THAT’S IT! You’ve booked your trip to Switzerland, all set to catch that glimpse of the iconic Matterhorn. The trip up to the Klein Matterhorn and Gornergrat are considered the two most popular, “must-visit” excursions for the Toblerone mountain view…but which one offers the better experience?
Luckily enough, I got the chance to visit both! And in today’s post, it’s going to be a mountain showdown between the two, Where I compare everything from transport, prices, altitude, attractions to outdoor activities!
Be sure to read till to end for my honest recommendation, and daytrip suggestions from Zermatt around the Valais region.
About Klein Matterhorn (Matterhorn Glacier Paradise)
Also dubbed in marketing jargon as the “Matterhorn Glacier Paradise”, the Klein Matterhorn (it means Little Matterhorn!) stands at a mighty 3,883m above sea level, and is the highest point in all of Europe that is accessible by cable car.
True to its name, it is also a renowned winter glacier paradise for skiing and snowboarding, due to its reliable snow conditions all year round.
The Gornergrat is a summit ridge situated between the Gorner and Findel Glacier, at 3,133 meters above sea level. I’ve been up here a grand total of 5 times already and every single time, the views here just sweeps me off my feet!
How to Get There
The Klein Matterhorn is accessible only via cable car. The journey up here involves three cable car transfers: Zermatt – Furi, Furi – Trockener Steg, and Trockener Steg-Klein Matterhorn.To be honest the transfers were quite tedious, but the incredible mountain views from the cabin made up for it!
For an even more memorable gondola experience, you can book one of the 4 luxurious Crystal Rides for the leg from Trockener Steg to Klein Matterhorn.These special cabins have exteriors and posh leather seats beautifully coated with real Swarovski crystals. The bigger surprise comes after three minutes, when the cloudy glass bottom clears up to provide a splendid view of the Theodul Glacier right under your feet!
For the crystal ride, you can either choose the book in advance online, or buy the tickets on the day itself. It might be wiser to do so on your actual day of travel after checking the weather, since it makes no sense to splurge on this on a cloudy weather! Tickets are available for either one-way or for return
I really enjoyed the cable car ride because I’ve never seen the Matterhorn this HUGE and up close as this!
The Gornergrat is accessible via the Gornergratbahn, the highest open-air railway in Europe.
This slow scenic ride takes 33 minutes, and is an entire experience on its own.
For the best photo op, make sure you sit on the right side of the train: that’s where you’ll face the Matterhorn!
There are 3 other stations between Zermatt valley station and Gornergrat end station: Riffelalp, Riffelberg and Rotenboden. You can choose to hop on and off from each station to explore the surrounding areas. However, each section may only be travelled once.
Both mountain excursions cost roughly the same, with lower prices in fall and winter.
From Jan to April 2022, a round-trip ticket to the Klein Matterhorn costs CHF 90.50 for the full fare.
In peak season i.e. May, June, Sept and Oct, it costs CHF 104 for the full fare.
Go to the official website to check the current ticket prices.
50% discount: SBB GA, Half-fare, Swiss Travel Pass and children aged 6-15.
Free: Children age 8 and under and those with a SBB Junior Card.
The Gornergat is more affordable to visit is in spring, fall, and winter.
From Jan to April 2022, a full-fare return ticket for Zermatt-Gornergrat costs CHF 88CHF.
In May, November and December 2022, it costs 55CHF.
For peak season from June-August 2022, it costs 126CHF.
In September, it costs 110CHF.
50% discount: SBB GA, Half-fare, Swiss Travel Pass and children aged 6-15.
Free: Children age 8 and under and those with a SBB Junior Card.
Many people often mistake the Jungfraujoch as the highest mountain in Europe (no thanks to the catchy but misleading “Top of Europe” marketing slogan) but in fact, the Glacier Paradise is even higher at 3,883m!
Due to the fast ascent and the thinner air, often there isn’t sufficient time for the body to be acclimatised to the high altitude, and as a result altitude sickness is a pretty common sight amongst visitors. In my case, shortly after 15 minutes, I started to feel quite felt unwell with a headache, dizziness and nausea. Bleargh!
The key to avoid altitude sickness is to not get overly excited. Yes, I know those views are breathtakingly phenomenal here, but Go slow with your pace, breath deeper and sit down for a while if necessary. Children younger than 2 years old should against coming up to the Glacier Paradise.
