The Ultimate Guide to a Wicked Experience in Salem, MA (For Families)
Salem, Massachusetts is a small, picturesque town on the coast of Massachusetts. Salem is located just 22 miles from Boston, making it a must do day trip if you are visiting Beantown. Salem is the small town that was home to the 1692 Salem Witch Trails. During the trials 20 locals were sentenced to execution after being accused of practicing witchcraft. Of the 20, 19 were hung and one was pressed to death with stones. Four more people died in prison while awaiting trial.
Salem has much to offer visitors and many great family friendly attractions and events. Enjoy the smell of salt water along Derby Wharf, learn about the chilling history of the Salem witch trials, visit original sites of the trials and historic homes, visit an old fashioned apothecary shop, and shop at an old fashioned candy shop. Although Halloween is undoubtedly the best time to take in the spookiness of the town, you can still experience it year round.
How to Get There
1-Drive. If driving in to Salem, I would recommend finding a parking garage or somewhere on the streets to park. Salem is a very walkable town and traffic may get heavy at certain times of the year. Park the car and enjoy exploring the area on foot!
2-Take a ferry from Boston-Boston Harbor Cruises offers a one hour fast ferry service from Boston to Salem If going for a day trip this may be the best way to get there.
3-Take the MBTA Commuter Rail from Boston. The rail station is located in downtown Salem, within walking distance of many shops, restaurants, accommodations, and attractions. Times and fees vary, be sure to check the MBTA schedule before traveling.
Best Time to Visit
Halloween (and the entire month of October) is unarguably the best time to visit Salem. Throughout the month of October Salem hosts their Haunted Happenings events. Haunted Happenings includes a grand parade, family film nights, haunted houses, psychic fair, ghost tours, daytime and after dark tours of Salem, Halloween Boos cruise with Mahi Cruises, haunted witch village, and of course lots of spooky costumes!
Haunted Happenings is a great time to visit with kids as there are plenty of kid friendly activities taking place.Visit on Wednesdays for a whole list of activities to keep the kids entertained! Activities include costumed characters, crafts, face painting, costume parades, music and dancing, trick or treating throughout the entire month, and kid friendly haunted houses. Saturday nights feature family friendly movies at Salem Common.
Fun (and a little bit spooky!)Things to Do with Kids
1-Visit the Salem Witch Museum
The Salem Witch Museum highlights the history of Salem and the witch trials with thirteen life size sets depicting the history of the witch trials and a variety of exhibits. Outside the museum stands the notable statue of Roger Conant, the founder of Salem. The Witch Museum is open daily 10am to 5pm, with extended hours in July & August (10am to 7pm) as well as varying hours in October. Be sure to check before your visit! Cost is $13 for adults, $11.50 for seniors, and $10 for children 6-14. (***Note: Younger children may find this museum uninteresting)
2-Get your photos taken at Witch Pix
Witch Pix is a costumed photography shop where you and the kids can transform yourselves into wicked (or nice) witches. The shop features a number of different backgrounds and props to transform you into the supernatural. Choose from spooky, serious, of goofy poses. Packages range from $40 to $250.
3-Enjoy the Salem Kids Walking Tour
Salem has plenty of walking tours available, but this is the only family and kid centered tour available. It is a one hour walking tour with a costumed guide that explores the history of Salem through fun and interactive experiences. There is also a Spooky Walking Tour with ghost stories and off the beaten path exploration around Salem. The tour is $15 for adults and $10 for children. Tour times may vary, be sure to check and reserve before you go!
4-Take a ride on the Salem Trolley
The Salem Trolley includes a one hour narrated tour of Salem as well as all day shuttle services around Salem. Guests may get on/off at any of the 14 stops around Salem and explore at their own pace. Tours take place from April to November daily from 10am to 5pm. Tours are $20 for adults, $19 for seniors, $10 for children 6 to 14, and free for ages 5 and under.
5-Visit the Peabody Essex Museum
The Peabody Essex Museum is an art museum that is home to a number of different collections, including African, American, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Maritime, and Native American Art. The museum also features photography pieces. While these may not be of great interest to children, the museum also features a child friendly area with great activities. On the weekends you can enjoy science themed crafts at the Art & Nature Center galleries. Story Trails takes place once a month and involves a read aloud, exploration of artwork, and a craft. Studio Discoveries allows the kids to explore art and make their own creations with professional artists.
