“It’s tough to find a place not to like in Switzerland.” ~ Michele Bachmann.
With the cold winter air biting my face as I jumped into the cable car, I couldn’t help but gasp as the Matterhorn’s peak gradually rose into view from behind the snowy mountain slopes. My goodness, this Zermatt day trip was already going to supersede my previous one!
While I had visited Zermatt in one day from Bern some years prior, I hadn’t used the Peak2Peak Pass. This time, I couldn’t wait to use it on the network of cable cars combined with the Gornergrat railway to take in the majestic views of Switzerland’s pyramid-shaped icon.
But when planning a Switzerland itinerary, how can you ensure your Zermatt visit will have the optimum conditions to witness the beauty of the Matterhorn? Don’t worry, I’m about to let you know how to increase your chances of seeing the country’s most iconic mountain peak in all her glory, especially if you’re not planning to ski.
If you wish to spend one day in Zermatt and want to explore a literal Glacier Paradise, dine on one of the area’s highest peaks and enjoy scenic rail journeys, this Zermatt itinerary shares how to make the most of a Peak2Pass & more tips for the perfect visit. Read on for more!
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Is Zermatt worth visiting?
When planning a trip to Switzerland, you may be wondering “is it worth visiting Zermatt?” Tucked away in the south-west corner of the country and bordering neighbouring France and Italy, Zermatt may seem a little out of the way for a day trip.
In saying that, locking in one night’s accommodation months in advance is risky, as the date you choose may see the beloved Matterhorn beneath her cloudy blanket. Dang!
TIP: The trick is to base yourself elsewhere for a few days (which is why I highly recommend spending one day in Bern and using it as a base for day trips – more on this below) and decide on your day trip to Zermatt based on the best weather forecast once you’re there.
As mentioned earlier, I’ve undertaken this Zermatt day trip twice now and think it’s absolutely worth it. The journey to get there doesn’t have to be as lengthy as you think, either!
How to get to Zermatt
Zermatt is easily accessible from major Swiss cities via SBB Rail. Here are the one-way times to get to Zermatt by train:
- Bern to Zermatt day trip: 2 hours 15mins
- Lucerne to Zermatt day trip: 3 hours 15mins
- Zurich to Zermatt day trip: 3 hours 15mins
- Geneva to Zermatt day trip: 3 hours 30mins
As you can see, staying in Bern over other cities shaves an hour off travel time each way. To me, this is the best way to get to Zermatt. Less travel time means more time exploring, which is crucial when you only have one day in Zermatt!
Purchasing transport tickets for your Zermatt day trip
When creating an itinerary for Zermatt, the journey is the destination! A combination of scenic rail and cable cars will immerse you in gorgeous natural scenery at every turn.
To make the early start as hassle-free as possible, I recommend purchasing all the tickets you need at least a day or two in advance. It can be confusing, so let’s take a look at each — The Swiss Half Fare Card or Swiss Travel Pass, SBB & Matterhorn Gotthardbahn tickets & the Peak2Peak Pass.
Swiss Half Fare Card or Swiss Travel Pass
During my two more recent trips to Switzerland, I’ve made calculations on the tickets for my planned journeys with both cards. The Swiss Half Fare Card has always worked out to be better value for me personally.
TIP: If you’re following my itinerary for one week Switzerland, the Swiss Half Fare Card will work out as the cheaper option for you.
NOTE: Always travel with your Swiss Half Fare Cards, train tickets and passport/s on you, as they will be thoroughly checked by ticket officers after boarding the trains.
TIP: When purchasing other tickets in advance in conjunction with your Swiss Half Fare Card (SHFC), make sure to check the “Adult STP/SHFC” to receive half price off the ticket price.
TIP: When travelling as a family, the Swiss Half Fare Card can be converted into a Swiss Family Pass free of charge. This covers transport for one child under 16 for free per accompanying adult, which can save a lot of money on transport!
