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Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a perfect 24 hours: Burlington tour. Before I decided to spend 24 hours on a Burlington Tour, I didn’t have a clear image of the city. I sort of imagined a small town in the woods populated entirely by old guys with long hair, pot-bellies, and tie-dyed shirts. I certainly had no idea that Burlington was right on the glorious Lake Champlain.
But Lake Champlain gives Burlington so much. We’ll spend the Burlington Tour at a local science museum, learning about what makes the lake special. Then we’ll go on a delicious food tour and get to know the immigrant communities who have brought their cuisines to the Lake Champlain area. Finally, we’ll head out on an evening cruise on the lake and perhaps even meet the world’s friendliest monster! Let’s get started right away!
24 Hours in Burlington Tour
Where to Stay?
I spent several weeks in the summer traveling to every single state in New England. At this point in my life, I’ve taken a trip to all of the continental 48 states. So I can confirm that New England is the most expensive region in the country, hotel-wise.
If you’re looking for the best value for your 24 hours in Burlington, I recommend the Best Western Plus Windjammer Inn and Conference Center. It’s not located on Lake Champlain or anything, but it’s easily reachable from there by car/Uber. The rooms were clean and comfy, and there was a free breakfast spread every morning with many good options. Plus there were free cookies in the evening!
24 Hours in Burlington Tour
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
If the weather is rainy or snowy, which happens quite often in New England, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them out without feeling like some gauche tourist with gross feet.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
24 Hours in Burlington Tour
Morning: ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain
Of course the United States is full of beautiful lakes. We’ve got five Great Lakes. Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes. But how many lakes have their very own museum? As far as I know, only Lake Champlain. ( I’m a huge aquarium fan! (You can check out some of my other aquarium recs in places like Vancouver here.)
That’s why we’re going to spend the morning of our Burlington Tour at the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain. (And yes, ECHO is written in all caps on purpose.) The ECHO Leahy Center’s purpose is to teach people about the wonders of Lake Champlain, so they will want to conserve it. They have many scientific displays, as well as a 3D movie theater for a small additional charge. You can find the opening times and prices on their website.
But you don’t come to this blog for links to websites! You come for my ridiculous sense of humor and my infinite knowledge of…
three fun facts: echo leahy center
1) what animals are at the echo leahy center?
So many animals! We’ve got fish like Lake Sturgeon, Lake Trout, Bowfins, and an adorably plump orange fish actually named a Pumpkinseed. It was exciting to see the fish up close and personal, but I’m always disappointed when an aquarium doesn’t dress the sturgeon up in OR scrubs. The pun is just waiting right there, people!
The number of turtles is even more thrilling than the variety of fish. Turtles are great to watch because they always look like mean old men complaining to children about something. “In my day we had to carry our entire house on our backs every day to school and WE LIKED IT!” Also the turtles have the best names: Snapping Turtle, Neonate Spiny Softshell Turtle, and Stinkpot Turtle. You gotta assume that Stinkpot Turtle got teased a lot in middle school.
2) is lake champlain in danger?
Of course! Can’t you see that turtle hiding in fear in the plants up there? But Lake Champlain isn’t in danger from alien invasion. It’s in danger from invasive species. I had no idea that the beautiful Japanese koi fish could be an invasive species. I thought the purpose of the koi was to decorate the lobbies of fancy hotels. But apparently the koi is harming native species in the Lake Champlain area.
But the ECHO Leahy Center doesn’t just tell you what’s going wrong. They also give you tips on how to conserve Lake Champlain. One tip is that you should never dump a random fish into the lake. I didn’t know who needs to be told that. Are there just a whole bunch of children in Vermont who hate their pet goldfish? But apparently the problem is more fishermen who are using invasive species as bait. Fish responsibly, friends!
3) what’s the best thing about lake champlain?
Some people might disagree with me but these people are wrong! The greatest thing about Lake Champlain is Champ the Lake Monster. Champ dates all the way back to 1609 when explorer Samuel de Champlain spotted a mysterious serpent in Lake Champlain. (It wasn’t called Lake Champlain back then of course. I’m sure Samuel de Champlain had a healthy ego, but he didn’t go around naming lakes after himself.)
Since then, Champ the Lake Monster has become a local legend. You can buy Champ dolls at the ECHO Leahy Center. You can enter Champ photography contests. The Burlington Minor League Baseball team is even called The Vermont Lake Monsters. Even though he’s a monster, no one seems to be scared of Champ. People even hire him to show up at kids’ birthday parties. (Would it be weird if I hired Champ to show up at my next birthday party? Don’t answer that.)
24 Hours in Burlington Tour
Afternoon: Burlington Edible History Tours
Now that we’ve learned everything possible about Lake Champlain, it’s time to head inland a little bit and learn about the fascinating history of Burlington. Burlington is a very left-wing city. After all, these are people who elected Bernie Sanders their mayor. But Vermont has a reputation for being a state with a…lack of diversity. So I was excited to be able to take a food tour with Burlington Edible History that focused on the immigrant experience of Burlington.
Of course, the immigrant population of Burlington is a bit different than the immigrant population of my hometown of New York City. Part of that is because Burlington is smaller, but also because it’s a lot further north. So for one thing, there’s going to be a lot more French Canadians than we have in New York. There were even more historical surprises in store with…
approximately top 5: burlington edible history
1) sugar snap catering
Our first tasting was more of a nod to Burlington’s love of sustainable farming, rather than their immigrant community. It was a delicious quinoa and fresh veggie salad from Sugar Snap, a farm to table catering company. They even grow their own produce at Intervale Community Farm, which we visited during our last 24 hours in Burlington.
Our guide, whom I shall call Champette, said that you can’t ordinarily get this salad unless you order a giant amount from the catering company. So we already felt very special.
As we noshed on our quinoa, we got to admire one of the oddest pieces of public art in Burlington: the winged monkey statue on top of the old Burlington train station. Apparently the winged monkey tradition started in Burlington in the 1970s when there was a store called The Emerald City in town that used the feathered simians as decoration.
The store is no more, but Burlingtonians still like to use the winged monkeys as decoration. Champette says that college students are always trying to steal the monkeys. I wanted to ask her how Champ the Lake Monster feels about Burlington having another magical symbol, but then I realized probably Champ wouldn’t tell anyone if he was feeling jealous. Lake Monsters are notoriously bad at expressing their feelings.
2) lebanese ice cream
So if you had asked me to guess some of the prominent immigrant groups in Burlington, I probably would not have said Lebanese. But the Lebanese have made major contributions to the city. One of these immigrants was a man named Peter Handy who became the “Ice King of Vermont”. That’s an impressive accomplishment because I feel like ice is not very scarce in Vermont. So you must really stand out if you’re known for ice in such a frosty state.
But Handy eventually became known for something even better than ice: ice cream. Technically it was a Lebanese lime dessert that was similar to ice cream. But similar to ice cream is still better than most things. We got to sample this refreshing dessert at a cute little coffee shop. But just like the quinoa salad, it was off menu. This was truly a VIP tour!
3) the gryphon
Now that we’ve tickled your palette with ice cream, it’s time for everyone’s favorite food: German salad! The Gryphon is located in a historic former hotel called The Hotel Vermont. (That name is kind of basic, and now it’s condos, which is even more basic.)
Champette said that the Hotel Vermont used to advertise itself sometimes as the finest hotel in Vermont and sometimes as the second finest hotel in Vermont. Why would you advertise yourself as the second finest anything? Are we sure Vermont isn’t really in Canada?
The dishes at The Gryphon are a nod to the German immigrants that settled Vermont. So we were supposed to be presented with three German salads: radish, cucumber, and green bean, as well as German dumplings called spaetzle. The spaetzle were made a little more local with the addition of Vermont cheddar cheese. But the waiter said the kitchen ran out of some ingredients, so we only were able to have cucumber and corn salads, as well as spaetzle.
To make up for the loss, the waiter gave us some chocolate mousse. I don’t think this is especially German, but I’ve never met a person who’d be disappointed to get chocolate mousse instead of radish salad. Well played, The Gryffon!
4) penny cluse
Our next stop featured yet another exclusive treat. We got to eat at Penny Cluse, one of the most famous restaurants in Burlington. Champette said it “isn’t just Vermont Famous”, which is a phrase I heard a lot in Burlington. There’s usually a huge line at Penny Cluse, so we were thrilled to be able to eat our snack there after the restaurant closed, when there were no crowds at all.
Our dish here was an off-menu tourtiere, a pork pie in honor of Burlington’s French Canadian population. Apparently the French Canadians brought quite a few pigs with them when they moved to Burlington. Some of their neighbors complained this made them “smelly”, which is most unreasonable. Everyone knows pigs are extremely clean, even if they eat human babies from time to time. And if I had French Canadian neighbors who wanted to make me such a delicious pie, I’d be fine with them keeping as many smelly pigs as they wanted.
5) deli 126
Deli 126 combines two of my favorite things in this world: cured meats and alcohol. Yes, it’s that most 1920s of creations: a combination delicatessen/speakeasy. I don’t want to tell you exactly how to get to the speakeasy, but here’s a little clue:
Once you get through the secret entrance in the deli, you can sample on a warm Reuben sandwich and an old-fashioned drink.
We had a couple of choices for the cocktail, but I chose the one made with gin and honey. It sounded like a Bee’s Knees, and I like anything that makes me feel like a flapper. Hopefully when Champ the Lake Monster sees me drinking this he will fall madly in love with me and keep throwing lavish parties until I agree to be his. Then someone can write a book about the whole thing and call it The Great Champsby.
Evening: Spirit of Ethan Allen Lake Champlain Cruise
You probably won’t be hungry for dinner after that giant food tour. So why not head out onto Lake Champlain itself with the Spirit of Ethan Allen Sunset Cruise? During the warm months, the Spirit of Ethan Allen, which is a boat, not a ghost, will take you out on Lake Champlain to watch the colors change. (And also so you can go hunting for photos of Champ.)
The Sunset Cruise lasts for about 2 and a half hours. The time of the boat changes depending on the time of the sunset for that day, so be sure to check the website for info. You definitely want to buy your ticket in advance because the cruises do sell out.
If you get peckish, you can buy drinks and food on the boat. I got a Sea Breeze because it seemed appropriate. (Lake Breeze wasn’t on the menu.) My favorite thing about the Spirit of Ethan Allen, aside from the views of the sunset, was that they seemed to be playing water-themed music whether or not it was appropriate for a lake cruise. So if you’ve ever wanted to get down to “Caribbean Queen” while floating on a lake up near Canada, now is your chance! It’ll be the perfect end to our Burlington Tour!
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Burlington Tour!
What would you do with a 24 hours in Burlington Tour? Can your French Canadian neighbors stay if they bring pie? Will Champ and I ever be together or will he end up being murdered by the husband of my husband’s mistress? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours on a Burlington Tour. If you have time for another 24 hours in Burlington tour, try this itinerary.