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Burlington: 215 miles NW of Boston; 98 miles S of Montreal; 154 miles NE of Albany, NY

Burlington is a vibrant college town -- it's home to the University of Vermont, known as UVM -- that's continually and valiantly resisting the onset of "middle age." After all, this was the birthplace of Ben & Jerry's, founded by two hippies-gone-big-time and perpetual kids at heart. (Look for the sidewalk plaque at the corner of St. Paul and College streets commemorating their original ice-cream shop.) This city elected a socialist mayor in 1981, Bernie Sanders, who's now the only independent member of (and the only self-described socialist in) the U.S. Senate. Burlington was also the birthplace of the rock band Phish, legendary for their meandering jam sessions.

It's no wonder Burlington has become a magnet for those seeking an alternative to big-city life: The downtown occupies a superb position overlooking Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains of New York. To the east, the Green Mountains rise dramatically, with two of their highest points (Mount Mansfield and Camel's Hump) stretching above an undulating ridge.

Yet it wasn't long ago that Burlington turned its back on its waterfront. Urban redevelopment in the '60s and '70s focused on parking garages and bland medium-rises; the waterfront was forgotten, developed by light industry. In recent years, the city has sought to regain its toehold along the lake, acquiring and redeveloping parts for commercial and recreational use. It's been successful in some sections (especially the bike path, discussed below), but other stretches look absurdly industrial for such a scenic place.

At least the downtown is thriving these days. The pedestrian mall (Church St.), that quizzical creation that has failed in so many other cities for unknown reasons, actually works here: People stroll, eat, shop, and seem to enjoy the relative lack of auto traffic (and parking). New construction has brought large stores downtown, reversing the flight to the mall that has plagued so many other towns. The city's scale is pleasantly skewed toward pedestrians -- walk whenever possible.