The Gornergrat is at a slightly lower altitude 3090 m. It’s just a difference of 800m…but in terms of comfort level it made a significant difference. I didn’t experience altitude sickness while I was up here, and on another separate trip, my baby niece of just 16 months also visited the Gornergrat without any issues.
In this aspect, I find that the Gornergrat might be the better choice in terms of suitabilities for families with young children.
Views from the Top
The viewing platform here is the highest in Europe and grants an unparalleld 360° panoramic view over 38 mountain peaks over 4,000m , as well as 14 glaciers in France, Italy and Switzerland!
On clear sunny days, you can even see as far as the Mont Blanc (4,810 m) in France, and the Gran Paradiso (4,061 m), Italy’s highest peak. However, there was quite a number of unsightly metal structures which obstructed the otherwise beautiful snow-white landscapes.
Nevertheless, what I still liked about the views from up here is the unique views of the Matterhorn. From this vantage point: the Matterhorn looks utterly transformed! It’s vastly different from what you typically see advertised or marketed on brochures and on postcards (from the north-east angle). That’s because you are looking at a different southern face of the mountain!
Attention to all love-birds: You can pledge your eternal love to each other by hanging a love lock at the railings of the viewing platform! What makes it even more special is that if you place the padlock key in the letter box at the entrance to the lift, it will be taken to the Glacier Palace and set in the eternal ice as a symbol of undying love. You can either bring you own locks, or buy one from the souvenir store.
From the Gornergrat, you get sweeping views of the second highest glacier of the Alps, the Gorner Glacier, the Monte Rosa Massif as well as the Dufourspitz, Switzerland’s highest mountain! Till date, the views of the Aletsch Glacier from the Moosfluh viewpoint is still the most stunning one I’ve seen, but the views here comes in a close second.
If you have visited the Jungfraujoch previously, you might find the experience on the Glacier Paradise familiar, as it has similar attractions: A glacier palace, cinema lounge, viewing platform…this is just on smaller scale and with a lot less crowds.
The Glacier Palace at the Glacier Paradise is the highest in the world. Visitors step into a mirror-smooth frosty world of man-made ice tunnels and hallways dug 15 metres deep under the glacier. Now I’ve been to at least 3 Ice Palaces already (Saas-Fee, Titlis, Jungfrau)…but it still felt enchanting all the same to see these intricate works of art all carved out of ice!
Note: it is freezing inside the ice palace all year round: Make sure you are warmly dressed and walking with sturdy shoes.
This small cinema lounge is decked with colourful comfy chairs and features five experience clips.
Shot by film producer Peter den Hartogh, they cover different themes: Animals of the Alps, Mountains around Zermatt, Railways & Facilities, The Four Seasons and Snow & Ice.
With the emotionally charged music and impressive cinematography, it’s a nice indoor substitute for rainy days when the views aren’t perfect outside, or when you just need somewhere to rest and unwind.
This multimedia exhibition opened just not long ago in 2021. Visitors can experience the Matterhorn up close in 3 Zoom stages: From a periscope, a immersive cinematic experience, and finally a simulated paragliding flight!
On the the walls, there’s also a wealth information about the unique flora, fauna surrounding the Gornergrat, as well as historical events such as the building of the Gornergrat Bahn.
I realise that many visitors either don’t know about this exhibition, or leave it out due to lack of time. In fact, entrance to the Zoom Museum is already included in the cost of your train ticket, so it’s worth checking it out!
Skiing at Zermatt Snow Park
With guaranteed snow all year-round, the Klein Matterhorn makes year-round skiing a dream come true. winter sportsmen! During summer, there is a small ski area on the Plateau Rosa , with nearly 21km of red and blue slopes open. Take note that this is also the ONLY place in Zermatt that allows for summer-skiing. That goes to explain why all the top ski squads from all around the world flock here to train during the hotter months!
Even if you don’t do skiing or snowboarding (like me) in summer, you can enjoy snow tubing too.
Matterhorn Glacier Trail
While I personally have not gone on this trail, my research shows that this is one of the best glacier hikes in Switzerland. It winds right underneath the Matterhorn and offers epic lake-reflections.
