Travel

Here’s your October day trip guide to spooky Salem

Get Witch City tips for eating, touring, and exploring.

A woman dressed as a witch on Essex Street in Salem in 2014. John Blanding / The Boston Globe

If you’re looking for a festive, seasonally appropriate day trip this month, you’d be hard-pressed to find a New England destination that celebrates Halloween as thoroughly as Salem.

Located 16 miles north of Boston, Salem typically welcomes more than half a million visitors during October for its monthlong Haunted Happenings, according to Kate Fox, director of Destination Salem, the city’s office of tourism and cultural affairs.

Salem was just named among the best places to travel worldwide in October by Conde Nast Traveler.

“What a privilege to be a destination that is beloved,” Fox said. “People just cherish coming here, whether it’s their first trip or their 40th.”

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Last October, even though most events were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the city still saw a couple hundred thousand visitors, Fox said. This year, many events have returned, she said, so the city is gearing up for a busy season.

“Salem Haunted Happenings’ popularity has withstood the test of the pandemic,” she said. “People are making plans and have been making plans to visit this October. The hotels have been sold out for weekends for months. So we know it’s going to be busy. If visitors are not yet comfortable with crowds, they may want to consider midweek or coming after October. We do have public health guidelines in place. Visitors are expected to wear masks indoors.”

This map of downtown Salem, along with the following recommendations from Fox, will help you plan your adventure in Witch City. Visitors can also download a free Destination Salem app with information about parking, traffic, attraction tickets, and more.

How should I get to Salem?

An employee closes the gate for the day at the Salem Witch Museum in Salem in 2014. – Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

“Our first recommendation is to take the train or the ferry,” Fox said. “Parking is at such a premium. The commuter rail brings you right downtown, and everything is walkable.”

It takes 30 minutes to get to Salem from Boston’s North Station on the commuter rail, Fox said, and 55 minutes aboard the Salem ferry from Long Wharf.

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Visitors can get information about the train and ferry on the Haunted Happenings website.

The City of Salem will provide free satellite parking at Salem Hospital at 108 Jefferson Ave., Salem High School at 77 Willson St., and Salem State University O’Keefe Center at 225 Canal St. during the weekends of October 16-17, 23-24, and 30-31, she said. 

Also, free shuttles will run between the lots and Riley Plaza downtown between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Where should I eat?

A pizza at Flying Saucer Pizza Company in Salem. – Aram Boghosian

You’ll find a list of Salem restaurants on the Haunted Happenings website, broken up into delis, pizza, and sandwiches, restaurants and bars, and sweets and treats.

“Restaurants can get to a two-hour wait on weekends in October,” Fox said. “So plan ahead and make reservations wherever possible.”

Fox said guests can consider grabbing food to go from Essex’s NY Pizza & Deli or Flying Saucer Pizza. Or visitors can check out a food court full of fair foods on Salem Common, beginning on October 15.

“If you’re looking for a burger and a beer, try Brodie’s on Derby Street or the Village Tavern on Essex Street,” Fox said.

New this year is the Marina Beer Garden at the Salem Waterfront Hotel on Pickering Wharf, Fox said, where guests enjoy cocktails, live music, outdoor games, and rotating food trucks. 

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The Roof, which has a full bar and an outdoor kitchen serving tacos, rice bowls, and oysters, is Salem’s only restaurant with rooftop dining.

“On a beautiful night, it’s the only place in Salem like it,” Fox said.

For families traveling with kids, Fox recommends heading to Red’s Sandwich Shop, located in the historic London Coffee House, which she said has an extensive and family-friendly menu for breakfast and lunch. Also, Rockafellas serves lunch and dinner and offers a “Little Rocks” menu for kids. As a bonus, the outdoor dining area is the perfect spot for people-watching, she said.

For a sweet treat, Fox suggested checking out Melt Ice Cream, Maria’s Sweet Somethings, or Coffee Time Bake Shop.

The latter has “the best apple cider doughnuts,” Fox said. “They glaze their apple cider doughnuts, which takes them to the next level.”

How can I experience the best of Salem in just one day?

Giles Corey’s stone in the Witch Trials Memorial, which is adjacent to the Charter Street Cemetery. – Kate Fox

“If you are planning your first visit to Salem, start your day early with a Salem Trolley Tour, which will give you a one-hour narrated tour of Salem’s historic district and a great overview of Salem’s rich history,” Fox said.

Guests can choose from more than 30 daytime and evening walking tours, Fox said, which cover everything from ghosts to the city’s history to “Hocus Pocus” filming locations

“The hottest segment of Salem’s tourism industry right now is walking tours,” she said. 

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It’s also worth visiting the new Welcome Center at Charter Street Cemetery, where guests can learn the history of the Charter Street Historic District and  the cemetery. A cemetery map (for $2) directs guests to significant graves and explains the gravestone art, she said. 

Which Salem witch trial destinations should I visit?

The Witch House in Salem. – Destination Salem

The Peabody Essex Museum exhibit “The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming” offers a unique perspective of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials, Fox said.

“The exhibit explores two creative responses by artists who have ancestral links to the trials and includes authentic trial documents and 17th century objects,” she said.

The exhibit runs from Sept. 18 to March 20, 2022.

Guests can also check out the following, Fox said: The Salem Witch Museum, where visitors learn the history of the witch trials; the Witch Dungeon Museum, which features a live reenactment of one of the trials and tours through a replica dungeon; the Salem Wax Museum’s self-guided tours; and The Witch House, or Jonathan Corwin House, where trial judge Jonathan Corwin lived. The latter is the only location in Salem with direct ties to the trials, Fox said. 

Which Salem activities are appropriate (and fun!) for my kids?

