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24 Hours in Salem: Things to Do and Where to Stay

The best things to do in Salem—aka Witch City—when you visit.


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Salem may see tourism peak in October, but it’s a worthwhile destination throughout the summer and fall. While the distinctly forboden air of Salem feels most haunting around Halloween, the history of Salem will send chills down your spine regardless of the month you choose to visit. Situated on the north shore of Massachusetts in Essex County, it is uniquely positioned on the eastern tip of the state, right on the water. Due to the 1692 and 1693 witch trials, tourists still flock to Salem to gain insight into this sordid time in Massachusetts’ history. However, relics from the 1600s are fewer and farther between than you might think. Whether you’re coming in search of evidence from the trials, or you’re after Salem’s Haunted Happenings that run throughout October, here are the things to do in Salem that shouldn’t be missed:

9 a.m.: Start with breakfast at The Ugly Mug

While the name sounds unbecoming, it’s one of the most popular breakfast spots in Salem by far, beloved by locals and visitors. It’s got the classic New England diner roots, but with an innovative twist. You won’t just find fried eggs, bacon, and hash browns here; you’ll find specialties like their duck confit and waffles. If you’re not sure what to order at The Ugly Mug, choosing one of their six benedicts is a good bet.

10:00 a.m.: Visit the 1692 Salem Witch Museum

If you’re visiting in October, you’ll want to get to the Salem Witch Museum early, because tickets for the day can sell fast. Tickets go on sale at 9:45 a.m., and you may end up scoring tickets for later that day (they observe extended hours in October). If you’re not in Salem during their high season, tickets are much easier to come by and the museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (and until 7 p.m. in July and August). If you’re interested in learning more about Salem’s history and how it truly became “Witch City,” the museum is a perfect place to start.

1:30 p.m.: Lunch at the Clam Shack

Located in Willows Park, right along the water, the Clam Shack is serving up one of the best lobster rolls you’ll find on the north shore. And of all the things to do in Salem, MA, sampling their local seafood should be high on the list. In keeping with their name, The Clam Shack’s fried clams are out-of-this-world good. Be a true New Englander and order the fried clams with bellies instead of the clam strips.

3 p.m.: Walk the Salem Heritage Trail

Also known as Salem’s Red Line, the trail is meant to lead visitors to the most notable things to do in Salem. Some of the classic sights seen along the walking trail are the statue of Samantha Stevens (from “Bewitched”), the 17th-century Witch House, and Old Burying Point Cemetery, one of the oldest English graveyards in Massachusetts.

5 p.m.: Take a boat tour around Salem Harbor

Cruise around Salem Harbor, winding up at Baker’s Island Lighthouse, which dates back to 1805. Sail aboard the Schooner Fame of Salem, a 19th-century replica of a privateer ship. Their two-hour cruises set sail from Pickering Wharf Marina in downtown Salem.

7:30 p.m.: Dig into thin-crust pizza at Bombolina

The Italian influence in Massachusetts reaches well beyond Boston. What sets the gourmet pizzas apart at Bombolina Restaurant isn’t just the perfect crust crisped in the wood-fired oven (which, by the way, was brought in from Italy and regularly heats to 925 degrees). It’s also the locally sourced ingredients that make the flavors shine in these pizzas.

9:00 p.m.: Kick back with drinks and live music at Mercy Tavern

The go-to tavern of Witch City, Mercy is an eclectic spot known for their live music, craft beer selection, and inventive cocktails. Check out their events calendar to find who’s playing each weekend—acts typically go on around 9 p.m., with the exception of Blues Jam from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., which happens every Friday without fail.

Where to Stay in Salem

Stay at The Merchant, a boutique hotel occupying a stunning federal-style building in the heart of Salem. Known for “rum, pepper, and history” (their long-standing adage you’ll have to ask about upon arrival), The Merchant is a Lark Hotel with luxe amenities, fireplaces in every room, and a beautiful deck available to hotel guests. Book the George Washington King Deluxe, where—you guessed it—George Washington himself once stayed.


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