After visiting Auschwitz I really wanted to write a post on getting there yourself. I feel like everyone in Krakow quickly joins a tour without realising how simple and easy it is to do independently.
There are frequent buses between Krakow and Auschwitz, and the guided tours you get directly from the desk at the museum are often less crowded and better timed than the bus tours that all seem to come in at once.
So here is everything you need to know about visiting Auschwitz without a tour.
The first thing to note is that entrance to Auschwitz is completely free. There is no admission fee that you have to pay to enter the site itself. But the tricky situation is that in high season (between April 1 and October 31) it is compulsory to sign up to a guided tour to visit the site.
The rationale behind this is that it’s a way of controlling the crowds and the numbers of people in each room at any point in time. To be honest, it’s great to have a guided tour if you have a good one. But ours didn’t have fully comprehendible English and she rushed through things a little too much. Of course the compulsory tour also comes with a compulsory fee of 45 Zlotys ($15 AUD). But it’s not very large compared to entrances at other famous sites throughout Europe.
Visiting the two camps is obviously not a happy experience. This a place of mass murder and as such a visit to Auschwitz is more like visiting a massive graveyard than visiting a happy and exciting place like the Eiffel Tower.
The dark history of this place and the hundreds of thousands of women, men and children that were murdered here is something that you need to be constantly thinking about. It’s NOT appropriate to be waving your selfie sticks around, bumping people out of the way to take photos or just generally being a shit tourist. I saw people doing all of those things and it absolutely disgusted me.
My advice is know what you are getting into. If you want to visit Auschwitz in the first place you most likely know a lot about the history, but a visit to Schindler’s Factory beforehand will help with the context. Knowing individual stories such as those told in Schindler also helps you to visit Auschwitz without being numb to the whole experience. This is something you have to feel.
It’s confronting, its challenging and its an emotional day. There were times that I broke down crying.
By far the hardest exhibition for me was an entire room full of at least a hundred kilos of hair. The hair only represented a small majority of that shorn from dead Jewish people after they exited the gas chambers. It’s easy to dismiss a number, even when that number is hundreds of thousands of people. But looking at that room and realising just how much hair there was really put the sheer size of the murders into perspective for me. The whole visit left me feeling drained. I ended up in bed very early that night and with a very heavy heart.
I did meet some people that asked why people decide to visit Auschwitz if it’s such a heartbreaking place. I’m sure a lot of it is gruesome curiosity. In the same way books and movies on serial killers end up as best sellers, as human beings we are always going to be curious when it comes to acts of pure evil.
But for me, it felt like something I had to do. The people and stories you hear about it- they actually experienced it, and many of them died doing so. If they had to experience it as a person, then I can sure as hell deal with hearing about their experience and remembering it.
Most importantly, I’m reminded of the importance of Auschwitz by a quote that is painted on the wall of the museum:
Getting to and from Auschwitz
The major reason I wanted to write this post is that I think anyone who joins a tour bus to Auschwitz is throwing away money. You don’t save any time or even convenience really by hopping on a tour bus when it is so damn easy to get there on your own.
Buses leave the main Krakow bus station (just behind the main train station) every half an hour. You can pay a ridiculously small amount of money on the tram system, in a cab or in an uber to get yourself to and from the bus station. And you then pay a similarly ridiculous small amount of money for the bus there and back. Only 24 zloty for a return ticket.
Just ask for the bus to Auschwitz at the information desk at the bus station and they’ll point you in the right direction. We only had to wait five minutes before we were on a mini bus that dropped us directly at the gate. There are also bigger buses that leave, whichever one you end up on just depends on the departure time.
It was a little trickier getting back as we tried and failed to get on the very full big bus. But we walked back down to the minibus station and were soon on a minibus back to Krakow.
In the end you’ll pay 45 zloty for the guided tour (a cost you can avoid in low season) and 24 zloty for the return bus to the site. The means doing Auschwitz independently is going to come to a grand total of 69 zloty. That’s €16, half of what you would pay for even the cheapest organised tour from Krakow. And you’ll avoid the crowds and be able to go at your pace! My vote is definitely for doing Auschwitz without a tour.
Where Should I Stay in Krakow?
If you are a budget traveller or are just looking to make some friends, Krakow is home to some of the best hostels in the world. I visited Krakow twice. The first time I stayed at the very quiet Old Walls Hostel which is a great option if you’re travelling with your grandfather like I was, or if you want somewhere quiet to reflect after your trip to Auschwitz. The second time I visited I was traveling alone and stay at Greg & Tom’s – it’s a bit of an institution in Eastern Europe and one of my favourite hostels. You’ll meet a heap of awesome people here especially because they do free and delicious family breakfast and dinner.
AirBnB is also a great option if you are on a budget or looking for a bit of space.
For all of your bookings, whether hostel or hotel I always recommend Booking.com, specifically because most of the time you can make a reservation without a deposit and many bookings are fully cancellable and refundable. I love being able to lock in my accomodation early, but then shift things around if my plans change!
If you have any questions, or advice to add on visiting Krakow independently comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.