A Guide to Visiting Salem Massachusetts for Halloween

No destination screams “HALLOWEEN” quite like Salem, Massachusetts does, so it’s no surprise that it draws thousands of visitors for the holiday (and the surrounding weekends) each year. This creates a fun, festive, atmosphere, but also means that the streets and shops are packed to capacity, tours sell out, accommodations book up well in advance, and your trip to Salem requires some advanced planning in order to be as enjoyable as possible. But this guide will take you through everything you need to know to make planning a breeze!

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Where to Stay

If you want to stay in Salem, get ready to dish out some serious mullah and book at least 4 months in advance. Even nearby towns (everything within a 15-minute drive) jack up the prices of hotels, Airbnb’s, Vrbo’s, etc. to capitalize on the inrush of visitors. If you’re still determined to stay in Salem for the full experience check out the Hawthorne Hotel or the Salem Inn.

this is where individuals involved in the Salem Witch Trials are buried

The Hawthorne Hotel is located right next to the Salem Witch Museum and the Salem Common, one of the filming locations in “Hocus Pocus” and where shopping stalls are set up in October. The other big draws to the Hawthorne Hotel include the myriad of famous names that have stayed there (the cast of bewitched, Robert De Niro, and Jennifer Lawrence while filming there, the Real Housewives of New York, former President George W. Bush, and others) and the reports of ghost activity that have even drawn the Ghost Hunters to the hotel to investigate.

If the ghost activity of the Hawthorne Hotel is a little too spooky for you, the Salem Inn offers the historical charm and great location without the self-moving furniture and specter sightings. Guests love the convenience of parking their car in the Inn’s lot and then not needing it again until they leave; the Salem Inn is located downtown, so you only have steps to go to get from your hotel room to the center of the action.

One of the filming locations of Hocus Pocus

However, the inflated rates don’t extend all the way to Boston, so that’s where I recommend staying. I enjoyed visiting Salem during the day, but I was relieved to have stayed in Boston to have some relief from the crowds in the mornings and evenings. Plus, Boston has a ton of great things to do as well!

My suggestion in Boston is the Residence Inn Boston Harbor on Tudor Wharf. The décor is slightly dated but I couldn’t care less about that because the rooms are very spacious, price is reasonable, and the location is top notch; on the water, close to several cute restaurants, right next to a branch of the Boston Freedom Trail, and just a quick walk away from the North Station where the commuter train runs from Boston to Salem.

How to Get To Salem

If you don’t live within driving distance of Salem, you likely want to fly into Boston and then get to Salem from there. And, speaking of the commuter train, that’s the best way to get from Boston to Salem in my mind. The train leaves from the North Station hourly, and the workers are used to herding the Salem Halloween crowds on and off the correct train. You can either buy 1 round trip ticket for $8 or upgrade to a weekend pass for $10 (if the timing works out) in the mTicket app or at the ticket counter in the station. The train doesn’t sell out and there aren’t assigned seats, but you may have to stand in the aisle for the 30-minute journey to Salem at the busiest times. The train drops you off only a 5-minute walk or so away from Salem’s main downtown streets.

If you’d rather not take the train for any reason, there are several other options. There’s a ferry that runs several times per day from Memorial Day Weekend until October 31st. It costs $31 for adults, $26 for children between 3 and 11 years old, and nothing for kids younger than 3, and takes 50 minutes to make the trip from Boston’s Long Wharf to Blaney Street dock in Salem. However, the ferry can sell out and requires reservations at least 48-hours in advance, so you may not know exactly what type of whether you’re signing up to sail in.

There’s always the option of driving or renting a car, but Salem officials close down the streets during the days around Halloween to accommodate all of the pedestrians and tourists and advise people not to drive in the area during those days if possible. Parking is very limited and prioritized for residents, so even parking in garages around Salem may prove difficult in October. Salem offers free shuttles from satellite parking lots each weekend in October to try to counteract the problem. If you do have a car and no assigned parking spot from your hotel, using these satellite lots is probably your best bet.

