Come with us and you will see, this our town of Halloween!
March 26, 2011 10:32 AM   Subscribe

Please help me celebrate Halloween in Salem!

I would really love to make it to Salem, Mass for Halloween this year, but as I have never been remotely near MA, I am a little overwhelmed trying to develop an itinerary. It will be just the Mr. & me traveling; no kids, no pets. We fall more into the people watching, haunted or historical tour, or quintessential Halloween activities set than the clubbing and drinking scene.

Of course hotels in Salem are utterly high priced in October. Can I stay in Boston and train it to Salem, or would that be a huge amount of vacation time sitting on a train every day?

If I could stay in Boston, does anyone have recommendations for hotels near public transit?

What are some must do/see/eat things? What should we avoid?

I would also love to hear your experiences with Salem at Halloween....but if this is a horribly bad idea, where else should we go? I have been planning month long Halloween celebrations for my friends for ten years now, and I really just want to take a break and go be entertained by others who have done all of the planning.
posted by haplesschild to Travel & Transportation around Salem, MA (13 answers total)
avoid salem...during halloween.
posted by ps_im_awesome at 11:15 AM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Staying in Boston and taking train from North Station is very feasible and they have extra trains on Halloween although not sure when the last train on Halloween leaves Salem (normal days it's around 11:30 PM). So staying close to North Station/ Quincy Market/ Waterfront in Bos
ton should work well.

The Halloween evening activities are around the Salem Commons, where they have music, vendors, etc. The older houses around get the most trick-or-treaters. Most bigger bars/ restaurants will have some adult events that require cover charge, but some (or even most) of those can be on Sat evening vs. actual Halloween. Hawthorne hotel has Costume Ball, which I believe to be on Saturday.

During the day time and into the evening the Commons is very family friendly, which is also enforced by the police, etc. clearing it relatively early.

Witch Museum and the like might be OK depending on your interests, most of them are quite hokey small town attractions. Peabody Essex Museum however is worth a visit anytime.

Lots of good restaurants/ bars around -- my personal favorite for Halloween is Bella Verona is very small (maybe 8 tables) right next to Hawthorne hotel. More on the romantic, intimate side (if I'm not there with my kids and friends) vs. party place, but would recommend early dinner there and then switching to party mode later.
posted by zeikka at 11:16 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Avoid Salem at all costs on Halloween. Epic fail in the making. It's a crazy madhouse, and not at all enjoyable.

If you want an AWESOME Halloween celebration in the Boston area, head over to Beacon Hill around 6pm. They close the streets down, the decorations are amazing, everyone comes and sits out on their front steps, and the kids have a blast. (So do the adults, like me, who just go to watch!)
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 1:22 PM on March 26, 2011

The irony is that the witch trial and all the other historical merriment actually happened in what we now call Danvers. In those days no one was living where Salem is now.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:59 PM on March 26, 2011

I've done this for work (not the TV show on the website), and truth to tell, it wasn't all that astonishing. The tours and parade are nice, but it's not West Hollywood, for sure.  The presentations are pretty well done, it's all literary and historical, but not in a taxing way, the vendors sell pretty good quality stuff, but to be honest, I didn't really see what all the fuss was about, other than a way for a small city to capitalize on history as a tourist event. The city claims 40,000 on Halloween night, which might be right. Didn't seem that big. Here's a photo site from last year's event.
Fall in New England is lovely, but I wouldn't travel cross-country just for this event.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:02 PM on March 26, 2011

Actually Salem Town was already a bustling place (for 17th-c New England values of "bustling") when the witch trials happened, but Danvers, then known as Salem Village, was indeed where most of the witch trial action took place. It's also where I grew up!

Anyway, I have never been to Salem for Halloween. I kind of associate it with drunken bachelorette-partyish antics, but that may just be a reflection of the kind of people I am friends with on facebook rather than the way it really is. If you see a girl carrying a blow-up doll, say hi to her for me.

Can you drive? If you really want to be in Salem, I don't think staying in Boston makes a lot of sense; I would guess that you could stay in one of the neighboring towns much more cheaply than either in Salem or Boston, but that would require a car.

On the other hand, the advantage of staying in Boston is that there is a lot more stuff to do there, including lots of historical sites and tours and things and people-watching out the wazoo. And going in to Salem from Boston is not difficult; the train takes about a half-hour from North Station, and there are a handful of hotels and at least one B&B close to the station.

Honestly, though, if it's the historical/ghost tour/people watching kind of stuff you want to do, you don't *need* to do it in October. That stuff is going on almost year-round, or certainly any time between, say, now and Halloween.
posted by mskyle at 2:09 PM on March 26, 2011

I stand corrected.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:01 PM on March 26, 2011

I am not quite sure why people are saying to stay out of Salem at all costs at Halloween. It's not some magical Disney-like engineered performance, but certainly lively and has lot of people coming. One nice thing is that entire families have costumes vs. kids only and some have put slot of effort into them.

For the past several years we've had friends with their kids visit us for Halloween and while traffic into town can be heavy it's not undoable.

