There are lots of fantastically diverse things to do in Manchester Village VT, with experiences ranging from American History to the Arts, to Outdoor Adventure, and more.
Once known for its Outlet Stores and golf at the age-old Equinox Resort, Manchester, Vermont is transitioning into a four-seasons soft adventure, “Sporting Weekend” hotspot.
The area affords opportunities to learn extreme off-road driving and fly fish on some of the country’s best trout rivers, all guided by experts in each field. And, of course, while visiting Manchester Vermont in the Green Mountains, hiking is a must.
There are nearly 50 lodging options, from the venerable Equinox to mountain cabin rentals, and almost as many eateries. Many of the outlet stores are still here, of course. Plus, there’s a brand-new Vermont Flannel shop.
But after scoring deals at Armani, Eileen Fisher, Orvis, and the like, stay a few days to visit Hildene, the American Museum of Fly Fishing, the Southern Vermont Arts Center, and so much more. We boil it down for you below.
Things To Do In Manchester VT
In 1903, Robert Todd Lincoln, surviving son of President Abe Lincoln, built his summer home, HIldene, on 412 magnificent acres in Manchester – a popular summer escape for wealthy industrialists. As an attorney and President of the Pullman Company, Lincoln oversaw great strides in railroad car engineering.
Now, Hildene serves many purposes. It’s a working dairy farm, an artisanal cheese maker, an observatory, a study in post-Civil War African American society, a beautiful mansion, gardens, and more. Plan at least three hours here.
Passed down the family line, Hildene fell finally into the hands of great-granddaughter Mary Lincoln Beckwith, who died in 1975. Lincoln’s home, then in late-stage Grey-Gardens-like decrepitude, was saved by the newly organized preservation group called Friends of Hildene.
Since then, FOH has restored the home and gardens back to their former glory. It continues to establish programming and new attractions that are “modern but rooted in history.”
Ergo – a solar-powered dairy farm, greenhouses in which students study soil science and farm-to-table gardening, a “Pollinator Sanctuary,” a Bobolink preserve, and a 600-ft floating boardwalk over wildlife-rich wetlands.
Observatory With Working Telescope
Before walking into the house, climb a short path to the observatory, with views of the surrounding mountains. You can walk inside the small astronomical observatory. The still-working telescope, commissioned by Lincoln in 1909, remains trained at the sky.
Self-Guided Tours of Hildene
Start in the former carriage house, now a beautiful well-stocked Visitor’s Center, and then walk up to the main house. Docents are on hand to explain the artifacts and send you on your way to peruse the home at your own pace.
Read information panels within each room while listening to rousing music from the 1909 Aeolian Organ featuring 1,000 pipes hidden within staircase woodwork.
You’ll see Lincoln’s Pullman Car home office, some original wallpaper, and fresh flowers throughout the house, care of dedicated volunteer “Flower Ladies” who change out the blooms twice a week.
By all means, do not miss the Abraham Lincoln Exhibit upstairs. Incredibly, Hildene is home to one of Lincoln’s four surviving black top hats. It sits beneath what experts believe is the mirror the President used just before going to the Ford Theater on the night he was assassinated. Chills.
The Pullman Train Car Connection
Next, walk down the hill to “Sunbeam,” a fully restored 1903 Pullman Palace Car. Interpretive signage highlights 100 years of African American history from “Emancipation to Civil Rights Movement” (1863-1963). The exhibit is a platform for discussion about the advancement of African Americans following the Civil War.
Walk through a very plush burnished wood Pullman Executive Charter Car. The train exemplifies the height of luxury for the most elite white businessmen, who expected to be catered to by a private black porter and chef.
In this regard, the Pullman Company offered opportunities for black men to interact with successful white men. Porters took note of passengers’ speech patterns, and latest dress styles, heard the latest business news, and read the books they left behind.
However, though Pullman provided the best jobs for African Americans after the Civil War, they worked effectively 24/7 for very little pay. In most cases, tips only. It was grueling work that many compared to slave labor.
Jumping Baby Goats
Don’t leave Hildene before stopping at the Nubian goat barn, especially in the spring when the babies are jumping.
The public can observe the cheese-making process, from milking to packaging, at the Rowland Agricultural Center. And of course, you can buy the best chevre cheese on-site when available. Plan to spend at least half a day seeing everything.
DO: Land Rover Experience
Have you ever yearned to go “off-road” on rutted, muddy, puddled, boulder-strewn, nearly vertical paths? This is your chance. Manchester VT is one of only four places in North America where you can get behind the wheel of a Land Rover, instructor at hand, to do all of the above and more. (The other 3; Asheville at Biltmore House, Carmel CA at Quail Lodge, and Quebec at Chateau Montebello).
