The mountain town of Zermatt is located in the Valais (German: Wallis) region/canton of Switzerland. The region is located in the southwest corner of Switzerland and shares borders with France and Italy.
The region is split in half with French being the primary language in the west and German in the east (where Zermatt is located). English is widely spoken and signage, menus, train announcements, and everything else you can think of were in all three languages.
Zermatt resides on the Swiss-Italian border and sits in a valley at an elevation of 5,250 ft / 1,600 m. It’s surrounded by steep mountainsides.
Due to the steep and rugged terrain, there are only two modes of transportation to get to the town itself: train or helicopter.
We flew into Geneva (more popular it seems is to fly into Zurich), hopped on a train at the airport that took us to Visp, and then we switched to another train that took us to Zermatt. It took just over four hours from the moment the train left the airport to when we arrived at our hotel in Zermatt. More details on our journey are here.
Zermatt markets itself as a “car-free” town which is slightly misleading so let’s talk about that for a minute.
While it is true that Zermatt is “car-free,” it is not “vehicle-free.” There are motorized modes of transportation that zip around Zermatt.
Zermatt’s permitted vehicles are for commercial use only and they must be electric. I’ve categorized Zermatt’s vehicles as (1) buses, (2) taxis and hotel-owned vehicles, and (3) delivery vehicles.
Note: Ambulances and police vehicles were present and it appeared that those vehicles were either hybrid or petrol/diesel-powered.
Buses in Zermatt look like regular city buses but petite buses.
Taxis, hotel-owned vehicles, and delivery vehicles are what I’m going to refer to as “Swiss tuk-tuks,” of which, there are two models.
The first is an enclosed model and this model is primarily used by taxis and hotels to transport people.
The second model has the same boxy shape as the enclosed model but only the driver’s cab is enclosed. The back of the vehicle is open, like a conventional truck bed. This model is used by delivery companies.
That’s it. There are no civilian cars, scooters, motorbikes, golf carts, conventional delivery vans/trucks, or anything else you can think of.
I spent our snow day exploring Zermatt and that’s when I stumbled upon the “old town.” It wasn’t the best weather day but it was the best way to spend a day when 98% of the lifts and runs were closed.
Now, I don’t think this area of Zermatt is officially called “old town” but it is an area in the town that is most definitely older than the rest of the town, making it an old town. It’s located on Hinterdorfstrasse, near Harry’s Bar. You can’t miss it.
The old town is comprised of about a dozen wooden structures and as I looked around, I couldn’t help but think how miraculous it was that some of the structures were still standing.
Some of the structures have been renovated into rental accommodations or pubs/restaurants while others have been left as-is. There were plaques on some of the structures explaining the structure’s history. One structure was once home to live pigs and another was used to store cured/processed meats. Ironically, these two structures were next to each other, perhaps for convenience’s sake?
Zermatt is a picturesque town.
There are quintessential chalets everywhere you look and at the northern end of Zermatt is the Matterhorn viewpoint.
It took us 15 minutes to walk from the Zermatt-Sunnegga funicular entrance to the viewpoint and it was no joke. We were completely out of breath by the time we reached the viewpoint but the view was worth it.
Zermatt was bigger than I anticipated and because it resides in a valley, it’s long and narrow. It’s a walkable town but it did seem to take longer than I expected to walk everywhere. As an example, the walk from the Zermatt-Sunnegga funicular to the Zermatt-Furi gondola takes 15 minutes in non-ski gear.
The main shopping street is Bahnhofstrasse (English: Train Station Street). This street runs the length of the city centre from the train stations in the north to St. Mauritius parish in the south.
Bahnhofstrasse and the narrow alleys surrounding it are filled with shops, bakeries, restaurants, and bars. You’ll find everything you need on this street and more.
Protip: Most shops and restaurants in Zermatt close for a few hours in the afternoon for “ski siesta.”
Migros and Coop are the two big supermarkets in the city centre. Both are open seven days a week and have long hours on Sundays (bonus!).
