Located north of Boston in Massachusetts, Salem is a city with an interesting history. The locals describe it as one of the quirkiest and spookiest cities in Massachusetts, if not the United States. It is probably best known for the witch trials that took place in 1692. It is also known for its art scene. If you are visiting Salem, you will find a vast array of things to enjoy during your time in the city. These range from museums to outdoor activities, and from galleries to family-oriented attractions. So that you can plan your vacation itinerary to get the best out of your stay, the following are the 20 best things to do in Salem, MA, for first-timers.
20. Have Some Family Fun at Salem Willows
Salem Willows is a public park with a beach and picnic areas, along with amusements like an arcade, mini golf, very small kids’ rides like a carousel and a number of takeout restaurants and snack shops.. It is simply named after the white willows that were previously planted there in the 1800s. Located on Fort Avenue, this amusement park boasts roller coasters, kids’ rides, and other attractions for visitors to enjoy.
19. Spend the Day at Pickering Wharf
Many people forget that Salem is a coastal town as they are too busy taking in the history and learning about the links to witchcraft. Pickering Wharf is the district that sits on the coast, and there are excellent ocean views. This district is also the main shopping and dining destination of the city. Therefore, it is the best area to visit to enjoy some retail therapy or to sample the delights of the local cuisine.
18. Take a Ride on the Salem Ferry
The Salem Ferry travels between Salem and Boston Harbor It is a 92-foot-long vessel that has two decks, a galley, booth seating, and benches. It is a fantastic way to arrive in Salem, as you get a wonderful view of Salem’s skyline. It is also the best way to take a day trip out of Salem into Boston. Sailing on the ferry is a fun activity in its own right.
17. See the Art at Punto Urban Art Museum
For art lovers, the best attraction in Salem is the Punto Urban Art Museum, says Lonely Planet. It is an open-air art museum that features urban art painted onto the local walls and buildings by nationally renowned artists. This is a free activity, so it is a fantastic option for those visiting the city on a budget.
16. Have Some Fun at The New England Pirate Museum
A fun activity to enjoy if you are visiting Salem with children is The New England Pirate Museum. This museum explores the history of pirates in New England and takes a closer look at a pirate’s life. There are many interactive and fun elements of a visit to this museum, including taking the walking tour. This involves visitors meeting buccaneers along the way.
15. Learn About Maritime History at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site
Those who are interested in maritime history should visit the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Lonely Planet says that this attraction is located along Derby Street, and it comprises the Custom House, the wharves, and various other buildings. At one time, the shipping industry was thriving along this stretch of the city, and visitors can now take a guided tour of what remains on the site.
14. Take a Tour of Ropes Mansion
Located in the McIntire Historic District of Salem, the Ropes Mansion is a Georgian colonial mansion dating back to the 18th-century. It was originally built for Samuel Bernard who was a merchant. Later, the Ropes family lived in the property for more than a century, and it is after this family that the hotel is named. Tours are self-guided, and the mansion is open seasonally on weekends. The garden is open to the public for year-round, both are free to visit.
13. Go to Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site (Near Salem)
The first integrated ironworks in the United States was established in Saugus, by John Winthrop the Younger. The Saugus Ironworks was in operation from 1646 until 1670. Now, the site is a historical site that has many interesting features, such as the rolling mill, a blast furnace, a ¼-ton drop hammer, and the forge. Other features of this site are the wharf where iron was loaded onto ships and the seven large waterwheels that once operated the mill.
12. Visit Salem 1630: Pioneer Village
Originally, Pioneer Village was built as a theater set in 1930 for a play about life in Salem in 1630. Although it was only intended as a temporary structure, it eventually became a permanent feature because the local residents became fond of the set. It then became the first living history museum in the United States. When you visit this attraction, you will learn about the English settlers. Some of the buildings to visit in this mock village include several cottages, a blacksmith’s, a sawmill, a saltworks, and the governor’s house.
11. Stroll Around Old Burying Point Cemetery
This is the oldest cemetery in Salem, and it is the final resting place of many famous Salem residents. Mary Corey is Giles Corey’s first wife- she was not accused during the Salem Witch Trials as she died in 1684 and the Witch Trials took place in 1692. Giles was accused and ultimately executed by pressing for refusing to enter a plea.
10. See The House of Seven Gables
Made famous by the novel of the same name that was written by Nathanial Hawthorne, The House of Seven Gables is a house mansion. It is set within a colonial mansion that was built in 1668 for Captain John Turner. It was then passed down through three generations of his family. It was restored to become a museum in the 1900s. When visitors pay to take a tour of this historic attraction, they also gain admission to the neighboring property, which is Hawthorne’s birthplace.
