Beyond the big cities of Geneva and Zurich is a popular town at the foot of one of Europe’s highest mountains. Zermatt has one of the best locations in Switzerland for some authentic and unique Swiss adventures. A single trip to Zermatt gives you access to the Matterhorn, Weisshorn and Monte Rosa, some of Switzerland’s most iconic mountains. This area is truly an Alpine playground and you’ll have an endless list of things to do. Fortunately, we’ve narrowed it down to the best experiences you can have in Zermatt.
While scaling the Matterhorn sounds tempting, it won’t be the first thing you should do in Zermatt. Unless, of course, you’re a seasoned mountaineer with years of experience. Otherwise, take a gondola to the highest viewing platform in Europe at the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. Take in 360-degree views at 3,883 meters above sea level. From here, you’ll tower over 38 peaks and 14 glaciers in the French, Italian and Swiss Alps. From this point, you can go hiking and take your pick from a world of adventures. For the not-so-active visitors, there’s a cinema lounge and several restaurants to chill in after absorbing the unforgettable views. For the outdoorsy types, there are ski pistes open all-year-round including the one on the famous Theodul Glacier. You can also visit the Snow Park Zermatt at the Plateau Rosa and go snow tubing in the summer.
You’ll never get enough of the Matterhorn, and an excellent place to gaze at its perfection is the Gornergrat. This extremely popular excursion opened in 1898. You can reach this platform via the Gornergrat Bahn, the world’s fully electric cog railway. It’s also open air and operational all-year-round, bringing visitors from Zermatt to an altitude of 3,089 meters. The ride itself is a great experience passing over dramatic views of bridges, tunnels, forests and mountain lakes. Once at the platform, you’re treated to breathtaking views of the Monte Rosa massif, the Gorner Glacier and a total of 29 mountains above 4,000 meters with the Matterhorn as the star of the show. If you want to spend more time here (and you should), stay at Europe’s highest-altitude hotel, the Kulmhotel Gornegrat. It has a world-class restaurant, an astronomical observatory and tons of shops for souvenirs. Of course, the Gornergrat also has access to ski pistes, sledding slopes, and hiking paths.
All the way up at 3,103 meters at the Rothorn is the Peak Collection. It’s an exhibition of sculptures that surround Zermatt for you to take in the entire Alpine world in one go. However, the Rothorn is more popular for adventurers looking for challenging hikes to glaciers and Alpine peaks. You can go through trails lined with endemic plants or take a leap of faith and go paragliding. There is direct access to challenging ski pistes as well. Unique experiences to be had are extra-early sunrise trips or moonlight descents throwing Alpine peaks in a completely different light.
The Matterhorn and the surrounding peaks aren’t always the best places to go when you have kids in tow. Luckily, there’s Sunnegga. At 2,288 meters, Sunnegga gives every member of the family something to be excited about. The funicular ride from Zermatt only takes 4.5 minutes – short enough to keep impatient toddlers in their seats. Once there, you disbark on a sunny platform with direct views of the Matterhorn. During the summer, you can swim in Leisee Lake or watch out for marmots at the marmot-watching station. There are playgrounds and barbecue areas for an easy day. In the winter, there are several hiking trails safe for children. Wolli’s park is also accessible from Sunnegga for some skiing fit for beginners.
When you’re done chilling at Sunnegga, take a four-seater chairlift to the village of Findeln. It’s a small cluster of farmhouses that used to grow rye and barley on the slopes. The village, at the height of 2,100 meters, is only occupied during the summer. The villagers take a grueling cattle drive to this spot, which sits at the lowest part of the mountain pastures. Villagers take grain, cheese, and milk to be sold back down in the valley. Even if you don’t visit during the summer, the farmhouses are great to see and a 17th-century chapel still stands in the village.
Technically, the Schwarzsee is a cable car station. But at 2,583 meters, it gives visitors a great view of the whole valley and overlooks the town of Zermatt below. Schwarzsee is also the starting point of many hikes and many mountain excursions. A popular attraction is the Schwarzsee lake where the “Maria sum Schnee” stands on the shores. This small chapel sees many mountaineers who say a little prayer after a successful ascent of the Matterhorn. From the station, you can also go on themed trails characterized by boulders and scree scattered with streams and lakes. The Matterhorn glacier Trail leads from Trockener Steg to Shwarzsee. Along the trail, you’ll also see information about the mountain and its history.
