I regularly visited Salem for 15 years before my family moved to the storied Massachusetts town in 2021.
The first time I experienced Salem, Massachusetts, about 15 years ago, I came as a tourist. The 45,000-person town became so near and dear to me that I never stopped returning.
It didn’t take long for my husband to fall in love with Salem as well, so we decided to get a Witch City address of our own in 2021.
The town, most famous as the backdrop of the 1692 witch trials, draws a huge influx of visitors every October, when the town holds its annual month-long Haunted Happenings Festival.
As a relatively new Salem resident, I see many newcomers arrive ready to dive into witchcraft and explore the historic streets without doing proper research.
Here’s what I think tourists should know before coming to Salem during the busiest month of the year.
Hotels and activities sell out months in advance, so book your itinerary as early as possible.
This October, Salem celebrates its 40th Haunting Happenings Festival, one of the largest Halloween celebrations in the world. It’s also one of the busiest Octobers that Witch City has ever seen, with over 100,000 people flooding the streets on a single day.
Given the size of the crowds, it’s not the best time to whip out the old broomstick and fly in on a whim. If you have a list of things you’d like to do and see during your visit, you must plan ahead.
Most ticketed attractions, tours, and events are sold out through the rest of this month. And many travelers who plan on visiting Salem in October 2023 have already booked accommodations, as some hotels can sell out a year in advance.
Salem’s weather can be unpredictable in October, so expect the unexpected and pack layers.
Visitors often ask what to pack for a trip to Salem in October, but Massachusetts’ weather can be very unpredictable in the fall.
Don’t be put off by the extended forecast. The temperature can be 74 degrees Fahrenheit one day and 47 degrees Fahrenheit the next. We’ve had some Octobers with beach days and others with snow storms.
Nothing is impossible, but Salem is gorgeous in any weather, especially in October.
Pack your chicest witchy attire, fall flannels, fun costumes, layers, and umbrellas. If you forget an item, don’t worry. There are plenty of places to shop in town.
You won’t find open parking in October, so don’t drive into Salem unless you already have a guaranteed spot to leave your car.
If you ignore the parking signs around the city, which are seemingly everywhere you look, you will get ticketed or towed.
Salem is an old city, and most of the streets weren’t built to accommodate any automobiles at all. The downtown district has very limited metered spots, garages, and lots, and any that are available get claimed very early each October morning.
If you do decide to drive, be aware that October traffic can turn a simple trip to the store into an hours-long ordeal.
Instead of circling around for a spot and wasting your precious time in Witch City, look into alternative transportation. You can use rideshare apps or take the bus, train, or ferry into town.
Salem’s food and drink scene is spectacular, but prepare to wait upwards of two hours for a table in October.
Salem has so many delicious bites and cocktails, but if you visit in October, you’re going to have to wait a long time to try them.
Our favorite Salem haunts are open all 12 months, but their managers and staff members have to work even more tirelessly in October to accommodate much larger crowds. So put your name in, go walk around, and come back when it’s your turn.
We recently waited two hours to dine at one of our favorite restaurants, Opus. We used the restaurant’s online system, which allowed us to watch the line from our phones while taking in the town’s sites.
If you want a quicker option, head to the food trucks at Salem Common or grab a pizza at the local mall.
Regardless of where you eat in October, tip your servers well. The odds are that they’re exhausted and doing all they can.
Buskers and street performers are working professionals who put in long days during October, so tip them if you like what you see.
In downtown Salem, you’ll come across buskers dressed in amazing costumes who pose for photos with tourists. Many of the performers have other full-time jobs and work long weekend days to support themselves and their loved ones — all while making us smile.
They provide an amazing service to Salem, so don’t skip the tip jars. If you don’t carry cash, you can find most of them on Venmo.
Although some outsiders view Salem as a seasonal amusement park, many people live here year-round.
Some tourists treat Salem like a movie set, but people live here year-round. The homes you see are occupied by real humans. Please be respectful of their property.
The pumpkins in front of homes aren’t up for grabs, and private hallways aren’t for your sitting pleasure. I recently learned about a visitor who entered a Salem resident’s hallway for a photo op.
You shouldn’t do that, but what you should do is walk outside of the downtown area and into some breathtaking side streets, walking through crunchy leaves the entire way.
Some of the most gorgeous homes I’ve seen rarely have many people nearby. So, take a break from the crowds and soak in Salem’s architecture.
At some point, your patience will likely be tested due to the crowds and lengthy waits, but do your best to remain calm and kind.
You’re going to need patience if you decide to brave the October crowds.
Salem is experiencing a massive wave of tourists this year. Remember that we’re not a seasonal amusement park. We’re a small city where people live year-round.
Please be kind to those around you, have fun, be safe, show our city respect, and most of all, be patient.