Unfortunately, a place like this needs no introduction. What decades ago was a torture camp today is a historical museum that seeks to explain to new generations the mistakes of the past, preserving the memory of the victims from being lost.
When we speak of Auschwitz we refer to not one but three different camps: an administrative center (Auschwitz I), an extermination camp (Auschwitz-Birkenau), and a labor camp (Auschwitz III). They are an hour and fifteen minutes from Krakow and there are different options to visit them. I have compared them all for you to make choosing yours easier.
All inclusive at the best price
This is the most complete option you will find if you want to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp accompanied by an expert guide. It also includes round-trip transportation from Krakow, at the best price I have found on the internet
The three concentration camps of Auschwitz Birkenau are part of a very large complex, full of historical details worth stopping at. Visiting Auschwitz is something that you will probably do only once in your life and having an expert guide is essential: they will let you know the most relevant details of this hard moment in history, but also, they will help you understand how life was in the concentration camps, how the hard-working days were carried out there and above all, you will visit the place in a tour organized with maximum respect for the victims.
With this option, transportation to and from Krakow is also included, so that you don't have to worry about anything when organizing your visit to Auschwitz. The tour is done in English, which is essential to understand all the details. Early risers can choose to do the tour at 6:30 a.m. and then have more time during the day to explore Krakow. There is also the option of doing it at 9 a.m.
Why I like this option: of all the ways to visit Auschwitz, this is the most complete and the most comfortable, having the lowest price and being 100% in English.
Recommended if... you want to visit Auschwitz with a specialized guide to get the most out of the experience.
Visit Auschwitz at your own pace with a written guide
If you don't like guided tours, you can always tour the Auschwitz concentration camps at your own pace, following a written guide or audio guide. This option includes transportation from Krakow and entrance to the camp, but you will not have a specialized guide at your disposal
There are two ways to visit the Auschwitz camps: individually or with a guided tour. Visiting Auschwitz on your own with a transfer from Krakow allows you to go at your own pace without the need to follow a guided group. This option costs $ 27 and includes transfer to the camps and a printed guidebook to help you find your way around.
When you make your reservation, you will receive a confirmation email with the address where you will board the bus to Auschwitz. Once you arrive at the camps, you will have plenty of time to visit them at your own pace (about three and a half hours), and then the driver will take you back to Krakow. Here's a tip! When choosing a date, if you can, avoid weekends and holidays to find fewer crowds during your visit.
Why I like this option: you don't have to worry about the organization of your visit to Auschwitz, as it includes transportation from Krakow and the entrance to the camp, and gives you the freedom to visit it at your own pace, visiting the parts you find most interesting. It is also a good option for the more sensitive as you will avoid hearing the most painful details that are narrated in the guided tours.
Recommended if... you don't like guided tours but want to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps at your own pace, deciding where and how much to stop.
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If you want to make the most of your time in Krakow, this is the best option as it combines the Auschwitz concentration camps tour with an excursion to the Wieliczka salt mines, the two most popular and relevant visits you can do during your trip.
You will spend a full day on both excursions. At all times you will be accompanied by an expert, English-speaking guide and the price includes the services of the guide, entrance fees to both monuments, and transfers to and from your hotel in Krakow and between the different points of interest. Food and drinks are not included so it is best to pack some food and a bottle of water or get something in between the two excursions.
The first stop will be Auschwitz where the guided tour will last about three hours. Then, in the afternoon, you will visit the famous salt mines of Wieliczka, which are ideal to relax a bit after the concentration camp experience.
Why I like this option: If you are planning a trip to Krakow, you will have read that the guided tour of Auschwitz and the visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mines are the two most popular experiences among travelers. With this combination you have the opportunity to do both visits in one day, saving time and money and freeing up the rest of your trip to tour the city at your leisure.
Recommended if... you are thinking of doing both tours and want to save a bit of money by booking both guided tours.
In summary, here's a comparison of the three options
All inclusive at the best price
The best price on the market if you want to visit Auschwitz with a specialized guide to get the most out of the experience.
Visit Auschwitz at your own pace with a printed guidebook
The best option if you don't like guided tours but want to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp at your own pace, deciding where to stop and for how long.
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What you will see in Auschwitz
The main camp of the Auschwitz complex is known as Auschwitz I and was built in 1940 by the Nazi regime to house between 15,000 and 20,000 prisoners. Later Auschwitz II Birkenau was built raising the number of prisoners to 90,000. The latter is where the gas chambers were located, which were destroyed at the end of the war by Nazi officials in an attempt to hide their crimes.
The first thing you will see upon arrival is a 15-minute documentary in the visitor center that will give you the necessary context to understand the history of this place. Between the scenes, you will see the moments when, in 1945, the camp was liberated by the Soviet army.
Next, you will pass through the Auschwitz I Iron Gate on which you can read in German the macabre phrase "Work will set you free". From this point on, the tour continues through the various prisoner barracks, which have been converted into a museum. You will also see the shooting wall, the watchtowers of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the main building leading to the gas chambers, the chimneys, or the barbed wire.
Practical tips for your visit to Auschwitz
In any other excursion, the recommendations that can be given before leaving are of a practical nature: what to carry in the backpack, what kind of footwear is necessary, where to eat, where to take the best photos... In this case, however, I think that the first recommendation should be of an emotional nature.
The most emotional part
Many deem the visit to the Auschwitz camps as morbid. However, if done with due respect, visiting it is a valuable history lesson to preserve the memory and honor the victims.
By this I want you to keep in mind that Auschwitz is not an amusement park or a place to take pictures; always try to behave yourself with the utmost respect. Also, the Auschwitz tour may be difficult for sensitive visitors and is not recommended for children.
The opening hours of the Auschwitz complex are from 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and guided tours are organized from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you are visiting the camp on your own, it is best to visit outside these hours for maximum peace of mind.
The printed guidebook that you can buy at the entrance in different languages for less than 3 euros is essential to find your way during your visit. As for how to get there, if you don't have a private transfer, you can take a train from Krakow's main station which takes about two and a half hours.
If you are interested in taking a tour of the Auschwitz camps, you will also be interested in...
If seeing the Auschwitz concentration camps is the most popular visit you can make from Krakow, the second on the list is very different and with a much less harsh content: the Wieliczka salt mines. I have already mentioned that you can do a joint tour of the salt mines and the concentration camps, but you can also book a tour to the Wieliczka salt mines independently. Here's my article about Auschwitz Day Trips from Krakow that will help you organize your visit.
It will be quite the contrast when compared to the horrors of Auschwitz, and it is also a much more relaxed visit. In the salt mines, there are statues of famous people that you can see on an underground tour, an experience you will hardly ever forget.