SBB & Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn tickets
If staying in Bern as I did, purchase your return rail tickets to Zermatt either in person at the SBB office within the train station a day or so before (the waiting time can be lengthy), or purchase from the ticket vending machines at the station.
This will cover two separate trains from Bern to Zermatt, more details down the page.
TIP: Matterhorn Gotthard bahn is not to be confused with the Gornergrat bahn: The former will take you to Zermatt town; the latter to the Gornergrat observation summit in Zermatt.
So, how to see the Matterhorn? Nestled amongst 38 mountain peaks over 4,000 metres high, the two main attractions in Zermatt are Matterhorn Glacier Paradise (more below) and the Gornergrat Observation Platform. Each provides breathtaking, panoramic views of the Matterhorn and surrounding mountain peaks.
The Peak2Peak Pass covers all the transport you’ll need in Zermatt to see these attractions if you’re a non-skier. They can be bought online in advance or in person in Zermatt at the Gornergrat bahn ticket office, directly opposite the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn station you’ll arrive at.
These tickets cannot be purchased at SBB offices or ticket machines, and are not covered by the Swiss Travel Pass or Swiss Half Fare Card.
The Peak2Peak Pass covers everything in one ticket:
- Unlimited travel on Zermatt’s cable car network (Zermatt > Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, Zermatt > Rothorn, Zermatt > Gornergrat and Furi > Riffelberg)
- Entry into Matterhorn Glacier Paradise
- Unlimited travel on the Gornergrat bahn cogwheel train (between Randa, Täsch and Zermatt stations)
- Entry to the Gornergrat Observation Deck.
Amazing Things to do in Zermatt: Day Trip Itinerary for Non-Skiers
Wondering what to see in Zermatt in one day? I’m combining the best things to see in Zermatt from my two visits into this itinerary. For my second visit, I used the Peak2Peak Pass mentioned above, which made the day so much more memorable.
Let’s dive into the things to do in Zermatt for non skiers! The map below covers where we’ll be heading today, starting at 1 and finishing with 6:
Start the day with a scenic train to Zermatt
From Bern Hauptbahnhof, take a regular SBB train in Brig direction, and change at Visp station to the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn. It’s red and branded with a little Matterhorn icon on the side.
TIP: Download the SBB phone app for accurate timetables and platform numbers. This journey will take around 2 hours. With huge windows for optimal sightseeing, you’ll pass by rolling hills, lakeside houses, gushing rivers and steep cliff sides. Believe me when I say the two hours absolutely flies by!
This scenic train will terminate at Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn station, in the heart of Zermatt town.
Wander through Zermatt town
With quintessential dark wooden ski chalets clinging to the mountainsides, it’s obvious Zermatt is a haven for skiers. Even for non-skiers, it’s so gorgeous to wander around and take in the sights!
Its turquoise roof an unmissable sight, the Matterhorn Museum showcases artefacts from local climbing expeditions from as early as 3,000 BC. Entry is free with the Swiss Travel Pass or CHF 5.00 with the Half Fare Card.
Wander through the narrow streets and pick up some gifts to commemorate your visit such as small cowbells, Swiss Army knives, textiles, decor and jewellery, before taking in the views from a casual stroll along Hoffmatstrasse.
TIP: Don’t forget your sunglasses. It’s so glary in Zermatt and sunnies aren’t exactly cheap here!
TIP: I say to purchase any souvenirs first, as you may run out of time towards the end of the day.
Board the Zermatt Matterhorn Express cable car
And now we’ll begin to make our way to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise with our first cable car ride! Zermatt Matterhorn Express cable car station is a flat 15 mins walk through Zermatt town in a south-west direction beside a river.
TIP: Stop on Kirchbrücke bridge for a photo or two of the Matterhorn peering above the rooftops.
Follow the clear signs to “Furi, Schwarzee, Matterhorn Glacier Paradise” before swiping your Peak2Peak Pass through the turnstiles to board the Matterhorn Express cable car. Immediately the views are incredible!
