Visiting Bern Cathedral: Expectations, Tips, Things to See

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Exploring Switzerland, I encountered numerous breathtaking places that left me an indelible impression… like the overwhelmingly majestic alpine scenery in Lauterbrunnen. However, if you start your journey in one of the country’s four largest cities like Bern, that stunning alpine view won’t be immediately apparent. Do not worry, though, if you’re a wanderer seeking remarkable beauty — your time in these cities won’t lack excitement.

While Swiss cities like Bern may not be as notable as other European cities (such as Vienna), they are still wonderful places to roam and discover visually appealing sights. Take Bern, for example. It is where you’ll find the Bern Cathedral, Switzerland’s largest church. Together with Zytglogge and Bundeshaus, I found it particularly striking.

Bern Cathedral — this 100-meter-tall edifice is one the most beautiful landmarks in Bern. You can easily spot from the city’s scenic vantage points. Its angelic white spire, rising above the Old City’s arcaded buildings, will surely draw you in. The Bern Cathedral captivated me, and it might captivate you as well. Would you like a glimpse of its beauty? Allow me to share it with you here.

Facts about Bern Cathedral

Here’s the thing: if you have seen other European churches, such as those in Paris, London, and Rome, Bern Cathedral might feel like just an ordinary church to you. However, even though that’s fairly true if we compare Bern Cathedral with other churches’ appearances and sizes, Bern Cathedral is still notable in a few ways. Here are some fascinating facts about Bern Cathedral:

  • Bern Cathedral is Bern’s highest building.
  • It is also Switzerland’s largest late medieval church.
  • It has an invaluable set of bells (7 bells), including the largest bell in Switzerland.
  • It is more than 500 years old now (since the beginning of its construction in the early 15th century).

Yes, Bern Cathedral isn’t just an ordinary church. Not to mention the story-telling artistic masterpieces and the panoramic views from its spire. In my view, even if you are not religious, Bern Cathedral can still be a fantastic stop in your stroll in Bern’s old city.

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How to get to Bern Cathedral

Finding and getting to Bern Cathedral is easy, especially if you are already in the old city center. No matter where you are in the old city, you can reach Bern Cathedral within 20 minutes on foot. However, you can cut down on walking time by using public transit. Specifically, Bern Cathedral is located on the southern side of the Aare Peninsula. Below is the estimated time you might need to walk to the church from other tourist attractions and landmarks in Bern:

  • Bundeshaus — 7 minutes via Kochergasse then Herrengasse
  • Zytglogge — 4 minutes via Munstergasse
  • Einsteinhaus — 2 minutes via Munstergasschen
  • Bear Pit — 9 minutes via Junkerngasse

The nearest bus station to Bern Cathedral is the Rathaus bus stop, which is along Kramgasse. Bus #12 stops at the Rathaus bus stop. On the other hand, the Zytglogge tram stop is the closest tram station to Bern Cathedral. Trams #6, #7, and #8, and buses #19 & M76 stop there.

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What To Expect

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Awe-inspiring photos of Bern Cathedral in Bern, Switzerland
Awe-inspiring photos of Bern Cathedral
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As you might already be expecting, visiting Bern Cathedral involves typical activities like admiring the church’s architecture and religious artworks. But there’s more! Below’s the list-summary of what you can anticipate when visiting Bern Cathedral.

  • Stunning late Gothic architecture
  • Detailed sculptures and ornamentation that carry fascinating symbolism
  • Stained glass windows that narrate a story
  • A picturesque view of the Aare River
  • A panoramic view of Bern
  • A charming fountain
  • A nice park

A nice park? Breathtaking views? Yes, you can enjoy both when you visit Bern Cathedral. All these reasons are why I believe Bern Cathedral should be a highlight of your Bern itinerary, whether you’re visiting Bern for just half a day, a full day, or two days. I’ve written another article to guide you on the ideal duration of your stay in Bern if you’re uncertain about how much time to allocate for the city. And for a more insightful exploration of the Old City of Bern and a visit to Bern Cathedral, I recommend this customizable tour. It provides tips, historical insights, and answers to any questions you may have about Bern.

Exteriors

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More details on what you can expect outside Bern Cathedral

What I love about well-preserved old cities like Bern are their centuries-old impressive buildings that can transport us back in time. To me, they capture one of the true spirits of travel—transcending time, not just space. Well, that is figurative, but you get the point. Bern Cathedral is a prime example of these buildings. Gazing at the church’s intricate main portal and elegant lone spire offers an escape from the soulless modern life.

