Salem, Massachusetts, in the month of October is a lot like Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, during the first few days of February: The town is overrun with visitors from all over the country. But for Halloween buffs the annual Salem Haunted Happenings celebration is well worth the crowds (and we'd venture to say it's a lot more fun than watching a sleepy groundhog).
And Salem isn’t just for those obsessed with All Hallows’ Eve. It’s a great getaway for families, American history enthusiasts and horror movie buffs. It's too late into the Halloween season to book a coveted room at a hotel or inn in Salem proper, but Boston hotels are only a half hour away.
With so much of the town dedicated to Halloween and the history of the Salem Witch Trials, we’ve rounded up the best things to do during your adventure.
Where to find haunted history
Most people don’t realize the alleged witches of Salem were not burned at the stake. The infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and 1693 resulted in 22 executions — 19 of which were hangings.
The Salem Witch Museum, nestled in Washington Square by Salem Common, tells you all about the history of the eerie town. The museum is housed in a former church and its facade seems all the more ominous with a statue of Salem’s founder Roger Conant — clad in a cloak — a few feet away.
Your tour starts with a narrated opening telling the story of Tituba, the 17th-century slave who was the first accused of practicing witchcraft during the trials. Later, you’re led on a guided tour that takes you through the history of witchcraft up until what’s practiced among pagans today.
Best place for horror movie fans
To get away from the history and get a little silly in Salem, there are walk-through haunted houses everywhere. Usually, they are better for kids but one you should shell out the money for is Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery.
A horror movie fan will enjoy seeing replicas of everyone from Michael Myers to Norman Bates, the creature from the “Alien” movies and even Winnie from “Hocus Pocus” — the latter of which is set in Salem.
Count Orlock’s has a Jekyll and Hyde experience. It’s the walk-through horror museum by day but at night — if you’re craving those cheap scares — pay the few extra bucks for a Double Dare pass.
When the sun sets, Count Orlock’s turns into a haunted house with zombies and monsters jumping at the chance to scare you.
Also, the gallery is right by Salem Harbor so if you need to kill time between your visits, it’s a beautiful place to do it.
Stock up on spooky swag
Amid the dozens of shops in Salem where you can buy tourist trinkets like witch-themed mugs, t-shirts and hats, Hex: Old World Witchery stands out. Located across the street from the “Bewitched” statue, this store seems all the more authentic when you find out its second location is in New Orleans.
The centerpiece of the store is its Witches’ Altar of the Dead. There, people leave notes for the dead. Every November, the dead are honored as the notes are burned. After you leave your own note, you can browse through the store’s collection of spell pillar candles, Babylonian jewelry, spell kits and books, and statues of demons and devils.
If vintage is your thing, visit Olde Naumkeag Antiques. You can find 50-year-old Ouija Boards there and head to Salem Common at midnight to summon what may be inside them.
Skip the crowds for this one
Almost all of the walking ghost tours available in Salem will will stop at the Old Burying Point Cemetery. But on a busy night before Halloween, the cemetery is jam-packed and it’s hard to appreciate its significance with hordes of people walking through. Try to take your own tour around the second oldest recorded burial ground in the United States when it’s empty. And bring your flashlight.
During your walk, stop at the Witch Trials Memorial and see stones dedicated to witch trials names like Giles Corey, who along with his wife Martha were accused of witchcraft. Giles refused to claim his innocence or guilt and was instead pressed to death with stones. He died after two days.
Refuel with pizza and pumpkin beer
Salem Beer Works brews its own delicious fall beers. This month, they offer an Octoberfest Lager, Pumpkin Works Ale, Centennial Alt and Red October.
After you shop at Hex, have lunch at Flying Saucer Pizza Company where speciality pies are aptly named: Thor, Picard and Mustafar. The latter has ghost pepper salami, spinach and portobello.
After dinner one night, have a drink outside by the fire pit at the Regatta Pub at the Salem Waterfront Hotel & Suites. Say yes when your server asks if you want a caramel, cinnamon and sugar rim with your pumpkin beer.