Zermatt – Complete guide for visiting the mountaineering village
Zermatt has received the label of ‘mondain ski resort’. Reason is that this small mountaineering village lies at the base of the Matterhorn, Switzerland’s most iconic mountain. Though everything is expensive here, you simply can’t miss the view on the peak and the many attractions Zermatt has to offer.
How to get there?
Zermatt is located in the Valais region, one of one of the alpine cantons of Switzerland. The village itself is car-free, making the only option to reach it is by taking the train or go hiking. If you do come by car, you can park it at the Matterhorn Terminal in Täsch, five kilometers before Zermatt. A shuttle train will take you to Zermatt. In the center, everything is within walking distance, but you can also use small electric vans and coaches.
As mentioned before, the best way to reach Zermatt is by train. Zermatt has a direct line with Brig that is easily reached via Visp. Visp on the other hand has good connections with most major Swiss cities including Geneva, Zurich and Basel. You can use the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn or arrive with the scenic Glacier Express. The train journey is amongst the most scenic in Europe as you will pass along some of the highest mountains in Switzerland.
Most travelers fly into Geneva, Zurich or even Milan to reach Zermatt.
When to visit
Zermatt is a destination you can visit year round, depending on what you want to do. Summer season is the best time for hiking in the surrounding mountains, go mountaineering or mountain biking while the winter attracts several wintersport enthusiasts to Zermatt. With the Matterhorn, Täschhorn, Weisshorn and the Monte Rosa massif in a close range, it offers some of the best vistas for your skiing holiday.
July to September offers the best conditions if you want to hike in the higher areas. In winter, snow is common, even in the valley base.
Things to see
The cable car from Zermatt to the Gornergrat is already part of this attraction. The journey takes about half an hour. It starts at an altitude of 1605 m and ends at 3090m on the Gornergrat. The train travels through forests and later through high mountains, and stops at four stations along the way. Each of these stations is a great starting point for hikes. Once you are on the Gornergrat, you have a wonderful view of the Matterhorn and the Monte Rosa massif. The Dufourspitze (4634 m), the highest mountain in Switzerland, is also a part of this landscape. At the highest station you will find a hotel, a restaurant, and enough space to walk around and enjoy the landscape.
Tourists who visit Zermatt come for only one reason: catching a glimpse of the Matterhorn. This iconic peak is has played a huge role in mountaineering history. Climbing it is a huge endeavor, but you can hike to the Hörnlihut instead, which is a 3h walk from Schwarzsee.
A few years ago, a new tourist attractioned opened in Zermatt. The Europa Bridge, a suspension bridge, hangs 85m above the ravive. Do you dare crossing the nearly 500 long bridge?
Matterhorn Glacier Paradise
This is the highest cable car station in Europe. It reaches an altitude of 3883 meter and is a great location for having the best views. Not only will you see the Matterhorn from a great perspective, but you will have a close encounter with the Breithorn and the Monte Rosa massif. In winter, this station brings you to one of the best ski slopes in Switzerland. Keep in mind that this is at high altitude, so you’re body will need some acclimatizing.
The Matterhorn Museum, also known as Zermatlantis, displays a lot about the history of Zermatt and the Matterhorn. Here you can take a look at how the inhabitants used to live, but you can also see with your own eyes the broken rope that was the result of the tragedy that took place during the first ascent of the Matterhorn. Information about more recent climbs of the Matterhorn can also be found in the museum. Every year around 4,000 tourists visit the museum.
The expedition of first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 began in Zermatt. Unfortunately, this climb ended in a tragedy. At the cemetery for killed mountain climbers, graves / plaques of these expedition members can be seen. The cemetery has around fifty graves of climbers who died during their climb. The graves not only cover the climbers of the Matterhorn, but also those of the Weisshorn Lyskamm, Täschhorn, Obergabelhorn and Monte Rosa.
Hinterdorf: oldest part of Zermatt
Like many towns and villages, Zermatt also has an old part. That is “Hinterdorf”. Here are many old buildings, consisting of houses, stables and barns. They date from the 16th to 18th century. The streets are very narrow there. The buildings are all made of larch wood. Under the influence of sunlight and weathering, this wood eventually turned black. That is why the houses, stables etc. in this old part of the village are also very black.
Things to do
Make a helicopter tour
An expensive option, but hey, you will only get one chance to circle around the summit of the Matterhorn. Air Zermatt offers scenic flights that will give you the best photo opportunities.
Climbing the Matterhorn isn’t for everyone, but even less experienced hikers can of course enjoy the beautiful Matterhorn. An accessible way is walking the 5-Seenweg or 5-lakes route. From Zermatt you take the train to Sunnega mountain station.
Another great hike is the one leading to Schwarzsee. This place is often seen on postcards as it gives tremendous views on the Matterhorn.
Mountaineering, hiking or skiing. All these activities test our bodies to its limits. Therefore, it is recommended to just relax once in a while. And the best way to do so is enjoy a spa. Most hotels in Zermatt have wellness facilities you can use. They all have saunas, steam baths, jacuzzis, etc.
Enjoy a scenic train ride
The Glacier express is an 8 hour scenic train journey taking you through the best parts of the Alps. The train passes 91 tunnels and 291 bridges while offering you panoramic views on the highest mountains of Switzerland.
Where to stay?
Accommodation in Zermatt is very expensive. When traveling on a budget, the campsite might prove to be an option. Camping Matterhorn is small and simple and often used by mountaineers as it only intended for tents.
There is also a wide offer of hotels in Zermatt.The oldest being Hotel Monte Rosa in the Bahnhofstrasse. This is the hotel where Edward Whymper, along with four other mountain climbers and a guide stayed before their 1865 expedition to the Matterhorn in 1865, the first successful climb. On the outside of the hotel hangs a plaque of Edward Whymper.
The Mont Cervin Palace is also one of the first hotels built in Zermatt. It dates back from 1852. Renovations have made it one of the top places to stay in Zermatt. Not only do they have rooms with all facilities, but the hotel also has a welness center with jacuzzis that offer views on the Matterhorn.
For an unique experience, you can book a night in the Hörnlihut. This is the mountain hut that is used as a base for climbers who make an attempt to summit the Matterhorn. The walk leading to it, is not an easy one, but the effort is worthwhile.
Where to eat
Switzerland has some great traditional dishes that taste delicious after a demanding hike. Not only do restaurants in Zermatt offer Käseschnitte on the menu, or a rosti with ham and cheese. No, the most famous dish probably is the cheese fondue. Restaurant Whymper-Stube Is known for having the best cheese fondue in Zermatt.
Another traditional restaurant in Zermatt with some history is Du Pont. Their specialities are fondue and raclette. They also serve other traditional Swiss dishes like Schüblig and rösti. And dessert lover will love the delicious homemade apple strudel, served with custard.