After the original French settlers were ejected from the Lake Champlain region in 1760 at the end of the French and Indian Wars, English settlers soon arrived, and Burlington (pop. 42,282) was chartered in 1763. The area was abandoned during the Revolutionary War. Afterward, Ethan Allen, leader of the famous Green Mountain Boys band of guerrillas, and his brothers were granted huge tracts of land along the eastern shore of Lake Champlain. The Allen brothers were ambitious: Not only did they encourage settlement and industry in Burlington, but in 1791 they founded the University of Vermont here. The town boomed, aided by its strategic position on Lake Champlain, which was the quickest route between New York’s Hudson River and Montreal. Burlington quickly became the center of Vermont industry, finance, education, and culture—a position it has held ever since.
US-2/US-7 passes right through the center of Burlington, following Winooski Avenue to the north, then along Main Street, lined by motels and restaurants on the outskirts but eventually crossing the lively, sprawling campus of the University of Vermont (UVM), which stands on a shallow hill on the east side of town. Along Colchester Avenue on the north edge of campus, the Robert Hull Fleming Museum (61 Colchester Ave., 802/656-0750, closed Mon., $5) is the main visitor attraction, with a small but varied collection of fine and applied arts from ancient Egypt to the present.
Midway between Lake Champlain and the UVM campus, downtown Burlington is anchored by the Church Street Marketplace , a pedestrianized and increasingly chain-dominated shopping district that lies perpendicular to Main Street, north from Burlington’s stately old City Hall. From City Hall, Main Street continues west to Lake Champlain, where the Burlington Waterfront Park has a strollable boardwalk linking up with Battery Park, home to a collection of cannons pointing menacingly across the lake. In 1813, these cannons were used against British warships that bombarded the town. Bands frequently play here on summer evenings, and a bike path runs along the water. If you feel like getting out on the water, right at the ferry landing at the foot of King Street you can rent a rowboat, kayak, or canoe; hop a ferry across the lake to Port Kent, New York; take a sunset cruise on board the Spirit of Ethan Allen (802/862-8300); or simply have a beer while listening to local bands at the Breakwater Café and Grill (1 King St., 802/658-6276). Whatever you do, keep an eye out for Champ, Vermont’s version of the Loch Ness monster, who dwells deep in the waters of Lake Champlain.
Just south of Burlington is one of the nation’s great cultural institutions, the Shelburne Museum (6000 Shelburne Rd., 802/985-3346, daily mid-May-end-Oct., hours vary, $22).
Downtown Burlington offers all the delights of a typical college town: bookstores, bars, ethnic food, and trendy shopping. For food, two local favorites—the very popular Penny Cluse Cafe (169 Cherry St., 802/651-8834) and the Daily Planet (15 Center St., 802/862-9647) behind Church Street—stand out among the many offerings around the Church Street Marketplace.
Thanks to the many students and Vermonters’ general love of live music, Burlington has some great nightclubs, ranging from the juke joint ambience of Nectar’s (188 Main St., 802/658-4771), where the band Phish was born and bred, to the high-style art deco Flynn Center for the Performing Arts (153 Main St., 802/863-5966 or 802/652-4500), across from City Hall, where bigger-name bands perform.
Places to stay, alas, don’t come particularly cheap. The historic and central Willard Street Inn (349 S. Willard St., 802/651-8710 or 800/577-8712, $150 and up) is a very nice B&B in an 1880s home, and some rooms have views of Lake Champlain. There are also many motels along US-7 south of downtown Burlington, including locally owned ones like the Bel-Aire Motel (111 Shelburne Rd., 802/863-3116, $69 and up), along US-7.