New England is an excellent destination in the autumn months. Known for its over-the-top foliage, its pumpkin patches, and it’s old American history, it’s a great place to get your spook on. None of New England’s destinations may be better suited to this season than Salem, Massachusetts.
Surely you have heard of Salem. Most well known for its witch trials and hysteria of the 1690s, it remains ingrained in the American psyche, and is infamously known throughout the world as well. Salem attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, and a vast majority of them arrive in October, a month when things are busy and mysterious. From witch history to modern day witches, Salem is a fascinating city.
Boasting perfect fall weather plus the addition of Salem’s “Haunted Happenings” events, here are the best things to do in Salem MA in October.
Spend Time at the Witch House
The Salem Witch House is definitely one of the top Salem attractions. This is a great place to get a historic overview of the witch trials that is factual and straightforward. This house was once home to Jonathan Corwin, who served as a judge in the witchcraft trials of 1692. Though Salem is full of history, this building is unique in that it is the only still-standing structure with direct ties to the witch trials.
Inside the house, you can take a self guided tour. There’s lots to see and study and information lining the walls shares history of both the witch trials and the time period in general. There’s much detail about daily living in those times, and you can really imagine what it was like to live in a home such as Judge Corwin’s.
There are a few guides within the house who are extremely knowledgeable and readily answer any of your questions. We recommend arriving early in the morning to avoid any crowds and have this fascinating house almost completely to yourself.
Take a Candlelit Ghost Tour
With it’s dark past, it’s no surprise that Salem has a ghostly history. New England as a whole seems to be filled with haunted sites and hair-raising stories. To learn more about these, join in on one of many walking tours that are available in Salem. There are many different options to choose from, but we went with this Candlelit Ghostly Walking Tour. Armed with tiny lanterns, we followed our tour guide to notable sites around the town of Salem and learned a bit of the “hidden” history. It was just the right level of spooky!
You can buy tickets for this walking tour at the Salem Wax Museum. You’ll visit sights including the most “haunted building in Salem,” the site of the old Salem prison, and more.
Haunted Footsteps is another company that comes highly recommended. They offer a range of daytime and nighttime walking tours.
Visit the Salem Witch Museum
The Salem Witch Museum is a must. This is known as the most visited attraction in Salem, and it’s understandable. The first part of the museum tour is truly bewitching, pun intended. You are shown into a large theatrical-type space and seated in the center with many other guests. Once everyone is seated, you are shown a presentation that lasts approximately 20 minutes. This is a masterful (and a bit frightening) story telling operation that shares a dramatization of the 1692 witch trials through a combination of tableaus, dramatic lighting, and spine-tingling narration. While there are no actors per se, the tremulous narrator, alongside voice actors and sound effects brings these mannequined tableaus into vivid life. We found it riveting and intense; in fact it is much more emotional than a regular museum. Connecting you with the characters of the witch trials, it makes you acutely aware of the horrible things which happened here.
Following the presentation, you enter the modern witch museum, which examines the way witches have been viewed throughout history. With knowledgeable and entertaining guides, it’s a good way to cap off your visit.
A great way to get around Salem, stopping at spots like the Witch Museum, is on the Salem Trolley. Our friend Janine shares a post about her experience seeing Salem while riding the trolley.
Explore the Witchy Shops
Part of the fun of traveling to Salem, Massachusetts is simply wandering around the town and enjoying its many unusual shops and businesses. There are campy souvenir stores, of course, but there are also small magical shops that have a much more authentic feel. These are truly worth a visit do to their enchanting interiors and the unique array of goods inside. If you’re interested in a palm reading, tarot, or other services, there are plenty of options to be found throughout Salem.
There are also stores that celebrate local arts and crafts or culinary goods. And many, many delicious restaurants. We recommend:
- Howling Wolf Taqueria – Awesome Mexican joint with very affordable prices. Great margaritas. The food was excellent and the restaurant very crowded–showing just how popular it is!
- Gulu Gulu Cafe – Great for a tasty cup of coffee or a yummy lunch. The interior of the cafe is very quirky, and we were quite fond of their canine logo.
