Just 14 miles north of Boston, Salem is a world away. From its unique place in history with the witch trials of the 1690s to the maritime industry, this charming town is walkable for most visitors. From Spring until Fall, visitors can explore museums along with historic sites along brick sidewalks, lined with boutique shops and eateries. Here are the top things to do in Salem, Massachusetts.
Salem Maritime National Historic Site
As the first national historical site in the U.S., this urban site encompasses nine acres in central Salem. Dedicated to its rich maritime history (and not the witch trials), visitors can see the ten historic structures, nine archeological sites, and four historic wharves including a tall ship and a lighthouse.
Salem Armory Visitor Center
As the main interpretive area, visitors can learn about the maritime history of Salem with its short film and displays. Rangers are stationed at the visitor center and offer maps along with suggestions.
This is a departure point for ranger programs as well. Visitors will find restrooms and a hydration station.
Located at 2 New Liberty St. It is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Waite and Pierce Park Store
As a 19th-century shipping warehouse, the Waite and Pierce Park Store sells souvenirs and books. Named after the owners of the Tall ship Friendship, the partners Aaron Waite (1742-1830) and Jerathmiel Pierce (1747-1827) operated boats that sailed across the globe.
Located at 193 Derby St. Open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., closed for major holidays.
Friendship of Salem
A replica of the original sailing ship built in Salem, the two-decked, three-masted, square-rigged, 342-ton vessel was built from 1796-1797. Salem shipbuilder Enos Briggs constructed the Stage Point yard and in the East Indies, like China, India and Indonesia. The British captured the Friendship after departing Archangel, Russia, in 1812.
It is moored at the Derby Wharf. Open daily from noon to 3 p.m. for touring.
Custom House, Public Stores and The Scale House
In 1629, the first custom house was built in Salem, an important port. The British collected the taxes on goods first. In 1789, the U.S. Customs Service Government took over the duty of collecting taxes.
The present building was constructed in 1819 and showcases a Federal style of architecture with a red brick exterior, Corinthian columns and 12-pane windows.
Located adjoining the Custom House, the Public Store operates as a bonded warehouse. Built in 1819, the building is three stories tall.
The Scale House was built in 1829 and is located behind the Custom House. It stored the scales through weighed cargo. They were moved to the wharf and used there.
The Custom House is at 176 Derby St, Salem. Inquire at the visitor center if the buildings are open.
Built in 1675, a butcher built the house. At the time, the interior included just one room on the first floor and one room on the second.
Subsequent owners added a kitchen along with a one-story addition.
Located at 71 Essex St, Salem. Inquire at the visitor center if the building is open.
Built as a wedding present in 1762 for Elias Hasket Derby and Elizabeth Crowninshield Derby. They were one of the wealthiest merchants in New England.
Located at 65 Derby St, Salem. Inquire at the visitor center if the building is open.
The Federal Style house was started in 1780 though not completed until after 1800 when another Salem resident purchased the home. The house is three stories tall and features many windows.
Located at 174 Derby St., Salem. Inquire at the visitor center if the building is open.
West India Good Store
Built next to the Derby House, this building was built in the early 1800s and used to sell imported goods, like sugar and coffee.
Located at 160 Derby St., Salem. Not open at this time
Derby Light Station
Located on Derby Wharf, the square light was built in 1871. It is about 12 feet square and 20 feet tall. In 1987, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Kids and Pets at Salem Maritime National Historical Site
The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.
Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet at the Salem Armory Visitor Center. Then bring the completed booklet back for a NPS Junior Ranger Badge.
Leashed dogs are welcome on the grounds if they practice the principles of the BARK program.
B-Bag waste and dispose of it in the trash
A-Always leash your dog for their safety and others
K-Know where you can go
Located at 160 Derby St, Salem. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Derby Wharf and the ground around the historic buildings are open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
Peabody Essex Museum
With its beginning with the East India Marine Society, the Peabody Essex Museum was established in 1799. The captains sailed to far-off destinations around the Cape of Good Hope or the Cape Horn, looking for goods. In 1825, the society moved into the East India Marine Hall.
Dedicated to local history, the Essex County Natural History Society was founded in 1821. In 1848, the two organizations merged and changed names several times.
The Peabody Essex Museum is known as the oldest continuously operating and collecting museum in the U.S. The museum features an extensive collection of art and artifacts from around the world, including maritime art, Asian art, and contemporary works. In total, it has over 1.3 million pieces.
Located at 161 Essex St. in Salem. Open Thursday to Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adult admission is $20, students are $12 and kids (16 and younger) are free. Parking is located nearby. The Atrium Cafe is open from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Salem Witch Trials
Salem, Massachusetts has a robust maritime history though it’s probably best known for the Salem Witch Trials. From February 1692 and May 1693, the town went into a hysterical fit.
In all, 200 people were accused of witchcraft with 30 people found guilty and 19 of those were executed by hanging. One man died while he was being tortured and five people died while in jail.
To learn more about the history of the Salem Witch Trials, head to some of the top things to do in Salem Massachusetts. Most are open seasonally and note that if you are visiting in October, most places require advance reservations.
The Witch House
The home of Witch Trials Judge Jonathan Corwin. It is the only structure still standing in Salem with direct ties to the Salem Witch Trials.
Inside, visitors can walk through the home and see how people lived in the 17th century. Additionally, visitors learn about how Salem whipped itself into a witch-hunting frenzy.
Located at 310 1/2 Essex Street in Salem. From November 16 to March 14 the Witch House operates on winter hours from Thursday to Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. From March 15 to November 15, the Witch House is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Guide house tour is $10.25 for adults and $7.25 for kids (7 – 14). For the self-guided tour of the house, adult admission is $8.35 and kids (7 – 14) are $6.25.
