Zermatt Switzerland

Exploring Zermatt in the Summer

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Nestled in the heart of the Alps, Zermatt may initially conjure images of a winter wonderland, dominated by the majestic Matterhorn. However, Zermatt in the summer is quite popular too. A significant portion of the two million annual visitors choose to explore the Swiss mountain town during the warmer months, from May to October.

As summer breathes life into the landscape, Zermatt Switzerland transforms into a vibrant destination, inviting adventure-seekers, nature enthusiasts, and culture aficionados to experience an Alpine paradise beyond the snow-covered slopes.

On my summer visit to Zermatt, (August to be exact) it was a beautiful time for hiking, exploring the downtown area, and sitting outside on the hotel balcony to enjoy stunning clear views of the Matterhorn.

A view of the Matterhorn in summer from the Jagerhof hotel in Zermatt
The Matterhorn view from our balcony at the Jagerhof Hotel and Apartements

Getting to Zermatt

The German-speaking town is located in southern Switzerland’s Valais canton, with a year-round population of only 5,800. (And then there are the 2 million tourists who travel there each year.) It’s almost completely surrounded by the Pennine Alps, one of which, is the Matterhorn.

Zermatt is in a rather remote location which makes it all the more interesting how bustling it is. It’s also a car-free town which is important to know when planning your arrival.

The most convenient way to reach Zermatt is by train

As Zermatt is car-free, arriving by train is the only way that you can arrive directly in the village center. Other options that can get you close would be a taxi or helicopter.

There are direct trains between Zermatt and other Swiss towns like Geneva and Zurich that run every hour on the hour. Both Geneva and Zurich have international airports and would be the closest places to fly to near Zermatt.

The village of Zermatt in summer

I traveled to Zermatt from Varenna, Italy, and it was a rather long day of train travel. I think it took us five trains and maybe ten hours to get there—although it’s not supposed to.

This was one of those situations where one train was late, leading to a domino effect of missing other trains. On the way back (to Milan this time), we made it with only two train changes, and I want to say the trip only took five or six hours.

Of course, no matter how long the journey is, train travel is a great way to see the landscape. And the climb into Zermatt gets incredibly beautiful.

Those train window views afford you sights like icy waterfalls spewing from rock wall faces and silky horses traipsing through green pastures, living their best life prancing and playing with magical alpine fairies. (Probably.)

Things to do in Zermatt in the summer

While the winter attracts skiers to Zermatt, the summer in Zermatt is full of hikers and people who love to explore the outdoors.

Explore the town

Since Zermatt is a car-free town, if you aren’t walking you’re either riding in a souped-up golf cart type thingy worth $100k (we asked), or you’re hopping into a horse-carried wagon. Although you don’t really need to catch any rides at all, because you can walk anywhere within 30 minutes.

horse and carriage in the village of Zermett
Horses and carriage in the village of Zermett. Shot on 35mm film.

There are only three main streets in Zermatt, which are situated along the banks of the river, called Matter Vispa.

The river was rushing, and unique looking, as it comes from glaciers vs snow melt. Because of that, it’s a very milky light greenish color. Just walking anywhere near it you can feel the glacier chill.

There are aspects of Zermatt that appear frozen in time, from the classic design of the buildings to the centrally located cemeteries that house locals and fallen climbers alike.

And then there are the more modern additions, like the plethora of high-end jewelry stores lining the town center, reminding you that are in a very specific destination: a luxury ski town.

The town is also at, like, a Disneyland level of homey cleanliness. There is no trash. Trash ceases to exist. There is no disorder. Disorder ceases to exist. Everything is one part happy, one part reserved, operating at max efficiency with no funny business. Flowers bloom in identical window boxes. Every building has a name.

Visit the Matterhorn Museum downtown

Some of the Matterhorn Museum is dedicated to the history of the town itself, while much of it is about the climbing industry, then and now. There’s a bit of controversy around all of this—and a feud if you will—because it was a Matterhorn climbing tragedy that first put Zermatt on the map at all.

Before the Matterhorn madness, it should come as no surprise that Zermatt was mostly an agricultural community. But the first ascent to the peak of the Matterhorn made big news in 1865 because four of the seven men died. So what did the people of the world do when they heard this terrible news? They came running towards it!

