Northern Vermont has everything –– big everything. There’s Burlington, the state’s biggest city, there’s Mount Mansfield, the state’s highest mountain, and there’s the bulk of Lake Champlain, more than 10 miles across at its widest stretch. The state’s biggest names in business are here: IBM, Fletcher Allen Hospital, Burton Snowboards and Ben & Jerry’s.
And that’s just the on western side of the state. To the east, Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom (Essex, Orleans and Caledonia counties) is home to some of the biggest, undeveloped wilderness areas. In St. Johnsbury you can even gaze at the wide, wide universe from the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium.
Because of its border with Quebec to the north, the region even offers an international flavor –– Quebec City and Montreal are each only a couple of hours’ drive from almost any location in northern Vermont.
Whether you’re headed to a concert in Burlington, a day on the slopes in Stowe, or a camping trip in the Northeast Kingdom, there’s no shortage of things to do and see in northern Vermont.
St. Johnsbury, or St. J, is considered the “gateway to the Northeast Kingdom.” The most bustling town in the area, St. J is surrounded by a wilderness of hills, forests, lakes and rivers.
St. J also is home to one of the most popular museums in the region –– the Fairbanks Museum and Planetareum –– which is the first and only public planetarium in Vermont. The museum features exhibits of natural history and science and is open year-round
Getting there: St. Johnsbury is located on Interstate 91, about an hour north of White River Junction. and an hour south of Newport, at the intersection of Route 2 and Route 5.
It doesn’t get much prettier than a city on a lake, so Newport, situated next to Lake Memphremagog, more than fits the bill.
Begin at the waterfront. With the lake stretching out before you, ringed with mountains that link Vermont and Quebec, you could get a snack in the Café at the Gateway, part of Newport’s waterfront revitalization effort. If you decide to go out on the international lake, be prepared for some good fishing (salmon, trout and bass).
Getting there: Newport is about 15 minutes from the Canadian border via Derby Line border posts, or 20 minutes via the North Troy point of entry. It is about a 45-minute drive south to St. Johnsbury on Interstate 91, and you can arrive in Burlington in just under two hours as well.
If Vermont had a big city, Burlington would be ––and is –– it. Though pretty huge by Vermont standards, Burlington is still downright small compared to other “big cities.”
Though it may lack people and skyscrapers, Burlington offers many services and opportunities found in cities of far greater size and venues like Higher Ground consistently bring big-time music acts to town.
Three sizable colleges in the area (UVM, St. Michael’s College, Champlain College) give the area a vibrant, young feel to the area. The Lake Champlain waterfront is a great place to take a stroll and feed the birds, while the city’s beaches (North Beach and Oakledge) are great places to go for a dip.
For shopping and food, downtown Burlington is the place to go. If you’re feeling like a burrito or a quesadilla, try New World Tortilla. You can also get a great big sandwich at the Red Onion sandwich shop. For a coffee, try Uncommon Grounds or Muddy Waters. (There is also a Starbucks on Church Street.)
Getting there: Burlington is easily accessed from exits 13-15 on Interstate 89 in addition to being located at the intersection of Route 7 and Route 2.
Stuck in the middle, Central Vermont is sandwiched between Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River but it’s certainly not closed off. It’s in the middle of it all.
With the smallest city in the United States (Vergennes), the only state capital without a McDonald’s (Montpelier) and one of the prettiest stretches of road in the country (Route 100), Central Vermont is just about the heart of it all. Whether you’re in the Champlain Valley, smack in the Green Mountains or in the Connecticut River Valley you’re bound to find something new and different.
If it’s skiing at Sugarbush, tubing in the White River, taking a picnic along the Connecticut River, cruising in a boat on Lake Champlain, making a visit to the state Capitol, or catching some of the Barre Auditorium’s March Madness that you’re looking for, you’re going to be spending your time wisely –– and having fun.
There’s a picturesque college, an interesting downtown, a river that runs north and an A&W? Yep, that’s Middlebury in a nutshell.
If you’re looking for food: Eat Good Food is a café/deli with an inventive, worldly menu; American Flatbread has tasty, all natural pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven; the Otter Creek Bakery has great, quality sandwiches, baked goods and desserts at good prices
Getting there: Middlebury sits at the junction of Route 7, Route 30 and Route 125 in Addison County. Rutland is about 30 minutes south on Route 30, Burlington is approximately 45 minutes north on Route 7 and Castleton is also 30 minutes south on Route 30.
Whether talking about sports or politics, you could say the combination of Barre and Montpelier is the capital of it all.
Montpelier has the gold-domed Capitol (which is a worthwhile place to take tour), but also has a downtown that feels like a slice of Europe, littered with bookshops, coffee shops and places to eat.
