Spending your vacation days in beautiful Krakow is a perfect idea. There’s so much to see just alone in Krakow city, but I encourage travellers to explore further. I know that visiting a concentration camp is not a first thing on your mind during holidays, because let’s face it, things that happened there was beyond terrible! In this post I will tell you everything you need to know about visiting Auschwitz.
What is Auschwitz-Birkenau?
Let’s start with the basics. Many might remember from their history courses that Auschwitz was one of German Nazi concentration and extermination camps from World War 2 (1940-1945) when Germany occupied Poland and killed here over 1 million people. Many of the prisoners were killed by gas, starvation, forced labor, diseases, medical experiments or execution. This camp wasn’t the only one in the world, but maybe the most well-known around the world. These days, it is a Unesco World Herritage Site and works as a museum.
Where is it?
Auschwitz is located in Poland, in the city of Oswiecim, about 60 kilometers of Krakow.
How to get there?
There are two ways to get to Auschwitz by public transportation. You can take a train to the Oswiecim railway station, but it’s about 2 km from the camp. It takes longer to reach Auschwitz and train ticket is more expensive than bus ticket. So the best way is to take a local bus from the bus station which is located right next to the train station in Krakow. I used Lajkonik buses on all my day trips from Krakow which are modern and also have Wi-Fi. If I remember correctly, one way bus ticket from the driver was about 10-14 zlotys and the last stop is right next to the Auschwitz museum. Despite that bus is the more direct option, the ride is still about 1.5-2 hours depending on the traffic. So it’s a little bit slow because of many stops on the way. Make sure to schedule a lot of time and check timetables here.
Why you should visit Auschwitz?
I think that Spanish philosopher, George Santayana, quote is a perfect answer to this question. This place is a part of history that you may not want to remember, but it’s extremely important that these places still exist. I realize that visiting concentration camp is not for everyone. It might shock you differently than just reading these things from books. I still strongly recommend that everyone should visit a concentration camp at least once in a lifetime. Sometimes we might feel that the world is getting crazier year after year and as humans we need these reminders to be kinder not just to each other but for all living things.
Good to know before visiting
- Opening hours: This museum is open almost every day from 7.30 am to afternoon.
- Go there early before the crowds and tour guides arrive!
- It’s a day trip from Krakow, so I would recommend to schedule about 6 hours in total.
- ALL visitors need to book tickets at official Auschwitz museum site.
- It’s free to entry before 10 am! Book “tour for individuals without an educator” ticket and choose time slot.
- There is a security check similar to the airport before entering to the area so make sure that you’ll arrive 10 minutes before your visiting time.
- You can’t bring any big bags or backpacks to the area, but you can leave them for a few zlotys right next to the entry way.
- There is a restaurant right next to the entry way. I ate pierogi here, which were tasty. Just order at the counter and pay with cash/credit card.
- Toilets cost a few zlotys.
- Some places are forbidden to take photos
- Check out also 12 things to know before travelling to Krakow for useful information.
What’s the difference between Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenaun?
There are two camps in Auschwitz about 2 km in distance. The main camp is known as Auschwitz I, which is smaller and more museum like with lots of well-maintained brick barracks. Inside the barracks you will find a lot of information on the walls and rooms with artifacts of the time. The buildings in Auschwitz I used to be army barracks. Start your visit first in Auschwitz I and take free shuttle bus near the car park to Auschwitz II-Birkenaun. It’s a huge area! You will soon see train tracks and fields full of chimneys. Most of buildings were destroyed here. In this second camp there are no security checks and it’s free to entry at any times. If I’m not mistaken, Auschwitz I was used as a working camp and the second one was built for extermination purposes.
What is it like to visit a concentration camp?
I was there on a perfect sunny day, blue sky and birds were singing on the background. The brick barracks were in excellent condition and the whole area was surprisingly green with trees and blooming lilacs. So my first thought was that this place doesn’t seem to be that bad as I imagined a concentration camp to be. Well looks can be deceiving, because it didn’t take me too long to feel sick. Wire fences, never ending pictures on the barracks walls of people who died, unbelievable amount of human hair, all the abandoned luggage, gas chambers and so on…
All I could think about was that people are so cruel to each other. How on earth could this happen on a massive scale like this? I just hope that humans will learn from their past mistakes at some point. For me, it was a good choice not to go on arranged tour. I feel that I had a better experience by wandering around the camps on my own in slow pace. Tour guide might give you more detailed information, but it is one thing to feel the history than hearing about it in a tourist crowd. Since I was a child, I have never forgotten the words “Arbeit macht frei” that means work sets you free. We are nothing without freedom and human rights.