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Things to do in Caen

Things to do in  Caen

Welcome to Caen

Just minutes from the cross-Channel ferry port of Ouistreham, Caen's historic center pays homage to its eventful past. Walking the ramparts of the city's medieval Château, the one-time home of William the Conqueror; admiring the Romanesque abbeys and buzzing student quarter; and uncovering WWII secrets at the Caen memorial are among the top things to do in Caen. Normandy's most-visited attractions also sit right on the doorstep, and day-trippers can explore the D-Day Landing Beaches, marvel at the Bayeux Tapestry, and sample cider and Calvados (apple brandy) along Normandy's Cider Route.

Top 15 attractions in Caen


Famously painted by artists, such as Claude Monet, Gustave Courbet, and Eugene Boudin, the picturesque waterfront and colorful harbor of Honfleur are among the most memorable in Normandy. The historic port is renowned for its architecture, especially Vieux Bassin harbor’s 16th-century buildings and the wooden church of Sainte Catherine.More

Caen Memorial Museum (Mémorial de Caen)

Located a short drive from the D-Day Landing Beaches, the Caen Memorial Museum (Mémorial de Caen) puts one of the most significant battles of World War II into historical context. The museum gardens serve as a poignant tribute to the international soldiers that lost their lives on Norman soil.More

Pegasus Memorial Museum (Pegasus Bridge)

D-Day troops arriving in Normandy crossed the Caen Canal as they sought to liberate occupied France. The bridge they used was later renamed Pegasus Bridge to honor the British Parachute Regiment. Now, the bridge is part of the Pegasus Memorial Museum, alongside exhibits featuring Second World War artifacts and soldiers’ personal effects.More


The tiny village of Arromanches-les-Bains played a big role during the Second World War, when Allied troops installed a prefabricated marina just off the coast here. The remains are still visible, and the town’s fascinating Musee du Debarquement explores that wartime history. Now, the village is a key stop for travelers exploring D-Day sites in Normandy.More


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What was an otherwise little-known village of the Cotentin Peninsula suddenly became infamous after it was visited by American troops on June 6th 1944 as part of Operation Overlord – making Sainte-Mère-Église one of the first villages to be liberated of the Nazis after four long years of occupation. Sainte-Mère-Église, along with Utah Beach, was one of the two airborne landings on D-Day, because of its strategic position between Cherbourg and Paris. Sainte-Mère-Église is also where the Airborne Museum is located (14 rue Eisenhower), entirely dedicated to the D-Day paratroopers. It includes authentic artifacts like a DC3 aircraft, insightful information and an entire section devoted to the movie The Longest Day, which depicts a well-known incident involving paratrooper John Steele of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. His parachute caught on the spire of the town church, from which he observed the fighting going on below, hanging limply for two hours and pretending to be dead before the Germans took him prisoner.More


Located on the coast of Normandy, Cherbourg is both a seaside retreat and a bustling port. Immortalized by Catherine Deneuve in the classic 1964 filmThe Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the city has deep connections with French naval history.More

Ranville War Cemetery

Located in the heart of Calvados, just a few kilometers from the Channel, stands the Ranville War Cemetery. It contains a majority of British soldiers of the 6th Airborne Division (and also Canadian and German soldiers) that were killed during early stages of the Battle of Normandy in the Second World War. In fact, Ranville was the first village to be liberated by the Allies on the morning of June 6, 1944 – more commonly known as D-Day. Indeed, the village was secured by British and Canadian troops, landed nearby by parachute and glider on a mission to secure the bridge over the Caen Canal. This wasn’t achieved easily, though, as the skies were quite windy on that meaningful day and the area was, in reality, much larger than what had been expected.Ranville War Cemetery is located by the ancient Ranville Chapel, a graded 10th-century building. It is laid out in a typical French garden design, with immaculately kept landscapes and manicured grounds. Within the cemetery stands a Cross of Sacrifice (designed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, it is the archetypal British war memorial), an octagonal-shaped, elongated Latin cross with Celtic dimensions carved out of white Portland stone. Ranville War Cemetery contains 2,560 burials, including the grave of Lieutenant Den Brotheridge, considered to be the first Allied death on D-Day.More

St. Catherine’s Church (Eglise Sainte-Catherine)

The Normandy town of Honfleur is home to St. Catherine’s Church (Eglise Sainte-Catherine), the largest surviving wooden chapel in France. Built after the Hundred Years’ War by local 15th-century shipbuilders, the “Axe Masters” managed to create the impressive nave without using one saw. A century later, the chapel’s patronage had grown so much that it was decided St. Catherine’s Church should be doubled in size. A second identical nave was built to match the first, giving the chapel an interesting “twin” architecture, so when you head inside the church look up at the ceiling—you’ll see it looks just like two upturned boats, which makes sense considering the naval background of its builders.Dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria, the church is partially covered in chestnut shingles, while the interior pillars are decorated in colorful flags from around the world. You’ll see light streaming in through the 19th-century stained glass windows, and look out for the church’s classical organ from the parish St Vincent of Rouen, too.More

Abbaye aux Hommes

Founded by William the Conqueror, this former Benedictine monastery is one of the most important Romanesque buildings in Normandy, inspiring many churches on the other side of the Channel to adopt its style. Also known as Abbey of Saint-Étienne, the Abbaye aux Hommes (Men’s Abbey) is now the city hall (Hôtel de Ville).More

