Lublin's historic core is tiny, and you can hit the major attractions in about 2 to 3 hours of walking at a leisurely pace. Begin your exploration at the ancient entryway into the city, the Kraków Gate (Brama Krakowska), a perfect Gothic-era photo op that's welcomed visitors here since the middle of the 14th century. The gate houses a museum on the city's history (entry is on the right before you walk through the gate). After you pass through the gate, on the first street on your right, you'll find the city's helpful Tourist Information Office. Keep walking down this street, Jezuicka, and you'll arrive at the Trinitarian Tower, the tallest structure in the city and site of the Archdiocese of Lublin's small Museum of Religious Art. At the center of the Old Town, you'll find the former market square, the Rynek, dominated by the Old Town Hall (Stary Ratusz). It's now used mainly for weddings and concerts, but the building has a grand tradition going back to the 16th century, when it housed Poland's tribunal, the royal court of appeals. From here, it's best just to amble around and admire the mix of burghers' houses from the Gothic and Renaissance periods. The Old Town is in the middle of a long-overdue renovation, and part of Lublin's charm is seeing virtual ruins standing side by side with sumptuously restored Renaissance palaces. Be sure to stop by the Dominican Church and Monastery to admire the church interior; off to the right, in a small chapel, is a well-known painting depicting Lublin's skyline in the late Middle Ages. Exit the Old Town by way of a second preserved medieval gate, the Grodzka Gate, which leads to Zamkowa Street and the castle (zamek). This was sometimes referred to as the "Jewish Gate" because it once led to the city's enormous Jewish quarter that sprawled over a huge area from here to the castle and in a wide swathe around the castle. The Nazis razed this neighborhood to the ground, and insensitive postwar planning led to what you see now: a big parking lot and a poorly maintained park. The castle is worth a peek inside. It was once a huge fortress built by King Kazimierz the Great to protect the kingdom's eastern flank from Tatar invasion. It was later partly destroyed and rebuilt in the 19th century as a prison. It houses the Lublin Museum and the Chapel of the Holy Trinity. At this point, you're free to follow your own interests, either exploring what little remains of the former Jewish quarter or heading back to the Old Town for a meal or a drink.

It Happened Here: Jewish Lublin

It's no accident that Lublin bears two nicknames that attest to its once-important status among Jews. The first is "Jewish Oxford," referring to a respected yeshiva that was built here in 1515. The second is the "Jerusalem of the Polish Kingdom," a reference to the vitality of the city's Jewish community until the start of World War II. The history of Jews in Lublin goes back to at least 1316, when Jewish merchants settled in the city to take advantage of Lublin's trade position with Russia. Over the centuries, the community flourished. As hard as it is to imagine now, the vast area surrounding the castle was filled with the warren of tiny streets of the Jewish quarter. By the start of World War II, the Jewish community numbered nearly 40,000 out of a total city population of around 100,000. Sadly, little of this remains today. At the start of World War II, the Nazis forced the city's Jews into a tightly restricted ghetto area comprising part of the traditional Jewish quarter and a small adjoining piece of land bordered by today's Kowalska and Lubartowska streets. Much of the old Jewish quarter was razed. Eventually, the residents were sent to concentration camps at Bezec, Sobibór, and Lublin's own Majdanek. To add insult to injury, the Nazis made Lublin the headquarters of Operation Reinhard, the code name for its plan to murder the Jewish population of German-occupied Poland. After the war, many of the city's remaining Jews fled to newly formed Israel or the United States, and Lublin's Jewish community dropped to just a handful. Now, city authorities are trying to reclaim some of this history and have created a Heritage Trail of the Lublin Jews. To get the most out of the trail, first pick up a copy of the excellent pamphlet "Landmarks and Traces of Jewish Culture in Lublin" at the tourist information center. The trail begins in the Old Town and goes down through the Grodzka Gate into the former Jewish quarter and beyond. Don't miss the fascinating prewar Lublin scale model of the Old Town and Jewish quarter at the Grodzka Gate Theatre NN Centre (Grodzka 21; tel. 81/532-58-67;

Around Lublin: The Majdanek Concentration Camp

The former Nazi concentration camp of Majdanek (Droga Meczenników Majdanka 67; tel. 81/710-28-33;; free admission; Tues-Sun Apr-Oct 9am-6pm, Nov-Mar 9am-4pm) is not as well known as Auschwitz-Birkenau, but Majdanek's sheer size and the fact that several crematoria here survived the war (those at Auschwitz were mostly destroyed) are compelling reasons to visit.

The camp is located about 5km (3 miles) from the center of Lublin and is easily reachable by public transportation (bus no. 23 or trolley bus no. 156 or 158; buy tickets, 2.40 z, from newspaper kiosks or directly from the driver), taxi, or bike. Majdanek was originally conceived as a labor camp to hold up to 50,000 workers to help the Germans realize their resettlement aims for eastern Poland, but the plans were constantly revised upward. In the end, at least 150,000 people were eventually held here at some time and 80,000 perished, mostly Jews from across Europe, but there were also sizable numbers of Polish and Russian POWs and others. The single most horrific day at Majdanek came on November 3, 1943, when as many as 18,000 prisoners were killed in a single day.

The camp was liberated by the Soviet Red Army on July 22-23, 1944. The Red Army assault came unexpectedly and quickly, and the Germans didn't have enough time to destroy the crematoria and other pieces of evidence. In this respect, it's perhaps the best-preserved of the former Nazi concentration camps.

The camp layout itself can be a little confusing for first-time visitors. The highlights include two enormous stone monuments by Victor Tolkin built in 1969 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the camp's liberation. One stands near the entrance to the camp and the other -- in the shape of an enormous urn -- is at the back. It's a mausoleum filled with the ashes of thousands of victims. Visitors are free to wander around from here visiting the barracks, some filled with exhibitions. Guided tours are available in English for 20 z per person.

The Majdanek museum continues to carry out historical research, and in late 2005, a group of Majdanek survivors returned to the camp to help archeologists find dozens of personal objects -- such as watches and rings -- that had been buried by the inmates so the Germans would not get them. Amazingly, after some 60 years, the returnees were able to locate the buried objects within a few minutes.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.