Located on Iceland’s South Coast, Skaftafell is a nature reserve nestled within the world-famous Vatnajökull National Park.
As a stunning corner of a far more expansive beauty, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of incredible things to see and do here.
After all, this breathtaking place is home to dramatic landscapes, awe-inspiring glaciers, and adventures that will leave you speechless.
At Ice Guardians, we provide exhilarating adventure trips and courses in Iceland, both inside and around the boundary of Vatnajökull National Park.
We have used our extensive local knowledge to create this list of the 10 best things to do in Skaftafell!
Scroll down to read our recommendations. And if any questions come to mind, please get in touch. We’re here to help however we can!
Svartifoss Waterfall: One of Iceland’s Best Waterfalls
Behold one of the crown jewels of the Skaftafell Nature Reserve — Svartifoss Waterfall!
This natural wonder isn’t visible from the road or the Skaftafell Visitor Centre. You need to hike through lush greenery along a trail that leads you to this natural masterpiece.
The first thing that hits you when you arrive is the striking black basalt columns framing the waterfall.
The falls cascade 20 metres over these unique formations, creating an otherworldly sight that’s pure Icelandic magic.
The Land of Fire and Ice is renowned for its impressive collection of waterfalls. And while Svartifoss isn’t the biggest or the most powerful, it’s certainly one of the most picturesque.
Memorable trips to Iceland start with proper preparation. Read our guide How Should I Plan My Trip to Iceland? to make sure you get the most out of your stay.
Half-Day Canyoning with Ice Guardians: Embrace Adrenaline!
Gear up for an exciting half-day canyoning adventure near Vatnajökull National Park with none other than Ice Guardians!
We are the only company operating a canyoning adventure experience in Iceland, so this is a truly one-of-a-kind experience.
Traverse rugged terrain, rappel down waterfalls, dive and slide into crystal-clear pools fed by glacial water — canyoning is the perfect way to connect with Iceland’s wild heart.
Please note, due to weather conditions, our Half-Day Canyoning Under Vatnajökull is a summer-only activity.
Read our guide What Exactly is Canyoning? for even more information.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon: Awe-Inspiring Elegance
A short drive east along Route 1 brings you to the captivating Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, a must-visit on any Iceland South Coast itinerary.
Marvel at the surreal sight of floating icebergs as they drift serenely in the tranquil blue lagoon.
The enormous chunks of ice here have broken off Breiðamerkurjökull, one of Vatnajökull’s outlet glaciers.
The array of colours on display is remarkable, with white, black, and various shades of vivid, icy blue.
And if you’re lucky, you may hear the peaceful air fill with the thunderous sound of an iceberg splitting in two.
If you want to get even closer to these icy giants, hop on a boat tour… You may even spot a curious seal or two.
Diamond Beach: Nature’s Showcase of Gems
The Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon empties into the North Atlantic Ocean. This means that when the icebergs are small enough, they drift out to sea.
But some of these ice formations end up on what has become known as Diamond Beach.
As one of Iceland’s black sand beaches, this is already a fascinating spot to visit. But the glistening, diamond-like ice formations scattered over the dark surface elevate the scene to a whole new level.
A photographer’s paradise, this beach is a must for capturing the kind of shots you’ve always dreamed of.
A Full-Day Skaftafell Glacier Hike with Ice Guardians: Conquer a Giant!
Strap on crampons and embark on an epic full-day glacier hike with us! The outlet glaciers in Skaftafell are some of the most dramatic falling off of the highest summits of Vatnajökull & Iceland — and it’s the perfect place for a hiking adventure!
This is a thrilling experience that will push you out of your comfort zone.
When you join a glacier hiking tour with Ice Guardians, you will venture beyond the crowded tourist spots to more secluded and peaceful parts of this spectacular formation.
And with a guide-to-guest ratio of 4:1, we offer the most personal group tours on the market.
Of course, if you want a truly exclusive experience, we also provide Private Vatnajökull Glacier Hikes.