Entertaining enough - especially if you can tie it I with some other interesting things near-by.
posted by zeikka at 7:06 PM on March 26, 2011

In '00 and '01 I did Salem by car for Halloween. I lived in Boston at the time. Parking wasn't horrible as long as you arrived early and stayed most of the day. I actually was able to move the car a few times on each occasion - something which would probably not be considered a normally wise plan. I had other people getting tickets and waiting in lines while I was moving it, so it involved organization and the ability/willingness to split up for it to be viable. It is a absolutely a mad house.

I was not your typical Salem tourist. I may be a semi-typical mefite. My first trip I didn't go to the house of seven gables because the wait was too long, I scrapped a few smaller tours as well. Its a bit of a checklist, so if you go on October 31st or July 31st you get the same tour. Nothing magical happens - so I could live with scrapping the bigger tourist draws with no regrets.

The one tour that I did both years, that I was the principal reason for going back the second year, was the ghost story tour at the library. They use a few local actors to read/act out a few non-standard period ghost stories in a few different rooms in the library. Its cool. Plus, there are cider doughnuts on the premise after you finish the tour (which - Yay! Library doughnuts!)

Anyway, I'd be concerned about relying on train transit any time you approach the witching hours of 12:30 with the T. Boston closes down the subway, it is not NYC, DC, or any other city. Plan accordingly.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:29 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I work in Salem, and even though I enjoy Halloween a lot, I have to say that though I looked forward to the whole thing with interest and curiosity, ultimately I find Salem's Halloween a little dejected and disappointing.

What are some must do/see/eat things? What should we avoid?

There are some great places to eat, but everything's going to be really crowded. I second Bella Verona and also Gulu Gulu for a great beer list, inexpensive panini and funky atmosphere. Green Land Cafe is a more upscale but very tasty eatery. A & J King Bakers is phenomenal and worth a side trip for breakfast or lunch. Or afternoon cookie.

I would also love to hear your experiences with Salem at Halloween....

Like I said, I was disappointed to discover what it was like. It's tremendously cheesy, and I know some people like the cheese, but not me. There's a gritty edge to some of it, and more of a black trenchcoat/heavy-metal feel to the street scene than what I would want. The night before and night of Halloween are a big drinkfest, and though you can take the train in and out, you kind of might not want to unless you don't mind the partying. There's a weird thing that goes on where the witchy people are out strolling, and then also a bunch of born-again Christian churches come out to save souls, and last year there was a big LaRouchePAC presence too. Also, there are a lot of big packs of middle school and high school students doing the witch trial tour thing and then turned loose on the streets all evening. There are a few nice events, away from the downtown and in the Common area, as you've been told - but despite the little bright spots it just adds up to Not Fun for me, and instead of being a magical and quirky fun town celebration, it feels like dental work - just sing songs to yourself and get through it. To me. This is just my opinion.

but if this is a horribly bad idea, where else should we go?

I much prefer the Halloween celebration in Portsmouth, NH, an hour north of Salem, and that's where I go on Halloween night. Events there center on a costumed parade where creativity just abounds - anyone can march in the parade, there are families but it's really a grownup scene, and then after the parade ends it dissolves into a street party and fun night out. There are a lot of places to get food and hear music afterward, and just a joyful, fun atmosphere.

If you do decide to come, maybe come a couple weekends early and go to this annual event at PEM. It changes yearly but is pretty awesome.
posted by Miko at 8:54 PM on March 26, 2011

I love Salem; I used to work there! Salem on Halloween itself (and the weekend before) can be good people-watching, but for going on tours and seeing the sights, I'd go earlier in October, or even late September - Halloween means lines to get into things, and drunk rowdies. There'll still be people-watching earlier, and it's maybe the best time of year to visit Massachusetts for the weather and the foliage. You can check out Boston itself, or other towns past Salem on the North Shore and Cape Ann; the commuter rail line that runs through Salem goes up to Rockport and Newburyport.

I haven't been for a few years, so some of the tours could have changed, but the Peabody Essex Museum is worth a visit, the evening ghost tours and the trolley tour are fun, the Cry Innocent performance is good, the museums with Witch in the name are various levels of cheesiness (also cheesy but fun: the Pirate Museum!), and there are a bunch of nice historic houses that don't have much to do with the witchcraft trials. Danvers has the historic sites with more witchcraft trial connections, but it's not as accessible by public transportation.

Red's Diner is the classic lunch place, and is just what you'd expect from the name; the Beer Works location up there is great (pumpkin beer, and all kinds of delicious unhealthy food), Finz is the big seafood place, the Lyceum is nice for a fancier meal.

And if you stay in Boston, everything in that part of the city is packed pretty conveniently close together - the train to Salem runs from North Station, but places within two or three subway stops of there could still be easy walking distance. The Freedom Trail and the North End (Italian neighborhood) are both right by there, and the Common and Public Gardens aren't far away.
posted by songs about trains at 1:11 PM on March 27, 2011

Good call from songs about trains - you can take all the same spooky and historic tours earlier in the month without the crowds. They run all month!
posted by Miko at 5:42 PM on March 27, 2011

Thanks everyone- this was really helpful. I think I will take the advice to skip going Halloween week and go earlier in October instead. Of course this means we will have to put it off for another year since my vacation is locked, but it seems like the right decision. Thank you!
posted by haplesschild at 6:03 AM on March 28, 2011

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