Although entirely ravaged by the flames during the Second World War, the city still preserves a few famous buildings including the renowned castle built by William the Conqueror. You will come across it when you follow the paths leading from the landing beaches.
You will love this city for its numerous parks and gardens, its pedestrianized centre and its Peace Museum.
In June 1944, Operation Overlord was launched on the coast of Normandy. The beginning of the end for the Nazi armies. It was an important event in which the city of Caen played an important role as the scene of this turn of events. This historic event is brilliantly recounted in the Mémorial de Caen Museum. The permanent exhibition is both well thought out and engaging, and although it is quite sad, it is accessible to children. It explains the violence linked to the war, and the social crisis, and even examines the Cold War.
However, the city's cultural heritage doesn't end with WWII, as is demonstrated by the many European Renaissance paintings on display in the Museum of Fine Arts (located at the heart of the castle). Designed for both adults and children, the museum offers various workshops uncovering the mysteries of these paintings, in addition to traditional tours. Don't forget to take a stroll around the gardens, where you will find a number of impressive sculptures.
A visit to the Musée d'Initiation à la Nature (Nature Discovery Museum) is also a great source of entertainment when the weather is mild. It is an opportunity to share the importance of protecting the ecosystem with younger generations by introducing them to the living beings around us. Finally, there is the 'Cider Route'. Running east of Caen, through pretty villages classed among the most beautiful in France, it gives you the opportunity to explore the Pays d'Auge in depth.
Between the turbulent middle ages and the landing of U.S. forces in Normandy in 1944, you can hardly say the city of Caen is devoid of history.
You should therefore start by visiting the early 11th century Caen castle, which on the whole is majestic but has not been well preserved. The damaged side adds a little something to the building, however, allowing the mind to fantasise about life during that era. History buffs will be pleased to hear that some parts of the building have been well preserved, such as the Exchequer (a large state room), Saint George's Church and the ramparts.
The Abbey of Saint Etienne and the Abbey of Sainte-Trinité are also two of the jewels of Normandy. These two religious buildings are the result of a rather troubled love story between William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, whose marriage was denounced by Pope Leo XI, who condemned its incestuous nature. They therefore built these two monuments in return for a papal dispensation. Today, the former deals with more administrative duties as it is home to the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall).
To keep things simple, follow the William the Conqueror Trail, which covers exactly 31 important sites. There is no need to worry if you're a bit lazy as all the points of interest are close together, so the tour doesn't take too much effort to complete.
Unfortunately, Normandy is not known for its mild climate, Don't hesitate to pack a raincoat, an umbrella and a windbreaker, as it would be a shame if your trip was spoiled because of rain showers. Likewise, Caen is not known for its parking system, which is clearly lacking in spaces. It is therefore best to visit on foot or by bike. If you have chosen to stay in an apartment or a house on the outskirts of the city, don't panic, as the city is relatively well served by public transport.
The city of Caen is relatively quiet. Although there is nothing to be particularly worried about, it is advisable to be careful in the area around the train station, as it is the least reputable part of the city. Likewise, if you don't like the rain, avoid visiting the city in winter when it rains more frequently. Rest assured, however, it is rarely freezing cold as the city enjoys an oceanic climate, which usually guarantees mild temperatures.
If you want to eat local food in Lower Normandy, you need to like offal, and the speciality of Caen is no exception. William the Conqueror was a big fan of this dish and christened it tripe. It is a great, hearty local dish. Mix tripe and veal trotters with white wine, herbs, vegetables and spices and you've got a meal fit for a king. Admittedly, it doesn't seem very appetising at first. Be careful not to offend anyone, though. Also worth mentioning is the Norman gastronomic society Tripière d'or, which promotes Caen-style tripe..
The most avid food lovers will be tempted by the unique Isigny crème fraîche, which is so creamy it will make your mouth water. This crème pâtissière is the perfect accompaniment to a local fouace, a small, sweet cake also known as a fougasse. The difference being that a fouace is sweet, and a fougasse is savoury.
Lastly, what better way to finish off the meal than with a nice cup of cider. After all, Normandy is a paradise for this sweet drink...
Don't expect to be able to buy any beautiful statuettes made in Caen as there are hardly any local crafts. However, don't hesitate to fill your suitcase with culinary delights. Those with a sweet tooth won't be able to resist the Isigny crème fraîche, which is good as it is sold in various sizes, the largest guaranteeing the buyer 5 litres of happiness. Likewise, feel free to bring back some dry or sweet cider, the production of which is part of the heritage of Normandy. Try a Cuvée Colette, a Côte de Grâce or even a cider with honey. Besides, out of all the alcoholic drinks in the world, it has the least calories.