For most of September, I angrily and begrudgingly admit that summer is over and fall is quickly approaching in New England. But then October 1st hits and I’m suddenly reminded that HALLOWEEN IS ALMOST HERE. Easily one of the best parts of the year. A fall season in New England wouldn’t be complete without my yearly visit to Salem, Massachusetts. I’ve been going since I was young and today I wanted to share my favorite things to do whenever I make my witchy trek there. So here it is, 15 things to do in Salem, Massachusetts.
An hour away from Boston heading out to Salem, Massachusetts makes for the perfect day trip. Get a taste of a proper colonial New England town when you stroll through downtown. Now while some of these activities are designed to get you in the Halloween spirit, let me tell you, Salem is so much fun any time of the year. Most of these things I’m going to suggest can be done year round!
Pick your wand out from Wynott’s Wands
If you’re like me and you’re still waiting on your letter from Hogwarts then get a taste of some wizardry right in the heart of Salem. Stock up on your wizard supplies at Wynott’s Wands. Just as magical as Ollivander’s with a cheeky little bird in the window adding to the magical setting of this perfectly themed shop.
Let the wand choose you and find the perfect one to help you conjure up your best “Expelliarmus.”
Check out the harbor
Yes if you go to Salem during October then you can expect hoards of crowds walking through downtown but the interesting things is that a large majority of tourists stick to the city center. Make a point to take a break from all that madness and head towards the water and check out the harbor. Head towards the Derby Wharf Light Station which is a short, enjoyable walk from all the hustle and bustle of downtown. The long pier provides the perfect setting to stroll along the bay and check out the quintessential New England views.
Soak in some art
Now I know that when you think Salem, Massachusetts your first thoughts are not going to be an art museum. Well, that’s a shame because the Peabody Essex Museum houses an AMAZING collection of works. Be sure to check out the “Empresses of China’s Forbidden City” exhibit that will be at the museum until February 10th, 2019. Understand the impact that the empresses of China had on shaping the Qing dynasty. Marvel at the highly skilled craftsmanship that went into ornate garments while gaining a better understanding of women in Asian culture and history.
The collections in the museum are fun for any age and are constantly rotating. You can find African art, American art, fashion & textiles, architecture examples, Asian art, Native American art, Oceanic art and maritime art. One of my favorites is the brightly lit grand room that houses different figureheads. Figureheads are the carvings that used to decorate the prow (the front) of ships. You can find a list of all exhibits at the Peabody Essex museum here. You can find information like hours, and ticket prices here.
Buy yourself a voodoo doll
Salem, otherwise known as “Witch City” fully embraces its witch past and has turned that dark part of history into a celebration of things that were once considered occult. There are shops all over the city center where you can stock up on all of your witchy necessities. My personal favorite is Hex: Old World Witchery. Grab some tarot cards, a voodoo doll, ritual gear, psychic readings and a million other things for any summoning you’re planning. So if you’re looking to conjure up someone tall, dark or handsome, or looking for something to help you win the lottery or just trying to get some good juju in your life this may be the shop for you.
Leave a message for your deceased loved ones on their alter but be sure to respect the alter by not removing anything.
Pay homage to the victims of the Salem Witch Trials
I grew up in New England and let me tell you, the history of the Salem Witch Trials is drilled into you from a young age. Victims like Giles Corey are essentially folklore legends at this point. For those of you that may not know who Giles Corey is….WELL buckle up and get ready for the ride to tangant city.
Giles Corey was a farmer and the husband of Martha Corey. In 1692, Martha was accused of witchcraft and arrested. Well, Giles, standing up for his lady, made a few people angry and he was accused and arrested too. However, when he was arrested he refused to plea whether or not he was guilty. This would seal his fate and he was sentenced to die by pressing. This is where the legend part comes into place. If you’re not familiar with the practice of pressing. Back in the day the Puritans thought an acceptable form of punishment (aka public torture) was to press large rocks on the chests of victims. Not a great way to go if you ask me. However, Giles, staying true to his word refused to plea and with each bout of silence, another rock was added to his chest.