There are two train stations in Zermatt and they are located across the street from one another.
The Zermatt station is the terminus for trains coming from Visp (including stops along the way like Tasch). This is the station you will arrive at when you get to Zermatt. Cargo trains also terminate at this station so it is a hive of activity all day long.
The Zermatt GBB station is the Gornergrat station. This is the cog train that takes passengers from the city centre to the Gornergrat mountain peak. There are several stops along the route and passengers can hop on/off as they wish.
Ski Paradise access
To keep things simple for this post, I’ve divided the Ski Paradise into four sections. Sections 1-3 are in Switzerland and section 4 is in Italy (Breuil-Cervinia and Valtournenche).
The Matterhorn resides on the Swiss side of the Swiss-Italian border. It’s the dark spot on the line that divides sections 3 and 4 on the map below.
I’ve written about these sections and how they are connected here but in summary, sections 1-3 are directly accessible from Zermatt as outlined below.
|Section||Piste name||Direct access from Zermatt via|
|2||Gornergrat||a) Gornergrat cog train|
b) Zermatt-Furi gondola and chairlift
|3||Matterhorn Glacier Paradise-Schwarzsee||Zermatt-Furi gondola and chairlift|
|No direct access from Zermatt; ski access only|
Eat and drink recommendations
Finally, a few dining recommendations for Zermatt, as well as, on piste.
Fun fact: Switzerland is a wine-producing country, albeit a small producer, with different wine regions and a variety of grapes. Per our wine bar server, over 90 percent of the wine produced is consumed within the country and most of their exports go to Japan of all places.
One important thing to mention when it comes to dining is that restaurants typically do two dinner seatings. The seatings are usually at 6:15pm and 8:30pm and there is limited seating so it is recommended to make a reservation.
|Business name||Why we visited||Notes|
|Weinzeit||Pre-dinner drinks||Quiet wine bar (opened Christmas Day 2021) located in the basement of Stockhorn restaurant. On the days we visited, there were 3-4 reds and 3-4 whites available by the glass (offen wein) and ~50 wines available by the bottle. Bottles of wine were arranged on shelves with handwritten prices.|
There is no wine menu, however, the staff can steer you in the right direction based on your preferences!
|Hexen Bar||Pre-dinner drinks||There are only six tables and a dozen bar stools in this tiny cocktail bar which means it’s a matter of luck if you can snag a seat.|
Excellent cocktails and attentive service.
|Cervo||Après-ski (on piste)||Cervo is located across from the elevator that transports people off of the mountain and into the Zermatt funicular access tunnel. There are two large decks with views of the Matterhorn as well as indoor seating.|
It’s nearly impossible to resist après ski here so just do it.
|Mamacita||Pre-dinner drinks||Margaritas and live music in the mountains|
|L’Atelier Grandsire||Après-ski||Compact wine bar; reservations recommended|
|Grizzly’s Bar & Bistro||Pre-dinner drinks||Extensive craft beer selection|
|Brown Cow||Lunch||American bar food, beer, and cocktails|
|Adler Hitta||Lunch (on piste)||Reservations for the restaurant are recommended, however, the seats along the railing on the deck are first come, first serve. Arrive pre-11:30am for the best chance at getting a seat along the railing.|
Seating in the bar is first-come, first-serve and it is worth noting that the restaurant menu is not available in the bar. Instead, there is a limited bar menu that changes daily (e.g. pulled pork sandwiches, chili con carne, goulash soup).
Protip: Skip the roasted chicken and go for a big bowl of goulash soup.
|Rothorn Ristorante Pizzeria||Lunch (on piste)||Unparalleled views of the Matterhorn and tasty pizza|
|CasaMia||Dinner||Reservations recommended; excellent pizza|
The restaurant does “Ramen Mondays” in the winter where ONLY ramen is served (choice of pork or veggie). Nothing else on the menu is served on Mondays. That includes appetizers/starters (i.e. gyoza).