Because I like lists, and sympathise with the tourist dilemma of “Bollocks! We only have 5 hours to spend here – what do we do first??”, I’ve decided to compile a big fat list of awesome things to do in Salem. Yes, this list could have been shorter, but the number 66 is cool, so shut your face (and click “Continue reading” to read more!):
66. Eat Good Food
Take your pick – depending on your cuisine of choice, you can scoff a scrummy slice of nerdy-named pizza (using local ingredients) at Flying Saucer Pizza Company (118 Washington St) sample authentic Indian food made with fresh, hand-ground spices at Passage To India (60 Washington St); inventive soups at New England Soup Factory (140 Washington St) or a charming brunch at Gulu-Gulu cafe (247 Essex St). Life Alive (281 Essex St) offers some delicious, all-vegetarian, all-nutritious, hippie-dippie-dorkabl grub. For a quick taco or toastie on the go, head to Comida (131 Essex St), and for a filling breakfast, try Red’s Diner (though be wary of a super-long line), (15 Central St).
If you’re feeling a little adventurous (which means sojourning off of Essex St), try some chickpea fritters, a tequila milkshake or just a good old fashioned set of sliders (even veggie ones) at A&B Burgers, located in the Old Salem Jail (now condos) at 50 St. Peter St. An old favourite that reopened recently (after an ambiguous sign in early summer led locals to believe they were no more) is Boston Hot Dog Company (60 Washington St). Their menu is beyond creative, but you can create your own. Before their renovation, they were often open until the wee hours (~2am), but this varies. You wouldn’t think it, but they actually have vegetarian hot dogs!
Recent Restaurant RIP: The Old Spot (121 Essex St). Aw 😦 I often joked with the waitstaff that this well-placed British-style pub didn’t have much in the way of British-style anything, but the beer selection was great (they served both cider and Wells Banana Bread Beer before anybody else in town started on the trend), and the people lovely. Their curry fries were simple but addictive, and they hosted trivia nights on Wednesdays. They closed because condo owners complained about the noise (hello – you live above a pub), though when I looked at a condo there a few years back, I only heard muffled sound in the hallways – nothing in the apartment. Oh, well. You’ll be missed, Old Spot.
65. Drink Great Coffee
Please, please FORGET Starbucks. The only reason you are coming to Salem is to try something new. If you are the kind of person who goes straight to the McDonalds at the Pyramids in Egypt, then by all means, stand in line at Dunkin’ Donuts. But for a decent conversation with an energetic barista and proper coffee, head to either Front St Coffeehouse (20 Front St) for some super-inventive lattes and teas, or Red Line Cafe (188 Essex St) for a frozen cappuccino. Both are best for quick-stops, but if you’re looking for a place to relax, head towards the Wharf and try Jaho (though be prepared to pay extra for soy milk) (197 Derby St). If you find yourself overly-caffeinated, use that unnatural jolt of extra energy to propel yourself up to Ziggy’s Donuts (2 Essex St), where you’ll be unsure whether to marvel at hamburger-shaped donuts, or gape at the sheer size of the hamburger-shaped donuts (note: to a tourist, they keep odd hours – closed on Saturdays).
64. Take in some local, live music
There are some regular open-mic nights (such as Gulu-Gulu on Wednesdays), which used to be a bit of a mixed bag/gamble (as a recent “street poet” who lived with his mum clearly proved), but has improved vastly in recent years. There are some regularly-scheduled local live music nights, but these are mostly on weekends. Rockafellas (231 Essex St) offers some safe, chart-friendly fare, but there’s a cover charge. O’Neill’s (120 Washington St) does traditional Irish music and karaoke on Sundays, and Essex and Derby Sts host live bands on street stages during the latter weekends of October.
For blues fans, try The Lobster Shanty (25 Front St), who often host some groovin bands in the day. Seating tends to be limited, so if there’s no room (or you can’t bear the stench of clams frothing from an unventilated kitchen), take a seat at one of the spare tables in Derby Square in front of Old Town Hall.
Celine Dion fans can get their fill from sitting outside A Beautiful Corset, who like to blast some of her shrilliest choons from an indoor speaker placed on a chair sitting outside the shop.
