Have you been thinking about visiting Salem for Halloween 2020? The Witch City is open for business, with just a few changes to the annual Haunted Happenings celebration.

Put your mask on and get ready to celebrate, social distancing-style!

I’ve spent the last few weekends in Salem (via several road trips from my home in New Hampshire) to bring you the ultimate guide to what you can (and can’t) do in Salem for Halloween 2020. Let’s go!

Why you’ll want to visit Salem

Historic Salem Massachusetts is a popular destination for history lovers, foodies, and visitors to Haunted Happenings, the city’s annual Halloween celebration.

Salem is most famous for its witch trials of 1692-3, when more than 200 innocent townspeople were accused by their neighbors of practicing witchcraft. Twenty were executed, mostly by hanging.

Salem spent centuries trying to shake off the stigma of its past, until 1970. That year, the popular TV series Bewitched came to town, and filmed almost an entire season in Salem. Fans were fascinated with the town, and soon after, Salem decided to embrace its history and promote witch tourism.

Although Salem is beautiful year-round, October is the most popular time to visit, especially to experience Haunted Happenings.

During the month, the city comes alive with festive events and thousands of costumed guests in the days leading up to Halloween. And yes, the celebration is going on in 2020 albeit with some changes and with health and social distancing policies in place.

Salem is an easy day trip from Boston, just 25 miles (40 km) northeast of the city. If you’re not driving, you can take the commuter rail, ferry, or even an MTA bus!

Here are the best things to do in Salem for a day, weekend, or even a longer getaway. Read to the end for a bonus side trip, especially for history buffs!

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Start with a Salem history trolley tour

If you’ve never visited Salem before, beginning your day with a narrated trolley tour is a great way to get your bearings and learn a bit about the history of the city.

The full circuit takes an hour, and makes fourteen stops at points of interest around town. Your ticket is good all day, and includes free shuttle service to any of the stops (perfect if your feet start to tire after a day of exploring).

Note: Due to the pandemic, trolley tickets are currently only available to purchase in-person at the NPS Visitors Center, for the same day.

Salem Trolley Tours, National Park Service Visitor Center, 2 New Liberty St, Salem MA. 10 AM -5 PM daily (last tour departs at 4) One-day adult tickets $20, seniors 65+ $19, children age 6-14 $10, 5 and under free. (978) 744-5469.

Tour the Salem Witch House

The Witch House, the only structure in Salem with direct ties to the witch trials, was the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin, one of the magistrates at the trials who also signed several arrest warrants for the accused.

Corwin bought the wood-frame house, (thought to be built c.1642), in 1675, and he lived there for more than 40 years. The house remained in the Corwin family after his death until the middle of the 19th century.

Some historians believe the Witch House sits on the site of the former residence of Roger Williams, the founder of Providence Plantations, which later became Rhode Island Colony.

The house opened as a museum in 1948, and now gives visitors a glimpse of what life was like for a prosperous family in late-seventeenth century Salem. Guided and self-guided tours are offered daily.

Note: Due to the pandemic, tours are limited and available only to guests that pre-purchase tickets. There is no walk-up ticketing at this time.

Salem Witch House, 310 1/2 Essex St, Salem MA. Open daily, 10 AM – 4:40 PM. Admission $9 for all visitors over the age of two. (978) 744-8815

Visit the Old Burying Point Cemetery

The oldest cemetery in Salem as well as one of the oldest in the United States, the Old Burying Point Cemetery opened in 1637. Also called the Charter Street Cemetery, it’s the final resting place for many of Salem’s notable early residents.

Although the cemetery closes during the busy season to prevent damage, visitors can still peer through the surrounding fences surrounding it for to view its old-fashioned headstones and tombs.

