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Although Salem, Massachusetts, is best known for the tragic Witch Trials of 1692, which claimed the lives of 25 innocent people, Salem was also a thriving port town and one of the richest cities in the United States from the late 1700s to the early 1800s. Over the years, Salem has become known as the “Witch City” and a thriving tourist town, especially come October. Salem’s unique blend of history, culture, and deep-rooted connection to the witch trials make it a fascinating destination for those interested in American history, maritime heritage, and Halloween celebrations.
There are plenty of historic, creative and unique things to do in Salem, which also makes a great day trip from Boston! Many tourists get stuck wandering down Essex street, Salem’s main drag but there is more to explore beyond this touristy center.
If you’re a Halloween enthusiast, head to Salem during the month of October to enjoy Haunted Happenings, the largest Halloween celebration in the world. Enjoy the lively atmosphere of thousands of visitors in costumes, in addition to parades, vendor fairs, walking tours, street parties, and special events. Be warned, hotel prices skyrocket and parking is very competitive but if you are a Halloween lover, it is one of the best things to do in Salem!
Salem is a year round town with high season in summer and fall. If you are visiting during Halloween you’ll see additional events pop up through the month of October but there are many attractions open year round that can be explored in a day. Keep reading for some of the best things to do in Salem, no matter when you visit.
Peabody Essex Museum
Being one of the oldest continuously operating and expanding art museums in the United States, the Peabody Essex Museum boasts an art collection that’s as eclectic as it is vast. From contemporary masterpieces and maritime art to historical artifacts and an array of Asian and Native American works, this museum paints a diverse tapestry of global culture and history.
Stepping inside, you’ll see a variety of artworks from around the world. Marvel at Chinese Qing Dynasty temple figures, admire intricate Indian sculptures, and lose yourself in the fine details of Japanese scrolls.
When it’s time to catch your breath, retreat to the serenity of the museum’s 5,000 square foot garden. This tranquil sanctuary, with various shrubs, trees, flowers, and a cascading water feature, is one of the most relaxing Salem, Massachusetts things to do.
Salem Witch Museum
The Salem Witch Museum, a significant part of Salem’s historical fabric and one of the most popular things to do in Salem, invites you to step back into 1692 – a year of dread, suspicion, and mass hysteria that marked the Salem witch trials.
Venture into the museum’s shadowy confines, past the gift shop filled with fascinating memorabilia, and you’re transported into one of the darkest chapters of American history. The museum brings the witch trials to life with life-size figures, dramatic lighting, and chilling narratives. It’s an unnerving and evocative portrayal of a community gripped by paranoia, nestled amongst the historic buildings of Salem.
The museum also offers insights into how society’s view of witches and witchcraft has evolved over time, dissecting the truth behind the stereotypes and shedding light on modern witchcraft practices.
Salem Maritime National Historic Site
When it comes to Salem, Massachusetts things to do, your itinerary wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. One of the first national historic sites, this area takes you on a captivating journey into Salem’s maritime past. Spread over nine waterfront acres, you’ll experience a blend of historic buildings, picturesque views, and a replica of the 1797 merchant ship – the Friendship.
Here, you can venture on a self-guided tour and walk the same ground once trodden by sailors, privateers, and merchants who shaped Salem’s maritime history. Don’t miss the Custom House, where Nathaniel Hawthorne’s imagination birthed The Scarlet Letter, or the Derby House, the oldest brick house in Salem and once the abode of America’s first millionaire, Elias Hasket Derby.
House of the Seven Gables
Not far from the historic site is another attraction that must be on your list of Salem, Massachusetts things to do – the famous House of the Seven Gables. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The House of the Seven Gables, was inspired and named after this structure. As one of the oldest wooden mansions in New England, the house serves as a living testament to the region’s colonial era.
Explore the rooms of this mansion, also known as the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, on a guided tour, each step echoing off the centuries-old floors. The architectural wonders of the house, including the seven gables, will captivate you. Nearby, you’ll find the birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne himself. This modest home, where the author was born in 1804, has been relocated twice in the name of preservation and now stands on the grounds of the House of the Seven Gables.
Don’t forget to retreat to the beautiful seaside gardens for a moment of quiet contemplation. These Colonial Revival-style gardens come alive with heirloom plants, reviving the charm of a traditional 17th-century garden. Before leaving, visit the gift shop with its eclectic selection of books, jewelry, and handcrafted keepsakes.
