I live in Salem, Massachusetts. Here are 10 things I wish tourists knew before visiting in the fall.

Salem street performer (left), crowds flooding the street (right)
Every October, thousands of tourists visit Salem for the Haunted Happenings Festival.Eryn DiPhilippo
  • As a Salem local, I have a front-row seat to the tourist crowds visiting town ahead of Halloween.

  • Travelers should prepare for packed streets, long lines, and zero available parking in October.

  • Tourism is great for our economy, but visitors should do their best to shop at locally owned stores.

I regularly visited Salem for 15 years before my family moved to the storied Massachusetts town in 2021.

Eryn DiPhilippo (writer) in the salem commons
I prefer to visit Salem Common around midnight, when the daytime crowds have dispersed.Eryn DiPhilippo

The first time I experienced Salem, Massachusetts, over 15 years ago, I came as a tourist. The 45,000-person town became so near and dear to me that I never stopped returning.

It didn't take long for my husband to fall in love with Salem as well, so we decided to get a Witch City address of our own in 2021.

The town, most famous as the backdrop of the 1692 witch trials, draws a huge influx of visitors every October, when the town holds its annual month-long Haunted Happenings Festival.

As a relatively new Salem resident, I see many newcomers arrive ready to dive into witchcraft and explore the historic streets without doing proper research.

Here's what I think tourists should know before coming to Salem during the busiest month of the year.

Hotels and activities sell out months in advance, so book your itinerary as early as possible.

Photo of crowd watching a street performer on Washington St. in salem massachusetts
Crowds gather to watch a street performer in Salem, Massachusetts.Eryn DiPhilippo

This October, Salem celebrates its 40th Haunting Happenings Festival, one of the largest Halloween celebrations in the world. It's also one of the busiest Octobers that Witch City has ever seen, with over 100,000 people flooding the streets on a single day.

Given the size of the crowds, it's not the best time to whip out the old broomstick and fly in on a whim. If you have a list of things you'd like to do and see during your visit, you must plan ahead.

Most ticketed attractions, tours, and events are sold out through the rest of this month. And many travelers who plan on visiting Salem in October 2023 have already booked accommodations, as some hotels can sell out a year in advance.

Salem's weather can be unpredictable in October, so expect the unexpected and pack layers.

Haunted Happenings banner as you walk into the heart of downtown
When you walk into downtown Salem, you see a banner for Haunted Happenings.Eryn DiPhilippo

Visitors often ask what to pack for a trip to Salem in October, but Massachusetts' weather can be very unpredictable in the fall.

Don't be put off by the extended forecast. The temperature can be 74 degrees Fahrenheit one day and 47 degrees Fahrenheit the next. We've had some Octobers with beach days and others with snow storms.

Nothing is impossible, but Salem is gorgeous in any weather, especially in October.

Pack your chicest witchy attire, fall flannels, fun costumes, layers, and umbrellas. If you forget an item, don't worry. There are plenty of places to shop in town.

Thanks to the town's uneven streets, the wrong footwear has the potential to ruin your experience.

Photo of line outside of ASCEND Get Lifted
People line up outside of Ascend Get Lifted, a gift shop that specializes in intuitive readings and energetic services.Eryn DiPhilippo

You'll be walking a lot on Salem's beautiful brick and cobblestone streets, so regardless of the forecast, the most important thing to remember is comfortable footwear.

Your shoes have the potential to make or break your time (and your ankles).

You won't find open parking in October, so don't drive into Salem unless you already have a guaranteed spot to leave your car.

Photo on parking signs posted on Winter St. in salem massachusetts
There are parking signs all over Salem that look like this one on Winter Street.Eryn DiPhilippo

If you ignore the parking signs around the city, which are seemingly everywhere you look, you will get ticketed or towed.

Salem is an old city, and most of the streets weren't built to accommodate any automobiles at all. The downtown district has very limited metered spots, garages, and lots, and any that are available get claimed very early each October morning.

If you do decide to drive, be aware that October traffic can turn a simple trip to the store into an hours-long ordeal.

Instead of circling around for a spot and wasting your precious time in Witch City, look into alternative transportation. You can use rideshare apps or take the bus, train, or ferry into town.

