Planning a Trip
By car from Marblehead, follow Route 114 west. From Boston, take Route 1A north to Salem, being careful in Lynn, where the road turns left and immediately right. You can also take I-93 or Route 1 to Route 128 and then Route 114 into downtown Salem. There's metered street parking and a reasonably priced municipal garage across the street from the National Park Service Regional Visitor Center.
From Boston, the MBTA (tel. 617/222-3200; www.mbta.com) operates commuter trains from North Station and bus no. 450 from Haymarket (Orange or Green line). The train is more comfortable than the bus but runs less frequently and is more expensive. It takes 30 to 35 minutes; the round-trip fare is $11. The station is about 5 blocks from the downtown area. The one-way fare for the 35- to 55-minute bus trip is $2.80 with a CharlieCard, $3.50 with a CharlieTicket.
The Salem Ferry (tel. 978/741-0220; www.salemferry.com) operates daily from Memorial Day weekend through October. The 50-minute catamaran trip connects Central Wharf, next to Boston's New England Aquarium (T: Blue Line to Aquarium) to the Blaney Street Wharf, off Derby Street, a 15-minute walk or quick hop on the Salem Trolley from downtown Salem. The peak adult fare (late June-early September) is $13 one-way, $24 round-trip, with discounts for seniors, children, and families. The one-way off-season fare is $10 for all.
A good place to start your visit is the National Park Service Regional Visitor Center, 2 New Liberty St. (tel. 978/740-1650; www.nps.gov/sama), open daily from 9am to 5pm. Exhibits highlight early settlement, maritime history, and the leather and textiles industries. The center also distributes brochures and pamphlets, including one that describes a walking tour of the historic district, and has an auditorium where a free film on Essex County provides an overview.
The city's Office of Tourism, Destination Salem (tel. 877/725-3662 or 978/744-3663; www.salem.org), produces and distributes a free visitor guide that includes an excellent map. The Salem Chamber of Commerce, 265 Essex St., Ste. 101, Salem, MA 01970 (tel. 978/744-0004; www.salem-chamber.org), maintains a large rack of brochures and pamphlets, and the staff is up on the latest events. It's open weekdays from 9am to 5pm.
The municipal website (www.salem.com) and an excellent community website (www.salemweb.com) offer information for out-of-towners.
In the congested downtown area, walking is the way to go, but you might not want to hoof it to all the sights, especially if it's hot. At the Essex Street side of the visitor center, you can board the Salem Trolley (tel. 978/744-5469; www.salemtrolley.com) for a 1-hour narrated tour, and reboard as often as you like at any of the 12 stops. It's a good deal if you're spending the day and don't want to keep moving the car or carrying leg-weary children. The trolley operates daily April through October from 10am to 5pm (last tour at 4pm); check ahead for hours in November. Tickets ($12 adults, $10 seniors, $5 children 6-14) are good all day; they're available onboard, from the Trolley Depot shop, 191 Essex St. at Central Street, on the pedestrian mall, and at the Park Service visitor center.
The city's month-long Halloween celebration, Haunted Happenings (www.hauntedhappenings.org), includes parades, parties, tours, and a ceremony on the big day. In August, the 2-day Salem Maritime Festival fills the area around the Salem Maritime National Historic Site with live music, food, and demonstrations of nautical crafts. The festival kicks off Heritage Days, a weeklong event when the city celebrates its multicultural history with musical and theatrical performances, a parade, and fireworks. Contact Destination Salem or Escapes North (www.escapesnorth.com) for details.