Most Americans are intrigued by Salem, Massachusetts, due to the infamous witch trials in 1692 – 93, before the United States was even a country. Salem is a city steeped in history and mystique. With its early maritime heritage, Salem has a historical significance that resonates through its cobblestone streets and historic landmarks.
At the heart of this journey lies the Salem Heritage Trail. I found the trail while studying for our trip to Boston. This meandering path invites visitors to trace the footsteps of the city’s storied past. It lends itself to a perfect day trip to Salem.
This article may contain affiliate links. We may earn a commission if you use these links to buy products or services. Please see our disclosure policy for full details. Thanks.
We came to Salem for two reasons.
1. I’m fascinated by its history: in high school, I was in the play “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller and later read the book The Witches: Salem 1692.
2. My husband has a long interest in genealogy. In discovering his roots, he found he had direct ties to one of the participants in the witch trials. As we go through Salem, I will share his kin.
The Salem Heritage Trail: A Journey into History
The Salem Heritage Trail is both a map and a journey. You can download the map for the self-guided tour at the link at the paragraph’s beginning. Initially, the trail in Salem was called the Red Line. This guided walking tour was a line painted in red to evoke a brick line like Boston’s Freedom Trail.
However, recognizing the negative connotation of “redlining” in 2020, Destination Salem began repainting the line in yellow and removing references to “The Red Line.” Most of the trail has been repainted, but know if the line is red or yellow, you are following the Heritage Trail.
Highlights Of Key Stops Along The Trail On Your Day Trip To Salem
Witch Trial Memorial And Charter Street Cemetery
Start your day trip at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial adjacent to the Charter Street Cemetery, also called Old Burying Point Cemetery. Here, there are 20 granite benches engraved with the name of a victim of the trials and the date of their execution. We came here first to find the memorial for Martha Corey, who was hanged for her perceived crimes on September 22, 1692.
Martha was not my husband’s relative. Henry Kinne, one of her accusers, helped seal Martha’s fate and my hubby’s 8th great grand uncle. We all have angels and demons in our bloodline. But at least we could show Martha the respect in death that she did not get in life.
It is fitting that this memorial is next to Charter Street Cemetery. This cemetery is the last resting place for Judge John Hathorne, who took a prominent role in the witchcraft trials.
The Judge Jonathan Corwin House
At the far end of Essex Street is a property often called “The Salem Witch House.” This is the last structure still standing in Salem that existed during the witch trials, and this was Judge Corwin’s house. The house was built circa 1675.
It’s documented that most trials occurred at the Salem Village Meeting House. However, while there is no evidence of this being the case, many believed examinations of the accused also took place in the judge’s house for a long time.
Witch Dungeon Museum
Around the corner from the Corwin House is the Witch Dungeon Museum. This is one of two “Witch Museums” in Salem. Here, there are live re-enactments of a witch trial, after which you tour a replica dungeon meant to represent the cells the “witches” were interred in after being found guilty.
The Dungeon Museum is open From April 1 – November 30, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. The price of admission is a mere $13.00.
Essex Street, Derby Square, And The East India Marine Hall
Next, head south on Washington Street back to Essex Street. Are you thirsty or looking for a bite to eat? From Washington Street on the north to New Liberty Street on the south, Essex Street is a pedestrian mall and the main shopping and dining street in the old village of Salem.
You can satiate your need for Salem souvenirs at shops like Flying Moneky, The Magic Parlor, and the Coven’s Cottage. Stop at the Red Line Café or Rockafellas for food and drink.
Look down Derby Square, and you will find the Old Town Hall (featured in the movie “Hocus Pocus”) now a Rental and Performance Venue.
Near New Liberty Street, the East India Marine Hall, dedicated on October 14, 1825, was the headquarters for the East India Marine Society. The society was comprised of a group of 22 sea captains who sailed the world from Salem. Today, the hall is part of the Peabody Essex Museum.
Salem Witch Museum
From East India Marine Hall, head north for a block on New Liberty Street, then south on Brown, about 3 ½ blocks to the Salem Witch Museum. This witch museum doesn’t have a live show, but a presentation that takes the audience through 13 stages of life-size figures depicting the web of lies and intrigue that were the substance of the witch trials.
After the seated presentation, the audience is guided by a live guide through the exhibit “Witches: Evolving Perceptions,” which follows the meaning and evolution of the word and images of witches over time.
