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Best Things To Do in Montpelier

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There’s the Vermont fantasy—covered bridges, Ben & Jerry’s, cheese and maple syrup. And then there’s the Vermont reality of hard work in granite quarries, in political offices, and on the land. The best-in-show of Montpelier and the surrounding region highlight both sides, along with some unique quirks (stock car racing in Vermont? Ah-yep.). It’s best to begin with the Montpelier attractions, such as the State House and History Museum, and then slowly work your way out into the country, giving yourself a half-day or so for each of the places beyond the city. The Woodstock destinations take about 90 minutes to reach, so are best reserved for a full-day exploration. Keep in mind that some spots, including the Thunder Road Speed Bowl, are open only in summer; spend the extra time alpine skiing one of the myriad resorts nearby, or cross-country skiing the impressive network of trails at Morse Farm Sugarworks. It’s Vermont fantasy indeed.

Vermont State House

Neighborhood: Downtown Montpelier

There’s real gold in that dome, and visitors are likely to learn this, and much more, during one of the free, guided tours offered July through mid-October on the half-hour. (You may also do a self-guided tour; the building is open Mondays through Saturdays from 8:30Am to 4:30PM) The State House is one of the country’s oldest and best preserved capitols in the country, and its setting among Hubbard Park is one of the loveliest.

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Vermont History Museum

Neighborhood: Downtown Montpelier

A 5,000 square foot permanent exhibit in Montpelier’s Pavilion Building (next to the State House) takes visitors on a time-traveling tour of Vermont’s history from 1600 to the present. Think Ethan Allen boys, Revolutionary-War-era shoe buckles, church suppers, and a theme of Freedom and Unity that ties it all together. The museum is closed on Sundays, Mondays, and state and federal holidays.

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Rock of Ages

Neighborhood: Barre-Berlin

Tour a 600-foot-deep granite quarry at the Rock of Ages, the world’s largest deep-hole, dimension granite quarry. It drew thousands of immigrants in the late 19th century and is still harvesting granite today. You can watch derricks lift blocks weighing up to 250 tons; see artisans at work; cut through stone in the sandblast activity, and even bowl a few lanes in the outdoor granite bowling alley. Also in Barre, the Hope Cemetery displays some of the more unusual granite memorials, including a soccer ball, a chair and a racecar.

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Thunder Road Speed Bowl

Neighborhood: Barre-Berlin

Thursday nights and Sunday afternoons in summer mean this quarter-mile, high-bank asphalt racetrack for drivers, mechanics and their fans. Four divisions of cars compete here—Late Model, Tiger Sportsman, Street Stocks and Junkyard Warriors. And they all provide high-speed thrills as some 30 drivers try to outrun each other on a minimum of 20 laps.

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Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks

Neighborhood: Downtown Montpelier

This 200-year-old sugarhouse, less than three miles from downtown Montpelier, is open daily year-round. But sugaring time, in March, sees the most action; this is when syrup is boiled and turned to taffy (sugar on snow) when drizzled over shaved ice. You can walk (or ski) the maple trail and see some of the 3,000 trees that produce between 500 and 1,000 gallons of syrup a year. Maple facts, history, humor and eight generations of lore—not to mention a fantastic maple-theme gift shop with maple ice cream—make Morse Farm one of the state’s most beloved attractions.

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Ben & Jerry's Factory Tour

Neighborhood: Waterbury-Stowe

Try to visit this Waterbury landmark on a weekday—Ben & Jerry’s makes ice cream here most Mondays through Fridays. During a 30-minute guided tour, you can learn about the production process, watch a “moo-vie” about how Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield began it all in 1978, and try the sample flavor of the day. (There’s also a scoop shop for full-size cones of just about everything from Chunky Monkey to Triple Caramel Crunch. (Retired concoctions are mourned in the onsite Flavor Graveyard.)

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Cabot Creamery Visitors Center

Neighborhood: Downtown Montpelier

You’ll never want to eat processed American cheese again after a visit to Cabot, whose eponymous visitors center offers samples of more than two-dozen varieties. A 30-minute tour and video tells about the company’s history and how the cheddar is made. Hint: It’s with the help of hundreds of dairy farmers throughout New England.

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Coburn Covered Bridge

Neighborhood: Downtown Montpelier

More than 500 covered bridges once graced Vermont’s countryside; today, that number has dropped to about 100. Luckily, they’re all now protected by Vermont law, which helps maintain not only the history but also the safety of the spans. This covered bridge, which crosses over the Winooski River was built in the 1840s and though it withstands cars (watch out for them if you explore here on foot), doesn’t seem to have changed a bit since.

Billings Farm & Museum

Neighborhood: Brookfield-Barnard-Woodstock

Open May 1 to October 31, this working dairy farm immerses visitors in both Vermont’s farming past and its present. Watch A Place in the Land (nominated for an Academy Award) in the museum’s 100-seat theater before learning how to milk a cow, going on horse-drawn wagon rides or harvesting seasonal produce.

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Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park

Neighborhood: Brookfield-Barnard-Woodstock

This park has more than 20 miles of trails and carriage roads winding among spruces, sugar maples and 400-year-old hemlocks. Visitors can learn about how Frederick Billings worked to preserve a Rockefeller estate into a shining example of environmental stewardship and sustainable forest management. Open Memorial Day weekend to October 31.

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