Hiking, shopping, art, history, and outdoor adventure — here are the best things to do in Manchester VT!
As a kid, I spent all my family vacations visiting family in Vermont and I developed a great fondness for the charming shire of Manchester. Since that time, the village has grown into a larger and upscale town, attracting many people from the big cities, while still holding onto its classic Vermont style. Nestled between the Green Mountains to the East and the Taconic Range to the West, visitors will find an abundance of things to do in Manchester VT.
In the summer’s warmer months, visitors can take full advantage of the stunning scenery, local festivals, horse shoes, farms, and outdoor adventure pursuits. By early fall, the state’s stunning foliage appears and Mother Nature begins to show her vibrant colors, attracting armies of leaf peepers. Families enjoy agritourism from corn mazes, apple picking, pumpkin farms, harvest festivals, and the popular Peru Country Fair.
Of course, winter months attract the skiers and riders, swooshing down the trails at nearby Bromley, Stratton, and Magic Mountains and coming into town to shop, eat, and enjoy its cultural attractions. Spring brings mud season, the last of the spring ski runs, stunning peony displays at Hildene, and, of course, maple sugaring. While the snow melt can turn the ground to mud, it also is prime time to see waterfalls at their fiercest.
Getting to Manchester, Vermont
Manchester is located in southwestern Vermont, with the town center located at the intersection of Route 7A and Route 30. The historic village and shops are located within a one to two mile stretch, with many other fun things to do nearby. Manchester is a three-hour drive from Boston and a four-hour drive from New York City.
The closest airport is the Rutland Southern Vermont regional airport (RUT), which is 28 miles to the north. Alternatively, you can fly into Albany, NY (ALB), which is about 1.25 hours to the west.
Things to do in Manchester, Vermont
I’ve visited Manchester in all four seasons, and each time I return, I find something new to fall in love with in this New England town, and visiting Manchester is one of my favorite things to do in Vermont.
So whether you or stopping in as part of a Vermont road trip, coming for a ski trip, or planning a Vermont romantic getaway, I’m sure you will find more than enough things to do in Manchester to your liking.
Things to do Outdoors in Manchester VT
Manchester is a popular tourist destination year-round, offering a variety of outdoor activities for every season.
Drive Mount Equinox Skyline Drive
As a kid, I was always a bit jealous of all those cars with a “This Car Climbed Mount Washington” bumper stickers, since, at the time, I’d never been to New Hampshire. But as frequent Vermont visitors, we had driven the Mount Equinox Skyline Drive.
Mount Equinox is the highest peak in the Taconic Range and Mount Equinox Skyline Drive is the longest privately-owned, paved toll road in the United States. It ascends 3,248 feet over 5.2 miles to the top of Mount Equinox, with several vistas and picnic areas along the way. Note that this road is only accessible from Memorial Day weekend through October 31st.
Hike to Lye Brook Falls
The Lye Brook Falls trail just outside of Manchester is about a 5-mile out and back, moderately-rated trail that has a fairly steady climb, some over rocks and roots, with a few small stream crossings and downed trees to get over along the way.
You will want to wear waterproof hiking boots and use trekking poles or carry a walking stick to make the stream crossing easier, especially if you are visiting during the high water season in the spring.
At the top, you have a fantastic view of the 125-foot-high Lye Brook Falls, one of the highest in Vermont. The slippery rocks make it very dangerous so don’t try to climb the falls. Also keep in mind that the parking lot isn’t very big, so it pays to get there early to find a spot and have more undisturbed time to enjoy the falls. When we went on a weekend in early May, it was still pretty quiet.
Walk Around Equinox Pond
If you are looking for an easier, family-friendly hike, try the Equinox Pond Trail. This flat, one-mile “Flatlanders Path” loops around the pond. Keep an eye out for wildlife and if you want to explore more of the Preserve, pick up a map at the trailhead and look for Robin’s Lookout off the Red Gate Trail for a great view of the Battenkill Valley.