9. Take a Hocus Pocus Tour
There are many tours available in Salem, including food tours and sightseeing tours. One of the best tours to take is the Hocus Pocus Tour. These are award-winning tours that last for around 90 minutes and will teach you many interesting facts about the city. One focus of the tour is the city’s witchcraft history, hence the name of the tour. Some of the sights in Salem were used as locations in the film ‘Hocus Pocus’, and you will also see these during the tour. In total, the tour has 15 stops where the captivating tour guide will tell stories relating to Salem’s history.
8. Go to the Fort Sewall
The two reasons that you should visit Fort Sewall are the history and the views. This is a historic fort that sits on an elevated position in Marblehead along the Atlantic Coast. It was built in 1644, and it overlooks the entrance to the harbor. It is one of the oldest English forts in the United States, although it was rebuilt during the American Revolution. The fort played a vital role in the War of 1812. There are underground bunkers and rooms, and visitors can enjoy the community park. The views across the Atlantic Ocean are impressive from this vantage point.
7. Visit High Rock Tower Reservation (Marblehead)
High Rock Tower Reservation is a municipal park in nearby Lynn. It covers 4.4 acres, and there is a hill within the park that offers excellent views across the Atlantic Ocean. The main feature of the park is its namesake, the High Rock Tower. This 85-foot stone tower was built in 1905 to replace a previous tower that stood on the same site. If you visit at the right time, you can climb the tower and look out from the telescope, as they periodically open the tower to the public.
6. Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery
One of the more unusual attractions in Salem is Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery. The attraction is described as being the only monster museum in Salem. The exhibits relate to horror and thriller films. Some examples include life-sized madmen, demons, and vampires. There are also exhibits that were crafted by Hollywood special effects artists and used in famous movies.
5. Enjoy the Outdoors at Breakheart Reservation (near Salem)
If you are an outdoor enthusiast, then one of the best attractions for you is the Breakheart Reservation. This is a large public park in Salem that covers 652-acres. There are two lakes, a section of the Saugus River, a hardwood forest, landscaped gardens, and rocky hilltops from which you can enjoy scenic views. If you go to the visitor’s center when you visit the park, you will find out about the park’s history and the wildlife that live there. IN the summer, there are lots of fun activities you can enjoy on the lakes.
4. Admire the Historic New England Phillips House
One of the most interesting historic attractions to visit that is not connected to the Salem Witch Trials is the Historic New England Phillips House. There are four intact rooms in the house that were once part of another house and were relocated to the museum. There are tours of the museum every half an hour, and the focus is on life in the early 20th-century.
3. Take a Trip to Misery Islands
Comprising Great Misery Island and Little Misery Island, the Misery Islands are an 87-acre nature reserve. In 1620, a shipbuilder called Robert Moulton was stranded on the islands, and it was he who gave them their names. Although the islands are uninhabited now, people have lived on the islands in the past. Now, they are a popular tourist attraction, and people visit to enjoy the two miles of hiking trails and to enjoy the stunning surroundings. There is only a shallow channel between the two islands, so it is possible to wade between the two during low tide.
2. Go to the Peabody Essex Museum
Vacation Idea recommends a visit to the Peabody Essex Museum as one of the best activities in this city. It is one of the largest art museums in the United States, so it will particularly appeal to art enthusiasts. It is famous for having one of the biggest collections of Asian art in the country, as there are more than 1.3 million pieces. Within this collection, there are 22 historical buildings that have been transported to this location. Another of the best features of this art museum is the collection of art and cultural artifacts relating to maritime history and art. There are also examples of American, African, and Oceanic art in the collection.
1. Visit The Witch House
Not to be mistaken with the Salem Witch Museum, The Witch House is the former home of Judge Jonathan Corwin. It is one of the few properties that remain in the city that have direct ties to the witch trials. The building of this property began in 1620, and a tour of the home gives visitors a glimpse into life during this period. The tour also covers the events of the trials.
*Learn About Witchcraft at the Salem Witch Museum
Due to its history relating to the witch trials of 1692, New England Today lists the Salem Witch Museum as one of the best things to do in Salem, MA, for first-timers. This is the most visited of all the museums in the city, and the property’s gothic exterior appears to lure people inside. The Salem Witch Trials are brought to life as visitors travel through 13 stage sets complete with life-size figures that depict the events of 1692. The museum’s tour guides teach visitors about the history of witchcraft, modern-day practices, and how witches were once hunted.
Photos by John Andrews and Jared Charney