If you're longing for an intellectual vibe and the ambiance of nature in the comforts of the city that Burlington, Vermont brings, here are 21 alternative towns that offer the same feels.
Burlington, Vermont, is an eclectic college town with a dynamic arts scene. People here enjoy using their feet or bikes to get where they want to go. They love the outdoors, have cultural events, all while eating great food. Those looking for a similar town will yearn for that intellectual vibe and back-to-nature feel, with the comforts of the city.
Towns like Burlington, Vermont, are home to colleges, museums, and love the arts. Examples include:
- Amherst, Massachusetts
- Asheville, North Carolina
- Ashland, Oregon
- Bellingham, Washington
- Boulder, Colorado
- Eau Claire, Wisconsin
- Middlebury, Vermont
- Muskegon, Michigan
Being a college town, Burlington has festivals and events happening all the time. Plus, their town is cute, with its brick paving and historic buildings. Then there is the lake on one side and the mountains in the backdrop. Thus, we’ve kept these key ingredients in mind when drawing up our 21 towns with a Burlington flavor.
21 Towns Similar to Burlington, Vermont
Each of our 21 suggestions has at least one college or university. Some are near mountains and lakes; others have a slightly different landscape. There are bicycle-friendly towns, others are decked out in picaresque architecture, and a few have a much warmer climate. But all of them have a touch of Burlington.
Amherst, Massachusetts, once the home of Emily Dickinson, now hosts Amherst College, Hampshire College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. They are also the proud caretakers of The Buttonball Tree, supposedly the “widest tree East of the Mississippi.” (The Californian Redwoods might sneer, but compared to other trees, it’s big.)
As you’ve probably gathered, the town of around 38,000 is rather literary. Thus, they have the Emily Dickinson Museum, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, the Yiddish Book Center, and The Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum. They also have independent bookstores, including Amherst Books and Grey Matter.
Amherst is, admittedly, not as weird as Burlington. But they still have an appreciation of nature, farmers’ markets, and a variety of coffee shops and breweries, including Share Amherst and Hangar, which is confusingly also Amherst Brewing.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan, is home to around 121,000 residents and the University of Michigan. Set on the Huron River with its fantastic water trail, Ann Arbor shares that Burlington balance of intellectual curiosity and the great outdoors. People in this town also take their mountain biking incredibly seriously, including fat biking in the winter months.
The area is full of delightfully weird. Take their tendency to install fairy doors for their wee residents at local shops, although some stores also ask visitors not to feed these mischievous folk. Food Gathers are on the other end of the scale with their giant carrots. If you prefer your entertainment more sci-fi, then you can visit the Robot Store at 826michigan.
There is art and literature too. You can stroll through the various galleries or just walk through Graffiti Alley. Or travel to another world through one of their amazing independent bookstores, including the Dawn Treader Book Shop, Vault of Midnight, and the Crazy Wisdom Bookstore.
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville, North Carolina, is a Blue Ridge Mountain community of over 91,000 and hosts the University of North Carolina-Asheville. It’s an artsy and outdoorsy place with the greatest number of breweries per capita in the States. They are also big fans of farm-to-table dining.
The area has some unusual tours to keep visitors occupied. First, there are the LaZoom comedy-music-beer bus tours that are an unforgettable treat. Next is the Foraging Tour where people are guided through the woods to find food that will be prepared into tasty appetizers. Then there is the Ghost Tour, for those paranormally inclined.
They also have some intriguing museums. For example, there is the Asheville Pinball Museum. Then, there is the Asheville Mystery Museum, that’s part of the Haunted Tour. Less weird, but still a treat is Dale’s Wheels Through Time that shows off rare motorcycles. Lastly, if you are willing to travel a tiny bit, you can see the Aluminum Christmas Trees.
Ashland, Oregon, is a town of over 21,000 residents. It is surrounded by the Siskiyou and Cascade mountains, has natural springs, and is home to the famous Shakespeare Festival and Southern Oregon University. The area is excellent for skiing, hiking, biking, theaters, galleries, and craft beer.
