Best Things to Do in Caen

Caen is a city where historical and religious monuments merge. I tell you what to do in its historic center and its natural spaces.

Ana Caballero

Ana Caballero

9 min read

Best Things to Do in Caen

Caen | ©Ralf Peter Reimann

Caen is a city full of medieval history that also suffered the ravages of different wars, especially the Second World War. However, the city managed to remain upright and many of its spaces were rebuilt, becoming monuments.

Among the best things to do in Caen are visiting the historic center, as it is full of heritage sites. In addition, you should visit the Abbey of the Ladies, the Abbey of the Men, the Memorial Museum and the Castle of Caen, as well as natural spaces such as the botanical garden, the park of the bird hill and much more.

1. Visit the Memorial Museum of Caen

Caen Memorial Museum| ©RH&XL
Caen Memorial Museum| ©RH&XL

My first recommendation is that you should book tickets for the Caen Memorial Museum, a space that will make you travel back to 1945.

There, you'll get a pretty complete overview of how World War II, the Cold War and much more unfolded.

During your visit to the museum, which opened its doors on June 6, 1988 and has been refurbished and expanded over time, you'll see:

  • General exhibits: covering topics related to World War II, the Cold War, the context before and after the construction of the Berlin Wall and much more.
  • American Garden: one of its attractions is the fountain, which was designed and strategically placed to represent freedom.
  • Canadian Garden: a space that invites the visitor to reflect.
  • British Garden: inside you can appreciate different sculptures and some cypresses in homage to the 15 British divisions, as well as the Navy and the Royal Air Force.

Information of interest

  • Price: from 19,80€. The reduced price is 17,50€ and applies to seniors over 65 years, children from 10 to 18 years, military, teachers and companions of disabled people. Students and inhabitants of Caen pay 5€ and children under 10 years old are free.
  • Hours: from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm between October and January 7, from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm between February and March, and from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm between April and September.
  • To learn more... See the article on tickets for the Memorial Museum in Caen: how to buy, prices and discounts.

Book tickets to the Memorial Museum in Caen

2. Discover the Botanical Garden of Caen

Caen Botanical Garden| ©jbjornsdottir
Caen Botanical Garden| ©jbjornsdottir

A visit to the Botanical Garden of Caen is a must during your stay in the city. This is an emblematic place full of history, where you will find a collection of plants that exceeds 8 thousand species.

When you arrive at this natural space of 5000 m2, you will be amazed by the panoramic views obtained, because this garden stands on a hilly area in the center of Caen. You will also have the opportunity to walk around and see a variety of botanical species:

  • The greenhouses, encompassing some 1500 exotic species, including orchids, giant water lily and ephemeral flowers.
  • The medicinal plant garden, with approximately 600 plants.
  • The typical Normandy vegetation, including about 100 wild species.
  • Trees considered natural monuments, as they have survived the centuries. Such is the case of the Cryptomeria japonica, dating from 1870 and reaching 20 meters in height, and the Sequoiadendron giganteum, 35 meters high and dating from 1890.

Information of interest

  • Price: admission to the garden is free.
  • Hours: access to the garden is from 8:00 a.m. from Monday to Friday and from 10:00 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Recommendation: do not worry if you are traveling with children, as it offers several spaces for recreation, such as the playground and educational activities.

Book tickets to the Caen Memorial Museum

3. Discover the imposing Château de Caen and its hidden treasures

Caen Castle| ©Kyle Pounds
Caen Castle| ©Kyle Pounds

Majestic and imposing are two adjectives that perfectly define the Castle of Caen and, during your visit to see this place, you will understand why.

When you arrive at this fortress dating from the eleventh century, you will immediately notice its large size (more than 5 thousand hectares). You will be able to make a tour without major difficulties while discovering the hidden treasures of this cultural complex, located in the center of the city. Among the places and monuments that you will be able to visit are the following:

  • The Normandy Museum, a building that once served as the governor's residence.
  • The Museum of Fine Arts with a variety of exhibitions of national and international artists.
  • The Church of St George, which currently also functions as an exhibition space for works of art.
  • The Porte Saint-Pierre, which is the southern entrance to the castle and offers beautiful panoramic views of the city center.
  • The Porte des Champs or north gate.
  • The garden, which consists of various vegetable crops, fruits and vegetables.

Information of interest

  • Price: admission to the castle is free, but to enter some specific areas you will have to hire an authorized guide.
  • Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

4. See the Church of Saint-Pierre de Caen

Church of Saint-Pierre de Caen| ©Cheng-en Cheng
Church of Saint-Pierre de Caen| ©Cheng-en Cheng

The Church of Saint-Pierre de Ca en is another place you should include in your visit because in addition to accumulating centuries of history, the building boasts different architectural trends, such as Norman, Italian, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Romanesque.

In this temple of the Catholic Church built in honor of St. Peter, you will see:

  • The facade, which dates back to the 14th century and exhibits a large rose window with stained glass.
  • The bell tower, which was rebuilt in the years after the war.
  • The interiorarches, which are essentially Gothic in style with some Renaissance elements.
  • The chevet, in which different decorative features belonging to the Italian style can be observed.

