Salem, Massachusetts is a bewitching coastal town, filled with history, diversity, great food and of course magic! I have been fortunate to visit twice, and I can hands down say it is one of my favourite places in the world. I fell in love with this charming town within 15 minutes. It's friendly, welcoming, quirky, homely, pretty, and above all different. Sorry to sound cliche but it generally does have something for everyone.
Here is the Ultimate Guide to Salem, from the essentials, to things to do, shops, food and drink, and even a little something on Halloween celebrations. I hope you enjoy it and that you are inspired to have your own magical adventures in Salem.
Need to Know
New England offers four distinct seasons which makes it a perfect destination all year. Salem always has local events on but by far my favourite time to visit is Fall and Winter. Salem comes alive the month of October due to the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. Fast forward to present day where witches now call Salem home. It's now a community that welcomes everyone.
Salem is 15 miles north of Boston making it super easy to visit. You can either drive 35 minutes (parking options), jump in a taxi $50 from Boston International Airport or get the commuter rail Newburyport/Rockport line direct to Salem then order an uber to your home away from home. You can also take the Salem Ferry from Boston Long Wharf, there are 5 departures a day (May-October) and you arrive in Salem harbour in less than an hour. Costs $25 one way and $45 round trip.
Book in advance in October to avoid disappointment as 250,000 people descend upon Salem during the wicked awesome ( I hear it's Boston slang) Haunted Happenings Festival as accommodation gets booked up a year in advance.
Staying over Halloween? Make sure you are in a bar or party by 10.30pm as the police get everyone off the streets and onto the last train. Choose wisely as you will not be allowed to enter another building after 10.30pm.
If you are not a US Citizen, Driving Licences are not accepted as valid ID's so make sure you take your passports with you. I am 27, still got asked for identification and quite frankly, ruined my night. Don't be me!
Mid - Late October onwards, it gets super cold at night so make sure you wrap up, my boyfriend and brother found out the hard way and had to leave our Ghost Tour 15 minutes in.
* Disclaimer: I have added affiliate links to this section, which means if you click and buy I will earn a bit of commission :)
Hawthorne Hotel | 18 Washington Square W | $$
Open in 1925, the Hawthorne is part of Salem's history. Located next to Salem Common and a two minute walk into the town centre, the Hawthorne is the perfect choice for affordable luxury, style and location. Feeling daring? Ask for the Haunted room. I didn't I hid under the sheets all night, as my brother and I heard moaning and children playing outside our room...spooky.
Salem Waterfront Hotel | 225 Derby Street | $$
Waterfront by name, waterfront by nature. Situated in Pickering Wharf, the Waterfront Hotel is luxurious and offers some cracking views of the marina. The regatta bar is a stunning spot to watch the sunset and while away the hours over a beverage or two.
The Hotel Salem | 209 Essex Street | $$
Opened in Fall 2017, this is truly the new kid of the block. Paying homage to Salem's retail history in it's cool interiors, The Hotel Salem, looks chic and modern. Located on the pedestrian mall, you are right in the town centre, now that is ideal.
Morning Glory B&B | 22 Hardy Street |
With only four rooms, this award winning and welcoming inn is in high demand. A stone's throw from Pickering Wharf and five minute walk into Salem town. You'll be lucky to snag a room here, but if you do, man you will be treated like part of the family. What more does anyone want?
Airbnb is a favourite of mine, particularly if hotels I like are booked up. There are many options in and around Salem on Airbnb, I stayed at a house that looked like it belonged to Sabrina the Teenage Witch, I even slept in a turret! If you are late to the Fall party, Airbnb is a must.
Marblehead is less than 10 minutes away drive away, a quaint coastal town teeming with 17th and 18th Century houses lining narrow streets. A picture awaits round every corner.
Salem Witch Museum | 19 1/2 Washington Square North
You are transported back to the Witch Trials to learn just what happened those many years ago through a short presentation. Afterwards you explore the myths and legends that surround witchcraft through the ages. It's right next to Salem Common and be sure to take a peak at night when the building is lit red, eerie indeed. Word of warning: it is very dated and not a museum as such as there are no artefacts nor original documentation.
Set aside 1 hour for the experience which costs $12.
Salem Trolley | 2 New Liberty Street
A perfect way to get your bearings and to learn from a local guide about the unique history of this magical community, there is more to Salem then the witch trials; wait to you learn about the drunk elephant.Trolleys are just damn cool so rolling around Salem in style, has to be on the bucket list right?
