Before arriving in Zermatt, I was completely confused and overwhelmed by the marketing materials, not sure what the best excursions would be for our little hikers, aged 3 and 6. But after two trips, we have some clear family favorites, which I recommend as a starting point, details below.
My main advice is to definitely do a hike. While Zermatt village, the mountain transport, and lookout points can be very crowded, only a small percentage of the visitors actually hike. So once you get on the trail, you can easily escape the crowds and have quite a relaxing day. Other than that, just cross your fingers for good weather!
Overview of the Zermatt area
There are three main mountain areas in Zermatt as shown on the map below: Matterhorn Glacier Paradise & Schwarzsee, Gornergrat & Riffelalp, and Rothorn & Sunnegga. Below I give an overview of each area and point out a few activities suited to families.
Gornergrat & Riffelalp
This is the best hiking area for families with views of the Matterhorn. You ride a cogwheel mountain train up to the Gornergrat viewpoint, which gives an excellent view of the Matterhorn and a close-up view of two beautiful glaciers. From here, you can do a short walk to the gorgeous Riffelsee and hike further down the mountain, with the Matterhorn in view almost the whole time. >>> See my detailed post here.
Cost 2017: Adult full-fare return ticket CHF 94.
Rothorn & Sunegga Paradise
This area is the farthest away from the Matterhorn, but you can still see it on a clear day. First you take a steep funicular, mostly in a tunnel up to the middle station at Sunnegga Paradise, which has an adventure playground and picnic area with a view of the Matterhorn. For hiking, ride the Rothorn cable car from here up to Blauherd, where you can do the Flower Trail, Lovely ramble over rocky hills and through flower filled fields ending back at the Sunnegga playground, rewarding the kids for their good hiking. >>> See my detailed post here.
Cost 2017: Adult full-fare hiking ticket CHF 39.
Matterhorn Glacier Paradise & Schwarzsee
The Matterhorn Glacier Paradise is the closest you can get to the Matterhorn with mountain transport and the highest point (3883m), with panoramic views of near and far peaks. We chose not to visit this area on previous visits because it does not have great hiking options for families. This area similar to the Jungfraujoch with a viewing platform, an ice cave (aka Glacier Palace), restaurant and gift shops. This area also offers summer skiing on the glacier. For more info on this area, see the www.matterhornparadise.ch
Cost 2017: Adult full-fare return CHF 100
The Schwarzsee is a lower elevation destination in the same area as the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. It has lots of hiking options, including theme trails like the Matterhorn Glacier Trail, which has 23 info signboards along the trail. We haven’t been to this area yet because our kids weren’t old enough to do these longer, more challenging hikes. See www.matterhornparadise.ch for more info.
Cost 2017: Adult full-fare return CHF 50
Getting to Zermatt
Zermatt is easily accessible by car or public transport from any of Switzerland’s main cities.
By car: Zermatt is a car-free village, so first you drive to Täsch then take a short train ride to Zermatt. In Täsch, park in the large parking lot next to the train station (over 2000 spots). It costs about 16 CHF per day to park there. Buy return train tickets to Zermatt, which cost in 2016 16.40 CHF/adult, 8.20 CHF/child, children under 6 free, SBB Half-fare and Junior cards accepted. The train runs about every 20 minutes. See current prices and train schedule on www.zermatt.ch.
By public transport: Take a train to Visp, then switch to a regional train that continues to Zermatt. From Zurich, this takes about 3hr15. If you leave Zurich at 7:00, you will be in Zermatt at 10:15. Plan about another hour to go up any mountain transport before reaching your viewpoint or hike.
Staying in Zermatt
Many people do Zermatt as a day trip from Zürich, but 3+ hours in a car or train each way seems a little much to me. However, staying in Zermatt can be very expensive as it is a top tourist destination.
If you will spend all your time in the Zermatt area, it’s best to stay right in Zermatt to save on travel time from other nearby villages. I don’t have any recommendations, but my friend Kate at www.mominzurich.com has two recommendations for families: Hotel Schweizerhof & Residence and Best Western Hotel Butterfly.
When we have visited Zermatt, we have done it as part of a week long vacation in the Valais region. So we rented apartments in nearby villages, which was much more affordable than staying in Zermatt. One time we rented an apartment in Grächen, a little car-free village in the same valley as Zermatt. I liked the quiet village but since we did day trips every day, it was a hassle that we had to park our car very far from the apartment and drive about 10 mins down a narrow winding road to reach the main valley road.
Have you been to Zermatt? Did you actually see the Matterhorn? What was your favorite thing to do there?