A few years ago my friend Alicia decided to leave the security of the familiar and strike out on a new adventure by moving to Boston. I am so proud of her for following her dreams; I know this must have been scary. This fall, once she had settled in, I decided to visit her. She was kind enough to let me crash in and stay at her place for five days-seriously this girl deserves sainthood for hosting me for so long. The only thing I really wanted to do while I was in town was visiting Salem. It was spooky month (October), and it was too close to pass up. Salem wasn’t really Alicia’s thing, but being the kind soul she is, she put on a smile and planned the day for us. Salem is an experience unlike any other. Salem is known the world over for the witch trials that took place there in the early 1600s. Visitors can stroll the same colonial-era cobblestone lanes where Nathaniel Hawthorne once strolled, taking in the history, embracing your inner witch, and snapping the perfect picture for the ‘gram. I am so glad we went, but I had a lot of takeaways which is why I am sitting down today to write them all down so you can have the best experience possible when/if you decide to take the trip.

What to Know Before You Go

Located just 45 minutes north of Boston, Salem was founded in 1626 by Roger Conant and a group of immigrants from Cape Ann. At first, the settlement was named Naumkeag, but the settlers preferred to call it Salem, derived from the Hebrew word for peace.

Belief in the supernatural and witchcraft was widespread in colonial New England. In the late 1600s, a wave of hysteria swept through Massachusetts. This led to the infamous Salem Witch Trials. From 1692-1693, around 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft, or “Devil’s magic,” and 20 people were executed.

Eventually, the colony admitted the trials were a mistake and offered restitution, but the stories lived on to become synonymous with paranoia and injustice. Now, over 300 years later, Salem’s legacy still captivates the imagination!

Go During Off Season

Avoid the crowds! I’m not big on crowds anyways and was mentally prepared for them going into my October visit. BUT, I did not think about COVID. The entire town did a wonderful job trying to keep everyone safe but this meant longer lines as capacity was kept lower in shops museums and tour groups. I would love to go back but maybe in June. Most of the tours run year-round and the occult shops are always up and running.

All that being said, I know that there really is nothing like going to Salem in October. This is when the town really pulls out all the stops. Every day there are festivities, performances, and events. So if you must go during October, plan accordingly. Salem features two month-long festivals during the month of October.

Festival of the Dead

Halloween is the special time of year when the shades of the dead whisper from forgotten places and spirits walk among us. The witches of Salem honor this time with the Festival of the Dead, an annual event series that explores death’s macabre customs, heretical histories, and strange rituals.

Salem Haunted Happenings

Salem Haunted Happenings is a festive celebration of Halloween and fall in New England running annually, October 1-31. Events include a Grand Parade, the Haunted Biz Baz Street Fair, Family Film Nights, costume balls, ghost tours, haunted houses, live music, and chilling theatrical presentations.

Take the Ferry

Planes, trains, and automobiles move over! You can, and should, get to Salem by ferry through Boston Harbor Cruises. Not only are the views spectacular, but the trip out is so relaxing. You don’t need to battle traffic or worry about losing your way. You can just kick back, grab a treat and a drink at the bar and enjoy the ride. The ferry operates from mid-Spring to mid-Fall on a set schedule.

The ferry runs between 1 Long Wharf in Boston’s seaport district, right by the New England Aquarium, and the Salem Ferry port, located off Derby Street in Salem.

Some things to know before you go:

  • Travel time to and from Salem is approximately 50 minutes
  • Beautiful views of Boston, Salem and the New England shoreline
  • Cash bar
  • Light snacks available for purchase
  • Outdoor viewing decks and indoor spaces with large windows

Plan Ahead

Figure out what it is you want to do. I had a little list on my phone of everything I wanted to see. On the ferry, we were given a brochure with a fold-out map, and Alicia and I were able to mark out our entire route. If something didn’t work because of the crowds, we were easily able just to move on and hit our next location. Remember, you can’t do it all in one day, so don’t put too much pressure on things. Enjoy the experience do what you can, and leave yourself an excuse to come back.

Some things to see and do while you’re in town

  • Salem Witch House
    The Witch House is one of Salem’s top historic tourist locations and among Salem’s most famous homes and best places to visit. … The home’s fame is forever tied to the Salem Witch Trials because its then-owner, Judge Jonathan Corwin, was among several judges directly presiding over the notorious trials.
  • Essex Street
    Essex Street is the “main drag” of Salem town. Part of it has been converted into a pedestrian-only plaza, making the entire street super walkable. You will find street performers and shops of all kinds along your path through town.
  • Salem Witch Museum
    One of the most popular attractions in the area, the Salem Witch Museum is a great place for visitors to walk through life-size stage sets, exhibits & tours exploring the 1692 Salem witch trials. To learn more or buy tickets ahead to their website.
  • Salem Witch Trials Memorial
    Located just off Charter Street, on Liberty Street, is Salem’s simple yet dramatic memorial to the 20 victims of the witch trials of 1692. Four-foot high granite walls surround three sides, with granite benches representing each victim cantilevered inward from the wall. Etched on each bench is a name, means of execution, and execution date. One can read, on the stone threshold of the memorial, the words of the accused taken directly from court transcripts. Visitors will note that the words – among them, “God knows I am innocent” – are cut off in mid-sentence, representing lives cut short and indifference to the protestations of innocence.
  • Old Burying Point Cemetary
    The Old Burying Point Cemetery, also known as the Charter Street Cemetery, is the oldest cemetery in Salem and among the oldest in the United States. Opened in 1637, it is the final resting place of several Salem notables. This is most notably the burial ground of judges involved in the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s & Revolutionary War victims.
  • Pioneer Village
    Pioneer Village is the oldest living history museum in America and is designed to represent Salem in the year 1630. Built in 1930 to mark the tercentennial of Massachusetts, Pioneer Village is America’s first living history museum. The village sits on three acres of land and contains various examples of colonial architecture: dugouts, wigwams, thatched roof cottages, and the Governor’s Faire House. Culinary and medicinal gardens and a blacksmith shop further interpret early 17th-century colonial life.

    Open 12-4 Saturdays and Sundays. Occupancy is 4 adults, 2 children every ten minutes. Tours are self-guided, with staff throughout to chat and answer questions. COVID safety precautions are posted at the gate. Face masks and social distancing are required. Tickets are a combo with the Witch House or by donation upon arrival.

Take a Walk

There is so much to do in Salem, sometimes it’s better just to wander and take in the sights; some of the outside shots for Hocus Pocus can be found in town. Or take a tour of the House of Seven Gables, Salem’s very own haunted house.

Support Small Businesses & Do Some Shopping

Everywhere you turn there are occult shops and boutiques of all sorts; wander in and take your time. There is something for everyone; I almost wish I would’ve brought an extra bag to carry everything I wanted to buy. Pro-tip, you can always ask the shop if they can ship it to you when you are wanting to buy larger items. Save yourself the hassle of carrying it around or trying to fit it into your suitcase. Pro-Tip: My favorite shopping spot was Haus Witch. But be prepared, due to covid, capacity is limited, and you may need to wait, but it is totally worth the wait.

I know with this past visit, I barely scratched the surface. Next time I will take my own advice and visit in the off-season so I can really take my time to enjoy the tours, take in the sights and try some wicked good bites. Good luck to you as you travel to the Witch City for the first time or the tenth. I hope my experience helps you inform your own, and blessed be!