Salem Witch Museum
Inside the historic church, thirteen life-size stage sets, figures, lighting and narration, tell the tale of witch-hunting in 1692. A hold-over from Europe, witches were feared so the Salem Witch Museum depicts some of the gruesome acts that happened during that period.
Visitors see how the Salem Witch Hunt started and how it unfolded. They will see how the accused witches were hanged. One man was pressed with a medieval-looking contraption and large rocks. The tour goes through a replica of the jail as well. The Salem Witch Museum paints a vivid picture of this dark period of history.
Note, this tour isn’t for younger kids though very interesting and informative for those wanting to learn more about the Salem Witch Trials.
Located at 19 1/2 N. Washington Square, Salem. Open year-round with varying hours. Adult same-day tickets are $17.50 and kids (3-14) are $14.50. Tickets must be secured online and the tour lasts about an hour and a half.
Salem Witch Trials Memorial
Created in 1992 to memorialize the lives lost to the Salem Witch Trials, granite blocks jut out of a hand-crafted wall delineating a grassy area with locust trees. Each of the blocks bears the name of a Witch Trial victim.
Located at 24 Liberty Street, between Charter Street and Derby Street. Open from dawn to dusk. Free to enter.
Charter Street Cemetery
Also known as Old Burying Point, this cemetery was set aside in 1637. The primary judge from the Salem Witch Trials, Judge John Hathorne is buried here. He was the great-great-grandfather of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author. Note the spelling change.
Located at 51 Charter St. Open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily.
The House of Seven Gables
The House of Seven Gables is an American classic by Nathaniel Hawthorne, published in 1851. The setting, the House of Seven Gables is located in Salem and open for tours.
The 1668 colonial mansion overlooks the Salem Harbor and features landscaped grounds. It is one of the oldest timber-framed houses remaining in North America.
Originally built by Captain Turner, three generations lived in the house before it was sold. The Ingersolls purchased the house and remodeled it. Nathaniel Hawthorne lived in the house with his relatives, and the home’s history inspired him.
In 1908 Caroline Emmerton purchased the house and started the restoration process. With the aid of an architect, the missing gables were returned and its home was opened for tours.
A 45-minute guided tour is available that discusses the history of the home along with its occupants over the years. With many original (or antique furnishings, the tour is a must for readers and old house lovers.
After touring the House of Seven Gables, visitors can enjoy the grounds along with a couple of other buildings. One is the birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Located at 115 Derby St., Salem. Adult home tours are $25 and $17 for kids (5 – 12). To tour the gardens only, is it $12 from May 1 until September 30 and $6 from November 1 until April 30. No garden only passes in the month of October. Reservations recommended.
For first-time Salem, the Salem Trolley is the best way to get see the top sites in the self-proclaimed Witch City. The one-hour tour covers eight miles and includes the history of the witch trials along with
The Salem Trolley picks up at 2 New Liberty St. at the Salem Maritime National Historical Site. Open daily from April 1st to November 1st. from the first tour at 10 a.m. to the last tour at 4 p.m. Reservations recommended for this popular attraction.
Essex Street Pedestrian Mall
Lined with bricks, this pedestrian through-fare on Essex Street and Central Street offers restaurants, shopping along with the Peabody Essex Museum. The Bewitched Sculpture is also located near the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall.
It is free to use and open 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.
Salem Heritage Trail
Visitors can find the gold line linking the historical sites in Salem from the maritime history to the witch trials to the colonial history and beyond. The Salem Heritage Trail has undergone a revamp with a more inclusive history along with a newly painted gold line through Salem.
It is free to explore though individual attractions have their own hours and admissions. For more information, visit the Salem Heritage Trail.
The iconic friendly witch of the 1960s sitcom Bewitched, Elizabeth Montgomery is immortalized with a bronze statue.
Located in Lappin Park at the intersection of Essex St. and Washington St. It is open 24 hours a day and 365 days a year and is free to visit.
As a large green space in the historic part of Salem, the Salem Common connects attractions like the Salem Witch Museum with the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Created in the 17th century, the militia used the Salem Common for training. Visitors will find benches along with monuments in the area.
Located Hawthorne Blvd. and Washington Square. Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and free to enter.
Salem Visitor Center
This is the main visitor center in Salem. It is the best place for maps, brochures and more information.
Located at 245 Derby St., on the ground floor of the renovated South Harbor garage.
Worth noting, parking is precious in Salem so it is best to use public transportation to arrive. Or if you drive, park once and walk to all the top Salem attractions.
Salem Witch Village
This witchy attraction is more commercial than some of the other Salem Witch Trails stops. Visitors will find information about witchcraft as well as Wiccan supplies.
It also offers combo tickets for the Salem Wax Museum, located at 288 Derby St . Tickets start at $18 for two attractions.
The Salem Witch Village also hosts walking tours of historic Salem. Additional tickets required and subject to seasonal hours.
Located at 282 Derby St. Open daily with seasonal hours.
Where to Eat and Snack
Ledger Restaurant and Bar
In the former Salem Savings Bank building from 1818, Ledger offers a dinner menu of New England classics. During my visit, I started with its popovers and recommend them.
The dinner menu offers modern takes on American classics so diners will find Smoked Duck Breast from Long Island, a Beef Sirloin with root vegetables paired with a Chimichurri sauce along with a Wood-Grilled chicken.
Located at 125 Washington St., Salem. Open Wednesday to Thursday from 5 – 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5 – 10 p.m., and Sunday for brunch from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. and dinner from 4:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Reservations recommended.
Ye Olde Pepper Companie
America’s oldest candy company is located across from the House of Seven Gables. It sells fudge, chocolate and seasonal candy.
Located at 122 Derby St., Salem. Open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Consideration for brands mentioned. The destination hosted part of this visit.