This post was originally published on A Globe Well Travelled in 2014. The content has been revised and updated with fresh information.
I was in no way prepared for the intensity of the emotions that visiting Auschwitz would make me feel.
The day tour from Krakow included visits to two camps, Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz 2 (Birkenau). The scale of the place is just massive, especially camp 2. It’s difficult to comprehend the size until you’re actually standing there, envisioning the endless rows of buildings in front of you filled with over 100,000 people at a time.
My visit was 69 years after the liberation of the camp, and it was a crystal clear day. The soft winter sunlight made my surroundings look strangely peaceful–a juxtaposition to the location’s dark past. I stood on the same platform where 1.3 million people had arrived in crowded carriages, not realising that they’d just stepped into a death camp where 85% of them would perish.
I expected to learn interesting facts about WWII and the Nazi death camps on a day tour from Krakow, but visiting Auschwitz, the site of the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp, is also a deeply impactful and somber experience that provides an important historical lesson.
If you’re planning a visit to Auschwitz on a day trip from Krakow, here’s an informative guide to help you navigate the journey and make the most of your visit.
How to get to Auschwitz from Krakow:
A popular and convenient way to travel from Krakow to Auschwitz is by day tour. Bus tours usually include transportation from Krakow (around 1.5 to 2 hours drive), entrance tickets to the site, and an experienced guide who provides valuable insights into the history of the death camps. Tours usually visit both Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
If you don’t want to take a guided tour, you can use public transportation to reach Auschwitz. This option requires a bit more planning, but it offers flexibility in your schedule and is generally more budget-friendly than guided tours.
- Train: Trains depart from Krakow Glowny (Krakow Main Station) to Oswiecim, the nearest town to Auschwitz. The journey takes around 1 hour and 30 minutes. From the Oswiecim train station, it’s a short taxi or bus ride to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.
- Bus: Buses also run from Krakow’s main bus station, MDA, to Oswiecim. The journey takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Similar to the train, you’ll need additional transportation to reach the museum.
The death camp is big and has lots to see, so plan to spend at least 3-4 hours at the site to fully explore both Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz 2.
Due to high demand, it’s essential to make reservations in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons. You can do this online through the official Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum website.
When you arrive, I would definitely recommend renting the audio guide available at the museum entrance. We did this on our visit and it provided context for many of the exhibits and buildings as we were walking through. Alternatively you can book a guided tour of the site and museum complex which includes the entrance tickets.
What to bring
- Walking shoes: Wear comfortable shoes as you’ll be doing a fair amount of walking. There are sections of the tour where you will be walking on gravel or grass, so make sure you don’t mind if your shoes get a bit dirty. Definitely avoid any heeled shoes or even new shoes that you haven’t properly worn in yet! It’s best to be practical rather than fashionable for this outing.
- Appropriate Attire: Out of respect for the solemnity of the site, it’s advisable to avoid wearing revealing or overly casual clothing.
- Weather Gear: Check the weather forecast and bring appropriate gear like an umbrella, hat, or sunscreen. Some of the Auschwitz tour is outside, open to the elements.
- Water and Snacks: There are limited options for food and beverages on-site, so consider bringing a refillable water bottle and some snacks.
Things to consider during your visit
- Photography: Photography is allowed in most areas, but it’s important to do so respectfully. Avoid taking selfies or photos that could be perceived as insensitive. I can remember at least one instance where a young woman who took a smiling selfie at Auschwitz had her post go viral for the wrong reasons.
- Personal Connection: Keep in mind that this site holds a deep emotional significance for many people, and some of the other visitors may have had relatives who suffered throughout the war. Approach the experience with empathy.
- Silence and Respect: Auschwitz is a place of remembrance and respect. Maintain a solemn demeanor and avoid loud conversations or inappropriate behavior. Show respect for the site, the history, and other visitors by adhering to the museum’s rules and guidelines.
- Emotional Impact: Some exhibits contain graphic and disturbing content. Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally, as visiting Auschwitz can be emotionally intense. Be prepared for a somber experience and offer yourself the time to process your emotions afterward!