Information of interest

  • Price: the entrance to the place is free.
  • Opening hours: Monday to Saturday from 8:30 am to 7:00 pm and on Sundays until 6:00 pm.
  • Location: 110 Rue Saint-Jean, Caen.
  • Curiosity: Caen stone was used in the structure of the church, chosen for its level of resistance but at the same time for its easy handling.

5. Breathe fresh air in the Park of the Hill of Birds

Park of the Hill of Birds| ©Thomas The Baguette
Park of the Hill of Birds| ©Thomas The Baguette

In the northwest of Caen you will find the 17 hectares that make up the large Park of the Bird Hill, an environment full of nature. There, you can breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the view of endless crop fields.

During your walk through this vast natural complex, you can enjoy the following areas and explore them at your own pace, as there are several signposts:

  • The rose garden, which boasts more than 15,000 species of roses, including some 570 varieties preserved since the Middle Ages.
  • Children's area, with games for the little ones and an animal park, where you can see some peacocks, cows, ducks and goats.
  • Thematic gardens, where crops are classified according to common characteristics, such as perennials, mazes, flower trials, etc.

Information of interest

  • Price: admission to the site is free.
  • Hours: Monday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m., with exceptions on some holidays.
  • Location: Avenue Amiral Mountbatten, Caen.

Book tickets to the Caen Memorial Museum

6. Visit the Abbaye des Dames Abbey

Abbaye des Dames| ©Patrick
Abbaye des Dames| ©Patrick

Your visit to Caen would not be complete without a visit to the Abbaye des Dames. This is another of Normandy's great treasures that has a long history since its foundation in the 11th century and that you can visit either on your own or with a guide.

This building, which is now a historical monument, was built at the same time as the Abbey of the Ladies. Over time, it has served as a home for Benedictine nuns, but in other centuries it has also functioned as a hospice and military barracks. I recommend you to visit:

  • The church located inside, specifically the choir area, as the remains of Matilda of Flanders, who was the wife of William the Conqueror, are located there.
  • The 11th century crypt, with a large forest of columns.
  • A painting room called "Painting in Normandy", where various works of religious and local interest are exhibited.
  • The Park, which extends over five hectares and from where you can get incredible panoramic views of the city.

Information of interest

  • Price: self-guided tours are free, while guided tours cost €4 (€2 for people with special conditions).
  • Hours: Monday to Friday from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm and from 1:30 pm to 6:00 pm. Saturday and Sunday afternoon hours are from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm. On December 25, January 1 and 5, the site is closed.
  • Location: Place Reine Mathilde BP 523 14 035, Caen.

Book tickets to the Caen Memorial Museum

7. Take a guided tour of the historic center of Caen.

Day in Caen| ©ho visto nina volare
Day in Caen| ©ho visto nina volare

As Caen is a city full of history and architecture, you can take a guided tour to explore the city from a special point of view. For this, you will be guided by a local person who will show you around and show you how to move around the city like a local.

So, once you meet the guide at the hotel where you are staying, your tour will begin by exploring the historic center. This space holds a series of architectural monuments of great value such as:

  • The Abbey of Men, an imposing castle where the remains of William the Conqueror rest.
  • The Castle of Caen, considered a historical monument since 1886.
  • The Abbey of the Ladies, a monastic complex representative of the Romanesque and classical style.
  • The Saint Pierre Cathedral or main Catholic worship site in the city.

Information of interest

  • Price: from 85€.
  • Duration: between 2 and 6 hours.
  • Advantages of this option: you can customize the length of the tour and the places to visit.
  • Recommendation: at the end of the tour, join one of the best tours and day trips from Caen to continue enjoying your travel experience.

Book tickets to the Caen Memorial Museum

8. Join a tour of the Men's Abbey

Mont Saint-Michel Abbey| ©Eduardo Ortín
Mont Saint-Michel Abbey| ©Eduardo Ortín

If you want to see one of the greatest examples of religious art and architecture present in Normandy, then join a tour of the Abbey of Men. In this complex of medieval buildings dating from the 11th to the 13th centuries you will discover part of the history of the city.

There are several attractions in this immense architectural work that you cannot miss.

The church of Saint-Étienne

This is the oldest building on the site, dating back to 1077. One of its attractions is that, in the choir area, it contains the remains of William the Conqueror, who was King of England, Duke of Normandy and promoted the construction of this complex.

The monasteries

These buildings currently house the town hall and in the center of them is the cloister, built in the Italian classical style. The monastic buildings were destroyed during the religious wars and were rebuilt during the 18th century.

Agricultural buildings and medieval houses

These are spaces where agricultural activities such as apple growing and bakery of the time were carried out. In addition, there are old houses, such as the Salle des Gardes and the Ducal Palace, which serve as a meeting room for the town council and an exhibition hall for contemporary art, respectively.

To explore this area, you have several options:

  • The Discovery Tour: this is the most general tour and is open all year round. It passes through main spaces such as the cloister, the heating room, the grand staircase, among others. Its price ranges from 3 € to 5 € and you do it at your own pace.
  • The guided tour "An exceptional heritage": you will discover other exclusive areas of the abbey in the company of a guide. It costs between 6 € and 8 € and lasts about 50 minutes.
  • The guided tour "Journeys through centuries of history": a series of themed guided tours to learn about periods such as the Middle Ages, the Modern Age and the Contemporary Era. It costs between €9 and €8 and lasts about 1 hour and 30 minutes.