The Land Rover Experience teaches you the skills to tackle the toughest terrain, and is considered the “standard of Land Rover driving techniques and capabilities.” Best of all, it’s not “weather dependent.”
Snow, ice, torrential downpours – you’ll learn how to navigate the landscape in the cruelest of conditions. Amazingly, you can sign up to drive 365 days a year – yes, even on Christmas and Easter.
For one and two-hour sessions, head out with your own private coach. (In my case, it was Land Rover Experience Location Manager, David Nunn). On 80 acres, traverse up to 5 miles of trails, and “go walking” on uneven terrain.
This is the pace you’ll drive as you ascertain what the car can and can’t do. Riding over “Mud and Ruts” – basically dirt moguls – is a blast. The Half Day and Full Day sessions bring you out to Mount Equinox for true off-road mountain driving. Intoxicating for anyone who loves a driving challenge.
Though located on Equinox property, you don’t have to be a guest of the hotel to sign up. Sessions range from one hour ($275) to a full day ($1,500, including lunch and driving lessons for 3 people).
VISIT: American Museum of Fly Fishing
The American Museum of Fly Fishing is situated right next door to the Orvis Flagship Store. (However, it is not n/ot associated with it). Even those who’ve never fished will be blown away by the stories and art here.
New to the museum is an exhibit about Lee and Joan Wulff – “Fly Fishing Royalty.” Lee was the inventor of the Fly Fishing Vest and the originator of “Catch and Release.” He famously said, “A game fish is too valuable to be caught only once.”
Read how they extolled the sport, and learn about this solitary, meditative activity through a timeline history at this newly revamped and well-curated museum. Upstairs, find books on fly-fishing in the wood-paneled Gardiner Grant Library (including a 1663 copy of Sir Izaak Walton’s, The Complete Angler), and some of the most exquisitely beautiful fly-fishing tie art you’re bound to see anywhere.
DO: Fly Fishing School
There’s a reason Orvis located its flagship store here. This area of Vermont is threaded with some of the best trout fishing rivers in America. If you are new to the sport, sign up for a ½ day, full-day, or two-day instruction at the Orvis Fly Fishing School, in Manchester across the street from the Orvis Flagship Store.
GO: Southern Vermont Arts Center
The outdoor sculpture stands sentry on hills and in fields on your way up the winding drive to the Southern Vermont Arts Center. The campus encompasses several buildings, including a café, 400-seat theater, and artist-in-residence studios.
Begin in Yester House. Built in 1917 as the summer home of Gertrude Webster, it’s now a sunlit series of nine galleries on two floors that showcase the work of SVAC Members, local schoolteachers, and art instructors.
While Yester House features the best landscape views, the museum/gallery’s piece de resistance of architecture is the Hugh Newall Jacobson-designed Elizabeth Wilson Museum and Galleries. (Each piece on exhibit is also for sale).
The white New England church-like exterior stands in sharp contrast to the floodlit contemporary interior, which features three important exhibits per year.
On-site, curATE Cafe, has become quite the sensation in Manchester. Up the romance factor and book a toothsome brunch before or after perusing the museum’s galleries.
DO: Ski or Alpine Slide at Bromley
Bromley Ski Resort is just 10 miles from Manchester. Although it’s not the size of Okemo, (46 trails to Okemo’s 120), it’s Vermont’s only south-facing hill and thus gets lots of sun. It’s kid-friendly, too. In summer, the Alpine Slide is a hit. When here, make a little detour to JJ Hapgood General Store (see below under where to eat.)
DO: Pastime Pinball
If you are a child of the Boardwalk Arcade era (before online gaming took over) or just want to find out what your parents and grandparents were wild about, you will LOVE banging on each of the 65 pinball machines at Pastime Pinball.
A “playable museum,” the machines range from the first electric flipper game, a 1947 “Humpty Dumpty,” to the ultra-stimulating options of the present day. There’s popcorn and adult beverages in a small cafe upstairs to round out the experience.
SHOP/EAT/INDIE BOOKSTORE: Northshire Bookstore and Bonnet & Main Cafe
Check out the warren of rooms in the massive, meandering, and marvelous Northshire Bookstore. It’s been a community resource in Manchester Center for over 45 years and is stocked with thousands of titles, as well as a knowledgeable staff. You can enter either through the main door or through Bonnet & Main – a delectable lunch cafe.
Yes, nearly 40 are still here. Get your Marimekko, Armani, J. Crew, Michael Kors, Polo, Theory, Tumi, Le Creuset, and other outlet deals here. The internet hasn’t totally destroyed fun, hands-on shopping. Yet.