Located within Salem’s McIntire Historic District, this proud representation of Georgian architecture is an enduring symbol of Salem’s historical legacy and even found fame on the silver screen in the film Hocus Pocus.
The Ropes Mansion‘s craftsmanship, a relic of an era long past, will leave you in awe. The expansive rooms, adorned with intricate woodwork and stately decor, exude affluence and grandeur. After traversing through the mansion, the surrounding gardens offer an idyllic retreat reflecting the aesthetic sensibilities of 18th-century landscape design.
Joshua Ward House
The Joshua Ward House, a striking specimen of Federal-style architecture, looms over the Salem landscape with its robust, three-story brick exterior. But beyond its architectural allure, the house harbors a dark history, deeply entwined with the infamous Salem Witch Trials.
It stands on the very site where George Corwin, the notorious sheriff, once resided. Corwin, known for his ruthless treatment of those accused of witchcraft during the trials, cast a long and grim shadow over this place. Today, a visit to the Joshua Ward House is a journey into that chilling past, an exploration of the haunting tales that still linger in its corridors.
Salem Witch House
Wrapped in an aura of mystery and history, the Salem Witch House, also known as the Jonathan Corwin House, stands out in stark contrast to its surroundings. It’s a haunting monument to Salem’s past, holding the unique title as the only remaining building in Salem linked directly to the Witch Trials of 1692. This foreboding structure was home to Judge Jonathan Corwin, one of the key figures in the trials, serving as a tangible reminder of a turbulent chapter in Salem’s history.
Step inside, and you are transported back to the 17th century. A guided tour lets you wander through the rooms where Judge Corwin once dwelled, offering a peek into the daily routines of a well-to-do resident of that era. This journey transcends the infamous witch trials, delving into the details of domestic life, and showcasing the architectural details and period-specific furnishings of the time.
Historic Chestnut Street
Voted one of the most beautiful streets in America, Chestnut Street and its neighboring historic district is a must-see in Salem. It was built between 1796 and 1805 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. It is home to Hamilton Hall, one of the finest Federal buildings in America and the Philips House, a beautiful Mansion open for tours. A simple stroll down this tree-lined street is even more magical when visiting Salem in October.
The Phillips House
Perched on charming Chestnut Street, the Stephen Phillips House is a living testament to Salem’s prosperous past. This house, a jewel from the 19th century, showcases the opulent lifestyle of a well-off Salem family across generations.
Within its walls, time seems to have stood still. The house, still adorned with original furnishings and family memorabilia, offers an atmosphere of authenticity.
Salem Witch Trials Memorial
Tucked away on Liberty Street, the Salem Witch Trials Memorial stands as a somber tribute to a tragic period in American history. This solemn site is dedicated to remembering and honoring those innocent lives lost amidst the witch trials’ hysteria.
As you stroll through the memorial, you’ll encounter twenty stone benches. Each bench, engraved with the name and execution date of one of the victims, is a silent and powerful reminder of the injustice suffered during the witch trials.
Charter Street Cemetery
This graveyard, tucked neatly behind the Peabody Essex Museum and adjacent to the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, is one of the best things to do in Salem. Situated along Charter Street, the Charter Street Cemetery, also known as Old Burying Point Cemetery, silently narrates tales of Salem’s storied past. As the city’s oldest cemetery and one of the oldest in the country, it is the chosen final resting place of several eminent Salem personalities, ranging from a Mayflower pilgrim to judges from the witch trials including the Judge John Hathorne Grave.
Salem Witch Village
Dive headfirst into the intriguing universe of witchcraft across the centuries at the Salem Witch Village. Through immersive guided tours, you’ll gain insights into societal attitudes and actions towards witches in history, juxtaposed with the present-day practice of witchcraft. While informative and thought-provoking, these tours also add some fun to understanding Salem’s mystical culture.
Note: You can purchase combined attraction tickets for all the sister sites of the Witch Village on their website
Salem Wax Museum
At the Salem Wax Museum, history takes on a tangible form. Walking through the museum, you’ll encounter a series of life-sized wax figures, each representing an important character from Salem’s past. The experience is more than just a tour; it’s an engaging and interactive journey through history.
