Things to Do in
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A perfect, yet pricey, European ski town. Zermatt sits in the shadow of the iconic Matterhorn (14,691’) and offers a summer hiking paradise. The facade of the town is rustic, but the shops are upscale. Despite its ritzy nature, hikers are hikers, and they were everywhere. The Matterhorn sits alone, but the Alps otherwise dominate the landscape with the Monte Rosa Massif, the tallest range in the Swiss Alps, serving as an imposing wall of rock, snow, and ice. In all, we spent just two days in Zermatt and logged 20+ miles of hiking while soaking in the astounding, staggering views. As a side note: Zermatt is touted as a pedestrian friendly car free town, but it is overrun with small electric taxis!
Walking around town is free, unless you buy something. After that, everything costs money, primarily transportation (trains). Once you have paid for transportation, these were our favorite things to do.
The Five Lakes Hike. A MUST DO. This is a beautiful, easy, 9.3K hike past, you guessed it, five lakes with constant views of the Matterhorn. To get to there you need to take the funicular from Zermatt to Sunnegga, and then switch to a gondola that goes to Blauherd. From there, follow the signs (and the crowds) to the hike. We were on the first gondola up for the day beat some of the crowds.
Visit the Sunegga Viewpoint. It is the end point of the Five Lakes Walk. More beautiful views of the Matterhorn and a really fun playground area for the kids.
Gornergrat. This is the viewpoint for the Monte Rose Massif and surrounding glaciers. Hiking trails abound from this location. We hiked down to Zermatt from here to save on the cost of the train ride. It was fine, but we wouldn't recommend it. At first we felt lucky to have views many people didn't see, but by the end we were over the downhill trek.
Walk through the village of Zermatt to find interesting restaurants, shops, viewpoints of the Matterhorn, and playgrounds.
Visit the Hiker's Cemetary. Matterhorn is one of the deadliest peaks in the world and many who have died are buried in this cemetary in the churchyard. You can take your time to read the gravestones, which have details about the climbers, like their age and where they died. We noted that some of the stones are adorned with their mountaineering gear.
Worth the Money
Visit the Matterhorn Museum to learn more history about the mountain, the hiker's and the famous accident in 1865 that killed four hikers.
Buy a toblerone candybar and eat it in the company of the majestic mountain peak. Trust us, you won't be the only one.
Go paragliding. We did our paragliding in Wengen but had signed up to go in Zermatt and had our trip cancelled due to high wind. None of the paragliders we saw while visiting looked unhappy with their experience. Definitely try this activity.
Tips for Visiting
Look into a Swiss Family Pass or daily travel passes if you are going to do several train trips. It turned out to be less cost for us to do individual tickets but we felt somewhat limited in our excursions because of the $100+ per person train/gondola rides.
Pack a lunch, bring plenty of water and plan for side hikes. Everywhere you look are trails. They lead to lakes, views, ridges and glaciers. We did not find places to refill water bottles along the way.
Pictures of the Matterhorn or best before 3p and after 6p, the glacier views from Gornergrat are better later in the morning or afternoon but there is a risk of cloud formation.
There are several great places for a picnic lunch by the Rotenboden station. By Lake Riffelsee is very popular and great for people watching. There is plenty of seating with a wide open view of the glaciers past a smaller lake north of Lake Riffelsee (if you are looking at the Matterhorn from Lake Riffelsee it is behind and slightly to your left). Or you could continue down in the direction of Riffelberg station past Lake Riffelsee to a smaller lake for another great view.
Matterhorn reflection pictures are best from Lake Riffelsee which is a downhill walk from Rotenboden station or Lake Stellisee, the first lake on the five lakes hike. If you want this one people free you need to move quickly ahead of the crowds because they enter your scene from the Matterhorn side of the lake, reflecting beautifully into your picture…
Grocery stores and train stations all took credit card so we didn’t need Swiss currency.
The hike down from Gornergrat is doable, but several times along the way we questioned whether it was worth saving $170. We did have some great views and quiet trails that we would have missed by taking the train.
The map you are given of the area when you buy tickets is not sufficient for getting around and may give you a false sense of security. I do not think it gave any usable information on hiking trails and the signage is confusing. It may be worth finding a better hiking map so you can explore confidently.