What to Do in Salem, Massachusetts: One Day Exploring Salem

If you are looking for a day trip from Boston with history and a lot of fun, a day trip from Boston to Salem is the answer.

Salem is a port city that was founded in 1626. It is now most famous for its Witch Trials of 1692, and its author, Nathaniel Hawthorne. It is also full of colonial architecture, world-class museums, shopping, and restaurants. Whether you are interested in art, pirates, witches, or history, you can easily spend more than a day here. But if you only have one day, a great day it will be! Read on for a few ideas to plan your Salem day trip.

Living just under two hours from Salem, Massachusetts, my family has visited many times for many reasons.

What to Do in Salem, Massachusetts

An Educational Exploration of Salem- Exploring The Crucible and Salem Witch Trials

Witch Hysteria was sweeping Europe. The governor of Massachusetts, William Phips, was off fighting the Indian Wars, which was just one of the wars raging around the Puritans of Salem. The Puritans, who believed in an invisible world, became part of their own hysteria, immortalized in The Crucible.

Many of the museums and tours in Salem serve to teach about the trials. Some are factual, and many tell a great story.

My husband is an English literature teacher, so one visit we took was researching his teaching. We took our three boys, who were very entertained. Years before, I had visited with my then sixth-grader, who was also very interested in Salem after reading a book about the trials.

Witch Dungeon Museum

Our first stop was the Witch Dungeon Museum. It has a recreation of the witch trial courtroom with actors. There is also a life-sized model of the dungeons where the accused witches were kept. It was very touristy but did give a good overview of the realities of the trials. This town has many re-creation museums, and you probably only need to visit one.

a day trip to Salem

Witch History Museum

We then went to the Witch History Museum. It was less interactive than the Witch Dungeon Museum, but I preferred this tour as I felt I learned more. Be sure to read the signs with all the facts in the waiting room. Per my husband, they were very informative but had a few historical inaccuracies, as all the museums did. Tours start every half hour.

Walking Tour- Myths and Misconceptions through the Essex National Heritage Organization

This no-frills walking tour will give you a factual overview of the witch trials. It visits the Salem Witch Trial Memorial and the town’s oldest cemetery, the Old Burying Point.

Tour the Witch House

Although no witches or trials happened here, the Jonathan Corwin House is the only house still standing with a tie to the trials. Jonathan Corwin was one of the judges for the trials. The house, built in the 1600s, is open for tours.

Gallows Hill Theater

Salem MA activities
My son and nephew at Gallows Hill Theater on a busy October weekend.

Enjoy a fact-filled show about the history and myths of Salem, while being entertained by the spooky effects at the Gallows Hill Theater. My nephew and I were especially entertained by their Lost Museum. We laughed and jumped, and it was a highlight of our day.

Nathaniel Hawthorne and Salem, Massachusetts

Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author of The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables, was born and raised in Salem. He is a descendant of one of the witch trial judges, John Hathorne.

Visit The House of the Seven Gables

How to spend a day in Salem, Mass
The Hawthorne Family’s House of Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts.
A visit to House of the Seven Gables is always one of my visit highlights as I am an avid reader and a big fan of the Scarlet Letter and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The house was the inspiration for his book of the same title. It is an architecturally exciting house with beautiful gardens. The entrance fee includes a guided house tour and entrance into other historical homes that were moved to the property, including Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace. All the staff was amicable and willing to tell my son stories.

The Peabody Essex Museum

trips to salem massachusetts
A room of the Yin Yu Tang House, an entire 18th-century Chinese house on display at the Essex Peabody Museum.

I wouldn’t have guessed such an accomplished museum would be hiding in Salem. This art and culture museum, named among the top twenty art museums in the United States, also has one of the largest Asian art collections in the US.

Spooky Things to Do in Salem, Massachusetts, with Kids

When my oldest son (he was 12 at the time) and I came for a visit late one September, we were looking to experience Salem’s spookiness. If you want to see Salem at its spookiest, consider visiting at Halloween.

Salem Witch Village

My son wanted to learn more about witches. At the Salem Witch Village, we learned what lore was true and about the origins of some of our holidays. Our guide, Michael, did a great job educating us and keeping us entertained. The museum is on an alleyway with many other witch-themed attractions and haunted houses.

