An Insiders Guide To Celebrating Halloween In Salem, MA

by | Oct 7, 2022 | Family Adventures

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For the entire month of October, our small New England town of Salem transforms into a festival of all things spooky, scary, and downright witchy. Thousands of visitors, many dressed in festive hats and outrageous costumes, converge on Salem to participate in ghost tours, visit witch museums and attend costume balls and parties. When you are a resident of Salem, there are only two ways to safely survive the month of October, you either shut your door and hibernate until November or you decide to go all out and embrace all the Halloween craziness that October in Salem brings to your door. Since moving to Salem fifteen years ago, my family has always chosen the latter. Halloween has absolutely become our favorite holiday and we look forward to celebrating it all year long. We have put together an insider’s guide to the best places to visit and great places to stay during a weekend getaway or day trip to the Witch City.

 

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A Little Salem History

The city of Salem was settled in the year 1623 by a man named Roger Conant (my 10th great-grandfather) and a small group of English settlers. Despite the harsh conditions and frigid weather, this community managed to make a home in their new settlement, which they called “Naumkeag” or “fishing place,”  which was later named “Salem,” meaning “place of peace.”  Through the years, Salem grew in size and ultimately became a massive player in the colonies’ rich maritime industry. Many citizens made sizable profits participating in the West Indies trade and in turn, built lavish houses, many of which still stand today. The port of Salem also played an important role in our country’s military history. 

 

Statue - Halloween In Salem, MA

Founder, Roger Conant still watches over the city. Photo by Kim Falchek

 

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Salem Witches

Salem is best known for its witches, and this is what most people come to celebrate. You won’t be in town more than five minutes before encountering a witch-themed store, witch museum, or person dressed up as a witch.  Many local businesses have even taken on the witch as their logo. These include but aren’t limited to our police department, youth soccer team, and high school. While witchcraft was once punishable by death in Salem, the city is now a place where the practice is openly accepted and practiced by many modern-day witches of Salem.   

Although Salem has come to be the place to celebrate all things spooky and scary, the history of how this came to be is very unsettling. In 1692 many innocent people were accused of practicing witchcraft and 19 of the accused were hung in nearby Gallows Hill. One man, Giles Corey, was even pressed to death because he refused to plead guilty. Salem became a place of mass hysteria and the trials that resulted from this injustice became one of the most notable events in the early years of the history of the United States. For a long time, the people of Salem tried hard to hide their ties to the witch trials, but now there are many opportunities to discover what all the hysteria was about. One popular venue is the Salem Witch Museum which is located just off the Salem Common park. This is a great place to see some spooky things and to learn more about the notable figures that played a part in the trials. The Witch House, also known as the Jonathan Corwin house, is just a short walk away and is the only surviving structure in Salem with historic ties to the Salem Witch Trials. If you would like to pay your respects to the accused witches (two are my distant relatives), I suggest you visit the Salem Witch Trails Memorial adjacent to the Old Burying Point Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in the country. 

 

pumpkins on ground with witch's back - Halloween in Salem, MA

Witches are everywhere in Salem, MA. Photo by Monstera on Pexels

 

 

Haunted Happenings

Salem’s official Halloween celebration is a series of events called Haunted Happenings that starts October 1st and runs until Halloween night. The official festivities kick off with a grand parade (my favorite annual event of the season) and end with a live band and fireworks over the river on the night of October 31st. Each day features many special events, including street fairs, costume contests, psychic fairs, and spooky performances. The Haunted Happenings official guidebook will also tell you all about the city’s many restaurants, museums, and lodging options. This guide can be found online and is a valuable resource when planning your 2022 trip to Salem.  

 

Every day is Halloween in Salem. Photo by Conner Baker on Unsplash

 

Pro Tip:  One of the best places in Salem for a weekend snack is called Goodnight Fatty. The homemade cookies and soft-serve ice cream are absolutely delicious. Goodnight Fatty is located across from the Salem Common.

 

Tours

In my opinion, the best way to experience Salem during the spookiest time of year is by taking a night tour. Beware, you may sense some paranormal activity or feel an unexplainable presence on these walks. One of the best tours in the area is Spellbound Tours. Their expert historians will show you all the important sites and will tell you stories of the ghosts that continue to haunt today’s spirit world. Those that are fans of Disney’s “Hocus Pocus” probably know that the movie takes place right here in Salem and may recognize many of the notable places in town that were featured in the movie. Fans of the film that brought the Sanderson Sisters and the black flame candle to fame can embark on a self-guided tour of many of these spots. One beautiful filming location is the Ropes Mansion (Allison’s house in the movie). This year the mansion will be decorated in Hocus Pocus- like Halloween decorations on select days in October. 

To get discounts on tours in the area, try Get Your Guide or Viator (which offers 51% off last-minute tours!).

 

boy running away - Halloween in Salem

A ghost tour isn’t complete without a stop at a cemetery. Photo by Kim Falchek

 

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Beyond the Witches

If you need a break from witches and haunted houses, check out Salem’s many other attractions. There are historic house tours, self-guided walks in some of the oldest cemeteries in the country, and boat trips on the waterfront. If your kids are like mine and are obsessed with pirates, you’re in luck. Salem has two popular attractions focused solely on pirates. The New England Pirate Museum has some really cool wax figures and the brand new Real Pirates Salem features pirate treasure, films, and interactive exhibits. My kids had a great time when we visited here this past summer. The Salem Wax Museum also has some very interesting exhibits and displays.

