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  • Writer's pictureBrett Hayden

First Timer's Guide to Salem, MA

Ever since the first time I watched "Hocus Pocus" (many, many years ago...) I've dreamt of visiting Salem for myself, and the history of the Salem Witch Trials has always fascinated me. I felt like I was being drawn to explore this unique city long before I had stepped foot on its soil. Salem really is a place unlike any other.

There's so much to see that planning your first trip can be just as overwhelming as it is exciting. The way I see it, I've already done the research on the best places to stay & dine, where the sites are in relation to one another, and the best modes of transportation, that I thought I'd save you the trouble of doing that yourself!

That being said, here is my officially unofficial guide to your first trip to the Witch City.

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Because we were coming in from Boston (where we flew into), and because we knew there were a few stops outside of Salem we wanted to make, we decided to rent a car to get into town. I've heard parking can be hard to come by in Salem during October, but because we were staying at the Hawthorne Hotel we were allowed to park there. We left the car parked at the hotel for the 3 days we were in town and were able to access everything we wanted to see by foot.

You certainly don't need to rent a car if you're traveling in from Boston. There are trains that will get you from one city to another, it would only be about a 40 minute taxi or Uber drive, or if you're feeling extra adventurous, there is a ferry that can bring you into town from Boston.

Where to Stay

One of the most iconic, well-known, allegedly-haunted, and beautiful stays in Salem is the Hawthorne Hotel. Staying at the Hawthorne felt perfectly fitting for a trip to Massachusetts' spookiest city. With a history dating back to the early 1920's, the Hawthorne has so much charm and character that you'll be able to feel its energy in the air. It's a great place to do a little impromptu ghost hunting of your own.

If bunking with historic ghosts at the Hawthorne isn't your thing, I've heard there are amazing airbnb's in the area. I've also heard wonderful things about the Salem Inn. No matter which route you choose to take, be sure to book in advance! We were only able to stay at the Hawthorne in October because we booked 12 months beforehand. Of course times may vary throughout the year, but regardless, plan ahead!

Where to Eat
The Tavern at the Hawthorne Hotel

If you stay at the Hawthorne, I highly recommend taking advantage of their breakfast options. Although not complementary, the prices are very fair and the food is incredible. Do not sleep on their waffles! The chef has a secret recipe and they are unlike any waffles you've ever had. The Tavern has many options, so everyone in your group will be satisfied. The Tavern is also a great place to grab drinks later in the day or an evening bite. Try their dirty martini with 4 olives - incredible!

Red's Sandwich Shop

We were told that Red's is a local favorite, and with good reason! I know I mentioned that the Tavern had tons of options, but the lineup at Red's almost puts theirs to shame. When I say there is something for everyone, believe me! Red's is a great place for lunch because they offer (obviously) sandwiches and other quick bites. We were also told that they have the best Bloody Mary's in the city, so of course we had to test that theory. I'm happy to relay that they certainly do a have a great Bloody Mary, and this is coming from a Wisconsinite (we are very picky with our Bloody Marys).

Turner's Seafood

Turner's was another restaurant that was recommended to us by a local. Tucked away in the Lyceum Hall is this charming dining room and oyster bar. Being on the coast, Salem has direct access to an amazing seafood supply, and it is well displayed at Turner's. They have any seafood option you can think of, as well as several pasta dishes and incredible desserts. I opted for their stuffed shrimp and was highly satisfied.

What to Do

Get ready for a hefty list here because Salem is *filled* with so many must see spots. From the historical sites and memorials, to filming locations of Disney's "Hocus Pocus," you'll never be bored in Salem.

Salem Witch Museum

This is a great first stop in Salem because you'll get the full picture of exactly what the city is famous (or infamous) for: the Witch Trials of 1692. Hear exactly how the hysteria began, the stories of the victims, and the aftermath of the trials all in one place. The Witch Museum is incredibly informative and will set you up for understanding every other location you visit in relation to the history of the city. After you hear about the trials, you'll learn how the perceptions of witches has changed throughout the years within pop culture.

Tickets for the Witch Museum need to be purchased online the day of your tour.

Salem Witch Dungeon Museum

The best part of the Witch Dungeon Museum is the reenactment of one of the victim's trials using direct historical transcripts from the event. After the reenactment, you'll be taken down to the recreated dungeon where you will see the horrific conditions the accused "witches" were placed in. A piece of the original dungeon is on display in the basement as well.

You will purchase tickets to the Dungeon Museum upon arrival.

Burying Point Cemetery & Witch Trials Memorial

The Burying Point Cemetery is the final resting place for many of the judges of the Salem Witch Trials as well as Revolutionary War victims. The gravestones are so old at this point that you can't see many names, but a walk through the cemetery is really a walk through a part of our country's history.

Adjacent to the cemetery is a memorial for the 20 victims of the Salem Witch Trials, 19 of which were hung, and one who was pressed to death. The memorial has 20 benches representing each of the victims, each stating the name, manner of execution, and execution date of the individual. This is great place to take a moment of silence and reflect on the history of the area and how far Salem has come over the centuries.

No tickets necessary, but the cemetery is only accessible from 10am-5:45pm.