The history of the Matterhorn is the history of Zermatt. At the Matterhorn Museum, visitors go through the development of Zermatt at the base of this ominous mountain. It also centers around the triumph and tragedy surrounding the first ever attempt to scale the Matterhorn in 1865. Four out of seven climbers lost their lives during this expedition. There are several exhibitions as well, including original houses, a multimedia room, and some paraphernalia from the first ascent of the Matterhorn. The museum is also set underground, which adds to the novelty of the visit.
Another adventure fit for the whole family is a trek to Gorner Gorge. The gorge is created from the meltwater of the Gorner Glacier that swirls and churns through the Gornervispe each spring. Through wooden walkways between towering cliffs, visitors will look into the dramatic result of nature’s power cutting away at rocks and creating a whole new world by sheer movement of water. Getting to the walkways is a mere 15-minute walk from the village of Zermatt. Once there, you will be engulfed by the roaring sound of rivers and falls and surrounded by greenish rock naturally carved into unique and mythical shapes. The best time to take this trip in summer, but it’s also possible to do in the winter with a mountain guide for safety.
If you’re looking for a more challenging excursion, take the Tour de Monte Rosa . It’s a 9-day trek around the Monte Rosa, an ice-covered mountain massif in the Alps. It stands at 4,634 meters above sea level, earning its honor as the second highest Alpine mountain and in all of Western Europe. This trip is definitely for the faint of heart. Even the physically fit can sometimes feel challenged by the tour. Trekkers go through 8 stages, including one that crosses the Italian territory. There is also a stage that goes through the Theodul Pass, which has been used as a route to Italy since the 4th century. While daunting and challenging, the tour rewards mountaineers with unique vantage points of the Monte Rosa, the Dom, Alpine villages and wildlife, and of course, the Matterhorn. Because of its difficulty and length, you will not run into a lot of people so you can enjoy the best of the Alps in peace.
Not everyone has the ability or the time to go on a 9-day trek, so a decent alternative is a hike to the Monte Rosa Hut. It may not be as grueling and you may not see as much compared to the Tour de Monte Rosa, but it’s all the best highlights squeezed in a shorter trek. Be warned, however, that though this trek is shorter, it’s still not a simple walk in the park. Trekkers are highly recommended to do this with a guide as conditions have become unstable and you’ll hear the constant creaking and cracking of ice in the frozen world below. Through hiking trails and across the Gorner Glacier, the hike to the Monte Rosa Hut is still stunning worth the effort. The Monte Rosa Hut is an attraction in itself with its very modern structure and cozy interiors.
A gondola ride to the viewing platforms on and around the Matterhorn is breathtaking. But if you want to take it to a literally new level, book yourself a helicopter tour and get right up to the peak. You can book a flight with Air Zermatt anywhere between 20, 30, and 40 minutes. The route will vary depending on how long your flight is, but the trip also includes landing on the Unterrothorn for an Alpine lunch at the restaurant Fluhalp.
Get ready for the most beautiful 2-day hikes in the Alps and go hike the Europaweg. This goes between the Grächen and Zermatt for panoramic mountain views including, of course, the Matterhorn. The Europaweg was created in 1997, marked by stunning views used as orientation points to map out the paths in the villages of St. Niklaus, rächen, Randa, Täsch, and Zermatt. If you complete the 2-day hike, you will go from Grächen via Gasenried to Grat. It then continues southwards to the Europa Hut above Randa, then over the Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge – the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world. It traverses the Grabengufer with a length of 494 meters hanging 65 meters above the chasm below. The path then continues in the direction of Täschalp and finally to Zermatt.
Scaling the 4,000-meter peaks around Zermatt is phenomenal, but not always realistic. If you want to do it anyway, go up to the peak of the Breithorn. The good thing is you can skip a lot of the hard work as the hike begins at the Klein Matterhorn on the aerial tramway. The Breithorn is considered as the easiest 4,000-meter peaks to climb. Given that, you will still break a sweat when you go on this trek. You’re required to take a qualified mountain guide for the 2-hour ascent to the highest point of the Breithorn. The climb is very doable, but the challenge is with the thinness of air at this elevation. The slopes are also icy and slippery, especially during colder months.
