We're heading for Zermatt, a place of incomparable beauty, surrounded by tall snow-covered Alpine peaks easily accessible by cog railway and cable car, with many wonderful walking trails. Of course, the Matterhorn is here, the iconic symbol of this town. This steep vertical peak is the most famous mountain in all of Switzerland, perhaps in the whole world.
There are so many wonderful things to see and do in and around Zermatt town we have several different pages to provide complete descriptions of three wonderful mountain excursions. Most of this page is about Zermatt town.
Zermatt is in a spectacular valley setting surrounded by huge mountains, the biggest collection of the tall mountains in all of Europe. Most famous for the Matterhorn, but you will discover there is a lot more to see in Zermatt in addition to that one mountain.
Along with the famous Matterhorn there are 37 other 4,000-meter peaks all around the city. In our other pages we will show you how to go up several by cable car and cog railway, then take you hiking, and here we will explore the quaint town of Zermatt. The unique feature of Zermatt is the quick access from town to several of these gigantic mountains.
Zermatt is one of Switzerland's most popular destinations in winter and all year long, getting about 2 million visitors a year. Depending on the time of day or season, this village can get crowded. You might want to come in the shoulder season, like late in the month of May. In early May you might run into snow on the trails which interferes with your hiking. Late May and early September are the perfect times to be here, with very pleasant temperatures.
Zermatt village provides many entertaining distractions with restaurant, shops and excellent hotels. Several other mountain excursions await, including skiing if you wish, and then some more hiking on several trails in the area, ranging from easy to strenuous. This close contact with nature combined with the charms of the village makes Zermatt the ideal destination.
For a very long time Switzerland and the Alps had been visited by millions of tourists from all parts of the world who come to see the great mountains and valleys, which have a seductive charm.
Zermatt is a quiet and peaceful place with no cars allowed, except for the hotels' electric shuttle vans and utility vehicles. Its remote location at the end of the train line in the southern part of the country keeps it relatively uncrowded, especially if you can avoid the summer months.
Zermatt is especially lovely because you’ve got that old Swiss chalet style of wooden architecture throughout the commercial and the residential areas. The village itself is of the utmost charm: old wooden buildings, attractive shops, great restaurants, musical entertainment, pedestrians only; no cars allowed here, giving that perfect mix of natural beauty and cultural attractions.
While this pretty town can easily keep you occupied for a couple of days with its attractions and shops and things, you certainly want to get out of town up into the hills. That's the main reason for coming to Zermatt. Unfortunately, there are visitors who only stay in town and don't go up to the mountains, but don't make that mistake.
1. Gornergrat mountain is one of the most exciting opportunities, taking the highest outdoor railroad in Europe, bringing you to one of the best Alpine views. Then you can walk part of the way down on an easy gentle hike along very well-maintained trails.
2. Klein Matterhorn and Glacier Paradise, reached by cable car up to the highest mountain station in the Alps with the biggest collections of tall mountains in the Alps all around you, 38 of them reaching higher than 4,000 meters.
3. Sunnegga is another mountain peak you can easily explore is with an underground funicular ride through a tunnel to the top, then several easy walking trails providing alternative routes back down to town.
We take you up those three main mountains in our other pages, by funicular, cable car and cog rail and then we’ll show you how to walk down the lower slopes on some very easy trails, followed by eating, shopping, and relaxing in the village.
One of the best features of Zermatt town is that you can walk in a few minutes from the village center to these cog rail and cable car stations that will take you into high mountain country, surrounded by more tall peaks than anywhere else in Europe. You have probably never seen anything like it. And then you can walk down some of the lower slopes on easy nature hikes through majestic landscapes, with snow-covered peaks looming overhead. Later, you can relax in the charming village, famous for its quaint, rustic wooden architecture, varied accommodations, and dozens of excellent restaurants.
Many people just come for the day, arriving by train in the morning, walking around town, maybe go up one mountain, but such a daytrip is too quick. There is so much to see and do in Zermatt you really want to spend a couple of nights – at least two or even three nights would be very nice.
The only way to reach Zermatt is by train, because cars are not allowed in the village. There's nice scenery out of both sides of the train, as the train snakes its way up the long valley to Zermatt. It's a wonderful train journey to Zermatt located in the southern part of Switzerland.
The train trip brings you through a spectacular series of mountains along the river valley. If you are driving a car, you can park it 5 km away in Täsch and take the train in for the last leg to get into the village. The train station is right in the middle of town, so you can walk to most hotels in the village within 10 to 15 minutes. The road is well-paved so you can roll your luggage, no problem.
