2021 Montpelier Visitors Guide
Montpelier Vermont is not your typical state capital. It is the smallest of the 50 U.S. capitals and is probably best known for its natural splendor and outdoor recreational opportunities. It has a laid back, almost counter-culture feel, but is in no danger of becoming the Aspen of the East.
Still, it is a safe, vibrant city with an eclectic downtown, an active arts community, and several major employers besides the state government. Its tourist industry thrives because its natural beauty is so accessible to nearby New York, Massachusetts, and Maine.
But, at its heart, Montpelier is a city of SUVs, most of which have some sort of rack atop for kayaks, canoes, skis or fly fishing gear. This is not surprising as the city is home to several colleges, and is headquarters for several insurance companies and their home office execs; people with disposable time and income. A former governor confessed to having a ski rack on the roof of his state-provided Lincoln and letting state business remain in his “in” basket on days when there was fresh powder on nearby slopes.
Beyond the slopes and the organics, Montpelier is being recognized by more and more people for more and more reasons. It has been named one of the best small towns for business, according to one national magazine. Another said it was in the top 100 cities for the arts, and another simply said it was one of the best places to live. And, suffice to say, most ski magazines rave about it because it’s close to major slopes but still affordable.
Montpelier Fast Facts
- Location: Near the middle of Vermont where four rivers, including the Winooski, merge.
- Area: 10.26 square miles
- Population: 8,035
- Housing Units: 3,899
- Average Annual Precipitation: 30 inches of rain and 9 feet of snow
- Average Annual Temperature: 42 degrees F
The natural beauty of the Green Mountains and the Winooski River valley ought to be enough for anyone. But, not even Montpelierites can live by rustic vistas alone.Naturally, the Vermont State House is a major attraction in this city that started out as a center for Vermont’s lumber industry. Nearby is the State Historical Society Museum, and Green Mount Cemetery (yes, a cemetery), which is home to some great sculpture in Vermont granite.
It’s possible, literally, to get a taste of Montpelier and one of Vermont’s leading industries close to the city. The Bragg Farm Sugar House and the More Farm Maple Sugarworks are worth visiting, especially in the spring when maple sap is being turned into syrup, sugar and other delicious products.
And, one of the attractions of Montpelier is the city itself. Its well-preserved historic district is a showcase of classic architecture.
Vermont is a ski country in the East and Montpelier, while not the heart of the state’s downhill scene, is within an easy drive of the storied slopes of the mega-resorts. It has five Alpine slopes of its own and a surprising 11 cross country ski centers. It is 25 miles from the likes of Stowe, Sugarbush, Mad River Glen and Bolton Landing. Within an hour you can be at Smuggler’s Notch, Burke Mountain and the holy of holies for skiers, Killington.
What do all of those skiers do the few months of the year when not on the slopes? The canoe, kayak, hike, rock climb, mountain bike, hunt and fly fish. Montpelier is at the heart of a state that could be the home to anyone competing in the “X” Games, summer or winter versions.
Montpelier also has a variety of parks for any number of outdoor activities, or just for recuperating from all of those sports. The city is big on open space, with 185-acre Hubbard Park being one of the finest.
The city even has its own baseball team. The Mountaineers play in the New England Collegiate Baseball League and offer residents an opportunity to see fine young talent play.
But, maybe the best indication of the recreational mindset of Vermont is that it is not unusual to see a game of Ultimate Frisbee being played … on the lawn of the statehouse.
There is nothing small-town about the arts scene in this small town. Montpelier boasts some attractions many much larger cities would love to have.
Chief among these is the Green Mountain Film Festival. Held the last two weekends of every March, this festival screens about 30 films and attracts some top producers, directors, actors and filmmakers.
Montpelier is home to a chamber orchestra, the Vermont Opera Theater, two theater companies, and a contra dance society. The capital city also is a nexus for talented Vermont artists and craftspersons. The Artisans Hand is a respected gallery for regional work.
The Savoy Theater, one of two locations for the film festival’s screenings, shows a variety of features including avant-garde and classic movies.
On the campus of Vermont College is the T.W. Wood Art Gallery. Named for Montpelier-born Thomas Waterman Wood, the gallery hosts a large collection of his works and exhibits talented contemporary regional artists as well.
There is a big plus to having one of the local institutions of higher education be one of the preeminent culinary schools in the country. The New England Culinary Institute (NECI) operates several restaurants in Montpelier and also nearby Essex Junction, giving students real-world experience and hungry locals and visitors some great dining opportunities.
In Montpelier, NECI operates the Chef’s Table (regional cuisine and local ingredients), Main Street Grill and Bar (contemporary American style) and La Brioche Bakery and Café (baked goods and artisan bread). The school attracts top culinary talents and guests have the opportunity to enjoy innovative quality cuisine most cities of 8,000 people can only dream about.
Not surprisingly, given its “green” roots, Montpelier has several vegetarian restaurants: Mountain Café, Rhapsody, Horn of the Moon and Hunger Mountain Cooperative. Capital Grounds is a nice coffee shop, which roasts its own beans on the premises.
Also worthy of note is J. Morgan’s, a well-known classic steakhouse. Look in on Sarducci’s (Italian) and Thrush Tavern (steak and seafood), and check out the Black Door Bar and Bistro, which has an eclectic menu and live music.