Offbeat Goa: Places to visit in Panjim
Panjim (or Panaji) has been the capital of Goa, India since the 17th century when Portuguese had to abandon Velha Goa (Old Goa) due to plague and the capital city had to be relocated. A small town in those days, Panjim today is a culmination of rich history and culture fused with thriving modern developments. We have been to Goa a number of times before and have visited most of the beautiful beaches, experienced water-sports, adventure activities and hopped many cafes and clubs. But Goa never ceased to stir a desire in us to visit again. So when we decided to explore 'Offbeat Goa' and planned to indulge in true Goan experiences, it's culture, it's festivals, it's people and it's susegad way of life; Panjim was at the core of our plans. In this article, we guide you through places to visit in Panjim and show you what you might not know about Panjim.
Read other blogs of the series ‘Offbeat Goa’ by clicking on the link or photos below:
Places to visit in Panjim - This article
Location of Panjim
Panjim lies in central Goa on the western coastline of India largely on the banks of river Mandovi. The Mandovi river meets Zuari river around the Dona Paula. Panjim is located exactly at the point where river Mandovi and Zuari meets the Arabian Sea. About 30 km from Goa International Airport, Panjim lies on the way towards the popular beaches of North Goa such as Calangute, Candolim, Anjuna etc.
Understanding geography of Panjim
Goa as such is divided into 2 districts - North and South. In North Goa, lies a sub-district called Tiswadi (also called Ilhas de Goa meaning Islands of Goa; Tiswadi literally means 30 settlements) which includes islands such as Divar, Charao etc., Old Goa, some smaller towns and Panjim - the administrative capital of Goa. The whole city of Panjim can be divided into 4 sections for the purpose of visit -
Old Panjim - Old Panjim includes the Fontainhas and Mala
Altinho Hill - Altinho Hill divides new Panjim from the old
New Panjim - New Panjim includes Dona Paula, Miramar beach, and a few interesting museums
Panjim Promenade - The riverfront road that connects old and new Panjim
In this article, we will introduce you to some of the best places to visit in each of these sections of Panjim.
Places to visit in Old Panjim
As the name suggests, Old Panjim was among the early settlements. It used to be a coconut plantation around the Mandovi river. Panjim has not lost its Portuguese influence and is still full of heritage houses, quaint little streets, colorful buildings and projecting balconies. The best place to explore these is in Old Panjim in an area called Fontainhas.
1. Fontainhas - Fontainhas is an area which stands amongst the pastel-colored houses in Old Panjim that leads to Altinho Hill. Fontainhas area was once full of coconut plantation, most of which can still be seen from the top of Altinho Hill. Presently, Fontainhas falls under UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking in the lanes of Fontainhas is an experience similar to walking in European streets with colorful houses having oyster shelled windows and wrought iron balconies. According to a story, during Portuguese rule it was mandatory to freshly paint the house every year and that tradition is still followed by people living in these Latin quarters.
You can read more about Fontainhas detailing what to do, where to stay, eat etc. in our article - Explore the Fontainhas of Goa
The other major attractions in Fontainhas are -
2. Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church - This church sits on top of a hill overlooking the square below. The zigzag stairs ascend from both the sides towards the centre until they meet the church at the top. These stairs make a perfect selfie spot for the travellers. The exterior facade is whitewashed with streaks of bright blue paint at some places. Many Bollywood movies have been shot at this beautiful church owing to its rich Portuguese architecture. The steps are an easy climb and once at the top, one can enjoy the panoramic view of the Panjim town. The main altar of the church is adorned by Lady Mary. On 8th December every year, the Festival of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is held at the church and in those times it is decorated with beautiful displays of colors and lights. However note that during prayer times, they do not allow tourists inside. We felt highly disappointed after excitedly climbing up the stairs only to be disallowed inside. Something we have never come across in any religious place.
3. Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum - This museum is an eye-catching blue colored building located close to the Panjim jetty on the Dayanand Bandodkar Road. The building used to function as a Customs House during the Portuguese regime. The building used to be yellow and white in color till the year 2000; post which it was renovated and colored to Indigo blue as 'indigo' was one of the commodities that used to be traded in those days. Though looking small from outside, the museum is a two-storeyed display of Indian Customs and Taxation. Various displays depict how drug trafficking and smuggling used to happen in old days and how the smuggled items were seized by the Indian Customs office. The museum is one of it's kind and one would generally not find museums with such displays anywhere in India. It is a great place to see the evolution of Customs and Excise practices from Portuguese times till date. The museum is kept clean, is maintained well and the staff is very well-behaved.
