Visiting Haunted Happenings in Salem

Over Friends and Family Weekend (Oct. 21-23) at Mount Holyoke, I had to come up with something for my family to do in our spare time, so I read through Sarah Washington’s article on Halloween activities in Massachusetts for inspiration. I decided to go to Salem, Massachusetts, a city fifteen miles north of Boston infamous for the witch trials that occurred in the late 1600s. My grandma is a “Salem witch” (meaning she was born in Salem), and as a fan of Halloween, United States history, and magic, it was a great choice. Through some trials and tribulations that tend to come when embarking on an impromptu trip, I learned what to do to improve your Salem visit and experience the best attractions the town has to offer.

Late September, October, and early November will have the largest crowds, but more things to do. If the Halloween aspect of Salem is most important to you, the crowds are worth navigating. Otherwise, many visitors enjoy visiting in the spring, where the fall and summer crowds can be avoided and the weather is nice. Dress warmly if you decide to go this fall or winter! Additionally, getting to Salem earlier in the day will allow you time to find a parking space and do everything on your list. Some of the following activities allow you to drop in as you like, others get booked quickly, so make reservations to restaurants and museums ahead of time when possible!


1. Witch Museums

There are multiple options of museums (and pseudo-museums) to visit. When we tried to find one to go to, we realized all the tours had been booked up for the day. Afterward, looking at reviews online, I discovered that the Salem Witch Museum and Witch History Museum are tourist traps with mixed reviews, while the Peabody Essex Museum, Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery, and the House of the Seven Gables are more enriching and highly-rated attractions. At the latter, you can experience thorough history and nuanced displays, at the former, you can experience animatronics and cheesy reenactments.


2. Shops

The shops are as close to a Muggle version of Diagon Alley as you can get. Fivehands Curiosity Shoppe (as seen above), Wynott’s Wands, and Bewitched in Salem are just a few of the many magical and mysterious shops to explore. Trinkets, fashion, home decor, and oddities of all mystical and haunted kinds make for more than great souvenirs and costume supplies. At the Curiosity Shoppe, I was most tempted by a tiny taxidermy bat and the collection of vintage tintypes. If I visited again, I would definitely budget for buying one decoration for my room and an interesting magic-related book from Bewitched in Salem.


3. Free activities

There are plenty of free options of things to do in Salem that are especially enjoyable in nice weather. You can explore historical sites, parks, and cemeteries, most of which are connected by the Salem Heritage Trail, indicated by a painted red line. By taking a walk down Chestnut Street, you can see “the oldest planned street in America,” with some houses from the 1600s. The Salem Maritime National Historic Site has free guided and self-guided tours to learn more about Salem’s history as a trading port: proof that Salem isn’t just about the witch trials!


4. Events

You can look at the official Salem calendar to look for events happening when you want to visit. Alternatively, searching for past events around the season you are considering your trip can help as well. We visited in the midst of Haunted Happenings, an all-month celebration that made the crowds worth it. However, there is still plenty to do beyond October and with less of the rush.

Salem feels like an amped-up Northampton in a way because it’s not too big, but still can provide a new opportunity for exploration every time you go. If you have a chance to immerse yourself in this piece of Massachussetts culture, take it!


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