Other family-friendly hikes include the 3.6-mile Prospect Rock hike to a rock outcropping with a great view over town and Mount Equinox or Haystack Mountain, which is a 3-mile roundtrip with a beautiful view of the Taconic Range. If you need more advice, check with the folks at The Mountain Goat, which is an outdoor outfitter in Manchester, which also offers cross-country ski and snowshoe rentals in the winter.
try Fly Fishing
If you are new to angling, sign up for a lesson at the Orvis Fly-Fishing School, where you can learn casting, how to tie knots, proper fly selection, and how to play, land, and safely release fish. If you already know the basics, you can hire a guide like Young’s Fly Fishing to take you out to the locally-known spots along the Battenkill.
You can also visit the American Museum of Fly Fishing and spend some time shopping at the Orvis flagship store and outlet (more about that below.)
Take the Alpine Slide at Bromley Mountain
As a kid, I relished the days we spent whipping down the mountain on Bromley’s Alpine slide. I’ve been able to pass that thrill on to my daughter on a recent visit to Bromley’s Mountain Adventure Park, which is open from Memorial Day weekend through early October. In addition to the triple-track Alpine Slide, there is a four-story Giant Swing, waterslide, scenic chairlift ride, mini golf, and other fun, family-friendly attractions.
Speaking of golf, The Golf Club at Equinox offers beautiful mountain views. This scenic 1927 Walter Travis design course is a Par 71, 6,423-yard Vermont gem of a course. I
t has been named one of the “Top 75 courses in the U.S.” by Golf Digest and ranked in the “Top 3 Golf Courses in Vermont” by Golfweek.
Go Off-Road with the Land Rover Driving Experience
Want to learn how to drive off road? Located near The Equinox Resort, the Land Rover Experience Driving Center helps you hone your skills for every season on icy hill climbs, side tilts, mud and ruts, water crossings, and rocky terrain. They offer one or two-hour sessions, as well as half-day or full-day experiences in a selection of Land Rover vehicles, which are well-equipped for any terrain.
You also have the option to bring your own vehicle for the half-day experience, if you want to learn what your own car can do off-road. There are 30 Land Rover Experience Centers around the world, but only three in the United States (the others are at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina and the Quail Lodge & Golf Club in Carmel Valley, California.)
These experiences are offered year-round, in any weather, with appointments booking quickly during the fall foliage season. The motto when it comes to navigating tricky terrain is to go as slow as possible and as fast as necessary. Don’t expect some bouncing and jostling wild ride, the driving experience is much more focused on the technique and control of off-roading driving.
Watch a little video I put together from my Land Rover driving experience demo:
Go Horseback Riding
For equestrians, guided trail rides are available at Mountain View Ranch in nearby Danby, Vermont. However, the real highlight for horse lovers is the Vermont Summer Festival and Horse Show, which runs from June through August in nearby Dorset. This is a busy time to be in town, as it attracts about 2,000 visitors each week from competitors to spectators at the Manchester Classic Horse Show.
Search for Covered Bridges
If you travel south on Route 7A, or The Shires of Vermont Byway, you will find a few covered bridges before you get to Bennington. The Arlington Green Covered Bridge is located off Vermont Route 313 in Arlington, Vermont. Built in 1852, this lattice truss bridge spans the Batten Kill River and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973.
Tucked down and around a bend on Sunderland Hill Road, in Sunderland between Route 7 and Scenic 7A, it is easy to miss the Chiselville Covered Bridge, which stands 40 feet above the Roaring Branch. Built in 1870, apparently the bridge had a cameo in the 1987 movie Baby Boom.
Enjoy Winter Sports
Manchester is surrounded by plentiful options for winter sports including downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, snowshoeing, sleigh rides, and snowmobiling. Bromley Mountain is less than 20 minutes outside of Manchester and is a very family-friendly ski mountain offering 47 trails and nine lifts.
Stratton Mountain is only 30 minutes away and is Southern Vermont’s highest peak, with 99 trails and 11 lifts. Magic Mountain, located 30 minutes away, brings back the golden age of skiing with a rustic lodge servicing 39 trails.
Located just 20 minutes north of Manchester on Route 7, Emerald Lake State Park is the perfect spot for swimming and cooling off in the summer. As a kid, I used to love our day trips to Emerald Lake. This 430-acre state park in East Dorset is the home of a 20-acre Emerald Lake, called such because of its emerald color. There is a wooded hillside campground, beach, and swimming area, and is also a good spot for fishing and hiking.
