The History Buff’s Guide to Salem, Massachusetts
Salem, Massachusetts is a history lover’s paradise. With colonial and maritime history, and the history of the Salem Witch Trials, along with spectacular architecture dating from the 17th to early 20th centuries, Salem offers a host of historical museums, attractions, and even restaurants and shops. Make history during your visit to Salem by checking out all there is to do, eat, and shop, or by following our suggestions below.
Upon arriving in Salem, visit the Salem Regional Visitor Center to get your bearings and catch a short introductory film. The Visitor Center offers two films that provide background information for your visit to Salem: Where Past is Present a 27-minute film covering the general history of Salem, and Salem Witch Hunt, a 35-minute film presented by Essex Heritage that focuses exclusively on the Salem Witch Trials.
Before leaving the Visitor Center, pick up a brochure or two for a free self-guided walking tour on a topic like Architecture in Salem or African American Heritage Sites in Salem. For another way to make your way to Salem’s historical sites on foot, catch the red line on the sidewalk and follow the Salem Heritage Trail. If you do not have time to complete an entire self-guided tour, pull out the guide when you happen to be near relevant sites to learn more on the go or break up the tour across multiple days.
From the Visitor Center, walk down Essex Street towards Washington Street. Pass the statue of Samantha from Bewitched and continue to the next intersection until you come to the Witch House. The building was home to Witch Trials Judge Jonathan Corwin, making it the only remaining structure in Salem today with direct ties to the events in 1692. Take a tour of the house (guided or self-guided) to learn about Judge Corwin and his role in the Witch Trials as well as 17th-century architecture and home life.
Around the corner from the Witch House you will find the Ropes Mansion, which was built in 1727 and renovated in 1894. The architectural style of the building is detailed in the Architecture in Salem guide you may have picked up from the Visitor Center. The mansion is currently owned by the Peabody Essex Museum, which offers free self-guided tours of the interior on Saturdays and Sundays through the fall.
Walk back towards the Witch House to turn right onto Summer Street and take another right onto Chestnut Street going until you find #34, Historic New England’s Phillips House. Built in 1821, by Captain Nathaniel West, the home was later inhabited by the Phillips family, whose collection is on display for guests to view today. Tours of the Phillips House, which begin every half hour, offer insight into what day-to-day life was like in the early 20th-century for both the Phillips family and their staff. The building is designed in the Colonial Revival architectural style and is one another of the stops in the Architecture in Salem guide.
When you’re ready for lunch, continue back down Essex Street crossing the street by the beginning of the Pedestrian Mall and take a left. Continue down Washington Street until you come to Church Street on the right, and visit Turner’s Seafood for lunch. Turner’s location within the Lyceum brings allows guests to dine in the building where in 1877 Alexander Graham Bell completed the first long distance telephone call while enjoying a menu of fresh, locally sourced seafood dishes.
After lunch, return to the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall to visit Bewitched in Salem and pick up the Bewitched Historical Tour. This informative two-hour walking tour brings you to various sites where you will learn about Salem’s colonial history along with the history of the Salem Witch Trials, maritime lore, present-day Salem and more.
Following your walking tour, visit the House of the Seven Gables to learn not only about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel but also about the site’s architecture and local maritime history. Take a guided tour through the home, and visit the seaside gardens and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace. To take some of Salem’s history home with you, visit the House of the Seven Gables Gift Shop. The shop features literary-themed goods as well as historical treasures to remember your visit to Salem from home.
Do some more shopping for yourself or the history buffs you have waiting at home on your way back to the downtown area by stopping at Waite and Peirce on Derby Street. Waite and Peirce is home to authentic and recreated goods from Salem’s past and the shop is also a great place to pick up some additional information about the Salem Maritime National Historic Site.
Want to make your “History Buff” day trip into an overnight stay? Book a room at one of Salem’s local historic inns, or at the Hawthorne Hotel, which is a Historic Hotel of America constructed in 1925.
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