Goa has been dazzling travelers for decades with its cultural richness and abundant natural wonders. However, many visitors often skip over its city center in pursuit of North Goa’s nightlife and/or South Goa’s beaches. But did you know that Goa also offers a world of things to do in Panjim, its bustling city center?
Panjim, also known as Panaji, is the capital city of Goa and the most important social, political and cultural center of the state. And it’s not easy to feel bored with all the things to do in Panjim. Just taking a stroll through Panjim’s many colorful streets reminiscent of 400 years of Portuguese influence is a fascinating enough reason to drop by. There are truly a wealth of offbeat places in Goa that you will love, like our beloved Cola Beach!
FUN & Special Things to Do in Panjim
1. Visit the Latin Quarter aka Fontainhas
Since Goa was a Portuguese colony for centuries, you can feel the multicultural influence throughout the state’s: languages, architecture, music, food, language, religion, and people. But especially in particular neighborhoods like Fontainhas (aka the Latin Quarter). This is one of the most famous neighborhoods in Panjim, recognized as a UNESCO Heritage Zone. This is where you can see and feel the most vibrant remnants of Portuguese influence. Dedicate at least a few hours to take in the beauty, the painful history, the infrastructure, European houses and mansions with colorful facades that remind you of Lisbon.
2. Panaji Walking Tours
If you love history, connecting with locals, and a guided walking tour through some of Panjim’s top highlights. Below are just a few you can book online. All have great reviews and are relatively affordable.
- Panaji: Heritage Walk through Goa’s Latin Quarter
- Fontainhas Heritage Walk (pictured above) ★
- Old Goa Heritage Walk
3. See the Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church
The eye-catching Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church is hard to miss as it sits high above passersby. It is one of the most revered churches outside of Old Goa (where most of the churches are found). Famous for its distinctive zigzagging stairs, which were built only in the 1800s, two hundred years after the church was constructed. You can enjoy the view from the Praca da Igreja, on one of many benches to sit down.
It is worth at least walking by and catching a glimpse of an impactful history.
The Goa Inquisition: A Forgotten Holocaust
Did you know the Portuguese killed THOUSANDS of innocent Hindus for HUNDREDS of years between 1560-1820? And if they converted but were suspected of still retaining some faith towards another religion, they were imprisoned, publically flogged, burned, tortured, and/or executed anyway?
The Portuguese also burnt books in Sanskrit, Arabic, Marathi, and the local Konkani language. Thus limiting this history for centuries. The oppressed were not just stripped of their ancient faiths but robbed of their ability to write/record and read in their own language! Moreover, almost all of the Goa Inquisition records were burned by the Portuguese when the inquisition was abolished in the 1800s. In addition to Hindus, they also persecuted Buddhists, Jews, and converted Catholics (not believing that they were really converted).
So when you see these churches, try to take a moment to acknowledge the fuller history out of respect to the thousands of lives that were cruelly lost. Read a local’s perspective about it here.
4. Temples, Churches, & Spice Plantation Tour
I love investing in guided tour experiences. I get to sit back and have the day planned for me while connecting to a knowledgeable local who educates me. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the churches, but also want to learn about the local temples and get a spice plantation tour, consider this all-in-one guided tour.
Or, consider this Capital City, Churches, and Forts tour.
5. Enjoy Nightlife in Panjim
If you are looking for nightlife in Panjim, you won’t be disappointed. One of the hidden gems is Joseph Bar located between the colorful streets of the Latin Quarter. Joseph Bar is open until 11 PM making it an amazing spot for warming up over local beer (Susegado) or a locally made glass of Kombucha (Borécha).
If you are a karaoke-lover or enjoy live music, then head over to Down the Road next. This is a popular spot to hang out over a beer or local food while listening to local musicians perform. This is also a favored venue among the local crowd of Goa. The best time to visit is after 6 PM.
And to call it a night, you can hop up to SOHO: a beautifully decorated pub on the top floor of an antique mansion. This western-style bar offers picturesque corners, a well-stocked bar, mixologists, and music!
