Salem’s intriguing history inspires more than 2 million people to visit Salem each year — Photo courtesy of Kate Fox
Best known for the infamous 1692 Salem witch trials, the town Salem, Massachusetts, draws millions of visitors from near and far each year. Thanks to centuries worth of haunted lore, booking a trip to Salem during spooky season — known to locals as Haunted Happenings — may be at the top of the list for many travelers.
But Salem offers far more than “Hocus Pocus” filming locations and witchy walking tours. Salem, which draws nearly 1 million visitors in the month of October alone, offers a unique blend of history, art, and culture throughout the year. Whether travelers are drawn to the town’s bewitching past, curious about the city’s maritime history, or simply seeking a charming New England getaway, the town of Salem has something for everyone. Here are 10 fun things to do there.
Sightseeing along Chestnut Street
Chestnut Street residents go all out to decorate their porches and homes each year — Photo courtesy of Kate Fox
Chestnut Street in Salem was constructed in the late 1700s and became a haven for wealthy merchants who began dotting the thoroughfare with stately mansions that bore treasures from faraway lands. Often referred to as one of the most beautiful streets in the United States, Chestnut Street is also the widest street in Salem.
Today, the historic mansions that line Chestnut Street pay tribute to the original architecture of the time. Many of the homes feature over-the-top seasonal decor that is beautiful to enjoy during a daytime stroll.
Salem Witch Trials Memorial
Twenty granite benches honor the victims who were killed during the 1692 Salem witch trials — Photo courtesy of Kate Fox
This simple yet poignant Salem Witch Trails Memorial pays tribute to 20 innocent people who were executed during 1692 Salem witch trials. For each individual, there’s an engraved granite bench, displaying their name and means and date of execution. At the memorial’s entrance, you can read some of their last words, inscribed in stone, including “I am no witch” and “I am innocent.”
Peabody Essex Museum
Peabody Essex Museum is a must-visit when in Salem — Photo courtesy of Bob Packert / Peabody Essex Museum
The Peabody (pronounced pea-beh-dee) Essex Museum was founded by the East India Marine Society in 1799 and is the oldest continually operating and collecting museum in the United States. It’s home to more than 1 million artifacts, artwork, and historic manuscripts and books that celebrate all cultures. Daily hours are dependent upon time of year, so check the museum’s website for hours and tickets.
Salem’s sweet treats
The town of Salem offers delicious bakeries and sweet shops — Photo courtesy of John Andrews
Salem offers no shortage of delicious options for casual dining, but some of the best offerings may be on-the-go nibbles from local eateries. Don’t miss out on a dirty chai latte from Lulu’s Bakery and Pantry, homemade dark chocolate espresso truffles from Roseadela’s, or a late-night cookie order from Goodnight Fatty, where all cookie flavors are kept a secret until after ordering.
Walking tours of Salem
Walking tours are a fun thing to do to learn more about Salem — Photo courtesy of Kate Fox
Walking through Salem on your own is a great way to get a lay of the land, but the town’s organized walking tours — offered both during the day and at night — combine history and lore with the help of local guides.
The “History and Hauntings of Salem” tour, hosted by Witch City Walking Tours, offers historical perspective on the town’s maritime and religious roots and the Salem witch trials. Families and film buffs might enjoy Witch City’s tour of filming locations for the 1993 movie, “Hocus Pocus.” For those interested in Salem’s darker history, dare to sign up for “Mysteries and Murders of Salem,” a tour reserved for ages 13 and older.
House of the Seven Gables
The House of the Seven Gables may be best known for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel — Photo courtesy of Destination Salem
Best known as the setting for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 novel bearing the same name, the House of the Seven Gables — also known as the Turner House — was owned by merchant John Turner I and his wife, Elizabeth, in the late 1600s. The name is an ode to the home’s gables, or pitched roof.
In 2007, the house was designated a National Historic Landmark District and operates as a nonprofit museum. Tickets for tours and grounds passes, which vary in price based on season, must be purchased in advance.
Salem’s Essex Street
Don’t be surprised if you see a witch or two strolling Essex Street in the town of Salem — Photo courtesy of Kate Fox
No trip to Salem is complete without a walk down Essex Street, the cobblestone road and heart of downtown Salem, that is lined with souvenir-filled boutiques. During the annual Haunted Happenings, don’t be surprised to see tourists decked out in costumes wandering down Essex, but witch hats abound year-round.
Salem Witch Museum
During the month of October, Salem Witch Museum doesn’t allow photos inside the museum — Photo courtesy of John Andrews
The Salem Witch Museum is a two-part informational museum that offers both a comprehensive background to the trials, as well as a look at how witches are portrayed in the media. Note to families: The exhibit’s life-like mannequins, including one with a noose around its neck, might be too much for your littlest travelers.
The Witch House
The Witch House of Salem is located at 310 Essex Street — Photo courtesy of Kate Fox
Contrary to the name, the Witch House was not home to any of Salem’s accused witches, rather Judge Jonathan Corwin, who was one of the judges presiding over the Salem witch trials, and his wife, Elizabeth. The home was built with intention — small windows to keep out the cold winter and a dark color to attract as much sun and warmth as possible. It is the only remaining structure in Salem with direct ties to the trials and can be visited with advance ticket purchase through the website.
Salem Maritime National Historic Site
Salem, Massachusetts, is home to the first National Historic Site in the country — Photo courtesy of DenisTangney Jr / iStock Via Getty Images
The Salem Maritime National Historic Site, comprising 12 sites set on 9 acres, was established on March 17, 1938, and is the first national historic site in the United States. Artifacts and exhibits, with the help of National Park Service Rangers, help tell the story of more than 600 years’ worth of maritime history. Don’t miss the replica tall ship, Friendship of Salem, that is open for tours.
Hotels in Salem, Massachusetts
There are several hotels in Salem, including the Hampton Inn Salem, The Hotel Salem, Hawthorne Hotel, Salem Waterfront Hotel & Suites, and The Merchant. For those interested in ghost hunting, several hotels in Salem are believed to be haunted.
Is it better to stay in Boston or Salem?
Take the ferry from Boston to Salem — Photo courtesy of DenisTangney Jr / iStock Via Getty Images
Deciding whether to stay in Boston or Salem depends on the time of year you visit, your budget, and lodging availability. Salem, about 25 miles north of Boston, offers plenty of hotels and vacation rentals that range in price. Of course, October is the most popular time of year to visit Salem, so hotel reservations come at a premium then. Visiting at other times of year can be more friendly on your wallet. Also, Salem is a very walkable city, so staying in town — versus commuting from Boston — can make for a stress-free getaway.
Depending on traffic, Salem is less than an hour’s drive from Boston, but take advantage of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s commuter rail and ferry service between the two cities. With multiple trips every day, it’s completely feasible to plan a fun day trip to Salem whenever you’re in Boston.