Everything you need to know for visiting Auschwitz

Auschwitz. It is a name that is synonymous with pain, suffering, horror, murder and the Holocaust. It is a name that can fill you with fear instantly and there are not many people around the globe that don’t know its name. Many people want to visit Auschwitz when on holiday in Poland but there are so many things to consider.

Planning a visit to Auschwitz is something that takes time and for many some preparations for what they will experience while they are there. Whether you decide to go by yourself, on a tour or on a self-drive stay in Osweim we have all the important information on visiting Auschwitz right here.

auschwitz front gate
The entrance gate to Auschwitz

Why should you visit Auschwitz?

Auschwitz – Birkenau is a destination that will rock you to the core. So much history, sadness and crazy ideology all converge in this one location. In 1940, on the outskirts of Oswiecim Poland, a prison camp was established. The continued mass detainment of the Jews, political prisoners and the Polish people meant that a bigger solution was required.

On June 14, 1940, the first prisoners arrived. By 1942 Auschwitz had turned from a prison camp into a death camp, a systemic killing machine controlled by the Third Reich. For over a million people the Auschwitz arrivals platform was the end of the line for them, as they were marched straight to the gas chamber.

What to expect on your Auschwitz visit

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration camp is a memorial to all the victims who were murdered within the complex.

We found that even located near a town it was an extremely quiet place. You may have to rethink your visit to Auschwitz or maybe even visit on different days if you are able to and leave your little ones with the other parent or family member while you go there.

I found myself completely absorbed in my emotions the first time we went and I am glad I did not have my young children at Auschwitz with me at that time.

Auschwitz 1

Was originally a Polish Army barracks and is now home to the museum. Here you will also find the Arbeit Mein Frei sign that you walk under to enter. The red brick buildings are large multi-story buildings surrounded by barbed wire fences. There are guard towers dotted throughout the area and you will also see some of the areas where roll call was conducted.

Here you will also find much of the information about the camps and what happened. Many of the buildings are home to photographs, and personal items from the people transported to the camp including pots, pans, glasses, some clothing suitcases and one room that is truly heartbreaking is filled with hair.

There are warnings before you enter these rooms about some of the content in them and some rooms where you are not to take pictures. If you are visiting Auschwitz with older children it may be an idea to scan the room for the content before you enter.

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Information boards at Auschwitz Memorial

Auschwitz 2 Birkenau

The end of the line for so many and its size is unbelievable. It is hard to believe what happened here as you walk under the infamous entrance building following the train line that bought people here.

Originally 22 buildings were here and it amassed to over 300 small, bearly weatherproof huts to house the Prisoners. It was estimated in 1942 that if Birkenau was to keep running a total of 1.6 million people per year could be gassed and cremated there.

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You can walk along the train platform to where the crematoriums once were. The retreating army blew them up so now there are only craters where they once stood. There are some buildings you can walk through to see how prisoners were housed here and there is a train carriage as well.

Towards the back of the complex, there is an area where you can pay your respects to all who were murdered here.

Planning a trip to Auschwitz? Here is a guide to the closest airports to Auschwitz

Information you need to know when visiting Auschwitz

In this post, we will cover the most frequently asked questions about Auschwitz that we had after we visited Auschwitz.

Plan your trip to Auschwitz

Auschwitz is not a place you can decide to turn up to on the day. Planning a trip to Auschwitz takes time and booking well in advance. You can book tickets to Auschwitz here.

Do you need a group tour?

There are limited spaces and times available for people not wanting to go with a tour group. They usually book up fast and can be difficult to get.

We do recommend you either go on a group tour from the city in Poland where you are staying or book a guided tour with an Auschwitz-approved guide. In these groups, you are given a headset and the information is invaluable to what happened at these sites.

Group tours are available in many different languages and they run throughout the day.

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The crematorium at Auschwitz Birkenau

How much is entry to Auschwitz-Birkenau?

This will depend on the tour that you chose and where you are taking it from. Many will include transport to and from your accommodation or at least near where you are staying. The central meeting point makes visiting Auschwitz with a guide very easy.

How long do I need to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau?

Guided tours from a city will normally have a tour time of 5-6 hours with approximately 3 hours at the camp.

We recommend if you are not going with a tour group then you should allow at least 4 hours to visit the main camp Auschwitz I where the majority of the museum is located and Auschwitz II Birkenau. The camps are linked by a shuttle bus that is included in your entry price.

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Are there rules for visiting Auschwitz?

There are some very important rules when you visit Auschwitz. At times unfortunately it is forgotten by some visiting Auschwitz that it is a site where people were murdered and is now their eternal resting place. These rules are to make sure the mass gravesite is kept as respectful as possible.

