Tucked away in the southern portions of Switzerland and the Swiss Alps lies a town thats beauty and closeness to nature is unmatched. The amazing city I am talking about is Zermatt, which is located in southern Switzerland, near the northern Italian border.
Aside from this pristine location, this town finds it's claim to adventure seekers around the world with its close proximity to one of the most recognizable mountains in the world. This mountain is the legendary Matterhorn.
Aside from being the home of the Matterhorn, Zermatt is a town worth exploring and visiting for many reasons. Some of the highest peaks in the Alps can be found in this region (you can actually see an amazing amount of peaks from the top of Gornergrat), great hiking trails, the Kulmhotel Gornergrat, the Gornergrat Observatory, lots of great skiing options, great restaurants and hotels, unique gift shops, and more can be found in Zermatt.
I found myself exploring this wonderful Swiss town during the fall of 2018. If you are looking for autumn in Switzerland, the end of October is the perfect time to catch the season's change of color which is quite spectacular in the mountains in Switzerland.
My journey to Zermatt began in Milan, Italy. Upon arrival, I immediately took off with anticipation to reach this magical Swiss town and see the mountain peak I had longed to see in person for several years. I was so excited that I made the drive without sleeping for 36 hours due to my inability to sleep on planes.
It isn't always the most wise to drive in not one, but two foreign countries immediately after arriving for the first time, especially when sleep deprived, but hey, when in Rome!
This became apparent when I got confused by my first Italian tollway, which I entered in the E-pay lane, which I did not have a E-pay ability. Somehow, I made it through after being honked at by several cars behind me, though I believe that I received a fine for that several months later as the rental agency charged me about $50 several months later....
The further north I drove, the more prominent the Alps mountain range became. The towns and villages along the way were almost exactly as I would picture Italian mountain villages. There seemed to be a sudden change in architecture as soon more homes began to change to the Swiss chalet architecture style once crossing into Switzerland. I really found an interest in this style of home and building, someday I would love to have something similar of my own.
Getting to Zermatt
One of my most favorite aspects of Zermatt, aside ifs wonderful scenery is that the city is completely car-less (minus some vehicles used by businesses or locals).
There are only three ways to reach Zermatt which are by train, helicopter, or taxi. It was a unique experience to see a city which allows for no vehicle traffic, and this was a brand new concept for me. But I came across several other cities while on this trip that I found to have similar rules, including San Gimignano which is a wonderful medieval tower city located in Tuscany, Italy.
It really brings about a whole new city atmosphere when there are really no vehicles on the roads. Its unique, and I wish there were more places like this in the world, or the United States!
I took the Glacier Express to Zermatt upon arrival after parking in the town of Tasch. The parking system and train system is well set up and quite easy to follow the instructions in order to reach Zermatt. It does get a little pricey though! (actually really everything in Switzerland was expensive).
I couldn't help but feel like I was boarding the Hogwarts Express to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as I boarded the Glacier Express. Unfortunately, I am a muggle and never will have that experience, but my first views of the Matterhorn from the train was pretty surreal. A mountain so iconic that I have seen so many times and for so many years of my life. Finally, I was able to see it with my own eyes in person. It was breathtaking. My first thoughts were of how difficult reaching the summit on this famous mountain must be. Maybe someday, I will reach that level of mountain climbing expertise, but for now, scrambling easier mountains it is!
What to do in Zermatt?
If there was one recommendation I could recommend to anyone visiting Zermatt, I would recommend the Gornergrat Railway to the summit of Gornergrat. You can also make the hike up to this location, but the train ride is sort of the experience, plus you can just hike down as there are some pretty cool scenic spots and hikes on the way down. I spent an entire day of doing this. I was having such a great time that I lost track of time and barely made it back to my hotel by the time the sun set.
This area is known for its outdoor sports and activities so take advantage of it. While there are plenty of great restaurants, shops, and bars to visit in Zermatt, get outside and explore the outdoor regions prior to seeking indoor activities. Or at least that is my opinion.
I wish I would have been able to take advantage of the great skiing or snowboarding this region has to offer, but my trip in October did not present for this opportunity. Aside from hiking, skiing/snowboarding, or the Gornergrat railway, there are other ways to see the region including by helicopter, chairlift, snowshoeing, and cable car.
The possibilities of outdoor activities are endless in this area and no matter what you do, you will likely not go wrong!
If you are looking to just do one hike out of the many in this area, I would recommend the 5 lakes trail hike (5-Seenweg) which brings you along some very scenic locations around the Zermatt/Matterhorn area. It is just over 9km in length.
When to go?
This depends on the purpose of your adventure. If you are seeking winter sports and related activities it is recommended to go November through April.
If summer hiking and adventures without snow are in your ambitions for travel, seek planning your adventure around June through early November.
A note for planning, the months of July through September are generally the busiest. While Zermatt is generally always quite busy, traveling outside of these months may alleviate some of the crowds.
Where to stay in Zermatt?
My answer for this more and more has been turning towards AirBnB stays. This is what I did while I was in Zermatt, and it worked out quite well. If there isn't anything appealing, there is plenty of choices as far as hotels go and there are also hostels.
My biggest recommendation would be to book well in advance to ensure you have a place to stay. Since it is frequently so busy here, finding a place to stay can be a bit competitive.
I would recommend staying in the Zermatt area as getting to and from takes some time and commitment. Ideally, 2-3 days would be the minimum I would recommend for visiting here and being able to grasp the many things to do in this area. I spent two days in Zermatt and still felt like more was necessary to explore.
Last thoughts on The Matterhorn and Zermatt, Switzerland
No matter what time of year you decide to visit this lovely Swiss chalet filled city, you will be able to find something to do. Whether your looking to hike some great trails and witness breathtaking scenery, or hit the steep mountain slopes of Switzerland to ski/snowboard, you'll be covered while in Zermatt. Obviously, plan the time of year you arrive in Zermatt around what you would prefer to do most.
I really enjoyed the fall season in this wonderful city, and would gladly go back during that time of year. The weather was absolutely perfect for hiking. Though, a major storm did roll through that region about two days after I departed from Zermatt, and I think there was quite a bit of rain! Prepare for unfavorable weather, as I recommend with most destinations I have been to!
Prior to arrival, please prepare yourself mentally for the expenses of everything in Switzerland. It ain't cheap!
Give yourself plenty of time to arrive into Zermatt, and to leave to whatever your next destination may be. While the Glacier Express is pretty efficient and runs often, it can stall your travels a little bit if you miss the train by a few moments. Please use the following link for learning more about the Glacier Express and what you need to know before your arrival.
Zermatt is high on my list of most recommended and beautiful cities to visit in this wonderful world full of adventures. I really enjoyed the few days I spent here exploring and hiking. The only thing I wish I would have tried is checking out the nightlife in Zermatt, it looked like a fun nightlife scene was to be had.
If you have more questions on Zermatt and The Matterhorn, contact me. Below are some additional photos I had taken during the journey to Zermatt.