Julie Poland 45 Comments

Auschwitz-Birkenau, also simply called Auschwitz concentration camp, is the largest of the Nazi concentration and death camps. Located in southern Poland near Krakow, this museum attracts over 2 million visitors per year. A visit here is somber, emotional, and thought provoking. In this guide, learn how to visit Auschwitz on a day trip from Krakow.

There are numerous options for getting to and touring Auschwitz-Birkenau. To help you plan your visit, we cover everything you need to know, from scheduling tours, arranging transportation, and what to expect while you are here.

A Brief History of Auschwitz-Birkenau

Auschwitz-Birkenau is made up of three parts: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz.

Auschwitz I, the buildings of which were part of a former military base, opened in 1940 as a detention center to hold Polish political prisoners. The role quickly changed and Auschwitz I became a concentration camp and the site where mass exterminations were carried out.

Auschwitz II – Birkenau was opened in 1941, to keep up with the large numbers of political prisoners and Jews that were being deported to Auschwitz.

Auschwitz-Birkenau became the primary site of the Nazi’s “final solution to the Jewish problem.” The statistics are sobering. It is estimated that 1.3 million people were sent to Auschwitz and of these, 1.1 million died. Most people deported to Auschwitz were sent immediately to the gas chambers. Those who did not die in the gas chambers died of other causes, including starvation, infection, medical experimentation, and forced labor.

In January 1945, Auschwitz – Birkenau was liberated with the arrival of Soviet troops.

How to Get to Auschwitz-Birkenau

Most people who visit Auschwitz-Birkenau do so on a day trip from Krakow.

Auschwitz-Birkenau is 75 kilometers west of Krakow. You can get to Auschwitz-Birkenau by car, bus or train. The closest town to Auschwitz is Oswiecim.

By Bus

The bus is the cheapest method of transportation but it can also be time consuming.

One-way tickets cost approximately 12 PLN and the journey takes 1 hour and 45 minutes. There are several bus companies to choose from and they leave from the bus station next to Krakow train station. Drop off locations near Auschwitz depends upon the company you choose.

Click here to see the bus timetables.

By Train

There are direct trains that connect Krakow to Oswiecim, the city that is located 2 km from the Auschwitz concentration camp. It takes 1.5 to 2.5 hours to get to Oswiecim from Krakow. You also have to factor in travel time to the Krakow train station and from the Oswiecim station to Auschwitz. Train tickets cost approximately 15 PLN one-way. Click here to see the train timetables.

By Car

If you have your own car, it takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes to drive to Auschwitz-Birkenau from Krakow.

By Private Driver

If you do not have your own car but do not want the time-consuming train or bus option, consider hiring a private driver. You are paying more for the convenience, but you are also saving time.

Krakow Direct gets rave reviews and we saw a lot of their vans during our visit to Auschwitz. They operate Mercedes vans which looked almost brand new. They charge 53 euros per person for a group tour or 99 euros for a private tour.

Website: krakowdirect.com

By Tour

Joining a tour from Krakow is the most convenient but most expensive option. By joining a tour, your transportation and visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau is covered. The tour company arranges your transportation and your guided tour of Auschwitz.

If you are planning your visit at the last minute, joining a tour guarantees you a ticket into Auschwitz.

 

Verdict: Which Method Should You Choose?

If you are traveling on a budget, the bus is the cheapest option. For as little as 25 PLN, you can get to and from Auschwitz. However, you will have to arrange your own tickets and tour of Auschwitz.

For the most convenient option, join a small tour group to Auschwitz. The price to arrange a private tour is just slightly more expensive than arranging your own driver and guide. It’s a small price to pay have your day run smoothly with very little effort on your part.

How to Visit Auschwitz-Birkenau

Basic Information

Admission: Admission to Auschwitz-Birkenau is free, however, you have to pay for the guided tour with an educator.
Guided Tour with an Educator: 75 PLN in Polish; 85 PLN in other languages, including English
Hours of Operation: Daily 8:00 am to 7 pm June, July, and August; reduced hours the remainder of the year. Closed on January 1, Easter Sunday, and Christmas. The museum can close during official state visits. Click here for full operating hours and possible closures.

Visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau without a Guide

Time slots are available to tour Auschwitz-Birkenau without a guide. These time slots are available in the late afternoon. It is free to tour Auschwitz-Birkenau without a guide but you do need to reserve your time slot in advance. On the official website, these time slots are referred to as a Tour for individuals without an educator.

Visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau with a Guide

Guided tours of Auschwitz-Birkenau last approximately 3.5 hours. Multiple tours are offered per day in Polish, English, Italian, Czech, German, French, and Slovak. On the official website, these are referred to as a General Tour.

You can book your tickets in advance on the official Auschwitz website (preferred method!!) or when you arrive at the main entrance (but you will most likely wait in line with the risk that all of the tours are booked).

A guided tour costs 85 PLN per person (in English) and covers your educator (tour guide) and audio guide.

To book your tickets online, visit the official website. Tickets can be booked online up to 5 days before your visit. If you need to book your tickets less than 5 days in advance, you can contact the museum via email.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: Tickets can be booked up to three months in advance. In order to get the time slot you want, make your booking as far in advance as possible.

What If You Do Not Reserve Your Tickets in Advance?

It is possible to show up at Auschwitz-Birkenau and purchase your tickets on the spot. But you have to be willing to wait in line, risk getting put into a tour several hours after your arrival, and risk not getting a ticket at all.

There is a ticket booth, a white information booth, which sells the remaining tickets for the day. Just look for the long line snaking out into the parking lot and you know that you are in the right spot.

Auschwitz Ticket Line

The waiting time to get tickets can be just a few minutes or it can be an hour or longer. During our visit (mid-July) it was a rainy day, so crowds were lower. The line was short and lots of spots were still available for the remainder of the day. But on weekends during peak season, you probably will not be so lucky.

If you can, reserve your tickets in advance. This saves you waiting in the ticket line and you can get the time slot you prefer.

What to Expect at Auschwitz-Birkenau

There are two parts to a visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp: Auschwitz I and Birkenau. On the guided tour with an educator, it takes about 1.5 hours to visit Auschwitz and 1 hour to visit Birkenau, with a 15-minute break in between.

You tour starts with a quick pass through security and a short line to get your audio guide.

This audio guide is really just a pair of headphones that allows you to hear your guide. With these headphones, you can easily hear everything your educator says and he or she doesn’t have to yell out to the 30 people in your group for the next 3 hours. Plus, you can still hear your guide when they are out of sight (which does happen as you tour the buildings).

Auschwitz I

Auschwitz I is the original concentration camp. While you are here, you will tour the barracks, view black and white photographs taken while the camp was in operation, view the prison cells, and learn some harrowing statistics.

Without going into too much detail, since you will learn all about this on the tour, here are a few photos, just so you know what to expect.

Arbeit Macht Frei

The tour starts with a walk through the gate “Arbeit Macht Frei” which means “work sets you free.” This, of course, was a lie. 

 

Auschwitz Tour Group

Here is our tour group. There were many tour groups on the day we visited, one entering the site right after the other. 

 

Auschwitz Statistics How to visit Auschwitz

Sobering statistics about the death toll.

 

Auschwitz Electrical Fence How to visit Auschwitz

Barbed wire and the electrified fences. 

 

Zyklon Gas Canisters

A collection of the Zyklon canisters which held the pellets used in the gas chambers. 

 

Auschwitz Victims Photographs How to visit Auschwitz

During the tour, you will walk down a long hallway where hundreds of photographs of the victims are hanging.

 

Auschwitz Suitcases

The luggage of the deportees to Auschwitz. Upon arrival, belongings were gathered up, sorted, and clothing, gold, shoes, and items of value were taken by the Nazi’s and sent back to Germany. 

 

Barbed Wire

Barbed wire on the electrified fences.

 

Auschwitz Halt Sign

Halt sign and a watch tower.

 

Auschwitz Barracks

Barracks in Auschwitz I.

 

Auschwitz Crematorium

A view of the crematorium.

 

Vorsicht How to visit Auschwitz

Birkenau

Auschwitz I and Birkenau sit a few kilometers apart. If you are on a tour or have a driver, they will shuttle you between the two sites. If you are traveling independently, there is a shuttle bus that runs every 10 minutes between the sites, and it’s free.

Birkenau is massive. This is the camp that was built in 1941 to house the huge number of deportees from Europe. Just before liberation in January 1945, the Germans blew up most of the barracks and the crematoriums to hide their crimes, but this is still well worth the visit. It’s seeing the sheer size of Birkenau where you really get the sense of how big of an operation this was. It can be a very unsettling experience.

