Most people know of Salem Massachusetts as the home of the Salem witch trials. As you’d expect, it’s a popular place to visit in October around Halloween. However, this waterfront city in New England has so much to offer year round. Whether you are fascinated by the witch trials or enjoy enjoy quaint cities by the water, Salem is a great place to visit. If you are considering a trip, here are some things to do in Salem MA with kids.
It’s important to note that while Salem is definitely kid-friendly, there may be a few scary figures and statues around the city. Just keep that in mind when visiting with kids. You’ll see more of these around Halloween.
The majority of these activities are located within walking distance of each other. Most do not have parking, so it’s best to park and walk during your visit. In October, it can be especially difficult to find a spot, so keep that in mind. Public transportation is also available and may be a better option during Halloween season.
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Things to Do in Salem MA With Kids
Salem Heritage Trail
If you aren’t sure where to go in Salem, consider starting with the Salem Heritage Trail. This red line on the sidewalks across town will lead you to a variety of sites in the city. It includes stops at the most popular destinations throughout Salem. This page includes some suggested routes in following the trail. There are several different places to start.
Peabody Essex Museum
If you are thinking of doing something completely different from the Salem Witch attractions, the Peabody Essex Museum is a great option. This beautiful art museum is located right in the center of town and features a large collection of maritime art and Asian art.
Families will enjoy the Art and Nature Center. It includes art and nature displays, hands on exhibits, and areas where kids can create their own art. The museum is currently undergoing a large renovation, so check with the website to see what specifically will be closed when you are visiting. The museum is remaining open, but some exhibits will be closed to the public.
Salem Maritime National Historic Site
This beautiful National Park includes twelve historical buildings/structures on nine acres of land. There’s also a replica tall ship, the Friendship of Salem, which is currently in drydock in Gloucester, MA. There isn’t a return date scheduled yet for the ship.
In the visitor’s center, you’ll be able to watch one of two movies – Where Past is Present (free) and Salem Witch Hunt (nominal fee). You can also explore the waterfront area, which is absolutely beautiful. To enhance your visit, you can download the free audio tour of the area, which you should do before you leave for your trip to Salem.
The House of the Seven Gables
This nonprofit museum is a former colonial mansion made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel of the same name. Guests to the mansion also have access to visit Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace.
There are several things that kids will enjoy at the house, including the Kids’ Cove at the Counting House and the Living History Labs. There are also special programs that take place during school vacations. The guided tour of the house runs around 35-40 minutes, and then you’ll be able to walk through the gardens and grounds. Download the audio tour on UniGuide before you go, so you’ll have access to it when you arrive.
There are tons of small museums in Salem. Most of them are a bit kitschy and quirky, but can be fun. Just be sure to set your expectations before you go. It’s best to choose one or two places that fit it with what your family is hoping to learn about and experience.
The Salem Witch Museum
Arguably the most popular of the witch-themed museums in Salem, the Salem Witch Museum can be very popular. There are two sections of the museum. First, you’ll be brought into a large room where the main presentation happens. Thirteen sets around the room are illuminated as you’ll hear about the witch trials.
The second part of the museum is more of a traditional museum, with exhibits showcasing the evolution of witchcraft. We found the museum to be very informative and the kids really enjoyed it. If you are interested in the history aspect of the witch trials, it’s worth a visit. During our September visit, the line was pretty short to enter. But in October, the line snakes around the sidewalk. As with all popular attractions, arrive early to avoid lines and crowds. It’s one of the more popular things to do in Salem MA with kids.
There are other museums located through the city, including the Pirate Museum, the Witch Dungeon Museum, the Salem Wax Museum of Witches and Seafarers, and The Salem Witch Village.
Walking Tours in Salem MA
Salem MA is incredibly walkable, and you’ll find a variety of walking tours. The Candlelit Ghostly Walking Tour takes place seasonally. Learn about the various spirits living in the local buildings, as well as how to take ghostly pictures.
The Bewitched After Dark – Bewitched Historical Tour trip is kid-friendly. It’s free for kids under the age of 7, and runs for about 2 hours.
The Salem Museum’s Haunted Pirate Tours is appropriate for all ages and includes admission to the Salem Museum. This tour runs for about an hour and includes stories about the pirates that cruises around the area.
Shopping in Salem, MA
The cobblestone streets in Salem (as well as Pickering Wharf) are lined with quirky and quaint little shops. During Halloween, you’ll also find kiosks all around the main streets, including Essex Street. There’s also Artists’ Row on New Derby Street, where you can find handcrafted items.
My kids’ favorite stop is the Ye Olde Pepper Companie, located on Derby Street. This small candy shop is America’s Oldest Candy shop, and offers packed hard candies, fudge, and handcrafted chocolates.
Depart from Salem on the replica of the 1812 ship FAME. Departing from Pickering Wharf and running for about an hour and forty-five minutes.
If you are interested in a whale watch, you’ll want to go to nearby Gloucester, MA. There, you’ll find several different whale watch operators.
If you want to stop to play some arcade games, check out the Salem Willows Arcade. This waterfront arcade offers traditional arcade games as well as bumper cars. It’s best to drive there, as it’s a bit of a walk from the main area.
There are three historical cemeteries in Salem. These include the Charter Street Cemetery, the Howard Street Cemetery, and the Broad Street Cemetery. If you decide to to a walking tour, these may be included in your visit.
This red trolley includes both a narrated one hour tour and all day hop-on, hop-off shuttle service. Tickets can be purchased online. If you visit during the Christmas season, there’s a seasonal holiday-themed tour that you can take.
Halloween in Salem MA With Kids
As you may expect, Halloween is a busy time in Salem. The city celebrates Halloween for the entire month of October with it’s Salem Haunted Happenings event. During the month, there are a number of family-friendly events. Highlights include:
- The Grand Parade, at the beginning of the month
- Wicked Wednesdays, which includes different events each week, like face painting, music, and crafts
- Howl-O-Ween Pet parade
- Trick or Treating
- Fairy Door Trail
- Pumpkin Walk
- Street Fair
- Family Movie Nights on the Common
Read more here – events vary throughout the month.
Where to Eat in Salem MA with Kids
There are loads of restaurants in Salem, as well as food trucks that visit. Here are some family-friendly options:
Flatbread Company – This small chain offers delicious, local food. We’ve loved eating at the locations in the White Mountains and in Portland, Maine. The Salem location is right by the water in the heart of the action.
Howling Wolf Taqueria – This funky Mexican restaurant offers a kids’ menu.
Bambolina – This is our favorite local spot. It offers small plates, pizza, craft beers, and wines. While there isn’t a specific kids’ menu, they can make plain pasta or pizza for kids.
The Lobster Shanty – I didn’t eat there, but walked by and saw the delicious looking lobster rolls. If you want seafood in Salem, this would be a great option.
Where to Stay in Salem MA
There are several hotels in Salem that are right downtown. We just drive there when we visit, but if you want to stay, here are a few options:
Salem Waterfront Hotel and Suites (the only hotel with a pool in Salem)