Many visitors to Normandy use Caen as a base when planning on seeing World War II memorials and museums. But staying in Caen for a long weekend can yield many other wonderful surprises, so if war history isn't your thing or you've already visited the memorials and want a fresh look at the region, here's a three-day itinerary that is sure to provide lasting memories.
Day 1: Caen's History
Follow in the steps of William the Conqueror's historic reign by visiting the Abbaye aux Hommes (where he is buried), the Abbaye aux Dames and the walled Chateau de Caen with its well-preserved ramparts and interior buildings. While at the latter site, step into a more expansive history at the Normandy Museum, which covers the region through the ages.
The Mémorial de Caen is full of extensive exhibits on World War II and provides a history of the city and region during the Occupation right on through the Cold War and beyond. With stops to all of these sites, you'll be well on your way to becoming an expert on Caen.
Day 2: The Normandy Coast
The Normandy Coast and its World War II history are easily accessible from Caen. But to the east of Caen are a variety of sites as well. Start at the furthest point, Étretat, the home of cliffs that afford a bird's-eye-view of incredible natural arches honed to perfection over the course of millions of years. Outdoorsy types can see the largest of these arches via the GR21 hiking path.
On the way back to Caen, stop by Deauville to see the half-timbered mansions along the seaside Boulevard Cornuché. Then head to Honfleur, a neighboring village just across the mouth of the Seine River, and stroll along its charming quais before heading back to town.
Day 3: Mont Saint-Michel
Located on the border of Brittany and Lower Normandy, Mont Saint-Michel may be deemed by some as too far for a day trip from Caen. But thanks to Caen's central location, its spider web of highways will get you to Mont Saint-Michel in just under an hour and a half – not bad at all to see one of the stars of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites collection.