Again, here is a tour through Birkenau in photos.

Birkenau Train Tracks

By the thousands, people were transported to Birkenau by train, on the very tracks in this photo.

 

Cattle Car Auschwitz

Original cattle car that was used to transport deportees.

 

Ruins

The Nazi’s dismantled the crematoriums and many of the barracks just before the arrival of the Soviet troops. What remains are these ruins, still untouched since 1945.

 

Auschwitz Mens Barracks How to visit Auschwitz

Beyond this barbed wire fence, just the foundations of the mens barracks remain.

 

Birkenau Site How to visit Auschwitz

Birkenau is enormous and in this photo you can get a sense of the size of this place.

 

Womens barracks Auschwitz How to visit Auschwitz

A view of the living conditions in the women’s barracks. More than ten women would share one of these platforms. Each barrack would hold up to 600 people.

The tour ends at Birkenau. If you arrived by private driver or tour, you will be taken directly back to Krakow from here. If you arrived by bus, train, or your own car, you will have to take the shuttle back to Auschwitz I and then get to the bus or train station.

Helpful Tips for Visiting Auschwitz

Backpacks and handbags cannot exceed 30x20x10 cm (about the size of piece of paper). Basically, you cannot carry anything other than a small purse. You can leave your bags in your car or in the luggage storage facility near the main entrance.

Auschwitz Luggage Deposit How to visit Auschwitz

To use the toilets, you will have to pay 2 PLN.

Wear a comfortable pair of shoes than can get dirty. For most of the visit you will be outside. The paths are a mix of dirt and stone, so the surfaces are rough and uneven. If it is raining, be prepared to dodge mud puddles. It rained for several days before our visit and many of the trails were muddy.

It is not recommended that children under 14 years of age visit the museum. During our visit, Kara was 13, just 1 month shy of turning 14. We saw several children younger than Kara during our visit.

Auschwitz-Birkenau: Frequently Asked Questions

Do we have to book a time slot if we don’t want to use a tour guide? Or can we just show up and buy tickets on the same day?

If you want to tour Auschwitz-Birkenau without a guide, you will still need to book a time slot in advance. In the afternoon, time slots are available to tour the site without a guide (called tour for Individuals without an educator). This is an extremely popular option and these time slots get reserved in advance, so, if this is something you want to do, make your reservation as soon as you know your dates of travel.

I want to take a guided tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau but all of the time slots are reserved for my dates of travel. What should I do?

I recommend checking with GetYourGuide. They offer lots of guided tour options and you might be able to book a tour with one of their operators. It will be slightly more expensive, but you could also have the added convenience of having your transportation arranged as well.

Once the guided tour is finished, are you permitted to walk around Auschwitz-Birkenau on your own?

No. Once the tour is over, you will exit Birkenau. If you want to walk around on your own after the tour, you will also have to book an unguided tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

I would also like to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mines. Can I do this on the same day?

Yes. There are several tour companies that offer a day trip from Krakow where you can visit Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Wieliczka Salt Mines on the same day. Click here to learn more.

I also plan to spend a few days in Krakow. Do you have recommendations on how to plan my time?

Of course! For information on what to do in Krakow, read our post Best Things to Do in Krakow. And for ideas on how to plan your time, take a look at our 3 Days in Krakow Itinerary.

Before You Go

To make the most of your visit, it’s a good idea to learn a little background before you visit Poland. Night by Elie Wiesel is a short, unforgettable memoir by the author, who was a survivor of Auschwitz. The Tatooist of Auschwitz is a true story based on the experiences of Lale, a man who survived imprisonment in Auschwitz for over two and a half years. 

Comment below if you have any questions about how to visit Auschwitz or if you have any advice for our readers.


More Information about Poland

Planning a trip to Poland? Read all of our articles in our Poland Travel Guide.

 

Auschwitz Birkenau Travel Guide

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All rights reserved © Earth Trekkers. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, etc.), in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.

