If youre looking for a seasonally-appropriate day trip this month, youd be hard-pressed to find a New England spot that celebrates Halloween as thoroughly as Salem.
Located 16 miles north of Boston, Salem welcomes more than half a million visitors during October for its monthlong Haunted Happenings, according to Kate Fox, director of Destination Salem, the citys office of tourism and cultural affairs.
Its really fun, she said. There are people from all over the world who come to Salem, and there are costumes, and its just a great, huge celebration of Halloween that runs all month long.
This map of downtown Salem, along with the following recommendations from Fox, will help you plan your day of adventure in Witch City.
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 Bostons North Station on the commuter rail, Fox said, and 55 minutes from the ferry from Long Wharf.
Youll 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.
A lot of the restaurants wont take reservations in October, Fox said. So if theres somewhere you really want to be, then check with them ahead of time. … In October, we like to tell people when you are coming to Salem for Haunted Happenings, make sure you bring a bottle of water and a granola bar, because theres going to be a wait wherever you go.
For an incredible view with a side of lobster rolls and New England clam chowder, head to Sea Level Oyster Bar, Fox said.
If youre looking for a burger and a beer, Counter at The Hotel Salem is a great bet, Fox said.
The Roof, which serves cocktails and wine, tacos and ceviche, is Salems only restaurant with rooftop dining.
For families traveling with kids, Fox recommended Bit Bar, a restaurant and classic arcade in one (Tetris tots, anyone?), and Brothers Taverna, which serves sandwiches, pizza, and also baked haddock and has a childrens menu full of kid favorites such as chicken fingers and mac and cheese. Fox said families should consider heading to Reds Sandwich Shop, as well, located in the historic London Coffee House, for chocolate chip pancakes, BLTs, and roasted turkey dinners.
For a sweet treat, Fox suggested taking the kids to Mr. Crepe, where you can top gourmet crepes with apples and cinnamon, marshmallow fluff, and raspberry jam.
A walking tour is going to point out the significant locations in Salem, Fox said. Weve got 400 years of stories. Each of the tours tells different stories.
The day tour, which begins at 2 p.m., takes guests into cemeteries, past architecture, and to the waterfront. The night tour begins at 8 p.m. and is full of ghost stories and tales of the Salem events that inspired authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne. Both tours last between 90 minutes and two hours.
Another excellent tour, according to Fox, is Haunted Footsteps, the citys oldest walking tour company. Guests go on a 90-minute, lantern-lit stroll through Salem, led by costumed guides who discuss Salems macabre past, paranormal activity, and centuries-old murders. The tour begins at 8 p.m.
For one, Fox said to check out a performance by History Alive, a historically-themed theater company from Salem that reenacts the trials.
The audience is the jury, so it gives you a unique perspective of what happened in Salem in 1692, she said. You have an opportunity to cross-examine the characters from the trial and understand what it was like to be part of the whole witch trial hysteria.
Of course, youll also learn a lot about the witch trials at the Salem Witch Museum, Fox said. Youll discover what happened in 1692 and examine the evolving perceptions of witches in our society.
The House of Seven Gables, best known through Nathaniel Hawthornes 1851 novel of the same name, is celebrating its 350th anniversary this year. All month long, visitors can watch the dramatic performances The Legacy of the Hanging Judge and Spirits of the Gables.
Theyre ghost stories, so theres a little bit of mystery, Fox said. Both take place on the property of the House of the Seven Gables. Theyve been doing Legacy and Spirits for years. Theyre perennial favorites.
If youre taking kids to Salem, you can catch a free family-friendly flick every Saturday night on the Salem Common, Fox said.
During the final two weekends of October, the city will host a weekend Kids Fun Fest on the Common as well.
Theres also plenty of midweek enjoyment for families during Wicked Wednesdays, which includes crafts, face painting, costume parades, characters, music, and interactive events geared toward kids ages 12 and younger. On Oct. 24, kids can take part in a special program called Salem Fairy Door Trail, in which kids follow a map and search for fairy doors created by local artists in downtown Salem.
Salem, the go-to Massachusetts destination for those looking for an entirely Halloween experience, is a draw for many reasons: whether you are visiting to explore the historic, the literary, the spooky or the simply fun and family-friendly, the Essex County city famous for its haunting past is ready to accommodate nearly every type of tourist.
The numbers reveal how attractive visitors are finding Witch City: With more than two weeks to go until Halloween, city officials predict record-breaking tourism rates this year, perhaps doubling the estimated 500,000 visitors Salem typically sees each October. Halloween night alone usually draws between 50-75k outside tourists.
“I cant believe it. This past weekend we actually saw numbers consistent with end of month,” said Kate Fox, the executive director of “Destination Salem,” or the office of tourism and cultural affairs in Salem.
She attributes recent soaring tourism rates to a steady growth in the citys popularity, and especially to the 25th anniversary of cult Disney film “Hocus Pocus,” which was partially filmed in Salem and Marblehead. Cooperative weather also plays a part in rising tourist numbers, she said, though the stream of international and cross-country visitors stays fairly regular.
With more than 500 events organized by “Haunted Happenings,” the official title for the month-long festival celebrating Halloween in Salem, it can be difficult to pin down where to go, what to do and how to do it.
If you wish to be one of those tourists breaking visitor records in Salem this month, here is the ultimate guide on how to execute your trip to Witch City:
Visitors traveling to Salem should consider the major traffic congestion that happens there and even in surrounding cities as the flood of tourists picks up. Fox recommends visitors opt for the MBTA Commuter Rail.
“Even if you drive to Beverly or Lynn…you hop on and its one stop,” Fox says. With just $2 parking at Beverly, and around $6.50 for a round trip commuter rail ticket, she advises this method will save many from driver headaches. Fox noted that Uber, Lyft or other transport options from the commuter rail parking lots would work well, too.
Lots typically range in price from $20-$40 for the day in Salem, Fox says, but notes that they fill up quickly. She adds that parking garages are often full by 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays.
But those visiting Salem on the weekends of Oct. 20-21, 2018 or Oct. 27-28, 2018 are in luck: they can ride downtown on free shuttles. Visitors can park for free at Salem High School and take a free shuttle into downtown. On Oct. 27-28 only, the OKeefe Center at Salem State University will also be available for parking and shuttle service.
Those driving from further away who wish to stay close to Salem are not entirely out of luck: the city keeps a log of regional hotels that can accommodate last-minute tourists.
INSIDER TIP: Twitter account @GetThruOctober is a helpful resource when planning to travel into Salem. It updates followers with expected road closures from Salem Police and when garages are filling up.
Those native to the North Shore are probably very familiar with the places that highlight the notable literary and historical legends that wandered these parts.
But for those who may have missed their school field trip or are visiting Salem for the first time from further away, there are a few staple attractions worth checking off the bucket list before heading to the haunted houses.
The Salem Witch Museum is one of the most popular and most-visited museums in Massachusetts. It is the place to go to get your much-needed recap on the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, the scarring historic event that has given the city its spooky superlative.
For those who arent particularly interested in a Witch Trials history lesson, the museum also discusses the “witch hunt” phenomenon and the evolution of the word “witch” over time.
The museum presents timed presentations in order to allow proper time and space for guests. Tickets cost $12 for adults, and are discounted for children ages 6-14, as well as seniors.
INSIDER TIP: If you want to check out the Salem Witch Museum, you can only buy tickets in-person. Destination Salem Director Fox recommends getting there early, as most daytime tickets sell out before 11 a.m.