What to see in France

Caen

Tourist attractions Caen

 Capital of the Basse Normandie region and a lively university town, Caen is situated in northern France, just 15 kilometres from the Normandy coastline and the English Channel. Famed for its captivating history, notably that of William the Conqueror in the 11th-century who founded the city, and as a stage of conflict during World War II, Caen is considered the centre of political and culture in northern

Much of the city was demolished during the Second World War, but luckily its most iconic and historic buildings and monuments remain today. A trip to Caen is a chance to uncover 1000 years of history, as well as enjoying the continental atmosphere in the city’s excellent selection of restaurants and impressive shopping streets. 

City-breaks to Caen are very popular, as it is small enough to explore on foot, plus there are accommodation options to suit all budgets. Mostly, though, Caen is seen as the jumping-off point for tours of the Normandy coast, the setting of the legendary D-Day Landings during World War II, although the city itself has plenty of captivating sights to fill your travel itinerary.

What to see in Caen

The city's long and fascinating history ensures there are plenty of things to see and do in Caen. At the heart of the city is the amazing Château de Caen, constructed in the 11th-century by William the Conqueror, just a handful of years before his conquest of England, and today the focal point of any tour of Caen. One of the largest medieval complexes in Europe, Château de Caen is an impressive example of early military architecture. Surrounded by a dry-moat, the imposing ruins of this once impenetrable fortress contain the Normandy Museum, home to archaeological and art exhibitions. 

If you visit Caen you’ll soon realise that the legacy of William the Conqueror, known as the Duke of Normandy in France, is prevalent throughout the city. Another of his great accomplishments and a must-see on a trip to Caen is the Abbaye aux Hommes, an elegant 11th-century Romanesque abbey, today home to the City Hall. Visiting Abbaye aux Hommes, or Men’s Abbey in English, also gives you the opportunity to see the tomb of William the Conqueror, housing only his thigh-bone after the original grave was disturbed during the French Wars of Religion. An impressive building of huge historical significance, a trip to Caen is incomplete without contemplating the cloistered abbey and intricate rose windows of Abbaye aux Hommes.

Around the same time as construction began on the Abbaye aux Hommes, William the Conqueror's wife, Matilda of Flanders, founded the Abbaye aux Dames, or Women’s Abbey to house Benedictine nuns, who continued to serve in the Abbey across the centuries until the French Revolution. A masterpiece of Norman architecture, the Abbey is the final resting place of Queen Matilda and perfectly complements the Abbaye aux Hommes just 2 kilometres away. 

A more modern landmark to include on a tour of Caen is the Caen Memorial Museum, dedicated to the Battle of Caen and World War II. With a focus on peace and reconciliation throughout the 20th-century, the museum contains thought-provoking and emotive exhibitions and has three memorial gardens dedicated to the three main Allied nations who liberated France during World War II. These peaceful, quiet gardens give visitors the chance to contemplate the exhibitions and the huge impact that the war had on this part of France. For anyone interested in military or European history, the Caen Memorial Museum is an important place to visit during a trip to Caen. 

The events of June 6th 1944 and the D-Day Landings are what make this part of France so unique, so it is a good idea to include a trip to the Normandy landing beaches if you are visiting Caen. Just a short drive, bus or train ride from the centre of the city and you’ll find yourself on the very beaches where the Allied forces began the liberation of France in the largest seaborne invasion in history. A moment that is said to have turned around the fate of the entire war, you cannot miss out on visiting the famous landing beaches of Omaha, Utah, Juno and Arromanches. The American Cemetery is another important sight here, where the tragic scale of human loss is put into perspective by rows upon rows of white headstones to commemorate the soldiers who gave their lives to liberate France. 

Back in the city of Caen, if you are interested in getting to know a wide selection of authentic local produce, be sure to visit the Caen Sunday Morning Market, the fifth largest market in France. Spread out around Port de Plaisance, it is the perfect place to sample fine French cheese, wine and other produce. This is where the locals do their shopping so it’s a good place to brush up on your French and get to know the roots of French cuisine during your trip to Caen

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