For me, Bern is one of the best cities in Europe to wander around. It has well-preserved, well-architected high medieval streets, beautiful landmarks, and simple yet fascinating things awaiting to feed your burning wanderlust desires. Most importantly, Bern’s old city center is a UNESCO Heritage Site—it assures you an authentic, beautiful travel experience.
One to surely catch your eye as you stroll in the old city center is Bern Minster or Bern Cathedral. It is Bern’s most impressive landmark in terms of architecture and size.
Bern Cathedral has a hundred-meter-tall spire (330 feet)—you can see it peeking over the homogeneous and gorgeous buildings in the old city. And it’s going to lure you with its angelic white appearance. However, it’s only one of the beautiful things about Bern Cathedral—I’ll tell you more!
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).
See? Bern Cathedral isn’t just an ordinary church. Not to mention the story-telling artistic masterpieces and the panoramic views from its spire! 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 Visit Bern Cathedral
Finding and going to Bern Cathedral is simple, especially if you are already in the old city center. Wherever you are in the old city, you can get to Bern Cathedral within 20 minutes on foot. However, you can reduce walking time by utilizing public transit.
Specifically, Bern Cathedral lies on the southern side of the Aare Peninsula. Below is the time you may need to get to the church from other tourist attractions and landmarks in Bern if you will be walking:
- Bundeshaus — 7 minutes via Kochergasse then Herrengasse
- Einsteinhaus — 2 minutes via Munstergasschen
- Zytglogge — 4 minutes via Munstergasse
- Bear Pit — 9 minutes via Junkerngasse
The closest 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.
Do you want to learn more about Bundeshaus and Zytglogge? Check out my articles about visiting Bundeshaus and seeing Zytglogge. I’ll show you the things you might not like to miss when you visit them.
What To See In Bern Cathedral
As you may expect, visiting Bern Cathedral involves usual activities like appreciating the church’s architecture and religious artworks. But there’s more! See below for a summary of what you can see in Bern Cathedral.
- Gorgeous late gothic architecture
- Detailed sculptures and ornamentation that have fascinating symbolism
- Stained glass that tells a story
- A cute fountain
- A lovely garden
- A scenic view of the Aare River
- A panoramic view of Bern
A lovely garden? Beautiful views? Yes, you can have both when you visit Bern Cathedral, thanks to Bern’s elevated position and accessible spire.
Let’s check them out one by one!
Outside Bern Cathedral
What I love about preserved old cities is their quaint buildings that can transport us back in time. For me, they provide one of the true essences of traveling—bringing us to a whole new setting, not only in the physical aspect.
Bern Cathedral is an excellent example of these buildings. Looking at the church’s intricate main portal and elegant lone spire is an escape from the soulless modern life.
Here are the scenes and things that await you outside Bern Cathedral:
Outside Bern Cathedral
Wandering in Bern Cathedral begins when you emerge from the three streets that connect the church to other parts of the old city. They are Herrengasse (southwest), Munstergasse (northwest), and Junkerngasse (northeast).
Junkerngasse brings you straight to the rear side of the church, while Herrengasse and Munstergasse lead you to Münsterplatz, the square in front of Bern Cathedral.
When you arrive at Münsterplatz, you might want to rest before entering Bern Cathedral.
Münsterplatz has a fountain called Mosesbrunnen. Beside it are chairs where you can relax while admiring the imposing facade of Bern Cathedral. Hear the steps and chatter of the people passing by and the soothing sound of water dripping from Mosesbrunnen’s spout.
After you rest, it’s time to enter the church. But right before you enter, I believe you will open your eyes wide to feast on the ornamentation of the church’s main portal. The tympanum and the portal archivolt are filled with details, symbolisms, and biblical stories.
As a Christian, I immediately identified the story depicted by the artwork at the tympanum.
So what does it tell? It is the Last Judgment scene where the good (left side) is separated from the sinners (right side). In the center (in the front) is the image of Saint Michael the Archangel (thanks to his raised sword, I remembered it was him).
More sculptures depicting Biblical characters can be found on the sides of the door. There are the figures of the wise and the foolish virgins, Queen Sheba, King Solomon, Isaiah, and more Old Testament prophets. The outer row of the archivolt depicts Jesus, Mary, and the Apostles (without Judas).
I learned that some of the sculptures you will see are already replicas. Most were removed during the iconoclasm of the Protestant Reformation. The original sculptures were kept inside the Bern History Museum.
You should enter the church after you see the central portal of Bern Cathedral. More beautiful things await you inside. And I think you’ll like it, especially if you want your fantasies from the movies set in the Middle Ages to come to life!
I’ll show you in the next part of this post what awaits you inside Bern Cathedral. But for now, I should mention that there’s a small park beside Bern Cathedral, which you should also see when you visit the church.
The park beside Bern Cathedral is called the Münsterplattform or Minster Terrace. Rumors say that it was one of the places where Einstein spent some of his time in Bern to develop his theory of relativity.
With the large chestnut trees, peaceful vibes, and calming panoramic views, I believe Einstein really has spent a considerable amount of time in Münsterplattform.
People must have created this rumor as the coffee shop at the corner of the Münsterplattform is named after Einstein. The name of the coffee shop is “Einstein au Jardin.” You can buy coffee from them while enjoying the views of the Aare River and Bernese Oberland.
Inside Bern Cathedral
For me, Bern Cathedral is one of the most beautiful places in Bern. It’s also the nicest, and I even consider Bern Cathedral as an oasis of peace and quiet in the old city of Bern.
I guess that might also come to your mind when you enter the church—it’s definitely tranquil inside.
The scenes inside Bern Cathedral remind me of the cinematics of the fantasy computer games (Warcraft) I used to play back in the day. I think if you have played games or watched series/movies set in the Middle Ages before, going inside Bern Cathedral will spark your imagination that you’re one of the characters in that show.
Below are some beautiful things you can find inside Bern Cathedral.
Inside Bern Cathedral
To learn more about the different parts of Bern Cathedral, you can get an audio guide or brochures at the information desk of the church. You may also check the PDFs from the cathedral’s info sheet in the sources section of this post.
But I’ll mention some of the most notable things I discovered from Bern Cathedral below.
Of all that I’ve seen inside Bern Cathedral, the ceiling above the central nave is the one that captivated me the most. It has an extensive lace-like structure with intricate paint embellishments that will also magnetize your eyes!
But, as you may have seen from the photos, Bern Cathedral’s ceiling is not the only beautiful thing you can find inside. I think you will also love checking 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 lead 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 to capture your attention. It is glowing with kaleidoscopic colors! It reminds me of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, though Sainte-Chapelle is more stunning.
Come closer to 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 important 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 have the portraits of the prophets and apostles of Jesus carved into them.
If the choir is open, you can come closer to the stall and see more of its interesting details. The sculptures and reliefs will tell you the story of the people’s lives back in the day. You can find a figure of an artisan, a head of a cleric, and more.
Speaking of interesting details inside Bern Cathedral, I think you should not miss checking the ‘Dance of Death’ window. It’s one of the most unique artworks in Bern and the most ‘ungodly’ artwork placed in a church I know 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 the 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 Bern’s best views.
Top of Bern Cathedral
If there are places I don’t like to miss when traveling, they’re the ones with scenic views. I just love being in elevated places with overlooking views. Being there feels overwhelmingly good; it makes me feel like a king, owning the entire city, or as if I have the ability to fly.
Do you like going to places to see panoramic views? Bern Cathedral is the place to be, specifically on the octagonal gallery on top of the church’s spire.
But keep in mind that several scenic spots in Bern are alternatives to Bern Cathedral. You can check out the Rose Garden. From there, you can see an overlooking view of Bern’s old city and the Aare River.
Anyway, here’s the view from the top of Bern Cathedral:
Views from top of Bern Cathedral
Up there, you can see how beautifully Bern was architected; its layout and the homogeneous houses. The Bundeshaus, Aare River, Zytglogge, and Gurten are all visible. When the weather is pleasant in Bern, the view reaches the snowy peaks of the Bernese Oberland.
To see 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. Sadly, 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 fear heights. The highest viewing deck has a narrow walkway and a relatively short balustrade. Walking on top might also make you dizzy and feel a little uncomfortable, especially for tall people like me. But the view is definitely rewarding!
The trip to the tower of Bern Cathedral is not yet done 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.
Should You Visit Bern Cathedral
Bern Cathedral is worth visiting because it’s an artistic architectural landmark and a scenic spot. Without seeing the views from the top of Bern Cathedral, I think a trip to Bern is incomplete. The overlooking panoramic views of the old city of Bern, the Aare River, and the Bernese Oberland are an unmissable, refreshing sight!
Also, suppose you’re a wanderer and like introspecting while traveling. In that case, Bern Cathedral’s artworks can help you have a fruitful trip to Switzerland. When seen profoundly, the unique artworks in Bern Cathedral can be meaningful even if you are not religious. Yet, of course, an open mind is important to find that meaning.
Ultimately, I highly recommend Bern Cathedral if you’re a fan of old-world architecture. Not only is Bern Cathedral an architectural masterpiece, but from its spire, you can also see how beautifully Bern’s old city is architected.
Below are more pictures of Bern Cathedral to convince you to visit!
Wanderlust photos of Bern Cathedral
Bern Cathedral Visiting Information
Are you planning to visit Bern Cathedral?
Bern Cathedral is open all year, but opening hours vary depending on the seasons and days of the week. You can check the links in the sources at the end of this post to see the exact and updated opening hours.
But, at a minimum, you should be able to enter Bern Cathedral and climb its tower:
- 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 5 CHF (but it may increase without notice).
Are you looking for ways to visit Bern? Do you want to know how much time you must spend in Bern? My posts below can help! (Links open in a new tab)
Not sure how many days to visit Bern? Check my article How Long To Spend In Bern
Sources: Bern Cathedral
Do you want to see Bern Cathedral? Below are the articles to help you plan your visit to Bern Cathedral.
- Bern Cathedral Visiting Information
- Facts about Bern Cathedral
- Einstein-Jardin (official website)
- Bern Cathedral (official website) (visiting information and info sheets included here)
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