Are you considering a day trip to Salem from Boston?
I’ve traveled to Salem from my home in Boston several times and have gathered all the best tips to help you plan your day trip.
This post will tell you all you need to know to maximize your time and have an enjoyable experience in this historic Massachusetts town.
💡Did you know? Salem is one of the oldest towns in Massachusetts, settled in 1626. By comparison, Massachusetts’ oldest town, Plymouth, was founded in 1620.
Salem has been made famous for its Witch Trials of 1692, and that’s definitely a big part of Salem’s vibe. But even if you’re not interested in learning about this spooky aspect of Salem’s past, there are plenty of other fun things to see and do.
Does Salem make a good day trip from Boston?
Yes! Salem makes for a great day trip option from Boston. The town is accessible by car, train, or ferry, and as long as you don’t run into unexpected traffic delays, you can be in Salem in under an hour.
How to get to Salem
You can save yourself the hassle of finding and paying for parking — not to mention the unpredictable traffic situation in the Boston metro region — by taking the train or ferry.
Train: The best way to get to Salem from Boston is by train — it’ll have you there in around 30 minutes! Take the Newburyport/Rockport line from Boston’s North Station and get off at the Salem station.
Ferry: For a fun, scenic way to get to Salem, you can also take the ferry. There is a high-speed boat that departs from Long Wharf and arrives in Salem in under an hour.
Car: If you do want to drive from Boston to Salem, be prepared for traffic slowdowns on the weekend or holidays. But on a traffic-free day, you can get to Salem from downtown Boston in about 35 minutes via US-1 North.
Where To Park
There are many on-street metered parking spaces where you can park for two to four hours, depending on the area. Just take note of the posted signs to make sure you don’t get a ticket. (I’m not speaking from any personal experience, of course.) You can pay for meters with coins or using the Passport Parking mobile app.
There are also parking garages and other lots where you can park for longer durations. The MBTA Commuter Lot only costs $5 for 12 hours. Check out this interactive parking map on the Salem website.
14 Best Things to do in Salem
Here are some of the best things to do during a day trip from Boston to Salem:
1. Visit the Peabody Essex Museum
The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) is one of the oldest and most well-known museums in Massachusetts, featuring over 1.8 million pieces of art, architecture, and cultural artifacts. PEM was founded by Salem sea captains in 1799 and it began with a collection of objects they brought from all over the world.
PEM features several permanent exhibits as well as featured exhibits throughout the year, showcasing both contemporary art as well as historic artifacts. The museum is a cultural treasure that is a must-see when in Salem.
2. Tour The House Of the Seven Gables
One of the most historic and famous homes in Salem is The House of the Seven Gables. The home was built by merchant and shipowner John Turner and his wife Elizabeth Turner in 1668, but it is best known for its association with the author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who published a novel with the same name in 1851.
The house is characterized by its unique architecture, including — of course — its seven gables. But I was most fascinated to learn that the house was purchased by philanthropist and preservationist Caroline Emmerton in 1908 to become a museum and Settlement House that assisted immigrants arriving in Salem.
Purchase a tour to see this beautiful, storied home that is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
3. Explore the Salem Witch Museum
Most people likely associate Salem with the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692, and there are several places in town where you can learn more about this dark period of American history, including the Salem Witch Museum.
The museum uses a mixture of audiovisual presentations and exhibits to tell the story of the witch trials and the events that led up to them. See a reenactment of one of the witch trials and learn about the social and cultural factors that created this hysteria in Salem.
4. Uncover history at the Salem Witch House
Another historic landmark related to the Salem witch trials is the Salem Witch House, also known as the Jonathan Corwin House. The home was built in 1642 and is one of the few remaining structures related to the trials.
Corwin was a prominent merchant and magistrate in Salem, and his house was used to interrogate the people accused of witchcraft, which ultimately led to many of them being convicted and executed.
Tour the house to see documents, artifacts, and other materials that provide an eerie look at what took place surrounding the witch trials.
5. Pay your respects at the Salem Witch Trials Memorial
One more place you may want to check out related to the witch trials is the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, a monument dedicated in memory of the 20 people who were executed in 1692. It’s located not far from the original courthouse where the trials took place.
The memorial is a series of low stone walls arranged in a semicircle with the names of the victims inscribed on the benches. You’ll also see quotes from people involved in the trials and writers and scholars who later studied the event.
6. Walk through the scenic Winter Island Park
Moving on from the witch trials, another popular attraction in Salem is Winter Island Park, a public park that juts out into Salem Harbor and provides stunning views of the ocean and surrounding area. Here you’ll find a variety of recreational options, including a beach, picnic areas, playgrounds, and walking trails.
Be sure to also stop by the historic Fort Pickering Lighthouse, which was built in 1871 and stayed in operation until 1969.
7. Ride on the Salem Trolley
For a fun and quick way to learn about the history of Salem, book a one-hour tour on the Salem Trolley. The trolley route starts and ends on 2 New Liberty Street outside of the National Park Service Visitor Center, and tours operate every hour daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from April 1 to November 1.