1 hour to complete all 14 stops, however, you have unlimited rides (to save your feet) for 24 hours all for $18...bargain.
House of Seven Gables | 115 Derby Street
Built as a colonial home in 1668 and made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The House of the Seven Gables". As a Brit, I have never heard of Nathaniel Hawthorne so a lot of the tour was lost on me, however, I did find it interesting as it gives you a sense of what Colonial life would have been like. Plus the building is impressive and slightly creepy, always a bonus.
$15 for a 40 minute guided tour. There is an option for audio guides, but I always suggest tours as you can ask questions as you go.
Count Orlok's Nightmare Gallery | 217 Essex Street
If you like Horror films, you HAVE to visit Count Orloks!! And if you're not, you HAVE to visit Count Orloks. It's the stuff of nightmares as it is filled to the brim with exact replicas of all your most hated horror characters. Head to the Halloween Festivities section to learn of the revamp at Count Orlok's during the month of October.
Admission $8 off peak.
Mahi Mahi Harbour Cruise | 23 Congress St.
Take a cruise into the waters of Salem harbour. With a variety of cruises such as Sunset, Lighthouse & foliage, Narrated and my personal favourite the Cocktail cruise! Take advantage of a full bar and fresh food on board.
May - October, prices vary starting from $25
Free Things to Do
Salem Heritage Trail | Essex Street
Need to get your cultural fix, I recommend following the red line on the pavements to visit all the main sites Salem has to offer.
Salem Common | Washington Square
Spanning 8 acres, surrounded by federal style homes, a place to relax and unwind since the 17th Century, Salem Common is worth a visit. Pop into the Hawthorne Hotel's Tavern on the Green after for a beverage or two.
Old Burying Point and Salem Witch Trials Memorial | Charter Street
It could be seen as morbid to visit a cemetery whilst on holiday, but this cemetery is Salem's history. Here you will find the grave of John Hathorne, known as the "hanging judge" during the witch trials. Next to the cemetery is the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, which pays homage to all the victims.
Salem Harbour and Pickering Wharf | Wharf Street
Enjoy a stroll along the harbour front and visit the many shops and restaurants in Pickering Wharf.
Bewitched Statue | Lappin Park
Fan of the hit show Bewitched? You are in luck as a statue of Elizabeth Montgomery was erected in 2005. She sits on a broom framed by the moon at the end of Essex Street. Trust me, you cannot miss her.
Old Town Hall | 32 Derby Square
Not only is this the oldest municipal building in Salem, it also had a very important part in one of my favourite films, Hocus Pocus! The Sanderson Sister's belted out "I put a Spell on you", in this very hall, now that's worth a visit in itself.
Red's Sandwich Shop | 15 Central Street | $
"Where locals meet to eat" is the tag line and it is spot on. Always busy, inexpensive, serves breakfast all day and an extensive menu, you will be spoilt for choice. My suggestion: have the pancake the size of your face, delicious.
Ugly Mug Diner | 122 Washington Street | $
Open 7 days a week, 7am - 3pm, serving up classic diner fare but more upscale and of quality. Your drinks come in an Ugly Mug, hence the name.
Gulu-Gulu Cafe | 247 Essex Street | $
You cannot miss Gulu Gulu, just look for the French Bulldog behind the Bewitched Statue. You'll find unique Beer and Coffee washed down with European inspired food. I had the Mac and Cheese, worth every bite.
Lobster Shanty | 25 Front Street | $ - $$
Calling themselves a "dive bar that secretly has class". Here you can get all your New England staples freshly caught such as Clam Chowder and Lobster Rolls as well as cocktails. It is on the small side so it's first come, first serve.
Firenze Trattoria Salem | 2 Lynde Street | $$ - $$$
Tuscan cuisine in the heart of Salem. Always in the Top 5 on Tripadvisor, this intimate restaurant is hands down the best Italian in Salem. They are closed on Sundays.
Turners Seafood | 43 Church Street | $$ -$$$
Family run seafood restaurant and market. If you want a real taste of New England, head to Turners, with creative daily menus, lunch and dinner menus and even an Oyster bar thrown in for good measures.
Far from the Tree | 108 Jackson Street
Alcoholic cider isn't the easiest to find in America but luckily for you, the guys at Far from the Tree love cider and make a variety of hard ciders to drink your way through. I had the tasting flight, it costs $10 for 5 ciders of your choice.
Beer Works | 278 Derby Street
Brewing beer since 1996 in Salem, if you are partial to a beer or two, this is your jam. Too much choice, ask for a flight and choose a few to try.
