Free Things to Do in Salem, Massachusettes

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Brew Good Times at These 5 Family-Pleasing Attractions

Historic Salem offers a host of bewitching free activities. Famous for the witch trials of 1692 and 1693, the old port city casts a spell on visitors with family-oriented attractions celebrating its New England heritage.

Reincarnate Salem’s Past Life

The 9-acre Salem Maritime National Historic Site (160 Derby St., Salem, MA) offers free self-guided walking tours of buildings and wharves as well as interactive exhibits for a look at colony life. Wander down to Derby Wharf to see the tall ship Friendship, a three-masted replica of a 1797 sailing vessel, sure to conjure images of sea adventures and brave sailors. The site’s Junior Ranger Program sparks youth interest in discovering Salem’s role as a vital trade center. Kids earn a badge to take home upon completion of the self-guided exercise.

Feed the Family’s Sweet Tooth

Experience a Willy Wonka world at Harbor Sweets chocolate factory (85 Leavitt St., Salem, MA). See how they’ve been handcrafting salted chocolate and truffles since 1973 using copper kettles and wooden paddles. Visit on a Tuesday or Thursday when the shop offers free 20-minute factory tours which includes a short educational film. The best time to visit Salem’s sweet spot is during the cooler times of the year, as production slows in summer.

Dive into Surf and Sun Play

Enjoy a family beach day at the city-operated Dead Horse Beach (158 Fort Ave., Salem, MA), the largest of three beaches at historic Willows Park. Pack a picnic and soak in scenic water views. Plan to visit just before or after high tide to avoid the exposed mud flats. Beach parking is free, and the site remains open throughout the year for grabbing a dose of fresh ocean air. While the public beach offers cost-free fun, steer kids away from Willows Park Arcade where they may be enticed to spend their allowance.

See Salem’s Most Bewitching Landmark

The City of Salem pays homage to the original “Bewitched” television series with a 9-foot bronze statue (235 Essex St., Salem, MA) of the series star Elizabeth Montgomery. Several episodes featuring her character, the good witch Samantha, were filmed in Salem. The statue is a city landmark linking its infamous witch trials to a more family-friendly version of the paranormal.

Get Spooked

Salem transforms into Halloween City during the entire month of October. Its Haunted Happenings celebration kicks off with the annual Grand Parade. The themed community procession winds through downtown streets where friendly ghosts and goblins reside for the next few weeks. Anticipate encountering a spook or two while wandering the Derby Square open-air arts market Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in October and on Halloween day.

If the market experience fails to give the kids goosebumps, coordinate an art outing with Derby Square’s (32 Derby Sq., Salem, MA) annual costumed Howl-o-Ween Pet Parade taking place in early October. Artist row is the best place to set up a chair to watch the fun animal procession. Be prepared to dress for New England fall weather which sometimes calls for shorts and sometimes warm coats and mittens.