Still ready to continue the night? If you’re feeling lucky, then consider one of Goa’s floating casinos located on a cruise ship along the Mandovi River. I think that casinos are terrible, but who am I to judge if you enjoy gambling your money away! 🙂
6. Explore Panjim’s Local Gastronomy + Food Tours
Panjim is bursting with legendary local restaurants to choose from. Remember that restaurants in Goa close between 3 PM and 7 PM, so schedule your visits accordingly!
- The Awadh House ★: This spectacular restaurant is located within a beautifully decorated and renovated old Goan house. Here, the traditional dishes from the forgotten era of Nawabs are revived. There are so many other dishes we tried here that it’s hard to go wrong. This restaurant is a must-visit in Goa.
- We loved the Galouti Kebab, the Murgh Angara (which is presented in a copper vessel), Dal Awadh, and the Tangdi Kulfi (our favorite wrapped in plantain leaves).
- Viva Panjim – This restaurant is down a little Portuguese-style walkway. It offers local Goan cuisine and wonderful customer service. It gets crowded by 1:30, so try to get there before!
- Hospedaria Venite – Considered one of the best restaurants in Goa, this charming restaurant offers an atmosphere that transports you to Lisbon or Havana. Their seafood menu is spectacular.
- TATAKI – This spot is hidden out of plain sight but located smack dab in the Panjim city center. This restaurant specializes in world cuisines like Pan Asian. The ambiance, food, drinks, and customer service are exceptional. Don’t miss their crispy tuna sushi!
- Food Tasting Tour: What better way to try a little bit of everything, than a foodie tasting tour? You can book this one here.
7. Day Tour to Divar Island
This green oasis is one of Goa’s hidden treasures. Divar Island is full of lush flora, birds, and idyllic lookout points over the water. This serene respite from Panjim city living offers plenty of bicycle routes or easy paths for walking. Grab a bite at a local bakery or restaurant.
Don’t miss these epic tours below. Remember, with a guided tour, you learn more about the island’s history while you’re there. It is full of deep stories and generations.
- This guided tour of Divar Island includes a traditional lunch
- This Divar Island tour is more affordable if you’re on a tighter budget
- Electric biking tour of Divar Island (amazing!)
Or, if you’re visiting independently, don’t miss these sites:
- Our Lady Of Piety
- Shaktivinayak Ganesh temple, Diwadi
- Wonderful Old Homes, including Island House
- Classic Ferry experience (free!)
To get to this island, you can catch a free ferry or take a bus into town.
Divar Island is where you can see a more rural part of Goa comprised of four different villages. Before Portuguese rule, Divar was a Hindu pilgrimage site with a lot of temples, but, unfortunately, many temples were destroyed during religious persecution, and thus churches also take a part of its imagery today.
8. Take a Coffee Break
If you are a coffee lover, then you will love Blue Tokai, where you can sip on freshly roasted Arabica coffee. I think this is the only place you can get a perfect flat white coffee. But there is also a cute and trendy place called Bombay Coffee Roasters where you can sip coffee and also have a beautifully plated healthy breakfast.
9. Go on a Private Photo Shoot
Consider this private photo shoot by Samuel Rasoori, a professional photographer who will capture your memories. I love hiring a photographer for at least a half day, whenever I travel. They usually take me to some of the most beautiful spots to admire, and I don’t have to annoy my friends or family (asking them to retake my photo a dozen times)!
10. Art Galleries and Museums
For those art lovers, we have some good news. Panjim offers several different beautiful art galleries to choose from! Here are just a few experiences:
- Goa Museum Art Tour for a guided museum experience.
- Gallery Gitanjali is Goa’s oldest surviving contemporary art gallery. Gallery Gitanjali also offers a collection of Scandinavian art from the 1950s to the 1990s. You can sign up for different workshops and courses, and attend a book launch/book reading.
- Velha Goa Galeria is a cute spot to buy beautifully painted azulejos (Portuguese ceramic tiles) as a souvenir.
