Founded by William the Conqueror, Caen has both modern and medieval elements to its current make-up, with a walled chateau at its heart and a center where sleek glass and steel structures can be found next to ancient stone houses. It’s also the capital of Lower Normandy, a beautiful area famous for its white chalk cliffs, stylish seaside towns, and sandy beaches.
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The Lower Normandy terrain varies hugely, ranging from wide open coastal motorways to the well-maintained network of roads within Caen itself. Beyond the town, the roads are generally quiet, although the ones near popular coastal areas like Dieppe and Le Havre can often become crowded at weekends and during holidays.
You'll find the town is encircled by the Boulevard périphérique de Caen – a ring road also known as Route Nationale 814. This route acts as a great way to find your bearings in the town, as well as offering great connections into the center – take the Rue de Falaise in from the south of Caen, or the Rue de la Delivrande will be the easiest way to head in from the north.
The town has a huge ferry port - Caen International Port is 15 kilometers away but the surrounding roads may become congested during the vacation season.
Caen is well connected to the rest of France; two of the major routes include the N13 trunk road, which connects the town to Bayeux and Cherbourg, and the N158, which connects to Le Mans and the Loire Valley.
Depending on where you’re planning to travel to from the town, there may be toll charges on the routes you take. Before you set off, check online where fees may be applicable.
The laws relating to driving are the same as those throughout France. Drivers are required to carry a breathalyzer and are prohibited from using headphones and headsets when driving. This regulation covers devices used for phone calls as well as for listening to music.
You can find out more about the rules and regulations of driving in France here.
Caen is a popular student town with great historical features and makes a great starting point for those wishing to explore the beautiful beaches of Lower Normandy in their rental car.
Today, Caen’s center is filled with a mix of old and new - modern builds alongside older structures reminiscent of Caen’s past. These include two timber-framed houses, the more spectacular of which is the ornate Maison des Quatrans on rue de Geôle. This listed monument dates back to the fifteenth century and, although you can't go inside, its beautiful façade provides one of Caen’s most photographed spots. Another historic landmark is the Château Ducal, which looks out over the town. Venture inside this castle and you’ll find the Musée des Beaux-Arts – a fine arts museum founded in the nineteenth century.
To learn more about the town’s history, visit the Caen Mémorial, a museum dedicated to the events of WWII. Some of the region’s best museums can be found just outside of the town, which is unsurprising given how close it is to the beaches of Normandy, the site of the D-Day landings. An essential stop off is the D-Day Museum in Arromanches, a 40-minute drive from Caen.
Lower Normandy has some of France’s most beautiful beaches. Caen Ferry Port, just outside the town, is a popular tourist spot for those wishing to explore this dramatic coastline. Trouville is a delightful seaside resort located between Caen and the Seine estuary, with a golden beach and a bustling fishing port, and narrow streets filled with some of the region’s best seafood restaurants. Head further along the coastline and you’ll get to Deauville, an upmarket beach resort popular with Parisians. The town, which was founded by the Duke of Morny in 1861, has wide, sandy beaches and several serene public gardens. For something more dramatic, head to the commune of Étretat, famous for its dramatic chalk cliffs – pack a picnic and enjoy a long cliff-top walk. Photographers and artists flock to this part of the coastline, with one particularly dramatic spot being a needle-like structure, known in French as an Aiguille.
Although Caen itself is rather small, there’s plenty to keep you busy. The Place Courtonne offers daily fruit and vegetable markets, while there on Sundays you’ll find everything from local delicacies to soap and flowers.
The botanic garden in Place Blot is home to more than 8,000 species of plants and flowers, split between horticultural gardens, rockeries and, in the public park portion of the garden, a number of diverse tree specimens.
In nearby Parpiquet the Festyland theme park is a fun day out for the family, with its Drakkar Express roller coaster providing a thrilling highlight of the trip. Based on the times of the Norman Conquest, the rides and attractions are unified under this fascinating theme which will educate as well as entertain.
With its outstanding historical and natural sites of interest, plus the opportunity to explore the picturesque Normandy coastline, Caen is well worth a visit with car hire being the perfect way to enjoy it all. Ready to book your trip? Click here.