Beginning with the founding of Salem in 1626 and extending through the harrowing witch trials, the museum weaves a captivating tale of the city’s past. The lifelike wax figures are set against meticulously detailed backdrops, immersing visitors in an authentic historical experience, fascinating for all ages.
Witch Dungeon Museum
Stepping into the Witch Dungeon Museum is like entering a time capsule. You’ll be plunged into an immersive experience that authentically replicates the chilling ambiance of a witch trial from 1692, complete with a lifelike dungeon. As actors, clothed in the period’s attire, reenact scenes based on actual trial transcripts, the air is thick with the fear and tension that once permeated Salem Village.
This unique approach to storytelling renders the Witch Dungeon Museum one of the most insightful locations to explore in Salem, Massachusetts, for those seeking a real-life understanding of the witch trials.
New England Pirate Museum
A short distance from the Peabody Essex Museum lies the New England Pirate Museum, a treasure chest brimming with maritime lore. Aimed at stirring the imaginations of visitors of all ages, this museum transports you to a time when sea bandits dominated the New England coast.
You’ll traverse a recreated 80-foot dockside village, climb aboard a pirate ship, and wander through a moonlit dock, all the while unveiling the legends of notorious pirates and their hidden loot. This is one of the best Salem, Massachusetts things to do for the entire family!
Howard Street Cemetery
Marking its presence since 1801, Howard Street Cemetery whispers its own eerie tales of Salem’s history. It’s infamously known for its association with Giles Corey, a man who met his tragic end by being pressed to death during the witch trials due to his refusal to enter a plea. Corey is believed to have died on this land, but his actual grave is unmarked and unknown. Local legend insists that Corey’s ghost still roams this cemetery, shrouding it in mystery.
Essex Street Pedestrian Mall
While visiting Witch City, you won’t regret checking out the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall, a bustling area brimming with a myriad of shops, cozy cafes, and landmarks steeped in history. A stroll along its cobblestone pathway can lead to some fantastic finds, like intriguing souvenirs, handcrafted items, and a range of culinary delights. With its seamless fusion of the old and the contemporary, the mall earns its reputation as a must-see spot when visiting Salem.
Winter Island Park
Located in the picturesque Salem Harbor, Winter Island Park gives visitors an ideal setting for relaxation and recreation. This park, home to an RV campsite, the historical Fort Pickering Lighthouse, untouched beaches, and breathtaking views of both Salem and Marblehead, provides a serene retreat from urban life. Whether you fancy a beach-side picnic, exploring the fort, or a peaceful moment amid nature’s beauty, Winter Island Park promises a haven away from the city’s commotion.
Salem Willows Park
Salem Willows Park, adorned with majestic European white willow trees since 1801, offers a visually stunning sanctuary. This historical oceanfront park, beloved by locals, showcases a panoramic view of the Salem harbor and its surrounding landscape.
A plethora of recreational activities, including arcades, picnic spots, and walking trails, make it an ideal venue for family fun. Enjoy a lazy stroll under the tree canopy, partake in a meal with the water as your backdrop, or test your gaming skills at the arcade — Salem Willows Park ensures a day brimming with relaxation.
Witch History Museum
Journey back in time at the Witch History Museum, where the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692 come to life. The museum’s sole purpose is to bring the real individuals and occurrences of the witch trials to the forefront via compelling storytelling, life-sized figures, and meticulous set designs. This museum paints an evocative picture of the witch mania that once engulfed Salem, providing a moving interpretation of this historical episode.
Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery
Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery is more than just a wax museum — it’s a homage to the haunting creatures of horror cinema. This unique gallery showcases over 60 life-sized figures representing spine-chilling characters from classic and modern horror films. Each intricately designed figure embodies the unnerving essence of its character, taking visitors on a chilling expedition through the timeline of horror cinema. This one-of-a-kind gallery is a must-see for horror enthusiasts!
A beacon of historical charm in downtown Salem, the Hawthorne Hotel, named after the esteemed author Nathaniel Hawthorne, is a testament to old-world grandeur harmoniously blended with present-day amenities. More than just a haven for weary explorers, the hotel is a living part of Salem’s rich tapestry. Its tasteful interiors, hospitable ambiance, and prime location serve as an elegant springboard for your Salem adventure.
Salem Art Gallery
Located within The Satanic Temple of Salem, the Salem Art Gallery offers an exhibition space unlike any other, hosting an array of artwork that reflects the unique aesthetic and mission of the temple. The gallery acts as a stimulating cultural epicenter, endorsing artistic creativity and fostering conversations on contemporary Satanism.