You can’t visit the Alpine wonderland of Zermatt without doing the most iconic Swiss thing to do – skiing. Whichever peak you choose to visit, there will always be access to ski pistes and slopes for snowboarding. Choose the lower peaks if you’re still a beginner or you’re simply starting to learn how to ski. All in all, there are 360 kilometers of pistes in Zermatt, some with sneak peaks into their Italian neighbor. You can also go on a Matterhorn Ski Safari that takes you through 12,500 meters or 10,500 meters of altitude. You will be able to circuit different pistes and always with the Matterhorn in full view.
After a full day of hikes and snowy adventures, it’s time to hit the sack for a good night’s sleep. Most of the time. For some nights, you can hit the hottest clubs in this Alpine wonderland. Set right by the pistes, these cool establishments have views like no other. A very popular and easygoing bar is Hennu Stall on the bottom section of the Furi-Zermatt slope. They have a DJ and live band music and also has menu items appropriate for kids. If you still have lots of energy to spare, Harry’s Ski Bar at the Matterhorn Lodge is where dancing, singing, and mingling happen. If you want to hang out with locals, the Papperla Club is a popular haunt with interiors that replicate an Irish pub.
There are a lot of tempting adventures towards the Alpine world around Zermatt. However, taking your time exploring the town is a great experience as well. You can spend a full day (or even more) just wandering the streets of Zermatt and discovering surprises around the corner. The town itself is very traditional in terms of structure and aesthetic but has been highly influenced by modern technology thanks to the influx of tourism. Around the old village, you’ll see ancient structures that are around 500 years old. Then just a few meters away are over 100 hotels and chalets that caters to different kinds of travelers from all over the world. The most popular hotel is the Monte Rosa, which is also the first to be ever built in Zermatt.
It may sound a little morbid, but a visit to the Mountaineer’s Cemetery will give you a deeper appreciation of the grandeur of the Matterhorn. As beautiful as it can be, the Matterhorn is also one of the most dangerous peaks to scale in the world. Since the first ascent in 1865, an estimated 3,000 mountaineers attempt to climb the peak every year. There have already been around 500 deaths recorded since then. While there are now better ways and equipment to scale the peak, avalanches and sudden weather changes still pose danger to mountaineers. Many of those who have died climbing the Matterhorn are buried in the cemetery, including those from the first expedition in 1865. The gravestones have information about the climbers, including their age and where they perished.
Every corner of Switzerland has its own shopping district, and it’s not different with Zermatt. Shopping here can be a little strange though because nowhere else will you find Armani suits sold within meters of ice picks. The town has its own Bahnhofstrasse with 316 shops that sell souvenirs, fashion, and good. There is a wide range of designer brands and jewelry boutiques and several local shops with unique creations. Chocolate stores are popular as well, such as Boite a Chocolat that sells chocolates from all over Switzerland, including some they make themselves. A good place to go is the Lorenz Bach outlet store opposite the Mont Cervin Hotel. Here you’ll find a range of top designers at bargain prices.
Zermatt is home to many luxurious hotels and world-class spas, and Mont Cervin has one of the best. You can indulge in a wide range of services including facials, massages, and treatments. They also have some unusual offers such as the Swiss Chocolate Body Peeling and Hawaiian Flower Baths. The spa has heated indoor and outdoor pools, jacuzzis, saunas, a dipping tank, and a whole lot of other amenities you can enjoy afer your massage or facial. Spanning around 1,700 square meters, a visit to the spa can pretty much last a full day.
You’ll never run out of things to do in Zermatt, but make sure you include restaurant hopping in your itinerary. Zermatt has a long list of good restaurants to try, whether it be in the village or high up in the mountains. Cheese is a popular dish, as is usual in all of Switzerland, and there’s something a bit more satisfying with dipping meats in hot fondue with a full view of the Matterhorn. Restaurants in ski resorts are very cozy but tend to be pricey. For a taste of the best without a steep price, make sure to drop by Restaurant Du Pont for great cheesy options.