Caen is a vibrant city, rich with history and architectural splendor. If you’ve booked a trip to Paris and are looking for an impressive and inexpensive day trip, don’t miss out on this ville, the largest city in lower Normandy.
Less than two hours by train from Paris Saint-Lazare, buy your billets early on SNCF and you can find a round trip ticket for as little as 30€. Weekdays are cheaper than weekends, but avoid Mondays as many businesses including restaurants and boulangeries are closed in France. When you arrive in Caen, don’t let the rugged atmosphere fool you. After a fifteen-minute walk to the city center, you are surrounded by charm. Get the most out of your day trip to Caen with our suggestions.
Arrive by 9am and don’t waste energy trying to find a café that serves good petit déjeuner. The French don’t specialize in killer breakfasts like in America, plus, time is of the essence. Instead, enjoy a mouth-watering pain au chocolate and café allongé from the popular boulangerie Paul. It’s adorable inside, the perfect snack, and sure to be open. Paul is also on the way to your first stop, Le Mémorial de Caen.
For 20€, visit Le Mémorial de Caen, an extraordinary museum recounting the events of World War II. Take a fifteen-minute bus ride there from the city center for two euros (see map). Before you enter the memorial, salute the flags of all the countries who fought in the bloodiest war in history and pay homage to an iconic symbol of peace, a large sculpture of a revolver knotted at the barrel.
You could easily spend half a day at the museum, but really in just a few hours you can get a comprehensive and fascinating retelling of WWII. The museum takes you on a journey that starts with the end of World War I and finishes at The Cold War’s end in 1991. Everything is worth viewing including pieces of the graffitied Berlin Wall and their significant meanings, photos and descriptions of the first landings on the beaches of Normandy, and extraordinary pictures and biographies of women who aided in the efforts to end the war. When you exit the memorial, don’t miss the bunker below that served as a transmission center for the Germans in 1943.
Take a bus back to town and get off at Le Château de Caen to get lunch at one of the many cafés in the area. Once you’ve had your fill, stroll the grounds of Le Château de Caen. Constructed in 1060 by William the Conqueror, the ornate castle was the residence for the dukes of Normandy and kings of England. The impressive moat encircling the residence and enormous fortified walls are worth a photo or two. Located in the heart of the castle you’ll find Le Musée des Beaux-Arts, a celebrated fine arts museum displaying European countries from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For only 8€, don’t miss it.
With a few hours to spare, your next stop is Abbaye aux Hommes, a short walk from the château. Built in 1066 as a Benedictine monastery, today you can find the former Duke of Normandy and King Williams of England’s tombs inside. Stunning Roman architecture adorns the abbey which was actually an influential benchmark influencing the look and style of future monasteries in England.
Finally, delight in a delicious plate of fresh charcuterie accompanied with a glass of wine at the exquisite bar and restaurant, Terres de raisin at the foot of the Abbey. A perfect ambiance to end your day in Caen before you take the scenic train ride back to Paris.