Your visit to Bern Cathedral truly begins once you emerge from any of the three streets that link the church to other areas of the old city. These streets are:

  1. Herrengasse (to the southwest)
  2. Munstergasse (to the northwest)
  3. and Junkerngasse (to the northeast)

Junkerngasse brings you directly to the rear of the church, while Herrengasse and Munstergasse guide you to Münsterplatz, the square situated in front of Bern Cathedral.

Upon arriving at Münsterplatz, there is nothing quite to do but take a moment to rest. Allow your gaze to take in the surroundings and the imposing view of the cathedral. Settle into one of the red chairs in the square and perhaps spend a few minutes appreciating the small treasures around you. For example, the Moses Fountain. It’s one of Bern’s beautiful fountains.

Before you enter the Bern Cathedral, you might want to take some time to explore the small park adjacent to it. Known as the Münsterplattform or Minster Terrace, this park is rumored to be one of the places where Einstein spent time developing his theory of relativity. Well, with its tall chestnut trees, serene atmosphere, and soothing panoramic views, it’s easy to believe that Einstein spent a significant amount of time at Münsterplattform.

This rumor may have originated from the coffee shop located at the corner of the Münsterplattform, aptly named “Einstein au Jardin.” Feel free to grab a coffee from them while you enjoy the views of the Aare River and the Bernese Oberland.

Once you’ve taken a rest, it’s time to step inside the church. I wager that when you do, you’ll be taken aback by what greets you at the entrance — the lavishly adorned main portal. The tympanum and the archivolt are truly breathtaking, filled with intricate figures, symbolic sculptures, and biblical scenes.

Drawing from my understanding of Christianity, the portal’s decoration portrays the scene of the Last Judgment, where the righteous (on the left side) are separated from the sinners (on the right side).

At the center is the image of Saint Michael the Archangel (I recognized him by his raised sword). Additional sculptures representing Biblical characters can be seen on the sides of the door. These include the figures of the wise and foolish virgins, Queen Sheba, King Solomon, Isaiah, and other prophets from the Old Testament. The outer row of the archivolt features Jesus, Mary, and the Apostles (excluding Judas).

Interestingly enough, these architectural elements of Bern Cathedral are merely replicas of the original ones that were used to adorn the portal. The originals were removed during the iconoclasm of the Protestant Reformation and are now housed in the history museum of Bern.

Interiors

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More information: Things you can see and experience inside Bern Cathedral

The interiors of the Bern Cathedral is like an oasis of peace and tranquility in the old city of Bern. I imagine that might cross your mind when you step into the church—it’s serene inside.

The scenes inside Bern Cathedral remind me of the cinematics from the fantasy computer games (like Warcraft) that I used to play. I believe if you’ve played games or watched TV shows or movies set in the Middle Ages, stepping inside Bern Cathedral will ignite your imagination, making you feel like you’re one of the characters in that story.

To learn more about the different parts of Bern Cathedral, you can pick up an audio guide or brochures at the church’s information desk. You might also want to check the PDFs from the cathedral’s info sheet in the sources section of this post. I’ll highlight some of the most notable things I discovered at Bern Cathedral below.

Of all the sights inside Bern Cathedral, the ceiling above the central nave held my attention the longest. It boasts an extensive lace-like structure with intricate paint embellishments that are nothing short of mesmerizing! However, as you may have noticed from the photos, the cathedral’s ceiling isn’t the only beautiful thing to be found inside. I believe you’ll also enjoy examining the oakwood choir stalls and stained glass windows.

If you stand in the middle of the central nave and look up, the vaulted ceiling will guide your eyes to the next marvel inside the church—the choir. And in the choir, two beautiful and interesting things await: the stained glass and the choir stalls. When the sun is out, the stained glass should be the first thing to capture your attention. It glows with a kaleidoscope of colors! It reminds me of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, though Sainte-Chapelle is more breathtaking.

Approach the stained glass windows in the choir to see the Passion of Christ and the 10,000 martyrs depicted on them. According to historians, these stained glass windows date back to the mid-15th century and are considered Switzerland’s most significant late medieval stained glass windows.

Below the stained glass windows are oakwood choir stalls dating back to the early 16th century. They are a masterpiece from the Renaissance. They feature carvings of the prophets and apostles of Jesus. If the choir is open, you can get closer to the stall and see more of its fascinating details. The sculptures and reliefs will tell you the story of people’s lives back in the day. You can find a figure of a craftsman, a head of a cleric, and more.