The museum is open daily 10am to 5pm. Admission is $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, $12 for students with ID, and free for ages 16 and under.
6-Visit the Witch Dungeon Museum
The museum features a live action show followed by a tour of a dungeon replica. The museum also includes a replicated village and Gallows Hill. The museum is open daily from April through November 1am to 5pm. Note, this may not be suited for younger children.
7-Visit the New England Pirates Museum
Enjoy an interactive, guided tour through the New England Pirates Museum and learn about pirate captains that played a role in the history of Salem, including Kidd and Blackbeard. Walk through a dockside village, pirate ship, and bat caved filled with pirate treasures. This is a great activity for the pirate lovers in your family!
The museum is open daily May through October, 10am to 5pm. Admission is $9 for adults and $7 for children, or you can purchase combination tickets to the Pirates Museum, Witch Dungeon Museum, and Witch History Museum.
8-Explore the Salem Maritime National Historic Site
The Salem Maritime National Historic Site includes twelve historic buildings along Salem’s waterfront. The site includes a visitor center, replica of a ship (the Friendship of Salem), Derby Light station, Derby house, narbonne house, public stores, and Scale House. The site is open 10am to 5pm daily.
9-Explore Hocus Pocus filming locations
If you or your child is a fan of the Disney film Hocus Pocus, spend some time checking out many of the filming locations of the film that are scattered around Salem. Visit Pioneer Village where the opening scenes of the film were shot before Binx was turned into a cat. View the Phillip Elementary School which served as Max and Allison’s school in the film. View the Ropes Mansion, which served as Allison’s house. Stop at Old Town Hall in Derby Square which was the location of the Halloween party at the end of the movie. Relax in the Salem Common where many outdoor scenes were filmed. You can visit the exterior of Max’s home in the movie, but please be aware that this is a private residence. If you want to venture off a little bit take the 15 min. drive to Marblehead to Old Burial Hill Cemetery which was featured in the film. Be sure to re-watch the movie before visiting!
10-Visit the House of the Seven Gables
The House of the Seven Gables is the birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthrone, which, true, may not capture the attention of the young ones. However, the house includes some family friendly attractions, such as the Kids’ Cove at the Counting House and the Living History Labs. Special programs are also offered on school breaks for the kids to enjoy.
The house is open daily from 10am to 5pm with extended hours in the summer months to 7pm. Admission is $17 for adults, $16 for seniors, students, and ages 13-18, $11 ages 5-12, and free for children 5 and under.
11-Enjoy the Salem Willows Arcade
Spend the day or evening at this oceanfront arcade enjoying great food and games. This is a great attraction for both kids and adults alike. Also available are bumper cars and a batting cage. Outside you can find a waterfront park with picnic areas, gazebos, and tennis and basketball courts.
12-Visit a Cemetary
Salem is home to three cemeteries, including Charter Street Cemetery, the Howard Street Cemetery, and the Broad Street Cemetery. The Old Burying Point Cemetery on Charter Street is the final resting place of many notable people in Salem’s history, including witch trial judges and a mayflower passenger. This may not be something that everyone will enjoy, but I mention it because my daughter always seems to have a good time looking at the grave markers.
13-Walk the Salem Heritage Trail
The Salem Heritage Trail starts at the National Park Service’s Salem Visitor Center and takes you along a red line through the historic points of the town along with many of Salem’s top attractions. Stops along the trail include the Peabody Essex Museum, Witch History Museum, Daniel ow Building, Witch House, Old Town Hall, and Old Burying Point Cemetery.
14-Visit the Salem 1630 Pioneer Village
Salem’s Pioneer Village is the first living history museum in America. It spans across 3 acres and has various structures, such as cottages and a blacksmith shop. Pioneer Village is open for tours on the weekends June through September at 12:30pm, 1:30pm, and 2:30pm.
15-Enjoy a Picnic Lunch in the Salem Common
Get away from the spookiness and history for a while and enjoy a tranquil afternoon. The Salem Common is a large open square where you can relax and enjoy a picnic lunch. In the center sits a large gazebo.
