You have several options for touring Auschwitz (in Polish it’s called Oświęcim, remember this when buying a bus ticket).
The easiest way to do it is to find a tour company. There are multiple tour companies around the city that will take you there and arrange your tour. Most of these tours are around 150zl per person, which includes transportation to and from the camp as well as a guided tour once you get there. These tours usually take a total of 7-9 hours.
You can also arrange for your own transportation, if you prefer; leaving from the main bus station** (Dworzec Główny) and arriving next to the camp for 24zl round trip, a 1.5-2 hour journey each way. (There is also a train that will take you there, but it is not recommended as it takes much longer, runs less frequently, and drops you off a mile away from the camp). After arriving by bus, you can then choose wether to have a guide from Auschwitz give you a tour, 40zl per person (3.5 hours) OR if you go very early in the morning (before 9:45am) or after 15:00 (3pm) you are allowed to tour the site on your own for free (donations obviously welcomed).
Our suggestion would be to take the bus and go after 3pm. There are a lot of reasons that this seems to be the best option. First, after 3pm a lot of tourists have already headed back to the city so you will have a less crowded visit, which is always better. Secondly, going with a guide means you must go at their pace, some visitors have said they felt rushed by their guide, and that once you leave the 1st camp to go to the 2nd, you aren’t allowed to go back to the 1st, even if it is still open. Also, some visitors have complained that they felt like they never had time to really explore on their own, reflect about what happened there, or even have a moment to themselves away from the group.
That being said, there are definite upsides to going with a guide, since they will be able to provide invaluable information, and answer any questions you may have.
No matter what option you choose, YOU MUST RESERVE A SPOT ahead of time, even if you are going to go late/early for free. To reserve your spot go to Auschwitz’s website, click reservation, choose for individuals, and then pick your date. Finally choose the time you would like to arrive, if you are going with a guide, you will choose an option with the language that you want and titled “General Tour 3,5 hours“. If you wish to enter for free, and tour the facility on your own, choose the option “Tour for individuals without an educator“.
To reserve tickets go here.
If you are looking for more information or want a more in-depth self-guided tour, Rick Steve’s travel guide has a great chapter on the camp.
**The main bus station Dworzec Glowny is attached to the large mall, Galeria Krakowska. To get there you can get off any tram going to Dworzec Glowny of some sort (Tunel, Wschod, Zachod) and follow the signs to the station. Some people find the bus, and buy a ticket from the driver, but I usually suggest following the signs to the station, going to the cash desk, and getting your ticket from there. Someone at cash desk will usually speak English. It is possible to buy your ticket in advance, just pop into the station when you first arrive to Krakow. But during the busy months, there are buses running back and forth about every 20 minutes or more, so you should have no problem getting a bus right before you need to leave. Most guests usually only buy a one-way ticket to Oswieciem, and then when they get to Oswieciem they buy their return ticket. Make sure you check for return bus times and plan accordingly. You don’t want to have to stand at the bus station outside waiting for hours. Trust us.
(Note: 4zl=1Euro, prices I write are for normal tickets, sometimes there is a student discount)