Merville Battery (Batterie de Merville)

Merville Battery (Batterie de Merville) was a coastal fortification built by the Nazis in Merville-Franceville as part of the Atlantic Wall during World War II. Because this particular battery was much more better fortified than other similar installations, it was one of the first to be attacked by the Allies on D-Day.Indeed, it was successfully captured by British paratroopers on June 6, 1944, because they mistakenly believed the battery contained heavy-caliber weapons that could threaten the nearby beach landings. They discovered, however, that what it contained, essentially, was inoffensive World War I vintage guns. The battery also comprised four six-foot-thick, steel-reinforced concrete gun casemates, designed to protect mountain guns, as well as a command bunker, dorms and ammunition magazines. After the British left the battery to liberate a nearby village, Merville was once again taken over by the Germans until they withdrew France in the following month of August.More

Trouville (Trouville-sur-Mer)

The chic seaside town of Trouville-sur-Mer is a popular getaway among Parisians seeking respite from the city. Twinned with the even ritzier town of Deauville next door, Trouville maintains its traditional roots as a glamorous beach resort and working fishing port, with Trouville fishermen still seeking out shrimp, mackerel, scallops and sole today.Less touristy than Deauville, Trouville has long been a hotspot for bohemians, and in the 19th century, writers like Flaubert and famous French artists including Mozin and Boudin came here to be inspired and enjoy the laid-back vibe. Trouville still has a flavor of the Belle Epoque about it, and a real authenticity can be felt in this maritime town, especially at the lively Fish Market (Marché aux Poissons).Along with Deauville, Trouville is the closest beach to Paris, making it a popular weekend destination. In summer, the town really heats up, especially on the boardwalk that stretches along its golden sands stuffed with colorful parasols and sunbathers. Connected to Deauville by the pont des Belges bridge, it’s also possible to get to Deauville via a footpath at the mouth of the river during low tide.More

Abbaye aux Dames

Abbaye aux Dames in Caen (also known as the Abbey of Sainte-Trinité, or the Holy Trinity Abbey) is a Benedictine convent nearly one thousand years old. A bit worse for the wear, the abbey survived the Hundred Years War, during which it lost its original spires, and is now home to the Regional offices for Lower Normandy.More

Mulberry Harbour

Often regarded as one of the greatest engineering feats of World War Two, the Mulberry Harbour was a portable and temporary structure developed by the British to facilitate speedy discharging of cargo onto the beaches on D-Day. It was, in fact, two different artificial harbors, which were towed across the English Channel and assembled just off the coast of Normandy on that infamous morning. Once fully operational, Mulberry Harbour was capable of moving 7,000 tons of vehicles and goods each day. The harbors provided the Allies with landing ramps, necessary for the invasion of an otherwise unprotected coast. Violent storms shook the English Channel between June 19 and 22, 1944, effectively wrecking the better part of both harbors. Remains are, however, still visible a few hundred yards from Arromanches’ shoreline, continuing to remind visitors of the sheer engineering genius that emanated from the D-Day landings. The remains are best visible during low tide. The D-Day Museum nearby provides invaluable knowledge on the historical background and technical challenges that the harbors presented.More

Caen Castle (Château de Caen)

One of the largest medieval enclosures in Europe, the massive walls of William the Conqueror's 11th-century Caen Castle thwarted invaders until the French swept in and recaptured not only the castle but the whole of Normandy in the mid-13th century. On a hill in what is now the city center, castle houses the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Normandy.More


Designated as one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France, the Normandy village of Beuvron-en-Auge is officially one of the most beautiful villages in the country. From the main square decked in flowers of every color, you’ll see 17th-century half-timbered houses lining the main street.Once a stronghold of the Harcourt family, the 15th-century Vieux Manoir is a must-see while here. Classified as a “monument historique,” look closely at the manor’s woodwork, carved with patterns and faces.Lying on the famous Normandy Cider Route, Beuvron-en-Auge is especially popular in October when the annual cider festival comes to town and Calvados and Pommeau are drunk all round. In May, look out for the local flower festival, which sets the whole village in bloom with geraniums everywhere. The postcard-worthy town hosts its own antiques shop as well as a creperie, and you can also buy your own cider straight from the grower.More

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All about Caen

When to visit

The best weather for sightseeing in Caen is in summer, with average highs of 72°F (22°C) in July and August. However, this is also the busiest—and most expensive—time to visit, with the city welcoming day-trippers from Paris and cross-Channel ferry passengers from the UK. To avoid the crowds, head to the D-Day beaches in spring, or come in fall for Normandy’s famous apple harvest.

Getting around

Most of Caen’s central sights are easily reached on foot, but if your step count gets too high, you can always hop on the tram—the three lines will take you just about everywhere you need to go. Taxis are easy to find in the city center, but a much more affordable and eco-friendly option is to sign up for the city’s Vélolib bike-sharing service. Buses and taxis run to Ouistreham, Caen’s port, take about 20 minutes.

Traveler tips

Aux Fromages de France on Rue Saint Jean is the place to pick up regional cheeses—Normandy favorites Camembert, Livarot, Pont-l’Eveque, and Neufchâtel should all be on your cheese plate. Afterwards, swing by La Cave du Château to purchase a bottle of calvados (apple brandy), which you can enjoy with your tarte normande (apple tart) from Le P’tit Chou Normand.

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