Last Updated on March 2, 2023
A small town located 40 miles north of Boston, Salem sees more than a million visitors every year. The reason is simple: Salem was the site of one of the most infamous chapters in early-American history. The Salem witch trials of 1692-1693 saw what mass hysteria can do when harnessed by the greedy and powerful. When all was said and done, more than 200 people were accused of witchcraft, 30 were found guilty, and more than 20 died either by hanging or from languishing in jail.
Rather than try and run from the past, Salem embraces its dark and sinister heritage, for better or for worse. Given the amount of money local businesses make from tourism every year, it’s no surprise!
If you’re thinking about visiting Salem, the first thing you need to do is decide whether or not you want to be there for Halloween. It’s kind of like being in Times Square for New Year’s Eve. If that’s the goal, you need to plan months in advance. You should also be ready for the crowds.
Whether you’re visiting during the spooky time of year or choosing to go when it’s less crowded, the following are five factors to consider:
As a centerpoint for tourism, Salem and the surrounding area have several fine hotels. The hotels in Salem range from humble bed-and-breakfasts to standard chains. If you hope to book a room in one of the more historic options, early planning will be required no matter what time of year you visit. Fortunately, the more standard options like Hampton Inn tend to have plenty of availability during the spring and summer. As always, check the location of the hotel before booking to ensure it’s reasonably situated close to the museums and other attractions you plan to visit.
If you’re able to book a room within the Salem area, walking will be the best way to get around town. The town also has a trolley, though it’s more of a tour-based experience than a functional mode of transportation. Those staying in Boston can travel to Salem in several ways. They can get there by car, take MBTA buses, or ride MBTA commuter trains. All provide fast and reliable ways to travel between Boston and Salem.
Whether you need quick service or fine dining, Salem has several high-rated options to choose from. New England Soup Factory and Clam Shack are top recommendations for quick service, while those looking for traditional dining should check out Turner’s Seafood and The Tavern. Again, busy times of year call for booking a table days or even weeks in advance, so keep that in mind before having your heart set on that award-winning lobster bisque!
Attractions in Salem
It’s no surprise most attractions in Salem center around the witch hysteria of the 17th century. The Salem Witch Museum and Salem Witch Trial Memorial are certainly worth a visit. However, there’s more than spooky stuff to see and do. The Peabody Essex Museum features a vast collection of Asian artwork as well as those from a variety of American artists. American literature buffs may also want to stop by the House of the Seven Gables, made famous by the Nathaniel Hawethorn novel of the same name.
Shopping in Salem
As a town synonymous with spooky legends and horror stories, it’s no surprise most shops in Salem make a point to keep plenty of witchcraft-related knick-knacks novelties in stock. While most of it is kitsch, some of the things you find may catch your eye, such as Salem-themed t-shirts and other gifts for people back home. The pedestrian mall along Essex includes a variety of shops specializing in everything from housewares to clothing, providing an alternative to the more touristy shops wedged in between.
If there’s one good thing that came from the tragedy of the Salem witch trials, it’s the tough lessons we learned regarding the worst parts of our nature. Rather than pretending it never happened, those in Salem choose to embrace it as a morbidly fascinating chapter of their town’s past.
Julie Steinbeck is a freelance writer from Florida. She enjoys covering topics related to business, finance, and travel.
Photo Credit: All images used via Flickr’s Creative Commons Licensing. (1) Halloween in Salem by Massachusetts Office Of Tourism; (2) Salem by Amy Meredith; (3) Salem by Yawnn
Friday 16th of September 2022
can you recommend a travel guide for salem?
Friday 14th of October 2022
Here's a great overview that has all the things to do and see in Salem; and here's a 1-day Salem itinerary. If you're looking for a guided tour in Salem, check out all the available Salem tours on GetyourGuide.