Best things to do in Salem
The best way to learn about Salem, the Witch Trials, and paranormal phenomena is of course Spellbound Tours, the top rated ghost tour in town. But what should a visitor to Salem experience before or after the Voodoo, Vampires, and Ghosts Tour? People ask me every day, so I have put together a list of some of the best things to do in Salem. Soon we will be putting up a list of shops and restaurants worth visiting as well. Enjoy Salem!
The Salem Witch House- Located at 310 Essex Street, this is an essential location to visit when in Salem. Built in the 1600s this is the only building still standing with direct ties to the Salem Witch Hysteria. Despite the name no witches lived within, but Judge Corwin one of the judges in the Witch Trials, resided here. Local lore holds that some of the bizarre tests to determine if a suspect was a witch or not took place in the house. The Witch House has been restored to how it would have been during that frightening time period; there is no better way to really absorb how the Salem colonists were living back then. The Witch House has incredible displays about life in the 1600s, including my favorite, the one on corpse medicine, using body parts of the deceased to heal the living! The curator Elizabeth is one of the most knowledgeable people in Salem when it comes to the details of the Witch Trials and of course the place is rumored to be haunted! The Witch House has serious history, and is good and creepy inside. It is one of my top picks for the Salem Traveler!
Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery- Salem’s most fun museum just celebrated its tenth year in business and is better than ever! They just moved to a much larger location at 217 Essex Street and are filling it with even more monsters than the previous incarnation! Named for the vampire in the classic horror movie Nosferatu, Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery is a wax museum type experience. Film fiends from the dawn of cinema to the present day populate the chambers. Crafted by Hollywood special effects artists the figures are disturbingly life like! You will see everyone from the classic Universal Monsters like Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein Monster and Bela Lugosi as Dracula to more modern personalities like Freddy Krueger and Jason! My personal favorite is Vincent Price as The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Bette Middler as one of the Sanderson Sisters from Hocus Pocus is a popular character as is Beetlejuice himself. There are ghouls and zombies everywhere. In addition to the life size monsters there are an array of film artifacts and autographs to enjoy. A horror fan could spend hours in this museum! In October the Nightmare Gallery hosts events where fans can meet actors from their favorite scary movies. The gift shop has a fine selection of horror t shirts to purchase. I cannot endorse this attraction enough!
Salem Willows- this is an interesting one. Most guests have never heard of the Salem Willows, but they should check it out! The Salem Willows is beautiful stretch of land along the waterfront, tucked away from downtown but easily accessed by the Salem Trolley. Way back in the past there was an asylum at the Willows, the so called Pest House For Incurables, a place where dying tuberculosis patients could spend their final hours taking the beautiful sea air. Eventually the Pest House was replaced with an amusement pavilion and some of the infrastructure still is visible. Today the Salem Willows has a miniature boardwalk with excellent beach style pizza places, arcades with everything from current video games to old antique mechanical amusement devices. My favorites are the hand cranked movie players and the dancing monkeys. It is a little slice of Coney Island in Salem. Make sure you get a photograph with the sign advertising Dead Horse Beach! The legend is that in the old days the indigenous people would bury their dead horses (and maybe even people) on the beach. A perfect site for a family picnic. Grab a popcorn bar from Hobb’s Popcorn! Visit the Clam Shack! But be careful, as fun as a visit to the Willows is after hours people claim the land is still haunted by the spirits of the former residents of the Pest House!
Broad Street Cemetery- While on Spellbound Tours you will get to experience the Historic Charter Street Cemetery and the Witch Memorial, but you should pay a visit to Broad Street too. A short walk from downtown, the Broad Street cemetery is a beautiful graveyard with a secret most people do not see. There is a nondescript white obelisk under which cruel Sheriff Corwin is buried! While Judge Hawthorne is visited and his villainy is contemplated every day in Charter Street generally the Corwin grave on Broad Street goes unnoticed. I can almost guarantee you will be the only tourist at the site when stop to find Corwin. Enjoy the beautiful antique carvings and curiously personal epitaphs on a number of the grave markers. This is a perfect stop to take atmospheric Salem photographs.
There is good reason that this is still the most visited museum in Salem. Housed in a creepy, gothic looking old church at 19 1/2 N Washington Square, the Salem Witch Museum has a spooky narrated show of wax figures that explains in an easily digestible fashion the basic story of the Witch Trials and proposes some theories as to what might have caused the events to blow up out of control. Of course as our understanding of history progresses, ideas change. While the wax sets have remained mostly unchanged since the 1970s the Museum does have a new exhibit titled Witchcraft A Changing Perspective that details the more recent developments in the Witch Hysteria and well as explores the roles that real witchcraft and political witch hunts play in our lives today. The Salem Witch Museum is a good place to start learning and pick up the skeleton of the story. A nice touch is that they also have the program script in multiple languages so if you are traveling with a non English speaking person they can still absorb the information. Watch out for the devil at the end of the show!