As much as William was one, Caen too deserves the title ‘Conqueror’. The city may have dressed her wounds, but a visit to the Caen Memorial shows she hasn’t forgotten her story. From the ashes has risen a city that displays a radiant, modern and cultural face, with its many museums, the ultra-modern Alexis de Tocqueville building, its two sumptuous abbeys and its collection of religious buildings, not to mention its festivals such as Nördik Impakt (electro music) and Festival les Boréales (culture).
A city famed for its gastronomy, as much as its architecture, where the Middle Ages rubs shoulders with cutting edge design, Caen also seduces visitors with its many green spaces, its beautiful shopping streets, its majestic squares and its marina lined with cafés and restaurants.
See more of Caen and discover its hidden secrets and also its charming hotels with a little help from one of our local hoteliers. With the kind of inside information you won’t find in a guidebook, our Caen hoteliers are sure to win you over.
TRANSPORTS IN CAEN
All roads lead to Caen. Or almost. From the south of France, arriving by air is a quick and easy option, with Caen-Carpiquet airport connecting Ajaccio, Bastia, Calvi, Figari, Lyon, Marseille, Nice and Toulouse. For travellers visiting from Normandy, Brittany, Tours or Paris, the train is fast, affordable and allows you to soak in the countryside panoramas without the airport stress. For everyone visiting Caen by road take the A13 from the east, A84 from the west or the A88 from the south. Once you’ve arrived in Caen, our hoteliers recommend hopping on one of the 3 lines of the city’s brand-new tram, or cycle Caen’s 50kms of bike paths.
When to go to Caen
Enjoying 30 hours of sunshine more than Paris, we’re the envy of our Eiffel Tower neighbour. And even if we can’t quite compete with Marseille for sunshine, those that think Normandy is all about the rain might be in for a sunny surprise. Its location close to the English Channel helps give Caen a mild climate (albeit changeable), with the least fickle sky between May and October, making it the preferred period for holiday visits. Whatever time of year you visit, our hoteliers recommend keeping an umbrella close to hand for whenever there is "eune puchie" (little rain) or "eune chilaée" (big shower)!
Take a stroll along its ancient streets and allow the attractions and monuments of the city to introduce you to William the Conqueror and his wife Mathilde of Flanders. Navigate the modern city on two-wheels, with a break on the banks of the Orne or a breath of garden-fresh air in one of the city’s many parks. Not sure where to start? Book one of our hotels in Caen and let allow our hoteliers to reveal the history of the city, both big and small. Discover the many things to visit in Caen with us!
ABBAYE AUX HOMMES (Men’s Abbey) and ABBAYES AUX DAMES (Ladie’s Abbey)
These 11th century abbeys have a curious history. Built in two locations in the city, the one for William the Conqueror and the other for his wife, Mathilde of Flanders in a bid to gain Pope Leo IX’s forgiveness. The two had fallen out of favour after William married his cousin. The Abbaye aux Hommes played its part as hospital during the Normandy Landings and even for a time housed a high school, while the Abbaye aux Dames was a convent, hospital and even nursing home.
LE CHÂTEAU DE CAEN
From the top of ramparts you’ll be surrounded by nearly 1000 years of history. Built around 1060 by William the Conqueror, it remains one of the largest castles in Europe. Wars, fires and bombings have each left their mark, but this Caen monument has survived them all. Walk the dried moat, admire the duke’s palace and feel the history in the vestiges of the dungeons, all while taking in the city views below.
ART IN THE SPOTLIGHT
The city’s magnificent Musée des Beaux-Arts (Museum of Fine Arts) is nestled in the heart of the city, but is only a prelude to the full scale of art and culture on offer in Caen. Among the cultural highlights: the Artothèque, dedicated to contemporary art from the 50s to today, the FRAC (Regional Fund of Contemporary Art) and the Galerie des Sens, a gallery-workshop for young and old dedicated to creativity and artists.
LE QUATRIER DE VAUGUEUX
Located beneath the ramparts of the Caen Castle, the district of Vaugueux is one of the prettiest in the city. Historic houses with wooden sides and paved narrow streets set the scene for the heart of the Caenaise nightlife with its collection of restaurants and bars. Explore the alleyways and lanes and walk in the footsteps of Edith Piaf whose grandparents owned one of the neighbourhood’s popular cafés.
THE GARDENS OF CAEN
With nearly 500 hectares of green spaces spread throughout the city, Caen is very much a garden city. From the Jardin des Plantes, through to the Prairie and Bird Hill, which is unrecognisable from its history as a public dump in a past life, there is no shortage of greenery in Caen. A hotelier recommended favourite is the surprising Garden Luna Rossa, hidden at the bottom of a small courtyard in the Caponière district. The more than 40 pieces on display were created by self-taught artists and indulge the conceptual, the natural and the creative.
If you only visit one place in Caen, then this must be it. Dedicated to the fragility of peace, this museum and memorial commemorates World War II, the Battle for Caen and takes a broad look at the wars of the twentieth century. Occupying the site of the former German general command bunker in Normandy, this "Museum for Peace" recalls the beginnings and consequences of the conflict of 39-45 with powerful stories, displays and educational exhibits that will appeal to all ages. The museum has evolved since its opening with the addition of a Nobel Peace Prize gallery, memorial gardens and an area focusing on the Cold War.
Milk, butter, cream, cheese, apples, cider, caramels ... Normandy and its delights are celebrated on the tables of Caen. While the less cuisine-curious might be a little reluctant to try THE specialty of the city, Tripes à la mode de Caen (cow stomach and maybe even some hoof), it’s hard for anyone to resist the annual 10-day ‘November Gourmand’ celebration in the home of Calvados. Guests looking to experience the best of Caen, in one of its most picturesque settings, then our hoteliers recommend dining on the historic rue de Vaugueux or at one of these restaurant favourites.
Installed in an old shop near the ‘Men's Abbey’, this modern restaurant was born from the meeting of Yohann, the chef and Yvan, the sommelier. Their creed: a creative, varied and seasonal cuisine whose products come from local producers, market gardeners and local fishermen. 3 toques from the Gault & Millau guide.
‘What interests me is to celebrate the products, not disguise them’, explains the chef of his eponymous restaurant. Only a few steps away from the marina, Stéphane's kitchen seduces with creativity and delicacy. Plates are as great to eat as they are to look at. 1 Michelin star.
A contre sens
The Caennais crowd at this address in the rue des Croisiers are here for one thing and one thing only, to savour the wonders of the chef, Anthony Caillot. On the menu: a contrasting but precise cuisine, enhanced by a good hint of daring. The Caennais can’t get enough of it, so reservations are strongly recommended. 1 Michelin star.
La Villa Eugène
Small familiar dishes and a chic atmosphere in this old house that was transformed into a restaurant in 2008. Diners come for the aromas from the kitchen as much as from the setting, which is original and welcoming with cosy corners, balconies and even a library.
Le Café Mancel
The café of the Musée des Beaux-Arts and its bistronomic menu are well worth a visit. On the esplanade of the Caen Castle, diners can soak in the greenery surroundings and savour the Norman flavours of the season. The cuisine is modern and inventive in a truly historic setting.