Experience a true fairytale in the Swiss Alps in Zermatt, Switzerland’s premier ski resort.
The article was first published on TravelStart South Africa
It will be love at first sight when you first lay your eyes on the world’s most impressive mountain. The omnipresent mighty Toblerone mountain rises high above the snowy village, demanding your full attention.
Start planning your winter getaway with this handy travel guide featuring the top things you can do in Zermatt, Switzerland. Oh, and we’re not just talking about skiing!
Although it is world-renowned for being a ski paradise, especially since it borders the Italian Alps and offers varying terrains, there is so much more to this enchanting place. So if you weren’t born zipping down the slopes, don’t worry, there are plentiful things to keep you entertained.
The old centre of Zermatt’s cobblestone streets, for example, is charming to take a leisurely stroll through. It lies at an elevation of around 1,600 metres and is peppered with charming snow-covered, chocolate-coloured historic buildings – each of which has preserved its original 16th-century characteristics.
To add to its charm, it has been car-free for eternity, except for the few e-taxis wandering around.
To gain some insight into the history of the village, head to the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof. Next door you will find about 30 ancient buildings that are made of massive larch timbers. Admiring these will take you on a trip back in time and reveal how the farmers once lived 500 years ago, under the watchful gaze of the Matterhorn.
Speaking of the Matterhorn, just about anywhere you position yourself in the village, you will experience dreamy mountain views.
There is no doubt in our minds, that Zermatt will offer you the winter fairytale that you have always dreamed of.
Don’t let the mission of getting to Zermatt put you off. Since Zermatt is car-free, with the exception of e-taxis and e-buses, travelling here in your own private vehicle is prohibited.
You will be required to park your car in a secure parking lot in Täsch, which is five kilometres away from Zermatt. You will then continue your journey to the village via a 12-minute train trip, which runs in both directions every 20 minutes.
As a more convenient alternative, you can opt to take a train from Zürich. The trip is beautiful as it takes you through the deepest cleft valley in the entire country.
Top Things to Do
Magical Train Rides
It is not often the journey to the destination itself that is a highlight worth mentioning, but in this case, it surely is.
There is no better way to experience this winter wonderland, than from the comfort of a train, travelling at a sedate pace through high alpine territory.
By embracing the romance of the railway, you will pass by impressive glaciers, frozen lakes, and fertile fields and be able to marvel at the mountains and their peaks that are in close proximity to you.
Catch a Cable Car
Most of the mountains in the area are well connected by a series of modern gondolas and chair lifts. Taking a trip in these is breathtaking, and offers you incredible views of the impressive glaciers as well as birds-eye views of the dramatic peaks.
The breathtakingly beautiful Matterhorn has been decorating the famous Swiss Toblerone chocolate bar for decades.
Although it is the 10th highest mountain peak in the entire country, it is arguably the most dramatic due to its extraordinary pyramid shape. It stands entirely alone, soaring 4,478 metres above sea level, bordering both Italy and Switzerland. It is so grand that you can view it from just about anywhere you position yourself.
The Matterhorn Museum
Head to the Matterhorn Museum to learn the heartwarming tales of tragedy and triumph that have taken place in the shadows of the world’s grandest mountain.
It takes you on a journey through the lives of the brave mountaineers who first summited the Matterhorn in 1865, but fell to their deaths on their descent.
It also features Zermatt’s journey of being a poverty-stricken farming village to its transformation into one of the world’s most sought-after alpine resorts.
In addition, you will learn about the treacherous conditions on Theodul Glacier and Gorner Glacier, and more about the mountain town’s historic past.
You cannot visit Zermatt, and not take part in one of Switzerland’s top excursions – a journey on the world’s first fully-electrified cog railway – The Gornergrat.
This 40-minute train journey is a highlight in itself and one that you will never forget. It starts in the centre of Zermatt and takes you over dramatic bridges, through forests, passed frozen lakes and rocky ravines before arriving at the highest outdoor train station at 3,089 metres.
The panoramic views from here will take your breath away. Not only can you appreciate the views of the Gorner Glacier, which is both impressive in size and beauty, but you can also appreciate one of the best views of the Matterhorn.
From this viewpoint, you can also marvel at 28 other 4,000-metre-high mountain peaks, including Switzerland’s highest peak – The Monte Rosa. You can even hike through this untouched landscape with snowshoes to explore another perspective of these mountain ranges.
Before heading back to the village, stop for a traditional Swiss meal at the Kulmhotel which is perched atop the rocky ridge. It will give you bragging rights to have lunch at Europe’s highest hotel.
For breathtaking 360-degree mountain views head to the Glacier Paradise. It will not disappoint.
Here you will find Europe’s highest mountain station which rests 3,883 metres above sea level. You can marvel at the mountain peaks of three countries (Switzerland, France and Italy) all whilst standing on a single viewing deck. The views are unsurpassed.
And, if you have ever wanted to set foot on a glacier, you can here. Take the lift a few metres below the surface of the glacier to enter a unique eternal world of ice.
You can walk through the magical tunnel that has been carved through the ice and admire the centuries-old ice formations.
In addition, you can marvel at the ice sculptures, painstakingly created pieces of art that have been illuminated by colourful lights. Pause for a while in one of the seating areas strewn with animal hides and take in the romantic nature of the alpine glacier.
And if you are feeling adventurous, slide down through a glacier crevasse. It will definitely be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience!
