Admission to Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps and museum is free but reservation tickets are essential while guided tours are good options to visit with transportation from Krakow, Katowice, or Warsaw.
The memorial sites at the former Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps in Poland near Krakow attract well over two million annual visitors. Admission is free but time-slot reservation tickets are essential and guided tours are obligatory most of the day. All-inclusive day-trip tours to Auschwitz are easy to book from Krakow, Katowice, or Warsaw. Whether visiting solo (often afternoons only) or on a tour, reserve early as timeslots do book out on some days. Affiliate links below are to the Auschwitz tours I consider the best choices out of literally hundreds offered at Viator and Get Your Guide.
Tips on Visiting Auschwitz Concentration Camp and Museum
Visiting the Auschwitz concentration camps memorial sites involves the following whether taking a tour or not. First a visit to Auschwitz I (with indoor museum, Arbeit macht frei sign, preserved barracks) and then transfer to Auschwitz II (also referred to as Birkenau with its famous gate tower, dividing platform, destroyed crematoria, and monuments — the “sauna” and Canada warehouse are usually not included in tours). The same ticket or guide is used at Auschwitz I and II. The transfer between the two camps is by tour bus, free shuttle bus (every hour / 30 minutes in high season), or half an hour walk (3 km / 2 miles).
Dress according to the weather and keep in mind that the visit to Auschwitz II is in the open without any cover. It is bitterly cold in winter and on windy days; baking hot on sunny days — take an umbrella for shade.
The guided tour at Auschwitz I is around two hours and just over an hour at Auschwitz II, which is physically much larger but only a small section is seen on guided tours (solo visitors with tickets may explore much further). Take water and a snack — water is available for purchase at both entrances but options are limited and queues may be long.
The official name used by UNESCO for this World Cultural Heritage-listed site is “Auschwitz Birkenau”, with the subtitle “German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940–1945)”. A variety of names (and spellings) are used to advertise tours but all follow the same process and visiting order.
Tips on Booking Auschwitz Concentration Camp Tickets and Tours
Some tips worth considering before visiting or booking day-trip tours to visit the Auschwitz concentration camps memorial site near Krakow in Poland — all are explained in more detail lower down:
- Admission to Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camp memorial site and museum is free but time-slot reservation tickets are essential. Especially in summer book well in advance.
- Guided tours (charged) are usually essential to visit the camps — self-guided visits are usually only possible early morning, or late afternoon, and not every day or all year.
- Only official tour guides (educators) are allowed inside the camp memorial.
- Guided bus day-trip tours from Krakow, Katowice, Warsaw, etc. are very similar — read the fine print, especially for tours much cheaper or more expensive than the average.
- Keep the whole day free for a visit, as tour times often change the day before the actual visit.
- All-inclusive bus tours are around 7 hours from Krakow or Katowice and at least 12 hours from Warsaw.
Buying Tickets to Visit Auschwitz Concentration Camp Memorial Site without Tours
Admission to the Auschwitz memorial sites — Auschwitz I concentration camp with the museum and Auschwitz II Birkenau concentration camp — is free but time-slot reservation tickets are essential and are best reserved well in advance. Tickets often sell out during the busy season but if still available may be reserved on the day of the visit but that is a risky option.
Make ticket reservations directly at the official site: select “individuals without an educator” — currently such visits are only possible in the late afternoon. It is often possible to access the Auschwitz-II (Birkenau) memorial site without a ticket at any time during opening hours — certainly worth a try if tickets are no longer available for the day, or if arriving in the morning when tours are compulsory at Auschwitz I.
It is important to have either a very good guidebook or an audio guide. Although there are some information boards available, very little indication is given where or what to visit, as most visitors are on set routes with guides. Self-guided tours are unlikely to match the pace of guided tours, so allow enough time to visit both memorial sites.
Book Guided Tours of Auschwitz for Individual Travelers
Individuals may book guided tours too through resellers or the official website — note prices are in Zloty, divide by around 5 to get to euro or dollar. The basic tour is 3h30 — around two hours at Auschwitz I, half an hour for the free bus transfer (or walk) to Auschwitz II Birkenau where the tour is around 60 minutes (with the same guide). Longer study tours of 6 hours are less frequently offered and include visits to further original buildings that are not open to larger groups.
These tours are a good option for travelers using their own transportation and even for visitors planning to explore alone too. Consider booking an afternoon tour and book a free admission ticket to reenter again after the tour is finished. (It is not allowed to wander off during a guided tour but worth asking if wanting to do so at Birkenau.)
Travelers not arriving by car should note that the exact same tours are used by all day-trip tour bus visitors. All-inclusive tours are hardly more expensive than using public transportation (plus official tours) with the added advantage of an ensured bus transfer between the two sites and minimal waiting for transportation back to Krakow.
Guided Day-Trip Bus Tours to Auschwitz
Many bus day-trip tours are available from Krakow to Auschwitz and are generally good value and the simplest way to visit the memorial sites. These tours vary little in content, so as long as the same things are on offer, there is very little variation and it is best to avoid tours that are unusually cheap or expensive. American travelers struggle less than Europeans with noting that the front page advertised price is rarely the actual price due once dates and group size are entered. (Time changes the day prior to the tour are irritating to all — travelers and tour providers, who are subject to arrangements at the museum.)
Tours may be divided into the following basic versions:
- Transportation only — public transportation may be better value and allow for more flexibility but reserve Auscwitz tickets in advance as companies would happily sell you transportation tickets for days when Auschwitz is already fully booked.
- Guided tours only — same as the tours booked directly (as mentioned above) but may have other availability. Transportation is not included but the hourly shuttle bus between the two sites is free (but could be full!)