Coming from my island country of Australia, I had to laugh at a sign that pointed to Italy. In my cable car that fit about 8 of us, I got talking to some Zermatt locals and they mentioned they would be casually skiing to Italy that day. Sigh, Italy is a 24-hour trip from my house!
The next cable car stop is Furi. No need to hop off here, just remain seated until the following cable car station called Trockener Steg.
Travel time: The Zermatt to Furi leg takes around 30 minutes.
Switch at Trockener Steg to the Glacier Express cable car
After passing through Furi cable car station and up a very steep incline to Trockener Steg, you’ll need to switch over to a larger cable car to reach Matterhorn Glacier Paradise (Klein Matterhorn).
The Glacier Express cable cars each fit around 20 or so people, and the skiers can be a little pushy getting on so go with the flow. At almost 3,000 metres up here, you’re sure to feel the cold!
TIP: These seats are heated and sometimes wet from snow shedded by skiers, so watch out before sitting if possible.
I thought it was so interesting to see a different angle of the Matterhorn on this leg, it looked more like a sharp triangle. It felt like I could almost reach out and touch it at times, it appeared so close!
Travel time: The Trockener Steg to Klein Matterhorn leg takes around 15 minutes.
Explore at Matterhorn Glacier Paradise (Klein Matterhorn)
And we’ve made it to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise – also known as Klein Matterhorn – 3,883 metres up! I must say during winter in Zermatt, the thin air does bite HARD up there, so be sure to bring appropriate clothes (I’m talking sub zero temperatures).
Head to the outdoor viewing platform, with 360-degree views over the nearby mountain peaks and region below. It can get pretty windy here so be prepared for that.
Next, head into a lift to reach the impressive ice tunnel at the Glacier Palace. Carved by hand and featuring all kinds of different ice sculptures, it really shouldn’t be missed.
TIP: The oxygen level is low in the tunnel, and I noticed some people beginning to be short of breath on the slight incline heading back out. Do take your time, inhale deeply, and take rests if needed.
Enjoy lunch at the highest mountain restaurant in Europe
By this time, I was feeling a bit of altitude sickness in the form of lightheadedness; the kind you’d feel after a few drinks. Definitely time to have some lunch and refuel, and what better place than the only option available, En Güete.
Try some Swiss specialties such as rösti (my favourite!) or international options, made fresh on the spot to order. Soups, fish and chips, burgers, pizza, pasta or steak with vegetables. There is also a huge range of drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic available.
TIP: No outside food is allowed to be eaten in the restaurant. Splurge here and enjoy the views, but you’ll feel better if you don’t look at the prices (*cries in weak AUD*).
TIP: Unlike most places in Switzerland, the toilets here require 2.00 CHF to enter through the turnstiles.
Head back down to Furi to take the Riffelberg Express
After you’ve recharged at the restaurant, it’s time to take the cable car back down the mountain to the start of the Gornergrat railway (Gornergratbahn) scenic cog train.
From Matterhorn Glacier Paradise (Klein Matterhorn), take the large Glacier Express Cable car back down through Trockener Steg. Hop off and switch to the smaller Matterhorn Express cable car and ride it to Furi cable car station.
Travel time: The Klein Matterhorn to Furi leg will take around 30 minutes.
From Furi, you’ll need to take a new cable car, the Riffelberg Express, to Riffelberg cable car station (2582m). These cable cars are also small and fit about 8 people in each.
Travel time: The Furi to Riffelberg leg takes around 10 minutes.
Catch Gornergratbahn to Gornergrat Observatory
At over 120 years old and officially one of the most scenic train rides in Switzerland, the journey to the Gornergrat Observatory on the Gornergrat bahn will cause your jaw to involuntarily drop at the beauty surrounding you.
The Gornergrat bahn is one of my favourite highlights from my trips to Switzerland during winter, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!
Once at Riffelberg cable car station, follow the red signs up the stairs to the Gornergrat bahn train. You’ll need to tap your Peak2Peak Pass at the turnstiles to board the Gornergrat bahn. During off-peak periods the seats are not reserved, so you can sit anywhere you like.
