Updated on 26 June 2020
Reading time: 4 minutes
We took a weekend trip to Caen in Normandy and discovered a bustling city with a thriving cultural scene, cool city centre full of shops, restaurants and cafes, as well as captivating museums and attractions. Culture vultures and shopping addicts, let us share our top tips with you!
la Colline Aux Oiseaux, a peaceful haven
Caen is an ideal-sized city for exploring on foot, and is awash with greenery. On our first day, we wandered the flowered alleys of La Colline aux Oiseaux (‘bird hill’) in the north-west of Caen, near the Mémorial de Caen. This vast 17-acre landscaped park boasts a mosaic of gardens, superb panoramic views over the city and a spectacular rose garden that is hard to beat for beauty and scent.
We stopped here to celebrate the art of a French picnic, Normandy-style. Picture a fresh baguette from a boulangerie, a selection of creamy local cheeses like camembert and livarot, and a dry, crisp local cider to wash it down in the shade of a tree. Heavenly!
We’d strongly recommend La Colline aux Oiseaux for a romantic walk but families with kids will also love the maze and furry friends at the animal farm. An idyllic, rural haven despite its proximity to the city.
A stroll and A shopping spree
We head to the hustle and bustle of the city centre to take advantage of the amazing shopping for the afternoon. We explored the pedestrian shopping district where we found the Rue Saint-Jean and Rue du Maréchal Leclerc brimming with well-known high street shops, ultra-hip fashion brands and cool independent shops.
After a good dose of retail therapy, we stroll in the narrow streets and delve into some of the places Normandy’s ancestors left behind. We visit the two majestic Gothic churches of Saint-Pierre de Caen and Saint-Sauveur, both incredible testaments to Normandy’s glorious religious past.
At Christmas time, impressive light displays illuminate the city, and an awe-inspiring light show is projected onto Caen Town Hall, just next to the Abbaye aux Hommes. A truly magical sight to behold while all wrapped up warm!
Discovering Caen’s historic heritage
The Mémorial de Caen was an unmissable stop during our weekend, to understand more not only about the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy, but also about the historical context that gave rise to the conflict. Dedicated to the history of the 20th century from World War II to the Cold War, the Mémorial de Caen describes itself as a ‘museum for peace’, with a message of hope for future generations. On the entrance facade of the building you can read: ‘The pain broke me, brotherhood relieved me, of my wound sprang a river of freedom.’ We thoroughly recommend this museum and our emotional experience there helped top up our knowledge of such a crucial period of history.
a medieval fortress
Caen is a compact city with easy, quick access to all of the main sights on foot, so we head off to the centre again to explore a jewel of architecture. One of the biggest medieval enclosures in Europe, Caen Castle was built in the 11th century on the rocky outcrop dominating Caen. This castle was used by William the Conqueror as a place of assembly for the Dukes of Normandy and Kings of England, and a major stronghold for the English during the Hundred Years’ War. Definitely worth a visit, it hosts two museums that provide a deep insight into Normandy’s history over the centuries, while a stroll around the ramparts provides stunning views of the city. An impressive place that truly conquered our hearts and took us back to medieval times.