If you don't want to drag your bags, most hotels will arrange porter service that will meet you at the station with their small electric truck and take your baggage and perhaps yourself directly to the hotel. Just be sure to let your hotel know ahead of time when you're arriving. Some of the fancy hotels provide horse and buggies to bring you and your luggage from the station.
You can rent a bicycle, especially if you want to ride mountain trails, many of which are paved. Bicycles are allowed in town, but on the main street you are only allowed to walk them, not ride. You could get a big ticket from the local police for peddling your bicycle down the main lane.
You'll find during your visit that all the shops and restaurants are within walking distance, conveniently clustered along the main street, Bahnhofstrasse, which extends just 600 meters from the train station to town plaza in front of the main church, St. Mauritius. This stretch forms the little “downtown” of Zermatt, which makes it easy and enjoyable to walk back and forth from one end to the other, while venturing into those residential side lanes.
The main pedestrian street is narrow and lined with shops, restaurants, hotels and inns.You'll find the quality of display is eye-catching. After all they want to stop you in your tracks as you're walking by the storefront. While you can buy Swiss Army knives all over the world it's nice to purchase them here in the homeland, the authentic models from Victorinox. How many different models? Well, in their catalogue they'll offer you 1,200 different kinds.
Some of the main stores that you'll see here are shops for Swiss watches, including many affordable models and some at the highest end such as the Patek Philippe branded store, or tempted by Tissot, an excellent mid-priced watch.
You’ll also find clothing boutiques and souvenir shops with everything from the Swiss brass bell to lacy handkerchiefs, Swarovski crystal figurines, jewelry, cuckoo clocks, music boxes and fine porcelain dolls, the Goebel Hummels. Don't worry about needing to pack things in your suitcase, because with typical Swiss efficiency, they will ship it home for you, and that way you can avoid the sales tax.
Bakeries are everywhere and they usually sell sandwiches for take-out, so that can make an inexpensive picnic lunch, and you'll find gourmet food stores. The best buys on chocolate bars are probably in the grocery stores. Consider fabrics for easy packable items.
Of course, there are many shops that sell clothing and accessories for hiking and skiing. And most of these stores also rent skiing equipment, and the people who work in the stores can certainly help you choose the best equipment for the day if you're heading for the slopes.
If you're looking for backpacks or hiking shoes, walking clothing, this little village is a great place to shop. While most of the merchandise is not made in Switzerland, it is selected by the Swiss merchants to be the very best. A lot of it's made in Germany. The quality is superb and you can't go wrong buying items in these shops, and the price is generally no higher than what you find in a big city.
You probably already have a backpack but you could just admire the amazing variety and the modern technology of all these items on display. You'll be tempted to upgrade your equipment. Even though it's busy with tourists and shops, they have really managed to retain the charm and Alpine character.
Being a small village in the south of the country, many stores close for lunch, perhaps from noon till 2 PM. Then they reopen and close again about 6 PM. On Sunday it's better to shop in the morning because a lot of the shops close Sunday afternoon.
You’ve got to love the variety of eateries here in town, from the simple sidewalk sausage stands to fancy restaurants. You can sit at the outdoor terrace on the main lane and watch the people go by. If you are ready for wurst, the national dish of the country, look for it at several sidewalk stands, quick, delicious and inexpensive.
Take a look into a typical local restaurant, the Haus Darioli. It's got that taverna style with the rustic wooden benches, no tablecloth, simple menu, good prices, good food, and it's also a hotel. It gets 3 1/2 stars out of four rating on Trip Advisor. So this is a pretty good place to consider.
Another excellent restaurant is in the Walliserhof Hotel. It's the Stubli Restaurant – quite rustic and typical Swiss feeling – comfortable wooden furniture and a varied cuisine ranging from steaks and salads to pastas Italian style.
It's part of the Hotel Walliserhof, which is one of the oldest in Zermatt. It's a family operated hotel. It first opened in 1898, located right on the main street, but most of the rooms are set back. It's got thirty-four rooms, each one of them different. Zermatt has Chinese restaurants, steakhouses, sushi bars, noodle houses, hot dog stands, and a McDonald's.
When you are busy up in the mountains, hiking, riding gondolas and getting hungry, you can find 54 different mountain restaurants that will take very good care of you.
