One of the top items on my bucket list for years has been to visit Salem, Massachusetts, particularly around Halloween. I’m a HUGE fan of the movie Hocus Pocus (I mean, who isn’t?), loved The Crucible, and find the history of the witch trials to be fascinating. So, Salem was a dream for me. And I figured, if I’m going to Salem, might as well go all out and visit Halloween City on Halloween weekend. My husband, sister-in-law and I made plans to spend Halloween weekend in Boston with some friends, dedicating Saturday to Salem. We got up bright and early, painted our faces for the occasion, and made our way to Salem.
By the way, if you’re a fan of horror and SFX makeup, you should check out my sister-in-law’s work. She’s pretty incredible!
There is so much to do!
I could have spent a full weekend in Salem and still not experienced it all. From the street performers, to the breweries and shops, there is a lot to do for such a small town! And most of the things are reasonably affordable. Several of the locations to visit are either free or have admission around $10 to 15 – not bad! The entire month of October is celebrated as Salem’s Haunted Happenings, and you’re sure to find something that fits your interests.
Everyone is in all-out Halloween mode.
You’ll see the best costumes and street performers. The plus side of the crowded atmosphere of Salem at Halloween is that nearly everyone is in costume! Some mellow, like a cute hat or scarf, but others are in full character. There are really well-done costumes, some with displays, lining the main street. Thought be warned, some do ask for a fee to take your photo with them (just like the characters in Times Square!). What’s even more fun is finding other visitors with great costumes or make-up and asking them for a photo. There was a guy dressed up as Pennywise from It and he was by far the best character I saw all day. And he soaked in the limelight! There are dozens of people dressed up as the Sanderson sisters, some even in drag. No matter what, you’re sure to enjoy the creativity of the crowds.
Salem Open Market is happening!
On the weekends of October, Derby Square and Essex Street are lined with vendors for the Salem Open Market. Selling everything from Salem souvenirs to Halloween decorations, fine arts and everything in between, the market is a highlight of Salem this season. Down one of the side streets, behind town hall, the market continues with Artists Row, an arts and crafts fair with dozens more tents! There were so many interesting things to see and buy, it was hard to contain myself from buying it all.
… And the bad:
The crowds! The gosh darn crowds.
There really aren’t enough words to describe how crowded Salem is around Halloween. It’s one of the top destinations for the season, and it is obvious when you are there. Be prepared for there to be thousands and thousands of people. The main street is so packed with people, you’ll need to have a plan if you get separated from your friends. It will happen. If you don’t like crowds or you get claustrophobic, avoid Salem in October. Just don’t go then. You will be miserable. But luckily there are eleven other months in the year to enjoy it! I’ve heard from several friends and fellow travelers that Salem is in its glory in the summer. I’m thinking that’s my plan for next year. 🙂
The haunted houses could be better.
Being an avid fan of all things haunted, I was pretty disappointed in the haunted house options in Salem. I looked around and asked some opinions and was told that the best haunted house was Frankenstein’s Castle in Salem Witch Village, but I’ve been to so many better haunted houses. This one was very short, with only one or two actors who jumped out along the way. Luckily, admission was cheap and the line moved very quickly, so we didn’t waste a lot of time there. Perhaps this is a good choice if you have little ones with you, but not if you’re looking for a real scare.
On the plus side, I did hear better reviews after the fact about Chambers of Terror, but by the time we found out about it and checked it out, the line was so long that we wouldn’t have had the time to wait. Next time!
FREE things to do in Salem:
The Bewitched Statue
One of America’s most beloved (and fictional) witches is now commemorated on the corner of Essex and Washington Streets. The statue of Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha is a great little spot in the center of town, but blink and you’ll miss it! It’s a good place to stop and take a photo, but there’s not much else to it.