TIP: If possible, sit on the right side going up to the Gornergrat observatory for the Matterhorn.
Travel time: The Riffelberg to Gornergrat Observatory leg takes about 15 minutes.
Marvel at incredible views from the Gornergrat observatory
At 3,089 metres (10,132 ft), you’ve made it! Offering 360 degree views over the entire region and of the Matterhorn, the Gornergrat is a must-see for your Zermatt itinerary.
Featuring restaurants, shops, a sun terrace, panoramic viewing platform and even a dining experience under the stars during the winter, the views year-round are simply breathtaking.
Switzerland’s highest hotel can be found here, the 3100 Kulmhotel Gornergrat (you can find out what it’s like to stay on a mountain summit hotel in my Lucerne itinerary). The Gornergrat is also the starting point for several Zermatt in summer hikes.
TIP: Again, no outside food or drinks can be consumed inside the cafes or restaurants here.
Zooom the Matterhorn (with three O’s) is an interactive exhibition showcasing a 3D cinema and periscopes to zooom in on the mountain peaks, stay a while and enjoy the incredible views! Note this activity is not covered by the Peak2Peak pass.
Take the scenic train route back down to Zermatt
Once you’re ready to leave the Gornergrat, take the Gornergrat bahn back down to Zermatt. Traversing winding tracks through alpine scenery, enjoy beautiful views of ski fields, snow-capped chalets, mountain peaks and more from the oversized carriage windows.
TIP: If possible, sit on the left side going down to see the Matterhorn.
Travel time: Gornergrat train to Zermatt town leg takes about 30 minutes.
If you’re heading back to Bern, take the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn from Zermatt to Spiez, and change to a regular SBB train to Bern Hauoptbahnhof.
Alternative route for the Peak2Peak Pass
The Peak2Peak journey can be done in reverse, starting with the Gornergrat bahn from Zermatt all the way up to the Gornergrat Observatory, then using the cable cars to get to and from Matterhorn Glacier Paradise.
You can plan your day around the weather forecast and decide whether you’d prefer to visit the Gornergrat Observatory first, or Matterhorn Glacier Paradise.
Note that mornings are usually clearer, and clouds can cover the Matterhorn in the afternoons (as seen in my photos above). However, take into account the operating hours of the transport because the Gornergrat bahn runs later than the cable cars.
The operating hours are determined by sunrise and sunset in each season, so it’s important to check the timetables beforehand to plan so you don’t get caught out.
- Gornergrat bahn: Operates between 7:00 – 19:15 (check the timetable for your season here)
- Cable cars: Begin from 8:30, with last descents ranging between 16:30 and 17:30 (check the timetable for your season here).
NOTE: To beat crowds, it’s best to start travel before 9:00 or after 12:00 in Zermatt.
TIP: As the cable cars close earlier than the train, I do recommend doing your Zermatt day trip in the order I’ve shared in this itinerary, however of course it is up to you.
Concluding this one day Zermatt itinerary
That’s a wrap for your Zermatt day trip itinerary! Now you know the differences between all the transport passes and which ones you’ll need for this exciting day out (a reminder it’s SBB tickets + Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn Ticket + a Peak2Peak Pass or its separate counterparts).
You also know the travel times for each of the journey legs on the cable car networks and Gornergratbahn to help you plan your day, where to go hiking and what to expect at Matterhorn Glacier Paradise (Klein Matterhorn) and the Gornergrat observatory. Don’t forget what to pack for a Zermatt winter, too!
I hope you’ve found my tips helpful and you’ll use them when planning your Zermatt one day itinerary. Which part are you most looking forward to? I’d love to hear your thoughts or questions in the comments below.
While you’re here, don’t forget to take a look at my Switzerland travel blog for more travel tips and advice, my day trip itineraries for how to spend one day in Geneva, one day in Zurich, two days in Lucerne (including visiting Mt Pilatus’ summit) and more to come!
Until next time,
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