The rugged northern coast of Spain is characterized by its wild cliffs, beautiful sandy beaches, and lush greenery. Yet, nowhere does the coast become as spectacular as at Playa de las Catedrales. Due to its unique rock formations, it’s often referred to as the most beautiful beach in Spain. In this blog, discover what makes this so-called Cathedral Beach unique and use our practical tips to prepare for your visit.
Why Playa de las Catedrales is Spain’s Most Beautiful Beach
What is Playa de las Catedrales?
Playa de las Catedrales, or Cathedral Beach, is not your typical sandy beach where one comes to swim (which isn’t allowed) or to laze on a towel. Instead, visitors are drawn by the impressive rock formations, caves, and arches that soar up to 30 meters high.
The beach’s official name is Praia de Augas Santas, which translates from Galician to ‘Beach of the Holy Waters’. However, the more dramatic moniker, Playa de las Catedrales (in Spanish) or Praia das Catedrais (in Galician), has overshadowed the original name, attracting far more visitors. In English, it’s known as Cathedral Beach—a direct nod to the dramatic rock formations that resemble the Gothic architecture of European cathedrals.
These geological masterpieces are the result of natural erosion by the powerful winds and ever-moving waters of the Cantabrian Sea. Softer rock has been worn away by waves, leaving behind these imposing arches and countless hidden caves.
How to Visit Cathedral Beach
There are two main ways to visit the beach: the cliff-top walkway and the beach access itself. The cliff path offers beautiful views over the sea and sand. But let’s be honest, the beach itself is the main attraction.
From the parking area, you walk to the stairs that lead down to the beach, located at the point marked ‘Mirador Playa de las Catedrales’ on maps. Access is only possible during low tide. At high tide, much of the beach becomes inaccessible. During our visit in the autumn, the tide rose so high that the entire beach and part of the stairs were submerged. The waves and water were incredibly wild, and you definitely wouldn’t have wanted to be on the beach at that time.
Once on the sand, you’ll soon pass stunning rock formations, vistas, caves, and more.
The Most Beautiful Rock Formations on the Beach
When the tide recedes at Playa de las Catedrales, an awe-inspiring view of cliffs, sea caves, and natural arches over 30 meters high unfolds. These ruggedly shaped wonders are the product of centuries of erosion, yielding the most picturesque arches.
The two most notable formations are Illa de Xangal and the Triple Arco. The Illa de Xangal is an arch located off the rock coast, in the middle of the beach and water. It is encountered soon after stepping onto the sand—though you might need to turn around, as it’s not immediately visible.
The more famous Triple Arco, the beach’s namesake, is a series of three arches against the cliffs often likened to the arches of a cathedral. At low tide, these natural stone arches form a sort of “cathedral”, but they disappear completely when the tide comes in. The arches are the farthest from the stairs, and even at mid-tide, they may be inaccessible. It’s crucial to keep an eye on the tide times.
Practical Information about Playa de las Catedrales
Where is Playa de las Catedrales Located in Spain?
On the map, Playa de las Catedrales is on Spain’s northern coast, along the rugged Atlantic coastline. The beach is in the Galicia region in the province of Lugo, just past the border of Asturias.
Near this remarkable beach lie picturesque towns like Ribadeo, known for its historic charm and maritime atmosphere, and Mondoñedo, renowned for its cathedral and almond cakes. Other tourist destinations such as Lugo, with its impressive Roman wall, are also within easy reach.
How to Arrange a (Free) Ticket for Playa de las Catedrales
Although access to Playa de las Catedrales is free, due to its popularity and conservation concerns, it is necessary to arrange a ticket in advance, especially during the busy high season. This system ensures that the beach is not overrun.
The maximum number of visitors is set at 4,800 per day—all arriving at low tide. To regulate this, you must request permission to access the beach online. It sounds complicated, but it’s as simple as filling out a form. If the day’s visitor limit has not been reached, you will automatically receive a PDF with your entry ticket. You can arrange your free ticket here.
Outside the high season, this system is not in place, and you can visit the beach without permission or a ticket. We visited in late October, and no ticket was needed. We almost had the beach to ourselves!
Safety Precautions During Your Visit
Playa de las Catedrales is undoubtedly a breathtaking slice of nature, but it’s also considered relatively dangerous. Pay special attention to your safety in certain areas.
Parts of the beach are cordoned off, particularly some caves and inlets. It may not always be clear why or what the danger is. But beach staff are well-informed, so it’s wise to respect the barricades.
Swimming at Cathedral Beach is also prohibited. Despite the temptation on hot days, strong and treacherous currents make it unsafe.
Be mindful of the tide cycle since the beach is only accessible during low tide. Due to the coastline’s near-horizontal layout, the water can cover the beach surprisingly quickly. It’s advisable to arrive about two hours before low tide to explore without worry. Tide times are available on the official website when you select your desired day.
Although we did not experience this, we’ve read warnings about tidal pools that remain on the beach at low tide, which can trap (potentially dangerous) fish and sea creatures.
Visiting Cathedral Beach with a Camper
This Northern Spanish beach is also accessible for those traveling by camper. There are several parking areas at the beach suitable for larger vehicles.
Despite the ample parking, spaces can fill up quickly during high season and especially at low tide. A smart tip is to park during high tide, when the beach is quieter and you’re more likely to find a spot. Plus, this offers the chance to witness the rising tide, a spectacle in itself.
As for overnight stays, it appears to be allowed or at least tolerated, as there are no official signs prohibiting it. We spent a night in one of the parking areas in autumn and were not the only ones doing so.
The fact that you’re not the only camper on the parking areas becomes evident with the arrival of a baker each morning in his van, selling bread to parked campers. During our visit, he even made a second round in the afternoon. This is a common sight at large camper spots that resemble campgrounds more than parking lots, but the parking areas at Cathedral Beach wouldn’t typically be described in that way.
Amenities at the Beach
For those arriving by car, multiple parking spaces are available. However, a small tip: during low tide, when the beach is at its best, these can fill up quickly. Consider parking during high tide, when spots are generally more available.
Given the beach’s popularity, many amenities are on offer, including picnic tables, a foot shower, information boards, trash bins and containers, a water tap, and a restaurant with a terrace. For those visiting in high season, additional facilities like toilets and a first aid station are available for any mishaps or emergencies.