  • Please wear suitable clothing in respect to the people who lie here
  • The maximum size of backpacks or handbags brought into the Museum does not exceed dimensions: 30x20x10 cm
  • All backpacks will be subject to inspection on arrival and entry to the memorial
  • No markers, spray paint, pens or paints are allowed into Auschwitz and will be confiscated
  • There is strictly no smoking on the sites
  • No food or drinks are to be consumed. A small bottle of water is ok
  • No items are to be removed from Auschwitz-Birkenau
  • Pictures can be taken without flash, tripods or selfie sticks
  • There is strictly no photography allowed in the Basements of Block 11 and in the Hall of the Hair of the Victims

You can store your luggage or your bags in prepaid storage at the camp.

Read more: All the best day trip tours from Krakow to Auschwitz

How to visit Auschwitz

There are so many options on how to visit Auschwitz but it will depend on the amount of time you have and what you believe your kids can handle.

Organised tour to Auschwitz from Krakow

For some that are not confident driving in Poland, this will be the perfect way to get from Krakow to Auschwitz.

Self-driving from Krakow to Auschwitz

This may be the best way if you are confident about driving. This will give you the freedom that you and your children may need with a visit to Auschwitz. You can pick up a rental car at major airports in Poland.

Self-guided day trip from Krakow to Auschwitz

There are also tours to Auschwitz where the company will guide you to the concentration camp and from there you will make your own way around the Auschwitz Memorial. The Kraków Pass includes a Skip-the-line ticket for Auschwitz-Birkenau and guided tour.

Making a booking to visit Auschwitz

You can book tickets to the Auschwitz Birkenau memorial site on the official website or you can book a variety of day tours from places such as Krakow and Warsaw. There are so many Auschwitz tour packages available so take your time in selecting what is best for you.

Visiting Auschwitz with a guide

If it is your first visit to Auschwitz a guide is an amazing way to learn what actually took place at the concentration camp.

They are normally in groups of 20-30 people and you are given a headset to wear and the tour guide speaks into that as you walk through the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Auschwitz ticket prices with tour

3.5-hour guided tour for adults$23 USD€ 18.90
3.5-hour guided tour with concession$19.80€ 16.67

You can organise a guided tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau through the website or if you are needing to visit Auschwitz from Krakow or another city you can organise a day trip to Auschwitz that includes a guided tour.

Visiting Auschwitz without a guide

It concerned me that many people visit Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial without a guide and many of the horrors here are lost on them. Some places in the camp need a person to explain to you why it is a significant place, what happened and without a guide at Auschwitz that can be difficult.

A self-guided tour of Auschwitz we believe is a good option for families with older kids. It gives you the option to go at your child’s pace and you can control some of what they will see.

Auschwitz jews
Belongings left behind

There are plenty of signs around the camp that will describe what happened in certain places and significant sights. They are very explanatory and are very well written.

In most of the buildings at this dark tourism site, there is a lot of information about what happened at the camp and in certain rooms.

Getting into Auschwitz (entry ticket, security and guided tour headset)

Auschwitz is a place that is not easy to get into. When you get your ticket and book to join a tour, you must show identification from your country of origin. Book a fast track entry ticket.

The first security check is at the entrance of Auschwitz. You have to go through a metal detector and then put your belongings in a locker. The second security check is at the entrance of the museum, where you have to go through another metal detector and put your belongings in another locker.

The headset that you have to wear has an audio guide with information about Auschwitz, which will be played automatically when you enter certain rooms or buildings.

Discover more: How to get from Wroclaw to Auschwitz

Visiting Auschwitz from Krakow tips

If you are making a day trip to Auschwitz from Krakow make sure you can easily get to your tour company pick up point for your day trip to Auschwitz.

Visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration camp in the summer

The Auschwitz Concentration camp is a hot place in the summer. The brick buildings will hold a lot of the heat and then there are other parts that are not shaded at all. It is kept as it was as much as possible so these modifications would take some things away from how hard this environment would have been on the prisoners held there.

A visit out to Birkenau will be just as hot. There is no shade and minimal places to stop and rest especially if you are on a tour.

Visiting Auschwitz in winter

As the summer months, the winter at Auschwitz will be just as extreme. While there is heating in the buildings at Auschwitz the camp at Birkenau is open to all of the elements.

auschwitz in winter

You need to make sure you have all of the correct clothing to visit Auschwitz in winter.There are so many things that you need to consider when you plan on visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp. We hope that our trips to Auschwitz give you some idea of what to expect and some things to consider before you go.

