Seven years ago before my first trip to Munich, a friend told me to visit Dachau and that the experience would change my life. Wait just a minute… can you visit Dachau? Yes, you most certainly can. The former concentration camp has since been turned into a memorial site that opened to the public in 1965 and welcomes around 800,000 visitors each year.
And while visiting a concentration camp was completely off my tourist radar at the time, I took him up on his suggestion. My first time visiting Dachau Concentration Camp was back in 2012 and my friend’s prediction proved true. The experience changed me. Seven years later it still affects me.
IS IT WORTH VISITING DACHAU CONCENTRATION CAMP?
Absolutely. 100%. You can’t understand suffering, fear, perseverance, and you really can’t understand the Holocaust until you’ve visited a concentration camp. The experience is unlike even your wildest imagination and it’s so much bigger than you’ve ever imagined. It’s not necessarily a pleasant way to spend a day on vacation, but it’s definitely a worthwhile and important one. If you’re looking for a no-holds-barred WWII learning experience, this is about as raw as you can get.
Because seven years had passed, I spent some time visiting Dachau Concentration Camp again in September 2019 to refresh my memory, but it turns out I’d remembered everything from my first visit, word for word, image for image.
ABOUT DACHAU CONCENTRATION CAMP | SOME FACTS
Dachau Concentration Camp began operation on March 22, 1933 in the town of Dachau, about 10 miles northwest of Munich, Germany (the birthplace of the Nazi party). It began as a camp strictly for political prisoners—social democrats, communists, other Nazi political opponents and the like—and held 4,800 prisoners when it opened. As we know, Dachau expanded in both size and requirements to holding other groups like Roma, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and in the days following the Kristallnacht of November 9-10, 1938, 10,000 Jewish men. It’s estimated that during its existence, 41,500 people died at Dachau Concentration Camp, but the exact number will never be known.
Dachau Concentration Camp was the first ever Nazi concentration camp in what would become a total of 44,000 camps and similar incarceration centers. It was used as a Nazi training facility for SS camp guards and, because of its “success,” was used as a model for all concentration camps built afterwards. It was liberated by American troops on April 29th, 1945 and was the only concentration camp in operation for the entirety of the Third Reich.
HOW TO GET TO DACHAU CONCENTRATION CAMP
Located just 10 miles from Munich, visiting Dachau Concentration Camp is both quick and easy via public transportation. I mean, if you can drive a stick and haven’t experienced the German Autobahn yet, driving there wouldn’t be the *worst* thing. But I can’t drive a stick and after enough trips on it the Autobahn terrifies me so I’ll just stick with the train, mmmkay?
VISITING DACHAU CONCENTRATION CAMP VIA PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
From my hotel at the entrance of the Theresienwiese to the entrance of the Dachau memorial site, it took me exactly one hour of travel time from a combined walk + buy transportation tickets + train + bus.
From wherever you are in Munich, it’s really the easiest to just start your journey at the Hauptbahnhof, Munich’s main train station (because your Munich hotel probably isn’t too far away). Inside the Hauptbahnhof, rather than trying to figure out your routes and times and what-not, simply purchase a single person day ticket called “Munich XXL.” This ticket covers all transportation on both the trains and the buses you’ll need for your day visiting Dachau Concentration Camp and covers you for an entire day.
After purchasing your train + bus ticket inside the Hauptbahnhof, head straight past the regional trains and pretzel vendors, downstairs to the S-Bahn trains. Here you’ll want to take the S2 train in the direction of Petershausen/Dachau/Altomünster. I realize it looks obvious with the word Dachau all up in there, but the trains could say all three, or just one. On my most recent visit, my S2 train simply said “Altomünster.”
If you’ve never taken the S-Bahn in Munich, you’re in for a treat. The signs at the stations and the signs at the platforms keep you well informed as to where you need to be and how long until the next train arrives. On board, screens will show the order of the stops and which stop is next. Provided you’re not lulled to sleep at some point, it would be almost impossible to miss the stop for Dachau.