Notable people interred at Old Burying Point Cemetery include:

  • Judge John Hathorne (d. 1717) One of the principal witch trial magistrates
  • Bartholomew Gedney (d. 1697) A witch trial judge
  • Mary Corey (d. 1684) Second wife of witch trials victim Giles Corey, who was pressed to death
  • Eleanor Hollingworth (d. 1689) Proprietress of the Blue Anchor Tavern and possible inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter
  • Simon Bradstreet (d. 1697) The last Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and husband of Anne (Dudley) Bradstreet, America’s first published poet.

Old Burying Point Cemetery, 51 Charter St, Salem MA. Open only during the off-season, daily 9 AM – 5 PM. Free.

See the Salem Witch Trials Memorial

Just off Charter Street and adjacent to the Old Burying Point Cemetery, the Salem Witch Trials Memorial honors those who lost their lives due to the witch panic.

Stone slabs set into the walls memorialize each victim of the trials, engraved with his or her name and the date and means of execution.

The design of the memorial, a low U-shaped stone wall surrounding a small shaded park, was selected from 246 entries in an international competition. Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel dedicated the memorial in 1992 as part of the trials’ tercentenary.

Visitors sometimes leave flowers, coins, or small painted rocks in memory of these tragic figures.

Salem Witch Trials Memorial, Memorial Park, 24 Liberty St, Salem, MA. Free.

Tour the Salem Witch Museum

Not to be confused with the similarly-named Witch History Museum (that one’s a hokey tourist trap you’ll be glad you skipped), the Salem Witch Museum tells the story of the witch hysteria in the area, and how it relates to metaphorical witch hunts in more modern times.

Explore the real history of the panic at the Salem Witch Museum

You’ll learn how and why the panic in Salem grew, resulting in the executions of many innocent townspeople.

Hear theories on what might have caused the odd behavior and mysterious sickness that spread first among a group of neighborhood girls and then throughout the county, setting off a hysteria that pitted neighbor against neighbor.

Note: Due to the pandemic, the museum is currently only offering same-day tickets, and only to people who are in Salem at the time of purchase. Buy on your phone (with your location enabled) or in person at the museum. Be sure to get them early in the day—tickets sell out quickly!

Salem Witch Museum, 19 1/2 Washington Square N. Salem MA. Open 10 to 5 PM daily, check website for possible extended October hours. Adult admission $14, seniors 65+ $12.50, children age 3-14 $11. (978) 744-1692.

Visit TV and film sites

Salem’s historic charm makes it an ideal location for filming, and dozens of movies and TV episodes have been shot here since the 70s. (See the most notable ones here, with a link to the complete list.)

Tip: You could take a guided tour to visit various locations featured on screen over the years. But if you’re a fan of a particular film or show, a DIY tour will save you both time and money.

Bewitched

Although the ’60s and ’70s TV show Bewitched was set in a suburb of NYC, eight episodes of season seven were actually filmed in Salem.

Although controversial among some of the town’s residents, the TV Land cable network erected the nine-foot statue of Samantha Stephens perched on a broomstick in downtown Salem in 2005.

Take a picture by the Bewitched statue in Lappin Park

The bronze likeness of TV witch Samantha has become a landmark in Salem and is a popular spot for photos. Prepare to wait in line for your photo op if you visit in October!

Bewitched statue, Lappin Park, 235 Essex Street, Salem MA

Notable Bewitched filming locations in Salem:

  • House of the Seven Gables (115 Derby St)
  • Hawthorne Hotel (where the cast and crew stayed – 18 Washington Square W)
  • The Witch House (310 Essex St)

Hocus Pocus

The 1993 cult classic film Hocus Pocus centers on a trio of villainous 17th-century witches accidentally resurrected in Salem on Halloween night.

Although some of the movie was shot in California, many of the daytime scenes were filmed in Salem as well as in nearby Marblehead, MA.

Notable Hocus Pocus filming locations in Salem:

  • Thackery Binx’s House (Pioneer Village in Forest River Park)
  • Salem Common
  • Allison’s House (Ropes Mansion – 318 Essex St)
  • Max and Dani’s House (4 Ocean Ave)
  • Halloween Ball Location (Old Town Hall – 32 Derby Sq)
  • Max and Allison’s high school (Phillips Elementary School – 86 Essex St)
Salem Common features in several Hocus Pocus scenes

Shop and have lunch at Artists Row

The funky Artists Row area features a handful of unique shops stocking art, handmade items, and vintage treasures.

