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 66* awesome things to do in Salem.
*Yes, this list could have been shorter, but the number 66 is evilly cool, and Salem is a spooky, kooky version of that surreal little hamlet in Gilmore Girls, so ner. (Click “Continue reading” to read more!)
66. Eat Good FoodTake 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 by authentic Indian hands at Passage To India (60 Washington St); slurp inventive soups at New England Soup Factory (140 Washington St) or lounge over a charming brunch at Gulu-Gulu cafe (247 Essex St).
Around the corner, Life Alive (281 Essex St) offers, all-vegetarian, all-nutritious, hippie-dippie-dorkable grub, and Bonchon (299 Essex St) serves up some beautiful bibimbap and Korean fried chicken wings.
For a hearty breakfast, mingle with the locals at either Red’s Diner (15 Central St), or The Ugly Mug (122 Washington St). Expect long weekend lines at both.
If you’re in a rush, you can stuff your face with every wiener imaginable at Boston Hot Dog Company (60 Washington St). Their menu is cocktail-level creative, but you can customise your own dog. Vegetarians more than welcome, with seven different varieties of meat-free bangers on offer.
65. Drink Great Coffee…
As a frequent traveller and veteran foreign food-poisoning recipient, I understand why tourists might opt for the safe, national brand. But consider an alternative to Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts. For decent conversation with an energetic barista and proper, 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 some Continental-worthy fare at Jaho (though be prepared to pay extra for soy milk) (197 Derby St).
…. Or Tea
Each of the fine establishments mentioned above serve tea, but for a gentle tea room experience like no other, pop into Jolie Tea Company (105 Essex St), where you can wash down fresh macarons with their staggering varieties of loose-leaf tea (which you can also buy). You’ll feel like you’ve stepped right into Downton Abbey. Seating is minimal, so practice that stiff upper lip while you wait. It’s worth it.
64. Listen to Local People Playing Instruments
Gulu-Gulu offers some regularly-scheduled local live music. Rockafellas (231 Essex St) offers some safe, chart-friendly, dancefloor fare, but there’s often a cover charge. Drown your sorrows in some fun cocktails. 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’re a wee bit claustrophobic, take a seat at one of the many spare tables in Derby Square in front of Old Town Hall.
On Saturday nights and throughout October, the streets offer up drunken lullabies of varying quality. But at least it’s free.
63. Fancy a Bit of Boutique Shopping?
“Where did you get that amazing thing?”
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.
The legendary Modern Millie (3 Central St) is your go-to for vintage clothing, as well some unique jewellery and brand new, vintage-style shoes. If you’re worried about buying something that someone may have once farted in, fret not! The shop carries a mahoosive range of brand new stock from well-recognised brands like Hell Bunny and Retrolicious. For the discerning sartorialist, pay your respects to steampunk purveyors Emporium 32 (6 Central St).
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. Literary and stationery nerds can empty their wallets at The Marble Faun (102 Wharf St).
Feeling chilly under that Hallowe’en costume? I have personal experience of popping into clothing store Avalanche (24 Front St), mid-Hallowe’en night, to grab a thermal fleece to wear under my Joker digs.
62. OMG Witches
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 fun. 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 plushies. Try to walk out of there empty-handed. Also selling licensed merch is Harrison’s Comics & Pop Culture (252 Essex St), a haven of back-issues, figurines, graphic novels, plushes, apparel, pens, blind boxes and a whole other host of obscure nerdliness.
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 of impeccable craftmanship, so do try and get one before JK Rowling sues.
Also: check out the local Potterheads meet-up group.
60. Walk with the Ghosts
Delightfully cheesy yet ghoulishly educational, these haunted walking tours are the spectral equivalent of whale-watching. October has some seasonal pop-ups, but the year-round companies include Spellbound Tours, Haunted Footsteps, or Salem Night Tour.
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 Booze
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.
If you’re more spiritually inclined [heh], Deacon Giles Distillery (75 Canal St) conjures up grand batches of rum, vodka and gin, which you can try at any of their tours, tastings, or ‘speakeasy’ nights. And, no longer the joyous tramp’s drink of the southeastern UK, Far From the Tree (108 Jackson St) continues to push the boat out with its inspired hard cider offerings. Earl Grey or Pineapple Jalapeño cider, anyone?