At the Dachau train station, head downstairs from the train platform and follow the signs for “KZ-Gedenkstätte”, the way to which Dachau Concentration Camp is locally referred. These signs will lead you outside and to a curb-side bus stop where you’ll board bus 726 in the direction of “Saubachsiedlung” (which operates as bus 744 on Saturdays, Sundays, and official holidays, for whatever reason).
The bus will stop immediately outside the entrance to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site and getting back to Munich is simply the reverse of this: Grab the 726 (or 744) bus going the other direction (i.e., on the other side of the street) towards “Dachau Bahnhof,” then at Dachau train station, take the S2 towards “Erding” and get off at the Hauptbahnhof (or whichever stop is closest to your hotel).
VISITING DACHAU CONCENTRATION CAMP VIA CAR
Plug this address: 73 Alte Römerstraße (the dedicated parking lot for visiting Dachau Concentration Camp) into your GPS. Follow the instructions. There you go.
Parking at Dachau Concentration Camp is 3 euros per car but free between November and February.
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN VISITING DACHAU CONCENTRATION CAMP | OBJECTIVELY
Technically speaking, when visiting Dachau Concentration Camp you can expect a large number of explorable sites spread out around an unbelievably huge piece of property. Among them you can see:
- Visitors’ Center where you can pick up audio guides and meet with tour groups, check out the gift shop, use the restroom, and have a snack.
- The camp’s main gate (the Jourhaus) and a number of original watchtowers around the camp
- The memorial site’s permanent exhibition | a large museum-type exhibition focusing on the prisoners’ arrivals at Dachau, their lives inside the camp, and finally their journey to either death or freedom. They consider this exhibition the bread and butter of visiting Dachau Concentration Camp and it will take about an hour in itself.
- Inside this exhibition you’ll have the option of watching the short documentary film, “The Dachau Concentration Camp 1933-1945” (1969) | Highly recommended, but consider yourself warned. Bring tissues, not toddlers.
- Recreated prisoner barracks | The originals were destroyed after liberation but this one has been rebuilt to original specs so you can get a feel for the prisoners’ living space.
- A center walking path lined with trees known as Camp Road | The original trees were planted by the prisoners in 1937 but were later removed and replaced with the ones you see today.
- Four religious memorials + a convent | Jewish memorial, The Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel, Protestant Church of Reconciliation, Russian-Orthodox Memorial Chapel, and the Carmelite Convent
- The camp’s crematorium | The building also includes access to the fumigation cubicles and the gas chamber, as well as a walking trail behind the building where you’ll find mass graves and an execution range.
- Detention bunkers | Built to isolate, torture, and murder rebellious prisoners (among them, Georg Elser, the German carpenter who attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1939)
- And an enormous, wide open property that’s bigger than you can imagine.
You’ll also find informational placards placed all around the site which makes a free, self-guided tour easily possible.
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN VISITING DACHAU CONCENTRATION CAMP | SUBJECTIVELY
Not technically speaking, while visiting Dachau Concentration Camp you can expect:
- A thorough, in-depth sea of information. Like, an unreal amount of information concerning all topics related to Dachau Concentration Camp. It may take you seven years to process it.
- A somber environment, obviously. The Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site is just that—a memorial site dedicated to the men, women, and children who suffered and died there. It’s not a “tourist attraction.” Because of this, the site has a totally understandable list of guidelines for visitors.
- A lot of walking. The former concentration camp is enormous so be prepared to rack up those steps. Also, the majority of the property is covered in gravel so wear comfortable/appropriate footwear.
- Exposure to the elements. Also, because most of your tour will take place outside, be sure to dress according to weather conditions—rain coats and umbrellas, sunglasses and sunscreen in the summer, warm outerwear in the winter, etc.
- To look at life completely differently afterwards.
GUIDED TOUR OR AUDIO GUIDE?
Visiting Dachau Concentration Camp for the first time, I went with one of the amazing guided tours. And if this will be your first time, that’s what I’d recommend.
DACHAU GUIDED TOURS
English-speaking guided tours are offered every day at 11:00 am and 1:00 pm, last about 2.5 hours, and cost just 3.50€. They cover the main areas of the site—the former camp grounds, the historical buildings, and some of the permanent exhibition—in order to provide a well-rounded overview of Dachau. However, you’re still free to roam about the property as you wish both before and after your tour, so don’t feel limited if the tour leaves anything out.