63. Fancy a bit of boutique shopping?
There’s a bit of something for everyone, from clothing and jewellery shops like the darling Re-Find (women’s: 72 Washington St; men’s 266 Essex St), which sells both new and vintage clothing and accessories. It may seem like a tiny store, but it’s incredibly well-organized and the owner is a doll.
Modern Millie (3 Central St) also offers mostly vintage clothing, but some unique jewellery and brand new, vintage-style shoes. Probably best if you have a sewing machine as there’s usually just one thing in one size, and it’s likely you might have to adjust it.
For homewares and kitchen witches, try Pamplemousse (185-189 Essex St), who also sell an impressive variety of beers, meads and wines, and Roost (40 Front St), who will sell both fancy, exquisite soaps, throws, towels, homewares, etc….as well as goofy mustachioed socks, ironic piggy banks and a plethora of functional gag gifts. Pricier shopping can be found on Pickering Wharf, like FLIRT (63 Wharf St) who carry a wildly eclectic range.
No list of things to do in Salem would be complete without acknowledging the local witch-related shops that have absolutely nothing to do with the horrible persecutional history of the Salem Witch Trials themselves. You can’t really swing a dead black cat without hitting a psychic or witch supplies shop, but bear in mind that most of the proprietors are genuinely lovely people and enjoy what they do.
Just don’t take it too seriously and know that you’re having a bit of a laugh: no-one has magic powers, no-one can predict your future, and no-one is going to be able to communicate with your deceased loved ones. Prices may seem expensive to non-locals, but are fairly standard (e.g $30 for a witch candle; $8 for a bag of black cat hair; $50 for a psychic reading, etc.).
61. It’s Harry Potter Central!
Well, I’m sure there are other cities that go all out, but this city has, for the most part, embraced magic in popular culture (as evidenced by the Bewitched statue at the corner of Washington & Essex Sts).
For authentic, licensed Harry Potter supplies, head to The Trolley Depot (191 Essex St), where an adorably-friendly blue-haired lady sells Harry Potter scarves, hats, mugs and plushes, and is one of the few stores to…not actually mark up the prices. Also selling licensed merch is Harrison’s Comics & Collectibles (252 Essex St), who even sell outdated HP calendars on the cheap as well as wands, figurines, books, plushes and sticker sets.
If you want an entire shop full of HP merch, try Remember Salem (127 Essex St) who sell everything from mini Hedwigs to Butterbeer (yes, Butterbeer in Salem, MA!). And…
…their spin-off store, Wynott’s Wands, sells, you guessed it…replica wands from the film series!! They’re locally-handcrafted wands, and. they’re actually of a decent quality, so do try and get one before JK Rowling sues.
Also: check out the local Potterheads meet-up group.
60. Take a Ghost Tour
Yes, they’re cheesy, and you won’t actually capture “orbs” on your camera (it’ll either be a dust particle or a reflection of someone else’s flash who was also trying to capture a ghost), but you’re taking these tours to be entertained. It’s not like whale watching – you’re here for the experience and for a bit of fun. There are a few stalls selling tickets, but either try Spellbound Tours, Haunted Footsteps, or Salem Night Tour, as their guides are a little more entertaining and try to tell a variety of tales.
59. Have your very own spooky photoshoot
Salem Vintage Photography (Museum Place Mall, Essex St) do pretty much what most photo stores do in the mall – they have a makeshift studio, a trained photographer with a very nice camera, and some decent sets. What they also have is a large variety of costumes and props, and the very lovely staff will spend enough time with you to create photos that are fun. Their signature theme is of course Salem Witches, but they have also done mad scientist, Wild West, and ’20s gangster themes.
58. Stroll down Pickering Wharf
Take a tour of the Friendship when she’s docked in the city, wander around the shops, restaurants and little museums in this teeny retail cul-de-sac. You can even perambulate down to the lighthouse and take in views of Salem Harbour. When it’s not packed with vendors and bandstands, it’s a nice little area for a sit-down, and the picnic tables and stone benches are actually fairly comfy.
57. Drink Local Beer
The Salem Beer Works (278 Derby St) is a microbrewery with seasonal brews (yes, they will have Pumpkin-flavoured!). Quite popular is one of their year-round beers, the Bluebeery, a golden ale served with real blueberries floating up and down like a lava lamp. Gulu-Gulu offers one single cask of locally-brewed ale on the first Thursday of every month.