The controversial part is A: the guides who survived were accused of cutting a rope to save themselves. (They were acquitted.) And B: there are opposing opinions about what followed. Some people say it should have never happened at all, while others feel that—tragedy or not— the event made this town what it is: a super popular ski town. With a mountain that’s taken the lives of 500 alpinists. (A family friend’s first husband is one of them.)

Explore the many restaurants Zermatt has to offer

Before visiting Zermatt I read a lot of food reviews online that were not exactly raving. Coming from Lake Como Italy with its fresh fish and pasta this was a tough pill to swallow. Luckily it wasn’t true!

Zermatt has restaurants that are on the trails (with great views) as well as restaurants in the village itself. Everywhere we ate in Zermatt was great. We even went to a sushi restaurant (owned by an Italian), that was designed like a boat and had a hot tub on its rooftop. Five stars for Snowboat Yacht Club. (Which is also a bar.)

Restaurants along the hiking trails include Chez Vrony on the Five Lakes trail. It has indoor and outdoor seating with clear views of the Matterhorn. For casual restaurants in the village, the Brown Cow Pub is a popular choice.

We also did some local grocery shopping and cooking at our hotel apartment, as well as visited some bars. My sister and I twice visited a bar in town, which according to the bartender, is much busier in the winter.

Zermatt in summer is a great time for hiking

On my hike, the most notable hikes we took were the Five Lakes Trail and the first portion of the Edelweiss hike which lands at the Trift Guesthouse.

The Five Lakes Trail

The full Five Lakes hike is 4.8 miles round trip. It climbs a thousand feet in elevation and has some rocky terrain. For the most part, it feels pretty leisurely but it is considered a moderate hike.

You’ve probably seen pictures taken on the Five Lakes Trail in Zermatt. There’s a very popular photo spot where you can capture the Matterhorn reflected in one of the lakes, which looks very cool. I, however, did not manage to get that particular photo.

My sister and I got separated from the rest of the group and missed some of the lakes in their entirety. How did we miss some of the lakes on the Five Lakes Trail? I have no idea. We somehow skipped an hour ahead of everyone else. Maybe we time-traveled. That doesn’t seem so unlikely in Zermatt. Most likely, we accidentally took a shortcut.

One of the lakes on the Five Lakes Trail Zermatt Switzerland
One of the Five Lakes on 35mm film

What I did see on the hike was a lot of mountain land. It’s pretty high up there, so the vegetation is not as dense as on the valley floor. I would recommend preparing with a lot of sun protection. I got a bit of a forehead sunburn, as I had not yet purchased the Matterhorn souvenir hat that I ultimately came home with. (It’s very nice. Swiss quality, baby.)

Hiking the five lakes trail
Here’s me using my hand as a hat. That’s the Matterhorn behind me.
Getting to the Five Lakes Trail/5-Seenweg

To get to the Five Lakes Trail/5-Seenweg, you first take an underground funicular from Zermatt to Sunnegga. Next, you hop on the gondola and ride it from Sunnega to the Blauherd cable station. This is where the trailhead of the hike begins.

[Funiculars, if you aren’t familiar, are those small cable cars that go up hills and mountains. Another funicular I’ve mentioned is a part of the journey to Montserrat, Spain. I just found out that there’s also a funicular in Los Angeles, and it’s the shortest railway in the world. That’s a story for another day.]

The Zermatt funicular
The Zermatt funicular

While all that cable car travel is super fun, my favorite part of the Five Lakes Trail/5-Seenweg hike was walking through the random mountain park.

It contains a swimming lake with a Swiss Family Robin-style wooden raft, from which you can pull yourself across with a rope. (This is where the undeniable parallels between Zermatt and Disneyland really started to fill my mind. More on that later.)

A lake for swimming and sunning on a hike in Zermatt Switzerland
Take a hike to take a dip. On 35mm film

Lounge chairs offer onlookers the option to gaze upon the lake and soak up some ultra mountain sun. Happy dogs frolic along the edge of the lake. So quaint.

A park on the Five Lakes hike in Zermatt Switzerland
Nice spot to stop for a swing. On 35mm film.

After spending the day marching around on the Five Lakes Trail and endlessly pondering the Disneyland similarities, we were a bit worn out. So of course we got up the next day and did what anyone would do.

We took another hike.

And then on day three, we took another hike—the Edelweiss hike.