Salem’s Sinister Stories Ghost Tour

Ghost Tours in Salem, Mass

Our favorite part of our day was our 5 o’clock ghost tour with the interesting Kenneth of Sinister Stories of Salem. He has a long history in Salem. Kenneth is a Quaker, very soft-spoken, and a born storyteller. To be sure that you can hear him, he wears a microphone. He walked through town, sometimes breaking out in mournful songs or stopping to tell ghost stories about the town’s history. His information was both historical and supernatural. The 90-minute tour went well over two hours, and my son and I were never bored. In December, he does a different tour regarding St. Nicholas lore that I am interested in going back for.

During the tour, we visited the Old Burying Point. Somewhere in the corner near the haunted Murphy’s bar, you can hear the sounds of a ghost child.
The walking tour took us through most of the historical center of town, including the Old Burial Point, Witch Trials Memorial, Corwin House, and the Joshua Ward House.
The story of the haunted Dunkin’ Donuts next to the Joshua Ward house seemed a perfect meeting of old and new world New England. Because it is on the land that George Corwin’s home, the sheriff in the witch trials, was on, it is now reportedly haunted.

Shopping and Eating in Salem, Massachusetts

things to see in Salem, Massachusetts
An artist’s interpretation, as well as a map, of Salem, Massachusetts

Essex Street Pedestrian Mall

There are great restaurants and shops all around town, but this pedestrian mall is a fun and comfortable place to explore.

Food Worth Eating in Salem, Massachusetts

Melt Ice Cream

We first visited this spot a few years ago when this was Salem Screamery. Thankfully, the new owner has switched over to only homemade ice cream and still has a memorable salted caramel brownie.

Tavern in the Square

They claim the best burgers, and we did quite enjoy the bacon brie burger. We also love the location, right on the pedestrian Essex Street and the patio over the fountain map of Salem.

Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie

On the Heritage Trail, across from the House of the Seven Gables, is the US’ oldest candy shop, Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie. It contains some delightful early candy-making machines as well as most types of candy for sale.

Where should I Park in Salem?

It is an extremely walkable town, but parking is a bit of a hassle. Following the red line (the Heritage Trail) on the sidewalk will pass all its historical markers.
All street parking has meters. If you stay longer than four hours, parking in one of Salem’s two parking lots may be best. It is even better to travel to Salem on public transportation.

How to Get from Boston to Salem

Take the Ferry

If you are taking a day trip to Salem from Boston, you won’t have to deal with parking if you take the ferry! The ferry runs in the summer and fall.  Book your ferry from Boston to Salem here.

Take the Train

The ride from Boston to Salem is about half an hour from North Station. Take the Newburyport/Rockport Line to Salem Station.
Read on for more New England fall Adventures, or for more spookiness in Massachusetts, read about Lizzie Borden’s house.

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11 thoughts on “What to Do in Salem, Massachusetts: One Day Exploring Salem”

  1. As a former English teacher, I introduced The Crucible to students on many occasions, but am afraid to say that I have never visited Salem. I loved this post and will definitely be making a point of visiting next time I am in the USA. The history is so interesting and it appears that the town has really worked on bringing this to life. I shall certainly be seeking out Kenneth – my kind of tour!

  2. I have been to Salem once but barely remember it. I really need to get back and explore where the famous Witch Trials occurred. Such a tragic event for humankind but still very intriguing. I think Darcee would absolutely love exploring Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of Seven Gables and other locations as well!

  3. I didn’t realize Salem was an easy day trip from Boston. What a great option for travellers to that area to get out of the city and learn about this small town’s history and stories. I imagine it would be popular around Halloween? To hear about the Witch Trials.

  4. I’ve always wanted to visit Salem and it’s good to know that the town can be easily reach from Boston. Thanks for letting us know places or things that worth to do during a day visit. I know that I won’t miss the Sinister Stories Ghost Tour.

  5. Such a fascinating little town… the story of the witches of Salem is so intriguing, especially since some elements are actually true… I noted your comment about the museum being so rich and interesting for a small town. I have found really good museums in small towns, it’s always is a great surprise!

  6. I am from Texas looking into coming to Boston this Labor Day Wkend! After reading about the stories I am going to try and make this trip happen!

    • If you do make it, I would personally be interested in what your experience is now two years later from when they were last there. As we are looking at planning a trip for 2023 possibly, any tips or things you find along the way would be equally appreciated!


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