While not as prolific as, say, Boston’s theatre district, the Salem Theatre Company (90 Lafayette St) often put on one-woman shows, musical revivals and original plays, many of which they put out casting calls for. In October, they offer short spooky plays at the Customs House (Derby St & Pickering Wharf). Tickets cost anything from $5 to $20 depending on the production.
55. Gallows Hill
While never truly confirmed as the exact location for the hangings, this is worth exploring if you can get to it. I refer of course to the Gallows Hill Park (at the end of Proctor St), not the actual hanging site. Good luck finding it, though.
54. Take an Historical Tour
There are plenty of historical tours floating around, but the longest-running one is Derby Square Tours (215 Essex St). Run by local historian Jim McAllister, this tour deals more with the actual, tangible history of the city.
If he’s sold out, you can shop around easily during tourist season (April-Nov) to find alternative “pop-up” tours that typically have ticket booths set up along Essex St.
53. Salem Common
During August and October, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department shows family-friendly movies on a large projection screen hanging from the gazebo. And they’re good movies, too – so far we’ve had movies like Wall-E, Back to the Future, and of course…Hocus Pocus! On other days, you can walk your dog, have a picnic or stumble across the various small fairs and festivals that take place on this green spot. The nearby hotel offers free Wi-Fi if you can pick it up (and the gazebo actually has outlets). It’s usually remarkably clean, too.
52. Visit America’s Oldest Candy Store
Trading since 1806, Ye Old Pepper Candy Companie (192 Derby St) is the oldest sweet shop in the country. Buy everything from chocolates to taffy to fudge and some obscure old-timey candies you’ve never even heard of, all made fresh and in-house.
53. Salem Willows
Taking its cue from a Victorian-style arcade, the Willows (173 Fort Ave), features angry gulls, filthy toilets and sticky arcades. But it’s definitely worth a look if you bring hand sanitizer and then book the next few days off of work to recover from the germs you’ll get. If you’re a meat-eater, try the Chop Suey Sandwich. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. They also have mini golf and a creepy-looking carousel. Bit of a trek from downtown (45-minute walk), so take a $5.50 cab instead (if you can get hold of one).
52. See a Magic Show (October only)
Salem Theatre Company do a Tricks and Treats magic show at 90 Lafayette St, as do the Witches Cottage (7 Lynde St).
53. Scare the Crap out of Yourself
Why not make use of the many porta-loos around town in October and freak yourself out in a haunted house? Unlike the Topsfield Fair spookathon (which smelled of piss), there are a few cheesy haunted houses to choose from:
- Frankenstein’s Laboratory (288 Derby St) proves that Mary Shelley was in fact wrong and that Frankenstein WAS the evil monster out to get your kids.
- The Witch Mansion (186 Essex St) – small but well-meaning horror shoebox that’s a kitschy little pitstop on your way to dinner. Please note it is not a real mansion.
- Salem’s 13 Ghosts (131 Essex St) – aptly taking the name of a terrible, terribly-made, cheaply-propped ghost movie from the 1950s, this haunted house is surprisingly OK. Not too dark, and apparently, now in 3D. Because human beings scaring you in a shop is…not 3D?
52. Carnival Rides
Hang on for dear life on the carnival rides that a bunch of unqualified children put together. I base my experience only on the Ferris Wheel, which, unlike English Ferris Wheels (which seat two securely side-by-side), this is like sitting in a giant white plastic bin. Like the London Eye, but whizzing past at what feels like 100mph. Best, best, BEST views in the city from that thing, though.
51. The Witch House
Easily named to avoid any ambiguity, this house has a bit to do with the Witch Trials, being the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin. Located at 310 and a half (yes, half) Essex St, this is notable for some charmingly eerie mini plays around October.
50. Try some mead!
Mead has been described as “honey wine”. Which sounds brilliant, but it tastes more like tobacco, according to my husband. He loves tobacco. If you love it too, Pamplemousse (185-189 Essex St) do frequent free tastings in October (usually on weekend afternoons), as well as regular beer tastings (you can build your own 6-pack from their selection) and wine events. Salem Wine Imports (32 Church St) also does wine tastings on Thursdays.
