238km (148 miles) NW of Paris; 119km (74 miles) SE of Cherbourg

Situated on the banks of the Orne, the port of Caen suffered great damage in the 1944 invasion of Normandy. Mercifully, though, the twin abbeys founded by William the Conqueror and his wife, Mathilda, were spared. Today much of Caen is both cosmopolitan and commercial, with a vibrant, welcoming vibe. The capital of Lower Normandy, it’s home to a student population of 30,000 and several great museums, and serves as a convenient base for exploring the surrounding coast.