We took 1 ½ hours to view this Museum and its exhibits. Note that while these exhibits are not live, they depict a tragic history. Some scenes, such as “The Devil,” the pressing of Giles Corey, and George Burroughs’s hanging, may not be suitable for everyone.
This is a pricier museum with Adult tickets at $17.50 and discounts offered for seniors and children under 14.
The Peabody Essex Museum In Salem, Mass
From Salem Common following Hawthorne couth back toward Charter Street, you will find yourself at the Peabody Essex Museum. This Museum has the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating and collecting Museum in the USA.
The East India Maritime Society formed the Peabody, and those enterprising Captains filled the collection with goods they traded for on their long voyages. It shouldn’t surprise you that a museum started by a group with East India in the name holds one of the most significant collections of Asian art in the United States.
I mention the Museum here because it is an impressive place. However, if you are only making a day trip to Salem, I don’t really recommend this as a stop. Visiting the Peabody and seeing its permanent and visiting exhibits can be a full-day trip on its own. If you stay in Salem overnight, this is a fantastic addition to your visit.
The Salem Visitors Center and Salem Maritime National Historic Site
If you are also looking into the maritime history of Salem, head south Hawthrone back to Essex, where, a block north, you will find the Salem Visitors Center. This is part of the National Park Service and has good information on Salem and its maritime history.
From the visitors, head south to Derby Street and then east to the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. You can explore this 9-acre park with historic buildings, piers, and the replica tall ship, The Friendship of Salem.
As always, I encourage you to join the National Park Service. Your “America The Beautiful Pass” will save you money each time you visit a park, and the official NPS app can help you plan your visit. You can get both by visiting the National Park Service website here.
Nathaniel Hawthorne and the House of Seven Gables
Lastly, a good way to end your day is just at the edge of town, the House of Seven Gables. While the famous American author Nathaniel Hawthorne never lived in the house, he stayed here with his cousin when he worked in Salem.
Nathaniel was Judge John Hathorne’s great-grandson. That same judge who convicted so many of the “witches” decades earlier. It’s said that Nathaniel may have added the “w” to his last name to distinguish himself from his ancestors.
The novel “The House of the Seven Gables” was based partly on the curse on the Hathorne family pronounced by a woman condemned to death during the Salem witch trials.
Did You Love The Movie Hocus Pocus? While You’re In Salem, Visit The Sets
Are you a fan of the original Hocus Pocus movie? If so, you probably already know that many film locations were smack dab in the middle of Salem. Why not make a few stops to see where the movie was filmed on your perfect day trip to Salem?
Pioneer Village: A Living History Museum
In the film’s opening scenes, when the witches are hanged and Binx (the human Thackery, the witches turned into a cat) prowls around, this is Pioneer Village. Built in the 1930s, this living history museum is located in Salem’s Forest River Park, about 5 miles south of Salem.
Designed to recreate life in the colonies in the 17th century, the village has examples of dugouts, thatched roof cottages, and wigwams. There are also gardens and a blacksmith shop. The town is only open from 12 pm to 4 pm on Saturday and Sunday from June 10 – to October 29. Admission is around $5.00.
Phillips Elementary School On Salem Common
Jumping to the modern day is Phillips Elementary School, the site of Max & Allison High School. The building sits at the edge of Salem Common, so you can view the exterior. However, the building is not open to the public today.
The Ropes Mansion (Allison’s House)
Allison’s house and the scene of the Halloween Party is the Ropes Mansion. This 18th-century home is now owned by the Peabody Essex Museum. You can tour the gardens in the rear of the property. They are open and free to visit. Ropes Mansion is located at 318 Essex Street.
Old Town Hall (Halloween Party)
Last but maybe my favorite scene in the movie is when the witches arrive at the Halloween party in town, and Bette Midler sings “I Put A Spell On You.” This scene takes place in the Old Town Hall. You can easily walk past this stop as it’s one of the Salem Heritage Trail sites.
Should You Take A Guided Tour Of Salem Massachuttes?
We found it very easy to walk the Salem Heritage Trail and learn much about the history of the place and the Witch Trials. But we had a good amount of knowledge ahead of time. I recommend a guided tour of Salem for a more in-depth tour.
There are a few different ways you can do this.
You can hop on the Salem Trolley Tour. This tour gives you a narrated one-hour tour through historic Salem. The tour covers around 8 miles of the historic area, stopping just long enough at most of the important sites for a quick photo op.
