Since moving to Massachusetts, I've discovered most of my favorite state attractions in Salem – right next door to Peabody! Honestly, I've been in love with Salem since my parents and I visited right before I started college. The more time I spend there, the more I love it. Its historical relevance is unmistakable, but visitors tend to get duped into taking tours to see the attractions in Salem when it's not really necessary. There are so many of them, and they're all more or less the same. In truth you can learn so much more simply by walking around yourself – and with this list, you don't need to pay any money to the guy dressed up like a pirate, or the lady dressed up like a stereotypical witch.
Cry Innocent is part history lesson and part theatre production, and it's one of my favorite attractions in Salem. It's especially fun in the fall, because once the leaves start to turn, the city really gears up for Halloween. Costumed actors mix in with visitors and tourists on the cobbled streets, and once they spot your ticket, you're pulled in as a participant, not just a viewer. The show reenacts the accusations of witchcraft that swept through Salem in the late 17th century – and once the group leads you into the old Town Hall, you can hear the accusations, examine the evidence, ask questions, and decide for yourself if the accused is a witch. The Gallows Hill Museum is slightly similar, but that show's always been a little campy to me. Try it if you like, but don't miss out on Cry Innocent!
You can't get too far away from Salem's witchy history, nor should you. However, as with anywhere else, some places are better than others. If you want to spend your money on one of Salem's many historic museums, this one's your best bet, in part because it ties directly to the witch trials – Judge Jonathan Corwin lived here, you see, and he was instrumental in both the trials and the ultimate convictions. Besides that, you get to look through at your own pace, which is ideal for any house museum. It's also a really beautiful home, inside and out, and – you should pardon the pun – much of it is quite haunting.
Also known as the Charter Street Cemetery, this is unquestionably my favorite place in Salem. It's completely free, incredibly expansive, and quite literally haunted. I'm not even kidding, the spirits are thick in this cemetery, and if you're lucky, you'll get photographic proof. Each grave tells its own story, as well, with entire families laid out in rows. Make sure you come with a guide explaining the inscriptions, because the pictographs on the graves tell their own stories.
The memorial for the witch trials is right next to the cemetery. It's a really beautiful memorial – hushed, still, with the trees creating a sun-dappled canopy. Each of the accused who died have their own memorial bench, where you'll often find flowers, coins, and other items, because many visitors choose to pay their respects. Take the time to read not just the names of the departed, but also the legend leading into the memorial. The Pickman House is on the other side, where you can explore the lovely garden. Unfortunately you can't enter, because the building belongs to the Peabody-Essex Museum.
A lot of people who come to Salem get so enchanted with its bewitching history that they forget about its equally rich maritime history. A trip to Pickering Wharf is a must anyway, because the paths and benches along the water are lovely, plus there are lots of shops and restaurants down that way. Head out to the point, however, and you can visit the Friendship, a full reconstruction. It's a gorgeous ship and provides lots of great photo opportunities, but you should definitely immerse yourself in its history. You may decide to visit some of the pirate museums, but for my money, a visit aboard the Friendship is better. For the record, it's still a functioning vessel, although it's docked most of the year.
There are numerous boat cruises you can take in Salem, although you're better off doing them during the summer because it gets chilly on the water after August. I recommend any one of these (you can get more information and tickets at several places on Pickering Wharf), but you should definitely take the sea shuttle to Misery Islands. Don't let the name put you off, because you won't be miserable at all. This little island is just off Salem's harbor, and it's lovely. Bring a picnic, your camera, and make sure you have enough time to explore.
Pioneer Village is absolutely marvelous! It's a living history museum, and it's not just fun, but beautiful as well. At different points in the fall, there are special activities involving horrifying tales from Salem's history and general ghost stories. Daytime visits are lovely too, because you get to learn a lot and interact. However, Terror at the Village is honestly spooky – it's the vibe of the town, really. I hear a lot of people complain, but I've never been disappointed by Salem Village. You can get your tickets at the Witch House.
Salem is so much more than just a tourist town, and there's more to see and do than those tours would lead you to believe. I hope all of you get the chance to visit Salem at least once, and if you've already been, I hope you'll come back again! If you have visited, what's your favorite part of the city? Do you like stalking old Salem, wandering Pickering Wharf, or spending time in the more modern city center?