things to do in salem, what i wish i knew before visiting salem ma for the first time

About two weeks ago I created a blog post asking you guys what you wish you knew before visiting Salem, MA for the first time. I asked for information on what your biggest “mistake” was (if any), what your number one tip to help others is and advice along those lines. The following are the responses you guys sent me! I also responded to each one, commenting below each email I got. I hope this helps any of you guys that are working on planning your own trip into Salem!

The responses

“I wish I knew about the beautiful seaside amenities! I’ve been to Salem 4 times, and I just found about about Pickering Wharf and the gorgeous seaside attractions. Next time I’m in town, I can’t wait to check out these places.” – RY

Absolutely! Salem has a deep maritime history. On the wharf there is great shopping and dining as well as opportunities to go out on the water! I recommend the Schooner Fame. – Alyse


“I wish I had known how far ahead to book hotels/attraction tickets if visiting in the fall! Also to start with the Visitor’s Center & trolley tour on the first day to get an idea of where everything is. Thank you for creating your page, I’ve learned so much and love your content!” – AE

Planning and booking ahead for the fall is key to making sure you can see everything you wanted to. I also suggest the Trolley as a way to get your bearings. Great tips! – Alyse

Related: The one Salem, MA attraction that I recommend every time


“My 13-year-old daughter and I took an impulse trip to Salem last fall for the first time. I cannot tell you how grateful I was for this experience with her, especially now that we are in a pandemic and cant go anywhere. It truly has been my favorite memory in the last 6 months! I think it is a perfect trip for middle school/adolescent girls because the backdrop of the Salem Witch trials served as a perfect real-time life lesson on “why you shouldn’t gossip/how rumors grow/consequences for being a mean girl” Towards that end, reading the story of the witch trials before you get there is a great idea. The biggest thing I think is important to know is that you don’t need a car! Fly into Boston and Uber to Salem. It’s under $40 and you can absolutely walk everywhere. The other thing is that there are so many local shops and businesses to support- definitely do that while there! Witch City Wicks and Emporium 32 are two that I’ve continued to order from even back home. The other cool idea would be to chunk your days into themes: maritime one day, witches the next, Hawthorne the next, etc. I really appreciated that Salem offers a good mix of history (House of the Seven Gables) and entertainment (Gallows Hill) Anyway, I hope this is helpful- feel free to contact me- my awesome memories of Salem have given me much joy over the past few months!” – AB

Mother daughter trips to Salem are the best!! <3 I am so glad you guys had fun. Your suggestions are great, there is absolutely no need for a car if you can get yourself into Salem without it and I love the idea of chunking the days into themes. Thanks for sharing! – Alyse


“I’ve visited a couple years for Halloween but the recent past year it was different. There wasn’t much to do like before. Aside from the fair not being there anymore there just wasn’t much to do. I wish I knew the parking situation before I visited. Although the parking garage is amazing I just did not know at first and we were lost for a bit. The biggest mistake I made was not being prepared and reading up on restaurants and bars. The biggest tip I could think of is to just try everything you see. Go into every shop you see it’s all amazing.” – NG

Parking can be crazy for sure, I’m glad you found one of the garages. Experiencing everything and trying it all is a great tip and an amazing way to see all of the unique things the city offers. – Alyse

Related: Travel into Salem, MAPlanning your visit to Salem, MA + My experiences just going on a whim


“Top tip… things aren’t open as late as you might think. When all the kitchens close and you are hungry , you might regret waiting too late. And if it October plan your meals. There can be long waits!! Wear comfortable shoes. Those boots might look cool but after two days cobblestone you will cry when you walk. Biggest mistake… trying to do too much or not planning enough. I have been there multiple times with my daughter we learned to take time to just sit somewhere and people watch but we have also made the mistake of not planning anything and then finding stuff sold out or just going back and forth on what we wanted to do. What I wish I knew…. expect crowds and expect them to get bigger and bigger closer to Halloween. Really think if you want to bring your 2 year old or your lab when there are that many people.” – DB

Yes, omg THIS. People underestimate how early things close and how late they open sometimes. Getting the balance of planning and timing down can be tricky but I love allotting time for just wandering and people watching, too. Thanks for sharing! – Alyse

Related: A few time frames to keep in mind when planning your Salem, MA vacation


“My family and I visited Salem last October. We spent a week in Boston and rode the train for a day trip. We didn’t realize we should have planned for more time in Salem. At least a one night stay or even two. There’s so much to see that it’s hard getting it all in. It was a lot of walking too. We would have also done a better job of researching places to eat off the beaten path. I also think people should be aware that you must book a hotel well in advance too. Thank you for your wonderful site. It’s so nice to see the images while living in Florida. We have started planning another October trip to Boston with two nights in Salem this time.” – MM

Yes! Salem has so much to see, I always suggest staying overnight at least one night if you can. Booking early is crucial and will allow you time to explore. – Alyse

Related: The best hotels to book in Salem, MA — My top three picks | How many days do I need to visit Salem, MA?


“To purchase all your tickets for tours/attractions prior to your trip. A lot of events sell out rather quickly.” – CP

Many events do sell out quickly, I always suggest purchasing things ahead of time when possible. This applies extra to the fall. A great suggestion! – Alyse


“Our biggest mistake was only giving ourselves 1/2 day to explore! Also don’t run for the train in Boston and pop a ligament in your knee (makes walking in Salem difficult!) I wish I would have done more research and planned out better what I wanted to see.” – LL

Oh my goodness, sounds like you had an adventurous trip! I hope your knee is all healed up and doing better. As for your tips, those are great ones too! Planning ahead is important, especially in the fall. Giving yourself at least a day (overnight stay is even better!) will allow for time to explore the city. Thanks for sharing with me! – Alyse

The resources

Are you working on planning your own visit? The following links will help you out with that.

Countdown to Salem – The workbook

Plan your heart out! My workbook is aimed at helping you sort out the details and logistics of your visit to Salem.

Things to do in Salem – The Fall Guide

The guide covers September, October and November events, contains travel tips, tricks, a business directory, map and more.

A first timer’s guide to planning a trip to Salem, MA

A round up post of tons of content to help you plan, sorted by category.

Things to do in Salem – The Facebook group

Join in! Ask your questions, share resources and plan your trip.

Book your Salem, MA hotel room

Click to see a list of Salem, MA hotels as well as options along the north shore.

Good luck and I hope you have an amazing visit. Enjoy!! <3

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things to do in salem, what i wish i knew before visiting salem ma