Barre is one of the two homes of Vermont’s only professional basketball team –– Burlington is the other ––the Vermont Frost Heaves, who won the American Basketball Association championship in 2007, their first year of existence! While they have games all winter at the Barre Auditorium –– which USAToday named one of the 10 best high school gyms in the country –– in March you can check out the excitement of the boys and girls basketball playoffs.
For a place to eat a homey, creative meal, try the Farmers Diner in Barre (all locally produced food!), or for a place to take a date, try Sarducci’s in Montpelier.
Getting there: Interstate 89 runs through Barre and Montpelier –– Burlington is 45 minutes to the west –– with a few exits so make sure you pick the right one! Route 2 and Route 12 also go through Montpelier, which is connected to Barre by Route 302.
It’s the smallest city in Vermont and also the entire United States which means that, at the very least, you’ve got to check it out if only to see what America’s smallest city looks like. Once there, there is certainly enough to keep your attention…
With a downtown that’s prime for a postcard, built atop a hill and around a common town square, Vergennes really does look like a small city. Niche shops and restaurants sit shoulder-to-shoulder along Main Street and the green and give the town a timeless feel.
If a splash of nature is what peaks your interest, Vergennes, like Middlebury, is dissected by the Otter Creek. The town’s dock, located at the bottom of the hill, below the waterfalls, provides a spectacular view of the falls themselves, the area around them and, really, just a great place to get away from it all.
Getting there: Vergennes is located between Middlebury and Burlington on Route7, and sits at the junction of Routes 22A and 7 as you come north of Fair Haven.
From Rutland to Bennington to Brattleboro to White River Junction –– the four corners, so to speak –– Southern Vermont is dominated by mountains and rivers. Almost anywhere you turn there is a ski area: Killington, Pico, Ascutney, Stratton, Okemo, Bromley and Mt. Snow are the big ones.
Colleges like Castleton, Green Mountain, St. Joseph’s make the Rutland area youthful and vibrant. Brattleboro, Bennington, Manchester and Arlington were some of the first towns to be established in Vermont and help make Southern Vermont the state’s most historic region.
Anyway you slice it, Southern Vermont has a little bit of everything.
A town with plenty of food and shopping, with even more fun close by, Manchester doesn’t have a college but it has just about everything else.
If you’re spending a day here, you could break up your day of shopping at the numerous outlets by stopping for lunch at Zoey’s Deli. Big sandwiches, hot or cold, on homemade bread with fresh, homemade potato chips make Zoey’s hard to beat.
Within 25 minutes, you can go skiing and snowboarding in the winter (Bromley, Stratton), swimming in the summer (the marble quarry in Dorset, the Battenkill River in Arlington, Emerald Lake State Park in East Dorset), or take a tour of Hildene, the stunning home of Abraham Lincoln’s descendents, with its many rooms and manicured gardens.
Getting there: Manchester is located in Bennington County at the crossroads of Route 30 and Route 7, between Rutland and Bennington (about 20-40 minutes in each direction).
It’s awfully close to New Hampshire, but, luckily for Vermont, the biggest town in southeast Vermont is still on the good side of the Connecticut River.
For a bite to eat, try Amy’s Bakery (baked goods, etc…) or Top of the Hill Grill (great barbeque!). Walk off any extra calories with a stroll through downtown, which features many historic buildings still in use, or head to the woods and ponds around the Brattleboro Retreat.
Fun facts: Every year you can see cows taking over the town with the Strolling of the Heifers event, and, if you happen to forget your clothes, Brattleboro has made headlines for its policy on public nudity –– it became more strict last year, so watch out because it’s not allowed now in downtown or near schools and churches.
Getting there: Brattleboro is in the southeast corner of the state, in Windham County, with exits on Interstate 91. Routes 9 and 30 come to an end here.
Woodstock looks, feels and is, in fact, historic. And beautiful to boot.
Woodstock just looks and feels different than a lot of other Vermont towns. The houses seem to be a few feet too close to the street –– almost on the street, really –– and look like something out of the 1800s.
Woodstock, though, is not too old and stuffy for young people. You can go tubing or fishing in the Ottaquechee River, which runs through the town. Also nearby are the Billings Farm and Museum, a slice of history, straight out of 1890, the Quechee Gorge, and the Vermont Institute of Natural Science Nature Center.
Fun fact: The town green is designed to be the exact shape and size of the main deck of the infamous U.S. navy warship, U.S.S. Maine, which was sunk by the Spanish in 1898, sparking the Spanish-American War.
Getting there: Woodstock lies at the junction of Route 4, Route 12 and Route 106. It is about a 15 minute drive east on Route 4 to Interstate 89, or a 30 minute drive west to Rutland.