Oświęcim is a town in Małopolskie Province in southern Poland, 60 km west of Kraków. It's better known by its German name of Auschwitz, and from 1940 to 1945 over a million people, mostly Jews, were slain in the nearby camps. The two principal camps have been preserved as museums and are the main reason to visit. Most visitors come on day-trips to the camps and don't go into town, so the separate Auschwitz-Birkenau page describes the camps and the practicalities of visiting. The present page describes Oświęcim town, in case you want to stay over: there are several other attractions here which are overshadowed by the infamous surroundings.
Oświęcim lies at the western edge of Małopolskie Province. The Soła river flows through town centre to join the Vistula, which nowadays marks the boundary with Silesia Province. When Poland was partitioned in the 18th century, Oświęcim along with Kraków was seized by Austria, while Silesia became part of Prussia. The area was industrial, based on coal and chemicals, with a substantial German-speaking population. The majority of townsfolk were Jewish, and they called it Oshpitzim (Yiddish: אָשפּיצין). In 1918 the area became part of newly-independent Poland, but in 1939 the Nazis annexed it into the Gau of Upper Silesia (a "Gau" being a province ruled by a Gauleiter). They sought to make it a "second Ruhr", an industrial heartland further from the reach of Allied bombing, and to rid it of any unwanted inhabitants. The camps were built and began the industrial genocide of Jews and others not just from Germany, but from anywhere in Europe within Nazi control.
Trains from Kraków run hourly and take two hours. Most are direct, regional trains. Some are international trains with a change at Myslowice: you need to pay a fare supplement on these.
Direct trains from Katowice run every 2 or 3 hours and take 50 min.
1 Oświęcim railway station is 2 km west of town centre. It's within one km of both Auschwitz camps: this is not a coincidence. There's a restaurant opposite, and buses and taxis waiting to meet the tourist trade.
By road: Buses run at least every 30 min from Kraków, taking 90 min. By car, Highway 44 passes through Oświęcim en route between Kraków and Katowice; don't be on A4 which passes far to the north.
The sights of Oświecim town are close together and easily reached on foot. Take a bus (several lines) or taxi to the camps as these are 2 km from town and from each other, there's a lot of walking once you reach them, and you'll run out of time if not of energy.
A free bus runs between Auschwitz I and II: see Auschwitz#Getaround.
- See Auschwitz for details of the two extermination camps on the west edge of town. 1 Auschwitz I is 1 km south of the railway station, 2 Auschwitz II or Birkenau is 2 km southwest of the station. There's nothing to see at Auschwitz III or Monowitz.
- The town's own sights and facilities are clustered around the attractive 3 Main Market Square (Rynek Główny). Many of its buildings including Town Hall were rebuilt in the 19th century after a couple of disastrous fires, so there's a pleasing unity of style.
- Oświęcim Castle, Zamkowa 1 (by river bridge in town centre), ☏ . Oct-May M-Th 10:00-16:00, F Su 11:00-15:00; Jun-Sept Tu-F 10:00-18:00, Sa Su 11:00-18:00. 13th C Gothic defence tower with 16th and 20th C extensions, near the river - too near, as many of the fortifications have been washed away. With small museum, and you can climb to the top of the tower. Adult 10 zł.
- 4 Jewish Museum and Synagogue (Auschwitz Jewish Center), Plac Księdza Jana Skarbka 5 (next to castle), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Apr-Sept Su-F 10:00-18:00, Oct-Mar Su-F 10:00-17:00. Museum about the former Jewish population of Oświęcim. Includes the Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot synagogue. 10 zł.
- 5 The Jewish cemetery, dating back to the 18th century, is a bosky place at the corner of Dąbrowskiego and Brzegi.
- Kaufland is the main supermarket, at Królowej Jadwigi 11 just south of the centre. It's open daily 07:00-22:00. Biedronka convenience store is next door.
- Cheap eating places surround the market place. These include Cafe Bergson, Cafe Bistro Kołaczek, Antalya, Itamae Sushi and Da Grasso.
- There's another little cluster of fast-food places by the roundabout 300 m northeast of the railway station.
- 1 Rapsodia Cafe, Śniadeckiego 22B (next to OCK culture centre), ☏ . Daily 11:00-22:00. Good Italian style pizzas, ice-cream, reasonable prices.
- Restauracja Skorpion, Powstańców Śląskich 29 (Opposite railway station), ☏ . Daily 11:00-20:00. Inexpensive traditional food, safe choice when waiting for a train.
- Pub Arkada on Dąbrowskiego has a micro-brewery. Another town centre bar is Pub Vinyl.
- 1 International Youth Meeting Centre (Międzynarodowy Dom Spotkań Młodzieży), Legionów 11, ☏ . Hostel and cultural centre for groups. B&B adult single 130 zł, double 180 zł.
- Hampton by Hilton, Bulwary 2, ☏ . Clean comfy hotel by river bridge in town centre. B&B double 250 zł.
- 2 Hotel Galicja, Dąbrowskiego 119, ☏ . Mid-range hotel with spa, often used by tour groups. Clean and comfy with good Italian restaurant. B&B double 200 zł.
- 3 Hotel Dąbrowski, Dąbrowskiego 139, ☏ . Decent mid-range hotel, good restaurant. B&B double 250 zł.
- Hotel Olecki, Leszczyńskiej 16 (next to Auschwitz I), ☏ . Small simple hotel. B&B double 200 zł.
- Kraków is an hour from Oświęcim by bus or train.
- A slow route through the hills to Krakow or Zakopane leads to Wadowice, birthplace of Pope John-Paul II, and Kalwaria Zebrzydowska a pilgrimage centre.