Poland

Visiting Auschwitz – How to Plan the Auschwitz Tour

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Visiting Auschwitz, albeit a very somber experience, is one of the must things to do in Poland. The largest Nazi Germany concentration and extermination camp during World War II, where over 1,3 million people lost their lives, needs no introduction. Conveniently located near Krakow, Auschwitz can be an easy addition to your Poland itinerary.

It took me almost 37 years to finally visit Auschwitz (although I’ve been to other Nazi Germany camps in Poland), and even if I knew very well what to expect, the place still overwhelmed me with its cruelty and tragedy. And I think everyone should plan a trip to Auschwitz to understand history better and see what people are capable of when the ideology brainwashes them. And, of course, to pay respect to all the unnecessary victims. It’s important to visit places like Auschwitz so we can do our best to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future.

visiting auschwitz tour

If you are visiting Poland (especially Krakow, Warsaw, Katowice, or Wroclaw), I prepared this guide to help you plan your Auschwitz tour without too much hassle. There are different ways to visit Auschwitz, but no matter which one you choose, be prepared for one of the most difficult yet necessary travel experiences of your life.

visiting auschwitz tour

Where is Auschwitz

The former Nazi Germany Concentration Camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, is located in a town of around 37.000 inhabitants called Oświęcim in southern Poland. Krakow is less than 70 km away, and Katowice is 35 km away. Warsaw, the capital of Poland, is around 330 km away from Oświęcim.

A brief history of Auschwitz

Even if Auschwitz is known mainly as the extermination camp, it was established as a concentration camp in mid-1940. It was one of over 40 camps in Poland that were supposed to be a solution to the problem of overflowing prisons full of arrested locals. The first people were brought to Auschwitz on June 14th, 1940, from the prison in Tarnow.

Since 1942 Auschwitz has also been used as the extermination camp where Nazis implemented their plan to murder Jewish people from all over Europe. At the peak of its operation, in 1944, Auschwitz was divided into three parts: Auschwitz I (the oldest one, in the old Polish military barracks), Auschwitz II-Birkenau (the largest one, founded in 1941, the majority of victims were killed here), and Auschwitz III (this was a group of over 40 sub-camps created near industrial plants, made for work prisoners).

Numerous Polish villages were demolished, and locals were evicted to develop such a large institution. The camps were isolated from the outside world. The total area was around 40 square kilometers, including all three Auschwitz camps and the so-called “interest zone” used for the technical or supply background, offices, and barracks for Nazis.

Since Auschwitz had a strategic location on the front line, in August 1944, the camp’s liquidation began – the prisoners were taken to Germany, and the evidence of the crimes was covered up. The liberation of Auschwitz took place on January 27th, 1945, when around 7,5 thousand prisoners were still held there.

Altogether, in the almost four years of operation, over 1,3 million people lost their lives in Auschwitz; the majority were Jewish (around 1,1 million), but also Polish (about 150 hundred thousand), Roma people (23 thousand), and other nations.

In 1979 Auschwitz was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List – it is the only former Nazi concentration camp with that title in the world.

visiting auschwitz tour

How to visit Auschwitz

You can visit Auschwitz two ways: with a tour from where you are staying in Poland (most likely Krakow, Katowice, Warsaw, or Wroclaw) or independently, reaching the site by car or using public transport. Both options are doable; however, the tour is a slightly better one as everything will be taken care of for you.

There is a wide selection of tours to choose from that depart from Krakow as well as other mentioned cities. Most of them cover more or less the same things: pick-up from your accommodation, transportation to/from Auschwitz and back, the entrance ticket to the concentration camp, and the guided tour on-site.

When I visited Auschwitz, I arrived by train from Warsaw, with the change in Katowice. I was at the museum almost an hour before my guided tour of the site was supposed to start, and despite the poor weather (it was raining on that day), there was no place to hide and wait for the tour. Visitors were not allowed to enter the museum until a few minutes before the tour was about to start. Me and a few other unlucky visitors just stood near the trees, hiding under the umbrella and waiting for our time to enter the site. I can’t say it was a comfortable situation (but at least the weather worked perfectly well for such a sad place to visit). Recently, a new visitors center was opened so hopefully the situation is better.

When using public transport, you need to rely on the schedule of trains/buses and, just in case, plan to be at the site with some extra time ahead; hence a tour is a better option. Still, visiting Auschwitz is doable independently – I did it, and once the tour of the site started, it was really good.

visiting auschwitz tour

Visiting Auschwitz – practical information

Visiting Auschwitz memorial site is free of charge; however, I recommend joining the tour with the educator provided by the museum. They have a huge knowledge of the place and the tragedy that occurred here and can answer all the questions visitors always have. Tours are available in various languages: Polish, English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Czech, and Slovak.

