The Top Things to Do and See in Salem, Massachusetts

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Located just 40 minutes north of Boston, Salem, Massachusetts is both a relaxing and educational place to spend a weekend. Many people primarily associate Salem with the famous witch trials, but this quintessential New England seaside city offers so much for visitors to enjoy.

While I was growing up, my mother and I took many trips to Salem, exploring museum after museum and graveyard after graveyard. As a huge fan of history, I have always been fascinated by both the hysteria and aftermath of the 1692 witch trials, so visiting Salem as part of our trips to Boston was a natural fit. Years later, as a college student at Northeastern University, my friends and I ventured to Salem during the month of October for Halloween festivities. The city comes alive with ghoulish flair and offers countless ghost tours, haunted houses, and the like for the Halloween-loving folks that come from near and far to celebrate the season in Salem.

When my friends at The Merchant, a beautiful boutique hotel located in the heart of the city’s historic district, invited me to visit Salem to experience their gorgeous property, I jumped at the chance! It had been way too long since I had last visited and I was excited to experience the city in a whole new way. During our weekend in Salem, we were able to discover so many different places as well as visit old favorites.

While Salem’s dark past is very much a part of its culture and tourism, there are so many other reasons to take trip to this coastal city. If you’re considering a visit, I’ve rounded up my suggestions on what to do while you’re there!

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The A-Lyst for What to Do in Salem, Massachusetts 

Visit Pickering Wharf

When visiting this coastal town, wandering around Pickering Wharf and taking in its scenic water views is a must-do! Since the majority of the shops down on the wharf are geared towards tourists, I usually forgo any retail therapy in this area and instead, just enjoy the waterside location. You can walk around the area, reading the little signs about the town’s maritime history, and watch the boats come in and out. While in the area of Pickering Wharf, check out Sea Level Oyster Bar for cocktails and bites with a view, and don’t miss the nearby photo opportunities in front of the old “Sail Loft” building at Derby Wharf and down by Derby Wharf Light Station.

Explore the Historic Homes of Salem

There are 46 homes in Salem that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places! If you’re someone who loves architecture , you’ll love scouting out the old houses throughout Salem. A few of my favorites to drive or walk by include the Salem Custom House,  Benjamin Hawkes House, and Derby House, all of which are located right across from the wharf. While you’re on your way to the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall, make sure to walk by the stately Gardner-Pingree House at 128 Essex Street. Last, a trip to Salem would not be complete without walking by or touring the Ropes Mansion at 318 Essex Street, which is now owned by the Peabody Essex Museum. For fans of the 90s film, “Hocus Pocus,” this gorgeous white home was supposed to be where the character Allison lived in the movie!

Museum Hop 

Salem is a city that is so rich with history that a trip there would be incomplete without doing something educational. Traditionally, I am not a huge fans of museums, but I can make an exception when the topic matter is as interesting as the Salem Witch Trials. There are quite a few witch-specific museums in Salem, so if you have to narrow down where you will spend your time, I’d recommend checking out The Witch House/Corwin House, which allows you to tour the 7th century home of the judge from the witch trials and learn more about that time period and the main players involved, and the Witch Dungeon Museum, where you will not only experience what a witch trial was like with actors and actresses doing a reenactment but also tour dungeons to show you where the accused would be held and questioned. If the witch trials aren’t your thing, I would highly suggest a trip to the Peabody Essex Museum, which has an amazing array of exhibits, many of which are only there for a limited time. Don’t miss the Yin Yu Tang, a 200-year-old Chinese home that they brought to the United States and re-erected on-site! Another recommendation for an educational experience in Salem is to visit The House of the Seven Gables, the setting for author Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book by the same name. Touring the house, which was built in 1668 is fascinating (there is an even a secret stairhouse), and the grounds overlooking the ocean are beautiful!

Spend a Night at The Merchant

Conveniently located on bustling Washington Street and steps away from many of Salem’s main tourist attractions, The Merchant is an ideal place to call home during your visit to Salem. With a storied past that even includes an overnight stay from President George Washington, each of this boutique hotel’s 11 rooms are uniquely decorated with a bright yet tasteful color palette. If you’re a fan of interior design, you’ll adore the unexpected patterns and hues that designer Rachel Reider incorporated throughout the property (…think stormy blues mixed with jungle greens contrasted by crimson accent colors!). Built in 1784 by acclaimed architect Samuel McIntire, The Merchant was the home of sea merchant Joshua Ward, who made his fortune importing molasses for rum, pepper, and spice. Today, the design-driven hotel provides its guests with top-notch amenities like heated bathroom floors, Apple TVs,  complimentary breakfast, free parking, and my personal favorite, in-room gas fireplaces to keep you extra cozy! If you’re someone who prefers more intimate accommodations paired with high-touch customer service and a comfortable yet chic decor, The Merchant is an ideal property for you to enjoy during your visit to historic Salem.

Shop in Local Boutiques

There are a number of amazing boutiques throughout the city of Salem and the majority are located within the main historic district, so they’re very easy to navigate! While a magic and witch theme definitely dominates many of them, I fell in love with a handful of boutiques that are less kitschy and cater to fashion and decor lovers, too! For fresh decor ideas and the most perfect hostess gifts, I’d suggest a trip to Oak + Moss, and if you’re on the hunt for fun statement earrings and cute accessories, Curtsy has a fabulous selection. A few of my other favorites include The Coven’s Cottage, where you can stock up on beautiful crystals and learn more about their meanings and Roost & Company, which is home to the most amazing selection of cute cards and gifts.

Outfit Details:

Top: Parker Kiera Off-the-Shoulder Top

Jeans: Joe’s Jeans Charlie High-Rise Skinny Jeans

Shoes: Christian Louboutin Simple 100 Patent Pump in Beige

Earrings: J.Crew Tassel Drop Hoop Earrings 

Lipstick: Clinique Chubby Stick Intense Moisturizing Lip Color in Plushest Punch

Nail Polish: OPI Having a Big Head Day

Photos by @TheLyleStevens

Disclosure: Thank you to Lark Hotels for sponsoring my stay at The Merchant! While my stay was complimentary, my opinions are my own. 

The A-Lyst is a Boston-based lifestyle blog curating the very best of style, beauty, food, and travel.