Krakow to Auschwitz: the different options
From others’ experiences on forums and some websites, I noticed that many people often thought that the tours were slightly rushed. And they couldn’t wander around in the camps by themselves for very long. Indeed, there is lots to see and explore in this horrible place, and thus I think you should really take time to explore all of the area. However… With an excursion you also get a guide who comes along. Especially for the ‘Birkenau’ camp this is worth it, since there are no signs there to help you understand the history of this camp.
Krakow to Auschwitz with public transport
From Krakow’s main station (Kraków Główny) you can either take the train or the bus. The train takes a long time and drops you off at the central station of Oświęcim, which is still about two miles away from the camps.
The many buses you can take are faster, cheaper and bring you closer to the museum. Therefore I recommend taking these buses if you plan to take public transportation.
You can book these comfortable vans online so that you you can leave on time. A departure in the morning is definitely recommended, because there is a lot to see!
For 14 Polish zloti ($4) you are taken from Krakow to Auschwitz I or vice versa. The museum is free, so for 28 zloti (+/- $8 to $10) you can arrange your day trip yourself.
The most frequent buses are the Lajkonik buses which can be booked online and in advance. Every day they depart from Krakow to Auschwitz and vice versa at fixed times.
This is the timetable of the buses that you can book online (2019):
- Bus stop G1: 06: 20 am, 08:05 am, 08:40 am, 10:10 am, 2:45 pm and 4:15 pm.
- Bus stop G2: 09:10 am and 2:20 pm.
- Bus stop G3: 09:40 am and 3:15 pm.
- Bus stop G4: 07:10 am, 11:10 am and 12:30 pm.
- Bus stop G6: 12:00 pm and 1:30 pm.
After your visit you can commute back from Auschwitz I at 10:10 am, 11:00 am, 12:15 pm, 1:45 pm, 3:30 pm, 4:10 pm, 4:40 pm, 5:10 pm, 6:45 pm and 7:45 pm.
Photos say more than a thousand words, so below you can check out some pictures of the buses and their timetables (2016). Since it has been a few years since this photo was taken, I recommend to base your visit on the bus schedule that I mentioned above.
The total journey takes about one and a half hour. With an organized tour, it takes less than an hour and you also get a guide that gives you more details about both camps. Especially in Birkenau this is a welcome add-on, because unfortunately there are no information signs to be found anywhere in the camp.
Krakow to Auschwitz with a tour
If you prefer to take a tour to Auschwitz from Krakow, you’ll be amazed by the possibilities.
There’s a lot of tour companies offering different kinds of excursions. Some take half a day, others go on for a full day. Sometimes tours to Auschwitz are combined with a visit to the Wieliczka salt mines.
Whatever you choose, a tour from Krakow to Auschwitz has several advantages. You’ll always get a guide who can tell you interesting stories, facts and show you things that you otherwise would miss. On the other hand you won’t have to think about a thing: no schedules to worry about and no getting lost.
Curious about some possibilities? Check out these tours:
Should you take a guide?
First, you should know that Auschwitz and Birkenau are two completely different sites.
In Auschwitz, you’ll notice that all of the exhibitions are very understandable because of the information signs. However, details are usually not given and if you want to hear more in depth stories, a guide could be of interest.
In Birkenau, there are no information signs whatsoever. At the entrance, you can buy a tiny booklet with a bit of (general) information about this camp. However, I wouldn’t really say that this is sufficient. So, if you can book a guide for Birkenau I would definitely consider that.
Most of the times you’ll have to take a guide for both camps (Auschwitz and Birkenau). Do keep in mind that this is a frequently visited point of interest and that you should therefore book your guide well in advance. Especially if you want it in a language other than English, German or Polish.
Booking guides or transportation + guides can be easily done in advance online.
It was as if the weather gods knew what a terrible place this was, because today it was a lot colder, the sky had a dark gray glow and crows and other dark and grim looking birds where floating over this scary place while crowing ominously.
Personally, I always thought Auschwitz was a fairly small city -or maybe even a ghost town; I wouldn’t want to live here anyway…- but before you arrive at the museum you can see that it is in fact a big city. There are several shopping centers, a rather large train station, many restaurants and hotels, and of course a lot of people.
Auschwitz 1 was the first concentration camp that was built in this region. Perhaps the choice fell on this village because it was so centrally located in the former Third Reich.
Because so many people were sent off to this concentration and extermination camp, the camp was soon overcrowded and an alternative needed to be thought of to make even more people come to a living hell. The second camp, Birkenau, became the largest and it was here most people were actually gassed.
In the area around these two camps there were a lot more smaller camps built by the Nazis, but many of them have not survived. The biggest (Auschwitz and Birkenau) did. Fortunately, because these museums are very important to inform future generations about how this horror came about. But above all… It is important to warn people that history can under no circumstance repeat itself like this.
“Arbeit Macht Frei”
Oversized backpacks are not allowed in, so I was kindly asked to put mine in a safe (3 zloti) and then return to the entrance.
After you scan your (free!) ticket, you have to walk through a small checkpoint and quickly after that you’ll see the infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign pop up. These letters are of course a complete lie, because very few people who were sent to these prisons during the world war could live on to tell their horrible memories.
The whole complex is very big and the whole place rather feels like an industrial environment. Twenty stone barracks are planted down and were once crammed with emaciated Jews, Poles, Roma, homosexuals, Soviet fighters, opponents of the Nazis and political prisoners.
