Salem, Massachusetts is a historic coastal city located in the northeastern region of the United States. The city was founded in 1626 by Roger Conant and quickly grew into a bustling seaport and center for trade in the region.
Salem played a significant role in the Salem witch trials of 1692, which resulted in the execution of 20 people accused of witchcraft. This tragic event has been immortalized in literature and popular culture, making Salem a popular destination for tourists and history buffs alike.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Salem’s prosperity continued to grow, with the city becoming a major hub for global trade, particularly with China and the East Indies. Many of Salem’s historic homes and buildings from this period are still standing today and can be seen on tours of the city.
In the mid-20th century, Salem underwent a revitalization as a tourist destination, with the city’s historic sites and maritime heritage drawing visitors from around the world. Today, Salem is a vibrant city that balances its rich history with a modern cultural scene, including museums, art galleries, restaurants, and shops.
Visitors to Salem can explore a variety of historic sites, such as the Salem Witch Museum, the House of the Seven Gables, and the Peabody Essex Museum. They can also take part in seasonal events, such as the Salem Haunted Happenings festival in October, which celebrates the city’s spooky reputation with parades, ghost tours, and other activities.
In this article, we have compiled a list of the 15 best things to do in Salem to help you plan your trip and make the most of your time in this enchanting city.
So, let’s get started and discover the wonders of Salem!
1. Peabody Essex Museum
The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) can be found in Salem, Massachusetts, USA. Its origins date back to 1799 when the East India Marine Society was formed by a group of Salem captains and supercargoes who traveled to East Asia, collecting natural and artificial curiosities. As time went on, the collection grew and became one of the largest and most important in the United States.
In 1867, the East India Marine Society merged with the Essex Historical Society to create the Essex Institute, which carried on expanding the collection and promoting the study of history, science, and the arts. The Peabody Essex Museum was established in 1992 when the Essex Institute merged with the Peabody Museum of Salem. Today, it is the biggest museum of its kind in New England and one of the longest-operating museums in the United States.
The PEM houses more than 1.3 million objects, including works of art, artifacts, and archival materials from around the globe. Its collection includes works by contemporary artists, as well as historical artifacts, such as the Yin Yu Tang, a Chinese house that is over 200 years old, dismantled and then reassembled at the museum. The PEM is recognized for its maritime art and artifacts, as well as its extensive holdings of art and artifacts from Asia, specifically China, Japan, and India.
Apart from its collections, the PEM is renowned for its inventive exhibitions, public programs, and educational initiatives. It is at the forefront of the museum sector, creating new approaches to engaging audiences and promoting cross-cultural understanding.
2. Witch Dungeon Museum
The Witch Dungeon Museum in Salem, Massachusetts is a unique educational experience that offers visitors a chilling journey back in time to the year 1692 when something very unusual took place in the little village.
The strange behavior of the children and their accusations that some of the people in the village were witches led to the infamous Salem Witch Trials that lasted for thirteen months and resulted in the execution of nineteen people and the death of one man who was pressed to death.
At the Witch Dungeon Museum, visitors can witness a reenactment of the electrifying scene of a Witch trial adapted from the historical transcripts of 1692. Professional actresses in repertory perform the acclaimed show that will transport you back to the time of the trials and give you a glimpse into the lives of the people who were accused of witchcraft.
The mood is set from the moment you enter the museum, and you are guaranteed to feel the fear and the tension that the villagers must have experienced during the trials. The museum is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in the history of the Salem Witch Trials and the events that took place in the little village in 1692.
So, come and experience the history of Salem and witness the electrifying reenactment of the Witch trial at the Witch Dungeon Museum.
3. The House of the Seven Gables
Nathaniel Hawthorne penned “The House of the Seven Gables” in 1851, a novel revolving around the Pyncheon family living in a grand mansion situated in Salem, Massachusetts. The estate, popularly referred to as the House of the Seven Gables, is supposedly cursed and haunted by the ghosts of the dead inhabitants.
