Things to do in winter in Zermatt:
When in Zermatt you actually feel immersed in all that is Switzerland. Zermatt is a well-kept Alpine village surrounded by majestic mountains with warm, traditional Swiss chalets abound. Narrow, windy roads are easily walkable throughout this relaxed and comfortable community. My experience was in winter (February), and I found Zermatt to be appealing for both outdoor adventurists and for those who would like more of a relaxing/sightseeing trip.
For places to stay check out VRBO, Hotels.com, Booking.com, or Travelocity.com. Budget travelers – check out Hotel Adonis. Perfect location and so much more (additional info below).
I have observed that, unlike in the United States, people at Zermatt will utilize the ski lifts (gondolas and trains) to go up to the summits (Gornergrat or Matterhorn Glacier Paradise) to take in the views, eat in the restaurants or shop and then take the gondola back down the mountain. There are not only skiers and hikers on the gondolas.
How to Get to Zermatt
The Swiss make it super easy to travel within their beautiful, picturesque country. Fly into Zürich and just hop on the train at the airport – easily follow the signs both in Swiss-German and in English. Purchase a ticket at the kiosk (near the train) or use an app on your mobile device for the ~3.5 hour trip to get to Zermatt. The SBB mobile app is my app of choice in Switzerland as it gives the platform (track) number of the train. There will be at least one change of trains going to Zermatt and, on many occasions, there are only 5-6 minutes to change trains, so knowing the platform number in advance is helpful. Purchase a ticket as either a full day pass (no times are on it) or for the exact time of the train you’d like to get on which is a little less expensive. No need to validate the ticket at the station – the conductor will check the ticket on the train. Also it is best to purchase tickets ahead of time as the closer it gets to the date of travel the more expensive the ticket seems to get.
Tip: The luggage cart (trolley) is free at the Zürich airport and can be pushed right down to the train. I have even seen people take the cart onto the train; although, I’m not sure if this is actually allowed.
Snowshoeing, Hiking, Downhill Skiing or Sightseeing in the Mountains in Zermatt
The Gornergrat train is a beautiful cogwheel mountain train that lifts riders up on a 4,900 foot journey (33 minutes) from Zermatt up to the mountain ridge of Gornergrat to begin skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, gazing from the observation points, dining at the restaurant, shopping or checking into the hotel. Beautiful views, at 10,285′, of the Matterhorn and Gorner Glacier await the passengers at the upper station. To get there take the train from Gornergrat train station (everywhere is walkable in Zermatt) which is right across from Zermatt train station to purchase a ticket on the train up the mountain.
Tip: When on the Gornergrat train – sit on right side, and you’ll be treated to magnificent views of the Matterhorn! You will go through a few other brief stops at other stations – wait to disembark at Gornergrat (last) station.
To downhill ski, start your trek right there when you exit the Gornergrat train.
To hike or snowshoe, stay on the left side of the ski slope/”piste” on the same slope as the skiers. If you are snowshoeing, at this point, you can either stay on the edge of the slopes, or you can go through the deeper snow off to the sides of the slopes. There will soon be deeper snow to traipse through – stay patient. After you get to the Rotenboden tiny station, go under the bridge and stay hard left to follow the pink arrow to Riffelberg. This is a hikers’ trail. (Sign is in photo collage above.)
After the bridge, while you’re on the “hiker only” trail, just go off the trail and trudge through the glorious sparkly snow and up and down the hills with a view of the Matterhorn and gorgeous mountains all around you! (Only go off trail if you are wearing snowshoes – the snow is way too deep for hiking boots only.)
To continue snowshoeing follow the pink poles which will take you through the deep snow but within view of the hiking trail. The Riffelberg station comes too soon. Then you must take the train (gorgeous views again) back to Zermatt.
Downhill Skiing in Zermatt
Zermatt is a downhill skiers’ paradise. Miles and miles of groomed ski slopes/”pistes” with options for off-piste skiing. Even the gondolas to get you to the pistes are beautiful and include many interconnections to get skiers from one side of the mountain to the other with the option to even ski to Italy. The map of the ski pistes is available pretty much everywhere in the village.
To start your downhill ski day: walk (there are lots of skiers walking the streets in ski boots) or bus to the Matterhorn Glacier Express enclosed lift/gondola. To reach the summit, at 12,740 feet, will take approximately an hour. At the Furi station change lifts to Schwarszee. At the Schwarszee station change lifts to Trockener Steg to the very top of “Matterhorn Glacier Paradise” (also called: Klein Matterhorn). At the top you’ll find ski slopes (“pistes”) as well as lookout areas, restaurants, shops and amazing views of the Alps including those in Italy and France! This is where the large wooden cross is located. Then start skiing down while utilizing the map to get to a variety of pistes as well as aprés ski locations! (Alternatively, the gondola also goes back down for those who do not wish to ski.)