Today the creepy bunkers are transformed into a giant museum where you’ll have to gasp for air at certain exhibitions for sure…
For my fellow Belgian or Dutch citizens, there is also a lot being told on the deportations in these two countries. (Belgium and France: bunker 20, the Netherlands: bunker 21). In most buildings you can read more about how the camp came about and how people tried to survive while in Auschwitz.
The other brick buildings have been transformed into a sort of graveyard packed with photos of thousands and thousands of victims who have died here. For me, the most poignant bunkers were 5, 11 and 27.
In block five you see a lot of things that are recovered after Auschwitz was left behind. Thousands of glasses, tens of thousands of shoes, lots of pots and pans, tons of shaved hair (!) And much more … Awful to see this! All these ordinary things were once property of ordinary people who had to end their lives in this horrible, dehumanizing place. It was truly painful to see how some people interact with other human beings…
It was in block eleven that the Zyklon B gas was used for the very first time. The “death block” shows you the tiny rooms in which prisoners often were put for days and probably also became completely crazy before being brutally murdered. If they were not gassed, they were brought to the adjacent square and placed against the wall of death. A few seconds later these prisoners would be shot down by cowardly dogs that didn’t have a mind of their own.
In block twenty-seven I couldn’t resist the lump in my throat any longer, and I had to let out a few tears. There are different rooms, but one room in particular gave me the chills… A room full of childrens drawings of their time in the camp. Innocent, painful drawings by kids who felt that their short lives would end soon.
In the adjoining room you can see some reports of how the prisoners still tried to make the best out of this terrible situation. Nice how people still are capable of love and compassion in times of distress and disgust.
If you go down you’ll be left completely speechless, however. A book of several meters long and about one meter high with nothing more than names and locations. The millions of names of all known victims who were murdered in the Auschwitz camps. There are still a lot of victims that are unknown, so the book could well be a lot longer…
Anger, pain and sadness
My mouth fell open at least a hundred times, the lump in my throat grew and my anger about this place swelled as I got along.
How is it possible that this could happen?! How can people end up in such a dehumanizing place and be treated as worthless objects?
There were killed millions of people here, but my question is how the commanders in the camp could let this happen. How could they live with themselves? Everybody has a little compassion for another human being, or am I wrong?
The terrible, brutal way people were treated here is no better than how some animals interact. Are we not the evolved race?
We are barely a hundred years later and it seems that this horror is completely forgotten. How is it even possible that fascist dictators seem to grow in popularity once again? Haven’t we changed after the war? Can’t we, for one second, think back? People that lived back then probably also thought “It’ll be fine. Nothing will happen in the end.” But boy… They were so very wrong!
The world belongs to everyone, and differences in culture and customs is what makes this planet so beautiful. Instead of putting so much energy and effort in hating, we’d better use that energy to get to know each other better. We are all human and we all love life. Why would we even jeopardize our nice short lives for something so stupid as war, money and hatred?
Once I stepped outside the first camp, I shook my shoulders back and forth to get rid of the heaviness pushing them down. The ‘relaxation’ wouldn’t last for long, because I would immediately head to the second, even bigger, concentration camp.
With a free shuttle bus between the two camps, visitors are transported to Auschwitz II (Auschwitz-Birkenau). You can catch one of the busses in front of the museum every ten to fifteen minutes from the parking lot.
Once you see the next looming camp you immediately get gloomy once again. The view is of course very well known because of pictures, but when you see it in real life, it shocks you even more. A single gateway where trains are running through, and then as far as the eye can reach only barracks and bunkers.
A train and its tracks have never looked so sinister as today. For almost everyone who was brought here could never take the train back home.
Approximately in the middle of this camp you will see a copy of a wagon in which most of these prisoners were transported during the war. When the people were pulled out of their compartment, they didn’t even knew where they were and additionally they were attacked and bitten by brutal dogs and SS officers.
Immediately when they arrived, a selection was made. The officers didn’t care about families and friends being torn apart. About 90% of the exhausted train passengers (or at least the once that survived – because most of them were on there for three days and nights without getting anything to eat or drink) were gassed immediately. The remaining 10% had to spend their days with very heavy work in miserable conditions.
In the evening they were given too little food to satisfy their hunger and they were huddled together like animals in a wooden, uninsulated bunker where they could rest for a few hours on their straw mats until they were brought back the next morning to perform extremely heavy work. There was no luxury, because every morning they only had a few minutes to wash themselves and go to the toilet. A decent breakfast wasn’t available and everyone could be killed arbitrarily whenever it pleased an officer of the camp.
I think it’s a very good idea to plan your visit a bit. There are plenty of documentaries that you can check about life in Auschwitz. On YouTube, there are also quite a few interesting stories of survivors. This mini-documentary is definitely worth watching:
How could it all come to this?
With pain in my heart I also left this camp. Fortunately, because a lot of people could never leave this camp once they entered it… When I was on the bus back to Krakow, it seemed as if no one wanted to talk. Anyone who had visited the camps was clearly impressed.
Once I was back in Krakow, I felt a constant glow in my body and my mouth continually curled into a smile. I was so happy that I was free. I was so happy I could just go wherever I wanted. I was so glad that we weren’t fighting this ridiculous war.
Sometimes I think more people should visit these places. Because all around me and in the media you hear too many people making racist or hateful statements. It hasn’t even been a hundred years ago, and people seem to have forgotten it already.
People never seem to change… And personally I hope this experience will always stay in my mind. Because for the last time: this really can not ever happen again.
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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.