But as brilliant as Shakespeare is, there are other entertainments and curiosities around. For example, there is the Oregon Cabaret Theatre. Next is the Ashland Independent Film Festival. If you prefer your art to be less performative, check out the Schneider Museum of Art. Then, when you need a complete change of pace, head to the Science Works Museum.
Lastly, there is the beer. Standing Stone Brewing is passionate about craft beer and bringing you farm-to-table eats. Caldera gives tours of their brewing facility every Saturday afternoon. Then there is South Shore Brewery, which came back like a phoenix after a devastating fire in 2000. But if you fancy something different, try Ashland Hard Seltzer.
Austin, Texas, is a bit bigger than Burlington, with around a million people, but it sure is fun. Yes, the area is known for its live music (and it has it), but it is also a great place for outdoor activities. The town has bike trails and places nearby, there are spring pools to swim, and a short drive away is Pedernales Falls State Park.
Austin is home to many colleges, including The University of Texas at Austin. Maybe that’s why the area is known for being weird. Weird they have, complete with a King and his Cathedral of Junk. Or, if you want to have a good time but are tired of wearing clothes, you can hang out at Hippie Hallow Park, where it is legal to walk around in your birthday suit.
The local shops are quirky and curious, too, complete with a fantastic second-hand bookstore, South Congress Books. You can get lost in the maze that is Uncommon Objects. Or find a new side to yourself at Lucy In Disguise. Or just celebrate Texas craftmanship at Allen’s Boots. If none of that is enough, then head on over to the Museum of the Weird.
Bellingham, Washington, is a city of around 89,000 people on the coast. It is also home to Western Washington University. The area is proud of its family-friendly museums such as Whatcom Museum and SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention.
Bellinghma is full of natural beauty and unique local delights. The Rock Rings combines the Pacific Northwest Weather, scenery, and creativity into an immersive experience. Other gorgeous outdoor art can be viewed at Big Rock Garden, the Sculpture Woods, and simply walking through the city itself.
Bloomington, Indiana, is a college town of around 85,000, full of forests, trails, and lakes. It is home to Indiana University and an area of discovery, including the WonderLab and Eskenazi Museum of Art. Or, if you are seeking out a more peaceful outing, consider visiting the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. Or you could just chill at Monroe Lake.
The town is delightful, looking especially pretty in spring when the dogwoods and tulips bloom. Then again, its autumn colors are hard to beat. It is pedestrian-friendly, complete with the B-Line trail. It has a good size farmers market that runs from April through November and plenty of shops to enjoy.
For those that enjoy wine, be sure to stop by Oliver Winery, which began in the 1960s. They also have great local breweries, including Bloomington Brew and The Tap. If you get a kick of branching out, check out Friendly Beasts Cider Company and the distillery Cardinal Spirits.
Boulder, Colorado, is a Rocky Mountain city of over 160,00 and home to the University of Colorado Boulder. It is an eclectic place of Forest Bathing, hiking, craft beer, skiing, and the arts. They are also known for hosting unique events, such as Tube To Work Day (they do it on water, not a metro) and the nearby town’s Frozen Dead Guy Days.
But don’t worry if you missed the area’s more unusual festivals. There is plenty of everyday oddities to explore. Try out a range of oxygen (yes, really), essential oils, and teas at Tonic Alchemy. You can compare the accuracy of your watch or phone by visiting the NIST-F1 Cesium Fountain Atomic Clock. Or hang out in the NoBo Art District for a creative splash.
Brunswick, Main, is a beautiful town of 21,000 people and Bowdoin College. The city is a seaport located near the scenic Androscoggin River Falls and its delightful swinging bridge. It is also where Harriet Beeches Stowe penned the famous novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Brunswick has plenty of museums, parks, and historic buildings. One intriguing spot is the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum that celebrates explores Donald B. MacMillan and Robert E. Peary, who studied at Bowdoin. Another great place is the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Then, when you need a rest, sit down and have a drink at Black Pug Brewing.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is a college town of around 61,000 residents and home to the University of North Carolina. The area is pretty and has plenty to see and do. Kids will love the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center and the Kidzu Children’s Museum. The North Carolina Botanical Gardens have activities for the youth, too.
