Krakow is, perhaps, the essential city for tourists in Poland. It claims the first cafe in the world, the largest old town square in Europe and the old town itself is surrounded by lovely parks. There are two big day trips out of Krakow: To the Wieliczka Salt Mines and to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. Organised tours are available for both, most around 100zl. In this post, Craig Martin is going to show the slightly more adventurous travellers how to visit Auschwitz for less than half of that.
If you don’t need hotel-door pick up, wander down to the main bus station and check for the minibus or coach to Auschwitz. It’s probably listed under its Polish name, Oswiecim. They leave, roughly, every 25 minutes which means you won’t be standing around for too long. If you can’t find your platform then head down the stairs — there’s another set of platforms ‘hidden’ under the main complex. The minibus will cost you 7zl each way, buy your ticket from the driver. The trip takes 90 minutes each way and, if you ask the driver nicely, he or she will tell you to get off. You can also ask the driver for a timetable to help you get back in the afternoon!
One thing to make sure of: get to Auschwitz before 11:30. This is when the English-speaking tour begins, costing 26zl. I thought this was going to be the poor-man’s tour: a cut-price guide and 20 minutes of script. In contrast, this was the most knowledgable guide I’ve ever had! She spoke good English, and was empathetic, friendly and professional. Her qualifications started with a history degree, then six months of specialist training. After that there were several tests, including guiding University lecturers and authors around the camps. This was no cut-price guide.
Although there were over 100 people waiting for the English-speaking tour, no group was bigger than 12 people. And did I mention the tour lasted three and a half hours? Yeah, for 26zl the tour lasted three and a half hours. Every tour is different, but we spent about two hours in the first Auschwitz camp before catching a free shuttle bus to the larger camp: Auschwitz II: Birkenau. The free shuttle bus runs all day on the hour and, I believe, is free for everyone – tour or no tour.
After your tour is over, there’s no rush for the minibus but when you are ready to head home simply go back to where you got off. Let’s look over those prices:
7zl – Minibus, one way
26zl – Guided tour
7zl – Minibus, one way
40zl – Total
That leaves you with an unforgettable experience and enough money left over to buy dinner too. And the Wieliczka Salt Mines? Maybe another day.
You can read about Linda and Craig’s trip to Auschwitz here. Times and prices were accurate in July 2007.
When Craig Martin is mid-flight, he’s writing for the amateur traveler. He podcasts at the indie travel podcast (itunes) and blogs at our crazy travels. This week, Craig’s trying Hammam along with the patience of the Turkish population.