And finally, rather than taking a bus from a satellite lot, you can opt for taking a bus from Boston. Both the #450 and #455 buses run from Boston to downtown Salem.

Take a Ghost or Witch Walking Tour

After booking accommodations for your trip, the next thing to do is book the witch and/or ghost tour you’re interested in. Seeing as Salem is nicknamed the “Witch City”, it’s hard to pass up a witch tour to hear the story of the Salem witch trial hysteria straight from a local historian. However, if you opt to go to the Witch Museum, you may get more variety from a ghost tour instead. The ghost tours will still cover the Salem events of 1692, but will also focus to the paranormal activity that those events have caused between now and then. Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with either option!

Bridget Bishop was one of the victims of the Salem Witch Trials

Tours will start filling up a couple of months prior to Halloween, so try to book this 3 or 4 months ahead of time too, if you can. Since the tours take you on a walk to various sites around Salem, it’s nice to schedule this for as soon as you get there so that you can use it to immediately get the lay of the land (and you can get some insider tips from the tour guide for shopping or food if you want). Alternatively, some tours are offered at night for a spookier, Halloween setting.

Visit the Witch Museum

The witch museum covers a lot of the same material as the witch walking tours do, so you may want to choose one or the other. However, the museum may be the better choice for anyone with mobility concerns, since you’re able to sit for the majority of the experience.

It’s not a typical museum in the sense of walking around and looking at items related to the Salem witch craze that are set up in exhibits; rather, you sit in a theater and watch different parts of the room come to life as the story of the witch trials is narrated around you, like you’re in the midst of a documentary.

Tickets are only available for certain show times throughout the day, and are only sold on a day-by-day basis. That means you can either wake up early on the day you plan to visit and hope to snag tickets at a good time, or stay up late the night before to buy tickets right after they are released at midnight. Whatever you do, make sure you pick a time that you want and are available for; the museum won’t exchange times or refund the tickets you purchase for any reason.  Even during Halloween weekend, you should have your choice of times if you use the midnight purchase method.

Go Shopping

Salem’s Essex Street contains a ton of souvenir, witch, home décor, and specialty shops that make up a pedestrian mall along the main drag of downtown Salem. Towards the end of the street lies Crow Haven Corner, the oldest witch shop in Salem with a well-known “love clairvoyant”. A trip to Salem wouldn’t be complete without stopping by to cast a spell or pick up magical supplies to give your love life a little boost.

In addition to the brick-and-mortar stores, stalls are set up around the Old Town Hall, the Salem Common, and in other little clusters around the city that sell more trinkets, souvenirs, and hand-made goods. If you get tired of waiting in the queues to get into stores, browsing among the stalls is a good shopping alternative with no wait.

Visit the “Hollywood” Sites

Salem has been used as the filming location for about a dozen shows and movies, but two of the most popular (and witch-themed) are “Bewitched” and “Hocus Pocus”.

In “Bewitched”, Samantha and Darrin traveled to Salem for a witches’ convention and filmed at multiple locations around town. One of the most obvious stops was the House of the Seven Gables, but the most photographed “Bewitched”-related spot in Salem is actually the statue of Samantha that’s been situated at the intersection of Washington Street and Essex Street since 2005.

“Hocus Pocus” also has various filming locations around Salem that you can tour. A big one is the Pioneer Village where the opening scenes were shot and where the Sanderson Sisters’ cottage exterior can be seen. The Pioneer Village has been kept the same as it’s seen in the movie since it’s a living history museum created to represent life in Salem in 1630. Max and Dani’s house can be seen at 4 Ocean Avenue, but this one is exterior only as well, since the house is currently an inhabited private residence. There’s also Alison’s House, aka the Ropes Mansion. It’s owned by the Peabody Essex Museum and you can explore the property’s gardens for free between dawn and dusk. Several scenes were filmed at the Salem Common, and the final big filming location in Salem is the Old Town Hall, which is known as the set of the Halloween party where Bette Midler sang “I Put a Spell on You” to the town.