Ski and Snowboard
A ski trip to Zermatt is almost always on every ski enthusiast’s bucket list. It is no surprise as to why.
With guaranteed snow almost 90% of the year, and 360 kilometres worth of perfectly groomed pistes, Zermatt offers you that much, leaving you truly spoiled for choice.
That’s not to mention the incredible scenery you will be hurling past. These pristine downhill runs take you past 38 4,000-metre-high towering mountains as well as out-of-this-world glaciers, leaving you with an unforgettable ski experience.
What’s more, is that this resort has an abundance of ski-in and ski-out options straight from your hotel. What this means is that you can begin your ski day, right after breakfast, just by walking out of your room. These peaceful oases have been set up in the heart of the alpine territory at the highest altitude, perfectly positioning themselves on the pistes.
Hotel Silvana, for example, provides effortless access to the famous Weisse Perle piste via Stafelalp as well as the black piste through Furggloch. The five-star Riffelalp Resort is also a great option. Not only does it provide a magnificent view of the Matterhorn, but it is also located right at the centre of the Gornergrat ski area.
If you do not find yourself overnighting high up in the mountains, don’t worry. Staying in the village doesn’t mean that the slopes are too far out of reach. With a free bus service running every 20 minutes and departing from the village, it will drop you directly at the gondola. So you will be able to reach the mountains effortlessly.
What’s more, is that the modern lifts and cable cars are out of the world, providing easy access connections to other mountain ranges and ski areas for an unlimited amount of fun.
Black pistes? They are everywhere in Zermatt. But if you have not yet mastered the art of skiing like a pro, then head to any of the nine ski schools in the area and book yourself a private ski teacher for a day or two.
They are highly experienced and well-trained to ensure that you have an amazing introduction to skiing across this winter wonderland. They will take you across varying slopes that are fit for a beginner, and pass on the knowledge and passion they have for these mighty mountains.
Families love Zermatt too, especially the children. They particularly admire Wolie, Zermatt’s beloved mascot. This adventurous black-nosed sheep hangs out at his own play park, and issues membership cards that will give the little members of your family exclusive benefits such as playful fun-filled activities, cable car rides and free overnight stays.
There is no reason they shouldn’t feel completely at home in these mountains.
And snowboard pros – you will just love the snowpark. You can access it via the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise network, and practise all your jump stunts while admiring the famed Matterhorn.
Hop on Over to Italy
Take part in an adventure of a lifetime, by doing the Matterhorn ski safari. You can choose between either the silver or the gold option, both a circuit route that begins at Rothorn. Following this route will ensure that you never go down the same piste twice and each time you will experience a completely different perspective of the Matterhorn.
Not to mention the fact that by the end of your ski day, you would have covered a 10,000-metre elevation change and you will have ventured across two countries – Switzerland and Italy.
To record your trip, make use of the Zermatt Ski guide App. They have a great ski safari function in there to record your entire journey as well as record your changes in elevation.
Don’t forget to purchase your international ski pass before embarking on this two-country hopping journey. Purchasing this will allow you to ski in Zermatt’s International Ski Area. Meaning you can access Breuil-Cervinia, Italy’s ski resort.
Be sure to activate your ticket in Zermatt, as you will not be able to do this on the other side.
After an incredible day on the slopes, head to Zermatt’s hip and happening Apres-ski bars. Individuals from all over the world, still dressed in their ski attire, take part in a unique post-ski activity.
Between 15:30 and 18:30, you can take part in a short, but very intense party before going back to your hotel for the night.
You can celebrate a great day of skiing with your new-found friends by throwing back a few drinks and enjoying some local draft beers while singing away to your favourite tunes.
Some apres-ski bars offer a more chilled, laid-back kinda vibe, whilst others go all out with loud beats played by International DJs.
A few places to consider heading to is Harry’s Bar, Hennu Stall, Cervo, or Elsie’s Bar.
Scenic Helicopter Flight
Soar high above the Alps by taking a once-in-a-lifetime helicopter tour.
You will be able to experience a bird’s eye view of the mighty Matterhorn from all sides, as well as experience the unique beauty of the UNESCO Aletsch Glacier from above. You can marvel at the village below you while sweeping past awe-inspiring 4,000-metre-high mountain peaks.
Can you think of anything more romantic, than having this experience with your loved one?
- When planning your visit, be sure to book your accommodation well in advance. Some of the best hotels that are in close proximity to the gondolas get booked up fast. Even if you’re not planning to ski, dress as if you are.
- Temperatures drop drastically the higher you ascend above sea level. Keep a close eye on the weather cams before heading up into the mountains. These will provide you with live updates on weather changes.
- Get more, pay less by purchasing the Swiss Travel Pass. You can choose between a 3,4, 8 or 15-day pass that will allow you to travel by rail and road throughout the whole country. Other benefits include free admission to museums, discounts on mountain transportation in Zermatt, as well as discounts on a few mountain excursions.
- When planning to ski in Italy, be sure to take note of the cable car changing times. Some of them close as early as 14:30. You don’t want to be stuck for the night in Italy if you miss your last ride back.
- When heading up to Glacier Paradise, Europe’s highest station give yourself self-time to climatise. We recommend stopping at a few stations before to avoid you experiencing altitude sickness.
Ready to start planning your trip to Zermatt – Switzerland’s most charming village?
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