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Booking days out in Krakow

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Croydon
posts: 28
reviews: 1
Booking days out in Krakow

Hi everyone.

I’m in my 70s and travelling solo from Warsaw to Krakow next month where I shall spend four full days. I have refined my list of must-see things down to:

Auschwitz (of course!)

Wieliczka Salt Mine*

A City Tour by ‘golf cart’!, and

Zakopane (an early-start, single-day trip!)

*First of all, by the way, I have made a ‘diary’ note to visit Auschwitz on the first day, followed by the Salt Mine trip that evening, based on several comments here that the combination is quite practicable. Agree? If so, I shall then have a spare, full day at the weekend.

Whilst I’m happy to be advised of ‘better’ choices, my main reason to post is to seek the best means of booking these individual tours and with whom.

I’m staying at what I’m sure is a most dependable hotel, but suspicions linger that some staff anywhere may be tipped (literally) to recommend certain services, so I’d like your impartial suggestions instead please of local, small-group tour-operators.

My own research has thrown up the following, all of which seem good choices and I am leaning towards “escape2poland” with whom I have already booked the train down to Krakow.

“www.escape2poland”
“www.krakow.pl”
“www.seekrakow”
“cracow.travel”

My priorities, like yours no doubt, are reliability, reasonable English by the guide/s and ditto with price though I don’t want cheap for the sake of it! Comfortable travel would be nice too!

Many thanks in advance.

Manchester, United...
posts: 161
reviews: 2
1. Re: Booking days out in Krakow

It is possible to see Auschwitz and the salt mines the same day, and some tours do it, but I wouldn't recommend it unless you're pushed for time. Auschwitz is a good hour and an half travel each way, and of course is emotionally demanding, and the salt mines are physically demanding, there a lot of walking, lots of steps to go down at the start.

I usually recommend people get the bus to Auschwitz and buy the guided tour once there, then you aren't tied to someone else's schedule and can go round afterwards to see stuff the tours miss. But if you want a tour, check what it includes (some "tours" are really just transport - they take you there and let you look around on your own, rather than give you a guided tour - some will just give you a tour of just Birkenau but not the main Auschwitz I camp).

Never had a problem with any of the guides - English was excellent! I'd recommend the free walking tours rather than a buggy playing a recording, assuming you don't have mobility problems (although they're probably no more walking than in the salt mines!).

Croydon
posts: 28
reviews: 1
2. Re: Booking days out in Krakow

Thank you very much Andy. My opinions were based on what I’d “researched” and I was surprised to see others suggest both major sights could be accomplished the same day, moving into the evening of course. So interesting to have your different input. But I suppose having just four days comes under the “pushed for time” category!

I deliberately avoided reference to any “afflictions” as I didn’t wish to over-influence advisors with their opinions! But I did/do suffer from arthritis in my spine and used to take a collapsible shooting-stick-style seat on holidays which worked very well on such excursions, apart from the ease with which I could get up and leave it behind and the fag of having to carry the cumbersomely-shaped thing when travelling by air.

However, in recent years, that arthritis seems to have improved noticeably to such an extent that I have left it at home on my last few trips and didn’t miss it at all when walking for two or three hours in the hilly side of Budapest and during an adventurous trip to the Canadian Rockies and on up into Alaska. I’ve found I can wander art galleries too for well over two hours without the need to sit. But reading of the demands of both Auschwitz and the Mines, have made me reconsider the wisdom of taking the device to Poland, for the very reasons you mention. Hence my choice of the golf-cart tour too.

I’ve reached the age of enjoying the many benefits of “escorted” tours although this trip is the exception, having planned it all independently, saving myself £400-£500 already!

So despite your advice, I do like the sound of the mini-bus vehicles to the Camps and their conscientious drivers/guides. I have read nothing but praise for their service with a video film playing during the outward journey and as guides within the camps, or help with joining an official tour (which I believe is the more likely option. It’s been several days since I checked them out!) But I take your point and if I was much younger, I think I’d remain independent. This is one place I don’t really want to be too rushed. But one company talked of a 2½ hour tour of Auschwitz followed by 1¼–1½ hours at Birkenau. Yep, I think I’ll need that ‘stick’!

Many thanks again for your useful input.

Nowy Sacz, Poland
Destination Expert
for Poland
posts: 4,024
reviews: 42
3. Re: Booking days out in Krakow

Michael - the Auschwitz Museum itself recommends 3-3.5 hours as an absolute minimum to get the most from the sites.

I'd vote against A-B and Wielizcka in one day, if only because Auschwitz-Birkenau can be very emotionally exhausting. Plus, after all that walking, them Wieliczka tour's 2.5 km and over 800 stairs total (400 just to get down to the start) (mostly down - you get a lift back up!)

Armagh, United...
posts: 45
reviews: 57
4. Re: Booking days out in Krakow

I agree with the others. I,m a physically fit fifty something and have just today returned from Krakow. We did A.B. on Monday and salt mines on Tuesday. To enjoy both I believe you have to seperate them. If I had done both I don't think I'd have listened to the guides in Salt mines as it would have been too long of a day.

Croydon
posts: 28
reviews: 1
5. Re: Booking days out in Krakow

OK – I’m persuaded – very easily! Thank you johnb, merseymcc and, of course, Andy again. Your inputs are all good examples of the value of TripAdvisor’s members and the folly of not taking the advice of those with a commercial interest with a large pinch of salt!

So, as Andy suggested, and just to get my facts right: it is easy I take it to get a “walk-on” bus to the first Camp and buy a Guided Tour there – which is presumably also of fixed duration and takes you round both Auschwitz and then on to Birkenau – with a short break in between? for long enough for a sandwich at least?