Witch City Walking Tours

In case you haven't gotten your steps in for the day, taking Witch City Walking Tour's History & Hauntings tour is a great way to mend that. It's also a great way to hear stories you won't anywhere else. In a city that's been around for centuries, there's bound to be a few ghost stories tucked away somewhere, and this tour has them all. This was such a fun experience to do after dark because we really saw Salem in a new light (or lack thereof).

Purchase walking tour tickets online ahead of time.

Salem Trolley Tour

The trolley was a great way to start our first full day in Salem because we got a recap of everything we had learned the day before, as well as a lesson in all of the spots we were going to see the rest of the day. The trolley is a fun way to see parts of the city you may not otherwise have, and as an added bonus, it picks up right down the street from the Hawthorne.

Get their early to get a spot in line and purchase tickets upon arrival.

The Witch House

This site is unique for being the only building left standing with direct ties to the Salem Witch Trials. Ironically, the "Witch House" was actually home to one of the judges (Jonathan Corwin) who condemned many "witches" to their death.

Purchase tickets beforehand.

Essex St. & The Ropes Mansion

Essex St. is one of the most charming streets in Salem, housing historic homes, much like the Ropes Mansion. Made famous as being Alison's House in Disney's "Hocus Pocus," the Ropes Mansion actually has quite the unique history itself. Be sure to take the Witch City Walking Tour to learn all about that. Spoiler alert: death by fire.

Purchase tickets to tour the Ropes Mansion online ahead of time.

Chestnut St.

Much like the prior, Chestnut St. is an architecture (or aesthetic) lovers dream. Take a stroll down this road and appreciate all of the historic homes in their glory. On most of the homes you will see a plaque explaining the building's historical significance. Fun fact: there are nearly 600 plaques throughout the city of Salem. Think you can find them all? (You may need more than a couple of days...)

House of Seven Gables

Nathaniel Hawthorne has quite the long history in Salem (refer back to the Hawthorne Hotel...) and happens to be the author of the famous novel, "House of Seven Gables." When visiting Salem, tour the house that inspired this literary work of art and count the gables of this gorgeous building for yourself.

Purchase tickets online ahead of time to tour the house and grounds.

Salem Witch Board Museum

The Witch Board Museum was without a doubt one of my favorite stops in Salem! Stop in to learn the history of the infamous Ouija board and other talking boards - I guarantee you will learn something new. Perhaps that the Ouija board actually named itself? Or that the "Mother of the Ouija Board" is one Ms. Helen Peters? Learn this and so much more at the museum. And don't be scared, the power of a talking board comes solely from your intentions.

Purchase passes upon arrival.

Proctor's Ledge Memorial

One of the most humbling stops in Salem is certainly Proctor's Ledge. The tribute memorializes the 19 victims who were hanged in this very spot. Stop by and take a minute to pay your respects for those who wrongfully lost their lives all those centuries ago.

"Hocus Pocus" Filming Locations

Now for, perhaps, the reason we all were drawn to Salem in the first place! You'll feel all kinds of nostalgia when you see the locations used to film our favorite childhood Halloween movie, "Hocus Pocus."

  • 10 Ocean Ave. aka Max & Dani's House

See the main characters' house with the iconic lookout on the top and imagine you're running from the witches for yourself. Be sure to be respectful and only take photos from the street because this is a private residence, otherwise you really will be running from somethings (the police).

  • Salem Pioneer Village Experience what Old Salem was like back in the day while simultaneously seeing Thackary & Emily Binx's home. Note: the Village has limited hours and is generally only open on the weekends. Tickets can be purchased online or at the gate.

  • Old Town Hall, 32 Derby Sq.

You may walk by the Town Hall without even realizing it because it's in the heart of downtown Salem. In the film, this is the location of the Halloween Party Max & Dani's parents attend, and where Bette Midler sings her iconic version of, "I Put A Spell On You."

  • Ropes Mansion Alison's house and the site of her family's Halloween party.

  • 86 Essex St. Salem, MA & Salem Common Here you'll find Max & Alison's school as well as the location of the scene where Alison savagely gives Max his phone number back.

  • Old Burial Hill, Marblehead, MA You'll have to go a few minutes out of town for this one, but it's very much worth it. Here they filmed the scene where Jay and Ernie (oops, I mean ICE), steal Max's shoes. You can find the exact location of where it is filmed if you search for it a bit. Here's a hint: find the headstone of Mary Doax towards the front of the cemetery. At Old Burial Hill, you will also find the grave of one of the Witch Trial's victims, Wilmot Redd, near the back of the cemetery by the pond.

Salem is one of the most, if not *the* most magical places, especially during October. For anyone who loves history, Halloween, or simply has a morbid curiosity of life, Salem is the place for you. I can't wait for my next trip back to this unique city.

Seem like a lot to pack into one trip? Don't worry! It's actually pretty easy to fit everything into a few days in Salem if you know the best route. For a free itinerary for experiencing Salem efficiently, as well as the perfect week in Massachusetts, head back to my home page, sign up for my emails and look for it in your inbox!

Happy Hauntings, friends!


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