His famous last words, “more weight.” E-P-I-C. Pay homage to victims like Giles at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial. Each victim who was slain during the Salem Witch Trials has a spot designated to memorialize them. You’ll see wreaths adorned on these markers and visitors by the boatload come to pay their respects.
Wander around the cemetery
I think this is absolutely the first time I’ve suggested wandering a cemetery as a must do in a city. But HEY when it Salem right? Next to the Salem Witch Trials Memorial is the Burying Point cemetery. You’ll see graves of the earliest settlers which for history nerds like myself is interestingly exciting. Tombstones date back to the 17th century and worth a moment of appreciation.
However, let me just quickly put out a disclaimer that this is not a tourist attraction. Well yes it is…..but what I’m getting at is this is a cemetery, be respectful of the souls resting there. Rule of thumb, don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in your Grandma’s living room.
Show off your arcade skills
Witches, ghosts, goblins and all things spooky can get a tad exhausting. Give yourself a little breather and grab a much-deserved cocktail and crush the high score of Tetris at Bit Bar. All cocktails are video game themed and I can personally attest that the “Princess Peach” and the “Kirby” are delicious!
Some of the games you’ll find is:
- Donkey Kong
- Dig Dug
- Mortal kombat II
- NBA Jam
- NFL Blitz
- Street Fighter III
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
- Elvira and the Party Monsters Pinball
Plus SO many more!
Walk without intent
As much as I’ve mentioned Halloween and the fun quirky things you can do during October, I want to stress that Salem is just as fun the rest of the year too. You can find that out by doing a bit of exploring. On my most recent visits, I wandered upon a neighborhood full of street art. There were pieces by artists from all over the country and the pieces ranged from entire walls to entire buildings.
There’s no way to appreciate a location unless you’re willing to remove yourself from the touristy areas and get a taste of what real life in these places look like. This street art heaven was in a really cool neighborhood and felt like I had discovered a serious hidden gem that I wish I had found earlier. You can check out all of the different works of art and get the exact location of where to find these stunners in this blog post HERE.
Visit “the packy” with the most inappropriate name
Okay yes, this is about as immature as immature gets. BUT, give me a break, I grew up with all boys during the 90’s who were very much so obsessed with Beavis and Butthead. Which is why the fact that there’s a “packy” store (otherwise known as the liquor store) in Salem called Bung Hole Liquors is hilarious to me.
If you don’t have a sense of humor and can’t appreciate a liquor store with a name like The Bung Hole in giant neon letters well then I am SORRY FOR YOU. But if you’re like me and want to start a new tradition then be sure to get your picture under the sign every time you pay a visit.
Appreciate the decorations
I’ve been to Salem at least 5 times and while most of those visits are in the fall, I’ve also had the pleasure of visiting in the winter. The locals of Salem take their home decorations seriously. The least you can do is take a moment to stop and appreciate their attention to detail and their ability to rock a theme.
Every time I visit around Halloween I make a point to check out one particular spot. A short walk from the harbor along the left side of Derby Street with the water on your right. you’ll find a pathway connecting three separate buildings. In that pathway get ready for the goriest, horror-filled, amazing display of Halloween decorations. I LOVE stopping by and seeing what the neighbors put together. Each year has a different theme and each display outdoes the last.
Check out some iconic film locations
Okay, one of the best Halloween movies ever made is hands down Hocus Pocus. Don’t @ me on that either! I stand by what I say. The fictional tale of the Sanderson sisters causing mayhem among the town is practically weaved into the identity of Salem, Massachusetts. You can check out a couple of different locations such as Max & Dani Dennison’s house. Which, I think we can all agree that at some point we had room envy for Max’s sweet bedroom.
You can also visit The Ropes Mansion (for free during certain hours) otherwise known in the Hocus Pocus world as Allison’s house. I can sadly report that no, there is not a giant cauldron of candy in the front entrance. What you don’t see in the movie is the gorgeous garden behind the Ropes Mansion. I personally loved all of the colorful, bright dahlias. The gardens are also free to walk around and perfect for a nice shot that doesn’t have a bat or a pumpkin in it.
Right in the city center is another film location. Head to Derby Square to the Old Town Hall. This is where the Sanderson Sisters put on their ICONICCCCCC performance of “I Put a Spell on You.”
Here is a list of other film locations you can visit here.
Enjoy a traditional Polish lunch
If you know me personally then you know about my love for Polish foods. I could eat pierogis and kielbasa for the rest of my life and be perfectly content with that. However, living in New England my options to get a home-cooked Polish meal are few and far between. So you could only imagine how excited I was when I walked into Polonus and saw 5 Polish women talking loudly to each other behind a counter littered with European goodies.
The ONLY downside since the food was delicious is the price. A plate of pierogis and a kielbasa sandwich are going to run about $27. Granted the portions are HUGE and you can taste the love put into these dishes. These are far from Polish prices. However, despite the price tag, I strongly encourage you to take a seat next to the deli and enjoy every bit of your meal.
Do it quick too because if you’re like me, aka an annoying millennial that likes taking pictures of their food, just know that one of these Polish ladies will come over and accost you to eat before your kielbasa gets cold. I can speak from personal experience.
Witch Dungeon Museum
So the thing about a lot of the attractions in Salem is that they were created like 40 years ago and are sometimes desperate for a facelift. But then again, the nostalgia of some of these places are what makes them memorable. This can certainly be said about the Witch Dungeon Museum. This place may not have been updated since the 80’s but that’s part of the magic. Sit back and enjoy a real-life reenactment of the events that took place during 1692. Get a taste of the Salem Witch Trials first hand before you’re walked down to the dark and eerie dungeon. If you want to learn more about the trials and Salem in the late 17th century then this is a good place to do so.
In Europe, one of my favorite things to do is wander in and out of shops. I feel as though there’s a pride in displaying items in a way that is aesthetically pleasing to shopgoers. There’s an extra bit of attention that’s taken to make the time spent in the shop an experience. However, that beautiful art is lost here in the States sometimes.
Not in Salem. The local shops are some of my favorite parts of the city. You can tell that these shop owners take a lot of pride in the items they sell and how they display them to their guests. You can expect to find shops that are meticulously decorated with really unique, seasonal pieces. Salem is actually one of my favorite places to do some Christmas shopping and their shops always set me up for the best finds.
Some of my favorite shops are:
Treat your sweet tooth
The first time I went to Maria’s Sweet Somethings was when I was 16. I had skipped school, even though I was already grounded and went to Salem for the first time with a couple of my girlfriends. Mom, if you’re reading this SORRY. Look at how great I am now!
Maria’s was my favorite part of that first visit. I barely had any money but I can distinctively remember spending every bit of what little money I had on candy. Which I can’t help but do every time I go back. I’m usually spending my money on ice cream (they have 32 flavors) and endless amounts of sweets. I suggest the sea salt caramel and the chocolate covered pretzel sprinkled with Reese’s Pieces. But they also have an endless amount of fun decorations for your home and ideal gifts for everybody.
The fun part is that the entire store changes with the season. It’s never presented the same way and the crew there really put a lot of TLC into their displays. I don’t know what I like more, the pretzels or the attention to flair. I’m going to go with a little bit of both.
Salem, Massachusetts is the place to be when it comes to October and Halloween. However, the city has so much more to offer and while some attractions are perfect to get you in the spooky mood, a visit to Salem any time of the year is a treat. Enjoy a blast to the past with the right amount of modern love. If you’re looking for a day trip from Boston then Salem, Massachusetts is the place to go!
Enjoy all the fun Halloween has to offer when you visit in October. Take in the leaves changing when you stop by for a fall visit. Get some holiday shopping out of the way or enjoy the warm sun by the harbor on a spring day. This town has so much to offer and worthy of a visit no matter what season it is.
Have you been to Salem? What was your favorite part? Comment below and let me know!