Caen

Basically a modern commercial and administrative center with a vibrant student scene, Caen—the capital of Lower Normandy—is very different from the coastal resorts. Atmospheric castles and abbeys remain from the 11th-century glory days when William of Normandy ruled here before heading across the Channel to conquer England. During the two-month Battle of Caen in 1944, however, a fire raged for 11 days, devastating much of the town. The Caen Mémorial, an impressive museum devoted to World War II, is considered a must-see by travelers interested in 20th-century history; and many avail themselves of the excellent bus tours the museum sponsors to the nearby D-Day beaches.

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