And just 20 minutes south of Manchester on Route 7A in Shaftsbury is the Lake Shaftsburg State park, which also offers swimming, picnicking, and boat rentals.
Stroll the Manchester Riverwalk
In the heart of Manchester Center is the pedestrian Riverwalk. This work in progress aims to allow locals and visitors to enjoy trails along the Batten Kill River, away from the noise and traffic of passing cars, but still offer easy access to shops and restaurants in town.
Shop at the Manchester Farmers Market
If you are visiting during the week, the Manchester Farmers Market runs from early June through early October every Thursday from 3 to 6 pm in Adams Park. This producer-only market now features over 30 vendors from local farmers to artisans.
Things to do in Manchester VT Indoors
While a visit to Vermont should undoubtedly be filled with time in nature and the great outdoors, there are plenty of indoor pursuits too for those colder or wetter days.
Of course, Vermont is known for its antiquing, farm visits, and all types of artists and craftspeople from basket weaving to woodworking to glass blowing. Here are just a few of the indoor attractions in and near Manchester.
I remember visiting the Lincoln family home as a child on one of our many day trips to Manchester and I’ve revisited as an adult many times over. Once the home of Robert Lincoln, the only surviving child of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, today Hildene exists to carry the values of Abraham Lincoln to future generations by educating and inspiring others to put those values into action.
Built as a summer home when Robert was president of the Pullman Company, the largest manufacturing corporation in the country, the 412-acre estate includes a Georgian revival mansion and 14 historic buildings including a formal garden and observatory.
Visitors can also see the historic carriage barn, a 1903 “Sunbeam” restored Pullman car, and a new solar-powered goat dairy and cheese-making facility. If you visit in late March or early April, you may even get to see a few recently-birthed kid goats. Inside, you can take a self-guided tour of the mansion and see one of the only remaining stovepipe hats of Abraham Lincoln.
One of the best times to go is in early June, when the gardens are ablaze with the peonies, two varieties of which can only be found at Hildene. If you visit around Memorial Day weekend, you will have a chance to purchase peonies too. Earlier spring brings a wash of yellow as the daffodils bloom from April to early May.
Make sure to leave time to browse at the beautifully-curated gift shop and visitor center on property (and pick up some freshly made goat cheese in season.)
Visit the Southern Vermont Arts Center
Vermont is home to artists of all types, and the Southern Vermont Arts Center showcases that work with a rotating calendar of exhibitions. The center also offers cultural, educational, and creative opportunities through classes and programming for all ages, from figure drawing to watercolors, to performing arts events including classical music and live theater.
The Center is also home to the largest sculpture park in Vermont, which you will see a lot of from the road on your drive up to the center, and the Boswell Botany Trail for woodland hiking.
Try Glass Blowing at Manchester Hot Glass
Manchester Hot Glass is a glass studio and gallery nestled between Manchester’s outlet stores. In addition to shopping, you can also book a private glass-blowing class.
If you have never tried this craft, a class will lead you to a new appreciation for the works of art and common glass items you use.
Play Games at Pastime Pinball
For a little indoor fun and a giant dose of nostalgia, check out the Pastime Pinball arcade in the heart of downtown Manchester. Pay an entry fee based on time (30 minutes) or unlimited play, and then have a blast trying your hand at 60 of the hottest pinball games from the 1950s to today.
On the first level, the games are arranged according to age, with the oldest games first. You may think these games with fewer bells and whistles would be easier, but they are not! It is certainly fun to try your hand at quite a few and find your favorite.
This multi-level arcade with a snack bar also features vintage games like a 1950s shuffle bowler, 1960s shooting game, 1970s basketball game, and other arcade classics such as my favorites, Ms. Pacman, Galaga, Frogger, and Donkey Kong.
Shop at Orvis
Charles F. Orvis founded the Orvis Company in Manchester, Vermont in 1856 to offer superior fly-fishing equipment. Today, Orvis sells clothing, home products, and pet goods, and, of course, fly-fishing gear.
Going to Manchester and not stopping at the Orvis flagship store is like going to Freeport, Maine and not going to L. L. Bean. In addition to the flagship store, you can also find great deals at the outlet store next door.
Visit The American Museum of Fly Fishing
With Orvis in town, it isn’t a surprise to find The American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester. The museum was established in 1968 to preserve the rich heritage of fly fishing.
