Situated in northern France, Caen is the capital of the Basse-Normandie region. The city is best known for the heavy fighting that occurred there during the Battle of Normandy of 1944.
The Orne River flows through Caen and the Canal de Caen a la Mer build during the regin of Napoleon III runs parallel to it, which is protected from the sea by a lock. Since Caen is located just 6 miles from the English Channel, there is ferry services available that run from its port at Ouistreham, just north of the canal, to Portsmouth in England.
Caen suffered from heavy bombing during the Normandy campaign and was then set ablaze on D-Day, the culmination of which destroyed around 80% of the city. The city’s twin abbeys and the ramparts of the castle were all that remained of the old city which was founded in the 11th century by William the Conqueror. In the 1950s and 1960s, the modern city of Caen was rebuilt predominantly of concrete and pale stone as was characteristic of post-war era utilitarian architecture.
Caen is located a few miles from the D-Day landing beaches and for this reason, it a popular base for visitors exploring the sites associated with the Normandy campaign. A short train ride from Caen is Bayeux, which was the first town to be liberated after D-Day. A bus is available from Bayeux train station to the landing beaches further north, with timetable and route information available online. A stroll around Bayeux itself is also worthwhile to see the beautiful gothic cathedral and Norman-style wooden-framed houses that remain there since it was one of the few towns left largely unscathed during WWII.
The main sights in Caen include:
- Château de Caen, one of the largest medieval fortresses in Western Europe which dates back to 1060 when it was built by William the Conqueror. It now houses the Caen’s Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen ) and the Museum of Normandy (Musée de Normandie).
- William the Conqueror also built two abbeys in Caen which remarkably remained intact following WWII. Eglise St Etienne, which is formerly known as the Men’s Abbey is dedicated to St Stephen and was completed in 1063. The Women’s Abbey, now known as Eglise de la Ste-Trinité is dedicated to the Holy Trinity and was completed in 1060.
- The historical botanical garden, Jardin botanique de Caen.
- The Memorial for Peace (Mémorial pour la Paix ) built in 1988, which in contrast to war museums focuses upon conflict resolution in different cultures and winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.
- The Parc Festyland is an amusement park located in Carpiquet, west of Caen.
There is an extensive bus network to help get you around Caen and the train service links the town with all major lines.