Comments 45

  1. Avatar for Mick
    Mick

    Hi There. Thanks for your post. My wife and I visited Buchenwald before kids and felt strongly that if we got the opportunity to visit another camp with kids we should- what happened should never be forgotten. We now have 3 kids 15, 11 & 10 and travelling from Australia so may not get another opportunity.
    We booked self guided tickets for July but the earliest we could book them was at 4pm. We were told we could use these to go to Auschwitz Birkenau II in the morning. Not sure if you are aware of this?
    Thanks Mick

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      No, I wasn’t aware of that. Several years ago you could book self-guided tickets specifically for the morning but they did away with these. Thanks for letting me know that you can use your tickets in the morning.

  2. Avatar for Nicola Burgoyne
    Nicola Burgoyne

    Hi! Great and interesting reading! I’m travelling to Krakow on Dec 5th and booked a tour of Auschwitz for the next day. I’m hoping to get a bus there and travel independently but finding it hard to get hold of bus timetables tat I can understand Staying at a hostel near Jubilant bus station in Krakow so can get an early bus over to the main bus station which will take anything up to 20 minutes. My tour of Auschwitz is booked for 10.30 bus it says to be there half an hour before. Will I also have to wait in a line which looks very long on pictures or can I just show my ticket at beginning of the tour? I will have to allow for this if so! Can you tell me the first buses from the bus station that would get me there for around 9.30am and where to find it please. I’m not bothered about getting back to Krakow as I understand they’re quite regular and will not have to bother about timing. So looking forward to this trip and travelling alone so I can run around without having to think about dragging anyone else with me. Also plan on going to Zakopane for a night. Can get a bus right outside the Ginger Hostel where I’m staying! Many thanks

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Since we did not use the bus to get around Poland, I am not an expert on how they work, but here is the link to the bus timetable from Krakow to Auschwitz. You can change the day and the approximate time you want to leave Krakow for all of the options. There are several different bus carriers and once you find one that matches the time you want, I recommend double checking the times on that bus carrier’s official website. But yes, I agree, it’s confusing. You could also reach out to your hostel about the buses and they might be able to help answer your question. In general, we have found hostel and hotel staff to offer great advice on how to get around, whether it was Poland, India, Cambodia, etc. If you have your ticket to tour Auschwitz independently, you will not have to wait in the long line pictured in the photo in this post. That line is for people who arrived to Auschwitz without a ticket (basically, it’s the waiting line to purchase entrance tickets). The Ginger Hostel should be able to tell you the best way/place to get a bus to Zakopane (and also Auschwitz) or at least direct you to the correct website to learn more (we had a rental car to get to Zakopane so again, I am not familiar with the public buses enough to give you solid advice). I hope this helps and I hope you have a great trip to Poland! – Julie

  3. Avatar for Yasmin
    Yasmin

    Hi Julie

    Thank you for all the great and helpful information!
    I was wondering if you could help me clarify one more thing regarding the transportation to Auschwitz. I was going to book our time slots for the guided tour on the offical website and then just wanted to book the transfer to Auschwitz on Krakow Direct. However looking at Krakow Direct they seem to also include the tour? Do they just book the tour for you on the official website? Or do they have their own guides? If so, are the guided tours booked through Krakow direct as good of quality as the ones booked on the offical website? Krakow Direct for whatever reason also seems to have very limited dates currently – i.e. not operating on Saturday when the tours do seem to be happening on Saturday? Would you book through Krakow Direct or should we just organise a taxi when we arrive in Poland?
    Thank you in advance for your help.

    Kind regards
    Yasmin

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      At one point, they offered just the transportation to and from Auschwitz, and transport + the tour. I think you can still use them just for the transport, inquire about custom transfers. As for the tours of Auschwitz, they have 2 options. If you book a private tour, you can have a private guide (they are unclear if it is their guide or an Auschwitz guide) or join a guided Auschwitz group tour with the guide provided by Auschwitz. If you book a shared tour, you will join a guided Auschwitz group tour with the guide provided by Auschwitz. When you book your tour with Krakow Direct, it includes your guided tour of Auschwitz. So, if you want to go on Saturday, you could see if they could arrange a custom transfer but then compare that with the cost of a taxi (I don’t know what a taxi price would be) and then book the guided tour separately. Or, join one of the tours that they have availability for. I don’t know how hard it is to arrange for a taxi but your hotel should be able to help you with this. – Julie

