Capital cities can either be a hit or a miss and Panjim (Panaji), the capital of Goa, in my mind, was no exception to that.
While I had briefly heard about this largely unknown (to me) city of former Portuguese rule and got a preview of the many wonderful things to do in Panjim, I didn’t quite know what to expect from the city itself.
But after touching down at the Dabolim International Airport in Goa and driving away in a getaway taxi—skirting past holy cows grazing on whatever they could find at the base of the palm-fringed, dusty roads—I found myself feeling oddly at ease, possibly even at home. 🐄 🌴
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The expectations I had of Panjim, if any, began to fade away and I let the breezy Goan air start to infiltrate.
It only took me a couple of days of sauntering around the colorful and colonial streets of Panjim to figure out that this was the sort of place I could see myself lingering in.
The moment I realized there was more to Panjim happened somewhere between laughs at the local dive bar serving urak cocktails and my observations of the locals’ attitudes and demeanors—which was that of ambitious contentment, the very spirit of the susegaad lifestyle that Goans are known for.
All, that said, Panjim is a capital city full of character and life, just waiting to be discovered.
And I’m here to pull back the curtain, just a little, to share what it’s like (so you can actually show up knowing what to expect!).
Here is a taste of all the wonderful things to do in Panjim, Goa, India! 🇮🇳
The Best Things to Do in Panjim (Panaji)
1. Stroll the Historic Fontainhas Latin Quarter
Take a walk through the charming and colorful heritage area of Panjim, and you’ll feel like you’re being whisked away to the Iberian Peninsula in Europe.
That’s because the Fontainhas Latin Quarter is steeped in centuries of Portuguese history and architecture.
Originally founded to be a coconut plantation by a wealthy man named Antonio Joao de Sequeira in the 18th century, Fontainhas eventually developed into the residential and political seat of the Portuguese elite.
As you stroll Fontainhas, you’ll see this very influence manifest in the blue and white Azulejo tiles decorating street signs, upscale tapas bars and dainty chapels, and rusty terracotta roofs adorning colorful pastel villas dotting the streets.
There are so many hidden gems in just this one area, so the best way to soak up its charm and dive into Panjim’s beautiful Fontainhas Latin Quarter is on this guided walking history tour by Make It Happen (or this one by Soul Travelling).
If you’d prefer to wander on your own though, I recommend starting your day with an iced latte at the lovely Café Rasa before heading out on foot into the maze of Fontainhas.
On your stroll, don’t miss out on:
- Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (Catholic) Church;
- The orange-pink Maruti Temple of the Hindu monkey god Lord Hanuman (or you can save this for later when you explore Altinho Hill);
- Fonte Phoenix (from which it is said Fontainhas was given its name, meaning “little fountain”);
- All the art galleries and quaint boutiques you’ll find in between lining the narrow, cobbled streets.
Now, here is a quick overview of my favorite places to eat and stay in Fontainhas!
Where to eat and drink 🍛:
- Miski Bar — This is the community’s cutest little hole-in-the-wall dive bar. Come here for BBQ and urak cocktails, the local’s go-to drink made of fermented cashews served with green chili, salt, and lime.
- Viva Panjim — You can’t find a more Portuguese–Goan restaurant than this family-owned favorite in the heart of Fontainhas. Get the fish curry!
- António @ 31 — A super cute and cozy tapas bar you won’t want to miss, especially on a night out with friends. Get the guava chili cocktail, corn ribs, and garlic/chili shrimp!
- Confeitaria 31 De Janeiro — This little bakery established in 1930 still uses its original wood-fired oven to whip up some of the best local Goan bread (pao) and the ever-famous Portuguese pastel de nata.
Where to stay 🏡:
- Abrigo de Botelho — Locally owned, this quaint and historic Goan home was converted into a beautiful little B&B in the heart of Fontainhas. This is where we stayed, and we couldn’t have been happier with our experience and our friendly hosts, Ron and Sharon! 💛
- If you’re looking for more options in the heart of Fontainhas, I recommend the Mateus Boutique, WelcomHeritage Panjim Inn, and The White Balcao (hostel).
➡️ Read more places to stay in North Goa here
2. Drink Like a Local on a Panjim Pub Crawl
From upscale bars shaking up specialty craft cocktails to local dive bars serving everything from local Goan beer to feni and urak—there’s a drink for every palette in Panjim!
And there’s no better way to get a bird’s eye view into how the locals do than by drinking like a local.
