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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


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


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

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


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

Nestled in the village of Ranville near Caen, Ranville War Cemetery contains the graves of 2,235 World War II Commonwealth soldiers killed on D-Day on June 6 1944, when the Allies landed on Normandy’s beaches. The cemetery is open to those wishing to pay their respects and is a stop on several WWII battlefield tours.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

Trouville (Trouville-sur-Mer)

Trouville-sur-Mer, nicknamed “Queen of Beaches” in the 19th century, is slightly less flashy than its famous neighbor Deauville, but it is nonetheless polished. With half-timber buildings, a long, wooden boardwalk, and a plethora of upmarket hotels and restaurants, it’s popular with Parisians looking for sand between their perfectly pedicured toes.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

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

Honfleur’s St. Catherine’s Church (Église Sainte Catherine) is the largest surviving church of its kind in France. In the 15th century, following the destruction of the church’s original stone structure during the Hundred Years’ War, St. Catherine’s was rebuilt entirely from wood. The ceiling looks like two upturned boats, a homage to the seafaring people who lived in this town.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

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

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

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

Trip ideas

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Top activities in Caen

Private Tour: D-Day Beaches from Caen

Private Tour: D-Day Beaches from Caen

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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.

People Also Ask

What is Caen known for?

Caen is known for its riveting history. The city played a significant role in the World War II Battle of Normandy, and today the Caen Memorial Museum is one of the region’s top WWII sites. Other historical highlights include Caen Castle and two major abbeys—one founded by William the Conquerer.

How many days do you need in Caen?

Two days in Caen is enough to see the city’s top attractions, including the Caen Memorial Museum, Caen Castle, and Abbaye aux Hommes. But since Caen makes an excellent base for exploring Normandy, consider staying longer for day trips to D-Day beaches, the Bayeux Tapestry museum, or Mont St. Michel.

What is there to do in Caen at night?

Caen has energetic nightlife thanks to a large student population. Students, locals, and visitors all frequent lively bars and pubs lining the compact Rue Ecuyère. It’s also worth checking out the historical Caen Castle and Abbaye aux Hommes after the sun goes down—both medieval landmarks feature dramatic illumination at night.

Is it better to stay in Bayeux or Caen?

Both Caen and Bayeux make good home bases for exploring Normandy. Caen is bigger and more lively, with significant historical sites and nightlife thanks to a student population. Charming Bayeux is quaint and easy-going—it’s also home to the Bayeux Tapestry, a beautiful cathedral, and the Airborne Museum.

Is Caen in Normandy or Brittany?

Caen is in the Normandy region. It is Normandy’s second-largest urban area, with a population swelled by the students attending University of Caen, which dates back to the 15th century. The city played a pivotal role in WWII, and surviving historical landmarks include the medieval Caen Castle and Abbaye aux Hommes.

Is Caen worth visiting?

Yes, Caen is worth visiting. It’s a low-key, atmospheric hub of Normandy culture and history, and its major sights include the Caen Memorial Museum, Caen Castle, and the Abbaye aux Hommes. Caen’s picturesque historic center is walkable, too, with restaurants specializing in Normandy ciders, fine local cheeses, and Atlantic seafood.


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