Here’s what you need to know to plan a spooky trip to Salem, Massachusetts this October.
Just an hour outside of bustling Boston, Salem attracts countless history-loving and thrill-seeking travelers for its fascinating — albeit infamous — history. “Salem is best known for the infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692, when 19 innocent men and women were hanged, accused of practicing,” says Stacia Cooper, interim director for Destination Salem.
Fast-forward 330-plus years later, the small city (population: 44,000) has become one of New England's most famous fall vacation destinations, especially around Halloween. While a trip here during spooky season is one for the books, be prepared to brace the crowds. Last October alone, Salem welcomed over 900,000 visitors. So, if you, like hundreds of thousands of others, are considering heading to Witch City during spooky season, fear not: We’ve rounded up the best things to see and do in Salem this Halloween — as well as expert tips and insight — so that you can make the most of your visit.
Halloween Events in Salem
While Salem is home to a slew of spooktacular events, attractions, and festivities all year long, the Haunted Happenings festival, which takes place every October, truly takes the cake. According to Cooper, Haunted Happenings is “believed to be the largest celebration of Halloween in the world.” During this time, she says, “visitors can learn the history of the Salem Witch Trials, celebrate Halloween at a costume ball (there are ample to choose from), and explore Salem’s witch shops.” Other can’t-miss events include the Howl-o-ween Pet Parade, psychic readings and seances, and The Salem Psychic Fair & Witches’ Market. Check out the official events calendar for a full rundown of this year’s festivities.
Spooky Things to Do in Salem
It’s almost impossible to be bored in Salem — especially if you’re visiting in peak season around Halloween. Read on for a few of our favorite thrilling things to do in town.
The best way to explore the city is arguably on foot, which is why Cooper recommends taking a walking tour. “There are dozens of thematic tour options that will provide you with an overview of Salem’s history [and] dive into the Salem Witch Trials history.” For one, you can’t go wrong with any of the guided ghost tours. Don’t feel like walking? Consider hopping aboard a trolley instead, which offers an equally fun experience.
If you dare, step foot inside one of Salem’s haunted house attractions, including the Haunted Witch Village at The Salem Wax Museum. Open weekends in October, this haunted house is supposedly Salem’s largest and longest-running haunted attraction. Witch Mansion, which is open from May through October, is another option complete with witches, ghosts, vampires, and more.
Historic downtown Salem is dotted with witch shops, most of which are within easy walking distance of one another. Visitors can pop into The Witchery to create their own brooms, attend bookbinding workshops, or sign up for tarot readings. At The Cauldron Black, travelers can sign up for a slew of spiritual consults, readings, and rituals, including an evil eye removal spell session to keep the bad vibes away. Lastly, Stardust Salem, Omen, Pentagram, and Hex all offer a wide selection of witchcraft supplies like candles, incense, and spell kits, to name a few.
Given its history, it is no surprise that Salem is home to several witch museums, including its Witch Museum, which has become one of the destination’s most beloved attractions. Housed in a former church, the museum offers immersive exhibitions to transport visitors back to 1692. Afterward, head to the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, which commemorates those who lost their lives as a result of the tragedy. Meanwhile, at the Witch Dungeon Museum, travelers have the unique opportunity to catch reenactments of the trials adapted from actual 1692 transcripts. Last but not least, no trip to Salem is complete without touring the Witch House, which is the former home of Judge Jonathan Corwin, who helped investigate the so-called crimes. While unconfirmed, rumor has it that some of the examinations of the alleged witches — and their accusers — took place inside the house.
Tips for Visiting Salem for Halloween
Put simply, says Cooper, visiting Salem in October requires savvy planning. “Accommodations book out a year in advance, and it is not uncommon for restaurants to have long waits.” That said, if you’re able, try to book everything — hotels, activities, dining reservations — as far in advance as you can. Speaking of lodging, staying somewhere downtown will be your best bet. In fact, some of Salem’s most popular attractions can be found within that same mile-long stretch, which means you can easily walk to and from the different shops and sights. If, for whatever reason, you’re unable to stay downtown, Cooper recommends taking public transportation since parking is near-impossible and traffic can be quite heavy.
When to Visit
“October is a great time to visit if you want to lean into the Halloween spirit, but the town will likely be crowded,” says Cooper. With this in mind, she’s also quick to note that Salem truly is an all-season destination. “There are festivals every month of the year, and most museums and attractions are open year-round,” she tells Travel + Leisure.
So, while fall is arguably the most magical time to visit, it’s not the only option. For example, those craving a quieter — albeit just as extraordinary — experience should consider visiting in late summer. What’s more, says Cooper, this is “a great time to visit and take advantage of the museums and landmarks” before the Halloween crowds begin to pick up.
Where to Stay
Staying downtown puts you within easy walking distance of Salem’s most notable attractions, and, fortunately, there are a handful of hotels here. The 40-room Salem Inn is spread across three historic homes in the heart of downtown, and two of the three buildings have outdoor courtyards and gardens. Take your stay to the next level by springing on a room with a Jacuzzi tub. Bonus: Breakfast is included in your room rate.
The Merchant, which is part of Lark Hotels, is another excellent option — and history buffs will love that George Washington stayed here back in 1789. (The room where he stayed is now the hotel’s aptly named George Washington King Deluxe room.) Amenities include an outdoor second-floor deck, heated bathroom floors, en-suite gas fireplaces in every room, and complimentary daily breakfast. Also part of the Lark Hotels portfolio is the Hotel Salem, a 44-room property that features funky suites with pops of color plus an eclectic mid-century modern aesthetic.
The Hawthorne Hotel is named after the famed American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, who once lived in Salem. (Fun fact: The real House of the Seven Gables from his 1851 novel is located here, too). With its central location, two on-site restaurants, and elegant accommodations, the property is another popular pick. Meanwhile, The Daniels House, which dates back to 1667, is known as Salem’s oldest inn. The rooms — some of which have luxe touches like tubs and four-poster beds — feature original beams, moldings, and wood floors.
If you don’t mind staying a few minutes away from downtown, The Coach House makes a great choice. The 1879 mansion-turned-boutique hotel has been completely reimagined with sleek rooms and suites featuring contemporary decor and a neutral color palette.
How to Get There
While you can easily drive to Salem from Boston and other nearby cities, Cooper recommends utilizing public transportation. “The MBTA Commuter Rail connects Salem with Boston, Gloucester, Rockport, and Newburyport, and there is a Salem Ferry with service between Boston and Salem,” she says. Meanwhile, those arriving by plane should note that the closest airport is Boston Logan International Airport (14 miles away), followed by Portsmouth International Airport in New Hampshire (46 miles).
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