Today, this small Museum serves as a repository for and conservator of the world’s largest collection of angling and angling-related items and documents the evolution of the sport. You will also find art, photographs, manuscripts, and books related to fly fishing.
Browse at the Northshire Bookstore
I make a stop at the Northshire Bookstore every time I pass through Manchester. This family-run, independently-owned bookstore offers two floors of hand-curated book selections, including a large children and teens section upstairs.
It pays to check the store’s event calendar before you go to see if you can stop into any author signings or readings while you are visiting. This is the type of shop I wish could be found in every neighborhood and it is no wonder people think it is the best bookstore in Vermont.
The booksellers are friendly and knowledgeable and there is also a cafe on site, encouraging you to grab a coffee, crack open a book, and lose yourself for a while.
Go Boutique & Outlet Shopping
There are plenty of boutiques, artisans, galleries, and specialty food makers to visit in Manchester. For your Vermont souvenirs, stop into the country store at Above All Vermont for everything maple, plus toys, specialty foods, and other souvenirs.
If you like specialty foods, also visit Fortuna Sausage and Italian Market to sample the company’s acclaimed signature salami, a Calabrese soppressata. For special gifts, pop into the Epoch Artisan Gallery, and, for the home, try Vermont Kitchen Supply.
If you enjoy outlet shopping, you will find yourself warming up your credit card in Manchester. While there aren’t as many outlets as their used to be, you will still find a handful including Marimekko, Eileen Fisher, and Tumi. However, you will also find local brands like Vermont Flannel Company and Smugglers’ Notch Distillery.
Visit the Sugar Shack and Norman Rockwell Exhibit
If you drive south down Scenic Route 7A toward Bennington, Vermont, you should plan to stop in Arlington at the Sugar Shack and Normal Rockwell Exhibit. Norman Rockwell was a resident of Arlington from 1939 to 1953, during which time he used over 200 local people as models for his work.
The exhibit focuses on these works and profiles of the people used in his paintings. Of course, you can also pick up some locally produced pure maple syrup, along with maple frosted sugar cookies, freshly baked pies, and their famous homemade cider donuts.
Stop by the Taylor Farm
Just out of town, you will find a number of farms and artisanal food producers that are worth a visit, including Taylor Farm in nearby Londonderry. This 180-year-old working dairy farm now offers cheese making, lodging, a farm stand, and sleigh rides in the winter.
The farm’s signature products include a selection of gouda cheeses, maple syrup, preserves, and mustards. If you visit in the spring, make sure you stop by to see the farm babies!
Grab Some Candy at Mother Myrick’s Confectionery
If you need to satisfy your sweet tooth, stop into Mother Myrick’s Confectionery. This little chocolate and pastry shop is famous for its butter-crunch toffee, but you can also find truffles, turtles, fudge, and other specialty candies.
If you want more than a small bite, pick up a Lemon LuLu cake, a light and moist lemon pound cake covered with a delicate fresh lemon glaze.
Where to Eat in Manchester, Vermont
Manchester is home to many cafes and restaurants, but here are some recommendations on where to eat in Manchester.
Breakfast in Manchester
- Little Rooster Cafe – this cozy roadside diner serves up down-home breakfast and lunch dishes in an old-fashioned country decor setting. If you are staying at the Hampton Inn, this is also a quick and easy walk into downtown Manchester Center. Little Rooster Cafe is located at 4764 Main Street, Manchester, VT.
- Dina’s Bakery Cafe – Dina’s is a cute little bakery and cafe serving up fresh pastries and coffee drinks, along with breakfast and lunch specialties. Try the challah French toast with maple syrup! Dina’s Bakery Cafe is located at 4201 Main St, Manchester, VT 05255.
Lunch in Manchester
There are many places in town and along Route 7A and Route 30 in Manchester that are perfect for lunch including a few recommended by locals:
- RoadRunner Cafe – offers fried chicken, salads, and sandwiches. 4961 Main St, Manchester, VT 05255
- Mystic Cafe – good for lunch or dinner, offering fresh pasta, seafood, and meats. 4928 Main St, Manchester Center, VT 05255
- Crooked Ram – serves up wood-fired pizza, oysters, and other local specialties, along with natural wine and craft beer. In the warmer months, you can dine al fresco in the beer garden. 4026 Main St, Manchester, VT 05254
Dinner in Manchester
Manchester has many fine dining options, including spots for a date night or comfort food, including the following. Just remember, many restaurants stop serving after 8 pm so reservations are recommended.
