Our taxi driver came highly recommended by Tripadvisor users and was a fountain of knowledge, explaining about the build up to the opening of the two camps and showing short film extracts on the way to Auschwitz. I had decided to visit ourselves without a guide, so our timed visit into the Auschwitz Museum was for 4pm. We visited Birkenau first, it is a desolate place and even though their were a lot of people visiting at the same time as us it still had an eerie feeling walking down the line of preserved huts, looking into them to see the lines of bunk bed which held 5 people at a time, 400 people to a hut. At the end of the railway there is a huge monument, which is supposed to be a representation of Birkenau which to us just looked like a collection of big black stones. Either side of this monument are the gas chambers/crematoriums which had been blown up by the Germans just before Birkenau was liberated, these are the real monument to all those murdered, not a pile of stones.
At 3pm we left Birkenau to go to the Auschwitz Museum where we had a brief lunch in the restaurant and the queued for our 4pm entry. Our taxi driver gave us a map of the buildings and a list of what was in each and also recommended some of what he thought were the best to visit. The buildings cover a very small area and it was easy to find our way around. Guided tours in all languages are available all day up to just before 4pm. Guides have groups of up to 30 people, the guide speaking into a microphone which feeds into the earphones the group were wearing. Most of the guides were speaking quietly and were not a problem but quite a few had too loud voices which were difficult to ignore. All of the buildings have big notice boards outside explaining the contents of them and inside everything is well signposted with lots of information on what is there. I cannot see the point of a guide and if anyone asked about going I would not recommend a guide but I would suggest going early morning before the guided tours start as we found the guides quite intrusive.
Auschwitz Museum is just that; a museum.
Last year we visited the Schindler factory and the underground museum in the market square in Krakow these to us seem to be far better at conveying the atrocities of what happened in a personal way than anything we saw at the Auschwitz Museum.
We spent the rest of our time in Krakow in and around the market square sitting in cafes drinking hot chocolate or milkshakes and people watching. In the evenings a meal at one of the outside restaurants followed by a stroll in the Planty, a wide park area which goes all around Krakow centre.
The most amazing thing about our holiday was that Edward didn't take any photos, I think he has fallen out of love with his camera !