Sitting where the rivers Orne and Odon meet, the buzzing university town of Caen is one of Normandy’s most important cities. Although left bruised and battered during WWII, Caen has rebuilt spectacularly, held on to many of its splendid historical buildings and maintained its sparky Norman spirit too. It is well worth a visit, then, as you pass through its hectic ferry port; and Siblu holiday park, Domaine de Litteau, is also close by, making it a great day-trip destination on any extended visit to the region.
Beaches and the great outdoors
In Caen’s surrounding area, beaches code-named Gold, Juno and Sword are synonymous with the D-Day landings, and to visit them is informative and thought provoking in equal measure. And yet these are must-see places in their own right too, with sandy beaches just right for sandcastle building and a spot of paddling. Then there’s Ouistreham beach, minutes from Caen’s ferry port. It is an olde-worlde seaside resort with pastel-painted beach huts and long stretches of golden sand calling out for beach games and frolicking along the shore. From Ouistreham, you can then walk, cycle or even rollerblade along the towpaths of the Canal de Caen to the city’s centre. And in Caen itself, the Jardin des Plantes offers a wonderful place to kick off your shoes, relax and marvel at the many rare plant species.
Things to do and special events
Walk the William the Conqueror way, and as you go, explore two ancient abbeys (Abbaye aux Dames and Abbaye aux Hommes, William’s last resting place and now Caen’s Hôtel de Ville), and the 11th century Château de Caen, one of Europe’s most impressive medieval complexes. It is now also home to the Musée de Normandie, which covers the region's history from the Gauls to the Saxons, and the Musée des Beaux Arts, for Italian, Dutch and Flemish masters. You can also have fun – and get some wonderful views – roaming the castle ramparts. And just outside of town, Normandy’s largest theme park, Festyland, has thrilling rides and fun attractions, making it a great place for all the family to let off steam!
Local discoveries and hidden gems
A few kilometres from Caen, WWII museum, Le Mémorial, is poignant, insightful, and considered one of Europe’s finest war museums. The nearby gardens at Colline aux Oiseaux allow you to take time out for contemplation and a breath of fresh air, plus there’s a small farm for little ones to enjoy. Caen is also brilliantly well served for food, whether from the bountiful markets, scrumptious patisseries or cosy bistros. There is exquisite seafood, crêpes, as much cheese as you can eat, and tripe (a local specialty…). And between courses, try a ‘trou Normand’ – a shot of Calvados (apple brandy): its purpose, say the locals, is simply to ‘make room’ for more!
Places to go
To complete the William the Conqueror history tour, make the short trip to Bayeux for its eponymous tapestry-come-embroidered “comic strip” that tells the story of the Battle of Hastings. Or head over to glamorous Deauville: boardwalk, beaches, and a favourite of movie stars, it’s sure to win you over!
Distance/driving time from Caen