Salem is a bit of a dichotomy. Historically, it's known as the site of one of our nation's most macabre episodes, the trial and hanging of 14 women and five men who were accused of witchcraft (but who, scientists now know, were simply suffering from poisoning by ergot, a common grain fungus that causes LSD-like hallucinations). But today Salem is a popular place for romantic getaways and family trips. It has the attractions and the history. It also has a reputation as a kid- and pet-friendly city where a vacation is not only educational but fun.
If you want to learn more about the witch trials, Salem has several attractions dedicated to the men and women who were hanged in 1692. The Salem Witch Museum explains the historical moment from its hysterical beginning to its cruel end. It features a short but dramatic 3D presentation of the trials, which is presented in a way meant for younger visitors to understand. While the actual incident is considered as one of the most horrifying acts against human rights in American history, the museum presentations are nothing but powerful and informational.
Another poignant landmark commemorating the events of the early 1690s is the Witch Trials Memorial, which was dedicated by Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel in August 1992.
If you're not in the mood for creepy things to do, check out the Peabody Essex Museum, which has been in operation since 1799. The architecture of the museum is striking and it occupies a total of three blocks and 22 buildings. Inside, there are over 30,000 works of art, from cultures around the world and from ancient to modern, as well as interactive exhibits and programs. When you're finished at the museum, take a stroll on the Heritage Trail (just follow the red line) and enjoy the sights and historic architecture of the area.
If the weather is nice, spend a few hours at Salem Willows, a beautiful park on a hill over Salem Harbor where families and pets can have picnics or play on the grounds during summer season. There's a historic carousel, kiddy rides, lots of snack foods and a video arcade. (Historical note: the park served America's first ice cream cone.)
Shopping and Dining
One of the most interesting retail and dining places in Salem is Pickering Wharf, a waterfront neighborhood with shops, boutiques, restaurants and a charming marina. If you're in the mood for a spooky souvenir, you're find plenty of stores here selling everything from pointy witch hats to magic potions and antique pieces. There are also a half-dozen restaurants at the wharf, specializing in seafood and adult refreshments.
Another good destination is Essex Street downtown, which is full of art galleries, antique shops and bookstores. Restaurants here range from fine dining to casual, with cuisines from Mexican to Mediterranean.
I-93 North To Rt 1 (broadway)