Shindig Studios is committed to sustainable fashion and décor, with upcycled apparel and hand-painted vintage goods.

Artists Row is where you’ll find unique handmade goods in Salem

Beverly Bees sells their handmade beeswax skincare, candles, and local raw micro-batch honey. Stop in and learn a bit about their bees!

ChagallPAC, a community of artists, offers jewelry and visual art, as well as workshops ranging from laser cutting to acrylic pouring to candlemaking.

Have an alfresco lunch at the Lobster Shanty

While at Artists Row, seafood lovers will have to try lunch at the Lobster Shanty, on their outdoor patio overlooking Derby Square and the Old Town Hall.

Try the Lobstertini, one of the most unique cocktails you’ll ever see, followed by that iconic New England tradition, a lobster roll with house-fried chips and dill pickles. Lobster Shanty offers their rolls two ways, chilled with mayo or warm with drawn butter. Yum!

Artists Row, between New Derby and Front Streets, Salem MA. Lobster Shanty, 25 Front St, Salem MA. Open noon to 10 PM Mon – Sat and noon – 9 PM Sundays. (978) 745-5449.

See the Friendship at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site

A replica of a 1797 three-masted East Indiaman ship, the Friendship of Salem operates as a museum but is a fully-functional vessel that makes periodic sailings throughout the year.

Note: due to the pandemic, the ship is currently closed. But, visitors can still walk up close to see the ship from the wharf and enjoy the outdoor portions of the site.

Take a few moments to relax in Pickering Park, and perhaps take a seat in an Adirondack chair to enjoy lovely views of the boats in Salem Harbor.

Or, venture out on the jetty for the half-mile (0.8 km) walk to the 1871 Derby Wharf Light Station.

Friendship of Salem, 160 Derby St, Salem, MA. Museum temporarily closed, outside viewing only. (978) 740-1650.

Tour the House of the Seven Gables

The House of the Seven Gables, immortalized by Salem native Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 novel, dates to 1668. The home, also known as the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, was originally built for Captain John Turner as a two-room, ​2.5-story house, but several additions were added over the next decade.

This Jacobean/Post Medieval house is now among the oldest timber-framed mansion houses in North America, and has been a museum since 1910.

Also on the grounds are the 1655 Retire Beckett House, which houses the museum shop on its ground floor. The 1682 Hooper-Hathaway House was moved to the property in 1911.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace, a modest example of a Georgian home, came to the museum in 1958 from its original location on Union Street.

The little Counting House, built about 1830 as a sea captain’s business and accounting center, now serves as a children’s maritime discovery zone.

A formal seaside garden with raised beds showcases four centuries of planting on the property.

Note: Due to the pandemic, the museum is only open for tours of the garden and grounds, museum store, and visitor center. There are no tours of the interior of the house scheduled for the remainder of 2020. Advance reservations required.

House of the Seven Gables, 115 Derby St, Salem, MA. Open daily 10 AM – 4 PM. Adult admission $11, children age 5 – 12 and $7, children under 5 free. (978) 744-0991.

Enjoy a sweet treat

If you have a sweet tooth, Salem’s got you covered! Ye Olde Pepper Companie, a quick walk from the House of the Seven Gables, has been producing candy since it began in 1806. Try their Salem Gibralters or Blackjack molasses sticks for an authentic taste of an early-nineteenth-century treat.

Does your pick-me-up craving run more to coffee drinks and pastries? Jaho Coffee & Tea is also close by, offering a wide variety of fresh-roasted coffee drinks, tea, and boba. Their dessert case is stocked with donuts, decadent cakes, flan, and more.

Heading back downtown? Caramel Patisserie’s pretty window displays of delicate pastel macarons will draw you inside, where you’ll find a gorgeous array of exquisite french pastries, cakes, and tarts.

