The Salem Witch Trials might still haunt the old seaside town of Salem, Massachusetts, but the so-called “Witch City” is so much more than just witches. It’s a city rich with history, otherworldly entertainment, spectacular shopping, and excellent dining and nightlife options. With quaint cobblestone streets bumping against quirky old buildings, Salem casts a spell on its visitors with a surprise around every corner. Best of all, it’s walkable. No matter what you squeeze into your visit, the opportunities to have a wicked good time are truly endless.
Most locals would agree that no first-timer’s visit to The Witch City is complete without a spell in the Salem Witch Museum. From stage sets to tours exploring the 1692 Salem Witch Trials that put Salem on the map worldwide, you will learn a lot about the city, including a bit about witchcraft in the modern era. Sure, the special effects might be a little dated—the booming voiceover during the presentation is Vincent Price’s voice on tape—but that’s all part of its enduring allure.
Even if you aren’t a fan of the iconic 1960s TV series Bewitched, you’re probably familiar with the star of the show: a blonde witch named Samantha, played by Elizabeth Montgomery. The bronze statue erected in her honor sits smack dab in the middle of downtown Salem, surrounded by the cities’ cafes, bars, quirky shops, and restaurants.
If you make your way to the picturesque harbor off Congress Street, you’ll come upon an imposing 171-foot replica of the type of merchant ship that made Salem a global leader in the spice trade of the 18th century. Although it usually operates as a permanent museum, the boat is a fully functioning US Coast Guard-certified vessel that makes special sailings at various times of the year. After you’ve marveled at this maritime wonder, walk down the rocky causeway to the historic Derby Wharf lighthouse, which has been sending off signals since 1871.
This historic homestead from 1668 was made famous by Salem-born author Nathaniel Hawthorne in his 1851 novel, The House of the Seven Gables. The house got its name from—you guessed it—its seven gables. Now a museum and a designated National Historic Landmark District, The House of the Seven Gables has long been one of Salem’s essential stops.
Nicknamed “The Willows” by residents, this picturesque harborside park is a sharp contrast to its famous old-school amusement park. The arcade is packed with vintage games that have been plugged into their respective wall sockets since the 1980s and 1990s, giving it a nostalgic vibe with just the right amount of creepiness. There’s also a mini-golf course, a few rides, and yes, all the greasy food you can gorge yourself on. Be sure to try the world-famous chop suey sandwich, which is exactly what it sounds like.
Avoid Salem’s traffic and confusing one-way streets by renting a bike instead of driving. Pedal your way out to Winter Island, which is not actually an island but a peninsula that juts into Salem Harbor. There, you can walk out to the lighthouse, relax on one of the three beaches, have a picnic, rent a boat, and even go camping. Be sure to check out the spooky abandoned airport hangar and dilapidated army barracks while you’re there.
When you visit the Old Burying Point on Charter Street, you'll see some of the oldest graves in the country nestled amongst craggy old trees that look straight out of a horror movie. The Witch Trials Memorial is tucked in beside the cemetery, behind a low stone wall. It’s so understated you could easily overlook it if you didn’t know it was there. There, you can pay your respects to the victims of the witch trial victims, each of which has their name and cause of execution etched onto individual stone slabs.
Open since 1806, Ye Olde Pepper Companie on Derby Street is the oldest commercial candy store in the country. Every piece of candy is still made fresh and in-house, using the shop’s original 19th-century recipes. Spoiled for choice and stuck on which sweet to savor first? Try some Salem Gibraltar, which was invented by the shop’s original owner, a shipwreck survivor named Mrs. Spencer.
Just off Salem Common, you’ll find the century-old Hawthorne Hotel, named for Salem’s own Nathaniel Hawthorne. Within this elegantly restored landmark is a cozy dining room called Tavern on the Green, with wood walls and an enormous wood-burning fireplace that keeps the New England chill at bay. The menu offers fresh seafood and traditional pub food, and when you get thirsty you can enjoy draft beer and an award-winning cocktail or two at the bar.
While there are plenty of daytime walking tours of The Witch City, it’s safe to say the most thrilling ones happen after dark. There are countless options for ghost tours of any imaginable variety, especially as the Halloween season draws near. All of them are ghoulishly entertaining, yet educational at the same time. Hey, it’s just Salem doing what Salem does best.