56. A Spooky Thing Happened on the Way to the Theatre
Salem Theatre Company (90 Lafayette St) are busily pumping out original plays, musical revivals, micro-theatre and one-man shows. And, given the calibre of graduates jumping in from the university’s award-winning theatre programme, it’s easy to see why they often sell out. 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. I Can’t Believe You Can Now Actually Find Gallows Hill
While never truly confirmed as the exact location for the hangings, there’s a second location (formerly The Griffin Theatre) currently confirmed as a spooky horror show and informative museum. Kind of like the underground caves in Budapest, but nobody forgets to give you an oil lamp while you’re stumbling in the dark for 4 hours. Also, don’t worry. It’s not dark. Or a cave.
54. Take a 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.
New kids on the block The Salem Smugglers Tour also serve up historical, creepy and literary factoids with epically steampunk aplomb.
53. 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.
52. Wander Down to the Salem Willows
Taking its cue from a Victorian-style arcade, the Willows (173 Fort Ave), features angry gulls, filthy toilets and sticky arcades. In other words, exactly like the traditional seaside arcade I grew up with in southern England.
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 from beating that high-score, making funny faces in the photo booth, partaking in mini golf, or surviving the creepy carousel.
If you’re a meat-eater, try the world-famous Chop Suey Sandwich. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Bit of a trek from downtown (45-minute walk), so driving recommended.
51. 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? And, Salem being Salem, there are plenty houses of horror from which to choose, including:
- 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. Disclaimer: not a real mansion.
- Salem’s 13 Ghosts (131 Essex St) – aptly taking the name of a terrible, terribly-made, cheaply-propped but wonderful 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?
50. 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. Just don’t look down; look straight, but only when you’re at the top; when you’re moving, just look up. When exiting the ride, then you may resume looking down.
49. 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. However, it is a house. Located at 310 and a half (yes, half) Essex St, this provides some intriguing nuggets of social history and is also notable for some charmingly eerie mini plays around October.
48. Meet Leatherface, Michael Myers, Pinhead… (October mostly)
Hang out with the types of people who used to make you wet your pants as a kid! Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery (217 Essex St), a horror movie wax museum of bloody good quality (Horror nerd alert: they even have a Mr Chaney!), easily convinces horror movie actors like the above to visit for autographs and meet-and-greets throughout the year.
47. 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 your hair done at Radiance (316 Derby St), or wander around Essex St during the month of October to get your face painted like a panda by the first street vendor you see.
46. 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. 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).
45. 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. However, 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, the bastards.
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!
44. 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).
43. 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.
Top tipples can also be found at Passage to India (157 Washington St), thanks to their excellent bartender. Great for low-key ambience is Village Tavern (247 Essex St), particularly outside.
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.
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!
42. For the answer to everything, head to the Salem Visitor Center
Used primarily for meeting places by local tour groups and vacationers who’ve lost half their party, the informative visitor center is more than just a building with a bloody great big bell in front of it. They also have free public toilets!
41. 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!).
Also try Melt (60 Washington St), 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).
40. See a Movie
Cosier than a couch, Cinema Salem (Museum Place Mall) shows three movies a week – usually one for everyone, a kid’s movie and a documentary. They’ve been known to host seasonal events like Rocky Horror midnight showings and Harry Potter marathons, as well as a brilliant documentary film festival every March. Their café also has a couch.
Also, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but they also put on some kind of Salem Horror Festival every October, with regional premieres, special guests, and other phantasmic fun. Its organisers are amazing humans, and they didn’t pay me to write that.
39. Street Vendors!
Move over, Portobello Market: there’s a new contender in town. Or… across the ocean. Covering the span of Essex, Derby and Charter St, you can buy apparel, jewellery, psychic readings, and a catalogue of carnival food.
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.
38. Buy Local Produce
Running from April-late October (3pm-7pm), the Salem Farmer’s 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 (12 Derby Sq, 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 at 72 Washington St. If that’s not quite your bag, 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. Follow this thick red stripe along the city’s pavements and roads and discover our fair town’s history, while avoiding looking like a map-infested tourist.
