There is a lot to see for just one day. But I supposed it can be broken out into three sections: witches, seaport, art.
First, I would start at the National Park Service’s Visitor Center on New Liberty Street. From there, you can get information, directions, advice. It is not affiliated with any business group or with the city, so don’t worry about “go here, I get a kick-back”.
Salem, Mass has long been linked with the infamous witch trials. In fact, its nickname is “Witch City”. Of course that means there are a large number of attractions for visitors. There are two stops that I would suggest: The Salem Witch Museum across from Salem Common, and one of the shops owned by witches such as on Essex St or in Pickering Wharf.
Shipping is what made Salem really famous. For a time, foreign ports thought Salem was its own country because of the number of ships coming from there, more than all the other seaports in early U.S. combined. The Salem Maritime National Site on the waterfront has buildings and wharfs from the era. And a full sized reconstruction of a 1797 cargo ship named Friendship. Learn about the first millionare in America (still one of the richest men in history, adjusted for inflation), Nathanial Bowditch the father of modern navigation, and about Nathanial Hawthorne’s job that inspired the Scarlet Letter.
And speaking of Salem’s favorite author, his book “House of Seven Gables” is based on an actual house owned by his cousin that he would frequently visit. You can visit the house, get the history of this 300+ year old home. The Peabody-Essex Museum has a lot to offer of art and artifacts brought back on the merchant ships from the East Orient. One remarkable part of this museum has been the addition of Yin Yu Tang, a brick-by-brick reerection of a south-eastern Chinese merchant’s home. A home that was in Huang family for over 200 years.
I hope that you enjoy Salem, Massachusetts.