There is an Old Village on the right side of the Hotel Monte Cervin, just 400 meters from the train station, where you will see thirty ancient buildings in the traditional style of the original Walser residents. This cluster of old buildings is just a one-minute walk from the main street and well worth a quick look, but easily overlooked because it's not easily visible. Called Hinterdorf, and located on Hinterdorfstrasse, this section of town is the oldest surviving part of the village.
It is a piece of living history that reveals how the mountain farmers of Zermatt once lived. Notice the flat, round rocks that are placed at intervals underneath the building support posts, which were guards to keep out the rodents and insects from the grain storage areas. There are barns and grain stores that are up to 500 years old. People would thresh the grain in the barns and use storehouses to dry their meat, slaughter their animals and keep their other food treasures away in chests.
The roofs of these typically Valais-style buildings are covered with shingles made of flat stone slabs. Their sun-beaten wooden walls are made of larch wood and stand up on stilts for storage space down below. Sometimes there's firewood stacked up down there. Animals were kept in a barn underneath the house to generate warmth for people living upstairs.
The larch wood they are made of is a kind of symbol of the Valais, as 29% of the trees in the area are larches. The larch is the heaviest and hardest of the indigenous conifers. The wood is highly resinous which makes it very durable and weather-resistant. And this, combined with the dark color of the wood means that the house will heat up during the day when it's exposed to the sun, producing energy. And the people who live in these houses didn't need much heating during the day in winter, at least in the rooms that face the sunny side.
The preservation of these buildings is of growing importance to the local communities and the Swiss Heritage Society, and fortunately, to the owners themselves. These buildings symbolize the customs, the traditions, and farming culture at the highest altitudes in this Alpine region. Throughout the country, there are about 50,000 of these agricultural buildings still in existence. Outside the village throughout this Zermatt region, there are an estimated 720 of these so-called Hofstetan-type buildings.
Another 100 meters south, just past the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof, you arrive at the main town square in front of the big St. Mauritius church, which was built in the 1920s, but the first historical record of a church here goes back to the year 1285.
Here you will find the entrance to the underground Matterhorn Museum that displays the history of the village of Zermatt and its famous mountain. The museum is presented as a replica of a mountain village consisting of 14 old buildings (houses, church, hotel, huts and granaries), and relates the history and development of tourism in the Zermatt area. The following description is from Zermatt’s official website:
A visit to the museum shows Zermatt’s development from a village of mountain farmers to a world-famous alpine resort. Original houses and interiors, and recreations of the world of the inhabitants and of former alpine explorers, bring the subject vividly to life. Visitors can also experience dramatically what happened during the first ascent of 14 July 1865. The story of triumph and death travelled quickly around the world. The original snapped rope is a witness of events on that fateful day.
Here you can immerse yourself in the mountains of bygone centuries: you can see how the inhabitants of Zermatt lived in the 19th century and you shudder at the sight of the torn rope from the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865. At that time, four out of seven mountaineers lost their lives.
The Matterhorn Museum Zermatlantis has become an important pillar of Zermatt's alpine history and culture. Attractions include original houses, a multimedia room and finds from the first ascent of the Matterhorn.
Bahnhofstrasse ends at the plaza and here the road divides, leaving the shops behind and entering the residential area. The Oberdorfstrasse extension of the main lane continues, with changing names, about 3 kilometers up the hillside to Zmutt, a tiny cluster of houses and restaurants, and then higher to the Schwarzee and several cable cars, making a beautiful hike. This is described in our Glacier Paradise page.
Those who enjoy hiking can find 70 kilometres of networked trails through forests of snow-bedecked trees and over high plains with panoramic views of 38 snowy four-thousanders.
You might want to reserve your hotel well ahead of time, because it has limited accommodations. There are 130 small hotels, but it is so popular they fill up quickly. You can also look an Airbnb and similar services, because many of the houses accept guests. After all, Switzerland has been in the business of hospitality for over a century.
You'll find a wide range of price and quality in Zermatt, but at the upper end there are three hotels that really stand out above all the others with five stars each: Hotel Zermatterhof, Mont Cervin Palace and Monte Rosa. If you can't afford to stay there, you can have a meal or have a drink at the bar.
The Mont Cervin Palace is one of the top five-star hotels in all Switzerland, founded originally by the Siller family over 150 years ago and you can take a ride through town in their horse carriage. The deluxe Hotel Zermatterhof is one of the great hotels of the world. They've got a garden restaurant where you can sit outdoors or indoors, and you can have afternoon tea or a complete meal here. The hotel is constantly being upgraded and improved, and the guests are pampered.
