Stretching just under 160 miles in length between New York, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, and 90 miles wide to the north at the Canadian border, quaint little Vermont is the second smallest state in the U.S., and has the nation’s smallest state capital in Montpelier, home to just over 1% of Vermonters.
Recording a population of 7,248 in 2020, Montpelier’s numbers have been declining for a decade, with its population reduced from 7,855 in 2010. Despite these low numbers however, the daytime population grows to approximately 21,000 people, with many people in surrounding areas commuting to the city limits for work.
Despite not even filling a spot in the top five biggest cities in the state, Montpelier represents the very best of Vermont. The city’s bustling business district is home to plenty of independently-owned shops that offer books, recordings, clothing, fine crafts and pastries, as well as great dining in an array of restaurants, cafes and delis.
Montpelier is the largest urban historic district in Vermont. Home to local theatre, live music and The Savoy arts cinema, it has been recognized as one of the 100 Best Small Arts Towns in the U.S. The impeccably restored Vermont Statehouse is one of the oldest and best preserved in the country, and is a source of immense pride for local residents.
Since the city’s establishment as capital in 1805, the primary business in Montpelier has been government. By the mid-19th century there was a growth in life and fire insurance. Montpelier is home to the New England Culinary Institute, the annual Green Mountain Film Festival, and the headquarters of several insurance companies.
The average household income in Montpelier is $85,017 per annum, and it has a poverty rate of 7.46%. The median rental costs in recent years has been $1,021 per month, and the median house value is $252,600. People living in Montpelier have a median age of 45 years, 42.8 years for males, and 47.5 years for females.
The most well-known city in Vermont is by far its biggest. With a population of 43,063, the northern city of Burlington dwarfs its biggest rival in size, nearby Essex, by almost 100%. Despite its runaway lead at the top of Vermont’s rankings, Burlington is in fact the smallest city population-wise to also be the most-populous city in its state.
Unlike the state capital, Burlington’s population is growing, currently at a rate of 0.28% annually, having been recorded at 42,417 in the census of 2010. It’s current population is the highest the city has ever recorded. Spanning over 15 miles, the city has a population density of 4,178 people per square mile.
Vibrant, welcoming, and innovative, Burlington is a small, friendly city that consistently earns national awards. Home to a thriving arts scene, museums and educational opportunities, fantastic shopping, three colleges and a university, as well as a full range of four-season outdoor pursuits, Burlington has a lot to offer for residents and tourists alike.
Surrounded by historic buildings, the Church Street Marketplace hosts specialty shops and national retailers, restaurants and cultural venues, with outdoor cafes, street vendors, and entertainers keeping the city bustling into the night. Festivals are held year round, with events like the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival attracting visitors from throughout the northeast.
A short walk from Church Street is nearby Burlington Waterfront Park, which offers ferry crossings, excursion boats, and a 12.5-mile walking and bike path that connects to the Lake Champlain Islands via bike ferry in summer. Bicycles, rollerblades, kayaks, and sailboats are all available for rent, and there are spectacular views across the lake.
The average household income in Burlington is $71,718 per annum, and it has a relatively high poverty rate of 26.42%. The median rental costs in recent years come to $1,213 per month, and the median house value is $284,500. Residents of Burlington have a median age of 26.8 years, 26.4 years for males, and 27.3 years for females.
Roughly 7 miles east of Burlington is the town of Essex, the second most populous area in the state, home to almost 21.5k people. In 2019, the median income of Essex households was $84,588, with just 5.2% of families living in poverty.
Job growth over the last year in Essex has been positive, with an increase of 0.6% and an average salary in the city of $73,530. The unemployment rate is well below the U.S. average of 6%, currently sitting at 2.4%.
In the southwestern part of the town of Essex is the village of Essex Junction, home to the state of Vermont’s busiest Amtrak station and its largest private employer, GlobalFoundries. The village was formed in 1892 to provide the villagers with services that the rest of the town didn’t want and were not prepared to pay for, such as sidewalks, water, and sewers.
After a 2006 a vote the town and village were merged temporarily. The merger was overthrown by a re-vote the following year, thereby preventing a new Town of Essex Junction from replacing the current Town of Essex and Village of Essex Junction.
Essex is bordered by the Winooski River, with Mt. Mansfield and Camel’s Hump in the background. The town is also home to The Harriet Farnsworth Powell Museum, housed in a former two-room schoolhouse, and displaying a collection of costumes, school items, and local memorabilia.
The third most populated area in Vermont, and its second largest city, is the city of South Burlington, with a population of 19,761. Growing at a rate of 0.64% annually, its population has increased impressively from 17,904 in 2010. Spanning more than 30 miles, South Burlington has a population density of 1,198 people per square mile.
The average household income in South Burlington is $95,248 with a poverty rate of 6.63%. The median rental cost in recent years is $1,401 per month, and the median house value is $307,500. Those living in South Burlington have a median age of 41.7 years, 38.9 years for males, and 43.6 years for females.
The economy in South Burlington is largely service-based, with 191 businesses in retail trade, 131 establishments in health care and assistance, and 116 in professional, scientific, and technical service industries. In 2015, South Burlington was first in the state for gross retail and use sales, making over $1.8bn.
Major employers in South Burlington include the Vermont National Guard, GE Healthcare, Ben & Jerry’s, Fairport Communications, Lane Press, and Halyard Brewing Co. The city boasts both Vermont’s largest mall, the University Mall, and its largest airport, Burlington International, and is home to CommutAir, a regional airline headquartered by the airport.
The city’s biggest modern change is the current City Center Initiative, a proposal to create a walkable downtown, in which the public is investing in infrastructure to support gathering spaces, mobility and economic vitality. The over 300-acre area targeted to be developed and redeveloped is zoned for mixed-use including residential, commercial, and cultural spaces.
The main components under design or construction by the city are a city hall, senior center and public library, streets, and parks. Two main streets, Market Street and Garden Street, will be constructed or reconstructed and fitted with bicycle and walking facilities, and lined with trees.
Directly north of Burlington, on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain and to the west of the Green Mountains, is Colchester, the 4th most populated area in Vermont, and the second-most populated town after Essex. Home to 17,303 people, Colchester recorded a median household income of $71,090 in 2019.
Colchester is a unique combination of rural and suburban environments, with easy access to the lake, mountains, the city of Burlington, and even Canada. Popular recreational activities include biking and water sports. The town’s Bayside Activity Center is primarily used for recreation programs, providing access to Bayside Beach and the Bayside Park amenities.
Colchester is home to the Vermont National Guard, as well as Saint Michael’s College and the Vermont campuses of the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and Southern New Hampshire University. The top industries in the city are education, medical and manufacturing.
Colchester has received plenty of accolades in the past. In 2015, it was ranked number 100 on Fortune Magazine’s list of 100 Best Places to Live, and number 40 on Launch a Business and Money Magazine’s list of 50 Best Places to Live. Two years later, Money Magazine ranked the city number 86 in the top 100 places to live in America.
Vermont’s authentic downtowns and villages are widely recognized as the centerpiece of community life in the state, providing residents and visitors alike with architecture of historical significance as well as memorable shopping and dining experiences.
In these vibrant places, of which 23 have been given special recognition by the state, one can discover locally-owned retail businesses displaying everything from hardware to specialty goods, fine restaurants serving fresh, local food and craft libations that have attracted international accolades.