49. Meet Leatherface, Michael Myers, Pinhead… (October only)
Hang out with the types of people who used to make you wet your pants as a kid! Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery (285 Derby St), a horror movie wax museum of surprisingly good quality (they even have a Mr Chaney!) often convinces horror movie actors like the above to visit for autographs and meet-and-greets throughout the year.
48. Get a makeover
Get your make-up done at Rouge Cosmetics (322 Derby St), get a pampering facial at Laura Lanes Skin Care (242 Essex St), get the best haircut in town from Bella Hair Studio (270 Essex St), or wander around Essex St during the month of October to get your face painted like a panda by a street vendor.
47. Ride the Ferry (and..if you have an MBTA monthly pass…for free – on some days)
Yes, it takes almost three times as long and costs four times as much as the train, but if you’re coming in from Boston, this is a scenic way to get in. Also, if you have an MBTA monthly pass, certain ferries during the week (usually around 7am though) will accept your pass as a fare (though it must include Salem’s zone). They also serve booze! (10 Blaney St).
46. Be a Nerd
Comic/manga fans are spoiled for choice at Harrison’s Comics & Collectibles (252 Essex St), but imported items are mega-expensive here. Expect to pay $30 for a Sonic Screwdriver pen you saw last week for a tenner at Debenhams. You will spend a good 2-3 hours in here and still only just notice stuff on the way out. The staff are wickedly friendly.
Video game nerds can get their fix at Game Zone (270 Essex St), who sport a large range of retro games and accessories (including a hand-held SNES adapter for $70), but bear in mind they will refund nothing. The staff are wickedly knowledgeable/surly.
If you’re into group nerding, Flying Saucer Pizza Company (118 Washington St) hosts a downright brilliant Nerd Trivia quiz night. Might not be for the faint-hearted; questions are tough, but not too obscure, so be prepared to put your nerdy nerdiness to the test, because there’s prizes to be won! The Saucer serves up pizzas with locally-sourced, fresh ingredients, and include vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options. The slice of the day can vary (veg/vegan/meat etc.), but is announced daily on their Facebook page. Otherwise, there are always cheese or pepperoni or portobello mushroom slices. Also a great beer and cider collection (and mead and wine!). And, they have this guy to greet you at the door:
45. Take a cruise/rent a boat
If you are concerned about the smoke in your trousers from the money that is currently burning holes in them, you can offload some of your cash by paying for a themed cruise or renting your own boat from Mahi-Mahi Cruises (200 Fort Ave).
44. Drink and Be Merry
Downtown Salem is ideal for bar-hopping, and is relatively safe at night thanks to the thousands of bored, patrolling police and the plethora of outdoor dining options, ensuring that plenty of other people are about.
Inventive cocktails can be found at Opus (87 Washington St), with drinks using seemingly standard ingredients like Apricot brandy, mint leaves and flavoured dark rums. Their first-floor bar is beautiful, but downstairs’ cozy, speakeasy vibe has comfy seats, vintage movies played on a projector screen and a smaller, intimate bar.
A surprisingly happening nightspot for drinkies is Passage to India (157 Washington St), thanks to their excellent bartender. Great for low-key ambience is Village Tavern (247 Essex St), particularly outside.
Excellent drinks can also be found at Howling Wolf Taqueria (76 Lafayette St). Get an agave wine margarita to wash down a trio of their scrummy fried avocado tacos. Yum!
And as of summer 2015, my trusty Flying Saucer Pizza Company now has a full bar – with Nerd-themed cocktails! Is there anything they can’t do?
43. Scream for Ice Cream
Fatten yourself up for some touristing by getting some delicious but expensive gelato from Jaho (197 Derby St) or some moderately-priced local ice cream from Maria’s Sweet Somethings (26 Front St), who also do soft serve, and fresh fruit and ice cream smoothies (try the Banana Monkey!). A newer kid on the ice cream block is The Salem Screamery, who offer local ice cream and inventive house-made specialties, such as bacon chocolate brownie and bourbon caramel pistachio. Ice cream legends Captain Dusty’s (143 Derby St) has the most delicious ginger ice cream that will cure any tummy woe, and many of their flavours are made in-house (including that one).