Check out the Halloween Decorations

Both the businesses and the residents of Salem go all out on the Halloween décor in October. Make sure to take a second while you’re walking around to admire the intricate skeleton scenes and elaborate costumes people have donned for the holiday.

There’s a big Halloween display on Derby Street, between Mercy Tavern and Ye Olde Pepper Companie, but some of the best decorations are in the residential areas of Salem. 170 Federal Street is particularly known for going all out. Obviously, make sure you are respectful of peoples’ homes while admiring the decorations!

Have Your Fortune Read

A ton of the shops around Salem have mediums willing to tell you your future using tarot cards, palmistry, tea leaves, and more. Some of the more popular places for psychic readings are HEX, Pentagram, and Maison Vampyre. No matter where you end up going, you’re going to want to make a reservation if it’s Halloween weekend. Luckily, you can easily make a reservation for the same day (even on Halloween weekend) if you aren’t set on meeting with a particular individual. Expect to spend at least $35 for your reading, and know that you have to wait in line to get in the store even if you have an appointment, so budget a few minutes extra for that.

Where to Eat in Salem

Also expect to wait in a line to get into almost any restaurant in Salem on Halloween weekend. But, on the bright side, the restaurants tend to have a good amount of seating, so the lines move pretty quickly for groups of 4 or less. For larger groups, maybe consider splitting into multiple parties for meals so that you aren’t waiting forever to get in.

Some of the best places to eat in Salem include Turner’s Seafood, Flying Saucer Pizza Company, The Lobster Shanty, and the Roof.

Turner’s Seafood is one of the top-rated restaurants in all of Salem according to Trip Advisor, and for good reason. The expansive menu features, you guessed it, plenty of seafood! The portions are more than generous, and the old building makes a beautiful backdrop for your meal. The location is significant to Salem because it stands atop what was originally Bridget Bishop’s apple orchard. Bishop was the first accused and convicted of witchcraft in Salem, and some say that her ghost still hangs around what was previously her property.

Flying Saucer Pizza Company is a great choice for everyone because their creatively-topped pizzas are available in gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan versions. In fact, just let the server know if you’re interested in vegan or gluten free options and they will supply you with a whole other menu to peruse!

The Lobster Shanty was featured on an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” where Guy Fieri sampled the pulled pork, Guinness marinated steak tips, and a lobstertini. The dining room is much smaller than the other suggestions (only seating 30 people), so the time needed to follow in Guy’s footsteps could be a little bit longer than if you opt for a different restaurant, but they promise to be worth the wait.

The Roof offers something a little different, because it’s the only open-air rooftop bar and restaurant in Salem. It sits atop the Hotel Salem with views of one of downtown Salem’s main streets, which makes it a great vantage point for people watching while enjoying a drink or a couple of tacos.

Not a restaurant per se but another cool spot to stop by is Ye Olde Pepper Companie, the oldest continuously operated candy company in America! They have plenty of sweet treats to sample but are especially known for the Gibralters and Black Jacks that are both made using an original recipe that’s over 200 years old today.

Other Things to Know for Your Trip

There is an official Salem witches’ Halloween ball held on Halloween weekend each year! If you’re interested in attending, buy your tickets from the website early, and check this year’s costume theme to make sure you are dressed appropriately.

All the activities in Salem during October, including the ball, are part of the Salem Haunted Happenings event. When in doubt, the Haunted Happenings website is a great place to start looking for information. For example, most stores don’t have public restrooms, and restaurants’ restrooms are available for customer use only. However, porta-potties have been set up around the city and Haunted Happenings has put together a map of those along with any public restrooms that are available.

And finally, the difference in the crowds on a weekday versus the weekend are crazy. If you can schedule at least part of your trip to be on a weekday, I think it makes it more enjoyable. Whether you end up doing that or not though, you’re bound to have a fantastic time on your trip to Salem!

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