Located just 30 minutes from Boston, Salem is an easy destination for a day trip or weekend getaway. The town blends New England maritime history, bewitching folklore, and a vibrant cultural scene. Whether you’re a history buff, a literature enthusiast, or simply seeking an enchanting getaway, enjoy our guide to best things to do in Salem, Massachusetts.
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Our Witch City 25: Salem Massachusetts Things to Do
No doubt most visitors to Salem come because of the infamous Salem witch trials. And the town has certainly capitalized on this with museums, shops, and lots of witchy happenings. But there’s more to Salem than witches. Salem is a beautiful seaside town with lovely brick lined streets and an active waterfront. Let’s explore a bit of its New England history before we turn to the witchy side of Salem.
But who doesn’t love a bit of witchy fun? Not me and my high school BFF! We’ve been meeting in Salem for ‘playdates’ for years. And we’re not above posing for silly pictures, like this one with the ‘Bewitched’ statue.
Feel free to skip ahead if you’re here for just Witch City history and attractions.
Salem Maritime History
Salem will celebrate the 400th anniversary of its founding in 2026. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Salem emerged as one of America’s most prosperous and influential seaports. Its maritime activities included trade, privateering, and shipbuilding, making it a bustling hub of economic and cultural exchange.
The Salem-based East India Marine Society, founded in 1799, played a crucial role in promoting maritime exploration around the world. In 1825 the society’s East India Marine Hall was established as the group’s headquarters and collecting museum. This building and its collections are now the centerpiece of the world-class Peabody Essex Museum.
Today, Salem embraces its maritime history, offering visitors a chance to explore its seafaring legacy through museums, exhibits, and maritime-themed events. The city’s picturesque waterfront serves as a reminder of its illustrious maritime past.
Salem Trolley Tour
Salem is a very walkable city, but if new to the area, I recommend you take the trolley tour for a great introduction to the city.
The narrated one-hour tour will orient (and entertain!) you.
Salem Trolley, 2 New Liberty Street
Salem Maritime National Historic Site
Discover Salem’s seafaring past at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. This open-air museum encompasses several historic buildings, wharves, and a replica of a merchant vessel. Learn about Salem’s role as a major port during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Stroll along Derby Wharf and soak up the maritime ambiance while taking in breathtaking views of Salem Harbor. As part of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, this waterfront promenade offers a tranquil escape and a chance to see historic structures, including the Custom House (the opening setting of Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter). Enjoy a picnic, go fishing, or simply unwind while relishing the scenic beauty.
Friendship of Salem
Explore the Friendship of Salem, a replica tall ship that offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of a seafarer during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The original Friendship, a two-decked, three-masted, square-rigged, 342-ton vessel was built in Salem in 1797. This ship made 15 world voyages before being captured by the British as a war prize. The War of 1812 had begun while Friendship was in Russia, but the captain and crew were unaware of that and had set off to return to Salem, only to be captured in the Atlantic Ocean. The Friendship was later sold at auction in England.
Charter Street Cemetery
Charter Street Cemetery, also known as the Old Burying Point Cemetery, holds a significant place in Salem’s history. Established in 1637, it is one of the oldest burial grounds in Massachusetts and is an important stop for visitors seeking a glimpse into Salem’s past.
Located near the center of Salem, Charter Street Cemetery served as the primary burying ground for the early settlers and prominent citizens of the town. It contains the final resting place of several notable Salem residents such as Judge John Hathorne (ancestor of Nathaniel Hawthorne), Mary Corey (wife of Giles Corey, who was accused during the Salem witch trials), and many others.
Ropes Mansion (and other historic homes in Salem’s McIntire District
The stately Ropes Mansion, built in 1727, was home to four generations of the Ropes family and is recognized as one of New England’s most significant and documented historic houses. The extensive gardens are FREE to explore and a reason to visit alone. The Peabody Essex Museum currently owns and operates the mansion. Check with the museum for tour information.
Peabody Essex Museum – Ropes Mansion, 318 Essex Street
After your visit to the Ropes Mansion take a walk around the McIntire District neighborhood, Salem’s historic district, to admire the architectural legacy of Salem’s maritime past. The McIntire historic district is rich with Georgian- and Federal-period houses designed or influenced by renowned architect Samuel McIntire.
Salem’s Pioneer Village
Pioneer Village is a living history museum, a recreation of an early English settlement, representing what life was like for the early European settlers who arrived in Salem in the 17th century.