42. Salem Visitor Center
Used primarily for meeting places by local tour groups and tourists who’ve lost half their group, the informative visitor center is more than just a building with a great big bell in front of it. They also have free public toilets!
41. See a Movie
Small but effective, Cinema Salem (Museum Place Mall) shows three movies a week – usually one for everyone, a kid’s movie and a documentary. During peak season (summer/october/winter) they’re expand their offerings to seasonal events like Rocky Horror midnight showings and Harry Potter marathons. They also host a brilliant documentary film festival every March.
40. Street Vendors!
Buy adorably cheesy junk, get a psychic reading and contract E. coli from a hot dog vendor (just kidding). Choose from German fries, hot apple cider, fried dough, kettle corn, turkey (yes, turkey), fried pickles, tempura vegetables, lemonade, nachos…the list is endless. Well, it’s not really. But it’s delicious. You’ll find them all along Essex St and Derby St, including a pocket of food stands near the Old Burying Point Cemetery on Charter St.
39. Salem Farmer’s Market
Running from April-late October (3pm-7pm), this market (in Derby Square and Klop Alley) features local vendors selling everything from bread, vegetables and fruit to cheese, wine, bath products, spices, and honey. From October onwards, it becomes the slightly smaller Winter Market, and is inside Old Town Hall (2pm-4pm)
37. Rent a bicycle (or a segway)
Instead of being stuck in traffic down wrong-way street with the other tourists, go rent a bike from Salem Cycle (June-September only!) at 72 Washington St. If you want to look like an awesome prat (but have a lot of fun), rent a Segway (or take a Segway tour) from Witch City Segway, 283R Derby St.
36. Follow the Red Line
That one’s pretty self-explanatory. Pick up a history book and just start following it to places of interest (not necessarily historic ones, though, like in Boston), and you can avoid looking like a map-infested tourist. Just remember to look up when crossing the road.
35. Winter Island
Part of Salem Neck, you can have a picnic, rent a boat and go camping in this marine recreational park (50 Winter Island Road). If you don’t have a car, the Salem Trolley will take you there (it also goes to the Willows).
34. Salem Public Library
Rent a movie, borrow a book, use the computers to go online here. If you get a library card, you’re entitled to a number of museum discounts here and in Boston (370 Essex St)
33. Get crafty
Newbies and pros alike are welcome at stitching and knitting classes held regularly by Seed Stitch (21 Front St), who sell knitting supplies and books.
If beading and necklace-making’s your thing, pop right across the street to Boston Bead Company (also on Front St) and try not to buy everything in the damn shop.
Artemesia’s Botanicals (102 Wharf St) offer classes on making your own soaps. If that’s something you like to do.
32. Stay the night
Book now if you want to stay anywhere in downtown Salem the following year. Yes, just like San Diego Comic-Con, you have to plan at least a year in advance. Best places to stay are The Hawthorne Hotel and the Salem Waterfront, but, due to the lack of other competition (aside from the Salem Inn), be prepared to get less than what you pay for. Northey St B&B (30 Northey St), is a highly-rated alternative with a lovely host.
31. Catch a festival (various months)
In February, brighten up cold days with the Chocolate and Ice Sculpture Festival. As in – chocolates being sold and ice sculptures around town – not ice sculptures that taste like chocolate. So do not lick the ice. Other festivals include Restaurant Week, Christmas in Salem and of course…Hallowe’en.
30. Keep up with events
Salem’s Tourist Board calendar is an excellent way to keep up with current and upcoming events. Bookmark it and check it again when you’re here!
29. Witch Dungeon Museum
I ended up visiting this place by accident when I got lost on my first visit to Salem. Tucked away at 16 Lynde St, this is a worthy pitstop, as they recreate one of the trials and take you on a basement tour of (mostly) static prop Puritans.
28. Griffen Theatre
This local place is a bit of a mixed bag during tourist season (magic shows, seances), but holds its own as a theatre for some decent productions, including, most recently, acrobatic cats. (7 Lynde St).
27. Cosplay Events (mostly October)
October has the Salem Zombie Walk and the Harry Potter ball, but this time of month is ideal to pretty much dress up whenever you want. One time in the middle of May, I saw a clown playing a saxophone, so don’t even worry about your calendar.
