burlington vt, church st.

Shopping in Burlington, VT

Unique Boutiques, Vermont Flagships, and the Charms of Church Street - A European-Like Marketplace, Free of Cars and Full of Character

Burlington is the most populous city in our state, with 44,000 people, five times as large as Montpelier (famously the smallest capital city in the US). As the home of the University of Vermont, it has a classic college town feel, with a quaint but bustling city center nestled right between the picturesque UVM campus and the gorgeous waters of Lake Champlain. With its pedestrian-friendly streets and iconic old-world New England architecture, shopping in Burlington, VT, is the perfect way to enjoy the city’s welcoming and family-friendly downtown. Burlington is only a 30-minute drive west of our Waterbury bed and breakfast, so it’s easy to incorporate day trips for casual shopping and cultural events.

The Church St Marketplace – where you’ll find many of Burlington’s best boutiques, stores, coffee shops, and eateries – makes shopping a pleasant experience, as its four-block span is closed to vehicle traffic, creating a scene like that you’d find in a Scandinavian outdoor market. The original designers of Church St found inspiration for the car-less design after visiting Copenhagen, collaborating with local city leaders and Senator Leahy (a Vermont legend who served our state in the Senate for nearly 50 years) to put the plan in place and open the outdoor marketplace in 1981. Although only two blocks long initially, it expanded over the decades to its current four-block length, every block offering new storefronts to explore.

Coffee shops in Burlington - coffee cup and holding hands
Delicious Coffee, Clothing of All Styles, Vermont Flannel, and a Haven for Book Lovers

Begin your day in Burlington by stopping at local fave Cosmic Coffee to get caffeinated. Order a tried-and-true espresso drink or opt for one of their specialty items, like the Girl Scout cookie mocha or maple oat milk latte (maple has a storied history in Vermont, especially during the deliciously enticing “mapling season” at winter’s end). If you’re hunting for a new outfit, you’ll have plenty of hip looks to try on at Harbour Thread, which has been selling stylish and sustainable men’s and women’s clothing downtown for two decades. Their collection is bohemian chic, from flowy Free People dresses and Blundstone boots on the women’s side to men’s blazers and casual wear. For a more hippie-like feel, check out Earthbound Trading Co, where you’ll find psychedelic-patterned t-shirts, tie-dye dresses, mandala tapestries, incense made from sage and sandalwood, and an impressive crystal collection.

You’ll see chains like Banana Republic and Urban Outfitters downtown, but why not skip the national retailers and opt for the only-in-Vermont stores with deep roots in Burlington? After all, shopping small and shopping local is the Vermont way. We take our flannel seriously in New England, and flannel of every color and style fills the racks at the Vermont Flannel Company, whose owner, Mark Baker, likes to say that “Vermont and flannel go together like bread and butter.” They’ve been making organic cotton flannel since the early 90s, with traditional flannel button-up shirts alongside fun options like flannel dog beds and matching his and hers flannel pajama sets. Another Vermont institution is Crow Books, on the northern end of Church St (the First Unitarian Church and its towering spire frame the north end of the walking mall) and a treat for bibliophiles. With floor-to-ceiling books, exposed brick walls, and hardwood floors, it’s cozy and ideal for taking a break from the chilly winter air to browse their vast new and used selection, ranging from new releases to a special Vermont-themed book section and assorted staff picks. Be sure to check out their “100 Bargains,” which includes 100 books marked down as much as 50%, including bestselling authors like David Sedaris.

Fair-Trade Finds and Affordable Outdoor Gear

With no big-box retailers anywhere in sight, several stores in downtown Burlington embody the Vermont ethos of sustainability and conscious sourcing. Ten Thousand Villages, which buys its clothing and decor products from artisans from nearly 40 countries, was one of the first companies to spread the idea of fair trade decades ago. Whether it’s hand-carved stone sculptures from Kenya, terracotta coffee mugs made in small villages in Nepal, or tree of life wooden earrings from the Philippines, you’ll know that your purchase directly impacts and improves the livelihood of the artisan who crafted it.

Another local flagship downtown is the Outdoor Gear Exchange, where their massive inventory covers any outdoorsy pursuit, from snowboarding and skiing (excellent for picking up any gear you may need for a cross-country skiing adventure around Waterbury or a weekend on the slopes at any of our world-class local ski resorts) to rock climbing, mountain biking, and backpacking. Their mission is to “empower adventure” and make outdoor gear (often very pricey) “accessible to all” through their clearance deals and consignment items, which are gently used but still just as good as new.

statue of a man playing sax on church st in burlington vt

More Than Just Shopping in Burlington, VT– Art, Music, and Culture Downtown

Between strolling from shop to shop, pick up a cone of your favorite Ben and Jerry’s flavor, the quintessential Vermont dessert, and enjoy the people-watching at City Hall Park along the southern end of the marketplace. Church St is the city’s endlessly entertaining and vibrant cultural hub, with musicians, magicians, and every type of street performer imaginable holding court along the brick-lined marketplace. Artsy and fun-filled events fill the calendar as winter ends and warmer spring days arrive, including thought-provoking modern art exhibits at the Burlington City Arts Center (located right next to City Hall Park), Family Art Days outdoors on April 27th, May 25th, and June 22nd, and a massive Earth Day celebration on April 20th, 2024.

After a day of shopping, catch some live music at Nectar’s (near the southern end of the marketplace, around the corner from Church and Main St), where legendary Vermont band Phish famously got their start in the mid-80s and where fantastic local and nationally-touring bands take the stage nightly. Head down to Waterfront Park during the summer for a concert series featuring shows on the lovely Lake Champlain shoreline, including Greensky Bluegrass on June 13th and Vermont-born singer Grace Potter on July 28th, 2024.

Stay with us and spend a memorable day shopping in Burlington, VT!