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Salem Witch Trials Memorial
Photograph: Olivia Vanni

The best things to do in Salem, MA

From spooky shops to popular food haunts, here's your guide to the Witch City.

Olivia Vanni
Written by
Olivia Vanni
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Every October, floods of tourists fill the streets of Salem, MA, looking to get that fix of spooky fun right in time for Halloween. While the city is most known for being the site of the infamous Witch Trials, there's more to this Boston suburb than its dark history of hysteria and supposed sorcery. Here are the best things to do in Salem—ranging from the creepy and otherwise otherwordly, to the artsy and just plain normal. Looking for more fall activities that will get you into the Halloween spirit? Check out the best places for pumpkin picking near Boston, the most haunted places you can visit in Massachusetts and the scariest haunted houses in New England.

Recommended: A full guide to the best things to do in Boston.

Best things to do in Salem

Grab a bite to eat at a local haunt
Photograph: Courtesy Settler

Grab a bite to eat at a local haunt

Weary visitors who’ve worked up an appetite strolling Salem’s cobblestoned streets, fear not—this city offers a wide array of dining options. More elevated eats can be found at Settler, a tiny New England eatery where the locally sourced menu changes daily, and Ledger, a seasonally driven restaurant located within a historic former bank. TV buffs and ghost hunters should pull up a fireside seat at The Tavern, an old school establishment serving comfort food situated within The Hawthorne Hotel (a supposedly haunted spot that was once used as a filming location for the hit show Bewitched). If you’re on the move and want bite to-go, check out the Boston Hot Dog Company and its extensive list of gourmet, tubed meat offerings.

Immerse yourself in witch history
Photograph: Shutterstock/Ale Volpi

Immerse yourself in witch history

The tragic Salem Witch Trials of 1692, when hundreds of people were accused of witchcraft and 20 were executed, put the city on the map. Nowadays, you can learn all about the area’s sordid past by visiting local landmarks and museums pertaining to the infamous colonial hysteria. Amongst the must-see spots: The Salem Witch Museum, where exhibits and life-size sets teach guests all about the trials; the Witch House, a spooky looking dwelling where Judge Jonathan Corwin used to reside; Old Burying Point Cemetery, one of the oldest graveyards in the U.S. where the judges involved in the Salem Witch Trials are buried; Proctor’s Ledge Memorial at Gallows Hill, where 19 of the 20 victims were hanged; and The Salem Witch Trials Memorial, a simple stonewall bearing the names of the wrongly condemned and killed.

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Explore where "Hocus Pocus" was filmed
Photograph: Olivia Vanni

Explore where "Hocus Pocus" was filmed

Are you a Hocus Pocus fan? I mean, who isn’t? The 1993 Disney cult classic was filmed in various locations throughout Salem, many of which you can see for yourself and totally nerd out. Amongst the sites that you can visit: Pioneer Village (aka Salem Village in the flick), where you can retrace the steps of Thackery and Emily Binx; Old Town Hall, which will put a spell on you as you remember that bewitching performance the Sanderson Sisters gave there; and Allison’s house, which is really The Ropes Mansion and will be decked out in full Halloween decor just like in the movie this Oct. 31. Before you embark on your adventure and live out all of your Hocus Pocus fantasies, be sure to check the business hours for each spot. (Also note that Max and Dani’s house is a private residence—you can casually walk by it and quietly admire its exterior, but please don’t pester the owners).

  • Restaurants

There’s nothing quite like the Gulu-Gulu Cafe; it perfectly embodies the funky little slice of bohemia that is current-day Salem. Part sandwich shop, part craft coffee and beer bar and part live music venue, Gulu-Gulu simultaneously feeds your inner artist and your stomach from morning to night. Take a seat inside (look for the building with the bulldog sign) or on its patio (right in front of the Bewitched statue), and order up a fresh crêpe, gourmet sandwich or some snacks, like spiced pickled eggs or Hermelin aka marinated brie. This place is made for prime people-watching, so be sure to grab a coffee (spiked or sober), seasonal cocktail or wine special, or a beer from its extensive list of mostly local brews. As far as entertainment goes, you can expect to find live bands, old school vinyl nights, drag brunches and open mics on its jam-packed calendar of eclectic events.

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Visit some legit, witch-owned businesses
Photograph: Olivia Vanni

Visit some legit, witch-owned businesses

There’s certainly no shortage of Salem stores that have capitalized on the Witch City’s dark past, with many of them filled with pure and utter kitsch. If you want the real deal, steer clear of those tourist traps and check out some of the legitimate, witch-owned businesses like Enchanted (owned by Salem’s most famous witch, Laurie Cabot, and her daughter, Penny), The Coven’s Cottage or Crow Haven Corner. Folks who like their magick with a more contemporary take can also check out HausWitch Home + Healing, a trendy boutique that offers artisan home goods, gifts, souvenirs and local art—all geared towards the modern metaphysical, of course. Please note that as you peruse these shops, be mindful and respectful of the fact that their inventory is rooted in real religious and cultural traditions.

Have some spirits at these local craft taprooms
Photograph: Courtesy Far From the Tree

Have some spirits at these local craft taprooms

Maybe the only thing that early colonists in Salem were really good at (besides accusing innocent people of witchcraft) was making booze. Today, the city has revived this local tradition, boasting a number of brewing businesses that crank out craft New England beverages for adult consumption. Hard cider aficionados should pay a visit to Far From The Tree, where they can sample seasonal drinks like its neon-green October release, Ectoplasm (it’s made with bell peppers, kiwi and jalapeno), as well as cider experiments exclusive to the taproom, including Sapho (an off-dry brew made with beets, pomegranate and dried orris root). Beer fanatics can crush pints and flights at Notch Brewing (they brew everything from Czech pilsners to American ales) or East Regiment Beer Co. (go traditional with its New England IPA Galaxy Drops or opt for unconventional Vanna Weiss Fruit Punch). And if you’re feeling some spirits, be sure to do a tour and tasting at Deacon Giles Distillery, named after a local Temperance Movement villain.

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See some spooky art
Photograph: Courtesy Peabody Essex Museum

See some spooky art

Looking to incorporate some eerie art into your Salem itinerary? The Satanic Temple has opened up its funeral parlor-turned-headquarters to the public, with its Salem Art Gallery dedicated to all things “witch-hunts, Satanism, and moral panics.” Here, you’ll find permanent fixtures, like its infamous Baphomet Monument, a library dedicated to the occult and plenty of merch. If you’re looking to take a more mainstream route, the acclaimed Peabody Essex Museum is also currently featuring an exhibit entitled The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming, which will be running from now until March 2022. It explores the “factors that fueled the storied crisis,” highlights people who “rose to defend those unjustly accused,” and spotlights “two creative responses by contemporary artists with ancestral links to the trials”—namely, photographer Frances F. Denny and the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen.

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