- All-included bus tours from Krakow include bus transportation, the official guide at both sites, transportation between the two camps, and a return bus. These are often good value and the simplest way to visit the memorial sites. Group size varies but even “private tours” is applicable to the transportation only — groups are combined to around 30 with the official tour guide at the camp, no private or small group tours.
- All-inclusive bus tours adding further sites — Wieliczka salt mine is the most popular combination while Krakow is often added to tours departing from other cities such as Warsaw or Katowice. Some throw in a free walking tour of Krakow the same night
An important thing to note with all bus tours is that times are only confirmed as late as the evening before, as the guides at Auschwitz are apparently only allocated the day before. This is the same for all tours and equally frustrating to the tour transportation organizers.
Booking Tours to Auschwitz
Tours are easily booked through Viator or Get Your Guide. These booking sites list endless and confusing options. Below I highlight some tours that to me seem the best choices based on reviews, fine print, price, and general availability. Do compare and read the fine print before booking.
Shuttle Bus Transportation-Only Tours Tickets from Krakow to Auschwitz (Oświęcim)
The Lajkonik shuttle bus from Krakow station to the Auschwitz memorial site is easily bought at Viator but then a paper printout is essential (yes, really!). Alternatively, buy directly at Lajkonikbus — the booking process is a bit of an ordeal but mobile tickets are accepted, or buy in advance when arriving in Krakow. Online and advance ticket purchases receive preference if the bus is full over passengers hoping to buy a ticket on the bus. The tickets are around €6 one way, with slight discounts for returns on the same day.
All public transportation back to Krakow is from the Oświęcim (Auschwitz I) side, even though tours usually end at Auschwitz II (Birkenau).
Railway connections are available mostly hourly between Krakow and Oświęcim but these are best kept as a backup plan rather than the first choice. Traveling time is 90 minutes to two hours plus the walk or bus from Oświęcim station. Some trains are direct; many require a transfer at Myslowice.
Many visitors complain that the guided tours are too quick — keep public transportation options in mind to stay longer after a bus tour, it will only add the bus or train ticket price to break away from the group at the end of a guided tour.
Guided-Tour-Only of Auschwitz Sites
Tour-only of the two Auschwitz sites (no transportation other than the free shuttle bus between the camps) — tickets are available from Viator but tour times may also change at short notice, which could make a mess with transportation.
These tours are best booked directly at the memorial website unless Viator can book a date that is not yet available.
Transportation and Self-Tour Options
Another option is transfer and guidebook tours — these are hardly more expensive than a guided tour and include transportation from Krakow to Auschwitz and back, reserved tickets, and a guidebook for a do-it-alone tour. These tours last about the same time as regular fully guided tours but returning by public transportation bus (around $6) later if desired remains an option.
All-Inclusive Bus Tours from Krakow to Auschwitz
Important: Most tours offer a variety of starting times but in practice, the actual times are often only confirmed by phone or SMS around 19:00 the day before the tour. As times can move around by hours, it is important to NOT have any other firm commitments on the day. (It is annoying but it is what it is!) Refunds should be given if the time changes much but that is of little use if missing the excursion. As the number of visitors allowed into the site at any given time is strictly controlled, early morning tours are only slightly less busy than in the middle of the day. Combination tours with other sites are more likely to depart on the booked time.
A huge number of tours are available from Krakow but all are basically the same. Transportation from Krakow to Auschwitz I, a guided tour of the memorial site and museum, the same transportation to Auschwitz II (Birkenau) with a guided tour of this camp, and transportation back to Krakow, sometimes with optional stops en route, especially the Wieliczka salt mines.
Whether you arrive by tour bus, minibus, or private car, everyone is combined in an official guided tour of around 30 participants (with earphones — standard round plug if preferring your own). On larger buses, videos on the history are often shown en route while minibusses of around 12 have fewer passengers to pick up and are not necessarily more expensive. For families and small groups, private transfers could work out cheaper.
Hotel pickup or central meeting point often makes no difference to the price. Hotel pickup is convenient but the bus may still have to pick up at other venues. (This sometimes even happens if starting from a central meeting point.) Usually, the further west the hotel is located in Krakow, the shorter the wait. Novotel Krakow Centrum guests are likely the last on, first off.
As transportation for the whole day is usually in the same vehicle, it is possible to leave bags, water, lunch, and umbrellas on the bus. Unless it is raining, the umbrella is really only needed at Auschwitz II where the sun can be fierce, or very cold in winter.
Although many tours are advertised as from $20 those are nearly impossible to find unless booked months in advance as a large group. For individuals and families, expect to pay around $25-40 per person in the low season and nearer $50 in the high season, especially when booking at relatively short notice. Tours (and Auschwitz tickets) often sell out on summer days and over long weekends. A simple picnic lunch is often a cheap option (and convenient as other food options are limited).
All-Inclusive Bus Tours from Katowice and Warsaw to Auschwitz
All-inclusive bus tours are also available to Auschwitz from many other Polish cities, especially from Katowice and Warsaw. Tours from Katowice are very similar to the ones offered from Krakow with bus transfer tours also around six to seven hours. Private transportation options are available and some tours also include a visit to the old town center of Krakow, which is well worth seeing. Art lovers head to the Princes Czartoryski Museum to see Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci.
Tours to Auschwitz from Warsaw are also easily arranged. For individual travelers, the better option is usually tours that use the fast train to Krakow and then continue by bus — these tours usually include some free time in Krakow before returning to Warsaw. Direct bus tours are also available from Warsaw to Auschwitz. For small groups and families private transportation, sometimes including visiting Krakow, is often the cheaper option — the crossover point is usually around four traveling together.
Guided tours from Warsaw to Auschwitz are as a minimum 12 hours but many, especially those including Krakow, are up to 16 hours.