City Guide to Krakow, Poland: Part 4 | Visiting Auschwitz Concentration Camps, Travel Tips & Tourist Information
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Our travel adventures, for better or for worse, are usually planned only two to six weeks in advance. The upside and main reason for this, is that it gives us flexibility in our scheduling, therefore allowing us to accept opportunities as they arise (especially house sits).
However, the downside of this is that we find ourselves occasionally missing out on opportunities that require planning well in advance, or occasionally having to pay more for a certain opportunity.
In the case of visiting Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, we found that we had limited options because we were planning only a couple of weeks in advance and in peak tourist season (April to October). We’d usually prefer a self-guided, non-tour option, which is provided, but because of our short planning window, there were no more tickets available for online reservation. Moreover, paying for a tour through the Auschwitz website was also not an option, as all English tours had sold out. Instead, we had to go with ‘Plan C’ and reserve a tour with an independent company. Again, tours aren’t really are style but we were willing to do one to see the camps.
At first, we struggled a bit to understand the options available for visiting Auschwitz and how to subsequently reserve tickets online, especially the self-guided, non-tour tickets.
With that in mind, we hope our experience and tips can help you reserve your preferred tickets ahead of time so you’re able to experience the Auschwitz concentration camps via your preferred method.
For our experience visiting Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, including our impressions and experience through pictures, don’t miss City Guide to Krakow, Poland: Part 3 | Visiting Auschwitz Concentration Camps & A Photo Essay.
Visiting Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau
There are a few ticket options available to visit the camps:
Free entry, no tour.
Free entry, and paid tour, conducted by the organization that manages Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
Free entry, and paid tour, conducted by an independent tour company.
Entrance to the camps is free and you aren’t required to be part of a tour group to enter either site. However, as the popularity and number of visitors to the camps has increased, especially during peak season, the organization that manages the camps has placed a priority on tour groups (in other words, there are more tour group spaces available than there are individual non-tour tickets).
Our understanding is that non-tour in-person tickets, although free, are limited and only available if you arrive before 10 am. However, they typically run out much sooner, so it’s recommended that you arrive first thing in the morning. In addition, since it’s a one-and-a-half hour drive from Krakow to Auschwitz I, arriving first thing can be challenging, especially if you’re relying on the train or bus as your means of transportation. The recommended alternative is to reserve your tickets in advance online. The imperative words here are ‘in advance’, as when we attempted to reserve tickets less than two weeks out and during the middle of summer, all tickets were unavailable. Not only were there no admission tickets for the week we were scheduled to be in Krakow, but to our surprise, there were none available for more than a month out.
So, if you’re planning on visiting and want to go on your own, be sure to reserve tickets as early as you can to avoid disappointment. Below is a tutorial on reserving tickets online, including screen shots.
Since we didn’t want to risk showing up first thing in the morning and not be able to get tickets in person, we were left with two options. One, we could reserve tickets online for a tour operated by the organization managing the camp, or two, we could purchase tickets for a tour through an independent company. We tried option one, but we were again out of luck, as English tours operated through the camp were already sold out. It seems that English tours are the most popular tours, so again, if this is the type of tour you want to take, be sure to secure your tickets well in advance by reserving online.
Our backs were now against the wall and we found ourselves with only one option to see the camps; purchase tour tickets from an independent tour company (something we rarely do).
After 10 minutes of searching, we found a relatively inexpensive tour that would pick us up and drop us off at our hotel (Hampton by Hilton Krakow), take us to both Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and as a bonus included a tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
It was a compromise from what we originally intended to do, but ultimately, we considered ourselves fortunate to be in a position to visit Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau in the first place.
Things to Know When Planning and Booking Tickets for Auschwitz
There are three camps (Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II–Birkenau, and Auschwitz III–Monowitz), however only Auschwitz I and II are open to the public.
Auschwitz I was originally a Polish work camp that was re-purposed by the German Nazis as a concentration camp, and because of this the camp may not be what you expect to see of a concentration camp. On the other hand, Auschwitz II-Birkenau was explicitly constructed as a concentration and death camp. It was the largest one built by German Nazis and it’s estimated that 1-1.5 million men, women, and children were killed within these two camps.
For the best experience at Auschwitz, having knowledge beforehand of the history that took place there will enhance your visit dramatically. Whether attending as an individual (sans tour), or even with a tour, we’d highly recommend doing a bit of learning ahead of time. Keep in mind that the descriptions on the displays give basic information only.
Thankfully, since we’d seen numerous documentaries on WWII, which also covered the history of the concentration camps, we feel that we had a more personal and reflective experience at the concentration camps. If you're looking to enrich your own visit, we found the BBC documentary Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State to be very well done and very informative.
For those who want a guided experience of the camps, tours are provided for a cost, by the organization that oversees the memorial. Tours are available in multiple languages, but they sell out quickly (especially in English), so be sure to purchase tickets online in advance. If you choose to purchase a tour, keep in mind that it’ll begin at Auschwitz I!
We can't speak to all tours, as tours vary depending on the style of the guide, as well as by the experience offered through each independent tour company. We purchased a tour package through an independent company that utilized a tour guide provided by the Auschwitz Memorial.
In our experience, echoed by others we've spoken with, the tours feel rushed since there’s so much to see in both camps. We found that there simply wasn't sufficient time to see all areas of the camps and to reflect on the experience as we toured the sites.
In other words, we were able to see and cover a lot of ground, but unfortunately, we didn't really have the opportunity to contemplate the atrocities that had taken place at the sites.
To expand more on our experience, the tour we had was run by an English-speaking guide and included approximately 20 people (although we saw some tour groups that seemed larger). Our guide used a microphone that transmitted to individual receivers that we plugged headphones into, and as along as we stayed within a reasonable distance of the guide, we could hear him clearly.
