Manchester, Vermont, is a unique town in the southern part of the state, four hours away from New York City. It’s a hidden getaway in Southwest Vermont, away from super major highways, and it didn’t feel inundated by tourists. Manchester is one of the few towns we’ve visited that we could picture ourselves living in. We had covered Brattleboro, Vermont last year so it only seemed fit to keep checking out Southern Vermont.
Manchester is a storybook-looking town, with each building and manicured lawn more charming than the next. One can easily picture candles in every window. The downtown portion is comprised of a few different roundabouts with various shops and cafés and people milling about in an idyllic fashion, like out of a Hallmark movie. I can’t even imagine its beauty in the fall with the colorful foliage as it is nestled between two mountain ranges. The sidewalks are all marble (including the world’s longest marble sidewalk) adding to its character.
Lodging-wise, we stayed at the Wilburton, and you can read about it here. There are various Airbnbs, hotels, and others to fit your liking throughout the town.
Shopping-wise, some highlights include the Northshire Bookstore, Above All Vermont, and an excellent Italian shop called the Italian Market of Manchester. The Northshire Bookstore is quintessential Vermont with all these nooks and crannies to discover. Above All Vermont had a fun variety of items, including specialty foods and apparel.
The Manchester restaurants we visited are all worth a return visit. There are many unique coffee and breakfast shops. One of our favorites was Charlie’s Coffee House, located next to the Northshire Bookstore. We had great egg sandwiches and housemade pastry as well as excellent cappuccinos. Another breakfast highlight was the Little Rooster Cafe which seemed a locals go-to. Those are always good! It looked like a small traditional diner, but their menu was anything but, with items including vegetable hash and designer omelets.
But beyond that, there are even more breakfast and coffee options, such as the New England chain called The Works Cafe. We look for one of these cafes whenever visiting New Hampshire or Vermont as we just love the culture here, where everyone starts their day with a hearty breakfast and a good cup of coffee. People were milling about with their dogs and discussing which hiking trail to hit that day. I might get booed for saying this, but their bagels are just as good or better than New York City bagels.
There were quite a few stellar options for dinner, and Social House was the standout. You felt a sense of family and camaraderie, which shows in the food quality and the restaurant’s nature. Most of the staff have been working together for many years. We were treated like family there and had great conversations with the team, especially Jeremy, the chef. Chef Jeremy was not formally trained in culinary but certainly knew what he was doing and was fun to watch with their open kitchen. The grilled Spanish octopus, perfectly prepared with a crisp outside and an almost creamy middle, was our favorite.
As we migrate from dining to attractions, we found a unique mixture of the two, Southern Vermont Arts Center (SVAC) and their restaurant, curATE cafe. Is it a museum, is it an art gallery, or is it both? The space hosts exhibits as well as min-galleries for local artists. We enjoyed the juxtaposition of the various artists’ works, and you can experience all types of art. The restaurant CurATE is unbelievably high-end. We thought it would be mediocre at best, being a museum restaurant, but absolutely not! I would return to the restaurant independently anytime. We shared a few dishes and couldn’t decide on a favorite since they were all so good. The grilled peaches with whipped ricotta and black pepper honey were a fantastic combination of flavors. My personal favorite was the sofrito encrusted rack of lamb.
A fun activity that we had never tried before was the off-road experience from Land Rover. I’m sure your first impression is an off-road joy ride, but this was an unbelievable lesson in driving. Our instructor was fantastic and insightful. We were left with tasks that we definitely will remember! How often can you drive a luxury vehicle through the mountains of Vermont!
One of our favorite activities was seeing Hildene, the Lincoln Family Home, which is undoubtedly a highlight whenever you look at the top attractions. You’ll see our in-depth story here.
Going along the lines of unique activities is Pastime Pinball. This is another one of those perfect juxtapositions: Is it a museum or an arcade? It’s both! Pastime Pinball has one of the world’s most extensive collections of pinball machines. It has over 60 machines, including a machine from 1947. Your kids will enjoy these retro machines, with literal bells and whistles, and modern machines.
We went hiking as there are numerous trails around town. We went to Lye Brook Falls, but there are multiple trails around town. There are trails for every level, whether a nature walk or an entire hike.
Overall, Manchester is a town we definitely would love to visit again. It has a unique quality, and I could easily see it as the type of town you want to visit every season.