I happen to love fall in New England (but who doesn’t?). Cool, crisp days with warm sun make for the perfect weather for exploring the seaside cities of Salem, Gloucester, and Portsmouth, and for leaf peeping (if you’re into that kind of thing).
But the city of Salem turns from sleepy to hopping in the month of October. If you’re planning on celebrating Halloween in Salem, you won’t be disappointed.
Salem really has something for everyone.
I spent a lot of my childhood, strapped into the backseat of a car, while my parents went on long drives through New England. Salem, with its witch trial, maritime, and colonial history, was one of our favorite stops. It had something for all of us — history for my mom, scenic drives for my dad, and a gruesome witch dungeon and wax museum for me.
When I was in my early 20s, I dated a guy from Salem and we spent the night at his mom’s house after wandering the streets and people-watching one Halloween night.
Salem really is how it appears in movies and TV shows, and Halloween in Salem is a truly bawdy night, full of drunken revelry, parties, and festivals. Here are some of the top things to do on Halloween in Salem.
Salem Fall Weather
Weather in the fall in Salem can be somewhat unpredictable. In New England, we can easily get summer temperatures (highs in the upper 70s and lower 80s), hurricanes, and snow — all in the same month of October.
For a few years running, we were getting snowed out on Halloween. But luckily, we haven’t had that issue in a few years.
If you’re planning to do Halloween in Salem, prepare for all weather events.
Pack some jeans, short-sleeves, sweaters, a light jacket, sneakers, rain gear, and hats and gloves.
Salem October Crowd Levels
Salem gets wild around Halloween. And I don’t really see the hype dying down any time soon.
It used to be mostly New Englanders who would make the trek to Salem for trick-or-treating, bar hopping, and other Halloween revelry. But now Salem sees visitors from all over the U.S. (and probably, especially now that COVID restrictions have loosened) the world.
This otherwise sleepy bedroom community of Boston gets pretty crowded in the fall.
Tips for Doing Halloween in Salem
If you want to do Halloween in Salem right, these tips will help make your trip a success.
Book a Hotel Outside of Salem
Salem hotels are crazy expensive on Halloween (and not always worth the price tag IMO).
There’s plenty to do in Salem during the day, and you can actually see more here in the daytime too. Salem is so close to other, less expensive, neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are a short drive or train ride away.
If you really want to experience nighttime in Salem, I’d recommend booking one night at a Salem hotel (maybe not on Halloween itself) and staying in Boston or nearby Gloucester (as I did in 2021).
I scored a really cute boutique motel, Ocean House Hotel at Bass Rocks, with an ocean view for only $170 a night. The Gloucester By the Sea Motel is another great budget option that’s right on the ocean.
If you’re feeling fancier, I’d recommend the Beauport Hotel Gloucester, which costs around $300 a night throughout the month of October but offers a four-star experience and a helluva lot of charm.
But more on Boston and Gloucester later…
Be Respectful of Salem Residents
Yes, the price of admission to living in Salem is that it gets super crazy around Halloween. The residents know this.
But don’t be a total ass-hat while you’re here, either.
No, you’ll probably never see these people again. But you don’t want to make their lives harder by trespassing, being unreasonably loud, or otherwise obnoxious, either.
Follow the laws. Be respectful. Keep off private property.
Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.
Learn a Little History
Salem isn’t just pubs and trick-or-treating and Halloween. If you’re planning on visiting, learn a little about Salem’s history, too.
The House of the Seven Gables (Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace), Peabody Essex Museum, and Salem Maritime National Historic Site are all great places to get your history on.
If you’re here for witch trial history (and witch trial history alone), head to the Witch House at Salem, the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, The Burying Point, and Salem Witch Village over the Witch Dungeon or Wax Museum.
Yes, the Witch Dungeon and Wax Museum can be fun, if not just a little more than campy and tacky at times.
I kinda hate to even bring this up, but… I gotta remind y’all that trick-or-treating is for the kids.
If you’re bringing your kids to Salem, you can trick-or-treat with the mayor on October 7 Downtown. Otherwise, this type of event is really a local affair, and the locals can’t front a ton of candy for tourists.
Planning on doing Halloween in Salem? Stay classy and remember that this entire town isn’t a tourist attraction.
Hocus Pocus Salem Sites
If you’re doing Halloween in Salem because you’re a fan of Hocus Pocus, you’re not alone. In 2021, I encountered dozens of visitors here scoping out Sanderson Sister sites.
Now that Hocus Pocus 2 is coming out in 2022, I can only imagine the insanity that is about to rain down on Salem (and no, I’m not talking about the burning rain of death, either).
It’s possible to visit some of the exteriors of the sites where Hocus Pocus was filmed, as well as some of the interiors. Just be forewarned that the interiors were filmed in sound studios and not in the onsite structures.
Don’t Forget to Eat
You’ll find all different types of cuisine in Salem. But if you want a quintessential New England experience, I recommend Italian or seafood.
Yet, when I visited Salem in October, I opted for Mexican food. I live in New England, so I can get great seafood and Italian whenever I want. But we happened to be craving some great Mexican food (and to be honest we were hangry and tired from driving all day) so we stopped at the Howling Wolf Taqueria for burritos and margaritas.
