the walls where cafe goers can shove love letters, jokes, or words of encouragement in hopes that someone may read them in the future! Feel free to take one out to read, or leave an inspirational note that will surely make someone else’s day. (184 Main St, Burlington)
Create your own craft beer crawl:
Another sense of pride for the people of Burlington is the city’s craft beer culture. It is said that Vermont has the most craft breweries per capita in the USA, so you mind as well take advantage of it during your visit! I stopped by Foam Brewers, a waterfront brewery inside a historic brick building that opened its doors in 2016, to check out their offerings. Their beer selection is always rotating, so I encourage you to chat with a bartender or brewmaster to figure out which beer will suit your taste buds. They’re also more than happy to pour you a few samples in order to help you figure it out on your own!
As mentioned in the dining section of this post above, the Zero Gravity Brewpub on Paul Street is a great place to go in order to try their craft selection as well. The brewery began at the Paul Street location in 2004, but by 2015 they had grown so much that they needed more space. That’s when the tasting room on Pine Street opened and is also a great place to go to try their brews.
There are multiple other breweries to try including Queen City Brewery and Switchback Brewing Co. which I didn’t make it to, but were recommended to me by locals. If you have time, try to hit up as many as you can during your visit, within reason, of course!
Please, please drink responsibly! A lot of these craft beers have very high alcohol percentages which can lead to getting drunk a lot faster. I would recommend asking for the smallest available size, sharing with a friend if you’re not solo, and use Uber or a taxi to get from brewery to brewery!
Stroll along Church Street Marketplace and wander around the town center:
As a wanderer, my favorite activity is always to meander around a new place and see what it’s all about. Church Street Marketplace is the most famous street in Burlington, and for good reason! This brick-paved street is only accessible to pedestrians and is home to 86 different shops, restaurants, and cafes.
Shop until you drop, sip on coffee from countless different cafes, or just stroll along the tree-lined street and people watch. This street is bustling in the summer when the weather is a bit more comfortable for walking around outside, but it’s most beautiful in the months leading up to and after Christmas, as the lights are still strung along the street.
Church Street isn’t the only place to find cool shops and restaurants, so be sure to wander off of this street too! Keep your eyes peeled for hidden street art and admire the beautiful colonial style buildings, historical brick shophouses, and New England style churches.
Have an ice cream (or seven) at Ben & Jerrys:
And while you’re strolling along Church Street Marketplace, don’t forget to stop in at Ben & Jerry’s for some world-famous ice cream!
Although this particular store isn’t the original location, Burlington is the birthplace of this renowned ice cream company. Inside the Church Street location, you’ll find a vintage VW minibus which is the perfect place to enjoy your ice cream and really internalize the Ben & Jerry’s slogan of “peace, love & ice cream.”
I’m a long time fan of Phish Food, but opted for the Bourbon Brown Butter and may have found my new favorite. If you’re a Ben & Jerry’s superfan, you can actually tour their production facility which is located just up the road in Waterbury, VT.
Go back to the 1920s at Light Club Lamp Shop:
This is a pretty bold statement to make, but Light Club Lamp Shop just may be the coolest bar I’ve ever been to. The most distinctive characteristic of this speakeasy-style lounge is probably the eclectic collection of lamps adorning the ceiling – which, by the way, are actually available for purchase.
Sit back on a red velvet couch with a craft-made libation in hand and listen to the sweet sounds of jazz from the times of prohibition. I swear, this place really does take you back to a different era!
Make sure to check out their calendar of events which is filled to the brim with live music mostly played by local bands. I recommend going for “Speakeasy Thursdays” which goes from 7pm to midnight each week. Be sure to get there early in order to grab a good seat!
WHERE TO STAY
Willard Street Inn:
The Willard Street Inn is a prime example of why I choose family-owned B&Bs and Inn style accommodation time and time again. Besides the fact that you’re supporting local business owned and operated by hard-working people, there’s a level of warmth in the hospitality that can’t really be matched.
By the end of our three-night stay, we befriended what seemed like every owner, manager and staff member of the Willard Street Inn team, and there’s something to be said about that. As I have a million things to share about my experience at this beautiful and historic Inn, I’ve broken it down into sections below for easy reading:
Hospitality & Staff:
It’s important to me to stay at locally owned and operated Inns not only because you’re supporting local, but also because you get to know the people who run it on a personal level. Nicole, the guest services manager was like a friend I had known for years after just a few minutes of chatting. She went ABOVE and beyond her call of duty by hand-marking her favorite Burlington restaurants and cafes in a local magazine, and even fixed us a little to-go bag of local yogurt and housemade granola on the morning we had to take off early. Then there’s the Davis family (Larry, Katie, Jordan, and Carrie) who are the owners of the Inn and are all equally as friendly (though I did not have the pleasure of meeting Carrie as she was out of town). Jordan too went out of his way to make our stay extra special by recommending the best craft breweries in town for us to visit and even gave us a bag of coffee beans roasted especially for the Willard Street Inn as a parting gift. His parents, Katie and Larry (the other co-owners) stopped by our breakfast table in the morning just to say hi and have a chat which made our visit even that much more memorable.
