36 Hours in Salem, MA
Salem is a lovely coastal town with an infamous history. Often referred to as the Witch City, you might think it's only kitsch and campy fun, but Salem has more to offer than just magic shops and occult attractions. Yes, the Bewitched statue is at the center of downtown, but just steps away are amazing bars and restaurants, fascinating historical landmarks, and more.
The Fora Difference
Book with Liza to access exclusive perks and experiences on your trip.
Free upgrades, spa credits and more—we got you
Customized travel planning for your style
Expert advice from people who’ve actually been there
Where to stay
The Merchant Salem
A sophisticated, luxurious stay housed in an 18th-century building.
Luxe property in a redbrick building from 1925 with quaint rooms and suites.
The Salem Inn
Experience historic charm and New England hospitality at The Salem Inn, where cozy accommodations, period details, and a central location in Salem, Massachusetts, offer a delightful stay in this fascinating city with a rich history.
Unlock perks by contacting Liza to book your trip.
Day 1: Exploring historic Salem
Salem is easily accessible by commuter rail or ferry from Boston. Arrive in time for lunch at Gulu-Gulu Café, a quaint and quirky local spot for light food and drinks. With options for the carnivore or the vegan, plus a fun cocktail list and local beers, it’s fun and fast and has good service. Gulu-Gulu is situated on the square with the Samantha Bewitched statue, so take a quick pic before heading off.
I recommend visiting The Witch House, just a short walk away, where you can tour the oldest extant building in town (although it has been heavily renovated) and get a good understanding of the witch trials history that makes Salem so fascinating. It is the former home of Jonathan Corwin, a judge and significant figure during the trials. The tour is self-guided, so spend as much or as little time there as you like.
On the same block as The Witch House is the famous Ropes Mansion & Garden. Some external scenes from the movie Hocus Pocus were shot here, and it is considered one of the most haunted places in Salem. Whether you’ve seen the movie or not, or whether you believe in ghosts or not, it is worth walking through the garden – you can conduct a little treasure hunt of sorts by looking for 2 points of interest: a 100-year-old tree and a sundial with a poem. The Peabody Essex Museum does provide tours of the house (Saturdays and Sundays only).
From there, walk through the adjacent McIntire Historic District, a gorgeous tree-lined section named after Salem’s celebrated architect Samuel McIntire. Snap pictures of the pre-1900 houses, stroll along Chesnutt Street, stop outside Hamilton Hall, and wander through the Broad Street Cemetery, where Jonathan Corwin and his nephew George are buried (more about George later). Also of note nearby is Proctor’s Ledge, the sight where it is believed 19 people were hung for witchcraft.
Many of the standard attractions that Salem has to offer are near the central downtown area and Essex Street, including the Salem Witch Museum, the Witch Dungeon Museum, and the Salem Wax Museum. These are very touristy but can be fun, especially for kids. I don’t find them entertaining enough for the price of admission, personally. Instead, I recommend wandering in and out of the many shops you’ll find there. Especially of note is Emporium 32, a lovely and well-curated boutique. You can also get tickets for the Salem Trolley, which will take you on an hour long tour of the city.
You definitely want to see the Witch Trials Memorial at Charter Street Cemetery (aka The Old Burial Point). The simple but evocative memorial commemorates the victims of the 1692 trials and is a central point in the city. The cemetery is the oldest in Salem, a quiet and somber place to reflect on this troubled history.
For dinner, I highly recommend Ledger Restaurant and Bar (reservations encouraged). My experience there was amazing, not just because they have great food but also because the service is outstanding. Located in the Salem Savings Bank building from c. 1818, the grand space adds ambience to Ledger’s progressive New England cuisine. We were drawn to it by its cocktail list, which includes (at the time of writing) a drink called Bees for Louis that was simply beautiful.
The bar manager recommended a cocktail lounge nearby for after-dinner drinks, a speakeasy-type bar called Hallowed Ground. What a rec! It was fantastic! If you like cocktails and mixology, don’t miss this place. The cocktail menu is full of unusual things and the bartenders are super friendly and super knowledgeable. Can’t say enough great things about this bar.
After a full day exploring, you want a nice place to rest. Our top hotel pick is The Merchant, but you better not be afraid of ghost stories. Earlier I mentioned George Corwin; he was the sheriff in Essex County, where Salem is located, during the 1692 witch trials, and his reputation is notorious. He is said to have been cruel and sadistic, and his home was on the land where The Merchant is built. The rumors and myths surrounding Corwin may not be the first thing the hotel wants you to know about its property, but it’s quite intriguing. The Merchant is stunning and spacious and comfortable, a truly wonderful boutique hotel.
Another less extravagant option for your overnight in Salem is The Salem Inn, an historic and centrally located bed and breakfast. Stay in one of the 3 historic houses in which they operate for an unique and quaint experience.
Day 2: More museums, local art and fresh seafood
Both The Merchant and The Salem Inn provide free breakfast, or you can head over to Red’s Sandwich Shop or Red Line Café. Not far from either is the Peabody Essex Museum, the next stop on this itinerary. You should reserve at least 1-3 hours for the museum. Admission is $20.
PEM should keep you busy until it’s time for lunch, and I suggest Sea Level Oyster Bar which was recommended to me by a local. Fresh seafood, a beautiful view, and – if you’re feeling special – the craziest drink of all time, Scary Mary (perhaps you should order it before you choose your meal).
Afterward, take a walk along the waterfront toward the Derby Wharf. Stop to admire the Friendship of Salem, a replica of the vessel from the 1800s, and then continue to the small lighthouse for a photo op. Finish the afternoon with a visit to House of the Seven Gables, another interesting attraction worth checking out.
A nice 15 min walk or an Uber ride away is the Peabody Street Park and Punto Art Museum. As an avid street art fan, I love wandering through streets filled with public art, and there’s lots to be seen here. Slightly further afield is the Salem Pioneer Village, the first living history museum in the U.S. It’s worth the detour; however, it is only open on weekend afternoons from June 10 to October 29.
For dinner tonight, hit up The Lobster Shanty. Looks are deceiving here, and you may have to wait for a table in the very small space, but it makes for a great experience. Complete your night with drinks at the shanty or, if you’re craving something sweet instead, head over to Goodnight Fatty for a late-night cookie.
Then it’s back to your hotel for a good night’s sleep.
Need to Know
Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out Fora advisors Nicole Freedman's guide, 3-Day Itinerary for Salem Massachusetts.
Get in touch with Liza
Did you like this guide? Reach out to customize and book your own experience. Or, just to chat about travel in general.
You can normally expect a response from Liza within a business day or so. You'll also be subscribed to our travel newsletter (you can unsubscribe at any time).
This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Massachusetts.