Caen is a town that is overflowing with history, and not all of it pleasant. Sitting 10km from the English Channel it was the favoured residence and final resting place of William the Conqueror. English King Edward III put the town to the flame in 1346 but the fortified Chateau de Caen refused to surrender. Caen saw several more battles throughout The Hundred Years War and one of the most ferocious battles of the Second World War in the wake of D-Day.

This battle destroyed much of the town in 1944. The historic town centre has been lovingly restored but the suburbs of housing blocks and industrial estates can often have a dull, relentlessly modern feel.

Situated on the river Orne, Caen is in the heart of Normandy and is surrounded by lush, green countryside, not dissimilar to the south of England.


The small remaining Vieux Quartier (Old Quarter) contains some splendid buildings. The twinned Abbaye aux Hommes (Men’s Church) and Abbey aux Dames (Women’s Church) were built by William the Conqueror and his queen, Matilda. Both feature Norman churches in the Romanesque style and the Eglise St-Etienne, attached to the Abbaye aux Hommes, is a beautifully intimate chapel. The tombs of William and Matilda can be seen in their respective churches.

The Chateau de Caen is now in ruins but its well cultivated lawns and formal gardens provide wonderful town-centre walks. The ruins now house two museums.

The Musée des Beaux Arts is an art gallery specialising in French, Italian, Flemish and Dutch painting from the 16th-20th centuries. It houses a collection of rare Cubist works that are not to be missed.

The Musée de Normandie is a folk museum examining rural life in Normandy and showcasing the production of local lace-goods and cheese.

Further afield the Mémorial, to the northwest, is a peace museum focussing on the D-Day landings and the battle for Normandy. It has an extensive peace garden as well as interactive and audio-visual displays.

The rolling countryside around Caen provides great opportunities for cycling or rambling through green valleys and apple orchards. To the south are the Suisse Normande hills. While nowhere near as imposing as their namesake Swiss Alps they are a popular destination for hiking, climbing and river sports.

The Orne River flows through Caen and the town is linked by canal to the English Channel so there are lots of opportunities for lazy trips by boat or barge.


The main shopping district of Caen centres around the Boulevard Marechal Leclerc but the shops are somewhat limited to the kind found in rural towns.

Much more exciting are the range of markets held here throughout the year. Daily food markets sell delicious seafood, fresh from the coast, with sole and mussels being particular favourites. Normandy is rich dairy land so it’s no surprise that rich, creamy Camembert is the signature cheese of the district.

Nightlife and Eating Out

Caen is more lively than the sleepy provincial place it is often taken for. This is mainly due to the presence of 25,000 students studying at the Université de Caen, situated in three different campuses around the city.

Their presence means that Caen boasts a range of bars, discos and nightclubs. Most people are sure to find something to their taste in establishments ranging from student dives to upmarket piano bars and even the obligatory Irish pub.

Restaurants are also in plentiful supply. There are the ubiquitous cheap and cheerful Italian pizza places but there is also a range of cafes and restaurants serving traditional dishes like Moules Marinieres - mussels cooked in a white wine broth, succulent Normandy leg of lamb or, for those that can stomach it, Canard Rouennaise - duck cooked in blood.

As always in France there is an abundance of locally produced and sourced wines available, but Normandy is principally famous for its orchards, hard cider and Calvados, a strong apple brandy.

Tourist Information

The office is open 7 days a week, even out of peak season. There are extended opening hours during the Summer.

Office de TourismePlace Saint Pierre14 000CaenTel: +33 (0)2 31 27 14 14Fax: +33 (0)2 31 27 14


Caen-Carpiquet airport is a 20 minute drive from the city centre. It is the largest airport in lower Normandy. Flights are frequent to destinations across Europe, predominantly with the carrier Air France.

It is important to note that direct flights to Caen are usual only during summer months, during the rest of the year most companies fly via Lyons.

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