It began with a cloudy afternoon, months back, spent flipping through European vacation guide books in Barns & Noble…
One particular photo caught our eye: the isolated, striking rocky pyramid rising through the sky that is The Matterhorn. Even just the name is enough to leave you intrigued. The Matterhorn is a classic peak — one perfectly shaped mountain sitting proudly among the Swiss Alps. It reaches 4,478 m (14,692 ft), and does not disappoint.
My boyfriend was the first to say it, but we both then and there decided that we needed to visit that peak. So I began research that day.
The Matterhorn can be found right along the border of Switzerland and Italy, and overlooks the Swiss town of Zermatt, which is where most people who visit the Matterhorn book their stay. This is an absolutely charming mountain town, where everyone seems to wander about eyes-to-the-sky, staring at the Matterhorn looming above them. You won’t find any gasoline cars, just the occasional electric taxi milling around. You will find outdoor enthusiasts, alpine views, and endless quaint hotels & apartments for tourists.
Since there aren’t cars or buses in Zermatt, nearly everyone arrives by train. That’s what my boyfriend and I did for our September visit. We hopped on a train from Milan (it was cheaper to travel from Italy than say Zurich or Geneva). The train ride was magical… we sat in the restaurant car and sipped Swiss craft beers recommended by the cheery bartender, as we passed endless lakes, and mountains began to appear in multitudes. There were easy train transfers in either Visp or Brig. The last stop before Zermatt was Tasch, the gateway to the Matterhorn.
We had an easy walk to our hotel, then got to sleep early before tomorrow’s big day.
Best Ways to View the Matterhorn
There are two popular options for ascending into the Alps to view the Matterhorn up close: the Gornergrat Railway or the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise Cable Car.
The Gornergrat Railway was the world’s first fully electric cog railway in 1898. It travels from a train station in Zermatt up to Gornergrat station at 3,089 m in a half hour. You can throw open the windows as you travel, and watch the Matterhorn from all its angles. There are some stops along the way to visit lakes, hiking trails, and a handful of alpine hotels and restaurants. At the top viewing platform, you can see 29 four thousand meter peaks.
The Matterhorn Glacier Paradise transports visitors to the highest cable car station in Europe. It is a popular destination for skiers, as you can access the Theodul Glacier to ski 365 days a year. There is also a restaurant at the top, and an ice tunnel with ice sculptures. The cable cars offer stops along the way, similar to the railway. You can see 38 peaks over four thousand meters.
Both are pricey, at around $100 roundtrip, per person (This is Switzerland, after all!). A word of advice — buy just a ticket up into the mountains to start with. Once at the top, we ended up hiking part-way down the mountain to a different station. You can then buy another ticket for the rest of the way down, for a lower price than if you had originally bought a roundtrip ticket.
We ultimately chose to take the Gornergrat Railway, over the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. It was a tricky decision, but I don’t think you can go wrong either way!
Riffelsee, an Alpine Lake
Part of the reason I chose it was to see the Matterhorn mirrored in Riffelsee Lake — a short hike (15-20 min) from one of the railway stops. Going as close to sunrise as possible would help you avoid crowds and have perfect weather.
When the clouds part and breeze stops, you can see a perfect reflection of the Matterhorn in the blue waters. I didn’t get quite so lucky, but I am still not complaining about these views!
Once we found ourselves at Gornergrat among the Alps, the views were absolutely breathtaking. Pristine, white snow and clouds floating below us. The Matterhorn stared us squarely in the face. It was hard to stop taking photographs of everything around you. I don’t know that I’ve ever been to such a scenic place.
We explored the viewing platform, didn’t pause at the giftshop, and instead started hiking all around to stare at the Matterhorn from different angles. We strayed from the paths for some solitude. Made the hike down to Riffelsee Lake. Then stopped for some snacks and coffees at one of the alpine restaurants. All the while absorbing the iconic peak.
All morning, we had lucked out tremendously with the weather. Any time you’re aiming for mountain views, it is best to get an early start to your day, before afternoon clouds close in. That’s exactly what started to happen around 3pm or so. We felt so lucky to have had bright, clear weather all day up to that point.
If you love mountains, you definitely need to make the trip out to this most famous Swiss Alp…you must meet the Matterhorn.