In the summer of 2017, as part of my European road trip (blogpost: 25.000 km Europe road trip part 9 : Warsaw and Krakow in Poland) I planned to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps and the museum nearby Krakow, Poland. Established by the Nazis in 1940, the Polish city of Oswiecim was selected by the “Third Reich” to be the location of the world’s most well-known Holocaust location.

The location is divided between the main camp (also known as “Auschwitz I”) which had a close to 17.000 prisoners. The second camp was the Birkenau which held close to 90.000 prisoners (in 1944) and where the majority of the murdering took place.

How to visit the Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camps
Map with general overview of Auschwitz. (Source: Wikipedia)
How to visit the Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camps?
By car:

The Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camps are located about a hour and a halve drive from the Polish city Krakow. If you are traveling with your own transportation then I recommend finding a good accommodation (blogpost: 5 Tips on finding cheap accommodation) in Krakow and make it a day trip to visit the site. In the city you can also book the tours in advance in which a travel agency will provide you with a guide and transportation. Keep in mind they are still doing a lot of construction on the DW780 (highway), so check beforehand if the routes are clear of construction. An alternative route (which I took) is the DW44, which takes you through a few charming little villages.

By Bus:

At the dworzec autobusowy (bus station of krakow) there are buses going to Auschwitz several times per hour. Just look for the bus that says “Auschwitz” or “Oświęcim”. Price is about 25 złoty. It will drop you off right in front of the enterance.

Buying tickets to visit the Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camps

There are two different options when it comes to visiting the site. You can either go by yourself or under the supervision of a tour guide. This is how each option works:

Yourself:

This option is free of charge. You can only visit Auschwitz 1 before 10.00 AM or after 4 P.M between the 1st of April and 31st of October. Order your tickets online (Link: Visit Auschwitz) or get one at the white kiosk (right next to the parking lot) that also sells the tours. On the ticket it will say at what time you can enter the site.

Group:

Group tours are available in a wide variety of languages. When booking through the official website (Link: Visit Auschwitz) you will see what language guide is available at what time. Sometimes you need to make booking well in advance (up to 3 months) so do not wait till the last minute. Also keep in mind that there will not be many English speaking tours.

If all these options are not available you can always book an organized tour from Krakow. They will provide for you a guide in your native language and bus transportation to the camps.

Difference between Auschwitz 1 & Auschwitz-Birkenau

The Auschwitz 1 site has most of the factories and labour compounds. This is where the famous “Arbeid macht frei” sign is hanging and where the prisoners everyday had to work, but also where the Nazis conducted horrible medical experiments on woman and where the Death Wall (execution by a fire squad) is located. In the museum you will see pictures, materials and personal belongings of the prisoners, which were taken by the guards upon arrival. Several times per hour there is a free transport bus going between both sites. The ride is about 5 minutes to Auschwitz-Birkenau (also known as Auschwitz 2)

The Auschwitz-Birkenau site might be the most confronting part for most people. This is the location where the train goes inside the camp. At this site most of the murdering took place. No ticket is needed to visit this part of the camps. You will be able to have a glimpse of a train wagon that they used to transport the prisoners into the camps. It is also possible to visit the sleeping area’s, which was nothing more then a farm like woodshed with too many people camped up in a small space.


What did I personally think of the experience?

I would like to remind the reader that visiting the Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camps can be a very confronting experience. Although, these days you will see busses full with tourists, Fast Food around the corner, the visit to both locations itself is humbling yet a horrifying experience. I wanted to visit this location for my own education and I am very happy I did. If you also visited, please share your experiences in the comments at the end of this blogpost. If you plan to visit and have any questions, please feel free to ask me anytime.

 

14 COMMENTS

  1. Such a heart breaking story this place has. It is just crazy to think that 90,000 people were once there!! It can be a tough place to visit but great so these mistakes dont happen again.

  2. Fantastic post and great information for first time visitors. I have been to the camps twice and always come away with a shore throat and tears in my eyes.

  3. Nothing is as humbling as a trip to one of these evil places. I visited Dachau in 2014 and it was incredibly humbling, sobering and haunting experience. I didn’t realize that there were two sites there, but nice that they have a free bus between the two. I bet the experience was so moving, having a family connection to concentration camps. It’s worth visiting, to pay respect to the many innocent lives and to never forget or let something like that happen again.

    • Yeah it sure is. I also thought I knew a lot already as it is part of our Dutch culture, but once I arrived I saw there was so much more then just our history books from school. Thank you for sharing you experience. 🙂

  4. This is something that everyone needs to see in their lifetime. Thanks for the information thorough details about both of the sites. I can imagine it’s very confronting, but also very necessary to understand the magnitude of it.

  5. You are on a really impressive trip. We are talking about seeing Germany next year and would love to do this trip (maybe a poor choice of words.) We are really into history

    • No worries. Yes, If you get the chance go for it but you will also find plenty of history in Germany. It really depends on your location. 🙂

  6. Auschwitz always never fails to stir my emotions. My mind takes an imaginary flight to those traumatic times and I think of the millions whose human endurance was tested here. In spite of this I would love to get there some day to experience the place. You have given very comprehensive information which is going to stand us in good stead whenever we get there.

  7. Even by just reading about the place, it makes me feel the heavy history that it had. I saw that you shared the book “Man’s Search for Meaning”. A friend mentioned it to me, too, and he said it’s really a must read. I think it’s time to check it out in the bookstore!

    • Yeah it sure is. I had the book and after I did the audiobook version. The audiobook is a whole different experience. Highly recommend it to get more lost into the experience/story. Thanks for your message 🙂

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