To visit Auschwitz is to dive into the darkest moments of the 20th century. It is not a simple place to visit emotionally. However, by visiting this place, one becomes a witness of the horror of which humans are capable, and by this means, one can therefore prevent it from happening again. In order to learn more about the concentration and extermination camps, one can read books that deal with the subject in more depth.
In this blog post, we will mainly address practical questions for visiting Auschwitz:
- What can you visit in Auschwitz today?
- Where is the Auschwitz camp located? How to get there?
- When to visit Auschwitz?
- How to visit Auschwitz with a guide?
- Visiting Auschwitz without a guide
- What age to visit Auschwitz?
- What to wear to visit Auschwitz?
- Where to stay to visit Auschwitz?
- Auschwitz-Birkenau virtual tour
1. Auschwitz today: what can you visit?
When we talk about visiting Auschwitz, we are actually talking about three camps. The Auschwitz camp is therefore three camps:
- Auschwitz I: the concentration camp with its entry “Arbeit macht frei” in German, which means “Work sets you free”
- Auschwitz II, also called Auschwitz-Birkenau: the extermination camp, where more than 1 million people were exterminated
- Auschwitz III, also called Auschwitz-Monowitz: the concentration camp centered on forced labor
Today, these three camps are open to the public, and are located a few kilometers from each other. The most visited camps are Auschwitz I, which is considered the main camp, and Auschwitz II or Auschwitz-Birkenau.
What is the difference between Auschwitz and Birkenau? Auschwitz and Birkenau are German names: Auschwitz for the Polish town of Oświęcim and Birkenau for the small Polish village Brzezinka. The first camp, Auschwitz I was opened in the town of Oświęcim, then the second camp, Aschwitz II, in the small village of Brzezinka.
2. How to go to Auschwitz from Krakow or Katowice?
Where is the Auschwitz camp located? The Auschwitz concentration and extermination camps are located in Poland, 70km from Krakow and 40km from Katowice, both accessible by direct flight from France. In general, to visit Auschwitz, travelers choose to go to Krakow, as it is one of the prettiest cities in Poland.
How long to visit Auschwitz? Allow a good day to visit Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau (trip from Krakow or Katowice + on-site visit).
How to get to Auschwitz from Krakow? To visit Auschwitz from Krakow, you can either take a complete guided tour including transport (more info below), or go there on your own. However, there is no direct train between Krakow and Oświęcim, where the Auschwitz camps are located. You can therefore rent a car or take a bus (1h20 journey).
How to get to Auschwitz from Katowice? Compared to Krakow, Katowice is a smaller city, and more of an industrial city. To go to Oświęcim from Katowice, in order to visit Auschwitz, you can rent a car (40km, 50min journey), or take a train (53min journey), then a bus from Oświęcim station (+20min).
3. When to visit Auschwitz?
Much of the visit takes place outdoors. The months of the year with the mildest temperatures are the preferred months. In Poland, the winter is less mild than in France, so it is not necessarily the best time to visit Auschwitz.
Good to know. It is in summer and spring that the crowds to visit Auschwitz are greatest, probably partly for reasons located above. So plan your trip in advance, and book in advance during this period.
In autumn? Visiting Auschwitz in autumn can be a good choice: less crowded, but still mild temperatures.
4. How to visit Auschwitz in English?
The best solution to visit Auschwitz in English is to take a guided tour. From Krakow, several agencies offer tours including transport, or others without transport. Here are some examples:
- Guided tour from Krakow with return transport in English: this tour lasts 8 hours, includes transport from Krakow, entry to the Auschwitz museum, visit to the Auschwitz I camp, but also the visit to Auschwitz- Birkenau.
- Guided tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau in English: this tour lasts 3.5 hours. Transportation is not included.
- Guided tour in English from Krakow with transport: this tour lasts 11 hours. It includes, in addition to the visit to Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau, the visit to the salt mines of Wieliczka.
5. Visit Auschwitz without a guide
It is also possible to visit Auschwitz without a guide. However, you must book your entry on the memorial site.
Good idea? The advantage of a free visit is, of course, the fact that you can decide how much time you spend at each place, and therefore not follow a group. However, the self-guided tour also requires very good preparation (book, detailed guide) in order to really understand what you are seeing. In addition, the camps are accessible to free visitors only from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 3 p.m. until the museum closes.
Our opinion. Visiting Auschwitz without a guide is therefore interesting, especially when you know the subject well enough. On the other hand, a guided tour is much more interesting to dive into the history of the place without having a map or a guide with you, by letting yourself be guided and therefore with a mind more open to welcoming new information.
6. What age to visit Auschwitz?
Visiting Auschwitz is not recommended for children under 14 years old. Be aware that the visit can be difficult even for adults.
7. What to wear to visit Auschwitz?
Clothing must respect the place and the memory of the people who lost their lives in these camps. Exposed clothing or party clothes are not appropriate. Thus, it is also asked to respect the calm and silence of the place (telephone in silence, no music, etc.).
Other information. Backpacks and handbags must not exceed these dimensions: 30x20x10 cm. It is possible to leave suitcases at the entrance (paid service).
8. Where to stay to visit Auschwitz?
Many visitors choose to stay in Krakow to visit Auschwitz (fond out more here: Best areas where to stay in Krakow). Krakow is the second largest city in Poland. You can find accommodation of all styles, from youth hostels to 5-star hotels.
To prepare your visit (addresses, hotels, what to see), read our blog post: Tips for visiting Krakow.
9. Auschwitz-Birkenau Virtual Tour
The memorial has created a virtual panorama to visit Auschwitz. If you do not have the possibility to come on site, you can use this site to visit the camps.
For all other information: official website of the Auschwitz Memorial (in Polish and English).