Last Updated December 14, 2020 12/14/2020

Top 13 Things to Do in Salem, Massachusetts

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Salem is best known for the historic witch trials and its dark history, but there is a lot more to discover in this popular Massachusetts city. It’s a beautiful place for colorful foliage in the fall, there are some great museums here, and there are also outdoor areas worth exploring for their natural and historic beauty. Here are some of the can’t-miss attractions in Salem to check out as a first-time visitor.

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See the Witch House Grey Witch House in Salem, Massachusetts
Grey Witch House in Salem, Massachusetts

See the Witch House

What Is It?  The Salem Witch House is one of the most popular attractions in town. It was once the home of a witch trial judge, Jonathan Corwin, and is known as being one of the most haunted places in Salem. There is also a gift shop on site that sells books, artworks, home goods, and herbs.

Why Do It? This house is full of interesting history and has a very creepy vibe. You can take a self-guided tour or learn even more by asking questions to the guides throughout the house.

Good to Know: The Witch House is open from 10am to 4:40pm daily. Self-guided tour tickets are sold online.

Tour the Salem Witch Museum The facade of the Museum of witches in Salem
The facade of the Museum of witches in Salem

Tour the Salem Witch Museum

What Is It?  To learn about the city’s witch history even more, the Salem Witch Museum tells the story of the dramatic trials in the 1690s with a presentation and exhibits about witches throughout history. There is a museum store here that sells educational materials about the Salem witch trials.

Why Do It? This museum strives to tell the true story behind the 1692 witch trials and make these stories relevant to modern times as well to explore what being a witch now means in our society.

Good to Know: The museum is open from 10am to 5pm daily throughout the year. Tickets to the museum are sold online.

Take a Guided Walking Tour Aerial view of Salem historic city center and Salem Harbor in City of Salem, Massachusetts
Aerial view of Salem historic city center and Salem Harbor in City of Salem, Massachusetts

Take a Guided Walking Tour

What Is It?  There are lots of different walking tour options in Salem depending on what your interests are, but most involve witches, history, architecture, and hauntings. Tours often cover 400+ years of history and are set at night for a spookier experience. You’ll learn about the witch trial hysteria, get to admire the historic architecture and get to know the city on a personal level.

Why Do It? There is so much history to learn about in Salem that it’s worth hiring a professional guide to fill you in on all the details. It’s also a festive way to celebrate the fall season.

Good to Know: Guided walking tours are usually around two hours long, starting at Old Town Hall and ending at the Burying Point. Tour groups are typically limited to 10 or less people.

Get Out on the Water Salem, MA Harbor
Salem, MA Harbor

Get Out on the Water

What Is It?  Salem is a waterfront city that offers harbor cruises and boat rides through multiple local vendors. You can also take a scenic ferry ride, which takes about an hour. The Schooner FAME is a replica of an 1812 ship that sails from Pickering Wharf daily.

Why Do It? Getting out on the water gives you a whole new perspective on Salem and encourage you to notice the area’s natural beauty.

Good to Know: A couple of local boat tour companies you’ll want to know about if you want to get out on the water are Mahi Harbor Cruises and Sunset Sail Salem.

Visit the Custom House Custom House at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site
Custom House at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Visit the Custom House

What Is It? The Custom House is located at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site and the last of 13 Custom Houses. It was built in 1819 and used for government officers at that time.

Why Do It? This is a historic place to visit to learn about the tools of the Custom Service, what Customs inspectors did, and about the author Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Good to Know: There is no admission fee to visit this site. There are also two visitor centers where you can learn more about the area.

See Fort Pickering and Winter Island Fort Pickering (Winter Island) lighthouse in early evening, in Salem
Fort Pickering (Winter Island) lighthouse in early evening, in Salem

See Fort Pickering and Winter Island

What Is It?  To see a 17th century historic fort, head to Fort Pickering on Winter Island in Salem. There is a lighthouse here that has a lot of history to learn about.

Why Do It? This is an important military landmark that dates back to 1643 because it was a strategic coastal defense post.

Good to Know: One great way to see the lighthouse here is on a boat tour. Winter Island Park nearby has campsites, a boat launch, and a small beach.