Since it’s a little outside of the Fontainhas area, I recommend starting with creative feni cocktails and delicious bites at India’s first-ever vinyl bar, For The Record (FTR). The setup here is so cozy and cool that you can’t miss it, and it would be a waste to come here and not remember it. So, start here!
Next, walk 15 minutes into Fontainhais to reach Miski Bar. This little community bar has so much character and is a true Panjim staple.
Make sure to order urak here (fermented cashew drink) which is the unprocessed/filtered version of Goan feni (get the original with the chili, lime, and salt if it’s your first time trying it).
After Miski, you have a few options for bar hopping!
Just a few steps down the street is Miguel’s, a classy cocktail and petiscos bar that has the friendliest bartenders and the best craft cocktails!
And if you’re still hanging in there after 3-4 bars, then head to Antonio’s for light bites and vibes, Joseph’s for local brews and laid-back susegaad vibes, and finally, Soho for the dance floor (where all good nights end)! 💃
3. Wander Around Old Goa
Old Goa (Velha Goa), was the capital of the state before it was moved to Panjim in the mid-19th century.
In other words, it’s chock-full of historic and religious sites you won’t find elsewhere in India—mostly ancient churches, basilicas, and chapels, but also must-see attractions like the Archaeological Museum of Goa.
Old Goa’s location on the banks of the Mandovi River, just 20 minutes east of the city by car, makes it an unmissable thing to do in Panjim.
👉 Want to learn about Old Goa on a guided walking tour?
Make It Happen—the same folks who offer the Fontainhas Heritage Walk in Panjim—can take you on a two-hour tour around the most popular and interesting sites to see in Old Goa. Click here to book it!
While you’re here visiting the main sites in Old Goa like the iconic Se Cathedral and Basilica of Bom Jesus, you might consider visiting a nearby spice plantation tour in Ponda as that is a popular add-on to most Old Goa tours.
**However, please note that, from what I can tell, most spice farm tours either used to—or still do—offer unethical elephant encounters.
Tropical Spice Plantation, for example, has banned its elephant riding and washing practice, but please visit only at your discretion and research as they may still hold elephants.
I do not support unethical wildlife tourism. For more information about how to be an ethical traveler, refer to my guide.
For more background about elephants on Goa spice farms, click here.**
If you would like an authentic experience of Goan culture, then I’d recommend visiting a cashew nut factory where they make feni and urak—Goa’s “jungle juice.” 🥜
4. Day Trip to Divar Island
If Panjim ever feels too hectic for you, then consider taking a day trip to Divar Island—one of the six islands set in the middle of the great Mandovi River east of Panjim.
Divar was once a popular Hindu pilgrimage, but after centuries of religious persecution and plague, many of the temples were destroyed or relocated.
Now, Divar is a tranquil, multicultural destination home to Goan islanders, lush palm trees, farms and rice fields, quaint villages, overgrown baroque churches, and crumbling Portuguese villas.
Please note also that, should you visit on your own, Divar Island is only reachable by one of three ferries, which you can take for free from Panjim or Old Goa (or, if you take your own car, pay a very minimal fee). The ferries run every 30 minutes each day between 7am–8pm.
5. Climb Up to Altinho Hill for Views & Art
Altinho Hill is a beautiful, upscale neighborhood set on a hill overlooking Panjim.
Numerous important buildings adorn this hilltop, including the:
- Bishop’s Palace
- Maruti Temple
- Chief Minister’s Residence
- Shree Mahalaxmi Temple
- All India Radio broadcaster
- Sunapranta Goa Centre for the Arts
I highly recommend heading to the Sunapranta Goa Centre for the Arts and dipping inside the interior for a pick-me-up coffee and treat at Café Bodega.
Take the opportunity to walk around the exhibit rooms and art galleries inside SGCA. Check out their website for updates on upcoming events such as book releases, theatre events, and musical performances.
To get to Altinho Hill on foot requires a bit of step walking through local backstreets, but all the merrier!
If you haven’t been to the Maruti Temple yet, head there and keep following the road beyond it.
Otherwise, you can head up via the “Heritage Steps” (location on Google Maps here) and then come back down the other side via Maruti.
6. Jive the Night Away at a Jazz Bar
Soulful jazz, jiving, and old-world charm—that’s what you’ll find on a night out at Cantare.
We came here to celebrate a friend’s birthday and had an absolute blast. I won’t reveal more than that here, but essentially, if you’re into the local scene and want a taste of jiving, come here!