- Silver Fork – Silver Fork offers elegant, upscale dining in the heart of town, located in the former Mark Skinner Library. This gorgeous, art-filled setting pays a subtle tribute to the building’s former occupant, with wood from the shelves used in the bar and the card catalog adding a whimsical design touch. The food is as interesting as the dining room, with the eclectic menu showcasing the travel and experience of Chef Mark — with dishes from his native Baltimore, Germany where he started his career, and Puerto Rico, which he called home for many years. The presentation is beautiful, the service attentive, and the taste delivered on its promise. Silver Fork is a perfect choice for a special night out. 48 West Rd, Manchester, VT.
- Mistral’s at Tollgate – located outside of Manchester near Bromley Brook, serves seasonal French cuisine. If you can request a table by the window, Mistral’s makes for a perfect date night dinner. 10 Tollgate Rd, Winhall, VT 05255
- Reluctant Panther – for another fine dining option right in town, locals prefer the dining room at the Reluctant Panther. Located in a small, luxury hotel, the Reluctant Panther features farm-to-table cuisine with an extensive wine list, a selection of Vermont beers, and craft cocktails. 39 W Rd, Manchester, VT 05254
- Barrows House Inn & Restaurant – located in nearby Dorset, the Barrows House Inn & Pub is a gastropub offering a modern take on New England cuisine. 3156 VT-30, Dorset, VT 05251
- Ye Olde Tavern – this historic restaurant serves up New England comfort food. This colonial era Tavern catered to the Vermont Green Mountain Boys and others since before Vermont was even a state. 5183 Main St, Manchester Center, VT 05255
Where to Stay in Manchester, Vermont
Note: This post may contain affiliate links. If you click a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission. All opinions are my own.
The Equinox Resort & Spa
The Equinox Resort and Spa has long been the best place to stay in Manchester, catering to both U.S. presidents and generations of vacationing families. I used to gaze at it longingly when we would drive by, headed back to my grandmother’s log cabin outside of Rutland.
This five-star luxury resort offers golf, a full spa, an indoor pool, a skating rink, and other amenities and activities including falconry. After attending some events here, I’ve only fallen more enamored by the historic buildings and casual elegance of the resort.
Kimpton Taconic Hotel
The Kimpton Taconic Hotel (part of IHG) is a bit newer to the area and offers a rustic elegance appropriate for the environment. They may not have a dog greeter every day, but Kimpton-brand properties always welcome you to bring your own pooch and even provide dog beds and bowls on request. The hotel’s on-property restaurant and bar, The Cooper Grouse, serves up elevated, yet unfussy cuisine (and an excellent hamburger.)
Personally, I was a little underwhelmed by the design and decor of the guest rooms of the Taconic, compared to other Kimpton hotels that I have stayed at, but I loved the public spaces.
Hampton Inn and Suites
If you are looking for an affordable yet dependable option, the Hampton Inn and Suites is reliable and won’t break the budget. Located right in the center of town, you also can’t beat the convenience for walking to shops and restaurants.
I stayed here recently on a girl’s trip to Vermont and found it to be clean, spacious, and nicely decorated. Amenities include a free hot breakfast and a fitness room and an indoor pool. There are also electric car chargers available.
One of my picks for a romantic getaway to Vermont, the Reluctant Panther is also a good choice for foodies. This small luxury hotel offers just 20 rooms and suites featuring antique furnishings, fireplaces, marble baths, and original artwork. The restaurant features contemporary American cooking with an emphasis on locally sourced products in an elegantly upscale atmosphere.
On a previous mother-daughter trip to Vermont, Hannah and I stayed at the lovely Wilburton Inn just outside of town. This historic mansion just outside of town offers a mix of elegant guest rooms and vacation homes.
The 30-acre hilltop grounds offer breathtaking views, as well as an outdoor pool, tennis court, lawn games, and sculpture gardens. The Inn also offers special events such as Murder Mystery weekends and Doggie Slumber Parties — so be sure to check the calendar when booking your stay.
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