I have stayed at the delightful Hotel Butterfly, with comfortable rooms, rustic wooden architecture with Alpine motif, just a couple of blocks from the train station, so it's easy to walk on over while your baggage is hauled by the hotel staff in their mini-electric buggy. Or try the inexpensive Bahnhof Hotel at the train station, very basic almost a hostel – they do not include breakfast, but you save a lot of money there.
Watch out for the horse carriages. You could take a ride in one, or if you're staying in a fancy hotel you might be delivered from the rail station in their elegant horse carriage.
During the day the town is quite busy but something special happens in the early evening when it gets much quieter. Shops have closed down, day-trippers are gone, bus tour groups are back on their trains and out of here, and it's just left to the visitors who are spending the evening, and local residents. It's the perfect time to take a leisurely stroll from one end of town to the other. It gets more peaceful when you stroll a mere block away from the main street. Things calm down right away.
If you would enjoy an extended wander beyond the town center, there are many residential lanes that wind throughout the area. Homes. small hotels and vacation rentals are scattered throughout, with some perched on the lower edge of the mountains.
There are three main streets parallel to the River Matter Vispa, with numerous cross streets. In general, anything is at most a thirty-minute walk away. And during the summer there are roads and hiking trails leading up to a number of year-round restaurants.
They have public tennis courts with lights in the evening. It is mostly for locals because tourists are not going to bring their tennis rackets. So it's a nice amenity for people who live here. Switzerland has one of the world's highest qualities of life and they really do take care of their people.
You might think up here in the mountains it's going to be cloudy a lot, but on the contrary, Zermatt is the sunniest part of Switzerland. A study has shown there is an average duration of 62% sunshine. It's number one in the country, compared to number two, the Ticino in the south, with 55%. Turns out the surrounding mountains keep the clouds away so Zermatt is blessed with a very special climate.
There are wonderful nature hikes all around the town, described in our other Zermatt pages, ranging from very easy half-hour strolls on a level gradient paved pathway up to some serious mountain hiking and rock climbing. There is skiing in the summertime all year round at Klein Matterhorn, with the largest all year-round skiing terrain in the entire Alpine area. They have 70 ski lifts if you are a skier, especially in the wintertime when they're all functioning. This is heaven for serious rock climbers. You'll see people with their ropes, spikes and pickaxes walking down the main lane heading for the hills.
Of course Zermatt is a year-round holiday resort town: in the winter it's a tremendous ski resort, and great in the summer for hiking and just being this beautiful village. Summer is a fine time to be here – the temperatures are pleasant. The town elevation is about 1600 meters or 5000 feet. So it's a pleasant summer environment, or come in the spring and fall. It's a year-round destination. Primary summer activities are relaxing in the town, taking walks out in the countryside, and riding up to those beautiful mountain heights for the views. It's a lot of fun just to stroll along on the main lane of the village.
If you're lucky and the timing is right, you might see a most unusual parade of goats! This happens during the summertime from late June until the middle of August, and the goats come walking through the village two times: at 9 o'clock in the morning when they are walking out from the town to the pasture, and 5 PM in the evening they return to the village every day, but only in the summer for about six weeks. These are Valais black neck goats, and they are herd of about 50 animals who are the stars of Zermatt summertime. The goat herders are youngsters who live in the area and each day three different children get the honor of walking the goats. By 1970 these goats had become an endangered species, but they have been cultivated and they bounced back since then and now it's estimated there are over 3000 of these goats in the area.
If you miss the goat parade but want to see something similar, visit the Tradition Julen sheep barn any time. With its herd of 300 animals, the Julen family has the world's largest flock of black nose sheep, and you are welcome to visit them in their barn at the edge of the village of Zermatt. This takes 90 minutes and includes: a visit with the animals, a short presentation and possibility to pet and take pictures, a taste of food produced on the farm such as cheese, dried meat or sausage, and round-trip taxi.
Have a look at our pages on the three mountain excursions:
Zermatt has a very helpful official website with complete information about hotels, hiking, cable car and cog rail, and everything you need to know to visit this region. For example, their “Exploring Unlimited” package offers everything you need for an amazing stay in Zermatt, including unlimited travel on most cable cars. With one click on this website you will get a range of 40 different hotels to pick from, arranged by price, with photos and links for booking.