There's a lot to see and do in Caen, a city that was once home to William the Conqueror. It's also a great base for day trips to the Normandy D-Day sites, Bayeux, Honfleur and Mont Saint-Michel.
The modern town centre is dotted with museums. One of the most important is the Caen Memorial Museum, which focuses on World War II, the 1944 Battle of Normandy and the Cold War.
Abbaye aux Hommes
Founded in 1063, the Abbaye aux Hommes (Men's Abbey) is one of the finest examples of Norman Romanesque architecture. It was inspired by the abbeys of Canterbury and Durham and incorporated Caen's famous white stone, which was taken to Britain to build many of the great English churches built after the Norman Conquest in 1066.
It's worth taking a tour of the abbey church to see its impressive wood-panelled rooms, painted with scenes from the Bible and stained glass windows. A series of themed tours are also available throughout the year.
Despite the fact that Caen suffered huge damage during World War II, many historic buildings are still here to enjoy. It's testament to the city's determination not to look back and to fusing modernity with the past.
Abbaye aux Dames
Founded by William the Conqueror and his wife Matilda, this Romanesque abbey is one of the highlights of Caen. Originally the home of the Benedictine nuns until the French Revolution, it’s now a historical monument.
The cloister, Eglise St-Etienne (Trinity Church) and the tomb of William the Conqueror are all well worth seeing. You can also take a look at the elegant interiors of the abbey, which became Caen’s City Hall after it was destroyed in the 18th century.
The monastery is a great example of Romanesque architecture, with a distinctive pine-shaped bell tower. In addition, it features fine stone carvings throughout.
D Day Memorial
A day trip to Caen is not complete without paying a visit to the D-Day Memorial. This is a comprehensive museum dedicated to all things D-Day and World War II.
This massive complex has tons of exhibits and a movie theater. It also has three gardens that commemorate British, Canadian and American soldiers who died in Normandy.
It is believed to be one of the best museums in Europe. You can relive the battle through costumes, photos and objects.
There is also a film about D-Day that is shown in a 360-degree theater.
There are several other museums and monuments in Calvados that tell the story of WWII. Some are more interesting than others but all are worth a visit!
Located in lower Normandy, Festyland is a smaller theme park that has a unique historical theme. It is divided into different areas representing different periods of history, including pirates, Vikings and the middle ages with William the Conqueror.
- The main attractions include a roller coaster, circus, waterslides and bumper boats. The park also features a mediaeval castle, two cinema halls and several restaurants.
- There are plenty of rides for everyone, including a small family free-fall tower and Zamperla's Tour d'Esnambuc. The other larger rides are a bit overrated but have been designed for adults and older children to enjoy.
- The park's logo is a friendly young dragon sporting a Viking hat and large grin. This reflects the family themed nature of the park.