- Mandie Roberts
ONE STOP TRAVEL GUIDE: SALEM, MA
Yeah, I know it's no longer autumn or Halloween time as I blog this but it is never too soon to start planning your trip to Salem. As a New Englander, I grew up about 60 miles from Salem and somehow, never went. It wasn't until I was older that I started going to Salem and have been hooked ever since. It's become a really special place for my family and I- especially my baby girl Poppy. My first time going was when she was in my belly and I have brought her back twice since.
There is truly magic in the air when you go to Salem. I always recommend researching the history of the Salem before you go. I read The Devil is in Massachusetts by Marion L. Starkey which gives a historically accurate account of the witch trials and the Salem residents who were involved, almost in a narrative way, which makes it an easier read. Once you have a grasp on the hysteria of the witch trials during 1600's New England, you can almost feel the ghosts of the past when you walk along the cobblestones. It's truly surreal to be there.
And of course, how can I mention Salem without bringing up Hocus Pocus? If you are a fan of the movie like me, you want to hit all the filming locations (Hocus Pocus 2 is currently being filmed in my home state of Rhode Island, so I'll have to do an update of those locations next time I go home). Most of the Hocus Pocus locations will be on my must see list and are walkable.
The best part of Salem is it is a place where you can be a freak and no one blinks twice. I dabble in magic and pagan rituals, so to be able to find all the things I need and to be able to dress as a witch in the middle of summer, is just fun. The kiddos dress up too, it truly is Halloween (aka Samhain) year round. But do not let witchcraft and ghosts stop you from recognizing the New England port town portion of Salem as well. I have dressed up in nice clothes and gone to amazing restaurants and bars, walked down to the light house to beach comb (and found bits of 19th century pottery) and walked through cute non-witch related shops.
Because I love Salem so much and want everyone I know to visit, here is a list of tips, where to go and what to eat. Oh and OBVIOUSLY, always booking weddings, sessions and elopements there.
Flights + Travel
Book to Boston. I typically book my tickets about 6 months ahead of time. Depending on the time of year, flights can be expensive. With Salem being 25 miles north of Boston, it is the closest airport but work traffic can add heavy delays. Another cheap option is flying into Hartford, CT. My flights from Denver are consistently $290 and non-stop. It is about 2-2.5 hours to Salem but you could possibly save hundreds of dollars in flights. FOR EVEN CHEAPER FLIGHTS: Book to HARTFORD, CT. It is a two hour drive or so from Boston. And the airport is a breeze.
Beware of Autumn. Obviously, everyone wants to go to Salem during autumn and Halloween time. Salem has a ton of Halloween events and festivals going on and the energy is electric during this time. This also means you will be waiting in lines to get into shops, you may not find tickets to museums if you do not book in advance and you will have to have reservations at restaurants. I went once in the beginning of September and felt like we had the city to ourselves. It was still hot, so I was sweating in my cape but I had a much better experience then I did during the fall. It was simply peaceful and full of locals.
COVID restrictions. Massachusetts is a very strict state. As of February 2022, they require negative tests or COVID vaccination cards to dine in restaurants and masks are required in every store. (As of December 2022, these restrictions are lifted).
Rental Cars + Transportation. You don't necessarily need a rental car when you visit Salem. You can pick up the T straight into the heart of Salem. Most of the attractions are walkable and there are plenty of places to stay. However, staying outside of Salem in nearby Danvers or Peabody will mean cheaper rates. If you do get a rental car, there are parking garages with cheap daily rates to park.
Must See Attractions
The Witch House
One of the original buildings from the time of the trials, Judge Jonathan Corwin and his family resided here. Self guided tours offered and it has a wonderful gift shop. Must reserve tours ahead of time online. Tickets are $9.
2.The House of Seven Gables
I made sure to read the House of Seven Gables by New England writer Nathaniel Hawthorne to know the fictional lore of the house. Another original building, the tours are guided and tickets are $20 for adults and $12 for children (5 and under are free). Grounds tours only are even cheaper. The home, built in 1668 is originally the mansion of merchant and sea merchant John Turner.
3. The Witch Museum
This museum has been around forever and is more of a "show" where you sit and listen to the story of the witch trials in a 360 degree hall. After the show (it's 1960's at it's best) you head into a room of modern witch craft stories with a few artifacts and gift shop. I would recommend doing this first so you know the characters from history. Must reserve showtime tickets ahead of time, tickets are $14.
