A Witch's Guide to Salem in October
October in Salem is a magical experience, but it's also... a lot. Sometimes folks come to the Witch City expecting the sleepy seaside town they've seen in Pinterest pics and get a big shock from the crowds and traffic! We can't lie: the crowds are BIG. The lines get LONG. But as long as you manage your expectations and plan your visit you'll have a Halloween for the ages!
1. Download the Destination Salem App- Destination Salem is the committee that runs Haunted Happenings, Salem's official October festival. The app will get you a directory of local businesses, as well as updated calendars of events- you can even build an itinerary for your stay! Most importantly this is how you'll get updates about parking and traffic. In 2021 parking garages were filling up by 10am, and temporary road closures were popping up as crowds got too big for the sidewalks- those who had the app got to know right away!
2. Know where the bathrooms are and when you'll need them- Most gift shops do not have bathrooms available for customers (including us, sorry! We're just too small to accommodate that kind of traffic in our tiny staff area). Your best bet for cleanliness and potential privacy will be a restaurant if you can hold it til your next meal, but otherwise there are public restrooms located on Artist's Row and in the Salem Visitor's Centers on Essex Street and Derby Street. The ones at the National Historic Site close at 4pm, but are usually pretty clean! Porta potties also appear in strategic spots for the month of October, so as long as everyone remains respectful of their maintenance, they should be just fine ;)
3. Make your reservations like, right now- Most hotels in Salem book way in advance for October. So if you don't have your hotel or AirBNB already reserved and you're turning up nothing within the city, you'll want to look into accommodations in neighboring towns like Peabody, Danvers, Beverly, Lynn, Swampscott, Marblehead, etc. Restaurants will have long waits for walk-ups, and while we have some extra food carts around for the season those lines get long too. So plan your meals ahead or plan to bring a cooler with a picnic lunch!
4. If possible, park outside Salem and take public transportation in- To reiterate: Parking garages were filling up by 10am last year. Roads were closing before noon, and there aren't that many roads in and out of Salem! If you don't want to be stuck in (or contribute to) traffic gridlocks in the area, consider parking in a neighboring town and taking a bus, train, or rideshare in. We're surrounded by cute little communities, so you might even find your new fave coffee place while you wait for your ride!
5. Wear comfy shoes- Downtown Salem is super walkable, but cobblestones and brick are a big part of our historic charm! You'll want to see as much as possible while you're here, so find the best pair of walking sneakers that go with your Halloween costume. For friends who use mobility aids, Essex street is probably the toughest pedestrian area to navigate due to cobblestones and crowds, so make sure you have a buddy to clear your path!
Tips from a dog mom: Our Visuals Vixen and resident Responsible Pet Parent Lish let us know that the October crowds make it pretty tough to do downtown Salem with a pup, but Pickering Wharf is usually a great open space to run around! Keep in mind that dogs aren't allowed in the cemeteries this time of year, so if you're touring the tombstones make sure someone can stay outside with your familiar!
And the final, ultimate, most-important tip: be patient and kind to Salem’s employees. Trust us, if you’re not having a good time we are DEFINITELY not having a good time- so please remember that other than being great ambassadors for the city we have Z E R O control over crowds, Covid precautions, or prices! You may be here for a day or a weekend but we’re here all month- all year! So please be kind… but you witches knew that already, right?
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