With golden sand beaches, tangled palm trees touching the sky and a relaxed atmosphere, Goa stands in stark contrast to other bustling urban destinations in India. Even a short visit to this beach paradise feels like a holiday within a holiday. The beauty and tranquility of Goa will rejuvenate you, while its robust calendar of events and activities will give you plenty to do in your spare time.
Popular coastal hot spots like Colva Beach and Palolem Beach attract tourists to Goa from all over the world. However, the beaches are only the beginning of what makes Goa one of the most popular places to visit in India. The destination also has unique Portuguese-influenced cuisine, historic churches and temples, vibrant wildlife and fascinating spice farms. No matter how long you spend in Goa, you’ll wish you had a few extra days to explore.
For more ideas to help you plan your trip to India, check out our list of the best tourist attractions in Goa.
Beaches play a major role among the attractions in Goa, which contributes to why it is one of the best places to visit in India.
Almost every tourist who visits the area spends a day at Palolem Beach, a crescent-shaped stretch of white sand overlooking the Arabian Sea in South Goa. While just lounging around and soaking up the scenery is the perfect way to enjoy this beautiful area, Palolem Beach also offers a variety of activities to fill your time. Choose from kayaking, yoga classes, dolphin tours and swimming. You can also spend the night in one of Palolem’s rustic coconut huts, which are built at the beginning of the high season.
Colva Beach is another one of the most famous beaches in Goa, especially among Indian tourists. It has swaying palm trees and a wide stretch of bronze sand where you’ll occasionally see herds of cows sunbathing next to tourists. You can rent jet skis, jump on a thrilling banana boat ride and get a bird’s eye view of the beach with a parasailing adventure.
Homestay accommodation in the area will give you an authentic, local-style experience – plus easy access to Colva Beach.
Beaches off the beaten path
Although known for their spectacular scenery, Goa’s popular beaches tend to get crowded during peak season, leaving some travelers looking for a more tranquil nature escape. Luckily, Goa is bursting with undiscovered beach attractions and activities that will give you some distance from the tourist crowds while keeping you entertained with the gorgeous sand and surf.
One of the best hidden gems in Goa is Butterfly Beach. It has a curved stretch of sand lined with boulders that create a postcard-worthy cove, teeming with butterflies and flowers. It’s also a great place to watch dolphins swim in the distance.
To get to Butterfly Beach, you’ll need to take a boat ride from Palolem or Agonda Beaches, or take a tough hike into the forest—but the barriers to get here help thin out the crowds. You might even have a place to yourself.
Although more developed than Butterfly Beach, Utorda Beach is another wonderful retreat from the more crowded beaches around Goa. It is characterized by clear blue water; silk sand; and a few small beach huts. Look closely as you wade through the water and you might spot a tiny starfish.
Tanshikar’s Working Spice Farm
South India has been known for centuries for its abundance of spices such as black pepper, cardamom and cloves. In fact, these natural flavorings were the main attraction for Portuguese traders who came to Goa hundreds of years ago.
Tourists can see what the local spice scene is all about with a tour of Tanshikar’s Working Spice Farm & Ecological Rest House. This agritourism attraction grows seven different spices: pepper, vanilla, nutmeg, turmeric, cardamom and chilli, using completely organic farming methods.
Farm tours, often led by the owner, give you an in-depth understanding of these flavor-packed crops and the chance to see some of the other produce, such as betel nut, coffee beans, pineapple and banana, grown on the premises. Tanshikar’s also keeps bees and produces its own all-natural honey.
Spice farm tours aren’t the only fun you can do at Tanshikar’s. Guests can also take a vegetarian cooking class, visit a bubbling lake, hike Mainapi Waterfall and train as a yoga teacher. It’s an attraction that has something for everyone.
Address: Netravali, Near Smriti Yoga, Sanguem, Goa
Official Website: http://www.tanshikarspicefarm.com/
Food is the main attraction in Goa. This part of India has a distinctive cuisine that blends Portuguese and Goan flavors, making it different from all other cuisines in India. Expect fiery flavors, freshly caught seafood and an abundance of coconut in the dishes.
You can’t leave Goa without trying its signature dish, vindaloo, a super hot meat curry made with palm vinegar and dried red chillies. Hospedaria Venite in the capital of Goa, Panaji, wowed tourists with its delicious vindaloo. A Benaulim Beach mainstay, Dominick is another favorite for vindaloo – plus it offers front-row seats to prime sunsets.
Another Goan specialty is xacuti, a rich curry with poppy seeds, chillies and coconut. Try it at Souza Lobo, a beach restaurant in Calangute, or Fat Fish, a popular spot in Baga.
Tourists who crave fresh seafood are spoiled for choice around Goa. Zeebop on Utorda Beach offers a wonderful fish curry, steamed prawns and mackerel doused in a spicy red sauce.
You also can’t go wrong with dinner at Copperleaf. A luxury restaurant in Porvorim offers a fish thali that you’ll be dreaming about long after you’ve finished.