Even if you decide to visit the site independently, you still need to book the entry pass – those with free entrance start in the afternoon. You can buy/reserve your ticket online at the website of Auschwitz Museum here.

Currently, the price for the tour with the educator is 80 PLN for Polish and 90 PLN for other languages. When booking the ticket, you must state your full name and surname – this will be checked later.

Since tickets can sell out quickly, booking one at least a month in advance is recommended. If there are no tickets left for the day you want to visit Auschwitz, you can join the organized tour from Krakow or other cities, as tour operators usually have tickets booked in advance. Due to the sensitive nature of the place, children under 14 years old should not visit Auschwitz Museum.

Once you have your ticket, you need to arrive at the Auschwitz visitors center 30 minutes before your tour starts to go through the security check (it’s rather thorough, similar to the airport), have your ticket inspected (remember to have the ID or passport with you), get the headset for the tour and meet your group. You are allowed to have a bag or backpack with a maximum dimension of 30x20x10 cm; any larger luggage must be left in the paid lockers.

Auschwitz Museum is open every day except January 1st, December 25th, and Easter Sunday. Opening hours vary depending on the month and are as follows:

  • 7:30-14:00 in December
  • 7:30-15:00 in January and November
  • 7:30-16:00 in February
  • 7:30-17:00 in March and October
  • 7:30-18:00 in April, May, and September
  • 7:30-19:00 in June, July, and August

The closing time means the last entrance – after that, you are allowed to stay on-site for an hour and a half. However, if you want to see Auschwitz Museum properly, you need at least 3,5 hours for that – that’s also how long the standard tour with the educator lasts. It is usually divided equally between Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II- Birkenau. A free shuttle bus runs between the two sites every few minutes.

Taking pictures and making videos is allowed in Auschwitz, for individual use, except in two places: the hall with the hair of Victims (block nr 4) and the basements of Block 11. Your educator will remind you not to take pictures there.

Remember what sort of place you are visiting and behave there with respect. It might be obvious for most, but I can’t count how many times I’ve read news about inappropriate behavior in Auschwitz and other similar sites in Poland, so I think it’s worth reminding this is not your typical tourist attraction but a place of one of the greatest tragedy that ever happened in the world.

visiting auschwitz tour

Getting to Auschwitz independently

If you decide to visit Auschwitz on your own, you must get to the visitors’ center, where your tour will start. The new visitors center, which opened just recently, is located at 55 Więźniów Oświęcimia Street in Oświęcim (here is the exact location). If you drive there, there is a large parking lot where you can leave your car before visiting the museum.

If you use public transport, there are both trains and buses you can take to reach Oświęcim. I recommend trains as they are slightly faster and more comfortable; however, some buses stop next to the museum, so that’s convenient. You can check all the connections on this website, where you can also find the location of the bus stop in Oświęcim (there can be three different ones).

The train station in Oświęcim is located at Powstańców Śląskich Street, some 20 minutes walking from the Auschwitz museum. It’s a straightforward way; you can check the map with the directions here. I recommend catching the train that gives you at least an hour between arriving at Oświęcim and when your tour starts.

visiting auschwitz tour

Auschwitz tour from Krakow

Numerous Auschwitz tours depart from Krakow, so you will easily find the one that suits your itinerary and needs. Here are some recommended ones:

You can also combine visiting Auschwitz with Wieliczka Salt Mine, another UNESCO-listed site near Krakow and a must-visit place in Poland. Here are the tours that go to both places in one day:

If you decide to go to Auschwitz from Krakow on your own, you can take the train from the main train station to Oświęcim. They are rather frequent, more or less every hour, and the journey takes a bit over an hour (depending on the connection, the longest one is 1h20min).

If you want to take the bus, they depart from the MDA bus station, next to the main train station. The price for trains and buses is similar, between 15 and 20 PLN, although trains tend to be cheaper and faster. You can check all the connections and buy a ticket here.

visiting auschwitz tour

Auschwitz tour from Warsaw

Even if Warsaw, the capital of Poland, is located over 300 km away from Oświęcim, it is possible to go for a one-day Auschwitz tour. However, you can expect a long day, and a large part of it will be spent traveling. But if you are visiting Warsaw only, Auschwitz can be a good addition to your Poland itinerary, so you can better understand the country’s complex history.

