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Thoughts of Vermont usually conjure up ski resorts, rugged hiking, and small, rural towns. However, those who are in the know with New England's northeastern state know that there's so much more to it than farmland and mountain trails. On the east side of the state, Lake Champlain runs parallel between Vermont and New York - and this is also where the city of Burlington can be found. It's the largest city by population and is also a staple in terms of shopping, dining, and tourist attractions.

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It also happens to be home to the 'Best Public Square in the U.S.' as voted by USA Today's 10Best Readers' Choice Awards. Here's why the cornerstone of Burlington is deserving of the title, and why we're not surprised about its national recognition.

Church Street: History Of A Local And Beloved Public Square

Those visiting Church Street are in for a very local, but still very popular, experience. The street is closed off to all vehicle traffic except the cross streets that run east and west, so on-foot is the only way to reach many of its storefronts and restaurants. However, this is all part of the charm that still makes Church Street so attractive to those who have never been there before. It has remained very much the same architecturally as its conception in 1962, when Bill Truex, an architecture student at the time, got the idea to do to Church Street what Copenhagen had done with Stroget, a main shopping district. The transformation in Stroget allowed the once-crowded, traffic-ridden street to become a pedestrian shopping haven, turning it into a brand new city space. As it turns out, this is also exactly what happened with Church Street - with incredible Lake Champlain and Adirondacks views, to boot.

The street was officially opened as a pedestrian network on September 15th, 1981, under the new name of "Church Street Marketplace." According to churchstreetmarketplace.com, the public square has commonly been referred to as the 'gem in the crown' of the Queen City of Burlington. It has also been registered on the National Register of Historic Places list, and was named one of 'America's Great Public Spaces' by the American Planning Association, prior to its new title of the 'Best Public Square in the U.S.' by USA Today.

Visiting Church Street: What To Expect At The Best Public Square In The U.S.

While the Church Street Marketplace might hold the honor of being America's best public square, it's so much more than that. This is a public space where annual events are held, holiday parades are marched, and storefronts and restaurants come together to celebrate the community. During any given weekend month in the summer, one might have the privilege of participating in the Festival of Fools or the city's Jazz Festival. On the 4th of July, fireworks down at Waterfront Park attract locals and visitors from all over Vermont to enjoy one another's company, as well as an incredible fireworks display.

With multiple parking garages found surrounding Church Street, it's not challenging to find somewhere to store one's car for the day. For many of these, including the Marketplace Parking Garage, the first two hours are free - leaving one plenty of time to drop their car and come back to pay for parking. For those who prefer to park on the street, it might take some parking-spot-sharking on weekends to find something, but it's not impossible.

Carry change on-hand for parking meters; many of them take cards, but not every street surrounding Church Street features newer models.

Shopping At Church Street Marketplace

Walking up and down Church Street is like a foray through Burlington's best shops and storefronts. Not only are there local businesses, but there are also larger chains, such as Banana Republic, The Body Shop, Urban Outfitters, and Free People. However, it's those Vermont-specific shops that many people are drawn to, especially those who are visiting from out of town. Stores such as Vermont Flannel Company, Keep Vermont Weird, Kiss The Cook, Homeport, and Outdoor Gear Exchange are must-visits. Additionally, Crow Book Shop, Burlington Records, Tradewinds Imports, Quarterstaff Games, Catamount Store, Downtown Threads, and other local businesses are worth checking out and supporting. With more than 60 businesses in total on Church Street, alone, there are multiple days of shopping to be had here.

The Church Street Marketplace website has a list of shops that are marked with a heart if they are locally owned. This is a great way to peruse shops and support small!

Dining At Church Street Marketplace

There are more than 30 restaurants to choose from on Church Street, which might seem overwhelming for anyone who only has a day to spend there. Our suggestion? Be sure to come back! There are so many local restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries, and gourmet food shops that are worth trying, and the best way to do that is to have multiple days of foodie fun. Some popular local favorites include Gaku Ramen, Honey Road (pro-tip: book far in advance for reservations), Leunigs Bistro, Church Street Tavern, Dobra Tea, and Sweetwaters. There are also several food trucks and carts that make an appearance on Church Street, such as Church Street Cheesesteaks, so these are worth trying, as well!

The Church Street Marketplace website also has an updated list of restaurants, both local and not, for newcomers to the public square.

A visit to Church Street Marketplace is more than a shopping spree or a restaurant treat - it's a way to be part of Burlington's community, even if it's only temporary. One might visit feeling like a tourist, but will undoubtedly leave feeling as though they've found a little bit of 'home' in Burlington, Vermont.