Aerial view of Stowe, Vermont.

10 Must-Visit Small Towns In Vermont

Vermont calls to mind classic New England images, from brightly colored autumn leaves to snowbound mountains. Bordering three states and Canada to the north, the area became a state in 1791 — the fourteenth, just after the group of early US jurisdictions that comprise the Thirteen Original Colonies. Today, Vermont's Green Mountain area, scenic lakes, and forests make the state a beloved destination for visitors. As these small towns and their natural attractions show, Vermont's tourist slogan, "Vermont, Naturally," rightly indicates that the state is, among those travelers who already know, an easy choice for a vacation or two. 


Aerial view of the cityscape of Montpelier, Vermont.
Aerial view of the cityscape of Montpelier, Vermont.

Montpelier is the capital of Vermont, but with 8,000 residents, it is the smallest state capital in the United States. The town, settled in 1787 and named the state capital in 1805, offers many attractive historic landmarks, from the Vermont State House and the Vermont History Museum to the 200-acre Hubbard Park. Even the town's name echoes history: it shares the same title and spelling as the Virginia home of James Madison, a founding father and the fourth US president. The town likewise draws inspiration from Montpellier, a city in the south of France. The Winooski River flows through the town, adding a natural touch in line with the state's green surroundings. 


A produce market in Rutland, Vermont.
A produce market in Rutland, Vermont. Editorial credit: Wirestock Creators /

Rutland, population 15,700, offers history and culture in abundance from its location in central Vermont. Travelers can take in the Rutland County Museum or the child-focused Wonderfeet Kids Museum, whose purpose is to fuel kids' imaginations through, in their own words, the "power of play." Culture lovers will appreciate the premises of the Rutland Historical Society, which operates a small museum on local themes of historical and current interest. Active types will enjoy Pine Hill Park, with woods as well as mountain biking trails, while golf lovers in Rutland should make for the Rutland Country Club in warm weather. For winter sports, skiing at Killington, the nearby resort east of town, is an unmissable opportunity for snowsports fans. 


Middlebury Falls, in Middlebury, Vermont.
Middlebury Falls, in Middlebury, Vermont.

Middlebury, with 9,200 inhabitants, is one of Vermont's quintessential college towns. Founded in 1761 and home to Middlebury College, the town lies along Otter Creek, just east of Lake Champlain, which separates Vermont from the state of New York. Middlebury College's beautiful campus, with its stone buildings and Museum of Art, is not to be missed for the tourist seeking quaint surroundings and sophistication. Since its establishment in the year 1800, the campus has inspired students, intellectuals, artists, and visitors. Beyond Middlebury's grounds, other walking destinations include Battell Woods, Mean Woods, Chipman Hill Park, and Otterview Park, all within easy distance from downtown. 

Essex Junction

Essex Junction Dam on Winooski River in Essex Junction village, Vermont
Essex Junction Dam on Winooski River in Essex Junction village, Vermont.

Essex Junction, with 10,900 inhabitants, lies south of Winooski River, northeast of Burlington. In a sign of Vermont's ongoing innovation amid New England traditions, the town split from Essex in 2021, citing an unfair tax burden, and incorporated the following year. Thus, Essex Junction makes for a fresh and completely new town to add to the list of Vermont destinations. The town is likewise a center of Vermont industry, counting IBM, the computer maker, and GlobalFoundries, a microchip producer, as leading employers in the town. For culture, Essex Junction hosts the annual Champlain Valley Fair, a ten-day series of 4H-style events that celebrate the state's agricultural output and have attracted as many as 300,000 attendees per fair. The event also puts on an evening concert series with major international stars, like country singer Keith Urban and pop idol Justin Bieber. Visits to Essex Junction are made easier by its Amtrak station in town.  


Aerial view of Stowe, Vermont.
Aerial view of Stowe, Vermont.

With 5,300 inhabitants, Stowe competes with Rutland to claim access to Vermont's best skiing. Home to the Stowe Mountain Resort, the town claims to be the "ski capital of the east." Since 2002, it has also been home to the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum. For culture lovers, the town is famous as the home to the von Trapp family, proprietors of the Trapp Family Lodge, who inspired the classic film The Sound of Music. The lodge remains in operation. Combining sports, culture, and industry, Stowe was, until his 2019 death, the home of Jake Burton Carpenter, the founder of the Burton Snowboards company. Carpenter's vision for snowboarding made the sport the global phenomenon and Olympic event that it is today. 


