Caen is a college city and thus very active. It is a modern city; four-fifths of it was demolished in 1944 and rebuilt in the 1950s and 1960s. However, some old buildings remain, especially churches.
In summer, tourists (mainly British and German) gather in Normandy for Second World War memorials and the Memorial for Peace. Caen is an excellent base for visits to the D-Day beaches.
Caen itself and the surrounding area saw intense fighting starting shortly after the landings on June 6, 1944. The village of Carpiquet, which is a bit west of Caen near the ring road and the E46 highway, has the Caen airport so it was strategically important and also saw heavy fighting.
Trains leave about every 2 hr from Paris Saint-Lazare station to Caen and Cherbourg. The trip takes about 2 hr and costs €33.30. If you book early, you can get tickets as cheap as €15. Out of rush hours, tickets cost €22.40 for people under 25.
The train posting in Paris St-Lazare can be confusing to the first-time traveller. The train line number (“la voie”) is not posted unil 15-20 min before the departure, so do not panic if you arrive earlier than that (notice that the train will be at a line number near the office “Grandes Lignes”). Look for the train heading to Cherbourg. Caen will not be the listed destination, as it is a stop along the way. Do not forget to punch (“composter”) your ticket in one of the yellow machines before boarding to validate your ticket.
Caen’s train station is a 15-20 minute walk from the centre of the city, and is served by public transport frequently.