Salem may have a sleepy town feel, but it definitely has some international flare — and it’s a suburb of Boston, so you can find pretty much any cuisine your heart desires here.
Halloween in Salem: Things to Do
Even before the Salem tourism boom driven by Hocus Pocus, Salem offered plenty of spooky activities in the month of October.
These days, there’s never a shortage of stuff to do on Halloween in Salem. Yet, you may still want to plan a few activities in advance, as tours, museums, and attractions book up fast during this month.
Dani & Max’s House
Dani’s and Max’s house is a private residence, so you’ll want to be extra careful not to be obnoxious about visiting. (Honestly, now that the second movie is released, it may not be possible to visit at all.)
When I visited, I had to park a few blocks away, as there was a sign that stated street traffic was for residents only.
Out of respect for the residents of this home, I’m not posting the address. But I found it easily with a quick Google search, so you should be able to as well.
98 West Avenue, Salem
Pioneer Village is one of those olden-timey day reenactment villages, where you can see what life was like back in the 17th century.
It was also where the scenes of Zachary Binx’s home (and the 17th-century scenes) were filmed.
It’s a bit of a trek outside of town but a pretty drive (and not far from the house that served as Dani’s and Max’s home).
32 Derby Square
Old Town Hall serves as Town Hall in Hocus Pocus and is where the adults of Salem nearly “dance until they die” on Halloween night — thanks to a spell cast by the Sanderson Sisters.
318 Essex Street, Salem
Allison’s house, where Max and Dani go trick-or-treating (despite their fear they’ll be forced to drink cider and bob for apples) is the Ropes Mansion, now a museum, which is open to the public.
This home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is open from spring through October 23 (it closes just in time for Halloween), but you can walk through the gardens 365 days a year.
Allison & Max’s School/Salem Common
86 Essex Street, Salem
Max and Allison attend (and where they trap the Sanderson Sisters in the art kiln) is right off Salem Common, where the three kids dance and do cartwheels after they believe they’ve offed the witches.
The Salem Common is also a hotbed of Halloween in Salem activity throughout the month of October, so it’s kind of a one-stop shop for freaky fun.
The Bewitched Statue pays homage to the TV show Bewitched — and that the seventh season was filmed onsite in Salem.
Witch House at Salem
If you want to learn about witch trial history this Halloween in Salem (remember those?), I recommend visiting the Witch House at Salem.
This museum was once the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin (and is the only structure still standing in Salem with ties to the witch trials). It accurately depicts the events leading up to the Salem Witch Trials.
There is also information about the local Naumkeag Tribe here.
Peabody Essex Museum
The Peabody Essex Museum is an art museum that features African, American, Asian, maritime, Native American, and Oceanic art of New England.
There are also seasonal exhibits that focus on the Salem Witch Trials.
Salem Haunted Happenings
Salem Haunted Happenings is a month-long Halloween celebration in Salem!
One of the best parts of this event is that it takes place throughout the month of October, so you don’t need to visit Salem on Halloween night (or even the week of Halloween) to celebrate this spooky holiday here.
Salem Ghost Tours
On Halloween in Salem (and throughout the year, really), you’ll see the streets packed with ghost tours.
While I’ve never taken a Salem ghost tour, the guides I’ve seen seem knowledgeable and ( probably even more important on a ghost tour) entertaining.
These tours book up quickly during October, so book yours early if this is a must-do attraction for you.
Places to Visit Near Salem
Salem has a lot to offer (especially if you’re planning to do Halloween in Salem!). But this little maritime community is more of a day trip (or a weekend trip) than a full vacation.
If you’re heading to Salem for Halloween, you may also want to visit nearby Boston, Gloucester, and Portsmouth, too, and make it a long weekend trip.
Technically, Salem is a bedroom suburb of Boston. There’s plenty to do in nearby Beantown, including the Freedom Trail, Faneuil Hall, Boston Commons, the swan boats, and Fenway Park.
Of course, there is plenty to eat here, too.
Another little bedroom community of Boston is Gloucester. This seaside town is home to the original Gordon’s Fisherman plant.
Stay at one of the aforementioned hotels or motels here, and you won’t get a better view of the sea in New England. Head to Downtown to grab a bite at Savour Wine and Cheese or Passports Eatery and Winebar.
Just about an hour north of Salem is Portsmouth, NH. You could easily spend the entire day in this artsy community, and it’s a great spot for leaf peeping in the fall.
Row 34 is a great spot for seafood and wine, especially oysters. If you’re looking for something more casual, the Roundabout Diner and Lounge is an atmospheric rockabilly spot serving sizeable sandwiches and salads, as well as creative cocktails.
If you’re planning on visiting Salem in the fall, you may want to make a slight detour to North Conway, NH, to do some leaf peeping. One of the best spots to spy autumnal colors is the Kancamagus Highway.
This 50-plus mile stretch of highway is the perfect spot to view some fall foliage. It takes about 90 minutes to drive the Kanc (as the locals call it); once you’re on the other side of your Kancamagus Highway fall foliage tour, we recommend hiking the Flume Gorge in Lincon, NH.
Stay the night in either Lincoln or North Conway to save on Halloween.