Well, folks, my time in Burlington is finally waning. It’s been such a good time living in a place as beautiful and fun as this one, but life has deigned to (once again) send me in another direction. More on that later.
For now, I bring you a rundown of perhaps my favorite outdoor mall in the United States. Doubling as Burlington’s downtown, The Church Street Marketplace is four blocks of vehicle-free shopping and dining in a rather historic portion of Burlington. While Church Street itself has been called that since at least 1830, the Marketplace was not established until 1980 (though the idea came about in 1958).
Now, it’s a year-round shopping and dining bonanza that appeals quite effectively to both locals and visitors. There’s a Ben & Jerry’s Scoop shop and several proper restaurants that exude Vermont as well (The Farmhouse and Vermont Pub and Brewery, for instance). There’s game stores and head shops, and one delightfully eccentric home supply store—it’s spacious and built vertically (and the best stuff is at the top). My favorites there are the walls of various glass bottles and vases, all in an array of colors, and the flight of stairs covered in analog clocks.
There are also a few very hippie stores that sell cool, weird stuff like crystals and Buddha statues alongside clothing and jewelry that theme nicely together. They encapsulate Burlington’s mystical weirdness exceptionally, and I’m confident you’ll at least go “huh, neat” about at least one item between them. In accordance with this piece of Burlington culture, there are a couple head shops as well.
Seasonally, all the restaurants in the Marketplace, and indeed across Burlington, set up patio seating (with the same degree of service as their dining rooms). This was the hottest summer in Burlington history, and it didn’t break 100°F more than once, so if you’re used to anything hotter than that, you’ll be fine outside.
The fun associated with Church street is not confined exclusively to the marketplace, however. The surrounding area (the rest of downtown Burlington) is full of shops, bars, restaurants, and other fun, beautiful places to simply be outside. Up and down Main Street a single block from its intersection with Church Street, you’ll find the venue where Phish got their start, the Flynn Theatre, and several fast-casual restaurants, one of which is open twenty hours a day—not to mention several bars and another head shop.
Bar hopping is a very real passtime downtown in Burlington, centered as the area is around an outdoor mall. You might think that in the dead of winter, the bar scene would calm down a bit, what with subzero temperatures reigning in the wee hours of a January evening, but nothing can stop college students, especially since the majority either grew up here or knowingly chose to come here. There’s a particular restaurant with a hidden basement bar area complete with a working traditional fireplace. The bartenders have to feed the fire through the evening; it makes for an incredibly rustic, cozy atmosphere.
The Church Street Marketplace really has something for everyone. Shops of all kinds, restaurants to suit your pace of service, and bars open ’til all hours (well, two AM) each morning. Even those of us who simply enjoy the outdoors and watching crowds can find plentiful entertainment. Benches, patio seating, and street performers make the outdoors an attraction in its own right. The bus station is just off Church Street as well, so you can find easy transportation (during the day), no matter where in Burlington you’re staying.