13 Spooktacular Things to Do in Salem, Massachusetts, for Halloween
The magic of the season is on full display in Salem, MA, on Halloween. Here's what to do in the seaside village famous for the Salem Witch Trials.
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A bewitching town
For those who love leaf-peeping, pumpkin spice anything and the thrill of ghost stories, a Salem, MA, Halloween is a must-have experience. October in Salem is an immersive exploration of all things spooky, with events, shops, gatherings and adventures for people of all ages who love witches, history and a good scare. Just a 30-minute drive or train ride, or 50-minute ferry trip, from Boston, Salem makes a perfect day trip from Beantown, a wonderful weekend getaway in New England or a fun road trip stop during an East Coast vacation.
But just how did this village with a complicated and tragic past turn into such a fascinating place to visit? In the 1692 to 1693 Salem Witch Trials, 20 accused “witches” were put to death (and even more died in prison) in an event that’s become a classic example of mass hysteria. Of course, the victims, who are now honored with memorials in the town, weren’t really witches—but the town has come to embrace its history by celebrating witchy things all year round.
And if you’re wondering if Salem does anything for Halloween, the answer is most definitely: yes. The town’s October happenings, both kitschy and authentic, explore regional history and witch lore, as well as Halloween monsters, spooky urban legends and locations from witch movies filmed here. So hop on your broom for a quick ride to Salem, one of the country’s best Halloween towns!
Tour the Witch House
The first stop on your Salem, MA, Halloween mini vacation has to be this historic home. It’s the only building left standing and open to the public with direct connections to the Salem Witch Trials, so you can learn all about the history of the town you’re visiting. Despite its name, the eerie black house wasn’t the home of an accused witch but rather one of the judges involved in the witch trials, Jonathon Corwin. It now offers self-guided tours of the residence that examine 17th-century life in Colonial Massachusetts.
Many of the Corwins died young, and you’ll no doubt feel the “Corwin Curse” as you move through the home—the place is even rumored to be haunted. If you’re there in October, be advised that the Witch House sells tickets only at the door, on a first-come, first-served basis. Only 10 visitors can enter at a time, so if you’re stopping by in busy October, get there early (it opens at 10 a.m.).
Visit the Salem Witch Museum
Just a short walk from the Witch House, the Salem Witch Museum is another classic Salem, MA, Halloween attraction. Located across from Salem Common in a 19th-century church, the museum is really a presentation of two exhibitions that give a good overview of the town’s history. The first displays and narrates the events of the Salem Witch Trials (warning: parts of this may be disturbing for some viewers), and the second explores the perception of the word, image and meaning of “witch” over time.
It’s a bit campy, but what’s one of the best road trips in America without a little kitsch? The museum, which is celebrating 50 years in 2022, was also instrumental in creating the town’s “Haunted Happenings” month of October events. You must purchase tickets online on the day of your visit—none are sold at the door—and arrive promptly at your designated time.
Remember the witch trial victims at a memorial
One of Massachusetts’s hidden gems, the Salem Witch Trials Memorial on Liberty Street is a respite from the busy town, offering a solemn spot to quietly remember those who were put to death in 17th-century Salem. The free outdoor memorial consists of a granite wall with stone benches around a central grass square, with each bench dedicated to one of the 20 victims and engraved with their date of execution. Bring a flower to leave on the bench of your choice.
You can also visit the Proctor’s Ledge Memorial, which was confirmed in 2016 to be the site of the hangings. Sitting in the middle of a residential neighborhood, the memorial, erected here in 2017, is also a granite wall engraved with the hanging victims’ names.
Stop by a witchy shop
Time for the lighter side of witch culture! Avoid the kitschy tourist traps by visiting an authentic witch shop that will make you feel like you just stepped into Harry Potter‘s Diagon Alley. The uniqueness of these shops really makes a Salem, MA, Halloween one of the top bucket list ideas in the state. In addition to jewelry and art, you can buy cauldrons, candles, spell books, crystal balls, tarot cards and even wands. Many shops also offer psychic readings with experienced mediums.
Check out Pentagram Witchcraft and Magick Shoppe, whose owners identify as witches and psychics. Another witch shop, The Coven’s Cottage, features local, artisan-made products and smells amazing inside. Circle of Stitches knitting shop puts the craft in witchcraft, with workshops for broom-making and spell bottles. Wynott’s Wands offers handcrafted wood wands and an ambiance you can’t beat.
