Caen On a Budget
SightsThe Chateau Ducal is a great place to start your visit. This castle was built by William the Conqueror to house and protect his residential palace. The castle was destroyed in the war but the massive and impressive ramparts remain. These provide great views of the city and are a popular place to relax as well as to visit the Towers which remain. From the ramparts you also have excellent views of the fourteenth century church of St Pierre, parts of which survived the war and some of which has been reconstructed.
Down below the ramparts the main town lies in between the superb Abbaye aux Hommes on one side and the impressive Abbaye aux Dames on the other. The Abbaye Aux Hommes is a really beautiful building and incorporates the Abbey of St Etienne where much of the town sought shelter during the 1944 bombings. Miraculously the church suffered little damage. Some of the abbey buildings are now used as Caen Town Hall.
The Chateau de Benouville (designed by renowned architect Claude Ledoux) is an important neo-classical style castle built close to Caen in the 18th century.
NeighborhoodsThe main neighborhood of interest is the city center, where you will find both the modern city as well as what remains of the old town. Between the Abbaye aux Hommes and the ramparts is the Rue St Pierre, a lively pedestrian street of attractive buildings and good shops that crosses the heart of Caen. Rue Ecuyere and Rue St Saveur and other streets nearby are also worth a stroll. Also in the centre you can explore the 'old' Vaugueux Quarter, affectionately known as little Monmartre. There are also many parks and gardens in and near the center of Caen, including the nicely maintained Jardin des Plants next to Place Blot.
ActivitiesThe Musee des Beaux Arts and the Musee de Normandie are situated inside the ramparts. The Musee des Beaux Arts has an excellent display of Italian, French, and Flemish paintings and the Musee de Normandie houses displays showing the history and development of Normandy.
On the edge of the town center, the Caen Memorial is quite a recent addition to the town and is a very impressive museum that explains the history of war in the region during the 20th century. Exhibits and displays help explain both world wars including the Normandy landings and the battle for Normandy as well as the Nazi genocide and the Cold War.
In the summer Caen's pleasure port, which is close to the Abbaye aux Dames, is a lively place with lots of cafes and restaurants. Caen has a market every Friday that takes place along the Fosses St Julien near the Ducal Castle. There is also a Sunday market in the Place Courtonne.
Food and DiningCaen's main specialty dishes are those of the Normandy region such as Agneau de pre-sale (meadow salted lamb), Teurgoule (rice pudding with milk and cinnamon), and A la Normandie/Vallee d'Aguge (poultry of Normandy). A few restaurants to watch for include: Abracadabra, if you're in the mood for Pizza; A Contre Sens, for something with a little modern twist; and Le Bistro 102, if you want to try some of the local cuisine.
TransportationThe best prices for buses and trains in France can be found on Omio (formerly GoEuro). They let you search across all train, bus, and plane routes throughout Europe.
Caen does have a small airport that accepts regional flights and has regular flights in and out of Lyon, but the closest international airport is in Paris. Caen once boasted an extensive rail and tram network, but much of it was destroyed and now only the electrified line of Paris-Cherbourg, Caen-Le Mans and Caen-Rennes remain with minimal services. Caen is well connected by motorways, so driving there is possible, and it is a port city on the English Channel so ferries are also possible from some destinations. Caen has a recently built, controversial guided bus system and a very efficient network of city buses.