While staying in Krakow and having great time, many visitors from around the world do not forget about visiting German concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, located only 70 km from the centre of Krakow. Of course such visit does not fit into the „party weekend” or „stag/hen weekend” theme but if you are in Krakow for the first time or simply you have never been to Auschwitz before, you should consider taking some time to see it.
The camp was established in 1940, right after German invasion on Poland in September 1939 which began World War 2. At the beginning, major purpose of building the camp was to keep Polish prisoners from all around the country in one huge prison which could be used as a slave labour camp. However in 1942 German Nazis started to convert it into the largest death camp in the history of World War 2. Among prisoners and victims were mostly Jews, Poles and Gypsies. It is estimated that up to 1,5 million people lost their lives here between 1940 – 1945. More information about the history of this place here.
Whole area of Auschwitz-Birkenau camps became part of the Museum which protects post-camp relics, such as Block no. 11, known as the Death Block, the “Wall of Death”, a gas chamber, crematorias, bunkers and many more. A visit of the camp gives a comprehensive insight into the dark history of the World War 2 and German Nazis regime. All exhibitions were enriched with documentary photographs, photocopies of documents, models, and sculptures. It is not a typical museum. This place have a real effect on visitors' imagination, way of thinking and their awareness of historical facts. No one leaves this place untouched.
Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum has its own strict rules of sightseeing. Due to rising number of visitors each year, reservation of entrance tickets is required. If you are planning your trip to Poland long time in advance, you try to book your tickets on official website of the Museum. But it still can be hard, because many local travel agencies book all available spots as soon as possible and use them for their organized regular and private tours from Krakow or other cities in Poland like Warsaw, Katowice or Wroclaw. When you manage to get your tickets, you can get to Auschwitz from Krakow by train, by bus or rent a car and drive there on your own. However, public transportation like trains and buses may not have very convenient schedules and renting car is not so cheap. That is why nearly 100% of people who want to visit Auschwitz, book tours with local travel agencies which offer hotel pick up and drop off, comfortable bus transportation, entrance tickets and sightseeing with local English speaking guide (or other languages on request). There is a big competition on this market so you should not pay more than 130 PLN per person including everything on such tour. Considering the fact that single entrance ticket to Museum costs 45 PLN per person, it is not so expensive. Some companies offer day tours to Auschwitz not only from Krakow but also from Warsaw, Wroclaw, Katowice, Lodz, Zakopane or even from Prague, Bratislava, Budapest and Vienna. If you are coming to Poland between May and September you should even try to book your tour with local agencies in advance because recently even big agencies have problems with availability on certain dates. It is all because physical capacity of Memorial and Museum site is limited and each year more and more people come to visit this „must-see” place.