4. Salem Witch Trials Memorial
Located at 24 Liberty Street next to a historic cemetary, this memorial honors each victim of the trials, with their method of execution as well. It is next to an old house as well that is sometimes open for self guided tours. FREE.
5. The Ropes Mansion
Hocus Pocus Fans will recognize this mansion as "Allison's House" from the movie but it is so much more than that. Located two houses down from the Witch House, the Ropes Mansion has stunning gardens in the back. I love sitting on the lawn in the front and then wandering around the back of the house. You can do tours but I haven't seen it open during COVID. This is one of my favorite places in the world. FREE.
6. Pioneer Village
Another Hocus Pocus filming location, the set for Thackery and Emily's house, Pioneer Village is a living history museum. You can take a step back into what Salem looked like when it was first incorporated. Adults are $6 and children are $4. Hours vary seasonally.
7. Max's House from Hocus Pocus
This is not actually located in Salem but in nearby Beverly. It is a private residence and there is no stret parking so you have to walk to it. I have seen the elderly lady who lives there and she does not mind folks taking photos of her home, just please be respectful. It is really surreal to see the iconic house in all it's glory next to the ocean. FREE.
8. Peabody Essex Museum
I haven't had the pleasure of walking through yet but the Peabody Essex Museum is supposed to be full of maritime artifacts, Essex County artifacts and African and Asian art. Right now they do have a Salem Witch Trials exhibit. Tickets are $20 for adults for general admission.
9. Derby St. Wharf
I am not quite sure what the official name of this area is but it is owned by the National Park system. This is one of my favorite spots in Salem. I love sitting and letting the kids run around, collecting treasures down by the beach and walking down to the lighthouse. There is a little sign that tells you about all the dealings at the gorgeous customs house and the history of the port itself. I am not kidding when I say I have found relics from the past! FREE.
10. Salem Town Hall
A Hocus Pocus location: this is the place where Max's parents attend the big party that the Sanderson Sisters crash. It is a historic building and I have seen people going in and out. It's also in the middle of a town square, surrounded by shops and cobblestones. FREE.
11. New England Pirate Museum
Explore the seas and stories of New England Pirates in this quirky museum. There is an artifact room and live walking tours. Tickets are $13 for adults and $10 for children.
12. Witch Dungeon Museum
Affiliated with the New England Pirate Museum, combination tickets with the pirate museum can be purchased. This is essentially a live re-enactment of the witch trials utilizing actual dialogue from trial transcripts.
13. The Coven's Cottage
A true witch shop, the Coven's Cottage has everything you need for your apothecary with a natural aesthetic. There are usually lines to get in but the atmosphere truly makes it feel as if you wandered in to a Crone's cottage in the forest. Candles, herbs and books galore. FREE.(unless you spend money).
14. Black Veil Shoppe of Drear and Wonder
Ok, so this is actually a tattoo shop- but hear me out. I have been following the work of owners Ryan and Matthew Murray and they create mind-blowing tattoos worthy of Salem's lore. Not only that, they have a shop store front of oddities. If you are wanting a tattoo, book in advance. I am still waiting for my opportunity! Follow these guys on instagram.
15. Hex Olde World Witchery
Another Witch shop that is authentic. They have an altar that anyone can contribute to during Samhain. The olde world vibes are similar to the Coven's Cottage but with even more inventory. FREE.
Where to Eat
1. Adriatic Restaurant
Upscale, authentic Italian with outside dining options.
2. Caramel French Patisserie
You can not walk by without grabbing fresh macaroons.
3. The Hawthorne Hotel
Not just a place to stay, the hotel tavern has almost gourmet food by a real wood burning fire.
4. O'Neill's Pub and Restaurant
Authentic Irish food and live Irish music.
5. Fountain Place Restaurant
Amazing breakfast but get there early to beat the crowd!
6. Jodi Bee Bakes
Vegetarian bakery and cafe serving amazing moon pies.
7. Thai Place Restaurant
Hole in the wall, surprisingly delicious Thai cuisine.
8. Bunghole Liquors
Famous with locals and tourists. A hole in the wall liquor store. You know why it's famous...
Where to Stay
The Hawthorne Hotel
The Salem Inn
Salem Waterfront Hotel & Suites
The Daniel's House Bed and Breakfast
Want to book a session with me in Salem?! Just send a carrier pigeon or email to: firstname.lastname@example.org