Salem, Massachusetts is a serene and beautiful coastal New England town, and a perfect day trip from Boston. Salem was made infamous by the 1692 “Salem Witch Trials,” a series of events that captivate the world to this day. Twenty people were executed during this time for supposed “witchcraft,” and Salem is home to a wealth of information on the subject. In addition to its historical attractions, Salem also has incredible period architecture and world-class museums, as well as a variety of cafes and bookstores to explore.
Salem is a quick and easy ride by car or commuter rail from Boston, located only 40 minutes away. In fact, Salem is a great half- or full-day trip if you’re visiting almost anywhere in the New England region. It is especially popular in the fall, with lots of witch-themed fun around Halloween time and gorgeous fall foliage in its various parks and neighborhoods.
If you visit in October, don’t miss the Haunted Happenings Festival, which features over 1000 events over the course of the month, all spooky or haunted in nature, with plenty of fun for all ages (i.e. plenty of activities for kids that aren’t too scary, but also ghost tours and other fun activities geared more towards adults at night.) But take note that the area gets very crowded during this time, sometimes welcoming upwards of 500,000 visitors, and book your lodging, restaurants, and museum picks early.
No matter what time of year you visit, you will have a blast in Salem. For all the best places to visit, keep reading for top 10 attractions in Salem below.
The Peabody Essex Museum has roots dating all the way back to the founding of the East India Marine Society, a group of Salem-based sea captains who included within their 1799 charter the “establishment of a cabinet of natural and artificial curiosities.” This started as a collection of objects brought home to Salem from all around the world, and today forms the Peabody Essex Museum.
Salem’s history as a maritime legend first started with its maritime voyages, beginning in the late 1600s. Soon after, Salem gained a name and reputation for its salted cod and other wares, trading as far as the West Indies. By the end of the American Revolution, ships from Salem had gone as far as India, China, and Russia, cementing Salem’s legacy as a maritime heavyweight for the ages.
Many artifacts from this time are housed at the PEM.The PEM also has an incredible Asian art collection, as well as rotating exhibits on a variety of topics. It’s enormous, so definitely prioritize which places you’d most like to see, and keep in mind that it would likely take more than a full day to see them all.
Address: 161 Essex St, Salem, MA 01970
The Salem Witch Museum is the regional expert on the events leading up to and following the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. The museum opened in 1972, after literary works like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible drew heightened attention to the Salem Witch Trials, and today draws visitors from all around the world, using trial documents and large, lighted setpieces to narrate the story of the witch trials.
After the seated portion, the rest of the tour discusses modern witchcraft practices, the Wiccan religion, witch hunts that occurred after the Salem Witch Trials, and other pertinent topics. While the subject matter is a bit grisly, this museum isn’t inappropriate for children.
Note that this museum is often very crowded, and you will likely get a timed-entry sticker for later in the day. For more witch-related museums, some historical and some a bit sillier, check out the Witch Board Museum, Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery, and the Witch Dungeon Museum.
Address: 19 1/2 N Washington Square, Salem, MA 01970
Salem’s Satanic Temple is the worldwide headquarters for The Satanic Temple, or TST, a “non-theistic religious organization with active chapters worldwide.”
The space also doubles as an art gallery, most known for being the current display space for a large, 8.5-foot statue of pagan idol Baphomet. The statue has gained some notoriety in recent years, as TST has offered to loan it to a few state capitol buildings displaying Christian statues.
As the U.S. Constitution decrees that all faith traditions and religions must be treated equally, TST argues that any Christian statues displayed at government buildings open the door for other faiths to have statues displayed. The matter is currently pending trial.
Address: 64 Bridge St, Salem, MA 01970
The Burying Point and Howard Street Cemetery are the main cemeteries associated with the victims of the witch trials. The Burying Point is the oldest cemetery in Salem, and one of the oldest in New England. Its grassy area is well worth a visit to pay respects to those who were killed during this time, as well as to see old gravestones dating back to the 1600s, including the final resting place of a Mayflower passenger!