Basilica de Bom Jesus
While many tourists visit Goa for the beaches, countless others consider the trip a pilgrimage to major religious sites such as the Basilica de Bom Jesus.
This Old Goa attraction dates back to the late 16th century and contains the remains of Saint Francis Xavier. The “Apostle of India” co-founded the religious order of the Society of Jesus with his friend St. Ignatius Loyola and headed an extensive mission in India. The basilica has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage since 1999.
The modest but impressive structure is a mixture of Doric, Corinthian and Baroque styles with intricate carvings. Interestingly, the building was stripped of its lime plaster in the mid-20th century, making it the only church in Goa without plaster. The Basilica de Bom Jesus has been worn by the monsoons ever since.
You can explore the church yourself or hire one of the independent guides at the entrance for a small fee. Inside you can see huge ornamental screens along with the body of a local saint in a coffin that was once covered with precious stones. It is an impressive place that takes you back in time.
The Feast of St. Francis Xavier attracts large crowds to this church every year in late November and early December. It begins with a nine-day novena and open-air masses before ending with the main feast on December 3.
Address: Old Goa Road, Bainguinim, Goa
Official website: https://www.bomjesus.org/
Water adventures go beyond the beach in Goa. The state is also home to the Dudhsagar Falls, a spectacular four-tier waterfall that rises about 310 meters above the ground. It is one of India’s tallest waterfalls and a perennially popular attraction for day trips to Goa and Karnataka.
To get to the falls, you need to take a taxi or train to the village of Colem. Depending on the train route you take, you may catch a glimpse of the Dudhsagar Falls on the way. Then you hop aboard a shared jeep through the jungle, passing Devil’s Canyon on the way. About 45 minutes later you jump over some boulders to finally reach the falls.
The best time to visit Dudhsagar Falls is right after the monsoon when the water is gushing. Tourists who want to swim can rent a life jacket from vendors at the attraction.
Hot tip: Only 300 jeeps are allowed to enter Dudhsagar Falls each day, although tour operators ask for increased capacity during peak season. Make reservations in advance or be prepared for long lines if you want to visit.
Goa is home to many markets, but none offer the vibrancy or selection of produce you’ll find at Anjuna Market. For about 50 years, hundreds of vendors have set up shop on Anjuna Beach every Wednesday to entice free-spirited travelers with hippie-inspired trinkets and souvenirs.
Embellished textiles, woven bikinis, deity statues, dream catchers, hammocks, magnets, t-shirts with sassy slogans, beaded jewelry, toys—you name it, you can probably buy it here.
But even if you don’t feel like shopping, you should make time to visit Anjuna market for sightseeing. The flea market is a swirling array of colorful wares, hard-bargaining vendors, big bags of fresh spices and plenty of street food. The ambiance alone is one of the reasons why Anjuna Market is one of the best places to visit in Goa.
Address: 10 St. Michael’s Vaddo South, Anjuna, Goa
Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary
Head to the laid-back town of Panaji to visit another of Goa’s historic churches: the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.
The pristine white church, which dates back to the early 17th century, stands at the top of a winding staircase that resembles the tiers of a wedding cake. Its perfectly symmetrical Portuguese Baroque architecture is a sight to behold. At night, thanks to the flashing lights, the church looks like something from a fairy tale.
Although not ornate, the interior of the church boasts bright colorful decorations. Tourists can see the elegant main altar (dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus) and the gilded columns with elaborate carvings. Lines of blue and white flowers often decorate parts of the vaulted ceiling around various holidays.
December 8 falls on the festival of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, the main holiday in this church. Swing by and you’ll see it’s decked out in tons of colorful lights.
Address: Rua Emídio Garcia, Altinho, Panaji, Goa
House of Braganza
See what houses in Goa looked like in the 17th century at Braganza House, a historic mansion that lines a semi-detached house in Chandor. It is divided into an east and west wing, both of which are available for tourists to rummage through.
The east wing is home to members of the Pereira-Braganza family. It boasts a massive ballroom with an impressive marble floor, along with a small chapel that contains one of the nails of St. František Xaversky. This part of Braganza House also overflows with antiques and international artifacts.
The west side preserves the original grandeur of Braganza House. Owned by the Menezes-Braganças, the museum-like space features an extensive library of 5,000 leather-bound books from the private collection of journalist Luis de Menezes Braganza, who played an important role in the Goan independence movement. Tourists can also see stunning Belgian glass chandeliers, antique family portraits and Chinese porcelain.
Address: Guddi-Chandor Road, Culsabhatt, Chandor, Goa
Located just 12 kilometers north of Molem, the Mahadev Temple gives tourists a chance to see a structure that has been standing since the 12th century. Its remote location helped it survive centuries of conquest by Portuguese and Muslim colonialists. Legend has it that the black basalt temple, which was built to honor Lord Shiva, is home to a king cobra. Step inside to see the detailed work of artisan carvers, including a lotus flower on the ceiling.