travel | in transit

Boston to Salem Ferry

The Salem ferry and the schooner Fame, a replica of the privateer from the War of 1812, pass in Salem’s outer harbor.
The Salem ferry and the schooner Fame, a replica of the privateer from the War of 1812, pass in Salem’s outer harbor.

Another in a series of New England getaways on public transportation

Even if it’s aboard a catamaran ferry from Boston rather than a three-masted clipper from Canton, China, arriving in Salem by sea seems somehow fitting. After all, two centuries ago Salem was one of the world’s great mercantile shipping capitals. These days, that proud seafaring heritage is often eclipsed by the city’s popular association with witchcraft. During October’s “Haunted Happenings” , Salem can seem all witches all the time.


The Boston Harbor Cruises ferry from Long Wharf takes about 55 minutes to reach Salem. You can depart at 8:30 a.m. on weekdays or a more civilized 10 a.m. on weekends. Boston Harbor Cruises advises arriving a half-hour early. It’s good advice if you want to score a seat indoors on the lower deck. The catamaran cranks up to about 28 knots, which makes for a chilly ride outdoors, and the lower and farther back in the boat you are, the less motion you’ll feel.

We hit a bad day, and the crew member who usually staffs the snack bar spent much of the morning trip handing out ginger ale and seasickness bags. Green-gilled passengers who opted to find another way back to Boston were given prompt refunds in Salem. Too bad, since the return trip was extremely smooth with great views of the North Shore coast and a beautiful sunset as we approached Boston.



The ferry arrives at the Salem Ferry Center at 10 Blaney St. It’s about a 10-minute walk to Derby Wharf for historic sightseeing and adjacent Pickering Wharf for not-so-historic shopping and eating. The Salem Trolley (978-744-5469,, adults $15, seniors $14, children ages 6-14 $5) meets the ferry, offering a one-hour tour and all-day reboarding.

Patricia Harris for the boston globe
The Boston Harbor Cruises kiosk at Long Wharf.


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Folks in pointy hats are out in force — especially on the Essex Street pedestrian mall — promoting witchcraft shops and witch-themed tours as “Witch City” gears up for Halloween. For the PBS-style look at the 1692 witch hysteria, check out “Salem Witch Hunt: Examine the Evidence” (adults $5, seniors and children $3) at the National Park Service-Salem Regional Visitors Center (2 New Liberty St., 978-740-1650). With scenes based on historical records interspersed with academic talking heads, the 45-minute film examines the “witchcraft infestations” that spread to 25 New England towns, the largest outbreak outside Europe. But the scholars do not address why hanging 19 people and crushing another gave Salem license to ham it up for Halloween 320 years later.

The narrator at the Salem Witch Museum (19½ Washington Square North, 978-744-1692,, adults $9, seniors $7.50, 6-14 $6) begins by asking, “Do you believe in witches?” In his stentorian tone, he continues, “Millions of your ancestors did.” The old-school dioramas in a darkened room chronicle the hysteria as a moral cautionary tale, and the follow-up “Witches of Our Perception” exhibit explores witch imagery in broad strokes from the pagan midwife to modern practitioners of Wicca.

Some of those self-avowed witches work at Crow Haven Corner (125 Essex St., 978-745-8763,, the self-proclaimed “oldest witch shop” in Salem. More earnest and less camp than some other shops, it sells herbs, spell candles, stones, crystal balls, and books about witchcraft and Wicca. Psychic readings are also available.

You should still have time to learn about Salem’s glory days on the high seas. Salem Maritime National Historic Site (193 Derby St., 978-740-1650, offers several tours (adults $5, children $3), including visits to the Custom House (where Nathaniel Hawthorne once labored) and the circa 1797 replica tall ship Friendship. Salem captains brought home riches and curiosities from around the globe, many of which found their way to the Peabody Essex Museum (161 Essex St., 978-745-9500,, adults $15, seniors $13, students $11, 16 and under free), where art, anthropology, and sociology intersect. For lunch, the museum has casual dining in the Atrium Cafe (sandwiches and salads $7-$8.25) and serene indoor and outdoor seating in the Garden Restaurant (entrees $13-$17).


Locavore dining with a side of pig is the theme at Scratch Kitchen (245 Derby St.,, 978-741-2442, sandwiches and salads $8-$11). You can add bacon to anything for a $2 surcharge. Don’t miss the bacon-dusted fries. Fish is the focus, of course, at Finz Seafood and Grill (76 Wharf St., 978-744-0000,, sandwiches $9-$20, entrees $15-$25), with optional patio seating on the water. To just grab a good coffee and pastry on the way back to the ferry, try Jaho Coffee & Tea (197 Derby St., 978-744-4300,


We paid $27 each (seniors and ages 4-12 $22) for the round-trip ferry, which operates through Halloween. The Newbury-Rockport line of the MBTA commuter rail runs frequent service daily all year; it takes about a half-hour and costs $6.75 each way. Salem Depot is a leisurely 10-minute walk from the Essex Street pedestrian mall.

Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached at