Last Updated on September 5, 2023
A small town located 40 miles north of Boston, 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. These days, Salem is a quaint little town (population 44,000) with less spectacular things going on, and yet, nearly a million people visit Salem every year. And almost all of them travel to Salem in October, which means it gets crazy busy there around Halloween!
Salem embraces its dark and sinister heritage, rather than try and run from the past. Given the amount of money local businesses make from tourism every year, it’s no surprise! However touristy Salem may feel – it is definitely worth visiting if you’re interested in learning more about the 1692 witch trials that put the spotlight on Salem.
Whether you’re visiting during the spooky time of year or choosing to go when it’s less crowded, the following things are worth knowing when planning a trip to Salem:
Things to know when planning a trip to Salem
When to visit Salem
If you’re thinking about taking a trip to 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. That’s because Halloween happens to in the same month that sees a lot of visitors travel to New England to see the fall foliage, and Salem makes for the perfect side trip from Boston or even from the Mohawk Trail.
Warning: If you do plan a trip to Salem in October (especially on a weekend!), get ready for long lines, bring patience, be aware that finding parking may be a struggle, and remind yourself that you chose to visit during this time of year. Note that Salem is considerably less busy on weekdays.
Tip: If you’re eager to learn about the witchcraft trials, but you’re not a fan of crowds, I’d recommend visiting not in October. If you do enjoy a spooky atmosphere, visit just after Halloween, when most of the decorations are still up, but the crowds are gone. The moody November weather contributes to the atmosphere.
My other tip would be to visit Salem in September instead of October, because most of the Halloween stuff starts going up early in Salem.
Transportation to and within Salem
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.
Boston to Salem
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. There are also organized day trips via ferry – which is the most scenic route (see below for more details).
If you visit Salem outside of October, you shouldn’t have problems finding parking. On October weekends, visitors are encouraged to park in satellite parking lots on the outskirt of town and take a free shuttle service to Downtown Salem. You can find more information about the free parking lots and shuttle here.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, also known as MBTA or by the locals simply referred to as the T, has commuter trains running between Boston and Salem every hour. The journey takes 30-35 minutes and a ticket is $8. Trains depart from Boston’s North Station, and the line you’re looking to take is the Newbury/Rockport Line.
If you want to take the scenic route, take the ferry! The ferry from Boston to Salem takes about 50 minutes, and there’s a cash bar on board to make the ride even sweeter. The ferries leave from Long Wharf in Boston and arrive in Salem at the Salem Wharf at 10 Blaney Street. The first ferry departs Boston at 9:30am – you can check ferry times and book your tickets here.
If you are on a very tight budget, you can also take a bus from Boston to Salem. The tickets are just over $4, and the ride takes about 75 minutes. Route 450 leaves from Congress Street at Haymarket Station and runs every 35 – 45 mins. Even though this is the cheapest way to get from Boston to Salem, I’d recommend taking the train, which is also inexpensive but only takes half an hour.
Organized tours from Boston to Salem
If you don’t want to deal with getting to Salem on your own, you can book an organized day trip from Boston to Salem. Organized tours cost $119 and take you to Salem on the ferry! These guided trips include admission to the Witch Museum and a tour guide who will tell you everything you need to know about the 1692 Witch Trials. The tour also includes a visit to the Salem Witch Trial Memorial, the Burying Point, and there’s time to roam the streets of Salem to admire the quirky storefronts and historic homes, and visit other sights such as the Bewitched Statue and Ropes Mansion (the setting of Hocus Pocus).
Book a guided day trip from Boston to Salem here.
Attractions in Salem
It’s no surprise most attractions in Salem center around the witch hysteria of the 17th century. The Salem Witch Museum ($17.50) and Salem Witch Trial Memorial (24 Liberty Street, Salem, free to visit) are certainly worth a visit. There’s also the Burial Point Cemetery, which is, apparently a place known for paranormal activity, but also a burial ground with 700 headstones and 17 box tombs dating back to the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The Witch Dungeon Museum (open 1 April -30 November 30th) has live re-enactments of the Salem Witch Trials. Check the schedule here.
However, there’s more than spooky stuff to see and do in Salem. Pioneer Village (aka Salem 1630) is the first living history museum in the U.S. and shows you what life in Salem in the 17th century looked like. Admission is only $5 and a visit is well worth your time. The excellent Peabody Essex Museum (oldest continuously operating museum in the U.S.!) features a vast collection of artwork and architecture (including a 200-year-old house from China). Fans of American literature may also want to stop by the House of the Seven Gables, a 1668 colonial mansion made famous by the Nathaniel Hawthorn novel of the same name. Guided tours are $25.
The best-rated tours in Salem
There are plenty of guided tours in Salem that focus on the witchcraft trials and the fascinating history of this little town. There are also a number of ghost tours and a tour that focuses on Hocus Pocus and other movies filmed in Salem. Check out the top-rated tours in Salem:
- 1692 Witchcraft Trials Walk (from $25; duration 90 mins)
- Secrets of Salem Hidden History Walking Tour (from $32; duration 2 hours)
- Hocus Pocus Movies and More Tour ($25; duration 90 mins)
- Salem: Haunt and History Guided Night Tour (from $26; duration 90 mins)
- Voodoo, Vampires, and Ghosts Guided Tour (from $25; duration 90 mins)
- Ghosts of Salem Walking Tour (from $25; duration 90 mins)
- Boos and Brews Haunted Pub Crawl (from $35; duration 2 hours)
Haunted Houses in Salem (Seasonal)
There are a number of haunted houses in Salem – and some of them are NOT limited to spooky season! If you are planning to visit Salem in October, make sure that you book your tickets in advance.
- Witch Mansion – Open May through October, and every day/night in October. Admission: $13 adults/ $10 children.
- Chambers Of Horror – Open Mid-September through the end of October, noon to 10pm. $15 adults / $10 children.
- Frankenstein’s Castle – Open daily 12-4 pm in July and August and daily 10 am-10 pm in October. Price: $12 adults / $10 youth & seniors.
- Haunted Witch Village – Open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am – 10pm in October. The haunted witch village is part of the Salem Wax Museum, which also includes the above mentioned Frankenstein’s Castle. Check out combo tickets for both here.
Hocus Pocus Sites in Salem
If you’re a fan of the movie Hocus Pocus, add these places to your itinerary, or take a guided Hocus Pocus Tour:
- Max and Dani’s House is at 4 Ocean Avenue.
- Allison’s House is the Ropes Mansion (318 Essex Street): This Georgian Colonial mansion is operated by the Peabody Essex Museum and open to the public. You can buy tickets here.
- The Old Town Hall (32 Derby Square) is where the Halloween party took place in the movie
- Pioneer Village, also known as Salem 1630, is where the beginning of movie with Binx and Emily was filmed
- Salem Common is where Max flirts with Allison
- Phillips Elementary School, on South Washington Square, just off Salem Common, is the Hocus Pocus High School
- Old Burial Hill Cemetery in nearby Marblehead is the cemetery in the movie. Marblehead is about a 20-min drive from Salem.
Where to eat in 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 (inside the Hawthorne Hotel). Ye Olde Pepper Companie is a must-visit place for candy and chocolate lovers. 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!
Here are some of the best places for breakfast, beer, and lunch:
- Notch Brewing – craft brewery with a nice riverside garden
- Ugly Mug Diner – classic diner food, but they especially known for their breakfast menu
- Gulu Gulu Cafe – a lovely coffeehouse right by the Bewitched sculpture
- Fountain Place – excellent place for breakfast & lunch
- Finz Seafood & Grill – seafood restaurant right on the waterfront
- Longboards – American food at Pickering Wharf
- Ledger – best option for an upscale meal (reservations necessary)
- Rockafellas Of Salem – casual restaurant in a 19th century historic building
- Howling Wolf Taqueria – Salem’s best Mexican restaurant
As a center point 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.
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.
Here are some shops that stand out:
- Hex: Old World Witchery – Spell kits, books about witchcraft & sorcery, potions, divination tools, jewelry and much more
- HausWitch Home + Healing – Urban boutique with vintage & secondhand furnishings, Salem souvenirs, witchy and handmade products from New England
- Emporium 32 – Vintage lifestyle boutique selling handmade jewelry, enamel pins, home decor, beard/moustache care, and more
- Die With Your Boots On – Weird fashion for weird people is their slogan, but they have lots of goth-inspired clothing & cool outfits for Halloween
- Modern Millie – Vintage Clothing
- Wicked Good Books – Salem’s prime indie bookstore
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.