One of the largest cities in the Normandy region of France
, and one of significant history, not least in WWII
. It’s home to one of the largest and most elaborate modern museums
about that war, and especially D-Day
, as well as the Cold War
period that followed.
More background info: Caen is the place most closely associated with William the Conqueror, during whose reign much of the ancient grand buildings and the massive fortress/castle were built. He was also buried in Caen, namely in the massive Abbaye aux Hommes, a former Benedictine monastery.
Almost 300 years after his conquest of England
, the English in turn occupied and sacked Caen during the Hundred Years War in 1346, but it was recaptured by the French at the end of that war.
In the 1940 invasion of France
by Nazi Germany
, Caen, like all of Normandy, became occupied too.
Much of the city was again destroyed during the Battle of Caen that ensued after the Allied D-Day landings
of 6 June 1944 on the beaches to the north and west of the city. The German defence held out until 9 July, when in particular British troops liberated Caen. By then over two thirds of its buildings had been destroyed.
The reconstruction of Caen after the war altered the appearance of the city, but it nevertheless retains the biggest and best examples of Romanesque architecture in Normandy.
What there is to see: For the dark tourist, the main reason to come to this place is the city’s vast war museum, which is hence given its own chapter here. This museum also organizes guided tours of the D-Day beaches, memorials and cemeteries, which are hence also covered in a separate chapter here:
Within the city itself, there isn’t so much more of particular dark interest. One exception may be the bullet holes
inside the castle
left from when members of the French Resistance were shot at that spot during the occupation by Nazi Germany
. But I haven’t seen these myself, as I only read about them after I had been to Caen and I haven’t been back since.
Possibly also of interest to some is the grave of William the Conqueror inside the grand Abbey of Saint-Étienne, aka “Abbaye aux Hommes”, i.e. ‘men’s abbey’ to the south-west of the castle (it has its informal name in contrast to the “Abbaye aux Dames”, or Holy Trinity Abbey, in a women’s convent to the east of the castle).
To the east of the Abbaye aux Hommes stands one of Caen’s few remaining war ruins
, namely that of the Église Saint-Étienne-le-Vieux
, whose nave was largely destroyed in the Battle of Caen in WWII
. It remains unrestored, unused, and off limits.
in the heart of the Normandy region of France
, roughly 125 miles (200 km) west of Paris
, and ca. 65 miles (100 km) south-east of Cherbourg
. The city itself is ca. 10 miles (15 km) inland from the coast, but connected to it by a canal.
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs: quite easy to get to, not necessarily too expensive.
From within France
, Caen is most easily reached by train, including from Paris
, Rennes and Cherbourg
. For those coming by car the city is easily accessible by motorway, but parking in the centre can be problematic. Caen is also served by the ferry port of Ouistreham on the coast to the north of the city, which offers a connection to Portsmouth, Great Britain
, on the other side of the English Channel. Caen also has a regional airport, but this will be of only limited use to most visitors.
Getting around the inner city is easy enough on foot, but the distance to the Mémorial may be too great for some, so they will have to use public transport at least for that.
Accommodation options in Caen are fairly plentiful, including some really good budget ones. No need to break the bank.
As for food & drink
, the choices are wide here too, including quite a proportion of ethnic restaurants. A dense cluster of eateries is to be found just to the east of the castle’s Saint-Pierre Gate.
Time required: to see just the dark attractions, two days may be just about enough, but to see more of the city a little more time is needed.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
In addition to the tours
offered by the Mémorial de Caen
, one could also use the city as a base for independent explorations of the many museums and sights along this coast – see under D-Day museums
and Atlantic Wall
And of course see also under France
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
Caen offers some of the most impressive large-scale ancient architecture of the region, going back to the times of William the Conqueror. First and foremost this includes the huge Castle
, which is more a fortress really, one of the largest from the Middle Ages – it goes back to the year 1060! Up to WWII
it was used as a military barracks. Today, there are several museums located within its walls, including the Fine Arts Museum and the Museum of Normandy.
Other grand architectural gems include several churches and monasteries, such as the aforementioned Abbaye aux Hommes and Abbaye aux Dames, both also dating back to Norman times, but also the splendid Gothic Église Saint-Pierre.
Examples of the very few old half-timbered houses that survived WWII can be found on Rue Saint Pierre.
See also under France
- Caen 01 - skyline
- Caen 02 - grand
- Caen 03 - monastery
- Caen 04 - interior
- Caen 05 - grave of William the Conqueror
- Caen 06 - castle
- Caen 07 - tower
- Caen 08 - cathedral
- Caen 09 - square
- Caen 10 - old house
- Caen 11 - very old house
- Caen 12 - abandoned house
- Caen 13 - botanical garden
- Caen 14 - market and marina
- Caen 15 - nightlife