Ye Olde Pepper Companie, 122 Derby St, Salem, MA. Jaho Coffee & Tea, 197 Derby St, Salem, MA. Caramel French Patisserie, 281 Essex St, Salem, MA

Explore the Peabody Essex Museum

The oldest continuously-operating museum in the US, the Peabody Essex Museum is a must-see for lovers of ships, art, history, or antiques.

With its roots in the 1799 founding of the East India Marine Society, the museum has grown from its original intent of being a “cabinet of natural and artificial curiosities” into one of the top 20 art museums in the US.

The PEM is easy to find right downtown at one end of the Essex Street pedestrian mall

In addition to extensive collections of art from around the world (the PEM holds about 1.3 million pieces of Asian art alone), the museum also features fascinating immersive experiences for its patrons.

In the American Art exhibit step inside a recreation of Cleopatra’s Barge, the first oceangoing yacht built in the United States (and constructed in Salem!)

Learn about the connections between Asia and North America on a stroll through Yin Yu Tang, the 200-year-old Chinese house brought to the US and re-erected at the museum.

Tip: Be sure to ask for a re-entry sticker when checking in so you can come and go all day at no additional charge.

House and garden tours

Admission to the PEM also includes guided house and garden tours (currently on hold due to the pandemic) including the John Ward House and the Ropes Mansion.

Peabody Essex Museum, East India Square, 161 Essex Street, Salem, MA. Open Sunday and Thursday 10 AM – 5 PM, Friday and Saturday 10 AM to 8 PM (hours subject to change). Adult admission $20, seniors 65+ $18, students (with ID) $12, children 16 and under free. (978) 745-9500

Wander the downtown shops

Downtown Salem has plenty of shopping spots, many with an appropriately witchy theme. But it’s not all tourist t-shirts and cheesy souvenirs!

You’ll also find quirky boutiques and resale shops alongside purveyors of Wiccan and occult supplies.

The Coven’s Cottage on Essex Street decorated for fall

Most of Salem’s shopping is centered on Essex Street, with its traffic-free pedestrian mall. But you’ll also find clusters of independent shops on Washington, Front, and Derby Streets.

Can’t-miss shops in downtown Salem:

  • Coven’s Cottage (190 Essex St) a family-owned shop with handcrafted art and jewelry, tarot cards, natural body care, and curiosities
  • Crow Haven Corner (125 Essex St) Salem’s oldest witch shop featuring magical supplies, occult books, and psychic love readings
  • Jerry’s Department Store/Witch City Consignment (301 Essex St) a large and very quirky resale shop stocking the basic to the macabre
  • Wicked Good Books (215 Essex St) an independent bookstore featuring local authors and books about Salem

Have dinner at Ledger

Foodies won’t want to miss dining at Ledger, arguably Salem’s best restaurant. With a newly-expanded patio (the tent is so pretty with twinkling lights and hanging greenery), you can enjoy a socially-distant meal in the fresh air.

The restaurant is in the former Salem Savings Bank building (c.1818), and its exposed brick and wood décor give it a cozy but upscale ambience.

Dine alfresco in Ledger’s airy patio tent

Try the braised pork shank (honey nut squash purée, Brussels sprouts, grilled apples, cider glaze), or the spinach Campanelle (arugula, wild mushrooms, spinach, parmesan cream) for a veggie option.

If you’re visiting Salem on a Sunday morning, don’t miss Ledger’s decadent brunch featuring salmon and avocado toast, chicken and waffles, and fried Brussels sprouts hash.

Ledger, 125 Washington St. Salem, MA. Open Wednesday – Friday 11-2 and 5-10. Saturday 11 AM – 10 PM. Sunday brunch 10 AM – 2 PM, dinner 4 PM – 9 PM. 978-594-1908.

Take in the views from a rooftop bar

The Roof at the Hotel Salem, the city’s only rooftop bar and restaurant, offers cozy banquette seating and expansive views of the city below.