The area is also excellent for the arts. There is The Auckland Art Museum to explore. The PIT Comedy School that focuses on improv, also puts on shows, along with the Carolina Performing Arts and the PlayMakers Repertory Company.
Chapel Hill also has places that are wonderful to lose time. Their downtown Franklin Street is a treasure trove of restaurants, bars, and unique shops. Then there is Flyleaf Books, adding to people’s TBR piles with pleasure. Lastly, get lost in the quirky yet cozy eateries The Honeysuckle Tea House who offers hand-crafted mead and Caffe Driade.
Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, is a town of around 68,000 residents and hosts the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. A great attraction is riding the water of the Eau Clair and Chippewa Rivers, which merge at the town. Eau Clair is proud of its transformation to become a sought-out destination for arts, culture, and the great outdoors.
Like many parts of the USA, Eau Claire is part of the local brewery revival and has its own Brew Pass. More uniquely is the town’s celebration of horseradish, complete with a Hop Pass. But the area is the largest processor and grower of the spicy spread. Visitors are encouraged to give it a try and, should it be too much, then just wash it down with a beer.
Ithaca, New York
Ithaca, New York, is a town of around 31,000 people on the Cayuga Lake in the State’s Finger Lakes district. Ithaca is home to numerous colleges, including the acclaimed Cornell University. The area is well known for its apples and, consequently, its abundance of local cider. It is also picturesque, with its gentle hikes and leafy forests.
Ithaca has a host of classic and unusual things to do. Outdoor enthusiasts will be delighted by the Cayuga Nature Center and be intrigued by the Glacier Exhibit. If you are looking for inspiration to up your pumpkin carving game, stop in at Gourdlandia to view their exquisite creations. Lastly, curious folks will be fascinated by the Wilder Brain Collection.
Madison, Wisconsin, is poised around five lakes: Mendota, Monona, Waubesa, Kegonsa, and Wingra. The city boasts over 255,000 residents, the University of Wisconsin, and original buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, who was raised in the area. The historic place is full of museums, cuisine, and outdoor pursuits, such as their love for bicycling.
Wisconsin has long been renowned for its cheese. While yes, they have cheese, they are also home to other notable attractions. On the more refined end of the scale is the Chazen Museum of Art and the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. On the quirkier side is the National Mustard Museum. Then there is the simply fantastic, such as the Madison Circus Space.
Medford, Massachusetts, is cozied up to Boson right on the Mystic River. It is home to the renowned Tufts University. Medford’s leafy streets are a pleasure to wander, but it has some quirky claims to fame. These include Amelia Earhart’s former residence, where Jingle Bells was composed, The Black Dahlia Memorial, and the location of the largest bank heist.
While Boston is right there, the city is huge. Unusual activities close to Medford include chocolate tours and classes at Tipsy Chocolates. Then, if you’ve ever wondered if you had what it takes to be a lumberjack warrior, now you can find out at Revolution Axe. If you are looking for a calmer activity, check out The Paint Bar.
Middlebury, Vermont, is a historic town on Ottery Creek near The Green Mountain National Forest. It is home to around 10,000 residents and Middlebury College. The college is the very one Robert Frost came to for 42 years. Thus, the town is dear to literary lovers, and there is even a nearby Robert Frost Interpretive Trail in his honor.
The area is loved for its academic and historical splendor, as well as a love for the outdoors, especially bicycling. Treasures include the Henry Sheldon Museum. They also have the unique honor of having an Egyptian mummy in their cemetery.
Muskegon, Michigan, is smaller than Burlington, with fewer than 40,000 residents and community colleges. It has outdoor activities year-round but is best known for sailing, regattas, and fishing. Which makes it the perfect place for the USS Silversides Submarine Museum.