Salem also has a significant literary history. Well-known American author, Nathaniel Hawthorne was born and raised in Salem and wrote many of his great books here. His Novel “The House of the Seven Gables” was based at his cousin’s home in town.  Admission fees to The House of the Seven Gables include a tour of the historic building and access to the beautiful grounds. There is also a special children’s area in the garden.

Another great place to visit for a bit of culture is the world-renowned Peabody Essex Museum which is located right downtown on the Essex Street pedestrian walkway. The museum runs some fantastic exhibits and features the work of classic and contemporary artists. Families with young children will also want to check out the hands-on Art and Nature Center of the museum.  This part of the museum has been a favorite of my kids since they were toddlers.  

 

dark building - Halloween in Salem

History comes alive at the House of the Seven Gables. Photo by Kim Falchek

 

Pro Tip:  Whether you are a first-time visitor to Salem or visit every October, don’t be afraid to be festive and dress up in your favorite Halloween costume or attire. Anything goes in Salem.  

 

When You Go

 

When To Go To Salem

The celebration in Salem gets bigger and better every year.  Last year was massive and I expect this year to be even more incredible. Salem gets extremely busy in October so I highly recommend planning ahead and buying tickets for tours, museums, and special events in advance. If you want to beat (some of) the crowds, I suggest visiting in early October, as everything gets busier as the month-long celebration progresses. In the past few years, many attractions have even stayed open into November, so that may be another option for those that want to miss the crowds.

 

Getting To Salem from LA

Jet Blue, American, and United Airlines offer direct flights from LAX to Boston’s Logan Airport and the trip takes about 5 ½  hours. Salem is typically about a 45-minute drive from Boston, but this time may increase on busy October weekends. Start your research for flights with exclusive discounts from Scott’s Cheap Flights. Try out their free 7-day membership to see if you save money on flights. There’s no need to buy a membership (you’ll still have access to good deals).

Another excellent discount site for flights (and hotels) is Expedia!

 

Parking can be tricky as lots fill up quickly, so the best time to arrive is early in the day. This year, Salem is also offering a free shuttle from several lots outside the downtown area. If you don’t want to drive, there are two other great ways to travel to Witch City from Boston. One great option is to take the MBTA commuter rail train (Newbury/Rockport line), which runs from North Station in Boston and stops in Salem. Most area attractions are within walking distance of the train station. However, my favorite method of traveling between the two cities is by boat. By taking a Boston Harbor Cruise from Boston to Salem, visitors can relax and enjoy great fall scenery. My family and I often travel on this ferry and my kids have so much fun feeling the cool ocean breezes from the boat’s bow. The ferry has comfortable indoor and outdoor seating and staff usually conduct a fun audio tour along the way.  

 

Getting Around Salem

When you arrive in Salem, it is fairly easy to get around on foot. Most of the popular attractions are located in the downtown area. There is a local visitors center where helpful staff are happy to any questions or offer recommendations on where to go. You may also see residents wearing a pin that says “Ask Me. I’m Local.”  Don’t be afraid to stop and ask them for directions. Most Salemites really arent wicked witches.

If you don’t feel like walking, the Salem Trolley is another great way to get around. Along with presenting a great tour of the city, the trolley offers fourteen stops and allows Salem visitors to get on and off and visit attractions at their leisure. To get discounts on tours in the area, try Get Your Guide or  Viator which offers 51% off last-minute tours.

 

Where To Stay in Salem, MA

Rooms in Salem book up very quickly during the month of October. Book early!  Below are three great places to stay in the city.  All are located in the downtown area. The Hawthorne Hotel is the most well-known hotel in Salem. Named after author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, it is rumored to be one of the most haunted hotels in New England. October is the perfect time to stay here and get in the Halloween spirit. The hotel is located right next door to the Salem Common where many of the Haunted Happenings events take place. There is also a really nice playground on the Common where kids can burn off energy. One of the best things about this historic hotel is the restaurants. Both Nathaniel’s and the Tavern serve delicious food and seasonal cocktails in a cozy atmosphere. The city’s most popular costume ball is also held each year at the Hawthorne. If you think you have the best Halloween costume, why not enter to win a fantastic prize? 

The Salem Waterfront Hotel is a perfect place to stay for families with young kids. The Waterfront features spacious rooms, onsite dining, and an indoor swimming pool. There is also a shuttle that transports guests to certain spots around the city. The hotel recently opened its own beer garden where visitors can enjoy drinks, live music, and lawn games. 

Did you know that the oldest Bed and Breakfast in America is located in Salem?  When you stay at The Daniel’s House BNB you definitely will feel like you are traveling back in time. Built in 1667 and decorated in authentic period furniture, this small bed and breakfast also offers onsite tours and special nights where visitors can go to hear spooky ghost stories. A very cool place to spend the weekend indeed. 

 

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Kimberly Falchek is a freelance writer and child development specialist based out of Salem, Massachusetts. She has contributed to several parenting and travel publications. When not working, Kimberly enjoys hiking, photography, and traveling with family.

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