Local guides work hard to share Salem's history with outsiders, so be respectful toward them.

Sarah from Bewitched After Dark Walking Tours (also cohost of Salem the Podcast) at Charter Street Cemetery in Salem
Take a tour from an expert guide, like Sarah from Bewitched After Dark Walking Tours.Eryn DiPhilippo

Salem has a rich and devastating history, with its main claim to fame being the witch trials of 1692. In my opinion, the best way to learn as much as you can in one visit is to take a walking tour.

Sign up for a tour from a reputable, Salem-based company. We have so many knowledgeable tour guides in town who have chosen to study and share a wealth of information with visitors.

Please be respectful toward them and our beloved city. Don't show up drunk or crash a tour on the streets. It's already hard enough for guides to navigate through the herds of people with a large group following them, so don't make it any more difficult for them or the people engaged and listening.

Salem's food and drink scene is spectacular, but prepare to wait upwards of two hours for a table in October.

burger from Ledger in salem massachusetts
Salem's food, including the burger from Ledger, is exceptional.Eryn DiPhilippo

Salem has so many delicious bites and cocktails, but if you visit in October, you're going to have to wait a long time to try them.

Our favorite Salem haunts are open all 12 months, but their managers and staff members have to work even more tirelessly in October to accommodate much larger crowds. So put your name in, go walk around, and come back when it's your turn.

We recently waited two hours to dine at one of our favorite restaurants, Opus. We used the restaurant's online system, which allowed us to watch the line from our phones while taking in the town's sites.

If you want a quicker option, head to the food trucks at Salem Common or grab a pizza at the local mall.

Regardless of where you eat in October, tip your servers well. The odds are that they're exhausted and doing all they can.

Many of the downtown shops are locally owned, giving tourists an opportunity to give back to the Salem community.

people lining up at vampfangs in salem massachusetts
Tourists lined up to enter Vampfangs, a store for fangs and contacts.Eryn DiPhilippo

Many of the stores and businesses located downtown are locally owned, and one of my favorite parts of living in Salem has been building relationships with business owners and their staff.

Go into as many as you can while you're here. You may have to wait a bit, as some of the stores are small, but they're worth the wait.

Within the stores are pieces of Salem's magic that you can take home — and you have the chance to support our local economy as you do it.

Buskers and street performers are working professionals who put in long days during October, so tip them if you like what you see.

Photo of Borah Brewington on Essex St. in Salem Massachusetts
Borah Brewington Snaggletooth XIII is a well-known performer in Salem.Eryn DiPhilippo

In downtown Salem, you'll come across buskers dressed in amazing costumes who pose for photos with tourists. Many of the performers have other full-time jobs and work long weekend days to support themselves and their loved ones — all while making us smile.

They provide an amazing service to Salem, so don't skip the tip jars. If you don't carry cash, you can find most of them on Venmo.

Although some outsiders view Salem as a seasonal amusement park, many people live here year-round.

Photo of a home behind Town Hall in salem massachusetts
Some of Salem's best architecture and most charming homes are tucked away in side streets.Eryn DiPhilippo

Some tourists treat Salem like a movie set, but people live here year-round. The homes you see are occupied by real humans. Please be respectful of their property.

The pumpkins in front of homes aren't up for grabs, and private hallways aren't for your sitting pleasure. I recently learned about a visitor who entered a Salem resident's hallway for a photo op.

You shouldn't do that, but what you should do is walk outside of the downtown area and into some breathtaking side streets, walking through crunchy leaves the entire way.

Some of the most gorgeous homes I've seen rarely have many people nearby. So, take a break from the crowds and soak in Salem's architecture.

At some point, your patience will likely be tested due to the crowds and lengthy waits, but do your best to remain calm and kind.

Photo in front of Pamplemousse on Essex St. in salem, massachusetts
People filling Essex Street in Salem, Massachusetts, in October.Eryn DiPhilippo

You're going to need patience if you decide to brave the October crowds.

Salem is experiencing a massive wave of tourists this year. Remember that we're not a seasonal amusement park. We're a small city where people live year-round.

Please be kind to those around you, have fun, be safe, show our city respect, and most of all, be patient.

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