The Salem Witch Trials Memorial
My favorite spot in all of Salem. The Salem Witch Trials Memorial commemorates the people who died during the witch trials. Each of the 20 women and men who hung here as accused witches are now honored with stone benches with their names and execution dates engraved on them. People leave candles and flowers on each of the benches in their memory. It is hauntingly beautiful to visit at night.
The Burying Point
Right behind the memorial is the oldest graveyard in Salem. The Old Burying Point Cemetery holds the remains of many notable figures from Salem’s history, including a judge who served on the witch trials. Around Halloween, the cemetery gets so crowded that they limit the number of visitors at a time and there is a long line to get in. They actually close the gates after dark, so you cannot visit in the evening.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Statue
Located on the appropriately named Hawthorne Blvd (and in front of the Hawthorne Hotel) is a large statue of Nathaniel Hawthorne. A descendant of Judge John Hathorne who oversaw the witch trials, Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem and later became one of America’s greatest novelists. (I’m a huge fan of The Scarlet Letter!) You can see his statue as well as visit the House of the Seven Gables, made famous in another Hawthorne novel. The house is open year-round for visitors and costs $15 for a tour (2017).
More things to do in Salem:
The Witch House
One of the first sites you’ll visit if you’re walking into town is the Witch House. Be prepared for the crowds to start! The house is also a popular photo spot, so if you want a photo of yourself in front of the house too, know that you’ll need to wait your turn. This former home of the Corwin family now offers guided ($10.25) and self-guided ($8.25) tours of the house. Several events are also hosted at the property, particularly around Halloween. If you’re interested, purchase tickets early! They always sell out.
Salem Witch Museum
Open year-round, the Salem Witch Museum is the most visited museum in Salem. Admission is only $12 for adults (2017) with discounts for seniors and children. The museum is based on historical documents from the Salem Witch Hunt. Guides assist you through the presentations and answer questions as needed.
Witch Dungeon Museum
With so many options to choose from, and huge crowds everywhere, the Witch Dungeon Museum ($10, 2017) is the one we chose to visit. Don’t be too discouraged by the long lines outside the museum, they run shows every half hour and can fit a pretty large group in their theater. Once they get near capacity, they will ask if you’re okay with standing for the show – you are. The show isn’t that long, and it’s not worth waiting another half an hour to get in because you have lots of other things to see!
Set in an old fashioned meeting room/theater, actors at the dungeon museum reenact a scene from the Salem Witch Trials. Photos are allowed (and encouraged), but video and audio recordings are prohibited. Copyright protects the dialogue because it was taken directly from court documents during the trials (pretty cool, huh?). In the scene you’ll see one of the women being accused of witchcraft by one of the girls in town; it’s a neat experience.
Once the performance is over, you’ll head downstairs to the “dungeon”. While not the original dungeon, which was destroyed years ago, this dungeon is a near-exact replica of the original. Fortunately measurements had been taken of the cells and hallways, so they were able to replicate the dungeon as best as possible. One wooden beam from the original dungeon is placed in the new area. The guides offer you the chance to touch the beam, with legends abounding that it may bring you luck or it may haunt you. Who knows? But you do know that I definitely touched it. Walking through the dungeon was an interesting experience to see just how small the cells were that contained the accused women during the trials. They also have replicas of some of the building underground. This museum is a great one to check out!
Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery
Nightmare Gallery, Salem’s “monster museum”, is home to replicas of Hollywood monsters from movies over the last 100 years. The museum is currently in a small building along the water, and the monsters are very close together, making the place seem a little cramped. But, according to their website, they are moving this month to a bigger location! Great news. At only $8 for admission ($5 for children, 2017), the museum is definitely worth a visit for any horror fan. Once inside, look everywhere. We were pleasantly surprised many times when we looked up to see monsters peering at us from overhead. After a certain time in the day, the museum turns into a haunted house! Get a discount on your tickets if you purchase both on the same day.