The tale begins with the background of the Pyncheon family, who trace their roots back to England. Colonel Pyncheon, the family’s patriarch, played a significant role in the infamous witch trials of Salem, which resulted in the execution of many innocent people. Following the trials, Colonel Pyncheon bought a vast piece of land and put up the grand mansion, which he named the House of the Seven Gables.
As years passed, the Pyncheon family was hit by numerous calamities, including illnesses, deaths, and financial difficulties. The family members were tormented by the curse of the house and the ghosts of their ancestors, who were rumored to be seeking revenge for the wrongs committed during the witch trials.
The novel centers on the relationship between Hepzibah and Clifford, two members of the Pyncheon family. Hepzibah is Clifford’s sister and the current owner of the House of the Seven Gables. Clifford, who had been falsely imprisoned, returns to the house after serving his sentence. The two siblings grapple with their past and strive to find a way to move on.
The story also features a romantic side plot involving a compassionate young woman, Phoebe, and her connection with a distant relative, Holgrave. Phoebe becomes a source of hope and optimism for the Pyncheon family, who have been weighed down by their troubles.
In the end, the curse of the House of the Seven Gables is lifted, and the Pyncheon family finds peace and reconciliation. The novel is a classic in American literature and is notable for its themes of guilt, redemption, and the supernatural.
4. New England Pirate Museum
The museum is located in the historic district of Salem, Massachusetts, which was once a hub for maritime trade and a hotspot for piracy. Visitors enter the museum through a replica of a pirate ship, complete with a plank for walking the plank and a rope ladder for climbing aboard.
Inside the museum, visitors are greeted by displays of pirate weapons, tools, and artifacts. There are interactive exhibits that allow visitors to learn about navigation, treasure hunting, and life on a pirate ship. The museum also features a recreated pirate town with a tavern, a blacksmith shop, and a treasure room.
One of the highlights of the museum is the guided tour, which takes visitors through a series of exhibits that tell the story of famous pirates like Blackbeard, Anne Bonny, and Calico Jack. The tour includes a visit to a recreated pirate cave, where visitors can see the tools and equipment used by pirates to hide and protect their loot.
The New England Pirate Museum is a must-visit attraction for anyone interested in history, piracy, or adventure. It offers a unique and immersive experience that transports visitors back in time to the thrilling world of pirates and privateers.
5. Witch House
The Witch House in Salem, Massachusetts has a close connection to the infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Built-in the early 17th century, the house was originally owned by Jonathan Corwin, a prominent judge who presided over the trials. It is believed that some of the accused witches were brought to the house for questioning to determine their guilt or innocence.
Due to its association with the trials, the Witch House gained a reputation as a haunted and cursed dwelling. In the 19th century, the property was purchased by the Ropes family, who restored and renovated it. The house was later opened to the public as a museum in the early 20th century and has since become a popular tourist attraction.
In recent times, the term “Witch House” has also been used to refer to a music genre known as Witch House or Drag, which originated in the late 2000s.
This genre is characterized by its dark and atmospheric sound, often incorporating elements of hip hop, goth, and industrial music. Although not directly related to the history of the Witch House in Salem, the genre has contributed to the house’s ongoing popularity and cultural significance.
6. Salem Art Gallery
The Salem Art Gallery is a modern art hub situated in Salem, Massachusetts. It offers a diverse range of artistic expressions, such as paintings, sculptures, photography, mixed media, and installations. The gallery proudly showcases local and international artists, hosting frequent exhibitions and events.
This art gallery is particularly noted for its dedication to emerging and mid-career artists who are at the forefront of contemporary art. It focuses on amplifying the voices of underrepresented artists and tackling societal issues through art.
Along with exhibitions, the Salem Art Gallery provides art classes and workshops for all ages, aimed at nurturing creativity and teaching new techniques.
Overall, the Salem Art Gallery is a lively and exciting place that champions the best of contemporary art. Whether you are an art aficionado, a collector, or simply interested in art, the gallery is a must-see destination in Salem, MA.
