Burlington had a population of 42,417 at the 2010 census. The city is the hub of the Burlington-South Burlington metropolitan area, consisting of the three northwestern Vermont counties of Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle and encompassing the cities of Burlington, South Burlington, and Winooski; the towns of Colchester, Essex, and Williston; and the village of Essex Junction. According to the 2012 U.S. Census estimates, the metro area had an estimated population of 213,701, approximately one third of Vermont's total population.
One of the New Hampshire grants, the land which became Burlington was awarded by Governor Benning Wentworth on June 7, 1763 to Samuel Willis and 63 others. In the summer of 1775 land clearing began and two or three log huts were erected, but the Revolution delayed permanent settlement until 1783, when Stephen Lawrence arrived with his family. The town was organized in 1785.
The War of 1812 was unpopular in Vermont. Along with the rest of New England, Vermont did not provide militia units or financial support. Vermont voted for the Federalist party, which opposed the war. Nevertheless, 5,000 troops were stationed there at one point during the War of 1812, outnumbering residents; about 500 of them died of disease. Some soldiers were quartered in the main building at the University of Vermont, where a memorial plaque commemorates them.
In a skirmish on August 2, 1813, the British shelled Burlington. This has either been cited as a bold stroke by the British with an ineffectual response from the Americans, or a weak sally by the British, properly ignored by the Americans, depending on who relates the story. The cannonade lasted for about ten minutes and did not affect the outcome of the war. The American side was commanded by Naval Lieutenant Thomas Macdonough, later hero of the Battle of Lake Champlain.
The town's position on Lake Champlain helped it develop into a port of entry and center for trade, particularly after completion of the Champlain Canal in 1823, the Erie Canal in 1825, and the Chambly Canal in 1843. Wharves allowed steamboats to connect freight and passengers with the Rutland & Burlington Railroad and Vermont Central Railroad. Burlington became a bustling lumbering and manufacturing center, and incorporated as a city in 1865. Its Victorian era prosperity left behind much fine architecture, including buildings by Ammi B. Young, H. H. Richardson and McKim, Mead & White.
In 1870, the waterfront was extended by construction of the Pine Street Barge Canal. This became polluted over the years and is a focus for cleanup in 2009.
The ice cream enterprise Ben & Jerry's was founded in Burlington in 1978 in a renovated gas station.
In 2007, the city was named one of the top four "places to watch" in the United States by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). The ratings were based on what was perceived as ideal for older residents. Criteria included the factors which make a community livable: new urbanism, smart growth, mixed-use development, and easy-living standards.