St. Albans is a bustling, charming town filled with Victorian-era architecture. Located at the northeastern end of Lake Champlain, the town was a hub of shipping for the agricultural products of northwest Vermont in its early history. After the railway was built in the mid-1800s, the focus shifted away from the lakefront and the town became a center for the railroad which shipped dairy products, maple syrup, lumber, wool, cattle, and other goods to the rest of the country and Canada.
St. Albans also has the distinction of being the site of a raid during the Civil War by Confederate soldiers who entered from Canada with the goals of burning the town and stealing money from the banks. The St. Albans Raid ended with only one building burned, one local killed, and the soldiers fleeing back to Canada with the stolen money. Canadian officials promptly arrested them and returned the money to the banks but would not extradite the Confederate soldiers as Canada was a neutral neighbor.
Today, the town is the welcoming center of commerce and culture for northwestern Vermont. The historic downtown is largely unchanged from the mid-1800s, and the red-brick Victorian buildings look gorgeous year-round. In the holiday season, the downtown looks like a movie set with the brightly colored lights reflecting off the snow. The local shops are favored places to find gifts, as well as items for everyday use. The many restaurants offer menus with cuisine ranging from seafood, BBQ, Italian, bistro, and more. Equally enjoyable are the coffee shops, which are favorite local hangouts and perfect places to relax and chat with friends.
With Lake Champlain nearby and the Green Mountains to the east, St. Albans offers a wide variety of outdoor adventures. The Missisquoi Rail Trail runs through town for walking, biking, and cross-country skiing, while the lake is available for all kinds of aquatic activities, including ice fishing in the winter.
Whether you stay for a weekend or longer, St. Albans has many opportunities for you to explore, savor, and enjoy.
1. The Northwest Farmers Market
The Northwest Farmers Market is held on Saturdays in the center of downtown St. Albans, from the middle of May until the end of October. Comfortably situated under large trees in Taylor Park, the lively market has local produce vendors, farmers, and artisans with a wide variety of products including stylish pottery and clever marquetry woodworking. There are a few hot food booths that will tempt you into an early lunch. The opulent Victorian fountain at the north end of the park is a lovely spot to picnic on the grass or park benches.
2. Enjoy a “Creemee”
If you’ve never had a Vermont “creemee”, you’re in for a treat. Creemees are soft ice cream cones that always come in maple syrup flavor and often in other flavors. This creamy confection is the quintessential Vermont dessert and you will see them offered everywhere you go. In a state known for both its dairy products and maple syrup, how can you go wrong?
In St. Alban’s, Toby’s Treats is famous for having over 100 delicious flavors of creemees that will satisfy the pickiest of children and tantalize adults with the variety on the list. Toby’s Treats also offers ice cream made with almond milk for those who are lactose intolerant, vegan, or follow a gluten-free diet. Open seven days a week, Toby’s serves creemees, sundaes, and milkshakes from noon until 9 p.m.
3. Play Golf
Started in 1915, the Champlain Country Club has a picturesque, beautifully maintained 18-hole course to challenge you. The Pro Shop will take care of your golfing needs, and Swimmer’s Restaurant in the clubhouse will serve you casual but tasty cuisine when you are finished and want to relax.
4. Picnic and Swim in Lake Champlain
If you drive a few minutes from downtown following Lake Street, you will arrive at the village of St. Albans Bay and the shores of Lake Champlain. The small village doesn’t have many amenities, but it does have a creemee stand and a fantastic view of Lake Champlain. It also contains the St. Albans Bay Town Park which is a wonderful place to take your family for a picnic and to play or swim at the beach. On Friday evenings, 4:30-7:30 throughout the summer, there is a farmer’s market, located in the main parking lot of the park.
5. Hunt for Antiques
Love antiques? There are two antique stores in St. Albans. Vintage Therapy is a quaint little shop with a carefully selected collection a block west of Main Street. Revival Antiques, Collectibles and Storage is a former dairy barn chock full of antique and vintage items of all kinds. It’s an easy drive just three miles north of downtown. Both shops are great places to spend an afternoon, whether buying a gift or hunting for that special item.
St. Albans is the place to browse and shop in northwestern Vermont. The historic downtown has a wide variety of shops to please every visitor. With choices ranging from an art gallery to a game store, a home décor store to clothing, you can happily spend an afternoon or two browsing the locally owned businesses. These are a couple of favorite shops worth spending time in.
The Eloquent Page is the kind of bookstore that is usually found in a much larger city. Whether you are seeking a book on the history of Vermont, buying a book for a child, or looking for a good paperback to relax with, this store has something on nearly every subject. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, ask the shop’s owner. She knows the inventory like no one else and will special order from one of her many connections in the book world.
Need a new mixing bowl or cookie sheet? As the Crow Flies has an eclectic collection of kitchen and dining items. This store features everything from finely-crafted, artisanal Vermont cutting boards, a good selection of wines, a wall of kitchen gadgets, and beautiful linens from Vermont’s own April Cornell.
The Frozen Ogre is the best toy, game, and hobby store for miles around. If you are looking for a new board game, toys, or dungeon dice, this is your store.
7. Walk, Ski, or Bicycle the Missisquoi Rail Trail
The Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail is one of the best ways to experience Vermont’s beautiful, rural landscape. The former railroad track stretches 26 miles from St. Albans to Richford, which is close to the Canadian border. Along the way, it goes through fields and wild forests, past dairy farms, and through several small towns as it cuts across the countryside and follows the Missisquoi River. It is used for many types of recreation including running, walking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, horseback riding, and bicycling. It is also a prime place to spot wildlife and birds. Be sure to bring your binoculars!
There are several excellent dining options in St. Albans. If you are dreaming of a luscious, hand-tossed pizza, Mimmos Pizzeria & Restaurant is the place to go. Casual, family-oriented, and moderately priced, you can smell the garlic rolls before you walk in the door.
For more adventurous dining, visit the Thai House Restaurant, located one mile north of the historic downtown. This little restaurant has won the Best Thai Food in New England Award. Even though the décor is a little outdated, the food is fresh, authentic, and savory with herbs and spices. There are several fine house specialties, but the duck dishes are outstanding.
Catalyst Coffee Bar and the Red House Sweets are neighbors on Lake Street. They have a shared doorway, so it’s easy to order your hot or cold beverage in the coffee bar and to wander next door to order a fresh-made croissant or pastry. The chocolate croissants here are the best in town. If you are going on a picnic, be sure to pick up a loaf of bread to take along.
St. Albans is a lovely historic town and will linger in your memories as a delightful place to spend some time and to return to again and again. As a weekend getaway or part of a longer journey, St. Albans offers a variety of ways to entertain you throughout the year. Many other opportunities are not mentioned here such as breweries, parks along the lakeshore, and other outdoor locales for recreation.
If you plan to visit in the fall, be sure to make your reservations early. “Leaf Peeping Season” in September and October is a spectacular time to visit Vermont and is a peak time for tourism.
Last Updated on August 26, 2020