Oświęcim is a rural Polish town on the outskirts of Krakow. Many wouldn’t recognize the name of this town as anything out of the ordinary, but this is the town where the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps are located. During the early stages of WWII, the increasing rate of incarceration of Polish citizens was unsustainable for local prisons. Located nearby in Oświęcim was a connection of railway tracks and pre-established Polish war barracks, which were most readily equipped to accommodate the overflow of detainees. The Auschwitz and Birkenau camps were therefore established, beginning a story of despair that cannot be forgotten. I highly suggest visiting the museum and learning more about the history of Auschwitz and Birkenau to anyone visiting Krakow. But before you board the train and expect to be back by lunch, this museum is a full day event and should be planned for accordingly.
Getting There from Krakow:
You can choose between either a train or bus service to get to Oświęcim both from the main train station at Krakow Glowny. No need to book in advance, but if you are as determined as me to not let anything get in your way of visiting Auschwitz, book in advance here. We decided to go with the bus for a couple reasons – the times were better for when we scheduled our tour, the buses had shorter travel times, and the bus has a stop right outside of the museum. The from station is Krakow M.D.A gorna plyta and the to station is Oświęcim (museum), ul. Leszczynsk. The train stops at the Oświęcim train station, which would be about a 20 minute extra walk.
Where to Eat:
Restauracja Art Deco
We had a noon tour scheduled, therefore to give ourselves enough time to get there and grab a bite to eat, we were at the train station by 9:30am. I did some research before hand for an acceptable restaurant to stop by for lunch. I found a restaurant within walking distance of the museum and it turned out to be more than just acceptable. If you find yourself in Oświęcim around lunch or dinner, stop by Art Deco for some wonderful and authentic polish food. We didn’t make a reservation, showed up right around lunch time and sat at a table with no problem.
What they don’t tell you:
I came packing heat with my travel purse loaded with a camera, three different camera lenses, wallet, keys, ect. Turns out this was too large to take into the museum, so instead I packed my pockets (and even a lens hanging from my belt loop) and checked my purse so that I could get into the museum. Moral of the story is to pack lightly and only the essential to avoid an extra line to claim your oversized belongings at the end of the tour.
Entrance to the camps are free, but you are still required to make prior reservations for crowd control purposes. However, I suggest doing a “guided tour for individual visitors” which will last roughly 2 and a half hours and you will visit both camps. The tour guides are amazingly knowledgeable and without their guidance you don’t fully understand the significance and importance of what you are looking at. There are certain times each day when English, Spanish, Italian, German and Polish tours run. I had trouble booking an English tour a month in advance (back story: there was only one spot left at the noon English tour, so I sent a detailed, lengthy email about how I could not miss visiting the museum again on my upcoming trip to Krakow and they opened up a second spot for us!), so definitely book well in advance here.
Getting back to Krakow:
At the same stop that the bus let you off, it will come back to pick you up. You do not need to buy tickets in advance, especially if you are unsure which bus time you will need. This is no problem as you can pay as you get on the bus but be sure to bring some Zloty. The return bus trips can be quite full, so either plan an alternative transportation home or use this as an opportunity to practice your patience.