7. Salem Common
Salem Common is a public park located in the heart of the historic city of Salem, Massachusetts. The area that now encompasses Salem Common has a rich history dating back to the colonial era when it served as a meeting place for the town’s residents.
In the 17th century, Salem Common was known as the “Training Field” and was used as a place for the town’s militia to train and drill. During the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, the area was used as a place to hold accused witches before their trials.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Salem Common became a popular location for public gatherings and celebrations. It was also the site of the first Memorial Day commemoration in the United States in 1868.
During the Civil War, Salem Common was used as a training ground for Union soldiers. The park also played a role in World War I and II, serving as a recruitment and training center.
Today, Salem Common is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. The park is home to several historic structures, including the 1634 First Church of Salem, the Hawthorne Hotel, and the Salem Witch Trials Memorial. It also hosts a variety of events throughout the year, including the Salem Arts Festival and the Salem Jazz and Soul Festival.
8. Pickering Wharf
Pickering Wharf is a historic waterfront area in Salem, Massachusetts. It is located on the eastern side of the Salem Harbor and was originally a bustling seaport that played a significant role in the city’s maritime trade. The wharf is now a popular tourist destination, featuring a variety of shops, restaurants, and galleries.
Some of the notable attractions at Pickering Wharf include the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, which includes several historic buildings and ships, and the Salem Wax Museum, which features lifelike wax figures of famous historical figures and events.
The area also offers various tours, including harbor cruises and ghost tours, which take visitors to some of the city’s most haunted sites.
Pickering Wharf is a must-visit destination for anyone exploring Salem. Its rich history, stunning waterfront views, and diverse selection of shops and restaurants make it a truly unique and exciting place to visit.
9. Nathaniel Hawthorne Statue
Nathaniel Hawthorne, one of America’s most prominent authors of the 19th century, was born and raised in Salem, Massachusetts. Today, the city pays tribute to its most famous literary son with a statue located in the heart of downtown Salem.
The statue was erected in 1925 and is located on the corner of Hawthorne Boulevard and Essex Street, near the Salem Witch Museum. It depicts Hawthorne sitting on a bench, with a book in his hand, looking out over the city he called home.
The statue was designed by Bela Pratt, an American sculptor who also created the famous equestrian statue of Paul Revere in Boston. The Hawthorne statue was funded by the citizens of Salem and is a testament to the enduring legacy of one of America’s greatest writers.
Visitors to Salem can take a stroll past the statue and reflect on the impact Hawthorne had on American literature. The author is best known for his novel The Scarlet Letter, a masterpiece of romantic fiction that explores themes of sin, guilt, and redemption. Other notable works include The House of the Seven Gables and The Blithedale Romance.
Today, Hawthorne’s legacy lives on in Salem, where visitors can explore the author’s birthplace, the House of the Seven Gables, and other historic sites associated with his life and work. The statue of Nathaniel Hawthorne is a must-see for any literature lover visiting Salem.
10. Salem Ferry
The Salem Ferry is a transportation service that connects Salem, Massachusetts to Boston. The ferry operates seasonally, typically from May to October, and offers a scenic and convenient way to travel between the two cities.
The ferry is operated by Boston Harbor Cruises and departs from Salem’s Blaney Street dock, located near the Salem Willows Park.
The trip takes approximately 50 minutes and offers views of historic landmarks, including the Boston skyline, the USS Constitution, and the Bunker Hill Monument.
The ferry also provides access to popular attractions and events in both Salem and Boston, making it a popular transportation option for tourists and locals alike.
11. Punto Urban Art Museum
Punto Urban Art Museum is a project that aims to bring together a diverse range of artists and art lovers to celebrate the culture and history of Salem, Massachusetts. The museum is located in the Point neighborhood of Salem, which has a rich history and is home to a vibrant community of artists and creatives.
The museum’s collection includes more than 75 murals and street art pieces that cover the walls of buildings throughout the Point neighborhood.