Or, for a more complete tour, take one of the many package tours from Boston. This way, everything from your transportation between the two cities, the site you visit in Salem, and the guide to explain all you are seeing is included, and you can sit back and relax.
When Spending Time In Boston, A Day Trip To Salem Is Easy And Fun
We ended up in Boston twice in the past year. Once on a repositioning cruise from Boston through the Caribbean to Ft. Lauderdale in the fall and the following February as part of our trip to Iceland. Once in Boston, you have a few options for getting to Salem.
Taking the MBTA Commuter Rail
It’s easy to get from Boston to Salem by taking the Newburyport / Rockport Line train. You depart from Boston’s North Station in Boston and arrive at Bridge Street Train Station in Salem about 30 minutes later. It is a short walk from the station to the historic center of town. Currently, a one-way ticket is about $8.00
The train is convenient and runs back and forth all day, year long. During the high season, MBTA adds more trains to accommodate the increase in riders.
Embarking on a Ferry Adventure
Want to cruise Boston Harbor? Boston Harbor Cruises operates a ferry from Long Wharf to Salem’s Blaney Street Boston City Cruises Terminal. The terminal is conveniently located close to some of Salem’s main attractions.
The ferry only runs from the end of May through October and makes about 5 trips each day. The ride takes about 50 minutes. An adult one-way ticket costs around $25.00
You can find train and ferry details and schedules at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Website.
Road Trip: Making your Day Trip to Salem By Car
We ended up driving to Salem from Boston because we were doing genealogical searching and your basic tourism.
Since we were staying by the Airport, picking up a rental car was easy. But even if you are staying in Boston proper, it’s only about a 20-minute Uber or cab ride from the city center to the Airport.
It is easy to navigate the roadways between the cities using phone apps like Waze, Google, or Apple maps. The drive time from Boston Logan Airport to downtown Salem was 40 – 45 minutes.
Considering our first visit was smack dab in the middle of October, we found parking surprisingly easy and affordable at a car park right across the street from the Peabody Essex Museum and the Salem Visitors Center. This may have been because we were there on a weekday; however, it is an excellent central location to park for your day trip to Salem.
When Is The Best Time For A Day Trip To Salem, Massachusetts?
Fall is undoubtedly the most popular time to visit Salem because Halloween! Even though the Salem witch trials took place over about 18 months, we associate witches with Halloween. So, if you think about it, the entire month of October is really a mob scene!
The weather is typically mild and pleasant, and the foliage can be stunning, adding to the charm of the historic sites. However, this popularity means larger crowds, longer lines, and higher accommodation costs.
Salem is bustling during the Summer, with warm weather and various outdoor events, festivals, and activities. While the weather is excellent, it can get quite busy, especially in July and August, as tourists flock to the city. Booking accommodations in advance is recommended during this time.
Spring is a lovely time to visit Salem. The weather begins warming up, and the city is less crowded than the peak summer and fall months. You can explore the historical sites and museums without the long lines. However, some attractions might still have limited operating hours early in the spring.
Winter is the least crowded time to visit Salem. If you want to delve into the history of the witch trials and the city’s maritime heritage, winter might offer a more intimate experience. But the weather can be cold, and some attractions might have reduced hours or be closed.
However, the holiday season brings its own charm with festive decorations and events. Also, as we found in February, Salem holds a chocolate and ice sculpture week. If you’re up for brisk weather and sweet treats, this may be the best time to visit.
Remember to check the operating hours of attractions and events, as they vary by season. Also, remember that weekends and holidays tend to be busier than weekdays. Ultimately, the best time to visit Salem depends on your interests and preferences.
Wrapping Up Your Day Trip To Salem
Salem is one of the oldest cities in the United States and has many stories to tell. The Salem Heritage Trail leads you through key stops that unveil Salem’s essence. This day trip reveals Salem’s layers, blending the historical with the personal and weaving a narrative that will tug at your heart.
If you are interested in reading about the Salem Witch Trials I recommend Arthur Miller’s Play the Crucible as a fictionalized version and of course The Witches: Salem 1692 by Stacy Schiff.
Or, if you are just visiting to get in the Halloween spirit, you probably now have some excellent ghost stories!
Whether you are making a day trip to Salem for history or fun, let me know in the comments what you found and what you think.