Hop on the Salem trolley
Salem can be notoriously difficult to get around by car, with lots of traffic and limited parking, particularly in October. And although the city is very walkable, visitors can rest their legs with a trolley ride in an old-fashioned vehicle for an eight-mile trip around town. Stay on board for an entertaining narrated one-hour tour, or use the trolley as a hop-on, hop-off shuttle between 14 stops along the way. (Shuttle service may be limited during crowded times.)
Stops include the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, House of the Seven Gables, Pickering Wharf, Salem Witch Museum, Peabody Essex Museum and Salem Witch House. Tickets are good all day but must be purchased on the day of from the Visitors Center on the corner of Essex and New Liberty streets. For a terrifying trolley ride full of spooky Halloween stories about Salem, book the Tales and Tombstones nighttime tour.
Dare to enter the House of the Seven Gables
This real-life historic and possibly haunted house is said to be the inspiration for author Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 gothic romance The House of the Seven Gables. The novel follows a New England family and its titular ancestral home, haunted and cursed by ties to witchcraft and murder. In reality, the house was built in 1668 and later owned by Hawthorne’s cousin, Susannah Ingersoll, who the author visited often. Interestingly, Hawthorne was a descendant of the infamous Judge John Hathorne, who was responsible for the deaths of the accused during the Salem Witch Trials.
Tickets to the House of the Seven Gables include a guided tour, an audio tour of the grounds and time to explore the other historic buildings on-site, including Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace, which was moved here from Union Street in Salem in 1958. One of the can’t-miss things to do in Salem, MA, in October is the house’s evening event “Haunted Fables at the Gables,” during which you’ll hear his most famously terrifying tales. Is the house really haunted? Visit and find out.
Run amok on a Hocus Pocus walking tour
It’s not a Salem, MA, Halloween without scoping out filming locations for the 1993 Disney classic, one of the best Halloween movies of all time. (Unfortunately, the 2022 sequel, Hocus Pocus 2, was filmed in Rhode Island.) There are plenty of paid options available, but you can also map out the Hocus Pocus settings yourself. Explore Pioneer Village, a living history museum that was used in the film’s opening 17th-century sequences (open on weekends in October).
Old Town Hall on Front Street was used as the building where Bette Midler sings “I Put a Spell on You” at a Halloween party. Salem Common (which is also showing Hocus Pocus as part of its outdoor movie nights in October) appears in some of the outdoor sequences, and Max and Allison’s high school exterior is actually Phillips Elementary School on the Common. Take a tour of Ropes Mansion, used as the exterior of Allison’s house and in reality part of the impressive Peabody Essex Museum. Although you can walk by Max and Dani’s house at 4 Ocean Avenue, it’s a private residence, so visitors are asked to be respectful and not trespass.
Explore an old cemetery
For more spooky connections to history, visit the three cemeteries in Salem with ties to the witch trials. First, Old Burying Point (also called Charter Street Cemetery), located right behind the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, is one of the oldest cemeteries in the United States, founded in 1637. It’s the burying place of two of the judges from the trials, including John Hathorne. During October, 15 people will be allowed in every 10 minutes, with the last entry at 4:45 p.m. It’s free, and there’s also an exhibit and gift shop at the Charter Street Cemetery Welcome Center located in the 17th-century Pickman House on the other side of the witch memorial. Howard Street Cemetery is thought to be the field where accused witch Giles Corey was “pressed” to death (he was the only victim who wasn’t hanged)—and reportedly, his ghost shows up here before local tragedies occur. Broad Street Cemetery is the resting place of Judge John Corwin and his nephew, Sheriff George Corwin.
Unfortunately, there are no graves for the accused witches in any of these cemeteries: Because of superstitions about touching the bodies of witches, they were not buried in consecrated ground but rather dumped in an unknown location. (Historians believe some of their relatives went back to claim their bodies, though.) And in case you’re hoping to recite some Hocus Pocus quotes at the site of one of the film’s spooky scenes, know that none of these cemeteries is the one in which Max gets his shoes stolen—that’s Old Burial Hill in nearby Marblehead.
Go ghost hunting
If you’re looking for one of the spookiest tourist attractions in Salem, take a nighttime tour of the town’s most haunted spots to hear terrifying tales, stories of creepy local happenings and more about the town’s macabre history—if you dare. Ghost City Tours offers a family-friendly Ghosts of Salem tour in addition to an adults-only option. And Salem Ghosts puts on a seven-stop tour of the town’s history and haunted attractions.
Salem Historical Tours offers a midday ghost tour for those who don’t like things too scary, as well as a lantern-lit nighttime ghost tour, complete with costumed guides. The Witch City Walking Tours History and Hauntings event goes off the beaten path to find the city’s creepiest corners, and the company’s Mysteries and Murders tour explores stories that aren’t for the faint of heart. Most tours can be booked online in advance.