Pioneer Village was constructed in 1930 as part of the 300th anniversary celebration of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The village was created using authentic construction techniques and materials, with some of the buildings modeled after actual structures from the period.
Salem’s Pioneer Village, 98 West Ave.
Art and Literature in Salem
Salem has a rich history in literature and art. From museums and galleries to literary landmarks, Salem offers some great destinations for lovers of all things culture.
The House of the Seven Gables
Literature enthusiasts will not want to miss visiting The House of the Seven Gables, the home made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel of the same name. This historic house, dating back to the 17th century, stands as a symbol of Salem’s rich maritime and literary history. Step into Hawthorne’s world as you explore the rooms, gardens, and hidden corners of the 1668 house.
The House of Seven Gables also offers literary programs, lectures, and events that celebrate the legacy of one of America’s most beloved authors.
House of the Seven Gables, 115 Derby Street
Peabody Essex Museum (PEM)
At the heart of Salem’s art scene stands the Peabody Essex Museum, a world-class institution that showcases an extensive collection of art and cultural artifacts from around the globe. With a particular emphasis on maritime history, Asian art, and contemporary works, the museum offers an enriching and diverse experience for all kinds of art lovers.
Be sure to schedule a timed entry to the Yin Yu Tang house. This unique and historic Chinese house is one of the museum’s most treasured exhibits. It was originally constructed in the late 18th century and reassembled within the museum.
Peabody Essex Museum, 161 Essex Street
The Custom House
Salem is steeped in literary history, and as you explore the city, you’ll encounter various landmarks associated with renowned authors. Visit the Custom House, as depicted in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s iconic novel, “The Scarlet Letter,” and envision the setting that inspired his literary masterpiece. Hawthorne worked at the Custom House as a surveyor until a change in the town’s political parties forced him out of this job.
Custom House, 176 Derby St
Galleries and Studios
Salem’s vibrant arts community is evident in its numerous galleries and studios. Take a stroll through the city’s streets, particularly around the Essex Street pedestrian mall, to enjoy visiting the galleries. Engage with local artists, explore their studios, and immerse yourself in the artistic energy of Salem.
Get outside in Salem
Take a break from the historical sites and immerse yourself in Salem’s natural beauty. Stay in town and explore the Ropes Mansion Garden, a tranquil oasis within walking distance of the historical sites or head a bit afield for more adventures.
Salem Willows Park
For family-friendly fun, head to Salem Willows Park. This charming seaside park features a long promenade, scenic picnic areas, arcade games, and a carousel. Take a walk along the waterfront, indulge in some classic arcade games, and enjoy the lively atmosphere of this beloved local attraction.
Salem Willows Park, 165 Fort Avenue
The Misery Island is an 87-acre nature reserve accessible by boat. The unusual name comes from shipbuilder Robert Moulton who was stranded on the islands for three days during a winter storm in the 1620s. At one time the island was a popular summer resort, but a devastating fire ended that. Now people head to the island to hike, bird-watch or just enjoy the views.
Bike Salem – rail trails, waterfront, and woods
Whether you prefer leisurely rides along the coastline or more challenging routes through wooded trails, Salem has something to offer for cyclists of all skill levels. Here are some of the best places to bike in Salem:
- The Salem Bike Path (3.8 miles) is a popular route that provides a picturesque and mostly flat ride for cyclists. The path runs through scenic areas, including parks, waterfronts, and historic neighborhoods. It’s a great option for a leisurely ride while taking in the sights and sounds of Salem.
- Marblehead Rail trail (8.5 out and back) While technically located in the neighboring town of Marblehead, the Marblehead Rail Trail begins at Canal Street in Salem and offers a beautiful biking route. The trail follows the former Danvers to Marblehead railroad line and takes cyclists through woodlands, wetlands, and residential areas.
- Winter Island Maritime Park: Winter Island Maritime Park is a great spot for those who enjoy off-road biking. The park features dirt trails that meander through wooded areas, offering a more adventurous biking experience.
These are just a few of the beautiful bike trails you can enjoy in Southern New England.
History of the Salem Witch Trials
There is a startling dichotomy in how Salem handles its witch trials legacy. The town acknowledges the horror of these crimes against innocent people, yet its businesses capitalize on the tragedy with festivals, etc. It’s all in good fun, of course, but it’s important that visitors to Salem be aware of the real people persecuted by the Salem Witch Trials.
