To anyone who knows the Burlington of today, the town’s history may be a bit of a surprise. For more than 300 years, Burlington was a largely agrarian town. Early railroad lines bypassed the town, leaving it largely undeveloped compared to some of its suburban neighbors. Then, in the 1950s, the modern-day version of Route 128 was built, effectively opening Burlington up for business. In the decades that followed, Burlington became known as a town of office parks and shopping centers.
While office buildings and retail developments are still very much part of Burlington, recent years have seen the character of the town evolve. New restaurants, commercial areas, and community spaces have given the town a warmer, more inviting personality and turned it into an ever-growing draw for visitors. And, with plenty of healthy dining options, outdoor areas to enjoy, and fitness amenities, it is an ideal destination for anyone looking for a daytrip with a side of wellness.
Albert Kowalczykowski, general manager of the Archer Hotel explains that the town “delivers that sought-after small-city feel with big-city access and amenities. So many towns strive for that work-live-play balance, and Burlington has really done it beautifully.”
Part of this transformation is due to the rise of distinctive districts for shopping, dining, working, and living within town. At the center of it all is the Burlington Mall. The major shopping center is a north of Boston institution, but it is always reinventing itself to meet contemporary demand.
As major tenants have fallen away with the decline of retailers like Sears and Lord & Taylor, new businesses—including experiential toy and craft store Camp, and beloved local breakfast joint The Friendly Toast —have kept it current. In recent years, the former site of Sears Auto Center has been converted into The Village at Burlington Mall, a standalone cluster of shops, many with a healthy living focus, like Stretch Lab, Skin MD, and salad-focused eatery Sweetgreen. Later this year, Boston-based Wayfair will open the first bricks-and-mortar location of its design brand Joss & Main.
“The mall has always been the constant for the past 50 years,” says Rick Parker, president of the Burlington Area Chamber of Commerce. “They’ve reinvested in it continually.”
Located immediately behind the mall, The District combines office space with restaurants (like oyster-and-seafood spot Row 34), charming pocket parks, and easy access to walking trails. Around the corner, Third Avenue is home to the four-star Archer Hotel and a host of entertainment and dining options, from retro bowling-and-games emporium Kings to Wegmans, the sprawling supermarket with a devoted fan following to BONS award-winning steakhouse the Bancroft.
Moments up the road from Third Avenue is Life Time Burlington, a new fitness center that is much more than a conventional gym. In addition to standard workout equipment and group exercise classes, Life Time offers a pool, a cafe, sports facilities, saunas, whirlpools, and spa services. One-day passes allow visitors to indulge in all the amenities even if they’re not members.
“A healthy way of life is our focus,” says Life Time general manager Victoria Bollinger.
Burlington also has some unexpected outdoor recreation options.
“A secret that is not known too far out of Burlington is we have some large expanses of conservation areas and open spaces,” Parker says. “It’s a way to kind of escape what you think of as the normal suburban experience.”
Mary Cummings Park and the Mill Brook Conservation Area, each only a few minutes from the commercial bustle, offer the chance to immerse in nature (and perhaps even see a bald eagle). Up the street from the mall is the Fitness Court, an outdoor workout installation that is free and open to the public.
When it’s time to dine, there are choices for whatever your definition of wellness is. Focus on seafood at Row 34, enjoy fresh juice and quinoa bowls at Pressed Cafe, or pack in the protein at Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chao. Or if you’re just looking for delicious indulgence, you can’t beat gnocchi with cream sauce at Osteria Nino or a burger, fries, and a shake at Shake Shack.
“The restaurant scene in Burlington is among the tops in the state, competing with much larger cities,” Parker says.
Even as developers and commercial concepts continue to shape and reshape the town, however, Bollinger explains that Burlington maintains a strong local spirit.
“It’s been able to foster a lot of community, where everyone kind of knows each other.”
Check out these ideas for how to spend your time in Burlington.