What It's Like in Salem, MA, During Halloween
As a former resident of Salem, MA (who still has the license to prove it), I can tell you with confidence that Halloween in Salem is unreal. I lived in the historic "witch city" (located north of Boston) for a full year and experienced all there is that the quaint community had to offer — Halloween included. From living down the street from Gallows Hill Park (where the "witches" were hanged) to after-work runs to the "Hocus Pocus" house to shopping at all the local shops and even befriending the townspeople, I got acquainted with the city of Salem and its Halloween roots quite well. But it wasn't until October hit that I truly got the full Salem Halloween experience. And yes, it's everything you'd imagine it to be and more (traffic included). If you're wondering what Halloween in Salem, MA is truly like or have recently watched "Hocus Pocus" and want to know the scoop, keep reading to get a take on Salem Halloween — straight from a former resident.
Salem Halloween Tip: Attend the Parade
I came across this parade on one of my runs, and it was quite the experience. Starting in Salem commons, the parade goes all around the city and is considered the official kickoff to Halloween (a month-long event in Salem). I swear after the parade something new pops up in the city every day, including fair rides, vendors, and lots of dressed up tourists.
Salem Halloween Tip: Visit Max and Dani's "Hocus Pocus" House
"Hocus Pocus"-lovers cannot possibly go to Salem without visiting Max and Dani's house! I lived there and still thought it was cool. It's a few blocks from downtown Salem and is located next to another large park. Once you go down the side streets, you'll notice a crowd of people, and the house is right there! It's actually located right on the water (Ocean Ave, to be exact), which is something you don't see in the movie. Usually, there are people out there with props like witch hats, brooms, vacuums, spell books, and more that you can use to take pictures. You can't go inside, as someone actually lives there, but it's fun to get a feel for its surroundings.
Salem Halloween Tip: Take Lots of Photos
Don't pass up on the photo op! You will usually have to wait in line due to a crowd of people, and depending on how close you go to Halloween, the busier it will be — but the picture is worth it. For me, I went at the beginning of the season, because I lived there and knew it wouldn't be too crowded. But even this year, I still plan to go!
Salem Halloween Tip: Visit the Ropes Mansion
I used to walk past this house all the time. It's actually located right in downtown Salem, so if you've already gone through the hassle of parking, you don't need to get into your car to drive there. This house isn't as crowded as its "Hocus Pocus" counterpart, and TBH, I didn't even know it was famous until I looked on Instagram one day and saw a bunch of pictures of people in front of it. It's actually called Ropes Mansion and is operated by the Peabody Essex Museum (meaning nobody actually lives here).
Salem Halloween Tip: Check Out the Salem Witch House
This is one of the oldest structures directly related to the witch trials, and it's so spooky looking. I recommend a walking tour to fully understand the history of Salem and its old homes, but even walking past this one gives me the chills. It's located downtown, so there's no need to take a special drive.
Salem Halloween Tip: Go Shopping
From fun and modern witch shops like Hauswitch Home + Healing to age-old witch stores like Crow Haven Corner (a must-see) to Coven's Cottage and more, Salem's downtown is filled with trinkets, potions, spells, and goodies that'll leave you with some memorable keepsakes. Hint: don't get distracted by all the stuff the vendors are selling (they're everywhere); the stores are where to go.
Salem Halloween Tip: Spend Some Time at the Vendors
Salem basically turns into a Halloween amusement park come October. Vendors are set up everywhere, and rides like Ferris wheels and mini roller coasters can be found in the common and on Washington Street (Salem's main street). I'm not going to lie, it can be pretty hectic if you're visiting just to see the history, let alone if you live there (most locals are not fans of any of it). Nevertheless, it is entertaining, so sit back and enjoy the ride.
Salem Halloween Tip: Dress Up in a Halloween Costume
It's not just the month of October that you run into people dressed in costume. Year-round, you can spot at least one person (or more) dressed as some type of character. Whether that means they're wearing a witch hat, a cape, or vampire fangs in July, Halloween never truly ends in Salem.
Salem Halloween Tip: Check Out the Props
There's no shortage of photo opportunities when visiting Salem in October. Whether it be with the street performers, the age-old houses, the filming spots, or its props all over town, there's not a corner you turn that doesn't scream Halloween.
Salem Halloween Tip: Go to a Halloween Ball
The weekend of Halloween, prepare for a ball like no other! A handful of restaurants, bars, and hotels host Halloween events complete with music, costume contests, Champagne toasts, and more. They're very pricey, and the most legitimate ball of them all takes place at the Hawthorne Hotel (and it sells out quickly). But if you want to enjoy a party like the one Max's parents were at in "Hocus Pocus," Salem's balls are the closest things to it.
Salem Halloween Tip: Visit Salem's Town Hall
Speaking of Halloween balls, the one in "Hocus Pocus" took place at the old town hall in Salem (located in Derby Square). While the party itself was shot back in California, the outside is still really cool and historic to check out, and isn't nearly as much of a tourist trap as the other two "Hocus Pocus" houses.
Salem Halloween Tip: Go On a Graveyard or Ghost Tour
If you really want to get spooked, you can do a graveyard or ghost tour and learn about all of those who've been buried from the witch trials and beyond. The graveyards in Salem date back to the early 1600s, so you can imagine how unsettling the stones look. I recommend the candlelight ghost tour, as it sets the tone for a frightful night.
Salem Halloween Tip: Watch a Witch Séance in Gallows Hill Park
To no surprise, I stumbled into another interesting event while living in Salem — a witch séance! It's not just for show in the witch city, as the area also attracts true witchcraft. This was not an event but a group of witches practicing their magical skills. It wasn't totally surprising, since Gallows Hill is where a lot of historical witch hangings had taken place. Nevertheless, my roommate and I kept walking (just in case).
Salem Halloween Tip: Learn About the History
While Salem has become a Halloween hot spot filled with vendors, fair rides, street performers, and more, it's easy to get distracted from the best part of Salem: its history. While you may want to get lost in the haunted houses and take pictures with the street performers, make time to visit Salem's museums and to do its historic tours, too. The witch trials are what Salem is best known for, and once you understand that history, it makes everything else even cooler — especially living there.