Whichever option you prefer, you will traverse the frozen expanse of Vatnajökull, discover ice formations that seem plucked from fantasy, and learn about the fascinating glacial ecosystem from our expert guides.
Hiking Adventures: Fantastic Trails for Every Explorer
For a hike on land, so to speak, Skaftafell Nature Reserve offers trails for every level of adventurer.
The Svartifoss Trail meanders through the countryside to the iconic waterfall covered above. This is a 3.2km trail of moderate difficulty that takes around an hour to complete on average.
For a far bigger trekking challenge in the nearby Katia Geopark, consider the point-to-point trail of the Fimmvörðuháls Pass. This route takes you between two glaciers, Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull.
It’s also a great showcase for the area’s diversity of landscapes, as it covers everything from moss-covered valleys to lunar-like landscapes gouged with scars from volcanic eruptions.
Another mammoth undertaking is the Laugavegur Trail, a point-to-point route extending 52.1km. But the awe-inspiring scenes along the way, including geothermal valleys and rhyolite mountains, are highly rewarding!
And what better endorsement can the Fimmvörðuháls Pass and Laugavegur Trail receive than appearing on National Geographic’s list of the world’s best hikes?
But there’s more! If you’re still looking for more adventure, you can combine these two iconic trails and take on the Grand Laugavegur!
If all this sounds like you’re idea of an amazing holiday, we think you’ll love our Complete Guide to Hiking in Iceland [link to Complete Guide to Hiking in Iceland when uploaded].
Photography: Capture Nature’s Masterpieces
Calling all photographers! Skaftafell’s ethereal landscapes are your canvas. This nature reserve has inspiring vistas around every turn, so it’s impossible to name all the best locations.
Of course, the exceptional sight of Svartifoss attracts photographers, as does the Skaftafell Glacier. Even the road heading to Skaftafell has a jaw-dropping view.
For adventurous photographers, there are outstanding shots to be had in the area’s ice caves. But more on these below!
Ice Cave Tour: Venture into Extraordinary Icy Blue Formations
When you join one of our more accessible and easier ice cave tours with our partner Glacier Adventure, you step into a world of genuine wonder. These natural formations within glaciers are a testament to nature’s artistry.
Local experts will lead you through natural ice caves in Breiðarmerkurjökull, a short drive from Skaftafell.
Ice caves are constantly changing, so their beautiful impermanence only heightens your experience.
Check out our guide All You Need to Know About Vatnajökull Ice Caves to discover more!
Private Ice Climbing: Conquer the Glacier and Sharpen Your Skills
Have you always wanted to become a better ice climber? Or are you looking for your first ice-climbing experience?
Join us for Private Ice Climbing on Vatnajökull and enjoy a day of coaching, learning, and ice climbing.
You will progress from low-grade climbs to vertical challenges over eight hours, including climbing multiple faces and moulins.
As a private experience, you will benefit from maximum contact time and progression. Under the guidance of your coach, you can continue to become the kind of climber you’ve always wanted to be.
Climb Hvannadalshnjúkur: Reach the Summit of Iceland!
For the ultimate mountaineering challenge, set your sights on Hvannadalshnjúkur, Iceland’s highest peak at 2,110m.
While this challenge represents an incredible achievement, you shouldn’t underestimate it. Climbing Hvannadalshnjúkur is incredibly difficult.
You can only climb here in the season between May and September. July and August present the best weather conditions.
Preparation is vital to completing your climb. Ideally, you will have multiple days to play with so you can choose to make your ascent in the best possible conditions.
We also strongly recommend heading up Hvannadalshnjúkur with an experienced guide. The terrain is riddled with hidden crevasses, so even guides don’t go it alone.
But when you make it to the top of Iceland, the views are simply breathtaking.
Looking for more adventure inspiration? We think you’ll love our Adventurer’s Guide to Vatnajökull National Park.
Iceland Adventure Tours: Experiences on the Wild Side
So, now you know the best things to do in Skaftafell, it’s time to start planning your adventure!