Edelweiss Hike

It took us a couple of days to find the Edelweiss trail. Not that we were wandering around lost that entire time, we just kept getting different answers about where to catch the trailhead. The trail starts in the heart of Zermatt and we ultimately found it by asking more people.

I wouldn’t say that the wooden signage in Zermatt is always the easiest to follow. But then again there are only so many options so worst case you just make a loop, meet some random—well-behaved—cats along the way, and then try out a different route.

Hiking the Five Lakes trail
This way!

The Edelweiss hike had been repeatedly referenced to us as a quick 30-minute one. Which sounds perfect for a day three hike option when everyone is already sore and tired. But when we did ultimately end up on the Edelweiss trail we discovered that it goes right up the side of a mountain.

Sure the first leg of the trail might only be one mile in each direction, but the ascent is 3920.604 feet at a 41% incline. (I didn’t want to round down and lose any dramatic effect.) It’s not that hard, but it’s not, like, a quick walk.

The trail passes across the Trift River and at parts you’re in shaded foresty areas.

The Edelweiss hike Zermatt
See that little red circle? That’s where the Trift Guesthouse is on the Edelweiss hike.

Once you hike a mile up into the sky, you will be met with a restaurant/lodge called the Trift Guesthouse. There you will find one little barrel planter out front containing those promised Edelweiss flowers. (It’s worth it because they will be covered in butterflies.)

The view, as you might imagine, is pretty nice. (This photo doesn’t do the view justice, I’d need a wider camera lens for that. But you get the idea.)

A view from the Trift Guesthouse
View from the Trift Guesthouse restaurant on 35mm film

Fun fact: it’s not possible to drive up there to the Trift Guesthouse. Whether you’re a guest or an employee. Let’s process this for a moment from the side of running a business. Everything up there has been carried up the trail. My dad theorized that this was why they seemed to be hard selling the home-brewed tea over other branded refreshment options. It could also be that they’re just proud of their home-brewed tea.

The man who served our food explained to us how he and his family live there for the entire summer season. No use commuting to work! They don’t have a TV, or even use a radio. He warned us of the dangers of social media and suggested that god is his main form of inspiration.

Who needs music when you can just exist among the sounds of extreme mountaintop silence? No frills. No distractions. Just flowers and iced tea.

For the ambitious hikers, the path continues from the Trift Guesthouse. The full Edelweiss hike is about 12.85 miles and takes 7.5 hours.

Hotel views of the Matterhorn

According to the guidebooks it can get incredibly socked in around the Matterhorn. So much so that you can’t even see the peak of the mountain on some days. We got lucky in August and had clear skies and great views for days on end.

And those views were quite spectacular from the place we stayed, the Jägerhof Hotel & Apartements.

The rental was essentially an apartment with a full kitchen and three bedrooms. The design was a modern alpine style, on the top floor of the building with a wrap-around porch, providing a direct view of the Matterhorn.

The Jägerhof was cute and quaint. Plus, they have a breakfast buffet with all kinds of fresh bread and Nutella. (Among other things.)

Zermatt summer weather

Zermatt has rather mild weather in the summer months, with average highs of 69 and lows of 46 degrees Fahrenheit. That being said, bring your sunscreen!

What to wear in Zermatt in the summer

During the summer Zermatt is likely to be nice during the day and then cool down at night. While I did bring a warm jacket on this trip, I never wore it. I would have liked to have had it when I was walking home from the bars at night—the chill of that river is real—but it wouldn’t have been worth wearing it out when it was nice in the evening.

For the most part, I’d pack a good mixture of hiking clothes, casual daytime clothes, and maybe something nice for dinners out. Hats, sunglasses, and layers are good options for the daytime. You may or may not need a swimsuit depending on where you’re staying.

The Zermatt/Disneyland parallels

I was completely struck by the parallels between Zermatt and Disneyland. It’s no secret that Walt Disney was a fan of the place. He did, after all, get his inspiration for the Matterhorn Bobsled ride from the Matterhorn mountain itself. The real Matterhorn is on the border of Switzerland and Italy. Disney’s, on the border of Tomorrowland and Fantasyland.

Disney initially got the idea for Disneyland while hanging out at L.A.’s Griffith Park merry-go-round. But Zermatt has a distinctly Disneyland vibe that I’ve never felt anywhere else besides Disneyland, which makes me wonder…could he also have been influenced by Zermatt?

