Zermatt

There’s no denying that Zermatt is Switzerland’s most famous mountain destination, and you know what? It deserves to be.  A trip here should be at the top of any tourist’s wish list. It’s a lively and bustling village at the base of iconic Matterhorn. Don’t come here expecting to get away from it all. It’s a popular tourist resort town with over 100 hotels, and people and shops are everywhere. Thankfully, Zermatt is car-free, so drivers need to park one village away, in Täsch, and take the train in to town. Alternately, all hotels and shops shuttle people and goods around in small electric taxis.

Zermatt’s prominent backdrop, the Matterhorn, is quite possibly the world’s most recognizable mountain, as it graces almost every Switzerland travel brochure. Everybody who visits here has some idea of what to expect, but the reality is much more powerful. The Matterhorn is graceful and massive – there’s something really special about this mountain – and it anchors a landscape filled with impressive peaks. Although I still love the overall charm and scenery of Mürren and the Bernese Oberland above all, I give the Zermatt region a slight edge for pure, unadulterated mountain scenery.

I was a bit overwhelmed by the crowds in Zermatt the first time I traveled here, but I’ve grown to love it. There’s a lot of charm on display in the village’s dark, wooden chalets down narrow side-streets and in the small, centuries-old hamlets that surround the village.

The shops, restaurants, and hotels are absolutely first-class, and the hiking and panoramic lifts are some of the best in Switzerland. Most of the mountainscape is hidden from view until you travel above the village, where this splendid region really shines (the Matterhorn, on the other hand, is plainly visible from town).

Our Zermatt Travel Guide top activities and attractions:

Zermatt is second on my list of mountain destinations to visit, and is a great destination to feature on almost any trip to Switzerland. It’s a little out of the way, so you’ll want to stay for a couple days once you get here. Depending on how long your trip is, 2-4 days should be good. Here are some of my suggestions for your travels to Zermatt:


Main Attractions

Cogwheel train to Gornergrat

Gornergrat is the ridge that separates Zermatt from Monte Rosa and most of the large mountains surrounding the village. The cogwheel train, over 100 years old, is one of Zermatt’s oldest attractions. Yes, it’s crowded… very crowded… but the view on a good day is indescribable. It’s one of my favorite high-alpine viewpoints in Switzerland. The huge Gorner glacier spills down below you from Monte Rosa against a wide backdrop of dazzling white peaks. If you’re here in the high season and want to avoid crowds, try the hike between Riffelberg and Rotenboden (which also has great views) – make sure to take the trail that heads directly toward the Matterhorn from Riffelberg. Everyone who travels by train to Zermatt should buy a Swiss Half Fare Card for the discounts you’ll get on trains like this.


Hike to Hörnli hut

This is not an easy hike – it’s a hard 2 hours up – and like Gornergrat, it’s very crowded. But for walkers this has to be one of the premier sights in Switzerland. The Hornli hut sits right up on the base of the Matterhorn – a sort of Matterhorn base camp – with great close-up views of the mountain and crowds of climbers hanging around the outdoor patio. The hut was completely renovated in 2015 and now has a a brand new dining area with huge picture windows looking out at the Matterhorn.  Breathtaking!  Take the cable car to Schwarzsee to start your hike. Because of the steepness, exposure and possibility of snow, this hike should only be done July-September. For masochists (in great shape), a very steep but uncrowded trail leads up to the hut from Stafelalp. Non-hikers or off-season visitors can enjoy the views from the outdoor restaurant terrace at Schwarzsee.


Matterhorn museum, climbers cemetery, village tour

If you just want to hang around town, there are tons of shops to visit, great people watching, and always other activities going on in Zermatt. The Matterhorn museum near the church is great – an intimate look at life in the village as it was in the mid-1800s. The climbers’ cemetery, behind the church, is always interesting to stroll around in, reading the tragic inscriptions. The tourist office also offers a great 1-hour tour of the village (once/week in English) that gives you a different perspective on Zermatt and a good look at life in the old village.


Visit Zum See via the Gornerschlucht

This is a fun walk for both sunny and cloudy days. Walk through town along the river to the Gornerschlucht – a narrow gorge carved into the nearby rocks. Zermatt has made this accessible by a rickety-looking (but safe) wooden walkway suspended in the gorge. Always powerful, on rainy days it can be extremely impressive. Combine this with a short walk through Blatten and Zum See, two of Zermatt’s very quaint outlying hamlets, whose dark wooden chalets are centuries old. Zum See has an outstanding restaurant for a gourmet (and atmospheric) lunch stop. Take the cable car to Furi (on Schwarzsee/Kleine Matterhorn lift) if you just want to do the 30-40 minute walk down.