11. Half-Day Tour to Old Goa
Old Goa, also known as the ”Rome of the East’ proudly wears that name with its towering churches and cathedrals. Today, the Churches and Convents of Goa are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With every turn, you can find another church very close by. You will see there a lot of Catholic Indians who also come here from other parts of India. To get to Old Goa from Panjim you can hop on the HOHO Bus, but you can also go with a tuk-tuk, taxi etc. Consider this guided tour.
12. Go Shopping in Panjim
For shopping, you can take a walk down M.G. Road and 18th June Road, where you will find different stores, both international and local. There is also Panjim Municipal Market, where you can get many Goan specialties like the locally made liquor–fenny to take home. Drop into other cool fancy stores, too, like Chumbak, O.M.O., SYNE Boutique & Design Studio, Sosa’s, Sacha’s Shop, and Wendell Rodricks Design Space.
13. Private Full-Day Guided Tour
Short on time while traveling in Goa? Consider a full day guide tour of sightseeing the area’s top highlights. This is perfect if you want to see as much as possible before you go. This tour is 8 hours long, so wear comfortable attire!
14. Go Biking
I love biking when I travel. It’s the best way to see everything, stop whenever you want, and not get as tired as I would walking. For biking tours in Panaji, consider doing a bike tour with The Bicycle Trip Goa. Or you can book this e-bike experience online. If you want to go farther, consider this 5-hour biking tour through Goa, Divar Island, and the Chorao Islands.
15. Take a 2-Day Tour to the Taj Mahal & Agra
If you’re itching to add one of the country’s top highlight experiences to your itinerary, consider this private 2-day tour to the Taj Mahal and Agra. It leaves from Panjim and includes round-trip flights, a guide, hotel, and other transfers. Not bad if you’re limited on time and want to squeeze in as much as possible before leaving India!
Getting Around in Panjim, Goa
FULL DISCLAIMER: Getting around Goa is simply NOT EASY. Yes, there are some buses and a major train station. But there are no designated bus routes between many places or trains that get you from one spot to the next. Unlike other parts of India, there is also NO Uber here. That is because there is an aggressive taxi mafia. So if you try to hail a cab on one of their “turfs” the cab driver will be too scared and refuse. This is out of fear for his own safety sometimes.
Taxis in Goa/Panjim: Despite the unethical mafia, the most efficient way to get around is by taxis. Although Uber is banned in Goa, they have a similar application called Goa Miles. But it’s best that you set this up before going to Goa because it requires a registration + deposit which might be too time-consuming if you’re on the go. Outside of Goa Miles, don’t forget to bargain with taxi drivers. It is easy to do so while in the city but near hotels, they have the mafia turfs where they charge 5+ times higher prices. Near these turfs, there have been reports of members of the taxi mafia throwing stones at Goa Miles drivers.
If you are on a serious budget, you may have to bargain. This includes being persistent and walking away if their price is egregiously high. They will either chase after you with a better price or you will find another taxi outside a turf who will be more than happy to accept your better price.
Other ways to get around Panjim: bikes, tuk-tuks, taxis, and even on foot.
Where to Stay in Panjim
Spending the night in Panjim is the perfect way to see more of the area because you’re located smack dab in the middle of northern and southern Goa attractions. There are hundreds of hotels to choose from in Panjim. Here are some suggestions on where you can stay.
A hip and well-decorated hostel in the center of Panjim that is budget-friendly. The hostel is enveloped in the toasty smell of coffee from the nearby cafe: Bombay Coffee Roasters, mentioned above. The hostel is definitely one of those trendier places of Goa’s growing hip scene. It is managed by The Hostel Crowd, a group of young people who also manage two more hostels in Goa: one in South Goa/Palolem called Summer and another in North Goa/Vagator named Jungle.
Double Tree Hilton ($$$)
Double Tree Hilton is a four-star hotel just a short drive from the city center of Panjim. It is set in a peaceful location overlooking the beautiful Mandovi River, enclosed by a verdant landscape. The relaxed ambiance and gorgeous decor inside provide a sweet respite from the city hustle and bustle. But our favorite part of this hotel? It has an infinity pool with an amazing view of the river. It also has 24/7 access to a modern fitness center. Prices start at $80/night.