Deacon Giles Distillery | 75 Canal Street
Head to the speakeasy lab and enjoy an array of Gin and Rum based cocktails. Heaven. You can also have a tour of the distillery too. The lab is open Thurs-Sun for Cocktails.
Opus Bar | 87 Washington Street
Voted top spot to enjoy cocktails and after work drinks, Opus prides itself on reflecting Salem as it is "quirky, progressive and welcoming". There is live music, in the Underground bar so make sure you check their calendar so you don't miss out.
Bit Bar | 50 Saint Peter Street
Unfortunately, this gem wasn't open when I visited, however, I know it would be a firm favourite with my boyfriend and I. Classic arcades games, alcohol and a side of food thrown in for good measure. You do have to pay to go on the machines 1 token = 25c.
Candles are my love, as well as history, and Peter Pinto (best name ever by the way) has mixed these together to create one of a kind candles to kit your home out. Kandel used to be in Essex Mall but has since converted to Mail Order only. Check out the site and buy some Halloween/Salem momentos.
Crow Haven Corner | 125 Essex Street
If you want to buy magical supplies Crow Haven has it all, from crystals, spell kits, candles,to mojo bags and psychic readings for Lorelei herself. I brought a couple of spell kits for my family at Christmas which went down a treat.
Hauswitch + Healing | 144 Washington St
I am all about bringing good vibes to my home and Hauswitch has positive vibes in abundance. Every home deserves a holiday gift in my eyes, my faves are Witch City mug, Moon Cushion and you HAVE to get as many Blackjack Wax Co Candles as you can fit into your suitcase! The owner Erica, opens the shop for workshops like Tarot Reading, Crystals 101 and DIY Natural Skincare, check events here.
Ye Olde Pepper Companie | 122 Derby Street
America's oldest Candy store where you can taste Gibralters and Black Jacks, staples of Salem. I just love this store, so many tasty treats to pick but I suggest trying the chocolate turtles. They're Oprah's favourite so much so she orders a box every Christmas.
Haunted Happenings is the Halloween festival that spans the whole month of October in Salem. Every day there is some form of entertainment whether it be a Parade, Dog Fancy Dress, Film Showings on the common, or Ghost Hunts. Check out Haunted Happenings October Calender and plan accordingly as events get booked up a year in advance at times.
Count Orlok's Nightmare Gallery | 100% a must do out of all the haunted houses. It transforms from a Horror Film Museum to a live action thrill ride, one of the best I've been to. Screams are guaranteed for $8.
Head over the road to the Haunted Neighbourhood and visit Frankenstein's Castle and The Haunted Witch Village for more scares. You can visit both with a Wicked Special Ticket costing $20 and most of the attractions can be found near to the Salem Witch Trial Memorial.
Ghost & Historic Tours
If you have any energy left after the Haunted Houses, you need to get involved in a Ghost Tour. These walking tours take you around the most famous spots in Salem telling you facts about Salem's past whilst going all "Are You Afraid Of The Dark" with ghoulish stories and sightings.
Salem's Historical Tours | Haunted Footsteps most popular in October; $15 PP.
Bewitched After Dark Tours | Historical Tour of Salem; $20 PP
Hocus Pocus Tour | History, Witches and some fun facts about the film Hocus Pocus; $17 pp
Tales and Tombstones | Salem Trolley; $21
Do not forget to pack your Halloween costume! 100,000 revellers descended on Salem last Halloween and half the fun is joining in on the fancy dress and pointing out your favourite costume.
January | Comedy and Spirits (spirits as in alcohol...yum) Festival
February | Salem so sweet - think ice sculptures, candy and chocolate.
March | Film Festival & Restaurant Week
May | Poetry Festival
June | Arts Festival & PRIDE
July | Independence Celebration
August | Heritage Festival & Jazz Festival & Maritime and Boat Festival
October | Haunted Happenings
November & December | Holiday Happenings - Santa comes to the Hawthorne and you can tour the Colonnial houses decked out for Christmas.
Destination Salem | The Official Tourism site for Salem
This is my go-to website before heading to Salem. I like to see what is happening each month in Salem with their handy calendar, you canalso download a free guide as well as plan your trip thoroughly. It is packed full with up-to-date and useful information so head over there for more Salem goodness.
Haunted Happenings | The Official Website for Halloween in Salem
If you are planning on heading to Salem in October, then you need to check out Haunted Happenings. Again, I take a look at their calendar to see what is going on each day so I don't miss out. It has all the information you need for Halloween festivities in Salem.
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