Punto Urban Art Museum
Located in Salem’s Point Neighborhood, the Punto Urban Art Museum brings a kaleidoscope of creativity to the cityscape with its open-air gallery. It houses large-scale murals and installations from 35 local and international artists, transforming the neighborhood into a vibrant artistic tapestry. Beyond showcasing Salem’s thriving art scene, the museum is a dynamic social initiative using art as a catalyst for community evolution.
Walking History & Ghost Tours
Because this town is drenched in supernatural lore and ghostly whispers, a ghost tour is a must-do while visiting Salem. These tours delve deep into Salem’s spectral past, guiding visitors through historical hauntings, spine-tingling tales, and locations of documented paranormal occurrences.
Regardless of your views on the supernatural, Salem Ghost Tours or Satanic Salem Walking Tours provide a unique vantage point to explore the town’s shadowy past. Tour guides masterfully intertwine historical events and personal stories, crafting an atmospheric excursion through the town’s ghostly legacy. Walking tours offer a thrilling experience, painting a picture of Salem’s history through a captivatingly eerie lens.
Old Town Hall
The Old Town Hall is the oldest municipal building in Salem, known for its role in the cult-favorite movie Hocus Pocus. Beyond being a Hocus Pocus filming location, the Old Town Hall is a tangible piece of Salem’s architectural legacy, its impressive façade offering a captivating peek into the town’s vibrant history.
Located in Lappin Park along Essex Street, this statue is beloved by tourists but is also the subject of many controversies involving the history of Salem. The 9-foot-tall statue depicts iconic TV witch Samantha Stephens (played by Elizabeth Montgomery) in the hit TV show Bewitched. The show ran from 1964-1972, and the episodes entitled “The Salem Saga” were filmed in Salem. The statue was a gift from the TV Land Corporation and placed on the grounds of what once was the family home of Judge John Hathorne, magistrate of the Salem Witch Trails. Many locals do not feel this statue is a fitting tribute for a town with such a storied past, and it adds to the “tourist trap” label the town has grown into. Despite the controversies, every October, lines form to get a photo with this now iconic landmark.
Crow Haven Corner
With the distinction of being Salem’s earliest witch shop, Crow Haven Corner merges the mystical with the mundane. Offering an extensive selection of witchcraft essentials, from herbs and crystals to candles and spell kits, it beckons visitors to delve into the realm of witchcraft and spirituality. Whether you’re an experienced practitioner or merely intrigued, Crow Haven Corner is one of the best places to seek out a distinctive keepsake or deepen your understanding of witchcraft.
Black Veil Shoppe of Drear & Wonder
While visiting Salem, be sure to check out the Black Veil Shoppe of Drear & Wonder, a boutique tattoo and gift shop celebrated for its unique flair. Home to a skilled group of tattoo artisans adept at crafting captivatingly detailed designs, this is an excellent spot for a permanent souvenir. Beyond its tattoo offerings, this store is a trove of diverse merchandise, including art prints and oddities, satisfying the tastes of those drawn to the gothic and unusual.
Forest River Park
Transport yourself to another era at Forest River Park, housing Pioneer Village, a painstakingly detailed reconstruction of a 1630 Puritan settlement. A stroll through the village is akin to traveling back in time, with its authentic rustic homes and communal areas tucked in a peaceful natural backdrop. Recognized by Hocus Pocus fans as one of the movie’s shooting locations, a visit to Forest River Park provides an exciting dive into history while indulging in the calming allure of its coastal and forested surroundings.
First Church in Salem
The First Church in Salem, located at 316 Essex Street, (next to the Witch House) is an important part of Salem’s religious and cultural heritage. It is one of the oldest Protestant churches in North America, with a rich history dating back to the early 17th century. The church infamously excommunicated Rebecca Nurse and Giles Corey during the Witch Trials of 1692. Some of the trials and examinations of accused witches were conducted in the church’s meetinghouse. It is known for associating with important figures in American history, including the Peabody sisters, Roger Williams and Nathaniel Hawthorne. A semi-guided tour is offered for $10 during certain times of the year. Enjoy the gothic interior, stained glass windows, and stories from the past.
