Montpelier is the smallest state capital in the United States (and smaller than the capitals of some of the territories). It is a sleepy state capital where people can enjoy a quiet, small-town vibe uncommon in capitals anywhere in the world. Indeed, it is one of America’s small towns worth a trip.
Montpelier should be on anyone’s weekend road trip itinerary for Vermont. Like much of Vermont, consider visiting Montpelier in the autumn (fall foliage in Vermont is spectacular). Come in the winter, and Vermont is famous for having some of the best skiing on the East Coast.
Montpelier, Vermont in autumn
The History Of Montpelier, Vermont
The lands that are now Vermont were part of the French colony of New France. French settlers built the first European settlement there – Fort Sainte Anna on Isle La Motte. They soon came into conflict with the British and the English-speaking settlers, and they lost the territory to Britain during the French and Indian War.
Interestingly, Vermont was not one of the Thirteen Original Colonies. Instead, it declared independence (and was initially called the Republic of New Connecticut).
The Town of Montpelier was first charted in 1781 and named Montpelier after the southern French city of Montpellier in France. At the time, there was an appreciation for things French thanks to the help Americans had received from the French during the Revolutionary War.
By 1791, the population had reached 117 and had increased to 1,200 by 1805, when it was chosen as the permanent home of the state legislature of Vermont.
Headstones in Montpelier, Vermont, USA
What To Know About Montpelier – The Smallest State Capital In The United States
While the population of Montpelier is only around 8,000, it swells in the daytime working hours to around 21,000. The total population of the state of Vermont is around 645,000, making it the second least-populated state in the country after Wyoming (pop. 575,000).
- Resident Population: 8,000
- Population During Workdays: 21,000
The largest ‘city’ in the state of Vermont is Burlington, and it is a place that should be on anyone’s Vermont travel radar. But it is more of a big town with a population of only around 45,000. Accepting that, it can be claimed there are no true cities in Vermont. The state capital is Montpelier, with a population of only around 8,000 – the least for any state capital in the nation. Even Charlotte Amalie – the capital of the U.S. Virgin Islands is more populous than Montpelier.
It’s not every day that the state capital is counted among the most beautiful small towns to explore. But Montpelier is one of the most beautiful small towns in Vermont to visit.
Gold Dome Of Montpelier State House
Note there is no one single definition of what a city is. Some definitions require a population threshold of over 50,000 or 100,000 inhabitants. Sometimes the status of a ‘city’ is endowed legally; e.g., in the United Kingdom, a city is a status awarded by the Crown, and it remains permanent. Historically, in the UK, a city was a settlement with a cathedral – which would make the Welsh settlement of St Davids, with a population of 1,841, a city.
In this article, a true ‘city’ needs a population of greater than 50,000.
What To See In Montpelier Today
Montpelier, the capital of Vermont, should not be confused with the historic plantation home of James Madison in Virginia, also called Montpelier. There are plenty of historic attractions in and around Montpelier, along with a number of quirky attractions. The downtown is charming, with walking trails, cultural amenities, and quaint shops. Through the center of the town flows the Winooski River.
One of the leading attractions is a free tour of the gold-domed State House. The gold dome of the State House is actually covered in real gold and is 23.7 karat leaf – the purest possible.
- Montpelier State House Opening Hours: Monday – Friday: 8 AM – 4 PM
A person holding a red maple leaf in the forest
There are some attractions in Vermont many people may associate with Canada. Vermont is famous for its maple syrup, and there are maple syrup farms to explore around the town. Buy some quality Vermont maple syrup from places like Bragg Farm Sugarhouse & Gift Shop (which has been in the family for eight generations). Another maple farm is the 200-year-old Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks and its free maple syrup tastings, nature trail, farm life museum, and more.
More city-based attractions include watching a performance at the Lost National Theater or listening to a concert by the Montpelier Chamber Orchestra. Explore the history of the state at the Vermont Historical Society Museum and find the statue of Ethan Allen – one of the founders of Vermont and a hero of the Revolutionary War during the capture of Fort Ticonderoga.
While walking around the town, sample the local food and craft beverages – put Bee’s Knees, Barr Hill Distillery, and Woodbelly on the culinary trail.