Speaking of fascinating details inside Bern Cathedral, I think you should not miss the ‘Dance of Death’ window. It’s one of the most unique artworks in Bern and the most ‘unholy’ artwork I’ve seen in a church so far. You can find the ‘Dance of Death’ window on the south side of the nave, near the choir.

The ‘Dance of Death’ window shows a skeleton accompanying different personalities, reminding worshippers of the inevitability of death. My sources mentioned that it was inspired by the Black Death that killed millions of people in the 14th to 15th centuries. All these are just half of the mini-journey inside Bern Cathedral. What’s the other half? It’s climbing to the top of the cathedral and seeing the best views of Bern.

View From the Top

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Details: What you can expect in climbing the spire of Bern Cathedral

When I travel, I never want to miss out on places with scenic views. I absolutely love being in high places that offer panoramic views. The feeling of being there is overwhelmingly good; it makes me feel like a king, as if I own the entire city, or as if I have the ability to fly.

Do you enjoy visiting places to see panoramic views? Yes? Well, Bern Cathedral is a must-see, specifically the octagonal gallery at the top of the church’s spire. But keep in mind, there are several other scenic spots in Bern that are great alternatives to Bern Cathedral. For instance, you can check out the Rose Garden. From there, you can enjoy a panoramic view of Bern’s old city and the Aare River.

From up there, you can appreciate the beautiful architecture of Bern; its layout and the uniform houses. The Bundeshaus, Aare River, Zytglogge, and Gurten are all visible. When the weather is nice in Bern, the view extends to the snowy peaks of the Bernese Oberland. It is the mountainous southern part of the canton of Bern, where we can find the country’s top destination: the Jungfrau Region.

To get the best view, I recommend you go to the spire’s octagonal gallery. It is the highest viewing deck of the church, which you can reach through the tower’s 312-step narrow spiral staircase. Unfortunately, there’s no elevator! If you can’t climb that high, it’s okay! You can at least try the lower viewing platform, the ‘tetragonal gallery,’ which only takes 222 steps to reach. There’s a small fee to access the tower, however. You can find the visiting information from the sources at the end of this post.

Anyway, as much as I love seeing breathtaking views, I also have a fear of heights. The highest viewing deck has a narrow walkway and a relatively short railing. If you have fear of heights, too, walking on top might also make you dizzy and feel a little uncomfortable. But the view should definitely be worth it!

Your journey to the tower of Bern Cathedral is not over after you reach the top of the church. On your way down, you can visit the bells and the largest bell in Switzerland, which weighs 10.5 tons! The bells are rung every 12 noon and 6:00 pm. If you like, although I don’t recommend it, you can climb the tower before 12 and stand beside it as it rings. You should cover your ears if you do because it’s going to be really loud.

Visiting Information

Do you want to visit Bern Cathedral? It is open throughout the week. However, at a minimum, you should be able to enter Bern Cathedral and climb its tower during the following times:

  • From 12:00 pm until 3:30 pm during the weekdays.
  • From 10:00 am until 4:30 pm on Saturdays.
  • From 11:30 am until 3:30 pm on Sundays.

During the summer, visiting hours are extended until 4:30 pm for the tower and 5:00 pm for the church. The entry fee to the tower is a few Swiss Francs (around 5 or more, but it may increase without notice). You can check the links in the sources on the next section to see the exact and updated opening hours.

More Information

For further planning, you can find below the official websites where you can get the latest information about Bern Cathedral.

  1. Bern Cathedral Visiting Information
  2. Facts about Bern Cathedral
  3. Einstein-Jardin (official website)
  4. Bern Cathedral (official website) (visiting information and info sheets included here)

If you’re planning to visit Bern soon to see the Bern Cathedral and other attractions, and you’re still looking for a place to stay, you might want to use my partner’s hotel search and booking platform. They have great hotel deals in Europe, and their map feature makes it easy to find a hotel in a convenient location for you. Just so you know, this is an affiliate link. This means I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you when you book through this platform. This is a great way to support me in creating more content like this. I really appreciate your support!

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If you’re interested in beautiful churches in Switzerland, consider visiting the Church of Saint Leodegar and the Jesuit Church. These are located in the charming city of Lucerne, which is so delightful that you might want to stay not just for one day, but perhaps for two or even three days!

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