Zermatt and its Matterhorn Ski Paradise is Switzerland’s most famous ski resort, and justifiably so. Zermatt is home to the highest ski resort in Europe, has 360 kilometers of pistes linked across two countries, offers year-round skiing and the world’s most photogenic mountain towers above it all. Between outstanding alpine scenery, a magnetic atmosphere and old world charm, Zermatt is undisputedly the jewel in Switzerland’s crown. Make the most of your holiday in one of the world’s best ski resorts with our 3-day Zermatt itinerary.
Zermatt is a car-free village and the only way to arrive is via the train, so part of your first day in Zermatt is the journey through the mountains just getting there. Horse drawn carriages and little electric taxis are awaiting to whisk the new arrivals and luggage off to their hotels.
The village of Zermatt is an idyllic place to wander around and even though you’ve come for the world-class skiing, there will be time for that later. Skiing is always best in the morning when the pistes are freshly groomed, so take advantage of your mid-day arrival to first explore the village.
Walking Tour of the Village of Zermatt
The village of Zermatt is nestled in a deep valley and surrounded by some of Switzerland’s highest mountains. The tall pyramid-shaped Matterhorn stands silent watch over the village below, made famous after seven British climbers first ascended the deadly mountain in 1865.
Just 40 years ago, transport in Zermatt was almost exclusively by horse drawn carriages. And there are plenty of horse carriages waiting to take visitors around the village. Or stretch your legs after the journey for a walk around.
The main street, simply known as Main Street, is a great place to begin your tour of Zermatt. It runs through the village and is lined with restaurants, bakeries and shops to pop in and out of.
Be sure to visit the part of the village known as the Old Town. Here you’ll find old farm buildings built of logs called Gädini, the oldest surviving village center. Some of the buildings are over 300 years old.
Their sun-beaten wooden walls are made of larch wood and stand on stilts with round stone slabs on top to prevent rodents and insects from entering. The roofs of these typically Valais-style buildings are covered with shingles made of flat stone slabs.
People would live on the top level and their sheep, pigs and cows lived in the barn beneath the house. The heat from the livestock would rise, making the top level a nice, cozy home.
Sadly, many of the Gädini fell into decline around the 1960s and their cultural heritage and value was not realized until many years later. Restoration projects have seen the outsides of the Gädini preserved in the traditional style and the insides have been modernized and converted into chic pubs and even holiday apartment rentals.
Stroll by Zermatt’s oldest hotel, the church, and the fountain dedicated to Ulrich Inderbinen, a famous Swiss mountain guide who had ascended the Matterhorn over 370 times and made his last ascent when he was 90.
The Matterhorn Museum is a sunken underground world in the heart of Zermatt that instantly transports you back to the small agricultural village that was forever changed by the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865.
The Matterhorn was relatively unknown until the 1800s and was the last of the Alpine mountains to be ascended. But the rush of mountaineers to Switzerland’s most famous mountain would play an important role in developing Zermatt into the world-class mountaineering and ski resort it is today.
The museum is made up of fourteen small houses that include a church, hotel, huts and granaries. As you wander through the reconstructed village, the stories of the history and development of Zermatt unfold before you.
On July 14, 1865 a group of seven English climbers led by Edward Whymper were the first to successfully reach the summit by ascent of the Swiss side. Tragically upon the descent, four of the climbers: Robert Hadow, Michel Croz, Charles Hudson and Lord Francis Douglas, fell to their deaths on the Matterhorn Glacier. All but Douglas, whose body was never found, are buried in the Zermatt churchyard.
Edward Whymper wrote of the accident:
“As far as I know, at the moment of the accident no one was actually moving. I cannot speak with certainty, neither can the Taugwalders, because the two leading men were partially hidden from our sight by an intervening mass of rock. Poor Croz had laid aside his axe, and in order to give Mr. Hadow greater security was absolutely taking hold of his legs and putting his feet, one by one, into their proper positions. From the movements of their shoulders it is my belief that Croz, having done as I have said, was in the act of turning round to go down a step or two himself; at this moment Mr. Hadow slipped, fell on him, and knocked him over.”
The weight of the falling men dragged Hudson and Douglas down the face of the mountain. Whymper and the father and son Taugwalders were spared when the rope linking Douglas and the elder Taugwalder severed. You’ll gaze upon that very rope in the Matterhorn Museum…
Just three days after Whymper’s ascent, the Matterhorn was ascended from the Italian side via an indirect route by Jean-Antoine Carrel and Jean-Baptiste Bich on July 17, 1865.
As news of that tragic first ascent made its way round the world, mountaineers from far and wide rushed to the village to test their skills on one the of deadliest peaks in the Alps. The museum continues to tell the story of the evolution of mountaineering on the Matterhorn with relics from the earliest climbs on display.
The Matterhorn Museum is open differing times depending on the season. Check the opening times here.
It’s no secret that Zermatt is known as a world-class skiing destination, but did you know it also has a long history of curling? Curling actually traces its roots back to Scotland in the 1500s and in the 1920s, Scotsman had to pack those stones in their luggage and haul them all the way to Zermatt to be sure not to miss out on curling fun.
Since then, Zermatt has been the place for curling. Perhaps it’s because of the allure of the stunning setting with the Matterhorn standing watch over the village’s two curling rinks. The Curling Club Zermatt is the most successful curling club in Switzerland, and world-class curlers train on the ice in Zermatt. The Horu-Trophy, one of the largest and best open air curling tournaments in Europe, also takes place here with around 60 teams competing in it.