Winter or summer skiing

Zermatt is a great place to visit for winter skiing, with plenty of lifts to go along with a great backdrop. You can ski here in the summer too, on the glacier near the Italian border. If you’ve never been summer skiing, conditions aren’t great – usually icy in the morning, slushy by noon – but it’s still very fun.


Breithorn climb

Active types who aren’t really mountain climbers can be one for a day and bag their first 4000-er. 4000 meters (a bit over 13,000 ft) is the magic number in Europe, and nowhere is it more accessible than in Zermatt. The alpine center offers daily guided climbs (with rope and crampons) that are both affordable and impressive. If you can walk up a ski slope, you can climb the Breithorn. Don’t try it on your own though… the guide is definitely worth it for this one!


Stay in a hut

If you’re interested in a hut stay on your visit to Switzerland, Zermatt is a great place to do it. There are a lot of great options. Hornli hut is a great stop for those making the trek there. Schonbiel hut is a more out-of-the-way option – it’s about a 6 hour hike west of town along the Zmutt glacier. But my favorite is Fluhalp. It doesn’t even have to be a hard outing. You can travel by train and cable car to Blauherd (on the Rothorn lift), and walk there in about 30 minutes of relatively easy alpine walking. Combine it with a sunrise breakfast on the Rothorn. Fluhalp is set on the east side of the village, beyond a couple of small lakes, and displays classic views  of the Matterhorn from your bedroom window. It’s more of a simple inn than a hut, and they have showers (bring soap and towels), private rooms, a quiet evening atmosphere, superb food, and the best hut wine selection I’ve seen yet. Check the Zermatt tourist office site for contact info, and be adventurous! They will most likely have last-minute availability even if you’ve just decided to go that day.


Stay in a 5-star hotel

For who don’t want to travel with soap and towels, Zermatt has other great options. Their hotels are among the best in Switzerland, and one of Zermatt’s best options is the 5-star Riffelalp Resort. It’s above town in a quiet location with great views and first-class facilities and service all around. It’s a bit of a budget buster (to be mild), but I think it’s worth the splurge. The Zermatterhof and Mont Cervin are two other luxurious 5-star hotels in Zermatt, and there are quite a few incredible 4-star hotels in Zermatt as well.  You’ll most likely need reservations well ahead of time. Our customized self-guided tours are a good way to plan trips like this.


Ride the Glacier Express

If you’re thinking about a train trip through Swizerland, you’ve probably read about the Glacier Express train. The Glacier Express is Switzerland’s signature scenic train ride that travels over 291 bridges and through 91 tunnels, linking Zermatt with the Engadine region in eastern Switzerland. I’m fairly neutral on the Glacier Express, and don’t feel like it’s a must-see attraction for a trip, but honestly, it makes a lot of sense if you are planning a visit to St Moritz or Pontresina (in the Engadine). The Glacier Express is a very convenient way to link that region to Zermatt.  The newer trains are roomy with big windows, and it’s a beautiful journey. I think the many loops and bridges on the eastern half of the trip are especially fun. The Glacier Express runs year-round, with normally 3 departures each day.  It requires a non-refundable seat reservation in addition to your ticket or rail pass, which can be booked 90 days before your travel date.


TOURS IN THIS REGION

Guided Eiger to the Matterhorn – hike from the base of the Eiger on a jaw-dropping inn-to-inn tour followed by a short transfer and a few days at the base of the Matterhorn.

Self-guided Classic Peaks: Mürren and Zermatt – on this village-based self-guided tour, discover Murren and Zermatt – two of the most stunning hiking destinations in Switzerland…

Private guided Hiker’s Haute Route – the private guided Hiker’s Haute Route consists of a spectacular series of trails linking Chamonix to Zermatt.


Resources

Zermatt Tourist Office –  Information, tips and bookings for any trip to Zermatt: the team from Zermatt Tourism offers advice, help, brochures, tickets and even souvenirs to ensure that visitors enjoy the best possible stay.

Zermatt Tourism –  is the marketing and sales organisation for the Zermatt-Matterhorn destination with the communes of Zermatt, Täsch and Randa.

Zermatt alpine center –  the best area to visit for beginning to intermediate climbers.

www.ski-zermatt.com – you can see a lot of photos and get good travel info on the area.


 

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