I could continue with Cara, the chef Katie, and beyond, but I think you get the picture. It’s like staying with friends, but in a really, really, beautiful, old-world mansion.
History of the Inn:
The Inn was built in 1881 by a wealthy Vermont State Senator and wasn’t converted into a B&B until the late 1990s. In 2005, the Davis family took over ownership and have been running the place ever since. In chatting with Larry and Jordan, I learned about the rare materials that were used to build the mansion and even heard a story about how they found notes from the original builders back in the 1800s in the ceiling during renovations. Basically, you’re staying in a living piece of history!
Breakfast & Other Treats:
It’s been a few weeks since my visit, and I’m still dreaming of the decadent breakfast (emoji with heart eyes) served at the Willard Street Inn. With options like orange croissant french toast topped with orange zest and powdered sugar served with pure Vermont maple syrup, and egg in a basket sourdough toast with Vermont cheddar, bacon, and fresh apple slices, it’s almost impossible to make a decision.
Each morning you can expect a rotating selection of freshly baked homemade pastries and sweetbreads as an appetizer and a hot carafe of their signature roast coffee blend made specifically for them by Capitol Grounds in Montpelier, VT. (And that’s all before the main dish even arrives…)
Similar to other Burlington natives, the Willard Street Inn staff is very serious about making sure their guests enjoy the true flavors of Vermont. They use locally sourced ingredients to make their chef-plated breakfasts each morning, and in the summer they even source directly from their own gardens right on site! Doesn’t get much more local than that.
Aside from the incredible breakfast, they also have fresh chocolate chip cookies delivered to your room each day, rotating homemade cookies offered all day long near the coffee bar, as well as coffee and tea around the clock. Basically, it’s impossible to go hungry or go on a diet at this place. I’m 100% okay with that.
Decor & Details:
Typically, I wouldn’t make the decor and details an entirely separate section in my review, but the details of this Inn are worth noting. From the grand three-story staircase to the ornate wood molding and trim, to the elegant scalloped couches and chairs, to the china in the dining room, to the rich jewel tones used throughout this property, it is simply stunning.
The small, well thought out details really add up to a big result, and make you feel like you’re back in time. However, the modern amenities make you feel like you’re staying at a modern boutique hotel (which, you are). I really loved how they were able to create a warm and cozy atmosphere, but also preserve the charms of yesteryear.
My favorite part of the entire mansion is the sunny solarium. This room is home to 317 window panes which let in plenty of natural light and show off the expansive backyard. In the warmer weather, I hear you can see a perfectly manicured lawn and gardens, but this time of year is just as pretty with freshly fallen snow covering the ground.
The solarium is where breakfast is served in the morning and reminds me of a little bistro, and is also where the reading lounge and fireplace is located. The original wood burning fireplace has since been turned into a gas fireplace operated by a light switch, which made it really easy to turn on the ambiance in (literally) a flick of a switch. Just another example of how you get luxurious old-world charm from the 137-year history of this place, but the comforts of the modern day.
Champlain Lookout (Room #4):
The large bay window allows for scenic views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains off in the distance, and the four poster queen size canopy bed and the two wingback chairs are both the most perfect places to enjoy the gorgeous views!
Similar to the rest of the Inn, the wallpaper, fabrics, patterns, and materials used were all keeping with the original look and feel of this 18th-century mansion including deep burgundy wallpaper, velvet comforter, lace window treatments and even a beautiful stained glass window
In combination with the spacious and newly renovated bathroom complete with granite countertops and all modern amenities, you get the luxuries of both the 18th and 21st century!
The Willard Street Inn is less than a five-minute drive to downtown Burlington and is right around the corner from Burlington’s hip Pine Street. I’d say that most things in town are easily walkable from the Inn during warmer weather, but we opted to drive because of how cold it was! There is plenty of metered street parking in the town center which was relatively easy to find.
The Willard Street Inn is more than just a place to rest your head at night – it’s a whole experience on its own. I can honestly say that my trip to Burlington wouldn’t have been as special if I didn’t stay here. For a perfect winter (or any season, really!) getaway to Burlington, I’m confident that the Willard Street Inn will exceed your expectations.
For more information or to book your stay at the Willard Street Inn, you can visit their website.
Disclaimer: I received complimentary accommodation, tours, and services from some of the businesses mentioned in this blog post in exchange for my honest opinions. All opinions are my own. I only recommend places to stay and things to do that I personally loved!