Witch City: How to Plan the Perfect Visit to Spooky Salem, Massachusetts

A visit to Salem in the fall, with the Halloween festivities and the beautiful autumn scenery, is what Hocus Pocus fans live for: the New England town and its history will truly put a spell on you. However, you have to do some expert planning to fully enjoy your peak-season trip, especially with Covid-19 restrictions in mind.

Here are tips and tricks you need to know if you want to visit Salem from late September through October.

Updated Sept. 17, 2021

Respect the Past

 
 
 
 
 
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Salem is known as Witch City due to the Salem Witch Trials that took place between 1692-1693, and the local tourism industry has fully embraced it. A visit to Salem is a fun time — for Halloween fans and history buffs alike. In recent years, the season has been celebrated in style with festivals every October weekend, but it is important to remember the significance of what occurred here and to respect that many of Salem’s residents are practicing Wiccans. Two hundred people were accused of witchcraft during the trials, with 20 executed, and eventually the colonies admitted it was a mistake. This shame is one of the reasons there are few artifacts from the trials in Salem, but you can pay your respects at the Witch Trials Memorial.

Book Early

The Ropes Mansion, the exterior filming location for Alison’s house in the film Hocus Pocus. Photo by Macaire Douglas.

I cannot stress this enough: plan your trip early! Some visitors book their Salem trips eight to 12 months in advance. Hotels and Airbnb stays in downtown Salem fill up fast (and you should also expect inflated prices). The Hawthorne Hotel, one of Salem’s oldest hotels and reportedly haunted, is particularly hard to book.

If you only have a few months to plan, you’re not out of luck. I booked a late September stay three months out and lucked out on a perfect Airbnb in neighboring Marblehead — more to come on that later. And if you are looking for a quick day trip, Salem is easily accessible from Boston, where hotels are aplenty.

Getting Around

If you are lucky enough to stay in downtown Salem, you won’t have a need for a car. Boston and Logan Airport are a quick train or taxi ride away. If you are staying in Marblehead or even Boston, I suggest taking a Uber, Lyft, or taxi, especially if it is a weekend, to save on time and parking. In October, Salem restricts street parking to residents only, which adds to the congestion.

Covid-19 & Masks Requirements

Currently, the City of Salem requires masks to be worn in all indoor public areas through November 13 pending public health data. Massachusetts requires masks to be worn while on public and private transportation (trains, buses, taxis, ride shares, etc.). There are no capacity limits, but businesses may impose their own restrictions. For the latest information, check out Salem’s Covid-19 Information.

Check the Events Calendar

No matter which weekend you visit in late September or October, there is something going on in Salem. From special exhibits at the Peabody Essex Museum, to Horror Fest, it’s wise to check the calendar before you book. If you prefer to wing your visit, you’ll still probably find yourself happening upon an event: Salem is all about walking and exploring, especially down Essex Street, which is full of street performers, food, and shopping (watch out for the Sanderson Sisters!).

Here are a few events happening this season we recommend checking out:

The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming special exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum. The exhibit explores the factors that fueled the storied crisis, including individuals who rose to defend those unjustly accused. It also features popular works inspired by the Trials, including an evening dress from fashion designer Alexander McQueen as part of his 2007 collection “In Memory of Elizabeth How, 1692.” (Sept. 18, 2021 – March 20, 2022).

Halloween on the Hill, a seasonal-themed trail that will feature over 1,000 jack-o’-lanterns, hundreds of mums and pumpkins, elaborate Halloween sets, light displays and more (all October).

Hauswitch Walking Tour: Witches and The Invisible World with Salem clairvoyant and DIY occult historian Melissa Nierman of NowAge Travel (Saturdays from 3-5 pm).

Salem Horror Fest, featuring new movie premieres, parties and programs in partnership with the George A. Romero Foundation (begins Oct. 1).

Museums and Tours

There are plenty of witch-themed museums and attractions in Salem. We did the research for you, and think these are the ones worth the trip. Just make sure to book your reservations in advance!

The 1692 Salem Witch Museum: Although it is outdated, the gift shop at this popular museum is amazing. Show up first thing to grab your tickets as they sell out quickly!

NowAge Travel: A rarity among the various Salem tours, NowAge gathers intimate walking tours with feminist-focused topics such as “Witches: 1692 – Today” and “Talking to Spirits.”

Peabody Essex Museum: This beautiful museum in the heart of Salem has an impressive collection of Asian art.

The Witch House: Jonathan Corwin, one of the Salem Witch Trial judges lived here, and you can take a peek inside to see how a wealthy family lived in the late 1600s. Make sure you check out the Ropes Mansion down the street, where they filmed scenes for the film “Hocus Pocus” (find other locations here).

The House of Seven Gables: Visit this national landmark that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel of the same name.

Bewitched Statue: Say hi to Samantha, the famous witch that is loosely attributed to the mainstream witch resurgence (and who has her fair share of controversy, too).

The “Hocus Pocus” House: The iconic home from the movie is a drive from downtown, but is worth it if you loved the movie.

Shopping

There is no shortage of shopping in Salem. With hundreds of stores to browse you’ll be wise to pack an extra suitcase. Our favorites are HausWitch Home + Healing, where you will find my favorite candle ever, and Emporium 32, which is a delight to browse for its tinctures and oddities. If you are a “Harry Potter” fan there are also several stores that transport you straight to Hogwarts, including a wand shop.

Food and Drink

I had no trouble sitting down to eat during our weekend in Salem, but I can imagine late October could be a bit bananas. Don’t miss Ledger, a restaurant in an old bank, which has tented patios currently. Hotel Salem‘s Counter restaurant, has great drinks and sandwiches, and is a great pitstop while exploring downtown Salem. Hotel Salem also has one of the few rooftop bars in town, so come early to grab a spot there. If you are looking for sweets, Kakawa Chocolate House has treats that I dream about.

Other popular spots are Turner’s Seafood, which is known for its seafood and also its ghosts, and Bit Bar, which is in the old Salem jail (and probably haunted too).

If you need to take a break and are looking for some local brews, head to Notch Brewing, which has great riverside seating. Outside of downtown, but worth the trip, is Far from the Tree cider house, which features classic and experiential ciders.

Exploring Outside of Salem

There are dozens of cute towns outside of Salem that are worth a stop. Only a 10-15 minute drive from Salem, Marblehead is a picturesque New England town, worthy of its own visit. I recommend grabbing a bite to eat at The Muffin Shop, and a coffee at Mookie’s at Mugford, and then strolling around the shops along the historic streets. Afterward, take a scenic drive down Ocean Avenue, taking in views of the waterfront and Marblehead’s islands. Make sure you stop at Castle Rock Park for a stunning vista (and wave hello to Boston!).


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Macaire Douglas

Macaire Douglas lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and two sons. She proudly supports Save Abandoned Babies Foundation, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that works tirelessly to prevent the illegal abandonment of newborns nationwide. Since its inception in 2000, more than 3,600 newborns have been safely surrendered and adopted into loving homes.