Though I've lived in New England for basically my entire life (minus the four years in Korea), I hadn't ever been up to Salem, MA. That's a pretty embarrassing fact given how popular Salem is in the fall- especially around Halloween. I don't particularly care for Halloween, so that probably played a part in why I had never previously made a Salem visit a priority.
As a part of the monthly "Hometown Tourism" series through my local Boston chapter of Wanderful, I finally had the opportunity- and a reason- to visit. Though we were there in fall, I have it on good authority that Salem is a great year-round destination.
Driving in during the Halloween/fall season can be a bit of a nightmare. If you get there early and have a few parking lots off the town-center in mind then you'll be ok.
My recommendation would be to take the MBTA Commuter Rail from North Station in Boston. Its not a long or expensive trip.
To See / To Do
Being totally straight with you: if you're a traveler who needs the constant stimulation of actual "touirsty" things (museums, famous sites, monuments, etc...), then Salem might be an adjustment for you. However, what the area lacks in typical big-city tourism infrastructure, it more than makes up for in small New England town charm.
The main attractions in Salem are... well, basically anything that has to do with the Witch Trials. There are loads of museums and notable houses: The Peabody Essex Museum, The House of Seven Gables, and The Witch House.
Salem also has a fistful of "scary" attractions. Unless you're hell-bent on spending your money on novelty haunted houses and spook shows; skip 'em (they're not special).
Everything in Salem is extremely walk-able, which makes it an excellent place to just wander and take in all the sights- for free. Salem has a lot of historic buildings and cemeteries, and the residential areas are full of charming old houses. There are also a good number of walking tours that you can check out!
Proctor's Ledge - Confirmed execution sight of the Salem witches.
Chestnut Street District - Historic homes, old buildings, totally Insta-worthy in any season
Broad Street Cemetery & Howard Street Cemetery - Significant to the Witch Trials
Salem Witch Trials Memorial - A memorial built for the victims of the witch trials. Each individual memorial says a name and how they were executed. Important note: the memorials jut out of a stone wall and look like benches. They are not benches - they are memorials and should not be used as seating.
Food & Such
Salem's food options are almost overwhelming. They have everything from coffee shops to pubs to Italian to vegan cafes. Visitor beware: because of the touristy nature of this little town, you would be better off using Yelp than TripAdvisor in your meal search. One thing I've found about touristy areas is that if it has enough hype or is gimmick-y or centrally located, it doesn't have to be good.
...and if you're in the market for an adult beverage: why go to a boring pub when you can go straight to the source??
Far From The Tree (Cider House & Taproom) is basically all I drink, so getting to visit them in-person was like a dream come true.
Notch Brewery & Taproom is also a great place to grab a local Massachusetts beer!
(.....now do you see why I recommended taking the Commuter Rail versus driving??
My Recommended Itinerary:
I would give Salem just about a full day.
- Arrive mid-morning, grab a smoothie at Life Alive or a coffee at... well, anywhere.
- Walk around the town center and find your way over to Proctor's Ledge.
- After sufficiently creeped out, wander back into the center of action (be careful to not retrace your footsteps- find a different way!) Stop into Broad Street Cemetery on your way back in.
- Pick a museum and maybe a walking tour. The Peabody Essex Museum is right next to the Witch Trials Memorial, so oyu can check off two items right there!
- You'll probably be hungry by now, so grab some soup at NE Soup Factory or consult Yelp to find whatever you're craving.
- Howard Street Cemetery and the Salem Common are great places to check out on your way towards the waterfront.
- Got good walking shoes? Stroll on over to Winter Island for some great views.
- If your footwear is lacking, or you just need to perch for a little while.... find your way to Jaho and either hang inside or take your coffee to go and wander around the Derby Waterfront District - but beware of seagulls!
- After a full day of meandering the streets and learning about "witches" you might need a drink. Far From The Tree is off the city center, so start there and sample their offerings with a flight! Then to top off the day, grab one last beer at Notch before you head off to dinner or back to home-base.
Check out the map I made marking all the top attractions, food, coffee, and libations:
- What do you think of day trips from major destinations?
- Do you prefer to stay in the city or venture out on day trips?
- How do you approach smaller cities/towns that don't have major tourist attractions?
- Have you ever been to Salem?