As far as the overall information provided, we'd have to say that there was plenty of facts given, however it seemed to be limited to pointing out the basics of what we were seeing. In our humble opinion, what the guide told us was little more than a rephrasing of the posted descriptions that were in front of each exhibition. It unfortunately missed the mark of presenting a fuller picture of the history of the camps and allowing us, as visitors, to connect with historical events through stories and to reflect on the atrocities that took place.
Again, we suspect this was the case because of the sheer volume of visitors that tour the camps each day.
Tip: We always carry our own earphones with us, and by doing so, rather than use the headphones provided, we're able to plug in our own for the tour. Our personal headphones are more comfortable, fit better, and have higher quality audio, therefore enabling us to have a better overall experience.
Entrance and Tickets
Entrance to both camps, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, is free. During our visit entrance to Auschwitz II-Birkenau wasn't monitored and a ticket wasn't needed. However to enter Auschwitz I, visitors do need a ticket and will pass through security. Again, while tickets are free, it's best to reserve them online ahead of time because the popularity of the camps has grown exponentially over the last couple of decades. Tickets for entrance, with or without a tour, sell out quickly, especially during peak season (April through October).
Planning Your Visit
Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning your visit to Auschwitz:
From Krakow, Auschwitz is a 1.5 hour drive.
Public transportation is available from Krakow. A train will take you to a station about two kilometers from Auschwitz I and a bus will take you almost to the entrance. If you’re traveling by bus or train, be sure to note that you can’t catch them from Auschwitz II-Birkenau, only from Auschwitz I.
Plan to spend at least half a day at the camps, but more than likely an entire day.
There’s a free shuttle between Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau that runs every 5 to 10 minutes.
If you only want to visit Auschwitz II-Birkenau, you don't need to reserve tickets and can arrive and depart at your leisure.
Before entering Auschwitz I, you’ll be required to pass through security and metal detectors. Your bags will be inspected and only small handbags and very small backpacks (30 x 20 x 10 cm) are allowed. Keep in mind, there are no lockers on site for storing luggage or larger bags.
The camps are expansive and you’ll do a lot of walking, so dress accordingly and wear comfortable shoes.
Above all else, be respectful of the grounds, the memorial, and the memory of those who perished here, as well as the visitors around you.
How to Reserve Tickets for the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau Online
Here's a step by step guide to reserving your Auschwitz tickets online:
For both individual non-tour tickets and for tour tickets, visit the official online reservation page. If the page does not default to English, change it to the English version of the web page by clicking the United Kingdom flag in the upper right corner.
Unless you're purchasing tickets as a tour company, you'll more than likely fit into the 'Individual' ticket options that are available. So, if you're traveling as an individual or with friends and family, and whether you're purchasing tour or non-tour tickets, select the option for "Visit for individuals" by clicking on the corresponding "Next" button to the right.
The next screen will be a calendar displaying the current month. On this page, select the date you wish to visit. You can navigate to the correct month by click on the arrow next to the name of the month above the calendar and you can select the date by clicking on the day of the month you wish to visit. Here are additional tips:
Weekend days (Saturday and Sunday) are shown in red, while weekdays (Monday through Friday) are shown in black.
If a day is grayed out and you’re unable to click it, it means that tickets are no longer available on that day.
Once you select the day you wish to visit, the following page, in a table/chart format, will list all remaining and available tickets for that day. Make note of the information provided in the columns; you'll see the date, time, type of ticket, language of the tour, and how many tickets are currently available.
Different types of tickets include:
Tour for individuals without an educator – these are individual tickets for those who wish to visit without a tour/be self-guided.
General tour – these are standard tour tickets and include both a tour of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The total tour time is 3.5 hours. Be sure to pay attention to the language of the tour.
One-or-Two-day study tours – Be sure to pay attention to the language of the tour. Details on what this tour includes can be found on the Auschwitz website.
Once you find the ticket type you require, click on the adjacent “Next” button.
Tips when viewing this page:
If the tour you’re looking for in the language you prefer, isn’t listed, it unfortunately means it’s not available on that day.
Pay special attention to the number of tickets available if you’re booking for more than yourself. For example, if you’re visiting as a pair or in a group, you'll need to book a reservation that has enough tickets available for your entire crew.
At the bottom of the page you can click on "Previous day" or "Next day" to see what's available on those days.
"Tour for individuals without an educator" is an individual non-tour ticket, therefore it doesn't show a language since no tour is included.
After selecting the date and ticket type, you'll be prompted to enter the number of tickets you’d like to reserve, along with your country of origin. Click "Next" to continue.
You may be prompted to complete a Captcha. To do so, click the check mark box and wait for the green check-mark to appear. Once it appears, you can move forward.
From this point, you'll have your tickets reserved until you complete the checkout process. However, the system will only hold them for 60 minutes. The page will show a countdown timer at the top of the page.
You'll now be prompted to log in, create an account, or check out as a guest (‘Buy without signing up’). Remember, your tickets will be reserved for 60 minutes, allowing you sufficient time to complete the reservation and the checkout process.
Step 7: Completing the Checkout Process
Follow the prompts on screen to complete the checkout process. You'll need to enter your personal information to reserve tickets, and if you purchased a tour, you'll be required to pay for them in order to complete the process.
If you have additional questions, be sure to visit the memorial website's FAQs. Finally, before visiting we recommend reviewing the memorials’ regulations and familiarizing yourself with all the visiting information.
For a look at our personal experience while visiting the camps, don’t miss City Guide to Krakow, Poland: Part 3 | Visiting Auschwitz Concentration Camps & A Photo Essay.