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Not my usual post, but I asked and you guys answered that indeed you'd like to know what Salem Massachusetts is like during Halloween - so, here's my experience!
First, let me start off by saying that it's been a dream of mine to visit Salem during Halloween ever since the first time I watched Hocus Pocus many, many years ago. It wasn't until this year that I could make that happen --mainly due to remembering to book the stay very far in advance.
I knew it got crazy busy here during Halloween but things to do during the fall aren't usually on the forefront of my mind until a couple of months before, so it was actually super lucky that I coincidently checked booking dates exactly 6 months prior to Halloween, which was apparently the earliest you can book at the campsite, Winter Island Park, anyways. That said, everything in Salem around this time of year is expensive, like very expensive and camping is no exception.
The campsite, which I reserved for a pop-up camper was around $40 a night - and though it's not cheap, it's a far cry from the cost of hotels and AirBnBs in the area during the holiday season. It's worth noting that Winter Island Park also offered primitive campsites, however, I didn't bother to check the price. Shockingly, there were none of those open by Halloween either but, I'm sure everyone in the primitive sites were wishing they'd have gotten a hotel room. In my opinion was WAY too cold and rainy for tenting.
I highly would recommend against primitive camping, and even though we were in a RV spot, there were still a few noteworthy downsides to driving in and staying at the campground. (We spent at least $400 on gas for this trip alone.)
Besides getting there, staying at Winter Island Park was a little less comfortable than staying in a hotel directly in town for a couple of reasons.
First, it was a couple of miles from the heart of town and would have been about a 45-min walk there in the cold if my boyfriend and I hadn't brought our e-scooters which made the commute so much quicker (albeit a little colder)--and on days when it was rainy, we called the Salem Taxi which was only $6 (do not rely on Uber, their prices were at least 3x that and usually booked up).
Second, the campsite only had partial hookups?! If you don't have a holding tank, forget connecting to their water lines, you will still be forced to use their bathrooms on site for something as simple as brushing your teeth. And besides the partial hookups (water, but no sewer), it's pretty obvious that this campground was an afterthought.
Several of the camper spots are in the main parking lot. While the view toward the sea is stunning, the view behind is a decrepit old factory (see below)--oh, and the town's trolly drives by your camper every half hour, so make sure your blinds are closed or you'll soon become part of the tourist attraction. And don't think about jumping on the trolley from camp, it doesn't work that way (though, it would have been nice if it did)!
On the flip side, parking was free for those staying at the campsite ($30+ in town--if you could even find a spot after getting through all the standstill traffic), the bathrooms and showers were clean and the staff was super friendly. Wifi was included in the stay, which we used at night after the sun went down to watch horror movies inside the camper! We couldn't build a campfire outside since we didn't have any way to elevate it off the ground (their rules) but our space heater kept us plenty warm at night.
Best of all were the views of the sea (we know how much I adore the ocean) and I loved waking up to the sunrise shining through my window every morning.
As far as camping goes, if you can afford to stay in a VRBO or hotel in town, I would highly recommend that. If you are trying to save money and don't mind running back and forth to the bathrooms during your stay, camping isn't a bad option but it's a good idea to come prepared. It's windy and cold in New England this time of year, especially by the coast as Salem is. The highest temperature we experienced was 62, averaging mostly around 50 during the day.
But anyways, let's talk about the town itself.
We drove in on a Thursday to beat the bulk of the holiday crowd, which was definitely the right idea. By Thursday almost all of the events, ghost tours, museums and shows were sold out for the weekend and there were already lines out the doors to all the novelty shops (we didn't get to go into any). As the days went on leading up to Sunday, it obviously only got more crowded not only in town center but along the side streets, businesses and attractions too, and the rainy days didn't lessen the crowds at all.
Thousands upon thousands of adults and children alike donned their best Halloween costumes and witch hats, ready to take selfies with the horror-themed buskers lined along the main strip. At times, streets were closed off to traffic and monitored by police to accommodate the influx of people. One thing was evident through all the chaos: Salem is Halloween Town USA.
However, despite the sea of people, long lines to get into the shops and lack of themed event availability, there was still plenty to do and see around town, much of which was surpringly free.
Masks were required at every indoor location, no exception. Apparently it was a mandate from the local government because they knew a lot of people would be traveling in from out of town.
Most of the events and happenings took place outside, including a farmer's market on Friday and Saturday, vendors in the park, and most of the walking tours too.
My personal favorite thing to do in the area was just simply walking (or rather, scooting) around town and looking at the old buildings and gravestones which reminded me very much of England. The cemetary in the middle of town was free to visit and most of the historic buildings including the Witch House and Hocus Pocus mansion could be admired easily from the street.
Better yet, there was plenty of free and ever-changing entertainment in town provided by buskers:
As I had stated previously, Salem was pretty expensive all around, but we managed to avoid overspending on things to do by mainly sticking to sightseeing and browsing street vendors, which were all thankfully within walking distance.
Tickets to things like the museums, shows and tours averaged from $15 on the low end to $25 as an average. But food? Don't even get me started. I think for 4/nights we spent more on food each day than the cost to actually stay there.
However, the food and drinks were simply delightful and I believe eating at new places is part of the traveling experience.
I have to mention that there's a trendy wine cafe called Jaho on a side street that was probably the highlight of my trip. The lines here were considerably shorter than most cafes in town, which made it our dirty little secret for the weekend. We got boozy bubble tea, Irish coffee, and plenty of great foods and caffeinated drinks to keep us warm--and the atmosphere was just too cute!
On our last night of the trip we found a hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant outside of town (to avoid traffic in town and very long wait times) called Anmol that made the best chicken korma and naans that I've had since being in England --of course, I had to have a Masala tea for dessert and it was also nothing short of amazing. So, I highly recommend stopping here if you get the chance!
All in all, I had a great time in Salem. It certainly wasn't "spooky"--too many people for that, but it was a great Halloween "party" experience (like the entire town turned into a holiday fairground) and I would recommend everyone who loves this holiday should visit at least once.
Salem really does have all those adorable small seaside town vibes you want from a touristy coastal neighborhood, but with a iconic bewitching twist everywhere you look.
Truly, the history, architecture and culture is unmatched by anywhere else in the USA and I can only only compare it to England in many ways. I was sort of shocked by how busy and expensive one little place could be for a weekend, it was definitely a Christmas-market-like festivity heavily focused on the town's many novelty shops and history tours--and I think I spent easily over 1k on the 4-day trip in total--but it was worth enduring as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
So, here's what I recommend for anyone wanting to take a trip to Salem in October:
If you have any questions about my weekend in Salem, feel free to send a comment below!
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