Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most well-known Nazi concentration and extermination camp of World War II, is located about 1-1.5 hours west of the city of Krakow, Poland.
In this article I will give you some practical advice on the sites that you can visit:
- Auschwitz I (the original camp with brick buildings), and
- Auschwitz-Birkenau II (combination concentration/extermination camp).
If you decide to visit Auschwitz, you know that this will be a different kind of experience than your average holiday. I can recommend everyone to visit this site at least once in their life. To reflect on the cruelty that happened and to celebrate our freedom.
Walking around these barracks I keep thinking: how can people do this to each other?”
Tour guides can tell lots of interesting stories and details. However, groups can be quite large, noisy and/or simply fully booked. Private tour guides for small groups are the best. Everyone knows that and lots of schools visit the site so I would recommend to book such tour at least 6-8 weeks in advance in low season (Oct-Mar) or even earlier in high season (Apr-Sep), otherwise they will be full. Check out the official website of Auschwitz for availability and languages.
The easiest way to organize your visit to Auschwitz is via a specialized travel agency such as Prime Tours. Those tours usually include entrance, a tour guide and transportation to/from/between the camps and Krakow. Please visit their website, email email@example.com or call for the most up-to-date prices and availability. The benefit of this option is that everything will be arranged for you. Of what I understood, is that they start picking up people from their hotels around Krakow around 09:00h, plan to arrive at Auschwitz around 11:30h, and the average group size is about 30 people. Prime Tours also offers private drivers from/to Krakow and Auschwitz (around 350 zloty), but there are cheaper options.
If you decide not to use a travel agency, you will need to decide if you want to join a group tour at the camp or walk around on your own. In both cases you will have to:
- Make a reservation on the official Auschwitz website (click on Reservations, Visit for individuals). Indicate time of arrival and where you are from. Book a group tour or only entrance. After completing your booking you will receive a voucher per email; print it and bring with you.
- Arrange your own transportation to, from and between the camps (taxi) and your Krakow accommodation. The benefit of this option, compared to travel agency tours, is that you have more flexibility on arrival and departure time. A taxi from Krakow to Auschwitz for half a day would cost between 250-400 zloty.
As we booked our trip on short notice, no private tours were available anymore, so we walked around on our own. The silence made a great impression to me. There are many information boards across the camp to read and in expositions in the barracks.
It is allowed to bring a bottle of water but no large bags (see website for max dimensions). At the entrance of Auschwitz I there is are some souvenir shops with cards, books, snacks, etc. I would also recommend to go without children, who are too young to see and understand this.
If stepping into this old gas chamber already makes me feel frightened, how scary it must have been for them?”
The best arrival time at Auschwitz I is around 08:00h because that is when the museum opens, it is not so crowded yet and entrance is free (until 10:00h). If you go on your own, ask your taxi driver to pick you up in Krakow around 07:00h. You will probably need around 1.5 hours to visit Auschwitz I. By the time you will be ready to proceed to Auschwitz II, around 09:30/10:00h, many touring cars will arrive at Auschwitz I and visitors will be in lines to enter the site.
You may want to ask your taxi driver to wait while you visit Auschwitz I and to bring you to Auschwitz-Birkenau II. The shuttle bus between camp I and II only starts at 11:30h or is a 30 minute walk (with unclear directions how to walk).
At Auschwitz-Birkenau II you probably need about 1 hour. This camp is larger in size than Auschwitz I but there is less buildings left to see and there are not much more facilities than a toilet.
If you arrive around 08:00h at Auschwitz I, you are probably ready at Auschwitz-Birkenau II to go back to Krakow around 11:30/12:00h. You can agree a suitable pick-up time with your taxi driver.
You can also combine a visit to Auschwitz with a visit to the famous UNESCO Salt Mines in Wieliczka. Personally I would have found this too many impressions for one day and was ready for a drink after visiting Auschwitz, but many people do this.
Book & movie
Visiting Auschwitz is an experience I will always remember. In addition to your visit to Auschwitz, I can personally recommend to read the book I Escaped From Auschwitz by ex-prisoner Rudolph Vrba and watch the movie Son of Saul, which all together give a very clear, shocking impression of the horrible reality of Auschwitz.
Ryan Air flies to Krakow airport (KRK) from many European airports, for example Eindhoven. They do not fly on every day of the week (yet). Also, you will need to pay extra if you want to take more luggage with you than a hand bag or small carry-on, but it’s very affordable. Please check out their website for the most up-to-date information on departure days and times, availability, prices, luggage, etc. Like Auschwitz, Ryan Air flight ticket prices tend to be lower before or after high season (Apr-Sep). It’s a matter of checking and comparing. This time I booked my flight to Krakow only a few weeks in advance. The flight cost me only €62 p.p. including tax, excluding check-in suitcase. For a very nice appartment in downtown Krakow we paid for 5 days/4 nights just €92 p.p.
Most people stay in Krakow when visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau. In a future post I will write more about this fantastic city to visit!