Located just over 30 minutes north of Boston, Salem is a coastal New England town with quite a bit of history. While it's best known as the site of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, the town was also one of the most prominent seaports in our country’s early days.
From celebrating Halloween during the annual Salem Haunted Happenings to exploring historical landmarks, read on for our recommendations for the best things to do in Salem, Massachusetts.
As you might expect, Salem really knows how go all out for Halloween. In fact, over 250,000 people come to town to partake in the annual Salem Haunted Happenings, a big Halloween celebration that lasts the entire month of October. Events include a festive parade, the Haunted Biz Baz Street Fair, family movie nights on the Common, ghost tours and haunted houses, live music, and lots more. If there’s ever a time to check out Salem, October is when to do it.
Close Out the Year with the Salem Holiday Happenings
The Salem Holiday Happenings event has been around for less time than the Haunted Happenings celebration, but it’s a similar concept with a Christmas twist. Tour historic homes all dolled up for the holiday season, browse stores participating in the holiday window contest, and shop at the Salem Winter Market. Come just after Thanksgiving to see Santa arrive at the Hawthorne Hotel and parade over to Lappin Park for the holiday tree lighting.
The Salem Heritage Trail takes on a similar role as the Freedom Trail in Boston. With a red line as your guide, this walking path (which is also referred to as the "Salem Red Line"), takes you to 127 attractions via three different loops.
For those looking to get the full experience, consider starting at the National Park Service Salem Regional Visitor Center to watch a 27-minute film for a quick overview of Salem's history. From there, you can explore everything from the Peabody Essex Museum and House of Seven Gables to the Salem Witch Museum, First Church, and more.
If you’re visiting Salem, it’s likely you want to learn at least something about the Witch Trials of 1692. At the Salem Witch Museum, you can read up on the mass hysteria, fear, and illness that led to false accusations of witchcraft and sent 150 innocent individuals to prison—19 of whom were hung. While you tour the museum, you will also see the role witch-hunts play in today's society.
The learning doesn't stop here: There’s also an option to take a self-guided tour in and around Salem. More details on that are available here.
The Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, known as The House of the Seven Gables, was built back in 1668 for the head of one of New England’s most well-known maritime families. With many of its original architectural features still in place (including the foundation it was built on), it's one of North America's biggest timber-framed mansions and the inspiration behind Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The House of the Seven Gables."
General admission will get you a 45-minute guided tour, with a visit to the birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne included. Download the app for an audio tour, which will take you through and around the gardens, grounds, and waterfront.
The Peabody Essex Museum was started back in 1799 when the East India Marine Society was founded; the members—each of whom successfully sailed past the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn—brought home all sorts of artifacts from their sailing adventures. Many of these are still on display at the Peabody Essex Museum, along with a variety of galleries with local and worldwide works of art and culture.
Get another taste of Salem's history when you book a night at the Hawthorne Hotel. Since it opened in 1925, this downtown Salem hotel—named after author Nathaniel Hawthorne—has welcomed more than a million guests. The rooms and architecture throughout the hotel still resemble that of the 1920s.
If you plan on staying here, be sure to check out the packages and specials the hotel offers, such as the “Witch Way” package, which comes with tickets to the Salem Witch Museum. The “History and Culture” option, on the other hand, gets you tickets to the House of the Seven Gables.
Whether you’re staying right in Salem or downtown Boston, you can experience both on one trip without even having to rent a car. The Salem Ferry, owned by the City of Salem and operated by Boston Harbor Cruises, makes that possible thanks to their ferry, which takes less than an hour each way. The boat, called the Nathaniel Bowditch, accommodates nearly 150 people and has two decks to enjoy during nice weather.
Spend a Summer Day at the Beach
If you want to stay in Salem but get out of downtown, pack up a towel and head to one of the nearby beaches. Dead Horse Beach is a popular choice, and can be found in Salem Willows, a seaside park with a video arcade. It’s open year-round and offers free parking.