Salem, Massachusetts, is infamous for the witch trials that of 1692, that left an indelible mark on American history. The witch hysteria began when a group of young girls in Salem Village claimed to be possessed by witches, sparking widespread fear and paranoia. Accusations of witchcraft grew, resulting in the arrest, trials, and execution of 20 individuals, mostly women. The trials unfolded in a Puritan society heavily influenced by religious beliefs and a rigid social order. This madness was fueled by superstition, spectral evidence, and a belief in witchcraft.
Ultimately, the events of the Salem Witch Trials revealed a dark chapter in colonial America, highlighting the dangers of mass hysteria and the tragic consequences of unfounded accusations. Salem, recognizing the significance of this dark chapter, has dedicated museums, memorials, and historical sites to preserve the memory and educate visitors about the witch trials. Today, tourists can learn about the historical context and the tragic consequences of this haunting episode in American history. Hopefully Salem’s commitment to remembering and educating about this dark chapter will encourage visitors to reflect on the consequences of scapegoating, intolerance, and unchecked beliefs.
The legacy of the witch trials and the Salem attractions that celebrate the occult can be upsetting to many, especially young children. Check beforehand to determine what is appropriate for your family.
Learn more- Read one the best books on the Salem Witch Trials
Salem Witch Trials Memorial
An important stop on any visit to Salem is to the Salem Witch Trials Memorial. This somber memorial park pays tribute to the 20 innocent individuals who lost their lives during the witch hysteria. The memorial was established in 1992, for the 300th anniversary of the Salem Witch trials.
Visitors can walk through the small park lined with stone benches inscribed with the names of the victims and take a moment to reflect on this dark chapter of American history.
Salem Witch Trials Memorial, 24 Liberty Street
The Witch House
Step back in time as you visit the only remaining structure directly connected to the witch trials, the Witch House. This was the home of Jonathan Corwin, one of the judges for the Salem Witch Trials. The 17th-century house offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of one of Salem’s wealthier early residents. Explore the well-preserved rooms, period furnishings, and intriguing artifacts while learning about the trials and the customs of the era.
Interesting Note: The property on which the Jonathan Corwin House stands is thought to be where the early 1630s home of Roger Williams once stood. Williams, who was the acting pastor of the Salem church in 1634, believed that Native Americans should be paid for their land and that Church and State should be separate. For his views he was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the General Court of Massachusetts. Williams ended up fleeing south where he eventually founded Rhode Island.
The Witch House, 310 1/2 Essex Street
Crow Haven Corner
Visit Crow Haven, the oldest witch store in Salem. for palm reading, tarot cards, etc. The very popular Salem Witch Walk leaves from this store twice daily.
Crow Haven Corner, 125 Essex Street
Salem Witch Museum
Most visitors to Salem will make a stop at the Salem Witch Museum. Through captivating exhibits, multimedia presentations, and life-sized dioramas, the museum unravels the myths and realities surrounding the witch trials. Visit the museum to gain a deeper understanding of the social, political, and cultural factors that led to the tragedy and the lasting impact the trials have had on Salem’s identity.
Note: the museum exhibits and the building alone are worth the admission fee, but in my opinion the multimedia presentation needs updating.
Salem Witch Museum, 19 1/2 Washington Square
Witch Dungeon Museum
The museum is located on Lynde Street, near the heart of downtown Salem. As you enter, you’ll be transported back in time to the 17th century through the museum’s meticulously recreated dungeon setting. The dungeon is designed to resemble the actual confinement space where accused individuals were held during the witch trials.
During the guided tour, costumed actors reenact scenes from the trials, bringing to life the experiences of the accused, the courtroom proceedings, and the subsequent execution of some of those convicted.
Witch Dungeon Museum, 16 Lynde Street
Take the kids to the Good Witch store
Daily activities and events make the Good Witch more than just a store but a fun destination for families visiting Salem with young children. Just walk in for some magical fun, or book an “Experience” for a more in-depth activity. The Good Witch Store is run by Ashley Tina, a former elementary teacher.
Review the content and atmosphere of the Good Witch Store beforehand to determine if it aligns with what you believe is appropriate for your children.
The Good Witch of Salem, 2 North Street
Visit the Hocus Pocus Film Locations
Hocus Pocus, the Halloween favorite starring Bette Midler, is filmed in part in Salem. Take a guided tour of the locations or just check them off yourself as you explore Salem.
- Old Town Hall is in fact Salem’s Old Town Hall in Derby Square.
- Allison’s home – The exterior shots are of the Ropes Mansion.
- Salem Village was filmed at Pioneer Village
- Max and Dani’s House is a private residence, but can be seen (respectfully, at a distance) at 4 Ocean Ave.