The trolley route spans eight miles around Salem and takes you past 14 key sites, including the Witch Trial Memorial, Salem Maritime Site, The House of the Seven Gables, Winter Island, and the Salem Witch Museum.
This is an especially nice activity to do if you need a break from walking but still want to see some sites. Tickets for adults are $22 and for children $12 and can only be purchased in person at one of the following locations:
- National Park Service Visitor Center, 2 New Liberty Street
- Salem Trolley Office, 8 Central Street, Salem
- Salem Ferry landing (when in operation)
- Trolley Depot, 191 Essex Street
8. Shop along the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall
Essex Street is one of the most popular areas for shopping in Salem, and is another great way to spend a couple hours during your day trip to Salem from Boston. Some of the best shops to check out include:
- District Trading Co.: Find unique apparel, gifts, and more that are inspired by the history and symbols of Salem and coastal New England.
- Pamplemousse: This is Salem’s European-inspired, gourmet market with lots of New England charm.
- Emporium 32: This eclectic store was founded by former renaissance faire performers and avid antique collectors, featuring art and gifts from more than 125 independent small businesses.
- Modern Millie: Look for treasures at this modern consignment and vintage-inspired shop.
- Moody’s Home and Gifts: Browse their unique selection of locally made and fair trade products, which often changes, so you never quite know what you’ll find.
9. Discover the Salem Maritime Historic Site
Learn about Salem’s rich maritime heritage at the Salem Maritime Historic Site. There are several historic buildings that make up this site, including the Custom House that was built in 1649 and used to collect taxes on imported cargos — first for the British government and then for the U.S. government following the American Revolution.
The Derby House and Narbonne House are two other key buildings on site. The Narbonne House is one of the oldest homes still standing in Salem, dating back to 1675.
10. Grab treats from Harbor Sweets
Stop by for some high-quality, locally made chocolate at Harbor Sweets. This family-owned chocolate company was founded in 1973 with the goal of creating chocolate using only natural ingredients and traditional methods and recipes.
One of the most popular products to try at Harbor Sweets is the Sweet Sloops, sailboat-shaped chocolates made with a buttercrunch toffee center and white chocolate exterior and dipped in dark chocolate and crushed pecans. YUM.
11. Ride on the Schooner Fame
Book a ride on a replica of a War of 1812 sailing vessel, the Schooner Fame. You can opt for either a public sail or a private charter to experience the thrill of riding on a traditional wooden ship.
The schooner sails out of Salem Harbor, and passengers are given the opportunity to help hoist the sails and steer the vessel, or simply sit back and enjoy the stunning scenery.
12, Browse the shops of Pickering Wharf
Pickering Wharf is a historic waterfront district in Salem. It’s a popular area for dining, shopping and various entertainment options. Here you can browse the many local artisan shops.
Pickering Wharf is also home to several historic attractions, including Salem Maritime National Historic Site and the Friendship of Salem, a full-scale replica of a 1797 merchant vessel that offers tours and educational programs throughout the year.
13. Play at Salem Willows Arcade and Park
For a nostalgic, throwback experience, visit Salem Willows Arcade and Park, an oceanfront park with classic arcade games, including Skeeball, Galaga, and Pac Man.
There are also several eateries on site where you can order pizza, clams, ice cream, and more. The park dates back to 1858 and has been a popular destination for locals and tourists ever since.
14. Wander the Historic Salem neighborhoods
One of the best things to do in Salem is simply explore its neighborhoods, where you’ll find dozens of historic, character-filled homes. Some of the most noteworthy homes to look out for include:
- Pickering House on 18 Broad Street: This is Salem’s oldest house (built in 1660) and was home to a single family for over three and a half centuries!
- Nathaniel Bowditch House on 9 North Street: See the former home of mathematician Nathaniel Bowditch who was known for his groundbreaking writings on ocean navigation.
- Gardner-Pingree House on 128 Essex Street: This grand home was built for a wealthy Salem merchant, John Gardner, in 1804.
- House of the Seven Gables on 115 Derby Street: See #2 above for details about this famous home.
Chestnut Street is another charming street in Salem with an abundance of beautiful, historic homes to see.
Free things to do in Salem
A visit to Salem doesn’t need to break the bank! Here are the best things to do without spending a penny:
- Walk down charming Chestnut Street and admire all the well-kept, historic homes.
- Learn about the Salem Witch Trials without paying for the Salem Witch Museum tour. Visit the Salem Witch Trials Memorial and see the outside of the Salem Witch House, two prominent locations related to the events that make the history come alive.
- Stroll through Winter Island Park and Salem Willows Park.
- Go window shopping along the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall.
- Skip the tour of The House of the Seven Gables and snap a photo of the outside of the house instead. You can still see quite a bit of the house from the street. Then take a walk along the scenic harbor nearby.