SHOP: EPOCH Vermont Artisans Gallery
Eighteen artists got together and opened the fetching EPOCH Vermont Artisans Gallery in downtown Manchester. Each craftsman/woman, including the potter, Nick Seidner (shown here), is required to “mind the store” two days a month.
Another founding artist, Johnny Hinrichs, created the enormous “Lure of the Fly” stained glass window at the Orvis Flagship Store nearby, which indicates the quality of art you’ll find in this multi-gallery shop.
SHOP/BRA: La Peche Lingerie
If you haven’t done it in a while, it’s time to get bra-refitted. There’s a reason why women from all over the country come to La Peche Lingerie, a purveyor of bras from size 28A to 46K. I’ve been buying the wrong size for years. Now I know (and look) better. You’ll also find all kinds of night clothes and underthings from hot to granny (and even hot granny).
No preservatives or nitrates are used to make the best-tasting salamis and sausages at The Italian Market of Manchester (formerly Fortuna’s). The products are made off-site in upstate NY, using recipes that the Fortuna grandparents brought with them from Calabria Italy over 100 years ago. Though the Italian Market ships all over the world, you can come into this brick-and-mortar store in downtown Manchester and sample the goods before buying. Delectable.
SHOP: Mother Myrick’s
This confectionery has been in business for 40 years and still makes some of the best Butter Crunch on the planet. Come into Mother Myrick’s for samples of these or the signature Lemon Lulu Cakes, and you’ll no doubt be taking some home with you.
SHOP: Vermont Flannel
Vermont Flannel just opened a shop in Manchester, stocked to the brim with your favorite “made in USA” flannel pj’s, shirts, boxer shorts, and even coats for your pups.
SIP: Smugglers’ Notch Distillery Tasting Room
Sure, you can try the craft-made Maple Syrup infused bourbons, rye, and rum, at in-town Smugglers’ Notch Distillery Tasting Room, but I’m partial to the Creme Liquors myself. Specifically, the Vermont Maple Cream version.
Hikes Around Manchester VT
HIKE/LUNCH/ART: Equinox Preserve Trails
Hike from the Equinox Pond to the Southern VT Art Center (about an hour each way). Then have lunch at the cafe, peruse the exhibits, and hike back. Plan on about 3 or more hours or even a whole day. The Equinox Preserve Trails are just some of the hikes you can take in the area. See below for more.
Shop Outdoor Gear: The Mountain Goat
Rent snowshoes or cross-country gear from The Mountain Goat and check the site for details about their favorite hiking to do in Manchester, Vermont:
- Mount Equinox (5.2 miles)
- Bromley Mountain (5.2 miles)
- Lye Brook Falls (5.4 miles)
- Prospect Rock (3.6 miles)
- Stratton Mountain (11 miles)
- Baker Peak (9.0 miles)
- Little Rock Pond (3.6 miles)
- Haystack Mountain (3.0 miles)
Hike And Swim At Abandoned Quarries
The Gettysburg Quarry hike is a 2.5-mile loop through the reclaimed forest surrounding the former quarry. Afterward, cool off with a dip at the Dorset Quarry.
Once a bustling marble quarry, Dorset Quarry was the oldest quarry in the U.S. Now it’s a popular spot for swimming and cliff jumping. With crystal-clear water and 80-foot cliffs to jump from, it’s a thrilling experience for adrenaline junkies. The quarry is surrounded by stunning natural beauty, with lush green trees, serene waterfalls, and large slabs of stone that are ideal for sunbathing.
Vermont Route 11/30
Vermont maintains over 300 miles of trails managed for snowmobile use, much of it available for hiking as well. Access to the Appalachian/Long Trail can be found here too.
Manchester VT Restaurants
EAT: The Silver Fork
The Silver Fork, located in the old Manchester Library, situated between the Kimpton Taconic Hotel and the Equinox Resort, is not only a top Manchester restaurant, it’s considered one of the top 100 restaurants in the USA. In addition, this gorgeous, mid-century modern furnished eatery was voted Best Date Night Restaurant in the country by Trip Advisors in 2021 (#2 in 2022).
With accolades like that, it’s often tough to stay on top of the game. But The Silver Fork offers such mouthwatering and unconventionally plated tweaks on familiar dishes that diners often gasp audibly when they arrive at the table.
Chef/owner Mark French, along with his outgoing wife, Melody, preside over this exceptional dining spot. Mark earned his chops by way of Baltimore, Germany, and Puerto Rico, before settling in Manchester. So, it’s no surprise that his menu has a ’round the world with an innovative chef vibe.
