Fun Things to Do in Salem, Massachusetts

Derby Wharf Lighthouse in Salem, MA


Sojourn in Salem: Plan a Bewitching New England Family Outing

Closely associated with the infamous witch trials of 1692, it is hardly a surprise that the coastal Massachusetts town of Salem has been fertile ground for spooky attractions that are especially popular during the Halloween season. There is more to Salem than ghostly legends, however. Salem also has a rich maritime and literary history that provides the perfect backdrop for an enriching family vacation.

Relive History at the Salem Witch Museum

Regardless of when you visit Salem, the Salem Witch Museum (19½ N. Washington Sq., Salem, MA), is an obligatory stop. The museum's primary attraction is a narrated presentation that recounts the events of 1692. Note that you might want to skip the presentation if you're visiting with young children easily spooked by low lights and sound effects. A second, less intense, exhibit places the Salem Witch trials in a broader context about witchcraft and witch hunting around the world. Before you leave, pick up a memento, such as a Halloween decor item, at the museum's shop. Admission is $12 for adults and $9 for children between the ages of 6 and 14.

Sail Into Local Maritime Heritage

For an activity that is fun, educational and budget-friendly, visit the Salem Maritime National Historic Site (193 Derby St., Salem, MA), where you can step into a sailor's shoes on a ranger-guided tour of a replica 18th-century merchant vessel called Friendship. While admission to the site is free, ranger-guided tours of the ship cost $5 for adults and $3 for kids ages of 6 and 16.

Depending on when you visit, you can explore some of the site's other historic buildings. From May to October, make same-day reservations for a free tour of the Custom House, once a haunt of Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose name older school-aged children may recognize as the author of "The Scarlet Letter." Take a stroll along Derby Wharf to get a photo of its lighthouse, which has been hard at work since 1871.

Step Back in Time at the House of the Seven Gables

Even if the kids in your travel party are too young to know of Hawthorne, they can still enjoy a visit to the historic home that inspired his 19th-century novel of the same name, the "House of the Seven Gables" (115 Derby St., Salem, MA). Visitors of any age can indulge in a stroll along the Seaside Gardens, which are cultivated and kept by hand per New England traditions. Even more memorable for kids are the maritime-themed activities in the Counting House, where they can see the Friendship through a telescope, don period costumes and get a whiff of some of the spices often found on merchant ships in Salem. General admission costs $14 for adults, $11 for teens ages 13 through 18 and $9 for kids. Visitors under 5 get in free.

Get a Dose of Culture at the Peabody Essex Museum

Every member of the family can connect with the art at Salem's renowned Peabody Essex Museum (161 Essex St., Salem, MA), home to masterpieces from New England and around the world. For the kids, a highlight is likely to be the Yin Yu Tang house, a 200-year-old house from China's Qing Dynasty they can set foot in. Also a must-do on any family visit is the interactive Dotty Brown Art & Nature Center, which, as its name suggests, delves into the relationship between artistic expression and the natural world. In addition to the specimens on display, there are temporary exhibitions that explore this connection. Even toddlers can put their creativity to work here, at the Investigate! Zone activity table. Admission to the museum costs $20 for adults. Visitors ages 16 and under, as well as residents of Salem, get in for free.

Sit Back and Relax on a Tour

If you find yourself in Salem between April and October, one of the most relaxing ways to take in the city's major points of interest is on a one-hour narrated tour on the Salem Trolley. Along the way, you'll see famous Salem landmarks like the House of the Seven Gables and the waterfront. Tours begin and end at the National Park Service Visitors Center (2 New Liberty St., Salem, MA) and cost $18 for adults and $8 for kids ages 6 through 14. Between Memorial Day and Halloween, you can also see the islands and lighthouses around Salem from the replica 1812 schooner FAME, a boat tour that departs from the Pickering Wharf Marina (Wharf St., Salem, MA). Tours are an hour and 45 minutes long and cost $35 dollars for adults and $15 for children.