Local Voice: Why You Should Visit Vermont

A local gives her advice on the best things to see and do in Vermont

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Church Street Marketplace, a pedestrian mall. Photo by Vermont Tourism
Church Street Marketplace, a pedestrian mall. Photo by Vermont Tourism

Burlington, Vermont

Besides Splash, Burlington is home to at least 250 restaurants of   various ethnicities, including Himalayan, Vietnamese, Mexican, Thai and Japanese, as well as old-fashioned establishments serving mac and cheese or Michigan hot dogs.

Its major downtown street, the Church Street Marketplace, is a pedestrian-only shopping and restaurant mecca, with nearby on-street parking and several parking garages.

Locally owned stores intermingle with a few big name brands. During the year, many festivals take place here, including a Mardi Gras parade, Christmas festivities, sparkling with lights and a huge tree at the top of the Marketplace, and downtown summer sidewalk sales. Benches line the street, so you are welcome to take a picnic and watch the crowds, which always include lots of dogs of all breeds and sizes.

The other “city” I recommend is about one hour’s drive southeast from Burlington. This is Montpelier, home of the state capital. Burlington has a small population of approximately 7,800, and it’s more laid back than Burlington. You’ll see quite a few old hippies who still live the way they have since the ‘60s, and want to spend time in the excellent independent bookshop, Bear Pond Books.

Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier. Photo by Vermont Tourism
Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier. Photo by Vermont Tourism

A large choice of restaurants, from casual to formal, a good food coop, Hunger Mountain Coop, and craft and antique shops are here. In fact, on a visit in mid-April, we noticed more restaurants than shops downtown. A small movie theater, The Savoy, plays unusual (many foreign or independent) films, and offers popcorn, beer, and wine. The Kellogg-Hubbard library is sweet and comfortable if you want to rest and browse through magazines.

Of course, the beautiful, largely Barre (VT)-quarried granite State House is worth a visit. Built in 1859, it is a fine example of Green Revival architecture. From July through mid-October tours are available Monday-Friday, 10:00 to 3:30, and Saturdays, 11:00 to 2:30. From mid-October through the end of June self-guided tours are available Monday-Friday, 9:00 to 3:00. See the website to find how to arrange a group tour.

Next door, at 109 State Street, is the impressive large building, the Pavilion Building, which houses the Vermont Historical Society. The museum’s primary extant exhibit, “Freedom and Unity: One Ideal, Many Stories,” opened in March 2004. The multimedia exhibit, which represents Vermont’s history from 1600 to the present, fills 5,000 square feet. Open Monday-Friday: 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, the museum includes a good gift shop.

The Shelburne Museum in Vermont. Flickr/Lee Wright
The Shelburne Museum in Vermont. Flickr/Lee Wright

Best Museums in Vermont   

We don’t have many large museums in Vermont, but a must-see, worth at least a whole day’s visit, is the world-class Shelburne Museum, on Route 7, in Shelburne. The Shelburne Museum is best visited during the spring, summer and fall, as it’s only partially open during winter months. The Museum’s collections of primarily American history are housed in thirty-nine buildings spread out over forty-five beautifully landscaped acres. These buildings house more than 150,000 works.

Here are a few items you might find fascinating: American folk art. French Impressionist paintings, historic New England architecture, duck decoys, printing presses, old quilts, an exhibit of vintage varieties of apples, a circus train, and dolls. These represent some of the interests of Shelburne Museum founder Electra Havemeyer Webb, who founded the museum in 1947.

You can visit a meeting house, a one-room schoolhouse, a lighthouse, a jail, a general store, a wooden covered bridge, and the 220-foot steamboat Ticonderoga, moved to the museum on a specially built railroad. The Webbs’ New York City apartment — with Monet, Degas, and Cassatt paintings –  is reconfigured here. It is named The Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial Gallery

Other notable, smaller museums include Rokeby (about writing, art, and Underground Railroad) in Ferrisburg; The Stone House Museum (small-town Vermont antiques and history from several towns) in Brownington; and The Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium (science, fossils, taxidermy, weather) in St. Johnsbury.

What and Where to Eat in Vermont

For a few local food favorites, try some red flannel hash, fiddlehead ferns in the spring, fresh lake perch, or waffles or blueberry pancakes with our award-winning Vermont maple syrup. Donuts and bagels are popular here, as are hearty soups and stews.

Old-fashioned diners still exist in many towns, and are generally worth a stop, at the very least for the pie or homemade puddings. One of the best is The Blue Benn in Bennington, in southern Vermont. This is a small historic Silver City diner. Be prepared for a waiting line and a huge, creative menu including traditional diner food and more trendy options.

Another is The Wayside, open since 1918, just south of Montpelier on the Barre/Montpelier Road, Route 302. This old timey restaurant is a favorite of locals for hearty cuisine at good prices. Finally, Papa Nick’s, on Route 116 in Hinesburg, is reasonable, serves large portions, has a variety of soups and pies, and offers a few Greek specialties.

Winter in Vermont

Although I love almost everything about the Green Mountain State, one down side for me, as I age, is the climate. We have at least five months of cold to very cold weather, and not a lot of sun during that time. Unlike me, many Vermonters are thrilled by winter.

But don’t mind me. If you ski, snowboard, skate, ice fish, or snowmobile, you’re in a winter wonderland. Vermont hosts 20 Nordic ski areas, with varying prices and amenities. Cross-country skiing trails are also plentiful; recent count shows more than 30 designated areas.

Winter in Vermont brings holiday festivities and winter sports. Photo by Vermont Tourism
Winter in Vermont brings holiday festivities and winter sports. Photo by Vermont Tourism

If you are not athletically minded, there are still many activities to explore during the chilly days. Concerts take place all year long, as do plays and various film festivals. Many B & B’s have fireplaces, shelves of books and DVDs, mugs of hot chocolate and, sometimes, a cuddly cat to borrow.

One of the newest slogans in Vermont, imprinted on T-shirts and on bumper stickers, is “Keep Vermont Weird.” Yes, we are somewhat unconventional for the U.S., but not weird in a bad way — in a friendly, green, healthy way.

Vermont is idyllic. And it is always beautiful. There are cows, horses, sheep, llamas, alpacas, wild birds and critters to see. Keep an eye out, especially, for white-tailed deer, raccoons, coyotes, red foxes, skunks, a variety of hawks and wild turkeys.

You might be lucky and spot the larger, more exotic moose or black bear. Bring a camera, a drawing pad, and a journal, and open your mind to surprise and enchantment. You’ll slow down a little, but, if you’re curious and adventurous, you’ll never be bored.

If You Travel to Vermont

Vermont Tourism
vermontvacation.com

Author Bio: Deborah Straw, a semi-retired English professor,  lives in Vermont with her husband, a landscape painter, a dog and two kittens. She is the author of two books of nonfiction, Natural Wonders of the Florida Keys  and The Healthy Pet Manual, both dealing with nature/animals. When she is not in Vermont, she is often in Paris.