EAT: Ye Olde Tavern
While the food may not be as “haute” as other dining options in Manchester VT, the atmosphere at Ye Olde Tavern, within an authentic 1790 stagecoach stop, is unbeatable. You can choose to sit in one of several intimate rooms, which from the start hosted travelers from afar. (And from 1934 to 1975, as a hotel and antique shop).
Feast on the likes of Filet Mignon, Chicken Marsala, Salmon, and other New England Country Cooking and Continental fare. But one of the big draws is the “bread course.” The signature Cranberry Fritters with Maple Butter are absolutely ambrosial.
EAT: The Copper Grouse at the Taconic Hotel, Manchester VT
With rough-hewn dark wood floors, tufted leather banquettes, espresso-colored wainscoting, and fowl and cornucopia art aplenty, The Copper Grouse is a Ralph Lauren-esqe version of a hunting-lodge. By night, the scene is farm-to-table locavore – with tweaks on familiar New England cooking.
EAT/VISIT: JJ Hapgood General Store and Eatery, Peru
Young professional couple, Juliette and Tim Britton, returned home from the city, took a tired General Store – the centerpiece of tiny Peru VT – and turned it into a destination coffee shop, organic farm-to-table restaurant, trendy bar, and yes, a locally sourced sundries “general store.”
Dine on Local Beef Burger, Plymouth Hunter Grilled Cheese, and specialty Wood Fired Pizzas for lunch. JJ Hapgood has earned accolades for its décor, food, and service. It’s favored by everyone from Bromley Mountain skiers to Sir Paul McCartney, who came up to these parts to visit his nephew. Ask to see his picture with the Brittons.
EAT: Manchester VT Locals also love
Mistrals, just out of town, for fine French dining. The Reluctant Panther for innovative excellent cuisine.
Manchester VT Hotels
STAY: Kimpton Taconic Hotel
Kimpton’s first hotel located outside of a city, the 86-room Taconic in Manchester VT is less flashy than those in metropolitan areas. There were several hotels on this Route 7A property between the Equinox and downtown before the last was torn down and replaced by the Taconic in late 2015.
Reception, Kimpton- style, is friendly but not gratuitously so. Kimpton’s pet-friendly policy allows you to bring any housebroken or crated creature from dogs to cats to potbelly pigs up to the size that can “fit comfortably in an elevator.” Those familiar with the urban Kimpton aesthetic might find the earth tone palette here uncharacteristically subdued.
When cold out, there’s a fire ablaze in a comfortable lobby. And no matter what the season, the huge front porch with tables and rocking chairs (blankets offered when it’s chilly) is tailor-made for brisk fresh-air and sunset enthusiasts.
Rooms at The Taconic
Wood tones, from birch to mahogany, bespeak a hike in the surrounding mountains. The feeling is comfy-cozy, without a stick of frou-frou or stark modernist to be found.
Upholstered chairs, a bureau with twig shaped pulls, and bed sheathed in a white duvet – the gestalt is “woodland-chic,” as it should be in these parts.
Bathrooms have glass showers with white subway tile and plaid print wallpaper. At turndown, you’ll find an old-fashioned alarm clock placed on one bedside table which also features, conveniently, two embedded electrical outlets.
Dining at The Taconic
See “Where to Eat” above
Amenities at The Taconic
Wine and Popcorn Hour – 5-6 pm each day. This is a great opportunity to meet and converse with fellow guests. Take your drink out on the front porch, or enjoy it near the fireplace in the lobby.
This grand dame hotel was built in the mid-1700s, decades before Mary Todd Lincoln vacationed in Vermont (near where her son Robert Todd Lincoln constructed his summer home, Hildene). It still reigns supreme among USA mountain resorts.
STAY: Wilburton Inn
The Wilburton Inn, an eclectic, romantic, and luxurious place in a party-forward, fun, pet-friendly, and family-owned way, is almost too hard to explain.
A grand estate built at the turn of last century, and purchased by a Greek Holocaust survivor, Dr. Albert Levis (Psychiatrist), and his family in the 1980s, the Wilburton contains a multitude of personalities, from a sculpture garden to a Museum of the Creative Process, to multiple private homes for family reunions, to Murder Mystery Weekends, great food, and so much more, we’ll let this Youtube video speak for itself.
STAY: The Reluctant Panther
Formerly painted purple, this luxury inn literally rose from the ashes after a devastating fire in 2005. Now, its exterior is trimmed in purple, and inside, upscale rooms have been decorated with a clever hand. The dining room, according to many, serves “impeccable” cuisine.
More Weekend Getaways In Southern Vermont
- Bennington VT: Welcome to the Green Mountain State
- Ski The East In Charming Mad River Valley Vermont
- Grafton VT: Ski Magic And Irreverent History
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