Visiting Warsaw: All the best ways to get to Auschwitz from Warsaw

Where to stay when visiting Auschwitz

As we were self-driving we found it much easier to stay in the nearby town of Oswiecim. We had a hotel room around a 7-minute drive to the camp.

There are plenty of places to stay in Osweim whether it be a hotel, hostel or apartment. Make sure you are booking what is needed for you when you are visiting Auschwitz.

Tips for visiting Auschwitz

There are so many tips for visiting the Auschwitz Memorial we can think of and so many things you can do to prepare. Here are some of our top tips:

We found that our visit was highly emotional on both trips to Auschwitz and completely different.

The first time we went was just the two of us and then the second time was with our daughters. While both of the visits to Auschwitz were different there were some things that were the same.

  • Do some research before you go. This post is great and we have another emotional piece that you can read here
  • Take your time. Don’t plan to rush through but do plan to leave if you need to as well
  • Arrive at least 30 minutes before your allocated time, especially if you are self-driving to Auschwitz. This will give you time to park the car, get through security and find your guide if you are on a tour
  • Make sure you have a form of identity for all people that you have booked tickets for. They must match the name on the booking
  • Do not bring anything with you like pens, textas, markers and large bags. Your bag will be searched on arrival and any items that are not appropriate will be taken from you
  • There are places outside of both Auschwitz and Birkenau where you can purchase something to eat and drink but not within the camp
  • Parking at Auschwitz costs 6 euros and parking at Birkenau costs 8 euros

Resources for preparing for your visit to Auschwitz

Some people will want to prepare slightly for what they are going to experience while visiting Auschwitz. To be honest not much will help you comprehend or understand the magnitude of what happened here. here are some of the resources that we looked at before visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau

Books on Auschwitz

For some preparing to visit Auschwitz, reading some books can help. Some of the books were:

Some of these books are for teen readers or young adults. you will also find a bookshop at the exit gate of Auschwitz I. There you will find some of these books but you will also find some books that were written by survivors of the camps that have been translated from their native language into English and may not be readily available in any other place.

Documentaries on Auschwitz

We found many documentaries on Netflix, SBS, ABC and other channels that we found were appropriate for us to watch. These can give them a stark look at the horror that they would witness.

Some documentaries we watched were:

  • World War II in colour
  • The Hitler Youth

Internet searches for Auschwitz

We found that we could research any of the information that we wanted easily on the internet. We also found that there were a lot of confronting and differing views here. Some were not age-appropriate for our daughters which at times did lead to heavy conversations.

If you are going to research on the internet please make sure that you are visiting an accredited site that is giving you the correct information for you to discuss with your teens prior to your visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Some sites we used were:

More World War II sites in Poland: Visit the stunning and mysterious Ksaiz Castle

Visiting Auschwitz with kids

If visiting Auschwitz with family is something you want to do you need to make sure you have an open conversation with your kids about the visit.

The more you talk about this dark tourism site, the more you will be able to gauge what information they can handle and what you may have to look out for. A visit to Auschwitz is an emotional experience for adults let alone kids, teens or older children.

On both times we made a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau there have not been a lot of smaller children at Auschwitz with families. There were a couple of very small children in prams and a couple in wraps on their parents but at no time did we see small children wandering around the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

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A teenage girl visiting Auschwitz

If you do need to take your younger children there are not many places for them to wait if a building you want to go into is not appropriate for them to enter as well.

For young children who are unable to comprehend what happened there, you may find that they are ok with a visit. There are rooms with shoes, luggage, pots and uniforms but not many graphic scenes are depicted. If there are you can easily identify them and not enter the room with your children.

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Much of what is on display is people’s actual belongings, things that belonged to someone who had no idea what was going to happen and that is such a different level of emotion.

Should I visit Auschwitz with kids?

Only you know your child, what their level of comprehension is about visiting a concentration camp. While we can give you the best of what we did you need to keep in mind you need to do what is right for your family when visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

Should I visit Auschwitz with kids? – Our opinion

Our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau with teens is still something we talk about a lot and something that we are asked about a lot. We did a lot of talking with our daughters about what they would see and witness while we were there.

Mark and I had visited Auschwitz previously and we were able to use some of that insight to help our daughters with what they would see. I believe this helped us immensely.

In the end, you know your children and your teens and only you can make the decision on what they can handle. They will be in a place where millions were murdered, there are pictures and there are sights that will stay with them.

We hope this post about visiting Auschwitz from us here at Poland Travel Expert has provided you with the information you need to plan your trip to Auschwitz. It is one of the saddest places on earth with so much to learn here.

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