Children dressed up in Salem for Haunted Happenings. – John Andrews Photography

If you’re taking kids to Salem, you can catch a free family-friendly flick every Friday night at Charlotte Forten Park, Fox said.

On Oct. 8, kids can trick-or-treat with the mayor at area businesses. Fox noted that Salem visitors of all ages who arrive in costume throughout the season cannot wear weapons of any kind, real or fake.

“Families will want to check out the Merchant Marketplace and street performers that will be around town on October weekends,” Fox said.

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Parents will find family-friendly characters on Hawthorne Boulevard in new “performance zones” set up by the city, Fox said.

Family Fun Fest, hosted by the Salem Common Neighborhood Association on the Salem Common, is another great event for kids.

The Halloween Museum is well worth checking out, too, Fox said.

“It’s a self-guided 3D experience for all ages,” she said. “And it’s very family-friendly.”

What are the COVID-19 guidelines?

Pedestrians take photos in Salem in 2020. – Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Salem visitors should bring a mask, Fox said, because they’ll be required to wear masks indoors in all public spaces through Nov. 13. Masks are also required on public transportation. Masks are not required outdoors.

The Salem Board of Health recently decided that visitors attending indoor events between Oct. 1 and Nov. 1 with more than 100 people in attendance must produce a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours, and noted details about rapid testing in the city will be announced soon.

There are no capacity limits set by the city or state this year, Fox said, but businesses can set their own rules, and guests should respect them.

Visitors at Horror Fest, which includes 50 indoor movies throughout the month, must show proof of vaccination before being admitted. 

“We’ll do whatever it takes to keep our audience safe,” Kay Lynch of Horror Fest told the Associated Press. “We’ve capped our audience. We’ve required vaccination. Masks are required indoors.”

“There’s a lot to do, a lot of the events have come back,” she said. “But as we continue to watch public health data, businesses are making decisions that are appropriate to themselves. So some businesses are going to have capacity limits, some businesses may shift to reservation shopping, and some events may end up canceling,” she said.

Visitors should plan ahead and check online to see if a specific event they are traveling to Salem for is still happening and what the requirements are for guests, if any, Fox said. Visitors can check the Haunted Happenings website and app for up-to-date COVID-19 guidelines and cancellations.

Fox noted that people wary of crowds can enjoy Salem’s offerings another time. 

“Most of these things are available year-round,” Fox said. “So if people don’t want to be part of the crowds, we’re here year round.”


What readers are saying about Salem:

“The overall Halloween vibe is unparalleled,” @jsecret53 wrote. “The history, the people watching, the overall intimacy and walkability of the city.”

“The people walking around in witch hats and more,” wrote @mocochinchilove. “Where else could you do that!”

“The fact that you feel like you’re in a Disney Halloween movie when you’re there, which is the best vibe,” wrote @thomas_gage.

“So much to see and do,” wrote @frankiefenders. “Beautiful architecture, cool shops and great places to eat. Salem has a vibe like no other place.”

For things to do:

Bewitched StatueGina DiCarlo

Black Cat ToursKerri Swain Walsh

Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery@beingbricri, @wyldweasil

Essex StreetAaron Zev Katz

Flying Monkey @_ali.smith

Hawthorne Hotel@valley.ofthe.dolls, Lynda Ross Morris

Hive & Forge@_walkonthemoon_

Hocus Pocus Tours@dear_jordan

Mac Park FarmSusan Longo

New England Pirate Museum@one.trick.peony

Oak + Moss@dwcordova

Peabody Essex Museum@mwlphelps, @spikate, @tarak256, @maryartsmart, @tatiana_bashlycheva, Nancy MacGregor DeCourcey, Semonia Diane McEntire, Rich DeFuria, Aaron Zev Katz, Jen Reilly, Laurie Weinstein Rosen, Terri Daly, Sean Harkins

Pickering WharfHelen Elizabeth, Jim Polo Sr

Pyramid Books@bohorootsbytoni

Roost & Company@spikate

Salem Common@michaeltrevisani, Aaron Zev Katz, Jen Reilly

Salem HarborGerry Long

Salem Willows Arcade@suey.mhd, @irisheyes0115, Mary Corso, Frank Buono, Aaron Zev Katz, Susan Longo

Salem Witch Museum@gracefalkinhoff, Jen Reilly

The Cauldron Black@urbanwizard

The House of the Seven Gables@irishscorpio59, @meghanf0421, Leo Carpenter

The Satanic Temple@clintmccrary, @shortiepoe, Jen Reilly

The Trolley Depot@thomas_gage

The Witch HouseJen Reilly

Tiki Hut Boats@irisheyes0115, Anna Lisa Vust

Winter Island ParkAaron Zev Katz

For food and drink:

A&J King Bakery@spikate

Brodie’s Seaport @michaeltrevisani, Joann Sawyer

Crow Haven Corner @thomas_gage

Finz Seafood & Grill@sandro._._

Goodnight Fatty @akabritain, @tatiana_bashlycheva

Gulu-Gulu Cafe@manpreet_2204, Mayra GS

Howling Wolf Tacqueria@luke_wentz, Eric Silva

Jodi Bee Bakes@_jessical_27

Melt Ice Cream @thomas_gage

Notch Brewing@svenbson, @tatiana_bashlycheva

Red’s Sandwich Shop @trevinosimon

Settler@dwcordova

Sidelines Sports Bar & Grill@gkaminsky013

The Derby Salem@jimi816

The Cheese Shop of Salem@_jessical_27

The Landing at Salem Ferry@michaeltrevisani

The Roof@michaeltrevisani

Ye Olde Pepper Companie@one.trick.peony

“I’m so excited to visit this October,” wrote @aashhleyyy.

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