- Mercy Tavern – A cozy, newer spot in town which felt off the beaten path, and served up delectable dishes. Nathan had a juicy cheese burger, Amy had outstanding New England clam chowder (complete with crab cakes), and we enjoyed a local cider from Far From the Tree. Apparently their mac n’ cheese is also to die for!
Do Some People-Watching & Enjoy the Haunted Happenings
Salem attracts some fun characters! You can have a great time just watching all the unique folks moving by. The whole city of Salem gets into the spirit of the season. October is busy with the Haunted Happenings, tons of events and celebrations are on every day. And everywhere you look are festive Halloween decorations.
Wander through the Old Burying Point Cemetery
There are many Salem points of interest you will come across during your stay. The town of Salem is not huge, and as you explore, you’re bound to find dozens of spots that intrigue you. One such place is the Old Burying Point Cemetery. With some notable figures buried here (including accused witch Martha Corey), it is worth it to spend some time exploring the very, very old graves here. Witchcraft judge John Hathorne is also buried here. Hathorne was known for being harsh and perhaps not always entirely impartial. Though Hathorne never expressed regret later in life for the outcome of the trials, his descendants seemed to have distanced themselves from the family name, including his great-grandson, who added one letter to his surname to become Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Pay Your Respects at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial
Just next to the Burial Point you will find the Salem Witch Trials Memorial. This is a simple stone memorial that was created in 1992 to memorialize the victims of the trials. The witch hysteria saw 20 people executed. Here, they can be remembered, with stone benches carved with each victim’s name. There are often flowers and other items set upon the stones.
Pop Into the Peabody Essex Museum
Though not necessarily “witch-related,” the Peabody Essex Museum is a great stop during any visit to Salem. Should you happen to be visiting in the next several weeks, you may be able to catch the fantastic “It’s Alive!” exhibit currently on display. This is a vintage sci-fi and horror film poster exhibit of the collection of Kirk Hammett, guitarist for Metallica. Nathan, being a sci-fi fan, was especially excited for this exhibit, but I ended up loving it too!
It was really thought-provoking to see the evolution of sci-fi and horror film posters and marketing approaches through the years. Throughout every decade, it’s clear that these movies prey on our deepest insecurities, fears, and fascinations. In addition to posters and monster displays, like the ones above, there are video interviews with Kirk Hammett (a very unique individual, for sure) and at the very end, an audio recording of a guitar-heavy composition Hammett created just for this exhibit. It’s really awesome.
Even if you visit the Peabody Essex at a different time of year, there will certainly be something to captivate you. There are rotating exhibits here as well as more permanent collections. The museum building is also quite lovely all its own.
Step Into the House of the Seven Gables
Are you a literary fan? If so, you may be interested in seeing the House of the Seven Gables, a structure intimately connected with one Nathaniel Hawthorne. But even without this particular interest, the house is absolutely worth a visit. A guided tour is lead by a remarkably knowledgeable guide, and you’ll learn more about the history of the house (including how it architecturally evolved over the years). The best part of all? You get to climb up a secret passageway, a hidden staircase in the walls. Psst: You’ll also find out just what the heck a ‘gable’ is, if you don’t already know!
Stay in a Haunted Inn
Now, many might believe if you want the true Salem experience, you need to stay in an inn or hotel with a history of paranormal activity. The choice is yours! Though The Salem Inn, where we stayed, does have some stories of ghostly experiences in the main inn, I was quite relieved that our stay was spirit-free! As a matter of fact, our stay was really lovely. We stayed in the beautiful old Currwen House, once belonging to a maritime family. Our room was perfectly decorated in an old-fashioned style, and it was very comfortable. We especially loved our whirlpool tub.
In the mornings, we enjoyed a fabulous continental breakfast, complete with the most delicious mini cinnamon rolls.
If you’re looking for quality lodging in Salem that has a vintage touch, The Salem Inn is a perfect choice.
There are so many things to do in Salem, MA to discover its mystery and magic. If you want to be even better prepared for your visit, check out our suggested books below. Happy travels!
*We visited Salem in partnership with Destination Salem. Thanks to Destination Salem for our activities and our lodging, courtesy of The Salem Inn. As always, all opinions are our own and reflect our true experiences.