** Note from July 20 – 29 and August 1 – 3, 2016 The Museum will be closed for visitors due to World Youth Days. Only tours organized through WYD will be allowed into the camps **
I got a several emails regarding my last posts and people were wondering about how easy it is to get to Auschwitz, things they should know etc. Ok I didn’t get a lot of emails per se but again I’m not really a big blog so I was quite excited that people actually read something I wrote! So here are a few tips for visiting the concentration camps for those who may find themselves in the region and interested in going.
There are many options for getting to Auschwitz, you can take a organized tour at one of the tourist agencies in Krakow or take the bus or train on your own.
If you decide to take an organized tour, note the cost and how much time you are going to have at the camps. Remember that it takes about 1.25 – 1.5 hours each way to and from Auschwitz. Generally these tours include the museum tour although you are still going to pay significantly more than you would pay doing it independently (and you’ll have to adhere to the tour company’s schedule). But if you feel more comfortable with an organized option there are tons available and easy to book while in Krakow. A good place to book tours is the tourist info booth in the Cloth Hall in the old market square.
If you decide to go independently, I would recommend taking the bus. There is a train option too if it is too long between buses (the train and bus stations in Krakow are near each other), but the Oświęcim train station is 2 kilometers from the museum, while the buses will drop you near the entrance to the museum. Look for buses that say Auschwitz or Oświęcim (the polish city name).
The buses are also really cheap. It cost us 10 zł one direction and 12 zł the other.
You can get bus schedules at the the tourist info booth explained above in the Cloth Hall. Make sure to get to the bus early, as they fill up pretty quickly. We got aboard about 20mins before departure and we were full about 10minutes before departure (and they even let extra people in the bus for standing, but who wants to stand for 1.5 hrs.). There are both mini buses and regular buses and they go at different schedules so the bus at your preferred time might not have a lot of room. There are generally buses and minibuses about every half hour (less frequently with the large PKSiS buses) until about 8pm in the high season and less frequently in the low season.
Buy a one way ticket. There are multiple bus companies that service the Auschwitz route and each has a different cost (about 10-12 zł) so not buying a return ticket up front gives you some options with your return times. Also works out well in case you need to take the train back to Krakow.
If you want to visit the museum by yourself unguided during peak season (April 1 – October 31) you need to enter the museum before 10am or after 3pm. Even if you arrive early you can still sign up for a tour if you prefer to do it that way, but at least you have the option.
The entrance to the museum is free, although the guided tour of the museum is 40 zł and includes the film. Supposedly you can pay for the film separately although I swear I saw nowhere to do that. They just ended up letting us in when we asked about buying tickets for it.
The guided tours run several times during the day. They seem to change a bit depending on the peak season, but officially the English tours run at 10:30, 11:30, 12:30, and 13:20. Polish tours run at 11:00 and 13:30. French, German, Italian, and Spanish tours run at 12:30. The film screens every 30 minutes but does alternate to different languages, so verify the language before going in.
To get between the camps there is a free shuttle bus. It runs generally twice an hour and take visitors to the gates of both camps. You can alternatively walk between the camps if you prefer.
All buses back to Krakow arrive and leave from Auschwitz I. So please do keep that in mind if you are in Auschwitz II and it is getting late in the day. You still need to get back to Auschwitz I to catch your transportation back.
Photography is allowed in the camps. But please do be respectful. There are several places where they ask you to refrain from taking photos, and please do. Remember this a place where millions of people suffered and died, so tread carefully.
There are hotels in Oświęcim and at least one very close to the museum (we stopped there first to try to get breakfast). Although honestly I don’t think there is much to do in the town in the evenings, so I would recommend staying in Krakow instead. But it is an option if you are stopping here on your way to somewhere else.
Food options do exist at Auschwitz I (there are no options by Auschwitz II). There is a cafeteria at the museum that serves some hearty (and what I thought heavy) meals. There is also a hotel nearby that also does lunch (and breakfast if you get there before the museum opens).
Also remember that traveling to Auschwitz from Krakow is a full day affair. Expect to spend a total of 6 – 8 hours for the visit. It takes about 1.25 – 1.5 hrs. each way to and from the camp, and then expect to spend at least 4 – 6 hours visiting the camps. It is an exhausting day both mentally and physically, so plan accordingly. Several people I had met thought they would try to do several things in one day (like the camps and the salt mines) only to later realize how impractical that is.
I hope this makes someone else’s trip a bit easier when trying to plan a visit to Auschwitz while in Poland. It is a tragic and emotional place, but one that I was very glad to have had the opportunity to see and experience first hand. Also recently many folks have emailed me about recommendations on guidebooks for Poland/Auschwitz. I really like the one by Rick Steves. It has a great deal of info on Auschwitz and does a good job of taking you on a self guided tour.
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