If you are planning to travel to Goa, the ideal is to start with its capital, Panaji, where you will have an encounter with the history of this beautiful city, full of marks of the Portuguese ancestors. This travel guide will help you make the most of your trip, find the best places to visit, what to do, where to stay and how to get around.
If you think that in Goa there are only beaches, then think again. Panjim, the capital of Goa, is a peaceful city, without the usual frenzy of other cities in India, with a European-like environment, with extensive references of a Portuguese-dominated past.
In Panjim you can see Catholic churches, forts, and even stores that keep the old names at the entrance, not missing out on the historical and glamorous elements of other times.
Its location, even in the middle of the Goa region, between the beaches of the north and south, on a peninsula bathed by the Mandovi River, where some cruise ships pass and where two large casinos are stationed.
Walking through the streets of Panjim may be a small escape to the frenetic Indian cities, without the usual crowds, just the broad, well-lined avenues with acacia trees and the common Gulmohar trees full of red flowers.
The people of Panjim live their own life, without seeing that tourist exploitation, with the aggressive approaches, without being always to go with you to sell something. Except for the rickshaws there, which continue the typical practices of India, to make longer paths, trying to earn some more rupees.
This city is different than other ones in India, and it will be a new experience for you, perhaps on a slightly different cultural exploration, where you will find a mix of Hindu and Catholic culture.
Something worth mentioning in Goa is the food you will find there. Purely delicious, mixing traditional Indian spices with Portuguese cuisine and, as a coastal town, you will also find many fish dishes and seafood.
One of the main attractions in Panjim is the old Latin Quarter, best known for the Bairro das Fontainhas, for its similarities with the Alfama Quarter in Lisbon.
It differs perhaps from the better-maintained houses in Panjim and fewer ups and downs in the streets than in Lisbon, except for Altinho, an area that gives access to the Fontainhas for those who come from the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church.
As a former Portuguese colony, Goa was able to keep most of the symbols of that time, especially the names of shops, churches, houses and even it is easy to find some people speaking perfect Portuguese.
Panaji is the perfect city to start your visit to Goa and learn about its history, before taking refuge in the beautiful beaches of the region.
- A Brief History About Panaji
- Things to Do and Places to Visit in Panaji
- Places to Eat in Panaji
- Hotels, Guesthouses, and Hostels – Places to stay in Panjim
- How to Get In and Away from Panaji
- How many days you should spend in Panaji
A Brief History About Panaji
Located on the banks of the Mandovi River, Panaji was known as Nova Goa, when it became the capital of the Goa region, succeeding Old Goa, the first capital, established in the 15th century as a port city by the leaders of the Sultanate of Bijapur.
The city was captured by the Portuguese in 1510 and became its administrative headquarters in India. Considered as “Rome of the East” for its brilliant religious sites, Old Goa was affected by pandemics of jungle fever and cholera in the seventeenth century, having been forced to abandon it later in 1759.
The capital was then transferred to Panaji, which was then known as “Nova Goa”, currently retaining the present capital of the state of Goa.
But it was only on March 22, 1843, that Panjim was elevated to the status of a city, and officially the new capital of Portuguese India with the name of New Goa City.
Things to Do and Places to Visit in Panaji
Panjim is one of the Indian capitals in the region of Goa, being characterized by having an enormous influence of the Portuguese culture, due to the Portuguese dominion for about 450 years.
The city itself differs from many cities in India, with almost no animals on the streets, no sacred cows getting in the middle of the traffic, just a few pet owners strolling their dogs.
Another unique aspect of India is the 2 casinos docked right in the middle of the Mandovi River, the Deltin Royale Casino and the heavily lighted Pride Floating Casino attracting all who pass on Dayanand Bandodkar Marg Avenue.
Here is a list of the main places to visit and everything you will see there, so you can make the most of this city.
1. Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church
Located on a small hill, right in the center, at the bottom Church Square, as was customary in all Portuguese churches, the church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception was initially a small chapel, built in 1541.
