Whether you’re a modern-day mystic, a Halloween enthusiast, or just in town for the weekend, there’s no denying there’s something brewing in Salem, Massachusetts.
The town is best known for the Salem Witch Trials, a historical event that ended with the deaths of 20 people. While that hysteria has long passed, a new kind of fever has gripped the town. It’s a place filled with modern witches and lovers of the macabre, making it truly one of the most unique places in America to visit. And October is high-season in Witch City. So go ahead, embark on your Underworld Journey. The Witching Hour is neigh.
Here’s your ultimate guide to the most interesting Things to Do in Salem, Massachusetts.
Salem has some of the most famous history in the country. Encounter the true facts of a Puritan town on edge and the resulting aftermath at these historic stops.
History Alive, Inc.
The Salem Witch Trials are incredibly famous, but what really happened? The historically-themed theater company History Alive, Inc. dives into the hard facts through their interactive plays, the most famous of which is Cry Innocent: The People vs. Bridget Bishop.
These shows are a step above thanks to the focus on interpreting history through the lens of a 17th century worldview. Unlike some of the hokier historical displays in Salem (and don’t get us wrong, we love the kitsch and macabre), History Alive, Inc. focuses on period-accurate representations and theories. Interactive components of the plays draw you into the center of the story. Play the part of the jury in a witchcraft trial, become the Committee of Vigilance in a murder mystery or assist self-emancipated slaves. The plays cover a range of topics but all of them explore the rich history of Salem.
While today Salem is a thriving tourist attraction with an occult community, the actual witchcraft trials and the deaths that ensued are a tragic part of the town’s past. You can honor the 19 lives of the innocent people who were executed by hanging with a visit to Proctor’s Ledge Memorial.
The site of the executions wasn’t memorialized until 2017. It was widely thought Gallows Hill was where the executions took place, but no memorial was erected there as the city was ashamed of its bloody history. Finally, in 2010, a team of researchers reviewed historical accounts and placed the most likely location of the hangings at 7 Pope Street. Stones engraved with the names of the 19 victims mark the site.
Know before you go: the memorial is located in a residential neighborhood. There is no parking. It’s easiest to park at Gallows Hill Park and walk down the hill to the site. Also, the intersection of Boston and Proctor Streets near Proctor’s Ledge was the location of a chemical fire in 1914 which burned for 13 hours, sweeping through Salem and destroying nearly 1,400 buildings and rendering 18,000 homeless or jobless, leading the Salem Witch Museum to call it “a devilish intersection.”
There’s a lot to see in this little town and the best way to get to it all is on your own two feet. The Bewitched After Dark Walking Tours are a staple. Lead by historians, the tour covers local landmarks and lore with a focus on historical facts. And as a bonus, the guides can offer great recommendations for where to eat and what to do.
You can also take on the streets yourself with Walking the Witch Trials: A DIY Tour of Salem History. Nab one of these zines from HausWitch and tour the town at your own pace. At $7, the zine is a great option for anyone balling on a budget. The zines author, Melissa Nierman, also offers walking tours through NowAge Travel. Her tours cover the history of the witch in Salem from past to present and take an intersectional look at the powerful archetype of the witch.
Modern day witches flock to Salem. The town has become a hotbed of sorts for herbalists, healers, mystics, and practicing witches. Whether you lightly dabble or have been deep into witchy ways for years, there’s a magical spot for you.
HausWitch Home + Healing
This uncluttered store is a balm for the eyes and mind. Run by Erica Feldmann, HausWitch sells products handmade by independent makers from the New England area. The space is radically inclusive and sells items you’re unlikely to find in the other metaphysical shops around the area. Also setting this shop apart from the metaphysical hub-bub are the numerous events and workshops hosted there.
The Coven’s Cottage
Restock all your pagan needs at The Coven’s Cottage. Family owned, this shop focuses on Norse, Germanic, Celtic and nature-based traditions. If you’ve been in a metaphysical shop before, this place will feel familiar to you. Crammed with books, herbs, candles and crystals, you’re likely to find whatever magical implements you need.
Wicked Good Books
Books are magical and Wicked Good Books brings that magic to Salem. The independent bookstore stocks all genres of books, including books about Salem and books written by local authors. It also hosts local events and contests. Pop in and get your nose in a book, you might just find your next favorite author.
Salem embraces its spooky side. Halloween enthusiasts will feel right at home and October is the month to show off. So pull out that all-black outfit and celebrate the taboo.
Salem is the place to be in October. Haunted Happenings throws a month-long party with costume balls, haunted houses, live music and chilling presentations. The Salem Psychic Fair and Witches’ Market also descends on the town for the month, bringing with it psychic readings and magical gifts. If those events don’t tingle your spooky side, try to contact the other side at the Festival of Dead. Happening nightly in October at OMEN, an authentic séance connects with those who have passed.
Keep your eyes peeled for other fantastical happenings like the world’s largest Ouija Board, horror movie screenings and live shows.
Don’t fear the reaper, visit a historic cemetery. Salem’s cemeteries date back to the 1600s and are full of unique, Puritan symbolism. The three cemeteries related to the witch trials are the Howard Street Cemetery, the Broad Street Cemetery and the Charter Street Cemetery. You’ll find cemetery markers with Death’s Heads, hourglasses and scythes. The imagery was meant to evoke ideas of mortality and the passing of time.
Respect the cemeteries. Don’t bring candles or open flames, don’t visit at night (the cemeteries are only open during daylight hours), stay on the paths and know that stone rubbings are strictly prohibited. The dead are at rest and they would like to stay that way!
It’s rumored the town isn’t just haunted by history. Take a candlelit tour of the city at night to the most haunted spots and learn the local ghost lore with Candlelit Ghostly & Graveyard Walking Tours. Haunted Footsteps fills out its ghost tour with revolutionary history, cemetery lore and TV & movie trivia. Spellbound Tours explore the city through the lens of the supernatural and is led by professional paranormal investigators. And Salem Night Tour holds nightly tours at 8pm. Take your pick and walk with ghosts.