Normandy

Caen

This lively university town with its relaxed atmosphere preserves impressive abbeys that miraculously remained intact after the bombings of World War II.
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Nicknamed the city of 100 spires, Caen is a lively university town with a buzzing atmosphere and can be taken as a starting point to visit the landing beaches.

The capital of Lower Normandy was terribly damaged by bombing and little of the old city remains today. Caen burned for 11 days, 250000 tons of explosives were dropped, 80% of the city was razed to the ground and those who could not evacuate took refuge in its immense abbeys.

Despite its turbulent past, Caen has managed to restore its historic centre, revitalising heavily damaged neighbourhoods and focusing on its history and cultural life.

Things to do in Caen

Abbey of Men

Although more than 75% of the city centre was destroyed during Allied bombing raids in the summer of 1944, Caen retains many places of interest that were miraculously spared, first and foremost the two immense abbeys, the Abbaye aux Hommes and the Abbaye aux Dames, whose history dates back to William the Conqueror.

Caen Castle

114000 Caen, France

The castle of Caen, built around 1060 by William the Conqueror, still dominates the city centre with its mighty figure. From the top of its ramparts, one of the largest medieval walls in Europe, a beautiful panorama of the city can be admired.

Very little remains of the building’s original structure today: the construction has undergone various modifications, destructions and reconstructions over the centuries. Today, you can visit the keep, the Exchequer Room, the Museum of Normandy, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Governor’s Lodge and the Church of Saint-Georges.

The castle enclosure is a recreational and meeting place for the city’s inhabitants: it houses a large playground, a botanical garden and a sculpture park with free access.

The Abbey of Men

2Esp. Jean-Marie Louvel, 14000 Caen, France

Caen suffered numerous Norman invasions from the 10th century onwards: it experienced a new rebirth, both cultural and commercial, under William the Conqueror, who made it one of the most powerful cities in Normandy. From this reign came two buildings, erected to celebrate the glory of the king and his wife Mathilde: the Abbey of Men and the Abbey of Ladies, which respectively housed the remains of the sovereign and the queen. Today they house the town hall and the regional council and are one of the jewels of Caen not to be missed.

The Abbey of Men was founded in 1063 by William the Conqueror. Construction of the building was completed in 1077. The buildings connected to it took on many functions over time: first they housed the monks, then they were transformed into a lycée in the 19th century.

The abbey is a true jewel of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Inside, a visit to the imposing tomb of William the Conqueror, in the Gothic choir, is not to be missed: it actually only houses a shinbone of the great ruler. France was for many years the scene of religious wars, which led to much destruction and looting of tombs. Fortunately, the Abbey miraculously survived the bombings of World War II, since it served as a hospital for the population.

The Abbey of Ladies

3Pl. Reine Mathilde, 14000 Caen, France (Website)

A monastery of Benedictine nuns, hospital and hospice, the Women’s Abbey has played an important role in the city of Caen since its creation. The Trinity Abbey houses a magnificent crypt and the tomb of Mathilde of Flanders, Queen of England, Duchess of Normandy and wife of William the Conqueror.

A visit to the 5-hectare Ornano Park is not to be missed: from here there is a fabulous view over the whole city of Caen, especially at sunset.

Caen Memorial

4Esp. Général Eisenhower, 14050 Caen, France (Website)

The Caen Memorial is a huge museum dedicated to World War II and the Normandy landings.

In order to understand the dynamics that led to the conflict, the tour actually starts its narrative from 1918 and develops with a descending spiral staircase: the museum shows how Europe, little by little, found itself in an untenable situation from a political point of view. As one progresses, the space becomes increasingly dark: Hitler’s voice resounds and the sound of Nazi parade boots echoes. The spiral ends with a dark room and the projection of original footage of the German armies parading.

This first part thus recounts the world before 1945. The war is explored in all its forms: the France of the occupation, genocide, mass violence, propaganda and also the lesser-known pages of history, those related to the connivance of politics.

The second part of the museum focuses entirely on the Normandy landings and battle. Through projections, reconstructions, models and technological instruments, the D-Day operations are recounted hour by hour, day by day, dealing with every aspect of this military offensive: the fighting, the bombing, the destruction and the phases of the liberation of France and Paris.

The visit concludes with a faithful reconstruction of General Richter’s underground bunker and Gardens of Remembrance, dedicated to those who fought for peace.

Vaugueux District

5Vaugueux, 14000 Caen, France

Rue du Vaugueux, below the castle, is one of the few parts of the city that was miraculously spared by the bombings. You can admire the half-timbered houses that survived the war.

For a long time this area had a bad reputation. After its redevelopment, the medieval quarter of Cen has become one of the liveliest and busiest places, especially in the evenings, thanks to the presence of the best restaurants in town .

We recommend you continue to rue Saint Pierre, numbers 52 and 54, and rue de Geôle, where you will find beautiful original half-timbered houses, such as the famous Maison des Quatrans, dating from 1460, a rare example of medieval architecture in Caen.

The bookshops of Rue Froide

6Rue Froide, 14000 Caen, France

Rue Froide is the oldest street in Caen, a cobbled alley of great charm. Here you will find many local and independent shops, but above all a large number of magnificent bookshops: dedicated to novels, comics, children’s books.

This old street has kept its medieval character intact, thanks to its old façades. If you dare to peek through the doorways, you can discover the inner courtyards, which house beautiful bourgeois residences.