Then you are free to wander back to any part of the camps for further exploration, if your emotions can take it, before getting a bus back, which again, run pretty frequently without being overfull nor require pre-booking?

Once again, thanks to all contributors. So-o-o useful.

Nowy Sacz, Poland
Destination Expert
for Poland
posts: 4,024
reviews: 42
6. Re: Booking days out in Krakow

The Auschwitz site has been down, but I see it's up again so I've got you the link. As you can see, tours become mandatpry at 10:00. Your total cost includes admission to both camps, a guided tour of Auschwitz One and a bus transfer to and from Birkenau where you're free to wander. http://en.auschwitz.org/z/ All the info is there.

Auschwitz has large numbers of visitors (I was looking for a way to not say it's a "popular attraction") so there are lots of buses and mini-buses plying to and fro between Krakow and Auschwitz One.

Edited: 11:22 am, April 05, 2013
Croydon
posts: 28
reviews: 1
7. Re: Booking days out in Krakow

Many thanks again, johnb for doing that for me. Blimey! it gets a bit confusing, dunnit!

It seems, as an individual, I can either do my own thing completely, providing I arrive before 10am. But I can’t buy a ticket in advance. (No prob if I’m early then.)

Or: I can begin my visit at Auschwitz II (the Birkenau site) and work backwards, so to speak, finishing back at Auschwitz I after all the main tourists have left?

Or: I can accept their offer of a “special opportunity” to join others in “tours” of the memorial during the hours of 10am and 3pm? In the website’s grey box, that option includes a guide, headphone rental, and transportation between the two camps?

The latter I think, takes me back to my original suggestion of booking a mini-bus in advance as described in the penultimate paragraph of my 14:00 reply to Andy! I gather the driver would then off-load his passengers and make sure they’re appended to one of the groups already there?

I really don’t mean to sound ungracious in any way at all but it all seems a bit ambiguous to someone who’s never been there before. Still, all these contributions are helping to clarify all the options.

I empathise with your problem in avoiding “clumsy” wording, john, but Auschwitz being “a popular attraction” is literally true in any sense. But haven’t you found the same situation when enquiring of someone who’s just returned from a funeral? “How did it go, then?” or even less, “Did you enjoy it?” – nothing seems at all appropriate!

Nowy Sacz, Poland
Destination Expert
for Poland
posts: 4,024
reviews: 42
8. Re: Booking days out in Krakow

Michael - here in Poland big buses and mini-buses operate side by side, the only difference being that bigger buses are more likely to be operated by bigger companies - in other words, mini-buses are not restricted to private hire ... they're out and about operating route services all over Poland and especially where there's high traffic, like Krakow to Auschwitz, or in rural areas.

You enter the "museum" at Auschwitz One and all ran sport is geared to that site. The free mini-bus takes you to and from Birkenau.

Can I suggest you do a search on the Krakow forum for buses to Auschwitz? There are a lot of posts discussing the where and whens, and also comaring with taxis and tours.

Things in Poland do not all operate the same as they do in other countries. There are all sorts of differences. I usually enjoy them, but some P me off! The very, very long winter has been an experience, after living 30 years in London, the food often surprises me (and I still struggle with Pierogi, though I'm growing to like the Ruski), the roads and driving are, um, entertaining, etc, etc.

With less than 25 years after the Iron Curtain, the infrastructure is still catching up, and the tourist industry is in some cases not as swishy as it could be. But Poland is worth a visit :)

Edited: 1:46 pm, April 05, 2013
Nowy Sacz, Poland
Destination Expert
for Poland
posts: 4,024
reviews: 42
9. Re: Booking days out in Krakow

Wikitrave has a good section on transport and visiting arrangements http://wikitravel.org/en/Auschwitz

Manchester, United...
posts: 161
reviews: 2
10. Re: Booking days out in Krakow

Michael - yes the wording on the website isn't really that clear. Assuming you want a guided tour, then when you arrive you just need to buy a tour from the ticket office for 40PLN (£8 - well worth it I think). There's an English tour every 30 mins in May. If you don't want a tour then you can't enter Auschwitz I between 10am-3pm, I believe there is no such restriction at Birkenau.

The guided tour will take you round both sites inc the transport between them. You get a bit of a break while waiting for the next bus to Birkenau, I went in the winter and it was a very short wait but from what others have written you have to wait a bit longer in the summer, so maybe enough time for a quick snack (if you can face eating). The guided tour uses radio headphones at Auschwitz I so you can hear the guide even if he/she isn't near you

Then when you get back to the main site you can go back in for another look round, but you have to wait till 3pm - this may be a good time for a break/sandwich if you got an early tour. The guided tour doesn't cover all the buildings in Auschwitz I, there are lots of exhibitions such as country specific ones, one about the gypsies, with big wordy displays/videos. I think these are well worth seeing. I spent a total of 6 hours there.

I used the public bus from the main bus station in Krakow to get there, these are quite regular and they gave me the flexibility to spend as long there as I needed. However bear in mind as they are public buses you may not be guaranteed a seat, there were a couple of people standing when I went. So get there early if you take this option. Look for the bus to "Oswiecim Muzeum", it's 13 PLN and you can buy ticket from the driver. The bus station staff are helpful and they have a big departures board so it's obvious where your bus is.

I can't comment on the private minibuses as I didn't use them, but others have said there are some which are flexible and will allow you as much time as you need. Though not sure how this works if some people want to go after 4 hours and others want 6? Have a search on this forum, as there are plenty of threads with advice about tour companies.

Hope you have great trip however you choose to do it!

Edited: 2:28 pm, April 05, 2013
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