26. Be in a parade (October only)
The Haunted Happenings Grand Parade is Salem’s official kick-off to the spooky season. Anyone can be in the parade (though you do have to register your group first), and it’s run by the Chamber of Commerce (265 Essex St)
25. Free admission days (usually October only)
Usually around the time of the parade, the city hosts a “Mayor’s Night Out”, for which there’s discounted or free admission to many attractions for Salem’s residents. Worth a go for any of the museums you might think look a bit shit.
24. Be sweet
Aside from the aforementioned historic sweet shop that is Ye Old Pepper Candy Companie, there are Indulge in some baklava at the decadent Maria’s Sweet Somethings (26 Front St), raid your childhood memories at the nostalgia-filled proper old-fashioned shop Sugar Rush (230 Essex St), or gaze at adorably perfect macarons and the most delicious-ever pains aux chocolats by French-trained pastry chef Melita Fiore Patisserie (83 Washington St)
23. Buy adorkable local t-shirts
Ignore the ill-placed apostrophe in Witch Tee’s (176 Essex St) as they have a fairly decent selection of ironic t-shirts. But if you want a t-shirt saying “Salem: Disneyland for the Dead” with a picture of a skeletal Mickey Mouse on it, you’ll have to head to The Back Room (Essex St).
22. Kitschy souvenirs
Who needs Disneyland when you can be spoilt for choice for tacky yet brilliant souvenirs here? Check out…every single store on Essex St. There.
21. Philips House
It’s an old house, and it’s pretty cool. Take a peek at how rich people lived in the late 19th century. (34 Chestnut St).
20. Ropes Mansion
This hides a really charming little garden (with a bench or two) right behind it on 318 Essex St. And yes, they used the front of it for the movie Hocus Pocus. The gardens are also beautiful in the summer, with benches perfect for reading. Sometimes there’s a homeless person on one of those benches. But they probably need it more than you.
19. Fantasise about being rich on Chestnut St
While you’re looking at the previous two things on this list, you might as well wander around this pretty, tree-lined street in the famous Mcintyre District and look at all the amazing old houses
I you will never, ever, ever be able to afford.
Figure out which one of the peeling wax figures looks most like Johnny Depp at the Salem Wax Museum (288 Derby St) or check out the New England Pirate Museum (274 Derby St). If you’re sitting outside at the Beer Works nearby, the pirate painting on the brick wall of the museum is pretty funny when your’e drunk.
17. Visit Salem State University
Having recently achieved University status, this educational institution is famous for its high-ranking theatre program. And you know that that means…cheap theatre! Throughout October, they also do zombie dance shows/classes and a small fair on campus as part of Haunted Happenings. Several open days if you also feel like taking a class or a program there. (352 Lafayette St)
16. Get Inked or Pierced
Green Tea Yoga (7a Colonial Rd) offer regular yoga classes for people of all levels. I can’t be arsed with yoga, so I’ve no idea if they also actually serve green tea or not. Living Well (207 Essex St) offers massages.
14. Be a Goth
I know, in Salem – it’s so difficult. But if you find that you’ve run out of laundry detergent and only have old tie-dye ponchos from your misspent hippie youth, you can replenish the black in your wardrobe by shuffling miserably along the various gift shops on Essex St (e.g., The Back Room). Locals are still mourning the now-closed goth store The Fool’s Mansion. That beloved store used to cater to cyber/fetish goth, punk goths who sort of still like Hot Topic and Renaissance goths with money to burn. They also sold vampire capes!
13. Eat seafood
It’s New England! Tons of places to choose from, but since I don’t eat fish/meat, I can’t personally recommend anything. But I do know that tourists love Finz Seafood & Grill (76 Wharf St), and locals love The Lobster Shanty (25 Front St)
12. Get Married
The Hawthorne Hotel is famous for seemingly hosting a wedding every damn weekend, and seems to spill over into renting the public Gazebo on the public Salem Common every summer weekend, but they do also have a function room. Other couples get married at Old Town Hall or even in the Peabody Essex Museum. I got married at The Old Burying Point (Charter St), the 2nd oldest cemetery in the country, in front of a very old tree.
