The Best and Worst Places to Visit in Salem, Massachusetts

There are so many things to see and do in Salem, Massachusetts.  How do you know which to go to and which to avoid? I’ve been a local resident for my entire life, a history major and teacher, and a lifelong traveler.  So allow me to be your guide to visiting the Witch City.  

Please note that the numbers below are not a ranking but simply meant for organizational purposes.

The Worst Places to Visit in Salem

1. The Witch House

Although it is the only structure still standing in Salem that was involved in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, it is not worth paying to visit.  Your self-guided tour includes only four rooms. There are no historical artifacts on display that are worth the admittance price of $8.00/person.  The exhibits contain minimal information and are very poorly presented. I first visited several summers ago and was deeply disappointed. I recently visited again, to give the historic home another shot, but, once more, I was frustrated with the poor quality of the exhibits.  I spent less than 10 minutes there. If you’re looking to visit a historic home connected to the Witch Trials, I strongly recommend going to the Rebecca Nurse Homestead instead. I’ll tell you more about it below.

2. Witch History Museum

Even the name of this place is misleading because it’s not a museum at all.   Being a teacher, I was admitted for free and was told that the beginning of the visit was an “accurate, live presentation”.  We were ushered into an auditorium with wooden pews for seats. A single female tour guide took the stage dressed in “colonial” attire that looked more like a cheap Halloween costume.  She began to recite a speech, which had obviously been memorized, with utter lack of any type of enthusiasm. The presentation was so horribly dull that I considered leaving. I stayed only because I wanted to be polite.  When the guide was finished, she led us downstairs into what seemed like the basement. I was hoping for historical exhibits, but, instead, there were only old, musty scenes filled with sad, outdated mannequins and wax figures.  Each scenario is supposed to make you feel like you’re present at settings that represent various events in the Salem Witch Trials. Instead, you’ll feel more like you’re in an obsolete haunted house. I thought it couldn’t get much worse until the guide pressed a button and an ancient and scratchy, narrated voice told the tale of the scene.  When we moved to the second display, I really wanted to leave, even though I had been admitted for free!. However, once again, I stayed out of politeness to the guide. By the end of the tour I feel like I wasted an hour of my life that I’d never get back. If you’re looking for history or information about the witch trials, do not go to the Witch History Museum. See my choices below for more worthwhile places to visit below.

3. The Witch Dungeon Museum

Again, don’t be fooled by the name of this location.  No witches were imprisoned here, and it’s not a museum. The Salem Jail where the witches were incarcerated was torn down long ago.  Instead, you’ll experience another poorly presented talk by a tour guide and more out-of-date scenes (only this time with animatronic figures) and recorded narrations, all of which should have been retired years ago.  Nothing is new here. It’s the same thing and story as what you’d see at any of the witch tourist traps in Salem. Don’t waste your time or money.

4. Salem Witch Museum

When I was younger, I visited the Salem Witch Museum with my family and friends.  When I visited again as an adult, I was surprised to find that nothing about the presentation there has changed in over 30 years.  You’re seated in a circular room, and after the lights go down, you’ll experience a recorded narration with information about the witch trials. It is accompanied by . . . you guessed it . . .  more scenes with wax figures and mannequins that are decades old. Again, nothing you wouldn’t have already seen and heard at another witch tourist trap. After the presentation, a guide takes you through some informational exhibits about the witch trials and the stereotypes about witches throughout history.  Even though the location calls itself a museum, there are no historical artifacts from the Salem Witch Trials. I was also disappointed with the guided nature of the second part of the tour. I would have much rather read the information boards, that I was interested in, at my own pace. Simply put, there are far better destinations to learn about the Salem Witch Trials in Salem than at this supposed museum.

5. Salem Wax Museum

It’s not Madame Tussaud’s that’s for sure!  Unless you want to see even more wax figures in sad presentations that haven’t changed in decades, don’t waste your money.

The Best Places to Visit in Salem

1. Best Location to Learn about the Witch Trials: The Rebecca Nurse Homestead

Want to learn more about the Salem Witch Trials and experience the home of an actual victim? Head to the Rebecca Nurse Homestead in Danvers, which is only minute from Salem. Before you go, find out all the details in my blog post.

2. Best Tour: The 1692 Witchcraft Walk 

There are so many tours to choose from in Salem, and most are, frankly, disappointing.  The majority involve guides in cheesy costumes that are more interested in scaring you with phony ghost stories than providing accurate and historically up-to-date information about the Salem Witch Trials or the city itself.  Being a teacher, historian, and a paying customer, I expect more than that. I look for tours that present solid historical information along with entertaining storytelling. Thus, my recommendation for the best tour in Salem is the “1692 Witchcraft Walk” from Salem Historical Tours.  Their tour guides are personable, engaging, and knowledgeable. They’ll take you to all of the locations in Salem where the witch trials occurred and explain how and why the witch hysteria happened, all in a manner that’s historically up-do-date and easy to understand. Don’t waste your money on a tour from any other company.   For more information and to book your tour online, please see the website for Salem Historical Tours.

3. Best Historic House: Philips House Museum

Don’t go to just any historic home in Salem. Experience history, not just hear about it, at the Philips House Museum. To find out more about why this historic house blew me away, visit my blog post about it.

4. Best Free Historic Activity: The Ropes Mansion and Gardens

Looking for something free to do in Salem?  Head over to the historic Ropes Mansion and Gardens.  Before you go, check out my blog post about this beautifully-preserved historic home and its glorious gardens.

5. Best Museum: Peabody Essex Museum

If you’re visiting Salem and enjoy museums, the Peabody Essex is your best bet.  The PEM was enlarged in 2019, and their exhibits frequently change. Head on over to their website to find out more about what’s on.

6. Best Location for Kids: Salem Willows Park

If you’ve brought your family to Salem, you’ll no doubt be looking for something to do that the kids will enjoy.  Salem Willows offers old-fashioned, family entertainment and activities that everyone will enjoy. Head on over to my blog post to learn more about the Willows.

7. Best Restaurants and Food Options

Don’t just go to any old restaurant while you’re in Salem.  I’ve got you covered with a blog post about my favorite food (and dessert!) hot spots in the Witch City.

8. Best Scenic Walk: The McIntire Historic District

No visit to Salem is complete without taking a stroll through the McIntire Historic District to see its breathtaking historic homes.  The area encompasses approximately 300 Georgian and Federal-style houses, many of which were designed or influenced by the architect and woodcarver Samuel McInitre.  Walking the entire district covers a little over a mile and takes about 45 minutes. However, if you’re tight on time, take the short walk along Chestnut Street to take in what are, in my opinion, the most beautiful homes. Click here to download and print a pamphlet of the walking tour. While you’re on Chestnut Street, take a tour of the Philips House Museum to see and experience what life as like in one of these stunning architectural masterpieces.

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