Note: Museum timings - 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM; Entrance fees - INR 10 per adult; Closed on Mondays.
4. Commercial centre for shopping -
Panjim is the best place in Goa to shop for some quality products at a good bargain price. Shopping in Panjim can be done from street side stalls, designer showrooms or shopping malls. The market is famous for buying cashew nuts, wines, local handicrafts and Goan spices. Panjim specializes in azulejo tiles and Velha Galleria or Azulejo de Goa are the places where one can buy these richly colored ceramic tiles to decorate their houses. The Linen Shoppe is famous for its ikat print bed linens and kalamkari textile. Marcou Artifacts is a gallery where one can buy original work of iconic Goan cartoonist, Mario Miranda. It houses products ranging from books, stationary, bags, souvenirs, wall-hangings, caricatures to sketches - all designed and worked upon by Mario himself. Singbal's Book House has an excellent selection of books on Goa and travel in general. Gitanjali Art gallery at Panjim Pousada is a place for artists who love work of Mario Miranda and Francis D'Souza. The artwork is available for sale at the gallery.
Places to visit on Altinho hill
Altinho hill divides the Old and New Panjim. One can reach the hill via road or by climbing one of the numerous stairs that connects the 2 sides of the hill.
1. Maruti temple - This temple is dedicated to Lord Hanuman and is located right at the top of Altinho Hill. It can be accessed via road or by ascending the stairs from the Phoenix Spring. The temple attracts less number of tourists but the view from the top is worth the effort put in reaching there. The orange colored exterior facade of the temple is shaped in the form of a chariot. The chariot wheels are intricately carved and beautifully crafted. Maruti temple is an ideal place to view sunrise in Panjim and is a perfect place for photography. Photography is however not allowed inside the temple premises.
2. Government buildings - Panjim being the capital of Goa, many administrative buildings are located here. Offices of various banks, Goa Chief Minister's official residence, Indian Meteorological department, All India Radio headquarters, Telephone exchange office, High Court of Bombay at Goa and several other government buildings can be found at Altinho Hill. Each building is unique and painted in different colors with Portuguese influence in architecture.
3. Sunaparanta Centre of Arts and Cafe Bodega - Sunaparanta is a non-profit cultural centre and is a must visit place for artistic souls. It's gallery houses the finest art displays and exhibitions and there are always interesting events happening here, not to forget a movie screening every Wednesday night.
Cafe Bodega is a beautiful old house converted into a cafe and art gallery. The courtyard in front of the cafe is full of greenery and perfect to loiter around after a sumptuous meal or for sitting in the grass listening to music or reading/ writing a book. The ambience buzzes with energy and a different kind of vibe. The staff is prompt and the food is mouthwatering. The menu is vast with a variety of cuisines that are reasonably priced. There is wifi and laptop charging facility; hence the creative minds often can be seen visiting Cafe Bodega.
Note: Cafe and art gallery timings - 10 AM to 7 PM; Closed on Sundays.
4. Just a lovely place to walk - Altinho Hill is no less than a hill station. While it houses many government buildings, it also has several age-old heritage houses. Just taking a walk in the winding alleys of Altinho Hill can soothe one's disturbed mind. The calm and cool atmosphere with the canopy of trees all around is pleasant and refreshing. The lanes of Altinho hill are also a photographer's paradise with clean big roads, lots of flowering trees, colorful heritage houses and old Portuguese architecture everywhere.
Places to visit in New Panjim
1. Dona Paula Beach and Viewpoint - Dona Paula bay is the place where two of the most famous rivers of Goa, Mandovi River and Zuari River, meet the Arabian sea. The Dona Paula viewpoint is a nicely created deck with lots of street stalls selling cheap souvenirs and fast food. The viewpoint is best visited in the evenings during sunset. Benches are laid at the deck to sit and watch the sunset peacefully. Many famous Bollywood movies are shot here. Dona Paula beach offers a variety of water sports and adventure activities to the tourists. Both, the viewpoint and the beach, are often very crowded. We would rather not dwell into the stories around whitewashed statues of Dona and Paula who on one hand, are believed to be lovers and on the other hand are believed to be a parent and a child. Dona Paula as an area is on the outskirts of Panjim and is one of the most posh residential area of Goa.
