What to know before visiting Caen?
Updated: 6 hours ago
The fusion between modern and ancient, which distinguishes Caen, evokes images and historical symbols. The heritage of William the Conqueror, the events of the landing in Normandy, and the ink of the literary Marcel Proust in his research du temps perdu are what make the city an open-air museum. Called the City of 100 Spires, it is said that it guards a hundred belltowers. We do not know if this way of saying represents reality. But we are highly sure that you will be extremely delighted in front of the architectural complexes considered as the jewels of the city. If you are fond of ancient history, Caen is the right place for you. And if you are not, just walking through the medieval village will make you a history buff. Therefore, as a true ancient historian, let’s use the possible sources, and compare and analyze them...now see what we have prepared for you so that you can make the most of your stay in Caen!
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What not to miss?
The first jewel of Caen is definitely, the Memorial Museum dedicated to the history of the 20th century. It represents a crucial component considering that it was born with the desire to follow a peaceful direction, generating an exclusive reflection on conflicts and peacekeeping around the world. The memorial spirit is pursued even in the surroundings, thanks to the presence of the beaches, like the Ohama one, the site where the landing took place. Several monuments, rising directly from the sand, describe the pathos and pain of thousands of American soldiers who fought and died there.
Discover Roman and Gothic architecture
The precious gems linked to Roman and Gothic architecture are the Castle of William the Conqueror, the Abbaye aux Hommes, and the Abbaye aux Dames which keep the historic charm and delineate the power of the Duchy.
Here is our little tip for you: take a walk on the walls at sunset when the sky is painted with a mélange of red and orange. Surely, many souvenir photos will fill your picture gallery. If your wish is to walk among nature, breathe the scent of the buds, listen to the sound of the water of the fountains, or get lost in the mazes like Alice in Wonderland, La Colline aux Oiseaux Park is the perfect pristine place for you. However, if you are not belonging to the team nature but you prefer the sea, we would suggest to you the Port of Caen famous for the Bassin Saint-Pierre.
What else to visit?
Being an art lover is what characterizes most of the visitors, that’s why we would like to advise other places of interest:
You will discover in this museum everything about the Normandy culture
Museum of Fine Arts
Discover the museum situated inside the Castle of Caen which holds a collection of valuable works of great masters of painting, especially Italians: Veronese, Perugino including the Flemings, such as Rubens and Brueghel.
Walk in the city
But of course, we also care about those who prefer to walk in the open air, being captured by the peculiarities of the alleys, admiring the meticulous details of the buildings, and exploring the essence of the popular culture. Here are some suggestions:
A few steps further from the castle of Caen is a part of the city that remained intact after the bombardments. This rare place is perfect to relax, to eat a bite, and feel out of time in a typically Norman area.
Representing the oldest street in Caen, a legend tells that it was named by Queen Matilda (wife of William the Conqueror) exclaiming "what a chilly street" but in reality, it is a lively and sparkling alley: half-timbered houses, the church of Notre-Dame of Froide Street, the square of Saint-Sauveur with its Friday market and the botanical garden with more than 2000 different species.
How to travel there?
The city of Caen can be easily reached by many types of transportation from many cities. If you plan a trip from Paris to Caen the easiest and fastest way is to get the train from Paris Gare Saint Lazare. The trip will take 1h and 45 min. There is access to Caen by bus from Cherbourg (1h 12 min) and Rouen (1h and 12 min). The road by car from Paris to Caen takes 2h and 30 min. The city can be reached by ferry from the UK. Brittany Ferries operates a very good cruise service to Caen from Portsmouth. The crossing takes 6 hours during the day and 7 hours overnight. The ferry terminal is located 15 km north of Caen. On 7 km west of the city is located the Caen Airport. This is a small but modern airport, which operates flights from the UK and other main destination cities in France.
Depending on your budget there are 3 types of accommodations in the city. Low-budget accommodations: between 35 and 60 euros for cozy hotels which are not in the city center. Mid-budget accommodations: between 60 and 90 euros for 4-star hotels close to the train station. Hight-budget: over 90 euro for 5-star hotels with great location and services. Speaking about restaurants we can differentiate them by the same price conditions. Low-budget restaurants with less choice but tasty dishes between 10 and 35 euro. We recommend you to try La Casinière or Le Bouchon du Vaugueux. Caen offers fancy restaurants for the fans of gourmet as well. High-budget restaurants with delicious local food are Restaurant Stéphane Carbone and l’Initial. Using public transport in Caen comes at a cost of: 1.50 EUR for a one-way ticket.
When to travel there?
Caen is one of the most emblematic cities of Normandy thanks to its intense history and proximity to the region's beaches. Therefore, any occasion can be taken to reach this destination. If you are looking for the BEST moment to take the trip, our advice is the months of June, July, and August despite them being the peak months of tourist season. Caen is a very big city, so you probably won’t experience the crowd. By the way, if you want to be sure to spend a pleasant stay, late spring or early autumn are the most recommended periods.
What to eat?
Due to the proximity to the seaside, oysters and mussels are very popular products utilized and they are part of the Caennais lifestyle. The singularity of the city is portrayed by a dish that was invented by a monk from the Abbey aux Hommes in 1500: we are talking about “La tripe à la mode de Caen” to which is attributed a competition to award the “Tripiére d'Or”. Even a brotherhood exists to preserve and enhance the original recipe.
Moreover, of course, like every city in Normandy, dairy products are the jewels in the crown: Camembert, for example, is typical of the homonymous village located southeast of Caen.
Therefore, voilà a typical menu for you:
Starter with coquille à la Normande, for main dish escalope Normande, apple pie, and milk jam as a dessert with a sip of Calvados.
To explore more food options within the region, check out our article about typical food in Normandy. Also, we recommend you get to know about the typical food in Brittany on our website.
What to be aware of?
The city itself is very safe, but there are a few things to keep in mind. If you want to enjoy the nightlife of Caen, be aware of the place you choose. Also, keep in mind to avoid walking around the train station during the night.
The calendar for the citizens of Caen is always full of special and spirited events. The following events are the ones we think you should absolutely attend:
Calvados Cocktail Trophies (March)
60 bartenders will meet in Caen (Calvados) to formulate the best Calvados-based cocktails. Competitors must create the drink considering a specific theme. For example, for this year (2022) the one selected is “Cocktail for Peace”.
Festival de l'Excellence Normande, FENO (April)
Demonstrations, animations, concerts, meetings, gastronomy.
Normandy channel race (May)
For all amateurs of sports water competitions
Festival of pop-rock indie, electronic music with international guests. The live atmosphere takes place in the open air, among the naturalness of ancient pines and the majesty of the Beauregard castle park.
Caen Soirs d'été (July-August)
Every Thursday and Friday at 6.30 pm and 9.30 pm, free shows and concerts and you can’t miss the magical atmosphere of the market on Friday evening at the tourist port.
International Fair of Caen (September)
In the Caen Exhibition Park, the fair hosts many exhibitions: artists, influencers, sportsmen, women, and innovators are the protagonists during the 10 days of the fair interconnected by a chosen main theme. For example, last year (2021) the theme was entitled “Our Ancestors, the Vikings”
This was our short guide for Caen. Traveling through the ancient spirit, the cultural life, and the beauty preserved within the city center, Caen is the perfect place even for a small but intense trip. Never stop exploring beautiful places and check our other articles. Don't forget to check us on @thewalkingparrot to find more!