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Know Before You Go: Visiting Auschwitz

These are the top things you need to know before visiting the Auschwitz Memorial.

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Catherine Bouris is a freelance writer and editor from Sydney, Australia. A dual Greek-Australian citizen who has lived on three continents, she's a lifelong travel aficionado and loves sharing that with others. She can be found on Twitter @catherinebouris and pretty much everywhere else on the internet.

Auschwitz, located in Poland, was the most notorious of the Nazi concentration camps during its years of operation in World War II, and the site now exists to serve as a memorial to those who lost their lives. Visiting is a profoundly moving and educational experience, but before you take your trip, here are a few things you should know.

How can I visit Auschwitz?

arbeit macht frei gate, auschwitz
"Arbeit macht frei" means "work sets you free."Photo Credit: cacei.ro / Shutterstock

You can visit Auschwitz independently or with a licensed tour guide.

A guide is recommended for first-time visitors to ensure the most informative experience. Tours last about 3.5 hours, and you will visit the museum, exhibitions, and memorials of Auschwitz I, followed by the original camp buildings at Birkenau, including the prisoner barracks, gas chambers, and crematoriums. Entry to the grounds is free without a guide, but an entry pass must still be reserved online before your visit. Please be aware that due to the sensitive nature of the material inside, visits to the museum are not recommended for children under 14 years old

What can I expect at Auschwitz?

barbed wire fences at auschwitz
Visiting Auschwitz is a poignant experience.Photo Credit: PhotoFra / Shutterstock

Expect a moving, emotional experience as you walk through the gas chamber ruins, crematoria, and barracks.

There are two main areas of Auschwitz: Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Auschwitz I was the main camp and consisted of 30 brick buildings that now house the Auschwitz Birkenau State Museum and national exhibitions from countries whose citizens died at Auschwitz. Auschwitz I is also home to the ‘wall of death’ where prisoners were executed, and a gas chamber and Crematorium I. This is also where the ‘Arbeit macht frei,’ or ‘Work sets you free’ gate can be found. Birkenau was built as an expansion in 1941 and was where the majority of victims died at Auschwitz. At Birkenau, visitors can see the barracks, the ruins of gas chambers, crematoria, and the International Monument to the Victims.

Are there rules at Auschwitz?

train tracks leading to birkenau, auschwitz
Observe all rules at Auschwitz.Photo Credit: Celina Simone / Shutterstock

Yes, including keeping your phone and cameras off where required.

More than 1.1 million people lost their lives at Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945, and visiting is a somber affair. Be mindful of this and observe the site rules when visiting, including acting and dressing appropriately and respectfully. Visitors should also remember that the sensitive nature of the exhibitions means that photography is banned in many parts of the Auschwitz museum; however, it is permitted in most outside areas. Eating, smoking, and using cell phones (except to take photos) are prohibited on-site.

How can I get to Auschwitz?

buildings and barbed wire at auschwitz
Krakow is the closest city to Auschwitz.Photo Credit: DirkVG / Shutterstock

Most people visit Auschwitz on car or bus tours from Krakow or Warsaw.

The easiest way to reach Auschwitz is from Krakow, which is roughly a one-hour journey by car or bus. Most tours take at least 6 hours and include round-trip transportation. Meanwhile, Warsaw is just under 4 hours away by road, with tours lasting over 10 hours, given the transport times. Other tours to Auschwitz leave from Katowice, Wroclaw, Prague, and Budapest, and many tours combine visits to Auschwitz-Birkenau with visits to the Wieliczka salt mine nearby.

When should I visit Auschwitz?

barracks at auschwitz
As a memorial site, Auschwitz only closes four days a year.Photo Credit: Celina Simone / Shutterstock

Auschwitz is open year-round, except for Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and Easter Sunday.

In the cooler months, Auschwitz opens early in the morning and closes mid-to-late afternoon. In spring and summer, the site opens early in the morning and closes in the evening. Visitors may stay on site for up to 90 minutes after the last possible entry time.

What should I wear to visit Auschwitz?

inside barracks, auschwitz
There's a lot of walking at Auschwitz: not only through historic buildings like this one, but also around the site in general.Photo Credit: Serhii Khomiak / Shutterstock

Dress respectfully and wear comfortable shoes.

Auschwitz covers an area of about 12 square miles (30 square kilometers), and although shuttle buses run between the areas open to visitors, you will still do a lot of walking. Wear sturdy shoes suitable for uneven terrain and clothing that will keep you comfortable for the duration of the tour. Poland can get incredibly cold in the winter, and visiting Auschwitz requires a lot of walking outdoors, so dress accordingly.

Is Auschwitz accessible?

barbed wire at auschwitz
There's much uneven terrain at Auschwitz.Photo Credit: Giammarco Figus / Shutterstock

Ground-floor buildings are accessible, but the terrain is uneven throughout.

For those who require wheelchair access, only the ground floors of the buildings on the tour are accessible. Accessible bathrooms can be found at Auschwitz I and Birkenau in the main museum within the Death Gate building and near Crematorium III, and accessible parking is available near the museum and at Birkenau. Death Gate tower is not accessible to visitors who use wheelchairs, and all visitors with mobility issues should bear in mind how much walking on uneven terrain a visit to Auschwitz involves and plan accordingly.

Frequently asked questions

barbed wire fence at auschwitz
Auschwitz was liberated on Jan. 27, 1945.Photo Credit: Celina Simone / Shutterstock

Everything you need to know about visiting Auschwitz.

  • When was Auschwitz built? A former World War I camp and army barracks formed the basis of Auschwitz when the Nazis began using it to house prisoners on 20 May 1940. At the time, it consisted of 22 brick buildings, and eight more were added later. Birkenau was built as an extension of the original camp in 1941.

  • Where is Auschwitz located? Auschwitz is situated near the town of Oświęcim in southern Poland, close to the Czech and Slovakian borders. It is an hour west of Krakow and four hours south of Warsaw.

  • When was Auschwitz liberated? The Red Army began liberating Auschwitz on Jan. 27, 1945; the first camp to be liberated was Auschwitz III at Monowitz. Before liberation, on Jan. 17, the Nazis had evacuated almost 60,000 prisoners to other concentration camps; the 9,000 people left behind were deemed too ill to move. By the time the Red Army arrived ten days later, they found 7,000 prisoners alive in the three main camps and 500 alive in the other subcamps.

  • How many people died at Auschwitz? At least 1.1 million people were murdered at Auschwitz, with most dying in Birkenau. An estimated 960,000 of those murdered were Jewish, alongside 74,000 Polish prisoners and 21,000 Roma and Sinti prisoners.

Find more things to do in Auschwitz

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