2. Miramar beach - Miramar beach is a public beach and is one of the favourite hotspots to visit for tourists. The white-sand beach is surrounded by coconut trees. Various hotels and resorts ply on the banks of the beach. Local shops selling sea-shell souvenirs are lined up at one corner of the beach. Streetside stalls serving Goan cuisines are lined on the other side. Miramar beach is famous for morning and evening walks, playing football or volleyball, relaxing and dipping feet in the water and soothing with the waves.
3. Kala academy - Kala Academy is a centre for art and entertainment run by the Government of Goa. The centre organises festivals, exhibitions, workshops, seminars and competitions to spread awareness about the various forms of local art. It houses a couple of galleries, an amphitheatre, a library and a cafeteria that is very famous with the young crowd. There's always some event happening at Kala Academy, so just hop on to see whats recent. The academy overlooks the magnificent Mandovi River and is a nice place for art lovers and photographers.
A beautiful promenade connects the Old and New Panjim with Mandovi river flowing on the side bustling with casinos, cruises and street shopping stalls. It can get little crowded during the evenings especially during the tourist season.
1. Casinos on river Mandovi - By Goan law, the onshore casinos can only have electronic games whereas there is no such restriction for offshore ones. Hence, several floating casinos operate in the two-kilometre stretch of River Mandovi overlooking the Dayanand Bandodkar Road. From the shore, the casinos look fabulous with all the glitter, lights, pomp and show. Dominated primarily by the Deltin group and the Pride group, these casinos are multi-storeyed luxury ships anchored in the Mandovi River. Mini-ferries or speedboats from the shore takes one to the casino ships. Different entry fee structures are designed for weekdays and weekends that include slot games, table games, live entertainment, dance floors, unlimited world cuisine buffet, ala carte menus, finest liquor and live cooking stations. Every day fortunes are made and lost at these casinos. However if you are unable to visit these casinos for any reasons, you can always choose to play online at real money gambling websites. Be it Roulette, Blackjack or any of your favorite card games, they offer the same thrill and fun of actual casinos from the comfort of your home.
2. Sunset cruise on river Mandovi - Various government and privates cruises run for a short ride in River Mandovi during sunset. They leave from the Patto jetty and takes one down the Mandovi River up to the Miramar beach and returns back to the same jetty. On board, there is live entertainment, cultural performances, music, fun, food and refreshments. Sunset cruising is amongst the favourite activities of the tourists flocking Panjim. The cruise lasts for 2 hours. One can walk freely at the top-most deck of the ship and enjoy the panoramic view of Panjim city.
Apart from above listed places, you can also cover few other interesting places while staying at Panjim. These are not exactly in Panjim, but are nearby and can be easily reached as a day excursion. These are -
1. Churches of Old Goa - You might have already heard or even visited the famous churches of Goa. Our favourite being the Church of Our Lady of the Mount. Just try visiting it during the sunset and we can guarantee it will take your breath away.
2. Divar Island - An island close to Panjim consisting of 3 villages and makes a lovely place to visit. We would actually recommend staying at least one night on Divar island.
3. Houses of Goa museum - A unique museum great to know history, culture and architecture of Goa. We would recommend visiting it before or after your visit to Fontainhas to get perspective.
4. O Coqueiro restaurant - O Coqueiro meaning Coconut tree in Portuguese - A fine dining restaurant that is open till 4 AM & famous for Charles Sobhraj being captured while eating here.
5. Reis Magos Fort & Church - Located across river Mandovi closer to Agonda, Reis Magos (meaning 3 wise men from Bible in Portuguese) is a small village just around 15-20 mins drive from Panjim.
We hope this article gave you an idea of all the places that you could visit in Panjim. There is so much more that can be added in the list and it would still be incomplete. It's no surprise that people who visit Panjim return back again owing to its history, attractiveness and essence.
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We know not every place in this list is exactly an offbeat place. However, we decided to include them in this list to make it more comprehensive guide on Panjim. Do write to us if you know of other attractions/ places to visit in Panjim you might have stumbled upon during your visit. We will be happy to read about your experiences in the comment section below.