How To Get Around Salem
Salem is a very walkable town and you’ll find a lot of the key attractions are within an easy walking distance. But if you’d rather drive between destinations, it’s fairly easy to find parking around town. (See Where to park.)
Another fun and iconic way to get around Salem is to ride on the Salem Trolley. Note that this is a guided, one-hour tour and not a hop-on, hop-off experience. You can purchase tickets near the National Park Service Visitor Center. Learn more about the trolley in #7 above.
Where to eat
Below are some of the top-rated restaurants in Salem where you can grab a delicious meal:
- Paprika Grill: Middle Eastern and Mediterranean wraps and platters.
- Settler: Housemade New American cuisine in a rustic chic venue.
- Turner’s Seafood: Seafood and oyster bar in a 19th-century building.
- Lobster Shanty: Fresh seafood with cozy outdoor seating.
- Ledger Restaurant: Upscale restaurant serving New England fare in an old bank building.
Best time to visit Salem
To enjoy all that Salem has to offer without long lines, I would aim to visit in the spring or late fall after Halloween. Summer is also a great time to visit, but you may still run into crowds of people taking advantage of the warm weather.
Is it worth visiting Salem in October?
If you love Halloween, you will love Salem in October. The whole town comes alive and is crowded with people who come from near and far in their costumes.
If you’re not really into Halloween and all the witchy aspects of Salem, I would avoid visiting in October. It gets super crowded, traffic is terrible, and prices for certain things go up.
Example itinerary for one day in Salem
Here is an example of how you could spend a day trip to Salem from Boston to see a good number of sites without feeling too rushed.
9:30 AM: Depart Boston via ferry, train, or car.
10-10:30 AM: Arrive in Salem.
10:45 AM: Visit The House of the Seven Gables, which is only a few minutes’ walk from the ferry terminal.
11:30 AM: Learn all about the Salem Witch Trials by visiting the Salem Witch Museum and Salem Witch Trials Memorial.
1 PM: Enjoy a cozy lunch at Ledger Restaurant, Turner’s Seafood, or Settler, all only about a five to seven-minute walk from the Witch Trials Memorial.
2:30 PM: Stroll along Essex Street Pedestrian Mall and visit the Peabody Essex Museum.
🚢 Most days of the week, the last ferry from Salem to Boston leaves at 4 p.m., but starting in June, there is a 7 p.m. ferry on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. If you plan to stay in Salem past 4 p.m., below are some additional itinerary recommendations.
4 PM: Take the Salem Trolley tour.
5 PM: Grab dinner from Paprika Grill or Lobster Shanty.
6 PM and beyond: If you still want to enjoy the evening in Salem, you could visit Winter Island Park, Salem Willows Arcade and Park, Pickering Wharf, or some of the other places I mentioned earlier in this post.
Note: The parks are outside of the Salem town center and could take 30 minutes or more to walk to. If you plan to visit Salem by car, they are only a few minutes’ drive away.
Here are answers to some common questions about a day trip to Salem from Boston:
Is Salem Worth Visiting?
Yes, Salem is definitely worth visiting! There are many fantastic historic sites to explore. Even if you’re not interested in Salem’s witchy past, there are plenty of other interesting things to see, like Chestnut Street, The House of the Seven Gables, Pickering Wharf, Salem Willows Park, and more.
What Is Salem Known For?
Salem is best known as the site of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, where 200 people were accused of witchcraft, and 20 were ultimately sentenced to death.
Today, the town has transformed into one of the Halloween capitals of America, where you can take ghost tours, browse the many spooky shops, and learn all about the events surrounding the witch trials.
Of course, Salem is not only known for the witch trials. The town also has a rich maritime and literary history, and there are plenty of sites where you can learn about these aspects of Salem’s past as well, including the Peabody Essex Museum, The House of the Seven Gables, and more.
Is Salem walkable?
Yes, Salem is very walkable, with plenty of sidewalks and pedestrian zones. Most key attractions are within a 15-minute walking distance from each other.
Several of the top spots are clustered together in one area, including the Salem Witch Museum, Salem Trolley pick-up/drop-off point, Peabody Essex Museum, and Essex Street Pedestrian Mall.
Is there Uber in Salem?
Yes, Uber is available in Salem. You could even take an Uber from Salem to Boston, though taking the train is cheaper.
What are other day trip options from Salem?
Salem is part of Massachusetts’ North Shore and is close to many other charming coastal towns. Some of my favorite towns within an easy driving distance from Salem include Marblehead, Gloucester, Beverly, and Rockport.
Wrap-up: Day trip from Salem to Boston
Salem makes for an excellent day trip from Boston. You can be there in as little as 30 minutes!
Whether you want to learn about the Salem Witch Trials, tour the house that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The House of the Seven Gables, see remnants of Salem’s maritime history, or enjoy delicious seafood, there is something for everyone.
Escape the big city and enjoy a day in one of Massachusetts’ most iconic and historic coastal towns.
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