The church was later rebuilt in the mid-seventeenth century again from the essential foundations. The symmetrical staircase that is right in front of the church was built in the 19th century.
Its pastel color differs from the many churches you find in Portugal, mainly from the material used, to protect it against the high temperatures that hit the capital, reflecting the heat and keeping the church cooler.
The interior of the church is simple but impressive. The main altar is dedicated to Mary, while the other two are devoted to the Crucifixion of Jesus and Our Lady of the Rosary, respectively.
It is the first Catholic Church in Goa to be built which, for this very reason, offers a strong spiritual connection with the city.
It is natural to see many people there take pictures there, for all the magnificence of the church, but it is at night, when the church gains a new life, totally illuminated, and perfect to be able to take the best photos.
Just a curiosity: the church bell is the second largest in Goa, weighing approximately 2 250 kg and had as its base an important component of an Augustinian Monastery.
2. Fontainhas Quarter – the ancient Quartier Latin
One of the main attractions in Panjim is the old Latin Quarter, best known for the Bairro das Fontainhas, for its similarities with the old neighborhoods of Lisbon.
Founded in the eighteenth century by Antonio João de Sequeira, after coming from Mozambique where he made his greatest fortune, establishing himself later in Panjim.
It is the oldest district of the city, located between the hill of the Altinho and the old Ribeira Creek.
Initially, it was an extensive area almost deserted, until it began to be populated by residents, at the time when the Portuguese Government in India was established in the city, coming from Old Goa.
Most of the houses were built in the nineteenth century in a Mediterranean style, using pastel, white, blue, red or yellow colors, with balconies facing the street.
Today it is one of the few areas in Goa where Portuguese continues to be the most widely spoken language.
Many of the commercial spaces date from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and are still in a perfect state of conservation, with very active business life.
While many of the old country houses of the aristocracy were destroyed, and I, their place, constructed modern buildings, the rest still remain there, possibly from a Portuguese person or his/her descents.
At 31 de Janeiro street, the most emblematic street in the Fontainhas neighborhood, you can find small cafes, bakeries, and guesthouses. Many of these commercial spaces have existed for more than 100 years, some of them passing from generation to generation.
The name January 31 given to this street, symbolizes the date of Portuguese independence from the Spanish, on 31 January 1640.
Contrasting with this street, in Panaji, there is the street June 18, which marks the end of the Portuguese era in India.
One of the greatest pleasures you will have in the Fontainhas is to wander along its narrow streets, to admire all this beautiful construction, entirely atypical concerning the rest India, taking you to travel in time and, even in space, to the neighborhood of Alfama in Lisbon.
Among the most intriguing features of this neighborhood, the most curious is the fact that the houses in the Fontainhas are painted every year after the monsoon. It is a rule drawn up by the Portuguese, held up to this day.
Among the historic houses, there is one with the Desire Well, with two well-raised roosters on top. The well no longer has any use, but it is a beautiful place to visit.
Another attraction in the Fontainhas is the 19th century Saint Sebastian Chapel, particularly notable for its white and immaculate exterior, creating a high contrast with the colorful neighborhood. Upon entering, you will see three resplendent altarpieces, a crucifix and a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Bairro das Fontainhas will transport you instantly to the historic Portuguese neighborhoods, with their traditional houses accompanying the narrow winding streets.
3. A half day trip to Old Goa
Velha Goa, located 9 km east of Panaji, is the former colonial capital of Goa. Full of history it is home to beautiful churches and convents, in a perfect state of preservation, being even in full operation.
You can spend the whole morning or afternoon to visit all the monuments of this “East Rome” and visit this historic site dating from the 15th century.
To get to Old Goa is simple, you just have to catch the bus at the central station of Panjim. You should avoid taxis as they tend to overpriced prices in Goa, deliberately deceiving themselves on the way.
To take the bus, you must drive to Ribeira de Ourém, and cross the pedestrian bridge of Patto.
Then go straight until you find a roundabout. There you turn left. Walk for 3 minutes until you find some women selling fruit. Once you get there, you’ll see the bus station.
The journey to Old Goa is about 15 minutes in a local bus, listening to indian folk music.
The moment of entry into the Old Capital is impressive, seeing this old Portuguese city, growing through the jungle with its magnificent churches and cathedrals, all in immaculate condition.
Like the Basilica of Bom Jesus, a UNESCO-protected building, where the remains of Goa’s Benefactor, St. Francis Xavier, are stored in a coffin behind the altar.
The Basilica of Bom Jesus is a genuine case of Rococo design. Its construction began in 1594 and was sanctified in 1605 by the diocesan supervisor Don Padre Aleixo de Menezes.
Every ten years, an exhibition is organized to honor St. Francis Xavier, on December 3. The next will be in 2024. But every year they celebrate the day of St. Francis Xavier, occurring on the same day December 3.
The celebration of St. Francis Xavier takes place every year on December 3, but it is on November 24 that the pilgrims begin to gather for the novena, to express their respect to the saint.
Another church to visit in Old Goa is the Chapel of St. Catherine. Built in honor of Santa Catarina, after the victory of the Portuguese under the orders of Afonso de Albuquerque against the Muslims.
The Chapel of St. Catherine was completed in 1619 and is now the largest Catholic church in all of Asia.
If you want to know the history of this church in depth, you can find guides from the tourism department of Goa, who can show you the church and explain its history better than anyone.
4. Panaji Municipal Market
The Panaji Municipal Market is a fully Indian-style market where you can find all kinds of products, with places to shop every day, such as vegetables, fish or clothes, or eat sweet ice cream or drink a traditional lassie.
At the entrance of the market, you will not be indifferent to the fish that is sold there. Not that you are there to buy fish, but you will not be able to avoid its intense smell
The Panaji municipal market is open every day of the week through the night, with all kinds of shops in these narrow streets, selling clothes, natural juices (incredibly tasty), jewelry, technology or toys.
At the other end of the fish market, you will find the spice market selling all kinds of spices most commonly used in India.
5. Buy a Royal Enfield Motorbike
Everyone who has ever had contact with India knows about the beauty of Royal Enfield bikes, and how perfect it would be to buy one and take it back home.
It is possible. In Panaji, more specifically at Dr. Dada Vaidya Street, there is a motorcycle shop with several Royal Enfield models priced from $ 1,200 – Royal Enfield Auto Guides.
If you want to buy one directly to your country, in addition to the bike’s own cost, it will cost you about $ 1,000 in shipping fees plus the cost of legalization.
You can check everything on the Royal Enfield website.
6. Buy a book in Panaji
Books are one of the best memories you can bring from a trip of these, whether it be to learn how to cook the local dishes, to continue exploring the history of the cities or just a photo book.
In this bookstore, you can find everything you are looking for. Whether it’s a Goan cookbook, a travel guide, city history or just some romance or Indian fiction, the Varsha Book Stall has everything you need.
Do not be fooled by the small size of this bookstore, for all the corners, but a small warehouse, are filled with books of all kinds. It is located on Ormuz Road, about 5 minutes’ walk from the Immaculate Conception Church.
Places to Eat in Panaji
This territory of Goa, once Portuguese, is the smallest state in India and boasts regional cuisine famous for the incorporation of shellfish, coconut milk, and rice, in addition to traditional Indian spices.
Here you have a list of the top 8 restaurants in Goa, representing the best of southwestern Indian cuisine:
1. Hotel Venite Restaurant
Venite Hotel, a modern place for lunch, serves the traditional Goalo vindaloo and the conventional Portuguese chorizo, which make this place an unforgettable visit.
The coconut lamps and the balcony tables with a view of the pink and pastel buildings across the street complement their quirky charm.
Inside you can still see graffiti covering the wall, some of which date back to when the restaurant opened in 1955.