Stop for tea and sweets
All these witchy tales and ghost stories can leave a person hungry! For a unique place to refuel, stop in for your own Boston Tea Party at Jolie Tea Company, with or without a reservation. This gorgeously elegant tea shop features a delectable selection of teas, along with tea sandwiches, scones, madeleines and more.
For a taste of Paris in Salem, check out Caramel French Patisserie‘s offerings of scrumptious croissants and macarons. If your sweet tooth is still yearning for more, visit Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie, the oldest continuously operated candy company in the United States, to sample Gibraltars and Black Jacks, unique Salem candies still made with their original recipes. For those looking for heartier refreshments, visit the Bohemian Gulu-Gulu Cafe for coffee, craft beer and artisanal sandwiches.
Enjoy a fall festival
A fall weekend getaway isn’t complete without a harvest festival, and during October, Salem offers many fun fall festivals for all ages and tastes. On weekends throughout the month, Haunted Happenings Marketplace on Salem Common has performances, food, vendors and more. Also on the common, the Salem Kids Fun Fest features family-friendly happenings, such as slides, rides, carnival games and more during the last two weekends in October. The Salem Psychic Faire and Witches’ Market on Essex Street offers all sorts of psychic readings, including tarot, palmistry, crystal ball scrying and even past-life readings. When you’re done with the event, shop the witchy emporium and chat with practicing witches and warlocks.
Get dressed up for a costume ball
What is Halloween without a Halloween party? Although visitors can feel free to wear Halloween costumes pretty much anywhere in Salem in October, the town also offers an abundance of fun nights out for playing dress up—but tickets can be pricey. The historic Old Town Hall transforms into a haunted speakeasy, with vintage dance lessons, prohibition cocktails, live music and a drag show—Gatsby garb required! The event space Colonial Hall at Rockafellas offers the Heaven and Hell Ball—will you dress as an angel or a devil?
The Salem Witches Halloween Ball at the Hawthorne Hotel is for those interested in exploring the sacred rituals of Halloween with a celebration of magic: In addition to dancing and food, you can attend a seance, receive a psychic reading, participate in a drumming circle and ceremonial dance, or cast a magic circle. The kids won’t be left out with the Children’s Costume Ball hosted by witchy shop The Good Witch of Salem at the Salem Waterfront Hotel.
Frolic on Halloween
Finally, it’s Allhallows Eve, the night every witch and warlock has been waiting for. Join in Salem’s mayhem with a day of magical and mysterious events throughout the town. Even if you don’t have anything specific in mind beyond a bit of wandering and a great meal (try Ledger Restaurant, tucked into an 1818 bank building), the ambiance around the city’s historic buildings will put you in the Halloween spirit. But as the streets fill with costumed revelers, be sure to keep track of your kiddos!
Live musical performances (even karaoke!) featuring the best Halloween songs will take place on stages all over downtown. All are welcome to join the free Salem Witches Magic Circle on Salem Common in an ancient ritual to honor the dead. Later, be sure to stay for the grand finale fireworks to close out the Halloween season in Salem. If you were wondering whether Salem is worth visiting for Halloween, fans of magic and all things witchy would say it’s definitely a can’t-miss experience.
Where to stay in Salem, MA, for Halloween
Because Salem is just a short train or ferry ride north of Boston, day trippers can stay in Boston. But for the most immersive—not to mention creepy—Salem experience, stay in one of the city’s historic or modern hotels. Here are a few of our picks, with all local hotels within walking distance of the town’s main sights.
- Hyatt Centric Faneuil Hall Boston: This well-appointed hotel not only has an amazing location in historic downtown Boston but also offers a Salem Witch Package that includes a day trip to Salem.
- Hawthorne Hotel: A member of the Historic Hotels of America, this luxe hotel in central Salem will have you feeling as though you stepped back in time to the 1920s. Some guests have even claimed to see ghosts in the hotel!
- The Merchant: A mix of the modern and the traditional, The Merchant is a boutique hotel full of bold colors, unexpected patterns and classic designs. Plus, newly elected President George Washington slept in its historic building, which dates back to 1784.
- The Salem Inn: Spread across three historic properties, the Salem Inn is relatively affordable, as Salem in the fall goes. Family suites offer kitchenettes, and one of the buildings is the only pet-friendly hotel in town. But beware: Room 17 is said to be haunted!
- Salem Waterfront Hotel: Located on the marina’s Pickering Wharf, this property offers all the amenities of a larger hotel, including an indoor pool and full-service restaurant.