The Matterhorn Glacier trail starts from Trockener Steg, towards the direction of Schwarzsee. IIt seems more suitable for intermediate hikers since it is pretty rocky. Once you are done, you can take the gondola back down to Zermatt.
Skiing from Gornergrat to Riffelberg
While summer-skiing is not possible at the Gornergrat, the wide and gentle slopes from Gornergrat to Riffelberg makes them perfect for early intermediates. We saw plenty of young ones showing off their skiing prowess here!
Toboggan Run from Rotenboden
Grab a sled, sit on nice and tight, and zoom down this highest tobbogan run in the Alps!
This run is available from December through April. You can rent the toboggans from Rotenboden station for 10CHF/day. It starts from Rotenboden station and goes down to Riffelberg station, and you get a jaw-dropping view of the Matterhorn all the way down. Once you are done, you can sit down and enjoy a snack, a warm cup of Caotina hot chocolate or even better, a pot of cheese fondue at the traditional Riffelhaus 1893 restaurant!
And the Winner is….Glacier Paradise or Gornergrat?
Personally, the Gornergrat has always been one of the top destinations to recommend to visiting friends, and it still remains my preferred choice. In my opinion, the cogwheel trainride on the Gornergratbahn and view of the Matterhorn are ultimate Swiss bucket-list experiences! If you happen to be a first-time visitor to Switzerland, I think it’s well-worth for you to at least go first for this classic mountain excursion.
Another important consideration is the slightly lower altitude, which really helps make the journey slightly more comfortable and easier, especially for those of us unused to travelling in high altitudes travels and for families with young children.
With that being said, the Glacier Paradise is a superb choice and is especially ideal for winter sports. Even if you are looking to skii in summer, that’s not a problem here! The Crystal Ride is by far the most scenic gondola rides I’ve been (just imagine having a transparent glacier view right under your feet) And the unique view of the Matterhorn… I won’t trade it for another!
There’s also more indoor activities at the Glacier Paradise than the Gornergrat, so even in the event of bad weather, there’s still plenty of activities to keep you occupied until the skies clears up.
I woud recommend the Klein Matterhorn to visitors coming to Switzerland for a second time, adventure-seekers who’s up for a once-in-a-lifetime glacier hike, or who prefer a more unique scenery of the Matterhorn.
Other Daytrip Options from Zermatt
If you are staying longer in Zermatt and looking to explore other parts of Valais region, read below some other daytrip options for your to consider!
I get it – you’re a living human who has been on Instagram, so naturally, as far as thermal baths go, your mind drifts to the milky blue waters of the oh so famous Blue Lagoon in Iceland…or the Pamukkal hot springs in Turkey.
BUT, what if I told you that located at the heart of Switzerland lies a wellness alpine oasis…? I’m referring to Leukerbad!
This pristine village is the largest thermal bath of the Alps and the ultimate respite for the mind and the soul.. Here, you have a choice of over 30 indoor and outdoor thermal pools, equipped with jacuzzis, steam baths, saunas and whirlpools.
We visited the Walliser Alpentherme, and honestly, there’s nothing more relaxing than soaking in the therapeutic waters, breathing in the crisp mountain air, all with a stunning mountain backdrop!
Truth be told, stepping out of the train station, I had been simmering in some very low expectations of Brig. But I quickly discovered that there’s plenty more to this little town than meets the eye. Located only an hour away from Zermatt, at the foot of the Simplon Pass bordering Italy, Brig has served as an strategic crossroads of trade routes since Roman times.
Start your daytrip with a walk through the Old Town. Given its proximity to italy, it gave off such a relaxing, Mediterranean vibes!
Another must-see would be the Stockalper’s palace, the largest privately-owned building in Switzerlan built by the 17th century merchant Kasper Stockalper.
And if you’re interested in Swiss natural heritage continue with a visit to the World Nature Forum, an interactive museum managed by UNESCO World Heritage Site.
So there you have it! My comparison guide to the Klein Matterhorn and the Gornergrat. No matter which option you choose at the end of the day, I’m sure you will still have an unforgettable time in this incredibly scenic part of Switzeland. Leave me a comment down below on which mountain excursion you chose and how your experience went!
Be sure to check out my other guides for Swiss Travels: