Were Burlington in any other state (except maybe Alaska), it could only be considered a town. It’s short, not all that sprawling, and populated in comparable proportions by college students (and other sorts of seasonal people) and permanent residents, many of whom have been Vermonters for their whole lives. It’s a quiet, friendly place that’s nestled quite comfortably among the gorgeous landscapes this corner of our great nation has to offer. The best thing about these striking landscapes is that beholding them is free of charge.
This brings me to the first fun thing to fill your time in Burly without emptying your pockets: a good old fashioned walk around town. Do be warned: if you’d like to walk to the lake, you’re going to have to walk uphill to get back to wherever it is you’re staying (hotels and Bed and Breakfasts are everywhere, not to mention AirBnB’s).
Do note where the waterfront is relative to your lodgings before making plans. South Burlington is a different municipality from Burlington, where Church Street and the rest of downtown are. There are plenty of garages downtown, but at only one are your first two hours free. It is situated on South Winooski Avenue, and this is a link to its location in Google Maps. From that garage, it isn’t far to the waterfront portion of downtown, though most routes are a bit steep. Running through that waterfront is the Greenway, the crown jewel of free entertainment within Burlington.
Called the Bike Path by locals, it begins just south of Oakledge Park (which is practically in South Burlington), and runs eight miles along Lake Champlain to the mouth of the Winooski River. Cross the footbridge, and you’re in Colchester, north of Burlington. Motor vehicles are prohibited from using it, despite it being paved with road asphalt. As it’s not a road, there aren’t proper shoulders for slower traffic (like those on foot), but at the edges of the pavement are small lanes of gravel, which allow enough space for everyone to keep moving comfortably.
The Greenway isn’t the only nice place to be foot traffic, though, and while I was attending college here, my friends and I spent countless evenings simply roaming the city. As it’s on a hill, the whole town is fraught with excellent places to catch the sunset over the lake. The Adirondacks are visible in all but the least visible conditions, though if you get too far east, you’ll have views of the Green Mountains instead. The Church Street Marketplace is a fun area to simply shop around in, even if you don’t spend any money, as on nice days, the mall is littered with street performers and many of the shops do samples. Don’t blame me if you break down and buy some fresh Ben & Jerry’s though!
Burlington is also doing a free concert series this summer, at the bandstand in Battery Park (no hills between it and the free garage). Fourth of July Fireworks (albeit on the third) are a free display, and it’s common practice to hold free events on Church Street, though as I don’t know when you’ll be in town, I can’t tell you what’s going on at a good time for you. However, the Church Street Marketplace website can tell you what’s going on and when exactly it’s happening—and what to bring with you. A coworker tipped me off to one more handy deal: Sukha Yoga on Church Street will give you a free class if you sign up for their newsletter; the link is right on their homepage.
I’m absolutely confident that there are even more things to do around town for no money, so run yourself a Google search including your interest. “Fishing Burlington,” for example, returns a maps result with a pin on a little pier designed for just that purpose (and a couple outfitters, but shopping costs money, and that’s not what we’re here to do). The pier is a bit out of the way, though, so you likely wouldn’t find it by chance. This week, weather permitting, I’ll be climbing a small mountain just forty-five minutes (by car) south of my house, which is north of downtown. Until then, don’t be afraid of research; it’s much less work than it sounds.