The city has plenty of parks and beaches to explore and stretch your legs. Pere Marquette Park has disabled access to the beach, and it is a popular place to kayak and paddleboard. Hoffmaster State Park has both beaches and 1,100 acres of forest. Then there is Kruse Park, a lovely place to take a stroll and admire the views.
The town has some interesting shops, too. First, there is the fabulous Cheese Lady. Then find your community spirit with Embrace Books, a free bookshop. Indulge in creativity by visiting the Art Cats Gallery. Also, check out the distilleries 18th Amendment Spirits Co and Burl & Sprig.
Oxford, Mississippi, is home to around 27,000 folks and The University of Mississippi. Held up as the “Cultural Mecca of the South,” it runs to a slightly different beat to the rest of the state. It is also bursting with trees, creating a leafy dressing to its picturesque and historic architecture.
Slightly less famous is the university’s research into marijuana. (If you can snag a tour, however, is even less known.)
Portland, Maine, is on the Casco Bay and is home to over 66,500 people and many colleges, including the University of Southern Maine. The historic town with its Victorian architecture is an excellent place to kayak, hike, camp, sail, surf, and mountain bike. This includes if you are feeling daring, grabbing a boat and paddling out to Fort Gorges to explore the crumbling ruin.
The town is also host to some unusual attractions. For example, they have the world’s only Umbrella Cover Museum, the US’s only remaining signal station, and the world’s only Cryptozoology Museum. The town is also known for having fries that were fried in duck fat. Then you can grab dessert at The Holy Donut, which features potato donuts.
They also have some less unusual, but still special, places to visit. For instance, pop in at Longfellow Books, which has a great selection of both new and used titles. Or relax at Dobrá Tea with a cuppa. If you love art, wander over to the Portland Museum of Art or explore what their local artists have displayed.
Princeton, New Jersey
Princeton, New Jersey, is home to around 31,000 people and many colleges, including Princeton University. Stationed on the banks of the Delaware, the town is both scenic, cultural, historical, and has fantastic food. Thus, you could easily start your day at Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park and finish it at the Princeton Art Museum.
The area is full of history. For example, you could explore the Morven Museum & Garden, built by Richard Stockton, one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence. There is also the American Battlefield Monument and the Princeton Battlefield State Park. Or, for a change of speed, check out the Laurence Hutton Collection of Life and Death Masks.
Providence, Rhode Island
Providence, Rhode Island, with over 180,000 people, is the capital of its State and home to Brown University. The town has gorgeous parks with leafy trees that turn beautiful colors in the autumn. People can enjoy walking along the cliffs above Narragansett Bay, take a stroll along the paths where the three rivers meet, or wander along a 45-acre urban woodland.
Providence claims to fame include being the birthplace of H.P. Lovecraft. They also host an annual Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror Film Fest. If you miss the fest, you can still visit Lovecraft’s grave, read Lovecraft’s letters at the John Hay Library (where they have books bound in human skin), or visit a library he and Edgar Allen Poe enjoyed, Providence Athenaeum.
On a less creepy note, there are renowned WaterFire events that showcase a diverse range of arts and cultural experiences. Or check out the creativity of the more edible variety at the Culinary Arts Museum. But if you like political slants to your art, hunt down Boris Bally’s work, which includes the Gun Totem.
Savannah, Georgia, has around 148,000 people. The city is home to many colleges and universities, including Savannah State University and Savannah College of Arts and Design (SCAD). Set next to the Savannah River, the town is full of charm and beauty, with tended parks, antebellum architecture, and cobblestoned squares.
But beneath that classical Southern veneer is a quirky town with a great sense of humor. After all, this is the place that named its baseball team Bananas. They are also the originators of Chatham Artillery Punch, which first began with a horse bucket of booze. So, of course, Savannah is also known for its Ghost Tours.
However, the town’s real modern-day treasure is its art. SCAD has practically turned the whole place into a living gallery. But they have museums too, including the Telfair Museums and the Savannah African Art Museum. Then there are the arts of different flairs, with drag queens, the Cirque Divina street circus, and the Graveface Museum.