35. Get out to Winter Island [don’t worry; it has seasons]
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 on its route to the Willows.
34. Silence in the Salem Public Library
Rent a movie, borrow a book, or 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
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. Alternatively, Artemesia’s Botanicals (102 Wharf St) offers classes on making your own soaps.
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. No-frills, mid-range 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, but she books up fast.
For a more high-end experience without the price, book in at boutique digs The Hotel Salem (209 Essex St). This new 4-star establishment has some kinks to work out (including its rather crowded, pedestrianised-only entrance), but its views of Essex St can’t be beat. Nice cocktails, too.
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 4th July [fireworks!], Massachusetts Poetry Festival, Christmas in Salem and of course…Restaurant Week.
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. Check out the 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.
Not Salem, silly. Joining the category of top 5 list of activities on TripAdvisor in every city from Seoul to Prague, Salem has not one but two very own escape rooms:
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), or tuck into heavenly cookies at Goodnight Fatty (18 Higginson Square).
If you’re feeling Wharf-bound from all that sugar, 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). Alternatively, pop in for paczkis at Coffee Time (96 Bridge St).
23. Buy Local T-shirts
Ignore the ill-placed apostrophe in Witch Tee’s at 176 Essex St (SHE WOULDN’T LISTEN TO ME) as they have a crowd-pleasing selection of ironic t-shirts. On the other hand, if you want a t-shirt saying “Salem: Disneyland for the Dead” around a picture of a skeletal Mickey Mouse on it, you’ll have to head to The Back Room (203 Essex St).
22. Grab Some 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.
21. Get Your Fill of the Philips House
Take a peek at how rich people lived in the late 19th century. (34 Chestnut St).
20. Show yourself the Ropes Mansion
Behind this stately 18th century home on 318 Essex St lies a charming but hidden little garden, perfect for some quiet reading. And yes, they used the front of it for the movie Hocus Pocus.
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 with your avocado toast to 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.
18. Arr – Pirates!
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 but brilliant campus 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’re drawn to taking a class or a program there. (352 Lafayette St)
16. Get Inked or Pierced
Green Tea Yoga (7a Colonial Rd) offers regular yoga classes for people of all levels. I went there once. I can’t remember if they served green tea, but they were nice. Living Well (207 Essex St) offers massages. They might have green tea.
14. Be a Goth
I know, in Salem – it’s so difficult. But if you find that you’ve run out of laundry detergent, you can replenish the black in your wardrobe by shuffling miserably along the various gift shops on Essex St, where you will find everything from capes, skull gloves, Renaissance dresses and witch hats.
13. Eat Seafood
It’s New England! Plenty of choices, but 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. But it’s 2018. Get married at CVS for all I care.
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 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”. Since they are non-stop rubber band balls of boundless enthusiasm, October has a few events (various events; see Haunted Happenings Guide) meant especially for them, with face-painting, bouncy castles, pumpkin decorating contests, trick-or-treating, 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.
7. Step Inside The Witch Museum
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).
6. Explore The House of the Seven Gables
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. Check out Local Art
It’s indeed a coffeehouse culture here. 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 both Front St and Opus. Essex St and 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 Pet
Penelope’s Pet Boutique (in Coon’s Gifts, 226 Essex 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.
You’ll need this for the dog costume contest in October! It keeps changing its name, but it’s always on Salem Common. Check the city’s free Haunted Happenings Guide for details.
If your furbaby’s fashion show has worked up an appetite, take him/her to New England Dog Biscuits (7 Central St), for a pick-me-up.
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 at once.
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. Next to it is the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, where you can pay your respects to the trial’s victims.
2. Get Cultured at the Peabody Essex Museum
Akin to London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, the PEM hosts a world-class collection, the kind 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, and themed festivals (161 Essex St).The drip coffee in the lofty atrium is a damn fine thing. Enjoy with free WiFi!
1. Sit and Stare at Other Humans
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. Ask nicely, and almost everyone will pose for a photo.
During August and October, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department shows family-friendly movies on a large projection screen hanging from the gazebo on the Common. 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 remarkably clean, too. Like, Tokyo-level clean.
If you’re lucky enough to find a spare bench in October, reward yourself with a quick rest, some carnival food and a good camera.