Salem: The Massachusetts Town Switching Up Its Spooky Reputation
Just a 30-minute drive from Boston, the spooky city of Salem makes for a thrilling adventure. Between eerie tours and bone-chilling exhibitions, we visit a family-run seafood stalwart, artisanal distillery and chic boutique hotel
31 October, 2022
Salem, Massachusetts, US.
Located in the county of Essex, Salem is just a short drive from Boston. The destination is synonymous with the 17th-century witch trials held here, which saw Puritans persecuting (mostly) women for allegedly consorting with the devil, casting spells upon children, ruining harvests and the like. The coastal city, which has a full-time population of just 45,000, becomes a hotspot for thrill-seekers in autumn, when harrowing performances at The House of the Seven Gables are among the abundance of Halloween celebrations. There are also year-round paranormal activities at the likes of the historical Joshua Ward House, where witch- and ghost-hunting make for a seriously alternative getaway.
Dark history aside, this is a city that has a fiercely contemporary attitude, as evidenced in its experimental cocktail menus, boutique boltholes and family-run eateries. We hopped off our broomsticks to take you inside the addresses that make this a must-visit destination.
The harbour, left, and the entrance of the Salem Witch Museum. | Photo credit: Lucy & Pierette / Unsplash.com / Shutterstock.com
The Peabody Essex Museum showcases American, Asian and Oceanic artefacts dating back to the 18th century. While there are plenty of tours shedding light on the events of 1692, there are also plenty of current exhibitions to dive into. This month, catch a great one on the life and legacy of the late fashion designer Patrick Kelly, whose work pushed racial and cultural boundaries, with exhibits on Black empowerment and the inspiration behind some of Kelly's most legendary designs. Check out the website to see what's on before you visit, but note that the museum is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Where to stay?
It wouldn't be a trip to Salem without staying at The Merchant. Dating back to 1784, this 11-key bolthole effortlessly marries history with contemporary flair. Bedrooms are individually designed, with antique furnishings and bold colour palettes used to create stylish and snug spaces. Spend afternoons on the outdoor terrace, where cloud-like sofas, twinkly lanterns and soft blankets make for a sublime set-up. It's worth noting that there's no in-house restaurant here. Instead, make tracks to nearby Crave, where build-your-own breakfast bowls and top-notch fry-ups await.
Where to go for dinner?
Known for its hand-stretched dough, smaller-sized pies, minimal ingredients and wood-fire oven, Bambolina serves a slice of la dolce vita in the heart of Salem. Its cosy dining room - all bare-brick walls, LED lights and communal seating - draws crowds of hungry locals and tourists alike. If you'd like to learn how to make your own crust, keep your eyes peeled for the pizzeria's next cooking class.
The family-run Turner's Seafood at Lyceum Hall is a great choice for those who enjoy their dinner fresh-from-the-water. Daily specials are authentically shucked and served at the city's favourite fish house. We're popping by for a lobster roll at lunchtime, before returning for a clam linguine come sunset.
A tray of oysters, left, and an orange peel cocktail. | Photo credit: Huang & Thomas / Unsplash.com
And for a drink…
Drinks taste better at the Deacon Giles Distillery. Snag a chair at its sultry Speakeasy Lab, where classic cocktails are reimagined by talented bartenders. Our order? The pumpkin-spiced vodka and Irish breakfast rum. There are also regular tasting tours for those who'd like to discover more about the distillation process, which also includes complimentary spirit slurping FYI.
Who to take with you?
A literary fanatic. Those familiar with Arthur Miller's The Crucible will revel in the history Salem holds. Carve out time to visit the Salem Witch Museum, where gripping tours and eerie exhibitions take place in a gothic church. Not heading to the US anytime soon? The Crucible is currently on at the National Theatre.
Essentials to pack
Everyone knows the struggle of switching off during a flight - and if you don't, lucky you. Pack this Olivia Von Halle silk-satin eye mask to snooze in style. Then, wake up with these Noble Panacea Vibrant Eye Infusion pouches - suitable for all skin types and promising a brighter complexion.
How to get there
There are no direct flights from the UK to Salem. We suggest flying with British Airways from London Heathrow to Boston Logan International Airport. It's just a 35-minute drive from there to the city centre.