What to See and Do in Salem, Massachusetts
Autumn is the perfect time to head to this New England city.
“Nobody uses their Halloween costumes as much as we do in Salem.”
Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem, wasn’t kidding when she said that to me in a recent interview. On hauntedhappenings.org, a guide to all things Halloween-related in Salem, Mass., there are more than 1,000 events in the month of October and people from all around the world flock to the city in the fall to experience the spooky celebrations.
Located just 45 minutes north of Boston, Salem is best known for the witch trials of 1692 where mass hysteria led to more than 200 people being accused of practicing witchcraft, and ultimately 20 innocent people were executed. The tragedy has led to Salem becoming synonymous with witches and the city has embraced their history by preserving artifacts in museums and offering tours to educate visitors.
If you’re thinking about heading to New England's famous Halloween haunt, start making your reservations now. Approximately 500,000 people visit Salem in October and hotels fill up a year in advance. If you’re lucky to secure a room, here are a few hot spots for your to-do list:
The Witch House
This 17th-century home is the only structure still standing in Salem with direct ties to the witch trials. It was the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin, who served on the court that sent 19 people to the gallows. Today, visitors can tour the home and view the architecture and furnishings up close as well as learn about what life was like for Salem residents in 1692.
Salem Witch Museum
The main presentation at the Salem Witch Museum is the best way to experience what the witch trials of 1692 were like. Using actual trial documents, life-size stage sets, figures and narration, the museum guides visitors through the dramatic events of the time. A second exhibit features live guides as they explain the perceptions of witches, stereotypes and how the phenomenon of witch hunting continues today.
If you grew up in the '60s and '70s you’ll likely remember the TV show Bewitched starring Elizabeth Montgomery, who played the witch Samantha Stephens. During the sixth season, the show ventured from its Hollywood backlot and filmed several episodes in Salem, which Fox calls the beginning of “witch tourism.” In 2005, TV Land marked the 40th anniversary of the sitcom with a statue of Montgomery in Salem’s Lappin Park. Today, the statue is one of the most photographed things in the entire city.
Witch Trials Memorial
The Witch Trials Memorial is a somber reminder of the 20 men and women who lost their lives unjustly in 1692. The memorial features 20 benches inscribed with the names of the accused, the date of their execution and the method.
The Burying Point
The oldest cemetery in Salem and one of the oldest in all of Massachusetts, the Burying Point on Charter Street contains the graves of a Mayflower passenger and witch trial judge John Hathorne. Hathorne’s ancestor, author Nathaniel Hawthorne, used several names from gravestones in his novels, including John Swinnerton, who is featured in The House of the Seven Gables.
The House of the Seven Gables
Built in 1668, The House of the Seven Gables is New England’s oldest wooden mansion and is the setting for Hawthorne’s 1851 novel by the same name. The Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, as it is also known, is a one-of-a-kind historical experience for guests and tours cover architecture, maritime and literary history of Salem.
Bewitched After Dark
There are several walking tours in Salem that will take you around to the city’s most important historical sites and Bewitched After Dark is one of the best. To be clear though, this isn’t a ghost tour. Bewitched After Dark sticks to the facts and guides visitors along to some of Salem’s must-see sites. Tickets are $20 for adults (kids under 7 are free) and the tour is about two hours long.
New England is famous for having stunning fall foliage, and while you’re in Salem you’ll be surrounded by the colors of autumn. According to Fox, the waterfront and Salem common (greenspace downtown) are the best places to do some leaf peeping but you’ll be surrounded by red, orange and yellow hues pretty much everywhere you go.
Peabody Essex Museum
With roots dating back to 1799, the Peabody Essex Museum is one of the oldest museums in the country and houses a fascinating collection of artwork. One exhibit that caught our eye comes from a Metallica guitarist who is perhaps better known for shredding on stage than for collecting art. It's Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammett Collection runs until November 26, 2017, and features 135 works from 20th-century cinema. Tickets are $20 for adults and $12 for kids 16 and under.
You’re going to work up an appetite with all this sightseeing so I asked Fox for some of her go-to restaurants in town. Here’s what she recommended:
Breakfast: "Gulu-Gulu Cafe. It’s a European-style cafe where you can order a crepe, egg sandwich and delicious coffee.”
Lunch: “Head to the waterfront and go to Sea Level Oyster Bar. Sit and overlook the harbor while eating delicious seafood.”
Dinner: "Adriatic Restaurant & Bar for locally sourced Mediterranean and Italian cuisine.”
Fox made sure to add that while these were her choices, the food scene in Salem is incredible and there are a lot of options depending on what you’re looking for. There’s even a food tour that will take visitors to different restaurants, and every eatery has to source ingredients locally in order to be included.