The Best Destination To Traveler Blog Switzerland's Iconic Matterhorn, Per Rick Steves

If you had to pick the most mountainy-looking mountain in the world, you could do much worse than choose the Matterhorn. Switzerland's most famous peak soars above the surrounding glaciers to a height of 14,692 feet, piercing the crisp alpine air like a giant shark's tooth. The mere mention of its name conjures up romantic and adventurous images of the golden age of alpinism, a period at the end of the 19th century when many of Europe's great summits were reached. The conquest of the Matterhorn was struck with tragedy: Although Edward Whymper made the first successful ascent in 1865, four of his party died along the way. To this day, its beauty is matched by its deadliness, ranked as one of the most difficult mountains to climb on the planet.

The Matterhorn is globally recognized. Walt Disney was smitten with the peak during the filming of "Third Man on the Mountain" in Switzerland and built his own 147-foot-tall version at Disneyland, California. The iconic mountain also graced the packaging of Toblerone chocolate bars from 1970 until 2023, when production moved out of the country and Swiss legislation decreed its image could no longer be used.

Rick Steves, the venerable American writer, broadcaster, and enthusiast for all things European, has visited the region around the Matterhorn on three occasions. After assessing the lay of the land, he has identified the best place to use as a jumping-off point for exploring the dramatic peak and its stunning surroundings: Zermatt and the Gornergrat Ridge.

Zermatt is the top destination for visiting the Matterhorn

The Matterhorn ranks as one of the most majestic mountains you need to see in your lifetime. Although it is one of the ten highest Swiss peaks, it actually resides in two countries. Located in the Pennine Alps in the far south of Switzerland, the Matterhorn's south face lies in Italy. While actually climbing the mountain is best left to people with experience, visitors flock to the area year-round to catch a glimpse of the soaring pinnacle rising majestically above the glaciers and valleys.

Since the late 19th century, the small alpine resort of Zermatt has established itself as the go-to place for visiting the Matterhorn. Over 100 years of tourism has transformed the once-sleepy village into a popular European hot spot with plenty of hotels, chalets, and restaurants to cater to the influx of visitors. Nestling at the top end of the Matter Valley at an altitude of around 5,000 feet, it's a scenic spot for outdoor activities including skiing, hiking, and mountain biking. Part of Zermatt's charm is its lack of cars. The only way to arrive in the village is by train, taxi, helicopter, or shuttle from the nearby town of Täsch.

Staying in Zermatt doesn't guarantee a view of the Matterhorn, unfortunately. The weather can be changeable even in the summer, and Rick Steves recommends giving yourself a buffer day to allow for times when the peak is shrouded in mist or rainclouds.

Rick Steves' pick for getting up close to the Matterhorn

While you could easily pick out a Zermatt restaurant or café and enjoy the Matterhorn from a distance with a drink in your hand, many visitors understandably want to get out into the mountains for a better look. The municipality has invested heavily over the years catering to this desire, resulting in three impressive mountain stations connected to the resort by cable car, train, and hiking trails. Rothorn is the furthest away from the Matterhorn, but its viewing platform offers a splendid panorama of the star attraction flanked by several other peaks. For a closer view, sleek cable cars whisk you up to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, a plush facility surrounded by hiking trails and hosting an excellent restaurant with predictably breathtaking vistas.

Then there is Rick Steves' favorite pick: Gornergrat Station. It has perhaps the most romantic approach, accessed by a cogwheel railway wending its way to an altitude of over 10,000 feet. Steves prefers it because Gornergrat offers the best overall experience, combining outstanding views of the Matterhorn with excellent hiking opportunities. One of the best hikes, according to Rick Steves, takes you between the train stations Rotenboden and Riffelberg, a family-friendly route surrounded by 29 majestic mountains. Although it is a fairly easy walk that takes about an hour to complete, make sure you wear appropriate footwear and dress for the occasion. It can get rather chilly in the winter, and the Riffelhorn casts a long shadow over a section of the route.