The Best Way To Spend A Day In Salem, MA, This October

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October is the perfect time to visit Salem, Massachusetts- this town comes alive with colorful fall foliage, cool temperatures, and vibrant energy as the calendar approaches Halloween.

Not to mention, Salem’s annual Haunted Happenings festival is one of the best Halloween celebrations in the United States, lasting the entire month of October. This month-long celebration of all things spooky and supernatural attracts visitors from all over the world, making it the best time to explore this town’s rich history and eerie main attractions

To help you make the most of your day in Salem, also known as the Witch City, I’ve compiled a day-long walking itinerary covering the top things to see and do in this bewitching town. But first, here are a few things to know before you go.

Getting to Salem

You don’t need a car to visit Salem in a day. It is a walkable town, especially during October when many attractions are all set up in one central area. There are multiple public transportation options available from larger cities like Boston, including buses, trains, and the Salem ferry. 

  • Salem Train Station is on the Newburyport/Rockport Line. Trains depart from North Station. A standard one-way ticket costs $8.00, and the ride takes about 30 minutes.
  • Boston Harbor Cruises operates a ferry from Long Wharf to Salem during the summer and fall. It’s a great way to enjoy the scenic route along the Massachusetts coast. An adult one-way ticket costs $25.

Parking in Salem

Parking can be crazy, especially the closer it gets to Halloween. Many roads close to cars because of the increasing foot traffic. If you do bring a car, make sure to arrive early and plan to pay up to $40 a day for a parking spot. There are a few garages that have very reasonable pricing (.25 cents – $1.25 an hour), including the Waterfront Garage on Congress Street near the intersection of Derby Street. Depending on the day you visit, some garages start to charge a flat daily rate or are closed altogether (usually on Halloween weekend). 

The city of Salem has introduced free shuttles between satellite parking locations and downtown Salem on weekends in October. View the city’s parking updates here or here.

Attraction Tickets

Many attractions pop up in Salem during October, on top of the ones that operate seasonally. Most events and activities have various operating schedules that differ from what is listed in Google Maps (and sometimes their own websites). I always recommend to call ahead to get current information. 

Some tours, like the House of the Seven Gables, book up months in advance during weekends (especially Halloween weekend) in October, but many attractions, like the Salem Witch Museum, The Witch House, and Charter Street Cemetery, offer online day of tickets only (but do sell out if you don’t book when they are first released).

There are also haunted houses, fairs, gift shops, pop-up museums, tours, and other Halloween attractions that don’t require advance booking. Plan ahead if you have your heart set on a particular tour or event, especially if you visit during the weekends when Salem is most crowded.

With that said, It is also possible to have a great day in Salem without any tickets or reservations for the tourist attractions. The best way to see what is happening in October in Salem is to visit the Haunted Happening website.

Additionally, expect to pay around $20 per attraction for an adult ticket. Some are less, and some are more. The city does not have a discounted ticket program, and most of the attractions are stand-alone, and do not work with other vendors. The good thing is, when it comes to Salem’s witch trial history, most of the attractions share the same history, just in a slightly different way, so don’t feel you are missing out by just enjoying one or two of these main attractions.

Additional Tips for Visiting Salem in October

Despite how touristy and over-commercialized Salem has become, it is still one of my favorite New England fall towns to explore. There is a lot more to Salem than just the craziness of Essex Street during Halloween and the quirky tourist attractions. It is a year-round destination with a lovely waterfront, a charming historic center, friendly people, and fun activities for all. Whether you are visiting on a day trip from Boston or staying for the weekend, I hope you can appreciate this town for more than its sinister history. Make sure to go beyond the Essex Street Pedestrian area to enjoy more of what Salem has to offer.

On a personal note, while October brings a lot of excitement, remember how tragic The Salem Witch Trials were for the community. There is a lot of fun to be had in Salem in October, but be thoughtful when purchasing apparel or items with logos and cheeky slogans. Some lack respect for the 25 people who lost their lives during that dark time in American history. 

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Day Itinerary for Salem in October

Breakfast 

First, get an early start with breakfast before enjoying this self-guided Salem walking tour. You’ll need some energy while exploring the city of Salem, especially during this time of the year.

There are many coffee shops and breakfast eateries, including Red’s Sandwich Shop, perfect for a hearty breakfast. This family-owned establishment has been serving delicious breakfast options since 1945, and its extensive menu offers a wide variety of choices, including omelets, pancakes, and their famous corned beef hash. 

If you are looking for fresh baked goods, simple sandwiches, and housemade loaves, try A & J King Artisan Bakers. There are two locations in Salem, 48 Central Street is centrally located to all the October action and is the one that offers breakfast sandwiches. Other breakfast options include Gulu-Gulu Cafe and the Ugly Mug Diner, all great options for a morning brew and tasty eats….but lines do form so get there early!

Peabody Essex Museum

After breakfast, kick off your day in Salem on Essex Street with a visit to the Peabody Essex Museum, one of the oldest and most prestigious art museums in the United States. This museum has an impressive collection of artwork, artifacts, and historical objects from around the world, including a fascinating exhibit on the Salem witch trials. There’s much to see at the Peabody, so plan to explore for at least an hour!

Before you leave, be sure to stop into the museum’s 5,000-square-foot garden. With lush plant life and a cascading water feature, this is one of the most tranquil places in Salem, Massachusetts.

Hawthorne Hotel

On your way out of the Peabody Essex Museum, head to the Hawthorne Hotel down the street. Established in 1925, this hotel has hosted numerous famous guests and offers a unique blend of old-world charm and modern amenities. With historic and elegant accommodations in the heart of Salem, this is also a great place to stay if you’re here for an entire weekend (and have the budget-prices skyrocket in October). 

If you have time to return, come back to dine at the hotel’s restaurant, Nathaniel’s Restaurant, which has a fun 1920s vibe. Alternatively, the onsite tavern is super cozy, serving award-winning cocktails. 

Salem Witch Museum

The Salem Witch Museum is just across the street from the Hawthorne Hotel. It is a popular attraction in October and one of the best things to do for anyone interested in the history of the Salem Witch Trials. 

This museum offers an immersive and educational experience, with exhibits that provide an overview of the events that took place in 1692. Through a combination of life-size figures, lighting, and narration, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of this dark chapter in American history. If you decide to stop here, plan to stay for about an hour.

Salem Common

Next up stroll through Salem Common and enjoy the Haunted Happenings Halloween carnival. This is a historic public park that dates back to the 17th century. The picturesque green space is the perfect place to relax, grab some fair food, and people-watch.

For a mid-morning pick-me-up, Brew Box on Essex is one of the best options as you head to the park. This cozy coffee shop offers a variety of specialty coffee drinks, teas, and pastries so you can stay fueled until lunch!

House of the Seven Gables

Take a quick ten-minute stroll from Salem Common to the House of the Seven Gables, a 17th-century mansion that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel of the same name. You can take a 45-minute guided tour of the house to learn about its history and connection to the Salem witch trials or just enjoy the beautiful gardens surrounding the property. This is one of the most popular attractions in Salem, and tours do sell out on busy October weekends, so book ahead if you want to visit.

Note: A tour is the only way to see the front of the house as street views are limited

Maritime Historic Site

Continue your walking tour towards the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, about five minutes from the House of the Seven Gables. This site is located along the waterfront, offering a glimpse into the town’s maritime history. Here, you can tour historic buildings, visit the Friendship of Salem replica ship, and learn about the town’s role in the global maritime trade.

Lunch

It’s not a trip to New England unless you’ve sampled some fresh seafood! So, when it’s time for lunch, continue walking along the waterfront and make your way to the Sea Level Oyster Bar, only a few minutes from the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. 

As one of the best seafood eateries in Salem, this popular eatery offers stunning harbor views. Enjoy fresh seafood dishes, including clam chowder, lobster rolls, popcorn shrimp, chowder fries, and a raw bar featuring a variety of oysters, clams, and shrimp. 

If you are not into seafood, other nearby options include Witch’s Brew Cafe and Longboards for American or Paprika Grill for Mediterranean food.

Salem Witch Village

After a delicious lunch by the water, dive deeper into the town’s witchy history with a visit to the Salem Witch Village, another optional tourist attraction, where you can enjoy a guided tour and learn about the myths and realities of witchcraft in 17th-century Salem. Only two minutes from Sea Level Oyster Bar, this interactive attraction is educational and entertaining and includes the Salem Wax Museum, another unique attraction, depicting scenes from local history. During certain weekends in October, the Witch Village transforms into a Haunted House.

My favorite landmark is next. If you enjoy Salem history, this one should be high on your list of things to see in Salem, and is just a short walk away from the Witch Village.

Witch Trials Memorial

The Salem Witch Trials Memorial is a welcomed tribute to the 20 innocent people (19 hanged, one pressed to death) executed during the infamous trials. Take a few minutes to reflect on this tragic chapter in American history as you read the names of the victims carved on the memorial’s stone benches. There are often personal notes from family members and tokens left behind on the stones in remembrance. 

Charter Street Cemetery

Surrounding this memorial is the Old Burying Point Cemetery, also known as Charter Street Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in the United States and the oldest cemetery in Salem. Here, you’ll find the graves of several notable Salem residents, including some of the town’s earliest settlers and a few of the infamous judges who presided over the witch trials, including Judge John Hathorne.