- The cemetery scenes were filmed not in Salem but in neighboring Marblehead’s Old Burial Hill.
Take a Ghost Tour in Salem
With Salem’s history of witchcraft and the supernatural, it’s not surprising that ghost tours are a popular activity in the city. Some of the top-rated tours:
The Salem Night Tour: Experienced guides lead you on a lantern-lit walking tour through the city’s eerie streets, sharing stories of haunted houses, local legends, and infamous witch trials.
Black Cat Tours: this local company offers a range of ghost tours that cater to different interests and preferences. Choose from their various tour options, such as the “Haunted Footsteps Ghost Tour” or the “Spirits of the Old Burying Point Cemetery Tour.”
“The Ghosts of Salem Tour” run by Ghost City Tours is suitable for families with younger kids.
Bewitched statue with Elizabeth Montgomery
Last, but not least, every tourist has to take a picture by the Bewitched statue (see my picture above!). It was unveiled in 2005 with a bit of controversy but ultimately has become a popular landmark for locals and visitors alike. The statue depicts the actress Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens, the show’s main character, who was a witch with the ability to perform magic but chose to live a normal life as a suburban housewife.
The controversy: Some critics felt that the statue, with its whimsical portrayal of a witch, undermined the serious nature of the witch trials and the tragic events that occurred in Salem’s past. They also argued that the statue perpetuated the perception of Salem as solely associated with witchcraft, diverting attention from other aspects of Salem’s past.
235 Essex Street
Indulge in High Tea at Jolie Tea Company
For a completely different Salem experience, head to Jolie Tea Company on Derby Street. This charming shop offers a wide selection of teas for your sipping pleasure. You can even create your own blend! (As an afternoon tea lover, I look forward to a visit to Jolie’s!)
Reservations are not required but I’d suggest you call, especially if you’re visiting with a group or you’re interested in the Friday afternoon kids high tea.
Jolie Tea Company, 316 Derby Street
Book a room at the Hawthorne Hotel
The Hawthorne Hotel is a historic landmark located in the center of Salem. The hotel has been welcoming guests since 1925. With its distinct architecture and elegant charm, the Hawthorne Hotel offers a unique blend of historical ambiance and modern comforts.
The hotel’s exterior reflects the classic New England style, featuring brickwork, white columns, and a grand entrance that exudes timeless elegance. Step inside, and you’ll be greeted by a warm and inviting atmosphere. The lobby showcases the hotel’s commitment to preserving its historic character, with vintage furniture, traditional decor, and rich wood accents.
Be sure to check out the Hawthorne hotel even if you’re not staying in the city.
Hawthorne Hotel, 18 Washington Square
Best places to eat in Salem
Salem boasts a vibrant culinary scene that caters to various tastes and preferences. Enjoy clam chowder at a seafood restaurant on Pickering Wharf, traditional food at the Hawthorne Hotel, or a unique pizza option at Flying Saucer Pizza Company.
More suggestions for dining in Salem:
- Ledger Restaurant & Bar:
Located in a former 19th-century savings bank, Ledger offers a unique dining experience with its rustic and elegant ambiance. Enjoy contemporary American cuisine made from locally sourced ingredients.
- Sea Level Oyster Bar:
Situated on Pickering Wharf, Sea Level Oyster Bar is a seafood lover’s paradise. Feast on fresh oysters, succulent lobster rolls, and other delicious seafood delights while enjoying stunning waterfront views. .
- Adea’s Mediterranean Kitchen:
Experience the flavors of the Mediterranean at Adea’s Mediterranean Kitchen. This cozy restaurant serves up delectable dishes inspired by Greek and Lebanese cuisines.
- Howling Wolf Taqueria:
For those craving Mexican cuisine, Howling Wolf Taqueria is a top choice. Enjoy a lively atmosphere and savor mouthwatering tacos, burritos, and quesadillas bursting with flavor.
- Adriatic Restaurant & Bar:
If you’re in the mood for Italian cuisine, head to Adriatic Restaurant & Bar. This family-owned establishment offers a cozy and inviting atmosphere.
- Gulu-Gulu Café:
For a bohemian vibe and a delightful selection of craft beers, coffees, and light bites, Gulu-Gulu Café is the place to be. The café features live music, art exhibits, and a menu that includes sandwiches, salads, and tasty desserts.
Things to do in Salem Massachusetts in October
Salem in October is an extraordinary experience, as the city comes alive with Halloween celebrations and festivities. Known as the “Witch City,” Salem embraces its bewitching reputation this month.
Be advised that Salem in October is VERY busy, and the crowds can be overwhelming. The city is experienced in handling Halloween excitement and offers many family-friendly activities and events. However, as with any crowded tourist destination, it’s always important to take necessary precautions and keep an eye on your children.
Here are some of the fun things to enjoy during Halloween season in Salem:
- October is when Salem’s Haunted Happenings festival takes place, offering a month-long celebration of all things Halloween. The city hosts a variety of events, including street fairs, parades, costume parties, haunted houses, and ghost tours.
- Enjoy Seasonal Decorations: Salem adorns itself with elaborate and festive decorations during October. From storefronts to historic buildings, you’ll find pumpkins, hay bales, and other spooky adornments throughout the city.
- Unique Shopping: Salem’s eclectic shops and boutiques offer a delightful shopping experience, particularly during October. You’ll find costumes, accessories, and decorations for your Halloween celebration.
- Festivals and Events: all month you’ll find live music performances, art exhibits, craft fairs, parties, and culinary events. A few Salem Halloween highlights:
- The Peabody Essex Museum offers spooky events all month including Hocus Pocus nights at the Ropes Mansion.
- The Salem Food Truck Festival and the Salem Arts Festival are both popular events drawing tourists to Salem in October.
- A Halloween Ball is held at the Hawthorne Hotel
- And finally, the month ends with a fireworks display on Halloween night.
Explore Salem through movies and books (a few of the best books on the Salem Witch Trials)
Modern day Salem is a mix of history and folklore. I recommend preparing a bit before your trip to gain an appreciation for what makes Salem unique.
Nathaniel Hawthorne is without doubt Salem’s most famous author. He was born in Salem and grew up in a town steeped in history, witchcraft folklore, and a puritanical past. These influences played a significant role in shaping his writing style and subject matter. Two books I’d recommend by Nathaniel Hawthorne:
- The Scarlet Letter: Set in Puritan-era Salem, the novel explores themes of sin, guilt, and redemption against the backdrop of a judgmental society.
- House of the Seven Gables: Built over an unquiet grave, the House of the Seven Gables carries a dying man’s curse that blights the lives of its residents for over two centuries. Hawthorne drew inspiration for this story of an immorally obtained property from the role his ancestors played in the Salem witch trials.
Best books on the Salem Witch Trials
- Nonfiction –A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience by Emerson W. Baker: Delve into the historical context of the Salem witch trials with this engaging and well-researched account, which offers insights into the social, political, and religious dynamics of the time.
- Fiction –The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent: Based on the author’s own family history, this novel portrays the gripping story of Martha Carrier, who was accused of witchcraft during the Salem witch trials, providing a personal and intimate perspective of the events.
- Fiction – The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe: This historical fiction novel weaves together the stories of an aspiring historian and her ancestor, connecting their lives through a mysterious and powerful book of spells set in Salem.
And for school aged kids:
- What Were the Salem Witch Trials? by Joan Holub
A Witch City Movie Night
- “The Crucible” (1996): Based on Arthur Miller’s play, this film adaptation brings the Salem Witch Trials to life, exploring themes of hysteria, false accusations, and the power of mass manipulation.
- “The Witch” (2015): A chilling horror film set in 17th-century New England, it explores themes of witchcraft, isolation, and religious fervor, immersing viewers in a haunting and atmospheric experience.
And for school aged kids and teens:
- “Hocus Pocus” (1993): While a light-hearted comedy, this cult classic set in Salem during Halloween captures the whimsical spirit of the city and has become a beloved staple of the season.
How to get to Salem
Train – MBTA Commuter Rail – 30 minutes from Boston’s North Station on the Newburyport/Rockport line to Salem Train Station. (Walking distance to the historic areas of Salem)
Car – ~35-60 minutes from Boston (traffic dependent!) Check your GPS for best driving directions as it varies depending on your starting location.
Bus – 56 minutes from Boston -Haymarket to Essex Street. Or, if coming directly from Logan Airport, take the bus from Wood Island near the airport.
Ferry – ~60 minutes from Long Wharf in Boston.
Salem’s’ enchanting blend of history, and culture, makes it one of the top tourist destinations in New England. Whether you’re drawn to the tragic legacy of the witch trials or the rich maritime heritage, Salem offers something for everyone. From historic sites and museums to waterfront promenades and family-friendly parks, there are endless things to do in Salem, Massachusetts. A visit to Salem promises an immersive and unforgettable experience. I hope this article will entice you to visit and enjoy the bewitching charms of Salem.