They sell tickets for guided tours on a first come-first served basis at the information desk in the visitors’ center, limit them to 30 people, and they do sell out so try to arrive early.
DACHAU AUDIO GUIDE
On the other hand, on my latest visit to Dachau Concentration Camp I opted for the audio guide and it did not disappoint. (Well, I mean I was, but for much different reasons.)
Rental of an audio guide costs just 4 euros but requires a deposit—you can leave either your ID with the person at the front desk or some money. I say “some money” because I feel like their deposit policy is super open to interpretation.
The audio guides provide information in 14 languages—English among them—and come with a map you can easily follow along with. They’re comfortable to wear and easy to use, and allow you to pause if you’d like to continue exploring an area, stop to take photos, do some Googling, whatever. You will not feel bound to a group and you don’t have to follow any certain order.
SO WHICH ONE IS BEST?
The information you’ll learn through the audio guide is not much different from the guided tour—in fact, I remember some of the information on the audio guide word-for-word from my guided tour—but with the guided tour you have the added benefit of being able to hound your tour guide with questions. In other words, you won’t be disappointed (in a manner of speaking) if you decide on one kind of tour over the other.
But there is a third option! If you’ve left all your IDs and all your euros at your hotel, visiting Dachau Concentration Camp is still possible. The memorial site is completely free to visit and the abundance of written information around the site will still teach you what you need to know. You can still view the documentary film, tour the permanent exhibition, shop in the gift shop, and explore all of the sites of the former camp.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING DACHAU CONCENTRATION CAMP
➤ The first thing you should know before visiting Dachau Concentration Camp: they don’t sugarcoat anything. They don’t hold anything back and they don’t hide from their horrible past. All of the ugly facts and photos are put out there for you to see and nothing here is subtle. If you’re expecting a discreet retelling of historical events, forget about it.
On my way back to Munich, an Australian visitor on the bus asked what I thought of Dachau, then told me he didn’t agree with them allowing visitors into the crematorium. But why not? Hiding the hideousness of the past doesn’t do anyone any favors. (Well, except the Nazis.)
In fact, the former concentration camp that is now the Memorial Site was established “on the initiative of and in accordance with the plans of the surviving prisoners” who joined together to form the Comité International de Dachau (the International Dachau Committee) before the camp was even liberated. It’s because of this committee and its members that the demolition of the former crematorium was halted in 1955, and because of them that the former camp became an official memorial site in 1965. Opening the crematorium to visitors, for instance, is not exploitation.
➤ Expect visiting Dachau Concentration Camp to take you around 4 hours. There is a lot to see here and it’s not the kind of place you can rush through, especially given its size. Plan for a half day (plus an hour to get there and an hour to get back to Munich).
➤ And since you’ll be here for so long, make sure to plan for lunch in the site’s cafeteria. They have a small but adequate cafeteria offering snacks, a variety of hot meals, coffee, sandwiches, and much more with plenty of seating and reasonable prices.
➤ Again, while here you’ll spend most of your day outside so dress according to the weather.
➤ On visiting Dachau Concentration Camp with children | I personally don’t have any children, so I’ll just relay this information: The Memorial Site warns that some of the content may not be appropriate for children under the age of 13 but it’s at the parents’ discretion whether they bring their kids or not. Children can visit when accompanied by their parents HOWEVER they restrict guided tours to visitors ages 13 and up and the documentary film inside the permanent exhibition has a minimum age requirement of 14.
VISITING DACHAU CONCENTRATION CAMP | NECESSARY INFO
DACHAU HOURS | As of this posting, Dachau Concentration Camp is open 364 days a year from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. It’s open every day of the week and closed only on December 24th.
DACHAU ADMISSION | Visiting Dachau Concentration Camp is free. There is no entrance admission but guided tours and the use of audio guides will cost you just a few euros. However, it is possible to visit the site without taking any kind of tour if that’s all your schedule allows.
Here’s hoping you have a terrible day visiting Dachau Concentration Camp.
(That means you learned a lot!)
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