Basically two teams of four players each slide polished granite stones weighing between 38 – 44 pounds each across the curling sheet toward a target, called a house. Points are scored for the stones resting closest to the center of the house.
Two sweepers run along the ice and use their brooms to feverishly polish the ice so that the stone gains speed and slides further. The stone must touch at least the outer ring of the target in order to score any points. The players wear a special shoe, called a Teflon Slider shoe, on only one foot to help glide down the ice when delivering the stone.
A typical game lasts about 2 hours and is definitely a social sport.
There’s a tent selling glühwein, beer, sausages and ironically, aspirin (for the hangover curlers are surely suffering the next day). Grab some sausages and a mug of glühwein, settle in at the picnic tables alongside teams taking a break, and enjoy the action.
Clutching our own steaming mugs of glühwein, we laughed and watched in fascination as 16 games unfolded before us. The players each strategize like they’re playing a game of chess on ice. The team of four would gather, pointing as they determined the best path for their stone to reach the house. One team member would launch the stone and then the sweepers were off, feverishly brushing the ice to keep the stone from “curling.”
If you’re keen to give curling a go, equipment rental is available from several shops in Zermatt such as Bayard Sport and Fashion, Glacier Sport or Julen-sport. You can also book a curling lesson with a guide and all the equipment, which ends with glühwein and a meal of cheese fondue, a traditional Wallis charcuterie plate and Swiss white wine from Wallis.
A Night in Iglu-Dorf
When we arrived in Zermatt, the Matterhorn was already shrouded in clouds. We made our way from the village up the Gornergrat on the highest open-air cogwheel railway in Europe, admiring the stunning views as the sun began to set on the village. We stepped off the train to a white winter wonderland and started the short trek down the hill toward Hotel Riffleberg, where we would meet our guides and others staying the night in the Iglu-Dorf igloo village.
After a briefing and run-down of the night’s events, our group excitedly hiked back up the steep hill and hopped back on the train to whisk us up even higher to 2727 meters (8947 feet). The wind swirled snowflakes around us as our group set off on another short downhill hike to Iglu-Dorf. An electric buzz went through our group as we were all welcomed into the snowy enclave with hot mulled wine and popcorn.
The common room had tables and hot water with a selection of teas was always available to keep hydrated throughout the night. There were also fixing to make a noodle soup to snack on until dinner. The ice bar served a variety of wine and drinks (at an additional charge). The igloo village as two outdoor jacuzzi and everyone got signed up for 30 minute time slots while chatting over snacks and drinks.
Soon a communal dinner of piping hot cheese fondue was served. Tim and I had our fill and our guides invited us to use the jacuzzi early. No way were we turning that offer down! We quickly stripped down and pulled on our bathing suits in the heated changing room. Having forgot to pack flip-flops, I sprinted down the snowy path to hop into the swirling hot water. The jacuzzi was sort of sheltered by a wall of snow, but the wind was picking up and it was an odd sensation to have most of our bodies toasty hot in the bubbling water yet feel an icy blast of tiny snow crystals on our backs and necks. We’d laugh as we both sort of cringed at unwelcome momentary blast of cold.
Soon it was time for bed and we stripped down to just one layer of long underwear and climbed into our -40F expedition sleeping bag for two. It’s recommended to sleep with a hat on since your head is partially exposed, but I was actually pretty toasty and just pulled the hood of the sleep bag up around my head.
Tip: Place your clothes for the next day inside your sleeping bag with you and they’ll be nice and warm for the morning.
Unfortunately, all that tea to stay hydrated had done its job and I had to race across the windy courtyard of the igloo village to the bathroom 3 times throughout the night. The wind was really blowing snow drifts around each time I got up, but Tim got lucky and found a calm, cloudless night when he had gone out. With no moon, it was too dark to spot the Matterhorn though.
Our wake-up call came with a serving of hot tea in bed and notice we’d be meeting to head back down to Hotel Riffleberg in 15 minutes. Unfortunately, it was still very cloudy so a view of the Matterhorn wasn’t in the cards. After a 20 minute hike downhill to the hotel, a hot breakfast spread of eggs, bacon, sausages, fruit, cheese, and bread awaited us. What a delicious way to end a chilly adventure at Iglu Dorf!
With more than 360 kilometers of marked slopes in the Matterhorn Ski Paradise, today’s the day to hit the slopes.
Where to Stay in Zermatt
After our night in the igloo village, the Sunstar Style Hotel Zermatt was a lovely (and warm) place to call home. We loved that the rooms all have balconies overlooking the village.
The hotel also has a health center with indoor pool, jacuzzi, steam bath and sauna. A 4-course dinner is included with the half board option and the menu changes nightly. A lavish breakfast buffet is served in the restaurant each morning.
Know Before You Go
Zermatt can also be reached by air; fly to either Geneva or Zurich airports and then take the train.
- Be sure to wear warm water-proof layers suitable for winter activities like you would wear skiing. We were comfortable with our thermal underwear and ski pants and parka. Bring gloves and a hat. Wear good winter boots.
- Bring a bathing suit and a towel for the jacuzzi. Bring flip flops if you don’t want to sprint barefoot across the snow.
- Bring a headlamp.
- Prices start at 159 CHF (around $170) per person for a standard shared igloo. The railway lift ticket to Rotenbolden is not included.
Our trip to Zermatt was in partnership with Zermatt Tourimus in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own. This article contains affiliate links. When you shop on Amazon or book on Viator through our affiliate sites, we earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.