Hocus Pocus Filming Locations
If you’re like me, when you go to Salem you want to relive Hocus Pocus. (C’mon, my name is Dani! And my first cat was named Binx. I can’t fight it.) Luckily, you can easily google locations of the filming sets from the 1993 cult classic. Most of them are actually outside of Salem itself, so you would need to drive to see them. Don’t fear, there are still a few around Salem that you can walk to – including the Ropes Mansion, which served as Allison’s house in the movie. Unfortunately there was no one waiting to serve me apple cider and invite me inside for an epic Halloween party, but I could still take my photo outside.
That’s not all!
There are still plenty more places to visit in Salem, some dedicated to the witch trials and some not. But there are too many to list here! Other places to check out include Gallows Hill Museum & Theatre, the New England Pirate Museum, the Peabody Essex Museum, the Salem Haunted Magic Show, and more. If you’ve ever wanted to visit a psychic or have your tarot cards read, Salem is the perfect place for that too. And don’t forget to shop! There are TONS of cute shops all over town. I was a big fan of Trolley Depot (great for gifts!) and Witch City Wicks. Or you can visit Crow Haven Corner, the oldest witch shop in town!
Food & Drink in Salem:
Salem is home to two craft breweries: Notch Brewery and Salem Beer Works, located right across the street from each other. Because of our limited time, we chose just one – Notch. Set right on the harbor, Notch is in the perfect location. Its at the back of a large brick building, and they control the crowds and only allow a certain number of people inside at a time. This means you may have to wait to get in, but once you’re in it’s not chaotic like some other places can be. The bartenders’ costumes were on point! They were all coordinated and dressed as zombies. The brewery offers both inside and outside seating; dogs are allowed outside only. There are a few snacks available, but don’t expect a full menu. But the pretzels are yummy!
With so many crowds and chaos around Salem, it was impossible to find a lunch spot where we didn’t have to wait a while. We decided on The Flatbread Company, a wood-fired pizza place. Flatbread has a variety of pizzas, both small and large, with fresh ingredients. I was a big fan of the “Jimmy’s Free-Range Chicken” that had a tex-mex flair to it. So yummy! And the desserts? Ohmygoodness. The desserts are amazing. They offer a variety of sundae options – desserts a la mode. I chose a fried doughnut, my husband got a pumpkin whoopie pie, and our friends order the brownie. All with ice cream. All super delicious. Even better? Flatbread also has both indoor and outdoor seating and is dog-friendly!
If you know me, you know I love my coffee. And I try to find a local coffee shop whenever I can. In Salem, it was Brew Box on Essex Street. Such a cute and modern, yet small, shop, I was so happy I found it. From their reviews I see that they offer great sandwiches and soups for lunch, but all I wanted was a coffee. They have a board of seasonal specials, and I couldn’t resist ordering the Friday the 13th drink – a red hot latte. Made with cinnamon-cayenne syrup and red hot infused whipped cream, it was so original and delicious! They also offer other originals like maple bourbon syrup and cereal milk lattes. Definitely worth checking out for a warm cup while you stroll around Salem.
Our last stop of the day was to get dinner, so we met back up with our friends at Victoria Station. The place was jam-packed with customers dressed up in costume for their Halloween party that night, but we were able to find some seats at the bar. Victoria Station has a good selection of local craft beer as well as some great sea food options! Located right on the water, there is seating inside and out, and I can only imagine it would be gorgeous to sit outside in the daytime.
My final thoughts…
Visiting Salem is a must. Particularly if you’re a fan of anything haunted, creepy, or spooky. Or if you just like history! Visiting Salem on Halloween weekend? Eh, I think that’s something that you should do once in your lifetime just for the experience. Like celebrating New Year’s Eve in Times Square. But, go again at another point in the year to get the full experience without the crowds and the waiting. Salem is a beautiful place with lots to offer and I can’t wait to go back. Just probably not in October…
*Also, if you are driving to Salem and are looking for something to listen to in the car, check out the Good Mourning, Nancy podcast! Created by a friend of mine, the two women chat about their favorite horror movies – perfect for getting you in the Halloween mood!