Praza do Obradoiro

Top choice plaza in Santiago de Compostela

Image by Bartu Juan Shutterstock

The grand square in front of the cathedral's western facade earned its name (Workshop Sq) from the stonemasons' workshops set up here while the cathedral was being built. It's free of both traffic and cafes, and has a unique, magical atmosphere.

Stretching across the northern end of the praza, the Renaissance-style Hostal dos Reis Católicos was built in the early 16th century by order of the Catholic Monarchs, Isabel and Fernando, as a recuperation centre for exhausted pilgrims. Today it's a parador (luxurious state-owned hotel) and shelters well-heeled travellers instead, but its four courtyards and some other areas are open to visitors: the self-guided tour, with leaflet and more than 40 information panels, is well worthwhile.

Along the western side of the praza stretches the elegant 18th-century Pazo de Raxoi, now Santiago's city hall. At the south end stands the Colegio de San Xerome, a former college for the poor that is now the rectorate of Santiago University. This 17th-century building has a 15th-century Romanesque/Gothic portal that was transferred from the college's previous site.