Try one of their innovative cocktails, local craft beers on draft, or choose from their small, curated wine list. If it’s warm when you visit, their version of Frosé (Rosé, New Amsterdam citrus vodka, St. Elder, and strawberry purée) is a perfect summer treat.

The Hotel Salem has the only rooftop bar in town

The Roof’s Mexican-inspired menu incorporates the fresh seafood that coastal Massachusetts is known for. Lobster quesadillas, guacamole con crab salpicón, and fish tacos featuring the catch of the day are on offer, along with meat and veggie-based burritos and bowls.

Note: Due to the pandemic, Massachusetts now prohibits alcoholic beverage service unless accompanied by food prepared on-site. So save some room for at least a small bite!

The Roof, The Hotel Salem, 209 Essex St, Salem MA. Open Mon–Thurs noon – 8 PM, Fri – Sun noon – 10 PM.  (978) 451-4950

Cap off your evening with a spooky Salem ghost tour

No city with as much history as Salem is without its share of ghostly legends. But Salem, often listed as one of the most haunted cities in the US, has more than its share of eerie stories to send a shiver down your spine.

A guided ghost tour by moonlight introduces visitors to spooky tales and their locations. Have some of the witch trials’ victims never left Salem? Take a tour and judge for yourself!

Do you dare wander the streets of Salem at night in search of ghosts?

If you’re leaving town before dusk (or you’re too scared to listen to ghost stories in the dark!) you have options! Some of the evening tours do offer some pre-sunset start times. Or, you could book a mid-afternoon ghost tour if time is tight.

Tips for visiting Salem during the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Visitors from outside of Massachusetts: check the state’s travel guidelines for testing/quarantine regulations that may apply to travel from your area
  • Plan out your day well before your trip to avoid frustration
  • Make reservations and buy tickets in advance
  • Check health and procedural guidelines for each attraction to avoid surprises
  • Get to town early to find parking (many meters only take quarters)
  • Prepare to wear a mask
  • Give yourself extra time for long lines
  • Prioritize outdoor activities where social distancing is easier

Bonus! A short side trip for witch trial history fans

Are you fascinated by the grisly history of the Salem witch trials? You may want to take a drive to Danvers, the next town over. Danvers was originally called Salem Village, and many of the events of the Salem witch trials actually took place here.

Unlike in Salem, you won’t find masses of tourists or hokey witch-themed attractions. But if you explore its tree-lined streets, you’ll discover where the hysteria actually started.

Tour the Rebecca Nurse Homestead

In March of 1692 Rebecca Nurse, a frail woman of 71 and a well-respected member of the community, stood accused of the crime of witchcraft. Although her neighbors came to her defense and she was initially found not guilty, she was eventually convicted and sentenced to death.

Rebecca was hanged on July 19 of that year, and her body was interred in a shallow grave near the gallows. However, legend tells that her family removed her body and secretly buried her in the small cemetery on the family homestead.

Today, you can visit that same homestead, which sits on 25 of the farm’s original 300 acres. Tour the red saltbox house, the only home of a victim of the Salem witch trials that’s open to the public.

Also on the property is a reproduction of the Salem Village Meeting House, the location of some of the first hearings conducted during the panic.

Rebecca Nurse Homestead, 149 Pine St, Danvers, MA. Open Saturdays + Sundays 10 AM -3 PM. Adult admission $9.00, seniors (65+) $7.00, children age 6-16 $6.00. Children under 6 free. (978) 774-8799

Explore the remains of the Salem Village Parsonage

Did you read Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible when you were in school? You might remember the story of the Rev. Samuel Parris, his family, and Tituba, the Barbadian woman they enslaved.

The Salem witch panic began right at Parris’ parsonage, when his daughter Betty and her cousin Abigail accused Tituba of witchcraft.

At the Samuel Parris Archaeological Site, you can see what remains of the Puritan minister’s parsonage and stand on the very spot where this dark period of American history began.