Here are some of the recommended Auschwitz tours from Warsaw:

Going for the day trip from Warsaw to Auschwitz independently is also possible using trains. You can take the 6 am train to Katowice and then change for the train to Oświęcim, arriving in the town around 10:30. If you decide to do that, you can book your Auschwitz tour for 11:30 or 12:00. On the way back, you can catch the train after 16:00 from Oświęcim to Katowice, and after changing for the train to Warsaw, you will be in the capital after 20:00.

visiting auschwitz tour

Auschwitz tour from Katowice

Since Katowice is less than 40 km from Auschwitz, it’s easy to go for a day trip. You need to take the local train to Oświęcim, it takes less than 50 minutes, and the connections are more or less every hour.

Or you can go for a tour, here are the Auschwitz tours from Katowice:

Auschwitz tour from Wroclaw

Wroclaw is another popular place to visit in Poland, and since it’s located around 230 km from Oświęcim, you can go for an Auschwitz tour from Wroclaw too. If you decide to do it independently, you can take the train to Katowice and then change for the local train to Oświęcim. A one-way trip should take you less than 4 hours.

Or you can go for a tour; here are the recommended ones from Wroclaw:

visiting auschwitz tour

Auschwitz Museum Tour

As for the museum itself, here is what you can expect.

You will start in the oldest part of the concentration camp – Auschwitz I, where the infamous gate with the sign “Arbeit macht frei” (meaning “Work Sets You Free”) is located. Here, you will visit numerous barracks where inmates were kept – now you can see different exhibitions there, showing the reality of Auschwitz and halls with personal belongings taken from arriving prisoners – luggage, shoes, glasses, etc., or hair of Victims. You will learn all about cruel practices here, including medical experiments or torture.

Visiting this part of Auschwitz museum is a very somber experience, and it’s really difficult to comprehend the tragedy that happened in this very place.

Besides the barracks in Auschwitz I, you will also see where the camp commander lived or the first crematorium where Nazis started their experiments with killing using gas. In this part of the Auschwitz tour, you can take pictures everywhere except the two places in Blocks 4 and 11 – they will be clearly marked, and your educator will remind you about this restriction.

The visit to Auschwitz I takes around 1,5 hours. Afterward, together with your group and educator, you will take the shuttle bus to Auschwitz II-Birkenau, located some 3 km away.

visiting auschwitz tour

visiting auschwitz tour

visiting auschwitz tour

visiting auschwitz tour

visiting auschwitz tour

visiting auschwitz tour

visiting auschwitz tour

visiting auschwitz tour

Auschwitz II-Birkenau is where around 90% of victims died. It is a huge area that worked kind of like the killing factory, with four gas chambers and crematoriums. This is also where most prisoners arrived – you most likely know the view of the railway tracks and brick gate – that’s Auschwitz II-Birkenau. This part of the visit is mostly outdoors.

You will walk around the area, see the remnants of the camp, visit some barracks inside, and learn all about the horrific tragedy that happened here. When Auschwitz I has a more intimate, even claustrophobic feeling, Auschwitz II-Birkenau can overwhelm you with its scale and enormity.

You will spend around 1,5 hours here, too; afterward, you can take the shuttle bus back to the visitors center when you started your tour.

visiting auschwitz tour

visiting auschwitz tour

visiting auschwitz tour

visiting auschwitz tour

visiting auschwitz tour

visiting auschwitz tour

Final thoughts on visiting Auschwitz

Even though I’ve lived in Poland almost my whole life, and Auschwitz has been a familiar topic since I remember, it took me nearly 37 years to finally visit the place. Before I was in different Nazi Germany sites in Poland, mostly in Majdanek in Lublin, so I didn’t feel the need to visit Auschwitz too. But I don’t regret the decision to go there eventually.

You can read and learn about the place, but nothing can prepare you for visiting Auschwitz. Some areas look familiar (after all, pictures of the “Arbeit macht frei” sign or Birkenau gate are present everywhere), but you will still be overwhelmed by the place and seeing it in real life. It’s hard to comprehend the cruelty and tragedy that happened here, and dealing with all the thoughts invading your mind afterward can take a while. It can be one of the most difficult-to-understand places you will ever visit.

Still, despite it all, I think everyone should go to Auschwitz to see where fanaticism and totalitarianism can lead and why we should avoid them at all costs.

visiting auschwitz tour

Travel Resources

You can find the best accommodation options at Booking. They have many discounts and excellent customer service. Click here to look for the place to stay in Poland

Never travel without travel insurance, you never know what might happen and better safe than sorry. You can check the insurance policy for Poland here.

I recommend joining organized tours to get to know the place better and to visit more places during your trip. You can find a great selection of tours at Get Your Guide – click here.

Make sure to have the offline map always installed on your phone, they can save you so many troubles. I always use the free app Maps.Me.


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visiting auschwitz tour


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