Montpelier,VT aerial view

Montpelier Uncovered: Discovering the Gems of Vermont’s Capital City

A River Runs Through It – Vermont's Capital City, Resilient and Rebounding After the Flood

With a population of only 8,000, Vermont’s capital city, Montpelier holds the unique distinction of being the smallest capital city in the country. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in its fascinating history, thriving culture, and quaint downtown district. The Winooski River winds right through the town center, its north branch converging with the main east-west section, vital to the city’s functioning in the early days before railroads connected the state. Although its constant flow is picturesque, it can also be destructive when it floods, as it did recently in the summer of 2023, when high waters dramatically damaged much of downtown. In the wake of the flood, Montpelier residents banded together and rebuilt, embodying classic Vermonter small-town tenacity. Today, most places have reopened, making it a perfect time to walk through downtown Montpelier, support local businesses, and explore the history, culture, and beauty of our charming capital in the heart of Vermont. From our Waterbury bed and breakfast, Montpelier is only a 15-minute drive away, our sister city connected by the waters of the Winooski.

Exploring Art, Live Music, and Politics at the State House and a Movie Theater Thriving for Over Forty Years

Start your dive into Montpelier’s past by strolling down State St. to the Vermont State House, impossible to miss with its gold-domed roof and stately architecture overlooking a sprawling lawn. Although Montpelier became the capital of Vermont in 1804, this version of the State House wasn’t built until the late 1850s, replacing an earlier building lost to fire. The 24-karat gold dome is picture-worthy – it gleams in the bright sunshine more than ever after being renovated and regilded in 2018 – but venturing inside (it’s free to visit and open from 8 am-4 pm) is like stepping back in time. In addition to observing Vermont’s government in action, you’ll see some of the original desks and furniture dating back to when the state senate first met here over 150 years ago. The curated art throughout the hallowed halls is also under the radar but excellent, showcasing some of our state’s best contemporary artists.

One of the most unique Montpelier events occurs every Wednesday night during the legislative session (January through April) when the Farmers Night Concert Series hosts live music for lawmakers and the public inside the State House. Upcoming shows in the spring of 2024 include the Vermont Youth Orchestra, Irish and Americana fiddling, and the Solaris Vocal Ensemble. It’s a quirky and beloved tradition, and sure to be memorable if you can catch one of the performances.

If your entertainment interests run more to film than music, just stroll a few blocks away to Main St, where the arthouse Savoy Theater has been screening everything from new releases to Oscar-nominated shorts and buzz-worthy international films on its two screens since 1981. Unlike ritzy big-city movie theaters, the ambiance is rootsy, with exposed brick interior walls and cozy seating, including couches. Their motto – to show “movies that matter” – is exemplified by their thoughtful movie curation and hosting of the 23rd Green Mountain Film Festival in mid-March 2024, a celebration of innovative filmmaking and filmmakers from around the globe.

the book garden storefront

Shopping Independent and Local – Coffee, Books, and Vinyl Within Vermont's Capital City

Like many towns in Vermont, Montpelier takes pride in its independently-owned businesses, which you’ll find throughout downtown. Start the morning with a fresh cup of locally roasted coffee at Capitol Grounds alongside a sandwich from their delicious menu, like a lox bagel or egg, tomato, cheddar, and pesto croissant. Brewing and roasting beans since the late 90s, their motto is “unsinkable,” all the more meaningful as they had to close and extensively renovate their waterside cafe space after the recent flood.

Just a block away on Main St, Bear Pond Books has been selling new and used books for over 50 years, damaged by floods in 1992 and 2023 but rebounding even stronger every time. They often host author readings and book clubs, and be sure to check out the upstairs Children’s Room, a treasure for any young readers in the family. As you browse, look out for Veruca, a Russian tortoise who makes her home among the stacks, one of Montpelier’s most endearing residents.

Around another block (downtown Montpelier is incredibly walkable), browse the rows of vinyl records at Buch Spieler Records, which closed for four months after the 2023 flood but recently reopened. Like Bear Pond Books, they have been a fixture of Montpelier for over 50 years, a testament to Vermonters still supporting local businesses in an age of Amazon and big-box stores. Music enthusiasts will love their vast selection, from modern pop and indie rock to classic soul and jazz, with every genre in between. Even if you’re not a music collector, they have other surprises like unique puzzles and trendy t-shirts.

smugglers notch distillery window

A Year-Round Farmers Market and Miles of Trails Just Minutes Away

No trip to Vermont would be complete without checking out a farmers market and hitting the trails, both easily accessible within minutes of downtown Montpelier. Unlike other cities, where the farmers market takes a hiatus during the autumn and winter, the Capital City Farmers Market hosts an indoor version on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of every month throughout the winter. Whether scratch-made baked goods, locally sourced eggs and veggies, botanical-infused lotion and soap, handmade metal jewelry, or maple syrup, you’ll find choice selections from Vermont’s farms and artisans. As a bonus, the market’s winter home is at Barr Hill, one of our favorite local distilleries, so you can sample and sip on a craft cocktail made from their award-winning gin or vodka while you shop.

After checking out all the best spots downtown, head just over a mile north to the North Branch River Park, where Vermont’s natural beauty abounds – enjoy the scenery along this mile-long stretch of the Winooski, checking out waterbirds and the gorgeous landscape, which includes marshlands and wooded areas. As part of a multi-year project culminating in 2020, the North Branch mountain bike trails expand even further, so hop on the bike after the trails thaw out in early spring.

Browsing at indie businesses, exploring the State House, shopping at the farmers market, and heading out on the trails – it’s Vermont’s capital city at its finest.

Stay with us, where the best of Montpelier – a capital city with endless charm – is right down the road (and river)!