The year was 1692, the town: Salem, Massachusetts. One of America’s earliest cases of mass hysteria was well underway as two hundred people were hauled before a judge, accused of witchcraft. 25 of them would die: 20 by execution, while five passed away in jail. The grizzly episode, backed by a rabid theocracy masquerading as religion, thrust the term ‘witch hunt’ into the English language. The term is still liberally used as political bombast by would-be autocrats to this day. Arthur Miller even set his revered and ever-relevant play, The Crucible, in Salem, using the witch trials as a thinly-veiled metaphor for one of the more recent American hysterical episodes: McCarthyism.
The good news is, there are far less insidious witch hunts (or tours as they’re now known) still taking place daily in Salem, MA. Naturally, with all that untimely death, there are quite a few ghost tours to be had around the city as well. No trip to Salem is complete without a witch and/or ghost tour, and there are plenty of them flying around. You won’t need a magic broom to join them either; all you need to do is delve into this list, conjured up through the alchemy of comparison (taking into account past guest reviews, price, duration and regularity). So, without further hocus pocus, here are five of the best ghost and witch tours of Salem.
FROM: $16/per person
Not only is Salem the witchcraft capital of America, but the word on the street (at least among the tour peddlers) is that it’s also one of the most haunted cities in the States as well. There’s only one way to find out if that’s true, on the Haunt and History night tour. You will visit the very downtown sites where the hysteria transmogrified into blood lust, and hear about the reputed ghouls that resulted from the hunt. Of the ten sites visited during the 80-minute tour, you will likely see the Old Salem Jail, the Witch Trials Memorial, a cemetery and potentially a couple of filming locations used in the movie Hocus Pocus.
From $20/ per person
Colonists settled in the area around Salem in 1626, and the city was incorporated soon after, in 1629. Those four centuries have seen the accrual of many an anecdote with which to fill the history books. Your guide on this tour will be a local historian, your gain will be learning about the events that shaped the town and its architecture. The two-hour tour is particularly good for anybody keen to learn about the events that led to the witch trials and why the situation came to such a gruesome end. This tour runs more than once a day; the nighttime departure is led by lantern.
From $15/ per person
Few of the original town buildings remain from the Salem of 1692 but some of the key sites that played a role in the Salem Witch trials endure. Yet, those that are gone come to life amid the tales of family feud and rampant fear. During this 90-minute walking tour, which is the best value on this list, you’ll learn about how two girls having a fit one day escalated absurdly, leaving 25 people dead and a seemingly irreparable community schism. See the jail where the suspected witches were held, homes of judges and the accused and hear the tales of how the whole affair escalated beyond all sanity.
From $20/ per person
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the tall tales of Salem’s paranormal and supernatural side and forget that the city has almost four centuries of history. This longer tour allows time to explore some of the city’s less apocryphal past elements, including its role in the American Revolution, and its early significance as an Atlantic sea port. There is also plenty of time to explore Salem’s witchery via the Witch House and Salem Witch Trials Memorial. As with all tours on this list, none of the buildings of interest are actually entered. This tour does not run on Sundays and Wednesdays.
From $34/ per person
If you simply cannot get enough of the witchery and the walking tours, then there’s an excellent value combo package including three tours available for the price of two. Experience one evening and two afternoon walking tours, each one lasting approximately 75 minutes. You can choose between the historical overview, colonial witch trial, Salem movie and TV sites, and the Salem cemeteries tours during the day. The evening tour is, (super)naturally, led by lantern and visits the haunted sites of Salem. All tours depart from central Salem and times vary depending on the time of year.