2. Mum’s Kitchen
Created by a Goan couple who want to keep the traditional flavors of Goa’s home cooking, Mum’s Restaurant is the ideal destination to sample the best local dishes.
Suzette and her husband researched and gathered family recipes from all over North Goa to serve in their restaurant, preserving both a home-style dining environment and excellent dining.
Although the Goan cuisine is not necessarily known for vegetarian dishes, vegetarian options at Mum’s Kitchen are extensive and unusual, with dishes such as Bimbli Udamethi, a vegetable dish made with roasted coconut and seasonings typical of every home in India.
3. Verandah Restaurant
Located on the first-floor’s balcony of the Boutique Hotel Panjim Inn, the Verandah Restaurant is a beautiful restaurant specializing in Goan cuisine.
The on-site balcony with its beautiful marble-topped tables overlooking the old Latin Quarter of Goa is an ideal place to sip a cocktail while watching the world go by.
The menu is extensive, but its primary focus is the meat dishes with small pieces of toasted coconut.
4. Tona Bar
With specialties that include grilled meats from Goa, peri poultry, and baked vegetarian dishes, Bar Tona is a place that offers a charming atmosphere and is a must for travelers looking to escape the many tourist traps of Goa.
5. Bhatti Village
With specialties that include grilled meats from Goa, peri poultry, and baked vegetarian dishes, Bar Tona is a place that offers a charming atmosphere and is a must for travelers looking to escape the many tourist traps of Goa.
6. Horseshoe Restaurant (Ferradura)
Located on Rua de Ourém, 245, the Horseshoe is a mixture of Portuguese food restaurant adapted to the Goan style.
Its owner is a Portuguese named Vasco, who has lived in Goa for 40 years, with origins in Angola.
The menu includes fish dishes, seafood, and many meat dishes, featuring Feijoada, served with a nice glass of Madeira wine.
For dessert, you have to try the caramel pudding.
If, in the end, you feel a full stomach, there is only one way to solve it. With a small glass of Burning Water, a robust Portuguese liqueur that will put your blood pumping.
The total price will be around Rs 650, but it’s worth it.
7. George Bar & Restaurant
To eat a traditional Goan food, then you must try the George Bar & Restaurant. Located right in front of the Church of the Immaculate Conception on the right.
The options available are immense, ranging from seafood, shrimp, rice dishes and others. Since you are in a coastal city, the best is to try the local seafood, cooked in the Indian style.
Try the Chonak, a grilled fish fillet with masala, followed by some big prawns with masala and garlic.
With two somewhat spicy dishes, you should not forget to accompany them with a nice, fresh Kingfisher beer.
The most important thing is that everything is cooked when you order, as you will have to try about 15 minutes from your request.
To finish this meal with a local digestive, taste a little of Feni, a strong liquor made with cashew nuts. It is usually served with lemon juice, but before joining you should taste and taste the fruit.
But drink in moderation because it has a high alcohol intensity. Order a small glass, which costs only Rs 25.
8. Gujarat Sweet Mart / Gujarat Lounge
More than a place to dine or have lunch is a street restaurant where many locals gather to eat a sweet snack in the late afternoon.
Located on June 18th Street, 5 minutes from the church, in this outdoor location you will find small restaurants. Try one that is right in the middle, usually with lots of young men, boys, and Indian girls, drinking lassie to quench the spicy taste of the samosas.
Join them and try these Indian specialties.
Hotels, Guesthouses, and Hostels – Places to stay in Panjim
Panjim is also a great strategic place for anyone who wants to try out different beaches every day. Located in the central area of Goa, it is about a half hour or an hour away from all the beaches in the north and south of Goa.
The best place to stay in Panjim is the Bairro das Fontainhas, where, besides being close to the bus station, you’ll love having a real sense of being in a Portuguese historical center, with several guesthouses, hostels and charming hotels where you stay.