Places to Eat
The Flatbread Company is a pizzeria that offers a variety of different wood fried pizzas and salads. The Flatbread Company also features a bowling alley, so enjoy some wood fried pizza while bowling with the family. The restaurant also holds regular benefits nights for local non-profit companies and have given back to 800 charities. Prices range from about $10 to $22.
The Howling Wolf Taqueria is a full service restaurant and bar offering classic Mexican dishes with a family friendly menu. The kids menu features items such as cheese quesadillas, cheese nachos, chicken quesadillas, chicken fingers, and a beef burrito. Prices range from about $3 to $17.
Bambolina is an Italian restaurant that was named the “Best Pizza on the North Shore” offering a variety of pasta dishes, pizza, local craft beers and wines as well as a kids menu with plenty of kid friendly choices. Prices range from around $10 up to $25 for dishes.
Similar to Dave and Busters, Bit Bar Salem offers a full menu as well as arcade games for the kids to enjoy (adults too-don’t be ashamed!). Bit Bar Salem has a kids menu featuring traditional dishes, such as grilled cheese, chicken fingers, hot dogs, mac and cheese, pizza, and fish & chips. The price range is from about $10-$20. The arcade features a number of different classic arcade games.
Where to Shop
Indulge yourself in some old fashioned treats at this classic, old fashioned candy shop. This shop produces hand made candy with some recipes dating back to original recipes in the 1800’s. This shop is right across the street from the House of the Seven Gables, so combine your tour of this historic house with some mouth watering treats.
Artemisia Botanicals is an apothecary shop located in Salem that sells over 400 different herbs, 100 different types of teas, saps, essential oils, and a variety of other homemade items.
Coon’s Card and Gift Shop is a great shop for souvenirs, including clothing, mugs, shot glasses, key chains, magnets, as well as “witchy” stuff like tarot cards, herbal blends, candles, cauldrons, crystal balls, and spell kits.
1-The Salem Haunted Happenings Festival
As discussed above, the Haunted Happenings Festival occurs annually in October and includes many family friendly attractions. Get into the spirit and enjoy the history and atmosphere of Salem in your favorite costume.
2-The So Sweet Chocolate and Ice Festival
The So Sweet Chocolate and Ice Festival i held annually in February. The event is a collaboration between The Salem Chamber of Commerce, Destination Salem, and local retailers The festival is full of decadent chocolate and ice sculptures. During the festival 20 plus sculptures are scattered throughout Salem and left until they melt. The festival also includes a chocolate and wine tasting.
3-Salem Maritime Festival
The Salem Maritime Festival occurs annually at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. The festival offers live music and dancing, harbor cruises, arts and crafts, and a variety of different demonstrations and activities. The festival is free!
Tips for Visiting with Children
1-Have Some Backup Plans
You may think that your child will enjoy an attraction, such as the Witch Dungeon Museum, but when arriving they may be frightened or not want to sit through the duration of the reenactment. Have a backup plan with other things nearby that the kids will enjoy in case something turns out to be a little too spooky.
2-Be Sure to Consider the Crowds
If you chose to visit during the time of year when special events are occurring, especially the Salem Haunted Happenings Festival. If crowds are something that your child does not do well with, it may be wise to avoid this time of year. If they are okay with crowds-go for it!
3-Do Your Research
Before visiting an attraction be sure to do your research and make sure that the attraction is appropriate for your child. Depending on age some attractions may not be suited for them. Do some research online and if you would like call ahead and ask if the attraction is appropriately for the age group of your child. Don’t risk wasting time and money on an attraction not designed for your child’s age.
4- Be sure to Bring a Stroller
Salem is a very walk-able town with many of the main attractions being in close proximity to each other. However, for younger kids with little legs getting around may prove to be more difficult. Be sure to bring a stroller or have some kind of alternative method of getting around, such as the Salem Trolley.
5- Verify That Your Hotel is Kid Friendly
Most hotels in the Salem area are kid friendly, with the exception of a few such as the Curwen House. Be sure to check with the hotel before booking to make sure that the accommodations are appropriate for your family.