The murals range in style from abstract and surreal to realistic and representational, and they explore a variety of themes, from social justice and political activism to nature and spirituality.
The museum has become a popular destination for visitors to Salem, and it has helped to transform the Point neighborhood into a vibrant cultural hub.
The museum’s founders hope that it will continue to grow and evolve in the years to come, providing a space for artists to create and share their work and for the community to come together and celebrate their shared history and culture.
12. Pickering House
Pickering House is a historic house located in Salem, Massachusetts, USA. It was built in 1664 by John Pickering, who was a wealthy merchant and a member of one of the most prominent families in Salem. The house is considered one of the oldest surviving colonial homes in the country.
Over the years, the Pickering House has gone through several changes and renovations. The house has also been used for various purposes, including as a family home, a boarding house, and a museum.
Today, the Pickering House is a historic house museum that is open to the public. It offers guided tours of the house, showcasing the history of the house and the Pickering family, as well as the architecture and lifestyle of colonial Salem.
The museum also features a gift shop, where visitors can purchase souvenirs and memorabilia related to the house and Salem’s history.
13. Proctor’s Ledge Memorial
The Proctor’s Ledge Memorial in Salem, Massachusetts honors the tragic event where 19 innocent individuals were hanged during the infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692. It serves as the first public monument in Salem that commemorates the victims of the witch trials and was dedicated on July 19, 2017, which marked the 325th anniversary of the hangings.
Historian Sidney Perley, with the aid of modern archaeological methods and historical records, confirmed Proctor’s Ledge as the site where the executions took place in 2016. The small slope on Gallows Hill, located in the outskirts of Salem’s downtown area, was henceforth designated as the location of the memorial.
Designed by artist and architect Tom Schaller, and collaborator landscape architect Martha Lyon, the memorial is composed of a low stone wall with the names of the 19 victims engraved on it. In the center stands a stone marker that bears the inscription, “For the victims of the Salem Witch Trials, who were hanged on this site in 1692.”
Numerous people attended the dedication ceremony, including descendants of the victims, community leaders, and scholars. The event featured speeches, prayers, and a reading of the victims’ names. The Proctor’s Ledge Memorial has since then become a popular attraction for tourists who come to pay homage to the victims who lost their lives during one of the darkest chapters in American history.
14. The Custom House
The Custom House in Salem, Massachusetts is a historic building that served as the center of the city’s maritime commerce during the 19th century. The building was built in 1819 after a fire destroyed the previous structure.
The Custom House was responsible for collecting taxes on imported goods and regulating maritime trade in the port of Salem. The building served as a symbol of the city’s prosperity and economic power, and many of Salem’s wealthiest merchants and shipowners conducted business within its walls.
Today, the Custom House is a popular tourist destination and museum, featuring exhibits on the history of Salem’s maritime trade, including displays of antique navigational instruments, ship models, and other maritime artifacts.
Visitors can also take a guided tour of the building and climb the observation tower for panoramic views of Salem and the surrounding area.
15. Gallows Hill Museum/Theatre
The museum’s exhibits include displays on the accusers, the accused, and the judges involved in the trials, as well as information on the role of religion and politics in the events.
The museum also offers live performances and reenactments of the trials, as well as tours of the surrounding area, which includes the actual site of the gallows where the accused were hanged.
Over the years, the museum has become a popular tourist attraction, drawing visitors from all over the world. It has also been the subject of controversy, with some critics arguing that the exhibits and performances trivialize the tragedy of the witch trials.
15 Best Things to Do in Salem (MA)
- Peabody Essex Museum
- Witch Dungeon Museum
- The House of the Seven Gables
- New England Pirate Museum
- Witch House
- Salem Art Gallery
- Salem Common
- Pickering Wharf
- Nathanial Hawthorne Statue
- Salem Ferry
- Punto Urban Art Museum
- Pickering House
- Proctor’s Ledge Memorial
- The Custom House
- Gallows Hill Museum/Theatre