What is the best way to see Aushwitz? Tour from Krakow, pick up tour at the site. Can I do this unguided?
You can find guides at Auschwitz who will take you to Auschwitz and Birkenau.
We were there last year. You'll want one of the local guides (professional and certified and English speaking) for Aushwitz which deserves time to study the events that took place there. Others may disagree but, with the advantage of hindsight, I would skip Berkenau. Save the time for Krakow.
Thanks - I had planned one day for Krakow and one day for Auschwitz
I agree with Canada George about Birkenau. Auschwitz I has the informative and heartbreaking displays, but it's only after seeing Auschwitz II, Birkenau that you understand the full and horrible scope of the camps.
" I think Birkenau is of equal importance to Auschwitz. I found the areal extent of Birkenau to be mind-numbing."
X3 - you will leave Auschwitz feeling horrified but when you see Birkenau you understand what it takes to kill systematically kill millions of people.
Agree with George/Canada.
Lew, I have been to Auschwitz-Birkenau twice, once in 2005 and again just last week. When you ask for the "best" way to see it, do you mean most straight-forward, or least expensive, or? I ask because there are a few ways (or combinations of ways) to get there and tour the site. Option 1: take tour from Krakow. This is more expensive, albeit most straightforward, option. Note that only guides employed by the Memorial and Museum are allowed to give the actual site tour, meaning that the tour company out of Krakow will basically only be providing your bus transport to/from, not usually the actual guide. Some tour companies include the price of the site guide in their package, some only charge for the transport so it's important to understand what you are getting. Option 2: take public transport on your own. This is what I've done twice, and it is the least expensive option. I would recommend stopping by a TI in Krakow (there are several) and ask for the Krakow-Auschwitz/Oswiecim bus schedule. There are several buses a day, some are full-sized buses and many are the mini-buses. Our ticket on a full-sized bus cost 14zl/person each way, or roughly $4.50. They leave from the main bus station in Krakow, which is just behind the main train station. The ride takes about an hour 45 minutes. You will know where to get off because there are likely to be several tourists on the bus going to the same place - and the big bus also drops you right in the parking lot. (continued)
I truly believe a guided tour is the absolute best way to get the most out of your visit. It costs 40zl/person, or roughly $12.50 (the actual entrance to the site is free). Many of the guides have personal family ties (for instance, our recent guide had a grandfather imprisoned at Mauthausen) and enrich the experience greatly. If you didn't want a guide, in order to tour Auschwitz I you would need to arrive before 10:00 am or after 3:00 pm (between those hours a guide is required to visit Auschwitz I). There are no such restrictions to visit Birkenau (Auschwitz II). Here is how the tour works: you arrive and buy your English language tour ticket. They will put you on the next tour (check the website George provided for tour times). If it is a large group, they will break it down so there are no more than about 20-25 people per group. Everyone will get a headset to be able to hear the guide completely. The first two hours are spent touring Auschwitz I. This camp is mostly comprised of brick buildings, in which there are now many moving exhibits. This site is roughly 50 acres, if I remember correctly. You turn in your headset and there will then be a 15 minute break before the guide will have you meet up again to take the Museum's shuttle bus to Birkenau (Auschwitz II). Birkenau spans about 425 acres and looks vastly different from Auschwitz I. The tour will resume here for about another hour. Of our group last week, only about half came to the second site and I didn't understand it. After the tour ends you are free to spend more time at the site on your own. (continued)
To get back to Krakow using public transport, you can take the free Museum shuttle back to Auschwitz I and the big bus departs from the same parking lot (there is a lamp post with a sign that says Krakow on it, the big bus schedule is posted on that lamp post). Or you can take a mini-bus back, which leaves from a lot adjacent to the Auschwitz I complex. Or you could take a cab from Birkenau to the train station and take the train. Trains don't run as frequently as buses, so make sure you know the schedule before doing that otherwise you might be waiting a while for the next train. Hope this make sense, happy to answer any questions you might have.
Thank you very much. You have been helpful.
Angela was very thorough, but I wanted to add one more option. In addition to the larger tour with a guide, you can also reserve a private guide for a smaller group. If you have a particular connection to Aushwitz or interest in specific details, I would recommend this option. We chose it for a group of four adults because we wanted to be able to go at more of our own pace and had two strong WWII history buffs. However you visit, it is a moving experience.
I visited both last year, as part of a Rick Steves Eastern Europe tour. We had a guide assigned to us the whole afternoon. We spent 3/4 of our time at Auschwitz and 1/4 at Berkenau. Guide was helpful but I think you could do it on your own. Auschwitz was very informative with plaquards and informational signs. But what I'd always pictured in my mind as Auschwitz, turned out to be Berkenau. The infamous watchtower, the train tracks, the selection platform, row upon row of barracks and the crematoriums....this was Berkenau. I don't think you should miss Auschwitz, but I would definitely allow more time at Berkenau than you'd expect.
Auschwitz and Birkenau are German names. If you happen to search for them on the map, on train or bus timetable,etc. you need to search for them under their Polish names: Oswiecim and Brzezinka.
You need to see both. You can do it on your own. How long you spend depends on what your heart and stomach can take.
A second HK's suggestion about the private tour. My family did a private tour and the personal touch made the trip all that more memorable. There is a lot to focus on and she tailored the tour for us. It is not that much more expensive (and we booked in advance so didn't have to wait in any lines once we got there). You can definitely do it on your own. But I know I am not disciplined enough to do all of the reading/planning to get the most out of it. I am glad I did the tour.