For instance, at number 16, you will find the oldest portico on rue Froide, which overlooks the former Maison des Sens, famous 16th-century glassmakers.

The Marina of Caen

7Quai Vendeuvre, 14000 Caen, France (Website)

In the heart of Caen, one of the best places to stroll around is the marina: you can admire the sailboats moored in the harbour, with the sound of the water crashing against the hulls.

Caen’s marina is a sunny and busy district with lively terraces, bars and restaurants on the Quai Vendeuvre. On Sundays, the inhabitants of Caen gather to start the day with a coffee on the terrace, sitting with a view of the sailing boats, and then stroll to the Saint-Pierre market.

In summer, the port comes alive with the artisanal night market, pubs, live music evenings and nautical events that attract many enthusiastic visitors.

Caen Peninsula

815 Quai François Mitterrand, 14000 Caen, France (Website)

A stone’s throw from the marina is the Peninsula de Caen, which has become the city’s new fashionable district after a long renovation process.

It is home to the large Alexis de Tocqueville library . With futuristic geometric shapes and bright glass façades, the building houses a gigantic reading room with a view of the banks of the Orne: 2,300 square metres entirely dedicated to books, set in a magnificent architectural context. Around the building there are many street art works on the walls of the neighbourhood.

The Peninsula de Caen is also frequented in the evenings, thanks to the Cargo, a music club with several concert halls: its rich programme includes concerts of contemporary music of all styles. From the Quais de l’Orne, the lights of the Cargo, illuminated at night, are reflected in the water of the canal.

Colline aux Oiseaux

9Av. de l'Amiral Mountbatten, 14000 Caen, France (Website)

The Colline aux Oiseaux park is a huge floral park of over 17 hectares, located near the Caen memorial.

Built on a former landfill site, it is a perfect example of spatial redevelopment: this run-down area has been transformed into an ideal place for a family walk. The best time to visit is in July, to admire the park’s marvellous rose garden in bloom, with its 15,000 roses: a veritable explosion of colours.

The banks of the River Orne

1010 Quai Amiral Hamelin, 14000 Caen, France (Website)

An unusual way to discover the green heart of Caen is to go to the banks of the River Orne: this is a vast wooded area that can be explored thanks to 4 km of landscaped paths.

The best way to explore this vast green area is to rent an electric boat, sail along the Orne and enjoy an idyllic landscape, following several available routes.

Map

In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article

Where to stay in Caen

Caen is a lively city with many tourist attractions: its rich historical and cultural heritage attracts tourists from all over the world.

At the same time, it is also a dynamic and vibrant university city with a pleasant evening life. It can be an excellent base for visiting the main resorts of Normandy: in fact, it is only a few kilometres from the landing beaches, Honfleur and Bayeux.

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The historic centre

Those with little time and the need to have the main attractions within walking distance will definitely choose to stay in the heart of Caen.

Here you will find the most interesting shops, traditional restaurants and tourist attractions. Staying in the city centre is also a great way to visit historical monuments more easily.

The Vaugueux district

Those who love picturesque corners and evening life will not miss the opportunity to stay in the old quarter of Vaugueux. In old Caen, it is the best place to go out and have a drink: restaurants can be found in the small cobbled streets, amidst the half-timbered houses. The best places are the sunny terraces of Place Saint-Sauveur and the bars on rue Ecuyère, the most famous street in Caen.

Obviously, this is the most touristy and most expensive area of the city: hotel prices are very high and your stay will not be quiet.

The marina in Caen

If you love the nightlife and want to mingle with the people and the locals, we recommend finding accommodation near the marina in Caen. From here, it is a short walk to the Peninsula de Caen, the heart of the nightlife: you will find the best clubs in the city, as well as performance and concert halls.

The Saint Jean quarter

The Saint-Jean neighbourhood is located along the banks of the Orne River, very close to the city centre: it is one of the first fully urbanised neighbourhoods in Caen.

This area is a pleasant place to stay: rich in greenery, extremely quiet and very close to some cultural attractions, such as Caen Castle and the Abbey of Men.

Hastings neighbourhood

The Hastings district is located north-west of the city centre: for a long time it was considered the wealthy area of Caen, with its bourgeois villas and rich residences.

Today it is a modern district with easy access to historical attractions: elegant, residential and pleasant, it is the perfect place to visit the magnificent Jardin des Plantes and the former Riding Academy.

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How to get to Caen

The city of Caen is well connected with the main cities of Normandy and the French capital. The nearest international airports are Paris Orly and Paris Charles de Gaulle , as well as Paris Beauvais.

By car

The city of Caen is located approximately 245 km from Paris. In approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes, you can reach Caen by following the A13 motorway.

By train

Caen is well connected by the Paris / Cherbourg line: you can take the train from Paris Saint-Lazare station to Caen in 2 hours.

By bus

The Flixbus and Blablabus companies run daily services from Paris and major French cities to Caen and Ouistreham.

Caen Weather

What's the weather at Caen? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Caen for the next few days.

Sunday 3
10°
Monday 4
10°
Tuesday 5
10°
Wednesday 6
14°
Thursday 7
12°
Friday 8
13°

Where is located Caen

The capital of the Calvados département, Caen is crossed by the River Orne and is just a few kilometres from the landing beaches.

Location around