11. Bring the kids
Salem witches won’t eat your kids unless the food supply in town runs out and your children are coated in gingerbread or sage. So it’s safe to bring the kids to a town whose news headlines run something like “Raccoon found in woman’s yard” as opposed to “Gunman slays 30”. In October, they’ll just go apeshit, and Children’s Day on the Common is meant especially for them, with face-painting, bouncy castles, pumpkin decorating contests and a hay maze that even a mouse could see over the top of. At any other time of the year, let them mimic vampire dogs at a blood drive at Mud Puddle Toys (217 Essex St).
10. Watch Bridget Bishop get nabbed
If you’re in downtown Salem during tourist season, you might see a few Puritans looking a bit detective-y, and one woman looking a bit nervous. That’s because they’re going to nab her, throw her in jail and try her for being a witchy witcherson. And you get to watch student actors portray this as part of Gordon College’s Cry Innocent historical re-enactment, the longest-running show on the North Shore. Tickets are available from Old Town Hall, 32 Front St. It’s quite a sight to see.
9. See an enactment of Old Salem Village
Slightly off the beaten path, Salem’s Pioneer Village is nestled in Forest River Park and recreates a whole (but tiny) Salem Village from 1630. You can wander in and out of the buildings, and October brings seasonal shows to the attraction. Admission is free for Salem residents. It’s about a 30-min walk from downtown, but the Salem Trolley will bring you there in October (please check beforehand as this service would be part of a specific route, not the regular Trolley route).
8. Ride The Trolley
Speaking of which, The Salem Trolley (8 Central St) offers tours, expensive shuttle to and from attractions (even as far as Pioneer Village) and seasonal activities – like ghost tours and Christmas tours.
A bit ropey-looking with some dated special effects, there isn’t much to distinguish this from all the other attractions in town, but the outside is packed with decorative hay and colour-changing lights in October, so it looks very pretty. Biggest witch history-related museum in town, and usually crammed with crowds throughout the tourist season. (19 Washington Square North).
Nathaniel Hawthorne was inspired by this very house to write the book of the same name. They offer mini theatrical performances in October and host some Christmas-themed events in December. (115 Derby St)
5. Look for local art
It’s indeed a coffeehouse culture. Buy surrealist paintings from the Gulu, pick up a hula-hoop or child-sized Michael Myers hockey mask from Front St, or check out featured art hangings at Front St Coffeehouse and Opus. Artist’s Row (Klop Alley, down the street from Old Town Hall) is host to some local glassblowers, fish-art-printers, jewellery-makers and musicians.
4. Dress up your dog (or cat)
Yes, there is actually an entire shop that only sells pet costumes. And they are not a pop-up shop. They are in business all year round. Penelope’s Pet Boutique (99 Washington St) sells a unique array of expensive but brilliant dog costumes, toys, accessories and treats, and, much like any other pet store, they have the quintessential tiny corner devoted to cats.
Arguably one of the best things about Salem, because they really don’t need any kind of dressing up or emphasis. They’re spooky, calming and respect-commanding all on their own, all at the same time.
Check out Howard Street Cemetery for a decent vantage point for the Hallowe’en night fireworks.
During October, and any other time of year, visit The Old Burying Point (Charter St) to see the some of the oldest trees in Salem (including the weird-looking one below), and some of the oldest graves in the country.
Don’t be fooled by the other museums in town – this is a proper, world-class museum. This is not some guy who set up a bunch of cheap styrofoam models painted in latex with Mother Bates’ old clothing – this is the kind of museum in which you’d tell your kids to keep quiet and stop touching the artifacts.
They host a lot of traveling exhibits (such as their 2014 showings of surrealist art by Man Ray and Lee Miller) as well as children’s weekend art activities, chamber music nights, art discussion evenings, themed festivals, and, as of 2013, a themed “party”evening every third Thursday of every month. Set aside a few hours in your itinerary for this one. (161 Essex St)
No, not in a creepy way, and of course, it’s best to people-watch in October. It really is a proper carnival atmosphere here, and sometimes all you can do is marvel at the costumes, whether they’re home-made or store/internet-bought. If you’re lucky enough to find a spare bench in October, it really is worth a good old sit-down with some carnival food and a good camera.