Walk Through Old Burying Point Cemetery Historic Graveyard, The Burying Point, has been used since 1637
Historic Graveyard, The Burying Point, has been used since 1637

Walk Through Old Burying Point Cemetery

What Is It?  Another must-visit site in Salem for anyone interested in witches is the Old Burying Point Cemetery. Many notable people were buried here, including witchcraft judge John Hathorne and accused witch Marth Corey.

Why Do It? The graves here are very old and historic, further telling the story of the Salem witch trials and adding context to the story of the accusers and the accused. It is among the oldest cemeteries in the U.S.

Good to Know: This cemetery is on Charter Street next to the Witch Trials Memorial. It is also behind the Peabody Essex Museum, which is another popular tourist spot to visit while you are in the area.

Check out the Friendship of Salem Friendship of Salem at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site
Friendship of Salem at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Check out the Friendship of Salem

What Is It? The Friendship of Salem represents New England’s role in maritime trade and is a replica tall ship docked at Derby Wharf. It looks like the 1797 Salem-built vessel that was captured during the War of 1812

Why Do It? This ship offers opportunities to learn about life at sea and the risks and rewards associated with sailing on the stormy waters of the North Atlantic.

Good to Know: The Friendship of Salem is part of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, so check the NPS website to learn about what’s currently open in the park.

Visit the House of the Seven Gables The House of Seven Gables museum in Salem
The House of Seven Gables museum in Salem

Visit the House of the Seven Gables

What Is It?  This is a historic timber-framed house that was the setting of a Nathaniel Hawthorne novel. However, it dates back to 1668 when a ship owner/merchant built the house, which is now a national historic landmark.

Why Do It? The home offers guided tours to learn about its history and significance. It’s a great spot for educational field trips and has gardens and grounds that you can visit.

Good to Know: Buy your tour tickets online and consider doing an audio tour from your own device to learn about the site.

Admire All the Historic Homes Historic New England houses along street in Salem
Historic New England houses along street in Salem

Admire All the Historic Homes

What Is It?  In addition to the famous Witch House and House of Seven Gables, there are many other historic homes that are beautiful to see in Salem. Other historic homes are the Phillips House, John Ward House, Pickering House, and Gedney House.

Why Do It? This is a prime spot for architecture fans and a fascinating town to simply walk around and imagine yourself being transported back in time.

Good to Know: If you’re really interested in architecture, join a guided tour group to learn more about the houses you’re seeing and have access to certain houses for a visit.

See Hawkes House Hawkes House in Salem Maritime National Historic Site
Hawkes House in Salem Maritime National Historic Site

See Hawkes House

What Is It?  Another important part of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site is the Hawkes House, which is a Federal-style home that had construction begin in 1780.

Why Do It? Architecture fans will appreciate this three-story-tall, square home that was typical in Salem in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Good to Know: This home is currently closed to the public due to temporary restrictions but is still worth walking by to photograph from the outside.

Explore the Peabody Essex Museum Performer outside the Peabody Essex Museum
Performer outside the Peabody Essex Museum

Explore the Peabody Essex Museum

What Is It?  For a break from all the witch-specific attractions, you can check out the Peabody Essex Museum to see the permanent and rotating exhibits. This museum features art, historic houses, and yes, sometimes specific exhibits about witches too.

Why Do It? Anyone who likes art and cultural experiences will enjoy this museum to see the sculptures, photographs, drawings, textiles, and decorative objects. The collection features art from all around the world.

Good to Know: The museum is open on Thursdays from 10am to 5pm, Fridays and Saturdays from 10am to 8pm, and Sundays from 10am to 5pm. General admission tickets are available online.

Experience Colorful Fall Foliage End of the day in Salem, Massachusetts in the late fall while the leaves change colors
End of the day in Salem, Massachusetts in the late fall while the leaves change colors

Experience Colorful Fall Foliage

What Is It?  Like many places in New England, Salem is known for its beautiful fall foliage. People often travel here for leaf-peeping in the fall.

Why Do It? The bright yellows, reds, and oranges here are stunning when you visit in the autumn, and the whole town really comes alive with spooky and haunting themes too.

Good to Know: The best places in town to view fall leaves are the Salem common in the downtown area and at the waterfront.

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