Home to 115,000 people, Caen is the capital of the Calvados department and is just waiting to be explored by you. (If you’re visiting Paris, you can hop on a train to Caen from Gare Saint-Lazare!) Leave it to Caen to have amazing history, architecture, and art. You’ll fall in love with its picturesque streets and churches. Here are six memorable places to visit in this historic city.
- Château de Caen/Caen Castle
You do not have to be a king or queen to enjoy a stunning castle! Everyone will love seeing this castle, an architectural triumph that William the Conqueror instructed to be built in 1060 for defense. Located right in the middle of Caen, you can’t miss this soaring castle and the French and Normandy flags flying in the air.
Walk the moat and see both Église Saint Georges-a church built by William’s son, Henry I-and the Exchequer-a place where nobility would be seated.
Get ready to see amazing city views. Since the castle is elevated, you will experience sweeping views of Caen.
2. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen/Caen Museum of Fine Arts
This museum is already cool because it is located on the grounds of Caen Castle. And when you walk into the building and see the collection, you will instantly be sold.
The building houses 350 paintings-Dutch, Italian, Flemish, and French. You will see Tintoretto, Peter Paul Rubens, Eugène Delacroix, Claude Monet, and Pierre Soulages. Since these artists span different time periods, you will get to see Renaissance, Baroque, French Romanticism, Impressionist, and modern works.
3. Abbaye-aux-Hommes/Men’s Abbey
Here’s the story behind this abbey: William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda, oversaw the construction of two abbeys in Caen. One is dedicated to men, and one is dedicated to women.
The Men’s Abbey is very unique because of its architecture (Okay, start keeping track of how many times I say the word architecture). It is a mix, and it is just so beautiful. It is a Benedictine plan and there is a Romanesque nave. But there is also a Gothic choir!
The abbey is sprawling, so make sure to walk around and take all of this in. There are pillars and a gallery. The two towers resemble both Carolingian architecture (I mention architecture again! Carolingian architecture was Pre-Romanesque and was inspired by Byzantine architecture) and Ottonian architecture (This is a style that came from Germany).
The Men’s Abbey is also home to William the Conqueror’s tomb!
4. Abbaye-aux-Dames/Women’s Abbey
Be prepared to feel the same level of amazement as you did when you stepped into the Men’s Abbey. Make sure to visit the Église de la Trinité once you are inside-this is Romanesque architecture at its finest. There is a nave, choir, and vault.
Take in the stained glass windows and walk through the courtyard.
The abbey also has a fascinating history-the spires were knocked down during the Hundred Years’ War and were later fixed in the early 1800s. For a short time, the abbey served as a hospital. Renovations occurred in the 1980s.
5. Église Saint-Pierre/Church of Saint-Pierre
This landmark is awe-inspiring. You’ll recognize Church of Saint-Pierre because of its iconic 245 feet tower. The tower’s 14th century spire was demolished during World War II, but has been fixed since then.
Walk inside to be stunned by the Gothic chapels and spot the Renaissance apse. There is a St. Peter sculpture over the altar.
As you exit, take the time to head to Place St.-Pierre and see the Joan of Arc monument.
6. Simply take a stroll
Caen is just so appealing because of its historic beauty. Take in your surroundings. Walk through the town square or on the many pedestrian-only streets filled with cafes, restaurants, shops, churches, and homes. (Rue St-Pierre is a particularly pretty place!) See if you can get to the pedestrian square where there is a beautiful old-fashioned carousel!