Salem has had quite a tragic history and it's one that has shaped the city it is today, and has also given it a reputation as one of the most popular historic destinations in Massachusetts (besides Boston). There's plenty to do along its seaside coast, from museums and spooky tours to shopping and exploring some of its renowned food scenes.
With all of these things, though, comes a price tag that's entirely worth it but not always part of everyone's budget. The good news is this: Salem can still be visited with historic landmarks in mind, and can be done so for free. With the exception of lodging and food, there's plenty to see in this coveted New England city that won't break a bank account, or require travelers to touch theirs, at all.
Where To Learn About Salem's Dark History
There are memorials all over Salem that are dedicated to the city's history, dating all the way back to the witch trials of the 17th century. None of them require a fee of any kind to visit; all that's needed is the respect of visitors in regard to what these memorials represent. Many of them are dedicated to the innocent lives that were lost during the Salem With Trials while others detail the history of the Puritan colonies during that time, and each one is worth visiting for different reasons.
With the history of Salem comes the question: Where were its accused 'witches' hung? This tragic landmark would be none other than Proctor's Ledge, which is marked with a small tree and the words 'We Remember' inscribed in the stones before it. During the trials - which went on for one year between 1692 and 1693 - were responsible for taking the lives of 20 innocent people. Whereas many believe the victims were hanged at Gallow's Hill, evidence points to the quieter location of Proctor's Ledge, which now sits in a residential area of Salem.
- Where: 7 Pope Street
- What To Know: Visitors should respect those living near the area, and be wary of parking as this memorial is on the sidewalk.
Salem Witch Trials Memorial
One of the most well-known and most-visited memorials in the city is the Salem Witch Trials Memorial. This stone memorial is a solemn reminder of the lives lost and honors those with their names etched into a stone wall that leads to the Charter Street Cemetery. As visitors pass each of their names, each step brings with it the gravity of what mass hysteria and paranoia wrought on an otherwise quiet, innocent town.
- Where: Just off Charter Street
- What To Know: While the memorial sees many people during the peak season, it's first and foremost a tragic memorial, not a tourist attraction.
Charter Street Cemetery, AKA Old Burying Point
Those visiting the Salem Witch Trials Memorial will find the Charter Street Cemetery directly at the end of the stone wall. This cemetery holds the final resting places of some of Salem's earliest known residents and was founded in 1637.
- Where: Charter Street behind the Salem Witch Trials Memorial
- What To Know: Many of the gravestones are old and somewhat tough to recognize, but guides can be found online to find specific markers.
Howard Street Cemetery
Salem is home to three cemeteries that are significant to the Salem Witch Trials and the Howard Street Cemetery is one of the most prominent. It's said that this is where Giles Corey was taken before he was pressed to death, which was punishment for refusing to stand trial.
- Where: 29 Howard Streer
- What To Know: Visitors should respect the age of the cemetery and remain solemn to its history; it's open from dawn until dusk every day.
Non-Witch Trial-Related Things To Do For Free
Salem Heritage Trail
For those wanting to experience all of Salem's most significant historical locations, they can follow the Salem Heritage Trail. A helpful map can be found here, but there's also a bright red line that's painted on the ground to direct people where to go.
- Where: Start at 2 Liberty Street (National Park Service Salem Regional Visitor Center)
- What To Know: There are three red loops to follow throughout the city, and visitors can watch a free 27-minute film at the Salem Regional Visitor Center.
Nathaniel Hawthorn Statue
Anyone familiar with American Gothic literature will recognize Nathanial Hawthorne as the prominent author of The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables. Arguably one of the most important authors in American history, Salem was once his home; thus, the statue that was erected in his honor.
- Where: Outside of the Hawthorne Hotel in the small mall green just outside
- What To Know: Visitors should take some time to walk around this area and peek inside the Hawthorne Hotel, which is another historic landmark (and rumored to be haunted).
The seventh season of the hit sitcom Bewitched was filmed in Salem, and the city memorialized the moment with a statue depicting Samantha. It's a must-visit for fans of the show, and it gives a bit of levity to this historic city.
- Where: 235 Essex Street
- What To Know: The statue is in a quieter part of the city, making for the perfect photo op.