Howard Street Cemetery is where Giles Corey, a victim of the witch trials, is said to have been “pressed” to death by heavy stones as his punishment for supposed witchcraft. It is easy to visit both cemeteries as you walk around Salem.
Address: 51 Charter St, Salem, MA 01970
In centrally-located Lappin Park, don’t miss the “Bewitched” statue, a commemorative statue of Samantha Stephens from the popular 1960s/1970s TV Land sitcom Bewitched. Several of the later episodes (and all of season 7 of the show) were filmed in Salem proper, and TV Land celebrated the show’s 40th anniversary with this statue. There is sometimes a line for photos, but it’s well worth a visit.
Address: Salem, MA 01970
The Salem Heritage Trail free walking tour is a fantastic (and free!) self-guided tour of historic Salem. Just follow the red line painted on the sidewalk (similar to Boston’s Freedom Trail), starting at 2 New Liberty Street (the National Park Service’s Salem Regional Visitor Center.) Make sure you stop into the center and check out the brief free film prior to starting the walking tour.
The film is called Where Past is Present and is only 27 minutes long, giving the history of Salem and Essex County as well as various other historical tidbits. Note: There are also guided tours available for a fee if you would prefer to do that.
On the trail, you’ll see various historically-significant sites, such as the House of the Seven Gables and the Witch House, described in more detail in this post, but also lesser-known sites such as the Samuel McIntire Architectural District (worth a visit on its own!), the Ropes Mansion and its beautiful gardens, and Salem’s old and new City Hall buildings.
The “Witch House” (AKA the Jonathan Corwin House) is the only remaining period house from the Salem Witch Trials and belonged to one of the trial judges, who found hundreds of people guilty of witchcraft during that time and executed 20. Tours of the house include period furnishings, as well as lots of information regarding what day-to-day life was like for Salem’s residents during the 1600s.
Address: 310 Essex St, Salem, MA 01970
The Salem Maritime National Historic Site has the honor of being America’s very first National Historic Site, first designated as such in 1938. It consists of twelve historic buildings sitting on nine acres of land, much of which is beautiful waterfront property.
If you’re interested in shipbuilding, you can visit a replica of the 1797 Friendship of Salem, a two-masted “tall ship” which made 15 voyages to far-off lands such as India, Spain, and Russia prior to being captured during the War of 1812. As mentioned above, Salem has a powerful maritime legacy, with active involvement in various sea battles in the American Revolution and the War of 1812.
While you’re here. you can also go for a stroll along the Derby Wharf, and visit the Derby Light Station lighthouse, which is now solar-powered! There are many historic buildings to explore here, including the impressive Custom House and the Narbonne House, built in 1675. For National Park Service guided tours, including historic houses, the history of slavery in Salem, and others, see here.
Address: 160 Derby St, Salem, MA 01970
Visit the House of the Seven Gables, which was the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book of the same name. Fun fact: Nathaniel Hawthorne is perhaps best known for being the author of The Scarlet Letter, whose subject matter is said to have been very unpopular in Salem at the time of its publication.
The House of the Seven Gables was originally built in 1668, and the tour is a fantastic look into life during that time. In fact, the House of the Seven Gables is the oldest house in New England! There are also gorgeous views of Salem Harbor from inside and outside, and the garden tour in particular is very charming.
Address: 115 Derby St, Salem, MA 01970
Salem Willows Park is a beautiful, historic park area right on the coast, first established in 1858. It has rides, arcade games, and other nostalgic attractions, and its popcorn is said to be the stuff of legend. The park sits on over 35 acres of pristine oceanfront land and has ample space for picnicking, walking around, and fishing.
Fun fact: jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong performed at the ballroom here!
Address: 165 Fort Ave, Salem, MA 01970
Also Read: Top Tourist Attractions in Massachusetts
Tegan George & Alex McKenzie | Why Not Walk
Tegan and Alex are travel, hiking, and biking enthusiasts currently based in Boston, USA. There is nothing they love more than exploring new places by walking, and they have visited over 30 countries together since they met in 2015. Their love for “walking the world” led them to found Why Not Walk, a travel guides site. Follow them on Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest to start planning your next adventure.