Winooski Block, a historical building in Winooski, Vermont.
Winooski Block, a historical building in Winooski, Vermont. Image credit: Ken Gallage via Wikimedia Commons.

Winooski, population 8,300, sits northeast of Burlington, north of the Winooski River. Originally a mill town and center for wool processing, the area boasts the Mill Museum and Winooski Historical Society, which offer a glimpse of life in the early days of Winooski. These days, Winooski's cultural offerings blend the old with the new. Saint Michael's Playhouse, just east of town, provides dramatic arts performances, while green spaces like Memorial Park offer fresh air and walking on the riverbank. Kids and adults who enjoy warm-weather board sports can head to the Landry Park Skateboard Park for all the tricks and flips they can handle. 


Whetstone Brook, in Brattleboro, Vermont.
Whetstone Brook in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Located on the Connecticut River, the town of Brattleboro, population 12,100, offers lots for the curious traveler. Popular cultural sites include the Brattleboro Museum, the New England Center for Circus Arts — and the Estey Organ Museum, remembering the town's reputation as a manufacturing center of musical instruments. Performers of all kinds will enjoy the Vermont Jazz Center and the New England Center for Circus Arts, both in town. Outdoors enthusiasts should head for the Brattleboro Words Trail, as well as Fort Dummer State Park, where camping, biking, and hiking offer some of the state's finest natural settings. Lying just across from New Hampshire and near the border with Massachusetts, the town makes a great base for broader exploration in the central New England area. 


Lake Memphremagog in Newport, Vermont.
Lake Memphremagog in Newport, Vermont.

Newport, in far northeastern Vermont, has 4,400 residents across its two lakeside sections. First settled in 1793, the town lies on the southern shore of Lake Memphremagog, itself part of the US-Canada border and a popular summertime attraction. Newport's industrial past ranges from lumber production to assembling ski clothing and even teddy bears. The town's International Club used to be the area's hot ticket for music and dancing — its dancefloor, in the 1930s and 1940s, was once New England's largest. Performers like Louis Armstrong, Rosemary Clooney, and Cab Calloway all graced its stage. In sports and other competitions, Newport has hosted an ice fishing competition every February since 2004. The town also organizes a soap box derby, or motorless car race, each year. 


The Bennington Battle Monument in Bennington, Vermont.
The Bennington Battle Monument in Bennington, Vermont.

Bennington, population 15,300, has drawn adventure seekers and deep thinkers since its founding in 1749. The home of Bennington College as well as Southern Vermont College, this place, in the southwest corner of Vermont, is like Middlebury, a classic New England-style college town. Bennington was likewise a center of revolutionary activity during the American independence period.

The traveler will find more recent histories at places like the Park-McCullough Historic Governor's Mansion, a Victorian home built between 1864 and 1865 that has at least 35 rooms. History buffs should head to this town for its Bennington Battle Monument, an enormous structure commemorating the town's battle during the US Revolutionary War. At 306 feet tall, the monument, a stone obelisk, is Vermont's largest building. 


The Formal Garden of Hildene at Manchester, Vermont.
The Formal Garden of Hildene at Manchester, Vermont.

Manchester sits in southwest Vermont and has about 4,500 residents. The town hosts Hildene, the estate of Abraham Lincoln's son Robert, which boasts a Georgian Revival mansion and serves as a major draw to this small town. So, too, does the American Museum of Fly Fishing, with its displays of rods, flies, and gear of all kinds. Manchester is the headquarters of the fishing and clothing brand Orvis — the oldest mail-order retail brand in the United States.

Nature enthusiasts should take the path to Mount Equinox, which is west of Manchester proper, or the Green Mountain National Forest south of town. The town's Southern Vermont Arts Center offers varied exhibits, a sculpture garden, and a venue for the performing arts, not to mention forest paths and numerous walking trails. 

The Takeaway

With so much in Vermont for so many tastes, the state's small towns stand as must-visits for a variety of cultural and outdoor visitors. From the quaint campuses at Bennington and Middlebury to ski meccas like Rutland and Stowe, Vermont, despite its small size, offers big opportunities to discover and enjoy this northeastern state. The formation of new towns like Essex Junction only goes further to suggest that the state holds the power to honor its traditions while renewing local ways of life. For the past and the present, Vermont's revolutionary history, modern culture, can-do spirit, and outdoor wonderlands all point to a great next place to take a vacation, starting with its small towns. 

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