A “local village tavern with a twist”, Cantare is a locally-owned restaurant and bar famed for its live jazz music, dance nights, and great food and drinks. It’s simply a hidden gem and local’s favorite go-to.
PS — The dress code is “evening casuals” — and ladies, get ready to get swung by pro-level dancers. (It’s GREAT fun!) Oh, and there’s a strict no-video policy on the dance floor. 💃
7. Hit the Golden Panaji Beaches & Coves
Goa is famous for its long stretches of golden-sand beaches, some of which are located right near Panjim!
Miramar Beach is perhaps the most well-known of the beaches around Panjim.
This is your go-to beach if you want to do water sports, watch the sunset, go for a run at sunrise, or relax in the sand while reading a book.
From this beach, you can also spot the 17th-century Aguada Fort (which is another great place to visit near Panjim!).
While you’re near here, don’t miss out on the chance to eat at the Black Sheep Bistro—one of the best restaurants in Panjim!
Next, if you head south, there are even more great beaches to discover such as Caranzalem Beach and Balam Beach.
Dona Paula Beach is another that’s worth visiting, however, it’s a bit touristy. Come here for sunset views over the jetty, great restaurants, and water sports.
8. Try Your Hand at Sailing & Fishing
As they say, do as the locals do, and when in Goa, the locals go sailing and fishing!
You might not immediately think of Panjim or Goa for its fishing traditions and heritage, but how else would you be able to enjoy those delicious fish thalis, crab curries, and other succulent seafood dishes?
Goans are fishermen at heart and by occupation, and there are several local fishing traditions in Panjim and Goa, one of which is called khutani which is stake fishing.
Panjim, in particular, is great for beach fishing, deep-sea fishing, and sailing thanks to the confluence of the Mandovi River and the Arabian Sea. It’s what sets Panjim apart from other destinations in Goa. 🌊
Even though technologies have made commercial fishing more mainstream, traditional methods are still used and loved by locals.
And the fishing industry in Goa is only going to become a priority in the future, with agro-ecotourism at the helm. Recently, there have been efforts by the local government to boost Goa’s fisheries sector with events like the three-day Aqua Goa festival to raise awareness and bring together stakeholders across the industry.
Goa-fishing with Tony offers a variety of fishing tours in Goa, reach out by email to sign up.
And if you’re looking to get advice from an experienced angler about fishing in Goa, read this lovely write-up by Dean.
9. Bet Your Luck on the Crazy Casino Cruises
When one visits Panjim, it’s hard to ignore the ginormous cruises on the Mandovi River, especially at night when they are all aglow.
Except, if you look closely, those aren’t any ordinary cruises… “Thems is casinos!”
While I didn’t have the chance to experience one myself, I watched from the riverbanks in awe at the number of folks shuffling onto the jetties to get transported to the all-night fiesta happening on those flashy off-shore cruises.
In fact, you can board Asia’s largest floating casino stationed right here in Panjim—the Delta Royale Casino Cruise.
That monster is over 50,000 square feet big with several floors featuring thousands of games, plus live acts and performances, a sky bar, a VIP lounge, and a swanky restaurant and bar.
Most casino cruises have various ladies’ and gents’ packages offering unlimited drinks, buffet dinners, etc.
Expect to pay between $30–$50 USD and above to enter based on the package you choose.
Panjim already has so much to offer in the way of cultural and historical heritage, but another type of experience awaits out there on the water.
Ultimately, if you have the time, money, and adrenaline to spare, experiencing a casino cruise is an unmissable thing to do in Panjim! 🎰 🚢
While this activity is far from my go-to, I’m always down to try anything at least once. I can imagine it would be a helluva time with a close group of friends!
10. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary & Mud Bath at Chorão Island
While not technically in Panjim, a visit to Chorão Island located on the Mandovi River is another worthwhile day trip to make from Panjim as it’s only 5km away by ferry.
On this lush little island lies beautiful mangroves, endearing villages and historic sites, nature trails, and the Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary where you can observe migratory birds.
Essentially, a day trip to this hidden gem gives you a totally different experience of Goa beyond the beaches and trance parties.
Don’t miss it!
All in all, I think Panjim/Panaji is Goa’s crown jewel and a very much underrated destination in India. 💎
I hope this mini guide helps you plan your trip and make the most of your stay in Panjim!
If you have any questions about what to do in Panjim, feel free to drop a comment below or reach out by email or on Instagram @bucketlistbri.
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