Bridget Bishop’s House
Bridget Bishop’s story sadly ends during the summer of 1692 as the first victim to be tried and executed during the Salem witch trials. She was hanged on June 10, 1692, and her execution marked the beginning of a series of trials and executions that would become infamous in American history. The “Bridget Bishop House,” also known as Lyceum Hall, is now home to Turner’s Seafood, one of the best seafood restaurants in Salem. Although the original building no longer exists, her spirit is said to haunt the grounds that she once owned. Some historians say her accusal may have stemmed from her land ownership and refusal to give it away, as many dominant male Protestants at the time didn’t feel a woman should own land. Despite the tragic circumstances of her death, her memory lives on.
Rebecca Nurse Homestead
The Rebecca Nurse Homestead is a historic site in Danvers, Massachusetts, just outside of Salem. Rebecca Nurse was one of the victims of the Salem witch trials in 1692, and her homestead has been preserved as a historical landmark. It provides a window into the past, allowing visitors to better understand the lives of early American colonists and the events surrounding the witch trials. Her story became a symbol of the hysteria and injustice of the witch trials as many predominate figures spoke out in her defense, attesting to her good character and innocence. Still, she was executed by hanging on Gallows Hill on July 19, 1692. Visitors can take guided tours of the Rebecca Nurse Homestead to learn about the history of the house, its connection to the witch trials and colonial life in the 17th century.
Daniels House Inn
If you love history and First Period architecture, a visit to Salem’s oldest Inn (c1667) is one of the best things to do in Salem! This historic inn holds a deep-rooted history spanning centuries, almost back to Salem’s origin. It is one of the best well-preserved 17th-century buildings in the city and offers guided tours transporting you back in time with an experience involving all the senses. Its long history and immaculately well-preserved original elements will excite the historian in you.
Tucked away on a residential street is Proctor’s Ledge, the actual site where 19 innocent people were executed by hanging after being falsely accused of witchcraft. Proctor’s Ledge was identified as the execution site through extensive research and historical records. It was previously thought to be Gallows Hill, but further investigation and analysis revealed that Proctor’s Ledge was the more likely location. A memorial now exists, serving as a reminder of the dark chapter in American history, where unfounded accusations and mass hysteria led to the unjust persecution and execution of numerous individuals.
Gallows Hill Main Show
For another unique take on Salem’s history, join the crew at Gallows Hill for their main show that brings to life ghosts and witches with special effects and fun for all. It’s an immersive experience offered in summer and fall, with daily showings in October. While there, consider their other experiences, including the Ghosts & Legends Trolley or their newest attraction, the Lost Museum, an underground experience.
Enjoy a tour of the Pickering House, one of the oldest colonial-era houses in the United States. It is also known as the Judge Timothy Pickering House, named after its most famous resident, Judge Timothy Pickering, who was a prominent figure in American history. The house was built in 1651, making it over 350 years old, and it is a well-preserved example of First Period architecture, common in New England during the 17th century.
Salem Pioneer Village
The Salem Pioneer Village is America’s first living history museum, built in 1930 to showcase what life was like in Salem during the 1630s. Explore multiple examples of 17th-century Colonial architecture through dugouts, cottages, gardens, a blacksmith shop, and more. The property offers tours of the 30-acre site on weekends only from 12-4 p.m. It was also featured in the opening scene of the cult classic, Hocus Pocus. The scene features Binx as a human before his cursing as a cat.
Self-Guided Hocus Pocus Movie Location Tour
The iconic movie, Hocus Pocus was filmed in Salem – so if you love this film, you should absolutely visit the filming locations. Start at Pioneer Village, known as “Salem Village” in the movie, where the opening scene was shot. Head to the Governor’s Fair House in Pioneer Square, which is the scene of Thackery Binx’s House.
From there, you can walk 10 mins to see Max and Dani’s house, a private residence at 4 Ocean Ave. Next visit Allison’s house, filmed at the Ropes Mansion; Max and Allison’s school was filmed at Phillips Elementary School on Salem Common, and Old Town Hall at 32 Derby Square is the scene of this movie’s Halloween party.
With so much to do in Salem, MA, you will have no trouble filling your day! Here is a complete one-day walking itinerary if you visit Salem in October. Don’t feel you must do everything on this list to experience the best of Salem. Many of the touristy witch trial attractions share the same history, with the same elements, only in a slightly different way.
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