Nordic/Cross Country Skiing near Zermatt
Although there are no Nordic ski trails/tracks right in Zermatt, the Swiss make it so easy to hop on the train (12 minutes) to Täsch and rent Nordic skis right in the Täsch train station. The grooved cross country ski tracks, for “classic” Nordic skiing, are right outside the door of the station with pretty views of the surrounding mountains and the Matterhorn in the distance. The soundtrack to the cross country ski experience is the babbling river near the train tracks. The area is mostly flat, so it’s suitable for beginner Nordic classic skiers. There are also trails alongside the tracks for skate skiers.
To get there from the Zermatt train station take the “Zermatt Shuttle” train to Täsch. It’s the train on the far left track. You can buy a ticket at the kiosk or at the manned booth. Again, it’s just one quick 12 minute station away. The ski rental store is located within the train station with reasonable rates for boots, skis and poles. There are lockers (2 CHF) within the station if you need to store your stuff.
Hiking from Zermatt to Z’mutt
The scenic ~5 mile round-trip hike to the hamlet of Z’Mutt is well worth every step. The path wanders through forests and meadows with Swiss huts sprinkled in while majestic mountains surround you. The Matterhorn grows larger in your view as you hike closer to the hamlet of Z’Mutt. Bonus: When reaching Z’Mutt you are transported back in time into a quiet, tiny village with sturdy huts huddled close together and a central church. The adorable mountain restaurant/cafe at Z’Mutt has rave reviews; however, it’s closed one day – Monday (the day that I went). 🙁 Even so, their patio was a fabulous place to sit and soak in the views.
Begin your hike from Schwarzsee cable car station in Zermatt. Walk directly across the street from the station and take the set of stairs going down to cross the pedestrian bridge over the river. (It took me 10 minutes to find the stairs, but they are right there – in plain sight!) Once you are at the road, turn left then stay to the right side of the median through the bus stop lot. The path will soon turn into a hiking path with a gradual ascent all the way up to Z’Mutt. There is one Y with a pink signage (photo above) – just stay to the right. I took this same trail back. An alternative route is to take the road.
Budget Accommodations in Zermatt
Hotel Adonis is where I stayed on my Zermatt adventure. Although it is a budget hotel, it is in a perfect location to both the main strip and ski lifts (walkable in ski boots to Schwarzsee cable car station), super clean, full of amenities with beautiful Swiss architecture. I can’t say enough good things about it. The lobby area included a reasonably priced and well-stocked bar with tables, chairs, and couches to hang out in. There is a ski room downstairs with a separate entrance to store skis and hang boots on a heater overnight. A delicious buffet breakfast was served every morning (pay for it when booking hotel – it’s less than paying each day). There is also a microwave, tea kettle and tableware available if you’d like to eat in your room.
Transportation in Zermatt:
Zermatt is car free but has many electric taxis to cart you from the train station to the hotel (if you packed heavy items like skis) or if you’d just like a ride. Although most of the town is pretty much accessible by foot. There are also a few electric buses. A note of caution – the electric taxis seem to have the right of way. It is shocking how fast they zip no matter who is on the side of the narrow streets – kids, families with strollers, no exceptions. When you hear that electric buzz – seriously get out of the road.
Eating in Zermatt:
If you are a budget traveler then you can most likely get away with breakfast at the hotel, an appetizer during your après ski time, and dinner. If you love pizza then the North Wall Bar Pizza is exceptional. They’re tossing the dough right there in the seating area which stirs the appetite and the taste is worth the short wait. The raclette (a yummy native Swiss dish consisting of gooey cheese and such (photo on right in block above) was delicious at Weisshorn Restaurant. Hotel Adonis’s sister hotel, Hotel Jägerhof, offers a ton of food for reasonable prices.
Traveling from Zermatt to Zürich
If traveling back to Zürich for the flight out the next day, staying at the Holiday Inn Express near the Zürich airport is your best bet. The hotel rate is extremely reasonable, it’s exceptionally clean with a restaurant and bar, and there’s a frequent and free shuttle from the airport. It’s also just a 10 minute walk to the Rümlang train station for an afternoon trip into downtown Zürich.
An afternoon in Downtown Zürich, Switzerland:
From Rümlang station take the train to Zürich HB station and head in the direction of the water (Limmat River). Cross the river and head south toward Zürich old town where there’s culture and history as well as restaurants and shops right along the river’s edge and up through the alleyways. That area of Zürich has a very safe feel, even on weeknights in the dead of winter, there were a lot of people out dining and enjoying the night.
An afternoon in Bern, Switzerland:
A different option is to stop in the historic and beautiful city of Bern on your way back to Zürich. The train will pass through this city – just get off. There are lockers at the train station to store your luggage for a small fee. I hadn’t planned this stop, so I just got off the train and started walking. The city had a lovely, warm feel to it. I passed the Medieval Clock Tower, cruised over to the Bear Pit, strolled along the river and filled up my water bottle in the fountains lining the street.