Old Quarter Hostel, located on the southern part of Highway 31 January (coming from the church, turns right), is the perfect place to stay in Panaji for anyone traveling alone and want to meet other travelers.
They have dorm rooms with a starting price of 500INR without AC. It’s a good and cheap place to sleep and meet other travelers.
They also have double rooms on the top which can cost around 2000INR with AC.
Another good option, located in the central part of the 31 January street, is the Marquito’s Guesthouse, a building that occupies a whole block, with entrances on two different roads. As soon as you enter the street, you will not see the light signal with the Guesthouse name in a yellow sign hanging on a green wall.
The rooms are cozy with AC and non-AC available. It is a beautiful place to stay, well located.
The owner Tito Chiquita is always around and is very friendly. It is someone whom you can ask for any information, such as directions or excellent local restaurants for you to try.
The price of the rooms starts at Rs 1980 for non-AC rooms, with bathroom included but no towels and hot water. But in the face of the heat of this city, it will not be something you will need. AC rooms can cost around Rs 2980.
Afonso Guesthouse is located near the 31 January road, near the Old Quarter Hostel. It is the perfect place for couples to stay on an average budget. The rooms cost from Rs 3000.
Located perpendicular to 31st January street, this Guesthouse will offer you an extraordinary comfort, starting with the quiet street where it is located, full of trees in front it.
The rooms are large and very comfortable, with A / C and private bathroom, and on the top floor, you even have a small balcony, overlooking 31st January street, hidden behind the trees, giving a unique sense of relaxation.
Hospedaria Abrigo de Botelho is located at Rua de Natal, in Fontainhas, just 4 minutes from Panjim Bus Station and 1 km from Panjim Market. Hospedaria Abrigo De Botelho offers well-appointed accommodation with a design that is neither elegant
There are rooms available with AC and not AC, all with en-suite bathrooms and some of them even with a mini fridge.
It is open 24 hours and features luggage storage, laundry with dry cleaning, bicycle rental and if you wish, room service.
Also located on Rua 31 de Janeiro, Mateus Boutique Hotel offers rooms with balconies, perfect for spending the night relaxing overlooking the Fontainhas neighborhood.
It has rooms with and without AC, all equipped with private bathroom with shower and some of them even with hairdryer.
If you are looking for something of a higher standard in Panaji, there are numerous options for a luxurious stay such as the 5 star Goa Marriott Resorts property, located on the most secluded end of Miramar Beach.
Or you can spend a few days in the luxurious Vivanta by Taj Panaji hotel, also close to Miramar beach and 28 km from the airport.
This hotel offers all the 5-star facilities and services such as swimming pool, gym, spa, bar, restaurants, business center, airport pickup and drop facility, 24-hour room service and a lot more.
You can also opt for the Hotel Park Plaza, well located overlooking the historic Azad Maidan and 30km from the airport.
How to Get In and Away from Panaji
The central bus station of Panjim has many connections from the state of Goa to the beaches and many other nearby regions in India such as Bombay. It is located near the city, 10 minutes from the Fontainhas district and 20 meters from the Immaculate Conception Church.
There you can get connections to all beaches in the north and south of Goa, to the Old Capital of Goa, to Hosepete, Mumbai or Pune or even to the Madgaon Jn train station, from where you can take transport to many other cities.
Being close to the center of Panjim makes it all much easier to get around in and out of the city. Just avoid the rickshaws there as they tend to be very expensive and even unnecessary. For example, a trip to Old Goa can cost Rs 600 when you can only pay Rs 15 by bus.
How many days you should spend in Panaji
We recommend 2-3 days only in Panaji to ensure a calming and fun-filled holiday to Goa. It’s enough to see the city, including the old capital of Goa.
Panaji is a city that can be seen in just 2 days, with some tranquility, leaving more time for other places like the beaches of Goa.
So this guide was created, highlighting the main places to visit, but never forget, the simple walk along the avenues of Panaji, near the Mandovi River, day or night. It is totally safe and delightful.