Samuel Parris Archaeological Site, between 67 and 69 Centre Street, Danvers MA (look for the blue historical marker at the entrance). Free to enter.

Walk by the 17th-century homes that stood during the witch panic in Salem Village

Just a short walk from the Samuel Parris Archaeological Site on Centre Street are several homes which stood here in Salem Village at the time of the witch trials.

Although they’re now private residences and most are not open for tours, history lovers won’t want to miss the chance to view some of these homes from the outside. (Note: please respect the current owners’ privacy by only viewing from the sidewalk.)

The c.1670 Judge Samuel Holten House is considered the most important historic property in Danvers

In a residential neighborhood among other houses from various eras, a stroll down Centre Street reveals several wood-framed houses which have stood here for centuries.

The Judge Samuel Holten House was home to Dr. Samuel Holten, President of the Continental Congress and one of the signers of the Articles of Confederation.

But in the century before, it was the home of Sarah Holten. Sarah gave testimony in Rebecca Nurse’s trial which led to her execution.

Other nearby homes include the Joseph Houlton House (c.1671), the home of an important landowner during the trials. The Thomas Haines House (c.1681) was the residence of an innkeeper. Thomas Haines gave testimony against Elizabeth How, who was convicted and hanged for witchcraft.

The historic homes on the street are easy to spot by the plaques mounted on their exteriors, giving estimated construction dates as well as the name of the most notable resident.

Judge Samuel Holten House, 171 Holten St, Danvers MA (corner of Centre St). Tours by appointment only from the DAR. Joseph Houlton House, 19 Centre St Danvers, MA. Not open for tours. Thomas Haines House, 35 Centre St, Danvers MA. Not open for tours.

Pay your respects at the Witchcraft Victims’ Memorial

Although you may have visited the Salem Witch Trials Memorial I mentioned in my top things to do in Salem, I think that the Victims’ Memorial in Danvers is an even more moving monument.

Erected in 1992 for the witch trials’ tercentenary, the memorial consists of a monument and engraved stone tablets that pay tribute to the 25 victims of the trials.

In addition to listing when and how each victim died, the tablets also speak the pleas and brave statements of these tragic figures in their own words.

The Lord above knows my Innocencye … as att the great day win be known to men and Angells. I Petition to your honours not for my own life for I know I must die, and my appointed time is sett but the Lord he knowes it is that if it be possible no more Innocent blood may be shed …”—Mary Esty

Written by Esty in September 1692 while in prison awaiting execution

Witchcraft Victims’ Memorial, 176 Hobart Street Danvers, MA. Free to visit.

More resources for your trip to the Boston area:

Have you ever taken a day trip to Salem? What was your favorite thing to do? Let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author

Carrie Ann is the founder of Should Be Cruising and a lifelong travel fanatic. A former flight attendant, she now prefers cruise ships over airplanes and spends several months each year cruising and exploring cruise ports. Facebook | Instagram

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12 Comments

    1. Nancy, I highly recommend Salem as a side trip from Boston for your next visit! Definitely try to schedule two days there if you can. But if you don’t have the time for an overnight, you can still pack a lot into one day – Salem’s pretty compact and walkable 🙂

  1. Wow, this is such a comprehensive itinerary. The witch hunt took the west by storm and it is eerie as well as spooky to see its traces. I would love to visit the beautiful town during Halloween sometime.

    1. Ramya, I’m glad you like my Salem itinerary! The result of the witch hysteria in Salem was so tragic – much as with similar persecutions in Europe (and some European colonies) during the Inquisition, the panic pitted neighbor against neighbor. If you go, I bet you’d enjoy the Salem Witch Museum, where you can learn more about the causes as well as the aftermath of the witch trials. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  2. Looks like the perfect side trip from Boston! I would love to visit Salem and spend some hours here. There are so many things to do in this city! 🙂

  3. I live in Massachusetts but have only driven past Salem. I definitely need to stop next time. Everything sounds so interesting and fun.

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