Disney’s interest in Zermatt

Some sources say that Disney first fell into obsession with Zermatt and the Matterhorn while visiting during the 1958 filmmaking of Third Man on the Mountain, three years after Disneyland opened. (waltdisney.org called the film “the best Disney live-action feature that you’ve never seen.”) 

However, other sources say that Disney was already a frequenter of Zermatt, as he liked to ski there. I’d like to go with theory number two please, because there are some striking similarities.

The similarities between Zermatt and Disneyland

Zermatt is: surrounded by mountains, there is only one way in and one way out. As mentioned, it is car-free but features gondolas, trains, and carriages. It is mysteriously clean, happy, and quaint with pristine functionality. There are no visible offices or doctors or anything that isn’t just a happy-looking log cabin or sleek something that unassumingly melds into the background.

During the Folklore Festival, 30 groups dress up in classic outfits and dance and play music while walking through downtown. This includes playing the Alphorn, which of course you might also see at Disneyland or Epcot. Even the graveyard is an attraction in Zermatt. (Hello Haunted Mansion.) There are cats. I could go on. But mostly it’s just the vibe, and you have to trust me on that if you’ve never been.

An alphorn being played in the village of zermatt
This is an alphorn. Drawing the curiosity of children around the world!

Now I also mentioned the alpine park lake that had Swiss Family Robinson-style wooden rafts. I’m sure you can already guess who made the Swiss Family Robinson movie in 1960…Disney. Who else.

And there’s the Edelweiss link. “Edelweiss” is, of course, a very famous song from The Sound of Music, which I’m shocked wasn’t a Disney production. But Disney can take some credit for getting Julie Andrews cast in that movie. He saw her in a play and cast her in Mary Poppins, which Robert Wise, the director of The Sound of Music then saw and said aha! That’s my star. Also, Disney later acquired 20th Century Fox, so technically Disney does now own The Sound of Music. 

The fact that Zermatt has a strong history of tragedy also makes its quaint Disney-ish peacefulness so very interesting. In some settings that mountain might feel like a looming danger, but in the fresh, flowery Alps, it’s just, *with a soft smile on your face* so beautiful.

I also wonder if Walt was just simply inspired by the Swiss way of existing—because Zermatt feels like an incredibly well-managed fairy tale town. It could, of course, also just be a total coincidence and explain why Disney liked the place so much.

In case you think I’m exaggerating about how put-together Switzerland is, here are some quick facts:
  • The Swiss civil registrar must approve all baby names—you are simply not allowed to name a baby anything that they deem might harm the kid or offend anyone else. This includes brand names, last names as first names, biblical villains, and…names…of the opposite gender.
  • The hopeful dog owners of Switzerland are required to take classes before owning a pooch of their own.
  • Cat owners either have to provide their indoor cat with an adequately entertaining window view or welcome home a second cat. (It’s only fair.)
  • Swiss trains are known for being on time, with the German-speaking areas being the most punctual. (This is in contrast to other nearby countries where this is not the case.)

Before we move on I am going to add one note about those baby naming rules…Switzerland is not unique in this. Germany has outlawed the name Adolph Hitler, Denmark has outlawed Anus, and France has outlawed the names Nutella and Mini Cooper. Not a joke. You might not want to name your kid Nutella, but eat it? Sure! When in Rome.

If I went to Zermatt again I’d like to visit in the winter to switch things up. I’d probably rotate a spa day into the mix. Or maybe go back to that sushi restaurant and get into the rooftop hot tub. While the summer in Zermatt is amazing, according to one local bartender, winter is peak Zermatt.

FAQs about visiting Zermatt

Is Zermatt worth visiting in the summer?

Zermatt is unquestionably worth visiting in the summer. While it’s renowned as a premier winter destination, the warmer months unveil a different, equally enchanting side of this Alpine village. Summer in Zermatt boasts a plethora of outdoor activities, from scenic hikes against the backdrop of the iconic Matterhorn to exhilarating paragliding adventures offering breathtaking views.

What are the Zermatt summer temperatures?

Zermatt Switzerland has mild summer weather with average highs of 68-69 degrees Fahrenheit and lows of 46-48 degrees Fahrenheit.

Is there Zermatt Switzerland summer skiing?

The winter ski season in Zermatt is from November to May. The rest of the year you may be able to ski higher up in the Alps–but it depends on the month and the weather there’s snow.

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