A visit to Kraków often comes with a trip to Auschwitz, a former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp that was established in Poland in 1940 during World War II. Auschwitz was initially built for Polish political prisoners, however over time came to hold people from all over Europe specifically Jews, and extended to another camp – Auschwitz II-Birkenau – resulting in the death of over 1.1 million men, women and children.
A harrowing experience, it is one that many choose to do while travelling Poland, and there are plenty of different ways to make the visit. Planning our time at the camp proved to be somewhat confusing, so here’s a guide to visiting Auschwitz.
Private tour: Private guided tours can be found online with a quick Google search, and usually include pick-up and drop-off and a six to seven hour tour including both Auschwitz and Birkenau. The price will vary depending on the size of your group and the company you choose to go with.
Group tour: Group tours are sold from many tourist stands in Kraków, particularly in the main square area, so you won’t have trouble finding one. A group tour will normally provide you with pick-up from your accommodation, a guided tour, and drop-off back in Kraków. The amount of people in a group will vary depending on the tour however be sure to confirm during booking as we’ve heard about groups of up to 80 people. The tour time is generally around three hours for both camps, and they begin at around 90 Zloty per person.
You can also choose to join a group tour that doesn’t include transport – you can book this in here under reservations. If you decide to go down this path and you’re visiting during peak season, it may be wise to research these beforehand and possibly do an advance booking.
Study tours are also available. These run for six to eight hours.
Semi-independently: These tours require you to make your own way to the camp, but give you a three and a half hour audio tour for when you arrive. Go to the official Auschwitz-Birkenau website, select RESERVATIONS from the top menu bar, and book in for your chosen language. If you decide to do this I recommend booking as soon as you know when you want to go as the tours sell out quite quickly – especially in English.
Independently: This was what we opted to do, and we believe the best way to visit the camp. Everyone reacts to situations differently, and this is the only way you are able to take your time and move around the area at your own pace and absorb the information. It is also the cheapest option by far, so perfect for those on a budget.
Visiting with tours and booking through the offical Auchwitz website is straight forward – follow the information above and research online, information is easily accessible. It took us quite some time to find any information to indicate that visiting Auschwitz alone was possible, so we have provided an extended guide to visiting Auschwitz independently.
WHEN TO GO
Auschwitz is open seven days a week excluding Christmas Day, New Years Day and Easter Sunday. The opening hours depend on the time of year – check this link for your visit. As an independent visitor, you are unable to enter the camp between 10am and 3pm as it is reserved for tours only (this only applies to Auschwitz, not Birkenau). Ensure you arrive just before the camp opens as there are only a limited number of tickets for independent visitors and it also means you avoid the crowds. Everyone is different however we would recommend allowing a minimum of two and half hours for the first camp and a minimum of an hour and a half for Birkenau.
*Note: If you are still in the camp after 10am you will not be asked to leave – you just have to enter before the 10am-3pm time frame. You can also enter after 3pm but you run the risk of there being no individual tickets left when you arrive.
Bus: 12 Zloty per person each way
Guide book: 5 Zloty
Lunch: There are a few small stands at Auschwitz but we recommend taking your own food.
HOW TO GET THERE
Auschwitz is approximately 70km from Kraków, and you can either take a train or bus. A private taxi is also an option however public transport is easy and a taxi will be similar in cost to taking a tour.
Train: Slow and arrives about a two kilometre walk from the camp, but can give some nice country views along the way. Possibly a good option for your return to Kraków however too time consuming if you’re wanting to arrive for the 8am opening time.
Bus: More convenient than a train and takes approximately one and a half hours. Check bus times here, from Kraków Central Bus Station to Oświęcim. To arrive for opening it is an early start and you’ll need to take a bus leaving around 6:30am. Tickets can be purchased when you board.
Upon arrival, head towards the signage that lines the entrance path. As you are looking at the entrance, walk towards the right where you’ll see a stand-alone structure, the ticket box. Don’t line up at the security entrance immediately as although your entrance is free, you still have to get a ticket.
There are two camps – Auschwitz and Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
As you enter Auschwitz after the security check, you’ll see a small book store to your left, head in there to buy your guide book, it is a pamphlet which gives extended information about most of the displays and buildings as you walk around. There are two options – from a quick glance they appear to have mostly the same content, however one is printed on nicer stock and is around double the price.
There are plenty of information boards to read at different points which you can then pair up with your guide, there’s directional arrows so it’s easy to navigate the camp. Your guide specifies which block/room it is referring to so is very easy to follow.
A free shuttle is available between the two camps, and you can find it at the same place you were dropped off at from the bus from Kraków. There isn’t really any signage so ask someone if you need to. They are quite frequent (although this will depend on the time of year you are visiting), and it is only three kilometres between the two, so can also easily be done on foot.
Auschwitz II-Birkenau covers approximately 175 hectares and contained over 300 buildings, of which 67 are still intact. This camp shows the prisoners’ living quarters as they were, hundreds of outlines of where buildings once stood, gas chambers and crematoriums. The size of the area and the acts that took place here are unfathomable.
Return to Auschwitz with the free shuttle and wait for the bus back to Kraków in the same spot. A timetable should be available at the stop.
We’d recommend either planning something cheerful for the afternoon, or not planning anything whatsoever. Visiting these camps is emotionally draining and thought-provoking, and an experience which every individual will absorb differently.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana