The alpine village of Zermatt is located right on Switzerland’s southern border, not far from Italy. It’s in the shadow of the Matterhorn, one of the most famous mountains in the world. We have visited this resort a few times in recent years, not because of the tourist trap cable cars and stores, but rather because we like to hike and take in the scenery. There is a lot to do and see in Zermatt, one of the most beautiful destinations in the Swiss Alps, whether you’re a skier and snow lover, or just want to enjoy the sights and top activities in Zermatt.
The resort is not only surrounded by the Matterhorn, but also by a range of mountains towering over 13,000 feet high. Combined with the restriction prohibiting motorized traffic, that fresh alpine air just got even fresher. The setting makes Zermatt a very special place.
Zermatt is known for its skiing in the winter (and some of the best ski resorts in the world), and hiking in the summer, but there is plenty to do if you want a less active vacation. Check out the Alpines Museum which documents the history of mountaineering in the region. Take a train to the Gornergrat Mountain. Or ride the cable car to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. Shop for an expensive Swiss-made watch, buy a cuckoo clock or cow bells. And break up your busy day by enjoying one of the many restaurants, cafes, or cute bakeries.
If you don’t ski, but are still interested in visiting Zermatt, you’ll find plenty to do. Take a look below.
Take the Gornergrat Railway
The Gornergrat Train runs from Zermatt and climbs to Gornergrat, at 10,138 feet one of the highest peaks in the area.
The train has operated up this mountain since the late 1890s and climbs up nearly 5,000 feet from Zermatt, stopping off at Riffelalp and Riffelberg on the way. The journey takes about thirty minutes and is Europe’s highest cogwheel railway. This is one of the most scenic train journeys in the world, and the view of the surrounding mountains is impressive.
The summit also has a hotel and a restaurant.
Scale the Mountain by Cable Car
Most people will ride the cable car that takes them to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, which lies on the summit of Kleines Matterhorn at 12,744 feet.
This is the highest cable car station in Europe and, unsurprisingly, the views are magnificent. The mountain is on the border of Italy and Switzerland, and you’ll also see mountains of France. The view of the Matterhorn from the viewing platform is completely different than looking at it from Zermatt, with a more triangular look. From other angles, the Matterhorn looks more looks more like a wizard’s hat.
This trip is worth the time and money. The price of the cable car also includes a look into Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, located inside a cave beneath the surface. Most people cite the ice sculptures as a highlight of the trip.
PRO TIP: Wear warm clothing, even in summer. The air at the summit is so thin so it can be cold and may cause you to tire more easily. Allow yourself a little bit of extra time to explore.
Spend some time visiting the Old Town of Zermatt.
Just off the main street of the resort area are a few blocks of timber buildings dating back to the 16th century. It’s a chance for a look back and how people used to live, store their goods, and get on with every day life. Fascinating to think about, but I’m glad for modern conveniences.
Take in the Views of the Matterhorn from Zermatt
The best place for a view of the Wizards Hat is on the Kirchbrücke Bridge. The views will include some of the buildings and meadows as well.
While the photographs you’ve seen have likely all been during wintertime, it’s equally impressive during spring when the meadow flowers are blooming. Why not plan a trip during each season and take advantage of both.
To the south of Zermatt, about a fifteen minute walk from the city center, is Gomer Gorge. The hike is only during the summer months, though.
For a small fee, visitors can walk above the water gushing down the mountainside while checking out the greenish serpentinite rocks estimated to be around 220 millions years old.
Five Lakes Trail
There are quite a few hiking trails around Zermatt and one of our favorites is Five Lakes Trail.
To get to the trailhead, you’ll take a short train ride up a mountainside. The hike will takes in five alpine lakes (hence the name), and on a clear day you’ll see the reflection on the Matterhorn (the Wizard’s Hat) reflected in the water. It’s impressive.
The hike will take a couple of hours to complete. Even if you’re not accustomed to doing a long hike, this is fairly easy for the novice hiker. And, at the end of the hike, stop of for lunch at the restaurant located at the end of the trail before heading back into Zermatt.
Need to Know
Zermatt, despite being touristy at times, is still an amazing place to visit. It’s an expensive destination, with very few lodging options available for the budget traveler, but it’s worth saving up for.
Getting there: There is no airport in Zermatt, and no motorized vehicles are permitted, most visitors will arrive via some combination of flights and train. The closest major airports are Geneva (about three hours away) and Zurich (about four hours away). From both airports, you can take a train to Zermatt (it will usually involved one change of train). The railway line goes from Visp-Brig and through the valley passing St Niklaus, Randa and Tasch before making the long climb to Zermatt. The main train station in Zermatt is the GGB Railway Station, and from there you will need to reach your lodging via an electric taxi or shuttle. Check with your property for best directions.
If you’re traveling within Europ3e and have a car, you can drive through the valley as far as Tasch. You will need to park your car there at the station, then take the train to Zermatt.
Currency: The currency used in Switzerland is the French franc. Many places also accept the Euro. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted in Zermatt, but you might find that smaller villages will prefer payment in cash.
Electricity: Switzerland uses type C (2-round pin) and type J (3-round pin) plug-ins. A good all-purpose travel adapter is essential.
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