  4. Avatar for Stephen
    Stephen

    Hi, Julie, Thank you for your guide. I have 2 sons (15 and 9). Is it possible to just take my 9 year old with an unguided ticket just to visit the site, if he is not going into any of the buildings? I don’t know how to deal with this situation. I don’t think there would be a kid care option. Please kindly advise. Thanks.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      According to the Auschwitz official website, it is not recommended that children under 14 visit Auschwitz, but that is just a recommendation. As far as I know, children are permitted to enter. But because of the nature of the tours, only older children are advised to do this. If you just want to walk the grounds, I think this might be acceptable, since you will not hear about the facts/history of Auschwitz-Birkenau that could be too much for a 9 year old. You could email the staff at Auschwitz for clarification before you go to get their opinion too. – Julie

  5. Avatar for Daniela Cesio
    Daniela Cesio

    Hi Julie,

    Thank you for all the information. We are planning to go at the end of September and we are doing loads of re-search because we have a 3yo daughter. Your blog helped us decide that we need to rent a car and go “freely” just in case the toddler gets bored/annoying we can always leave and go somewhere else. Did you see a lot of children then? Lots of people say it would be inconsiderate but, tbh, my daughter sleeps during the afternoon so I just need to plan her nap accordingly so we can walk around freely.

    Anyway, thank you for the information.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Hello Daniela. No, we did not see any young children. Kara was probably the youngest we saw and she was almost 14. I do agree with the other people who said that bringing a toddler would be inconsiderate. This is a very somber place and some visitors would see bringing a young child as disrespectful. However, if you know her nap schedule and can work around this, then it might be worth a try.

  6. Avatar for Jenny clark
    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      It looks like the option to take a tour without an educator (without a guide) has just been removed. This must have happened very recently (I am frequently on the Auschwitz website helping others book their tickets). Now, it looks like you must book a tour with a guide.

  7. Avatar for Karen Coulson
    Karen Coulson

    We are a family of 4 (taking our grand-daughters aged 16 and 17). We have a very ‘tight’ itinerary and had allocated Friday April 10 as the day we were visiting Auschwitz. We are staying in Krakow the previous night (fly in from London at 12.30 on Thursday). I’ve checked the website and there are no English tours offered on the Friday 🙁 first one is Polish at 9am and then other languages throughout the day. Do we take a chance and turn up at 7.30am on the Friday and hope to get a ticket (would be extremely disappointing to not be able to get tickets on the morning). Then we do a self guided? Do we at least get the booking (and admission) by booking the Polish tour so we are at least in as they only allocate a certain number per hour from what I’ve read. Alternatively – we would have to take a chance and book on the Thursday and hope the flight and car hire goes well so we can get there for the 3.30pm English tour. Any other suggestions would be appreciated – we are driving to Brno on the Friday afternoon.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Another option is to book a tour through Get Your Guide…we have links on this post. You will pay slightly more per person, but you should be able to get the day that you want, and have an English speaking tour. I would look into this first. If English speaking tours are already sold out two months in advance, I would be very hesitant to just show up and hope to get a ticket. Your trip is over the Easter holidays so Krakow and Auschwitz will be more crowded than normal. If that doesn’t work, then look into getting self-guided tickets, so that you can at least visit Auschwitz-Birkenau.

  8. Avatar for Greg Snider
    Greg Snider

    Hi!! Love your blog! What time of year did you visit Auschwitz? I wanted to plan on going in November, but I read something about the average daylight hours for Poland that time of year is roughly 2 hours.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Hello Greg. It looks as if you will have about 9 hours of daylight in November. Sunrise is 6:30 – 7 am and sunset is 4:15 to 3:45 pm, depending on the time of the month. Here is a link so you can see the times.

  9. Avatar for john a barker
    john a barker

    hi- a wonderful site. just finished reading about your family’s travels in Krakow!

    a true pleasure–thank you, john

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
  10. Avatar for mandy stewart
    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Even if you don’t want to visit Auschwitz with a guide, you still need to book your time slot in advance. In fact, these tend to sell out quicker than the time slots with guided tours. If you just show up, I doubt there will be any available tickets for unguided time slots.

      1. Avatar for Marissa
        Marissa

        Hi Julie! Thanks for a very detailed post of visiting Auschwitz. May I know which site to book a slot without a tourguide please?

        1. Avatar for Julie Post
          Author
          Julie

          You’re welcome. To book a slot without a guide, go to the official Auschwitz website. Click “Visit for Individuals” and then pick your date on the calendar. You will be given tour options and the tours without guides are early in the morning and just before closing.

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