During our trip to Krakow, we dedicated a day oto visiting the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Among all the concentration camps that the Nazis built during World War II, the camps of Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau are undoubtedly the most well-known.
For years, we have heard about World War II, concentration camps, and the horror that reigned there. However, it is only once on-site that everything becomes real, and you really understand. Until you have been to Auschwitz, you cannot truly understand. We learned so much during our visit and were able to understand better everything that happened during the war.
How to visit Auschwitz ?
To visit Auschwitz, there are two options: visiting the camps on your own or with a guide. Personally, we chose to visit both camps independently by organizing everything ourselves. It is entirely possible to get to Auschwitz on your own and visit the camps for free.
How to get to Auschwitz from Krakow?
There are three options: taking the bus, the train or driving.
Getting to Auschwitz by bus
We recommend taking the bus as it is the most convenient option. We arrived at the Krakow train station at 7 am to buy the first bus ticket to Auschwitz, and we managed to get a bus departing at 7:25 am for a ticket price of 12 zloty (3euros) per person. Our goal was to arrive as early as possible to avoid being with too many tourist groups.
In March, Auschwitz is open from 7:30am to 5pm. You can find the opening hours here. To return, we took a Lajkonik bus to Krakow for 15 zloty per person. You can buy the ticket onboard or online (if you buy online, you have to select a specific time and stick to it, which can be more restrictive). The bus stop is located at the same place as the shuttle bus stop between the two concentration camps. The one-way trip takes about 1.5 hours.
Getting to Auschwitz by Train
While it’s possible to take the train to Auschwitz, it’s not the most convenient option. Trains arrive in the town of Oświęcim, and from there, you’ll need to walk about 20 minutes to reach the Auschwitz camp.
Getting to Auschwitz by Car
Driving to Auschwitz is certainly an option, as there are several secure (and paid) parking lots available on site.
What to expect on your Auschwitz visit ?
How much is entry to Auschwitz-Birkenau ?
I advise you to arrive before 10 am to avoid the crowds of visitors and ensure entrance to the camp. Auschwitz is a very popular tourist destination, and access is limited to a certain number of visitors per day.
Upon arrival, head to the small white cabin located on the right side of the camp entrance to register. Admission to the camp is free, but once you receive your entry ticket, you may have to wait 15 minutes before being allowed into the camp. Don’t forget to bring your ID for registration.
After registration, you will have to pass through several security checks before gaining access to the site.
If you are visiting the camp on your own, I recommend purchasing the guidebook, available in English, at the entrance shop. It contains a map of the two camps and many pieces of information that will help you understand the harsh reality of Auschwitz.
The Auschwitz camp has been converted into a museum. Several panels (written in Polish, Hebrew, and English) are placed throughout the camp to explain life in the camp.
The prisoner blocks have been converted into a museum to explain all the horrors that happened in this camp during World War II. Some blocks display “evidence of crimes” such as shoes, clothes, and dishes, objects that were found on the camp and belonged to deported Jews.
Other blocks are entirely dedicated to communities of Jews who were deported. For example, there is a block for Jews from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Belgium, France, Poland, etc.
One of the blocks is dedicated to the works of a painter, David Olère, who lived in Auschwitz and who, upon his release, recounted the horrors he had experienced through numerous paintings. His works are incredible and evoke a lot of emotions when observed.
I recommend visiting blocks 4 and 5 upon your arrival to avoid the crowds and waiting in line to enter the block. Indeed, some blocks were completely visitor-free, such as the block for Hungarian Jews, and others were crowded.
Tips for visiting Auschwitz
- Backpacks are prohibited at Auschwitz : Bags larger than 30x20x10cm are not allowed and must be stored in a locker at the entrance of the camp.
- Children under 14 years old are not allowed on the camp.
- Taking photos : Taking photos in the camp is allowed, but using flash and tripod is prohibited. Photography is not allowed in Block 4 and in the basement of Block 11.
- Toilets : Pay toilets are available for 2 zloty at the entrance of the camp, while free toilets are available at the crematorium furnace and the gas chambers inside the camp.
Where to eat at Auschwitz?
Not knowing if there was any possibility to eat on site, we bought a sandwich at the Carrefour supermarket at Krakow train station. At the entrance of the Auschwitz camp, it is possible to buy food on the go. Eating on the camp is not allowed, so we ate our sandwich in the parking lot of Auschwitz-Birkenau. However, we were able to bring our food onto the camp without any problems.
How to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau camp?
Personally, this was the camp that left the greatest impression on me! It is only once you are there that you can truly realize the scale of the camp and what happened there.
A little bit of history…
The Auschwitz-Birkenau camp was built in 1941 and became the largest killing center for Jews during the Second World War.
How to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau camp?
Auschwitz-Birkenau camp is located 3 kilometers away from Auschwitz camp. A free shuttle bus circulates between the two camps.
The entrance to the camp is through the famous gate, an iconic symbol of the camp. The entrance to the camp is free and open to the public. Once again, we visited the camp without a guide and the explanatory panels, along with a small guidebook, provided enough information for us to understand the events that took place there.
I highly recommend starting your visit of Auschwitz-Birkenau by climbing the tower that serves as the entrance to the park. It is only from the top of this tower that you will truly realize the immensity of the concentration camp.
Although a large part of the camp was destroyed by German soldiers at the end of the war in order to erase their traces and crimes committed, you can imagine camp life through reconstructed barracks and explanations from the guide. We saw the conditions in which prisoners had to sleep or go to the bathroom.
Take the time to visit the entire camp and go all the way to the end…
To avoid the crowds, we headed directly to the right of the camp. A paved path (located between Camp II and Camp III) leads you directly to the end of the camp and no other visitors take this route. At the end of the camp are the ruins of the gas chambers and crematoria. The signs in this area are very explicit about the events that took place there, and it was at this point that I was glad to be alone so I could take my time.
Visiting the sauna room, located near the crematoriums, is very informative if you want to understand how the arrival of a Jew in the camp took place.
Personally, I believe that visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp is just as important as visiting the Auschwitz camp. I even felt more emotion and sensations during the visit to Birkenau camp.