It is free to walk through the Cementary, but in October, you will need a timed reservation bookable via their website.

The Charter Street cemetery is part of the Charter Street Historic District, so after exploring Old Burying Point, take some time to wander around. The neighborhood encompasses just three properties on Charter Street, but they are all significant landmarks in their own right. The Pickman House, the Grimshawe House, and the Charter Street Cemetery are all included in this district. 

Historic District

The architecture in the Charter Street Historic District is also a draw for visitors. Nine different architectural styles, including Gothic Revival and Federal, are represented within the area. The Grimshawe House, in particular, is a stunning example of Federal-style architecture. 

This district’s buildings are protected by the Salem Historical Commission’s Design Guidelines, which aim to preserve and protect the distinctive characteristics of buildings and sites within the city’s local historic districts.

Old Town Hall

As you walk through Salem, make a quick stop at Old Town Hall, a beautiful example of Federal-style architecture dating back to the early 19th century. This historic building now serves as a venue for local events and performances (also known as the Halloween Ball location from Hocus Pocus) so be sure to check the schedule for any special happenings during your visit.

From the Old Town Hall, you can make several optional stops depending on your interests and how much time you’ve got.

Witch History Museum

If you didn’t visit the Salem Witch Museum earlier in the day, you may want to stop at the Witch History Museum. This presentation will take you deeper into the stories of the accused and the accusers, providing a more intimate look at the lives of those involved in the trials with a live tour guide. They have live performances mixed with mannequin presentations.

The Witch History Museum is very similar to the Salem Witch Museum (if you couldn’t guess by the name) so there is no need to do both. The Witch Museum is a bit longer of an experience and has a gift shop apart of the tour. The History Museum is smaller and not as crowded but offers a live tour guide, which could make or break the experience. To be honest, I wouldn’t do either one again, but I enjoyed the live guided tour of the History Museum because I love to ask questions.

Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery

Another optional stop is Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery, a unique wax museum showcasing life-size figures of iconic horror movie characters, as well as a wealth of memorabilia and artwork. If you love horror movies or want a fun way to celebrate the Halloween season, this gallery is a must-visit in Salem. 

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Joshua Ward House

Just down the street from Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery is the Joshua Ward House – a historic building with a chilling past. Not only is this an excellent example of Federal-style architecture, but it also has a history deeply entwined with the Salem witch trials. Constructed on the site of the former home of George Corwin, the infamous High Sheriff during the Salem Witch Trials, this house is believed to be haunted by the spirits of those executed under Corwin’s watch.

Next door to the Joshua Ward House is HausWitch Home + Healing, a gift shop and metaphysical supply store featuring works by local artists. It’s one of my favorites in town and worth a stop if you’re looking for souvenirs or gifts from your day in Salem that aren’t tacky.

statue of a woman riding a broom sitting on a crescent moon

Bewitched Sculpture

Next up, meander down Essex street enjoying the live music, street performers, psychic readings, local artists, and other special events that pop up in downtown Salem during October.

Make sure to stop and take a picture with the Bewitched Sculpture, a whimsical tribute to the popular 1960s television show “Bewitched.” This bronze statue, located on Washington Street, depicts actress Elizabeth Montgomery as her character Samantha Stephens, riding a broomstick with a crescent moon backdrop. It’s a fun photo opportunity for fans of the show but somewhat controversial for the locals who feel it adds to the commercialization of the dark history of the town. 

Witch Dungeon Museum

Next up for more retelling of the witch trials, head to the Witch Dungeon Museum along Lynde Street. Although reviews of this attraction are mixed, it promises to transport you back to the peak of the Salem witch trials. Witness a live trial reenactment, explore a recreated dungeon, and learn about the hysteria that gripped the town in 1692. Live actors dressed in period attire reenact the trials with scripts based on the actual trial transcripts, you’ll gain a new understanding of this dark historical period. If you want a real-life experience of the Salem witch trials, this is one of the best places to visit. 

If you have had enough history and witch stories for the day, skip the entrance fee and take a keepsake photo in the pillory set up out front before heading to your next destination. 

Grey historic three story mansion

Salem Witch House

Just a short walk away is another must-visit attraction, the Salem Witch House, also known as the Judge Jonathan Corwin House, the only building in Salem with direct ties to the witch trials. This 17th-century home once belonged to Judge Jonathan Corwin, who played a vital role in the trials. Take a guided tour of this historic home to learn about its intriguing history and the people who lived there. Your tour guide will explain the details of domestic life at that time, and you’ll witness period-specific furnishings and architectural details. The short $9.00 tours do require advanced booking during October. 

Ropes Mansion

As you keep strolling through the charming streets of Salem, be sure to explore the McIntire Historic District, known for its stunning examples of Federal-style architecture and historic houses. One highlight of the district is the Ropes Mansion, an 18th-century home that is now a museum showcasing period furnishings and artwork. It is on the same street as the Witch House, only a short walk away.

The Ropes Mansion’s Georgian architecture, ornate rooms, stately decor, and lovely surrounding gardens make this a must-stop in Salem. It was also featured in the 1993 movie, Hocus Pocus as Allison’s House. After sunset, during the month of October, its windows light up in red!

Stephen Philips House 

If you’ve got some extra time (and the sun has not set yet), stop by the Phillips House, a historic mansion dating back to the 19th century showcasing the grandiose lifestyle of a well-off Salem family. It is located along one of the prettiest streets in America, Chestnut Street. During October, this tree-lined street shows off with shades of vibrant golden yellow. Even if you don’t tour the Philips House a walk along Chestnut Street is one of the best things to do on a day trip to Salem in October. 

grey wooden mansion

Pickering House

If you love architecture, wrap up your historic walking tour with a visit to The Pickering House, one of the oldest homes in the United States. This 17th-century house has been lovingly preserved and offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the Pickering family, who lived in this home for over three centuries. Enjoy First Period craftsmanship, Gothic Revival, and Colonial Revival elements throughout this property. 

Dinner

At this point, you’re probably starving, so head back toward the center of town to grab a table at the Ledger Restaurant. Housed in a former bank building, this unique restaurant serves modern cuisine in a stylish and trendy space. The menu boasts a variety of entrees made with locally sourced ingredients, including fresh seafood, steaks, and handmade pasta. Plus, their homemade donuts are a fan favorite! 

With its elegant ambiance and exceptional service, Ledger Restaurant is a great spot to enjoy Salem’s energy and culture.

A few other popular restaurants perfect for dinner include Turner’s Seafood, Settler, Howling Wolf, Mercy Tavern and Boston Burger Company. Call ahead for reservations, as October is the busiest month in Salem, especially near Halloween.

After dark, if you still have some energy, head back down Essex Street, where the street performers and live music really start to show off. You can also book a walking tour after dark if you are still craving a bit more insight into the town’s history. Although many of the places on the walking tour overlap with what you just did, some of the tour guides are highly entertaining. I enjoyed my walking tour with Tom from Satanic Salem Walking Tours. He brought a unique personality and perspective to the repetitive history I experienced during the day. 

Additional Attractions in Salem

If you are visiting Salem for a few days and have access to a car, there are several other fantastic places to explore in the area.

Pioneer Village

Step back in time to the 1600s and experience the life of the early English settlers at Pioneer Village, Salem’s living history museum. Nestled in the picturesque Forest River Park, this enchanting village offers a unique glimpse into the daily lives of the first settlers who arrived in New England in the early 17th century. 

From historically accurate homes and gardens to engaging activities and events, Pioneer Village is a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts and curious travelers. Make sure to confirm current operating hours before visiting.

After you’ve had your fill of history at Pioneer Village, take some time to explore the beautiful Forest River Park. With its scenic walking trails, playgrounds, and stunning views of Salem Harbor, it’s the perfect place to unwind and enjoy the beauty of Massachusetts.

Salem Willows Park

Salem Willows Park is a charming waterfront park in Salem, Massachusetts, with a rich history dating back to 1858. Named after the European white willow trees planted in 1801, the park was initially designed as a shaded walkway for patients at a nearby smallpox hospital. Through the years, this park has become a popular destination for those needing a break from the bustling city life of Boston. 

Today, visitors can enjoy the park’s historic carousel, kiddie rides, arcades, and a variety of restaurants serving pizza, seafood, and ice cream. This park also hosts several events throughout the year, such as the North Shore Concert Band performances.

Winter Island Park

Just a few minutes from Salem Willow Park, Winter Island Park is another beautiful outdoor destination, especially in fall. This waterfront park offers stunning views of Salem Harbor and is home to a beach, a campground, and the Fort Pickering Lighthouse. The campground accommodates tents, campers, and RVs, making it the closest campground to Boston on the North Shore. 

Winter Island Park is not only an excellent place to relax and connect with nature but also has a variety of recreational activities, like boating, fishing, and exploring the old fort remnants. In the warmer summer months, you can also take a dip in this park’s public beach.

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If you followed this guide, you had a full day, soaking in the best of Salem. Don’t feel like you have to do it all in a day as there is plenty to keep you busy in Salem for weeks. Half the fun of visiting Salem in October is the excitement around Halloween, the people watching, and quirky activities and events happening around town. No matter what you do on your day trip to Salem, I hope you enjoy the town as much as I do!

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Sam wearing backpack and hat walking through town.

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