With golden-sand beaches, tangled palm trees touching the sky, and a relaxed atmosphere, Goa stands in stark contrast from the other bustling urban destinations in India. Even just a short visit to this beach paradise feels like a vacation within a vacation. The beauty and serenity of Goa will rejuvenate you, while its robust calendar of events and activities give you plenty of things do to during your free time.
Popular coastal hot spots, like Colva Beach and Palolem Beach, draw tourists to Goa from around the world. But beaches are just the beginning of what makes Goa one of the most beloved places to visit in India. The destination also has unique Portuguese-influenced cuisine, historical 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 plan your trip to India, see our list of the top tourist attractions in Goa.
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1. Popular Beaches
Beaches play a starring role among the attractions in Goa, contributing to why it’s one of the best places to visit in India
Nearly every tourist who visits the area spends a day at Palolem Beach, a crescent-shaped stretch of white sand that overlooks the Arabian Sea in south Goa. While simply hanging out and soaking up the scenery is a perfect way to enjoy this beautiful area, Palolem Beach also offers an array of activities to fill your time. Choose from kayaking, yoga classes, dolphin-sightseeing trips, and swimming. You can also spend the night in one of Palolem’s rustic coco huts, which are erected at the start of the high season.
Colva Beach is another one of the most famous beaches in Goa, especially among Indian tourists. It has swaying palms and a broad stretch of bronze sand, where you’ll occasionally see herds of cows sunbathing next to tourists. You can rent Jet Skis, hop on a thrilling banana boat ride, and get a bird’s-eye view of the beach on a parasailing adventure.
Homestay accommodations in the area will give you an authentic local-style experience – plus easy access to Colva Beach.
2. Beaches Off the Beaten Path
While known for their spectacular scenery, the popular beaches in Goa tend to get crowded during high season, leaving some travelers eager for a quieter natural escape. Fortunately, Goa brims with undiscovered beach attractions and things to do that give you some distance from the throngs of tourists while still treating you to glorious sand and surf.
One of the best hidden gems in Goa is Butterfly Beach. It has a curving expanse of sand flanked by boulders that create a postcard-worthy cove, brimming with butterflies and blossoms. It’s also a great spot to watch dolphins swim in the distance.
You’ll need to embark on a boat ride from Palolem Beach or Agonda Beach, or tackle a challenging forest hike, to reach Butterfly Beach – but the obstacles to getting here help to thin out the crowds. You might even have the place to yourself.
While more developed than Butterfly Beach, Utorda Beach is another stunning getaway from the more crowded beaches around Goa. It features clean, blue water; silky sand; and a few small beach shacks. Look closely as you wade in the water, and you may spot some small starfish.
3. Tanshikar’s Working Spice Farm
South India has been known for its abundance of spices, like black pepper, cardamom, and cloves, for centuries. In fact, these natural flavorings were a major appeal for Portuguese traders who came to Goa hundreds of years ago.
Tourists can see what the local spice scene is all about by touring Tanshikar’s Working Spice Farm & Ecological Rest House. This agritourism attraction grows seven different spices: pepper, vanilla, nutmeg, turmeric, cardamom, and chili, using totally organic farming methods.
Tours of the farm, often led by its owner, will give you an in-depth understanding of these flavor-charged crops and a chance to see some of the other products, like betelnut, 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 thing to do at Tanshikar’s. Guests can also take a vegetarian cooking class, visit a bubbly lake, trek to Mainapi Waterfall, and train to become a yoga teacher. It’s an attraction that has something for everyone.
Address: Netravali, near Smriti Yoga, Sanguem, Goa
4. Portuguese-Indian Restaurants
Food is a major attraction in Goa. This part of India has a distinctive cuisine that blends Portuguese and Goan flavors, setting it apart from all the other food around India. Expect fiery flavors, fresh-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 chili peppers. Hospedaria Venite in the capital of Goa, Panaji, wows tourists with its mouthwatering vindaloo. Dominick, a Benaulim Beach mainstay, is another favorite spot for vindaloo – plus it offers front-row seats for world-class sunsets.
Another Goan specialty is xacuti, a rich curry with poppy seeds, chili, and coconut. Try it at Souza Lobo, a beachfront restaurant in Calangute, or Fat Fish, a well-trafficked spot in Baga.
Tourists hankering for some fresh seafood are spoiled for choice around Goa. Zeebop, on Utorda Beach, offers delightful fish curry, prawn stew, and mackerel doused with spicy red sauce.
You also can’t go wrong with dinner at Copperleaf. The upscale restaurant in Porvorim has a fish thali that you’ll be dreaming about long after you’ve finished.
5. Basilica de Bom Jesus
While many tourists visit Goa for the beaches, countless others consider the trip to be a pilgrimage to important religious sites, like the Basilica de Bom Jesus.
This Old Goa attraction dates back to the late 16th century and contains the remains of the St. Francis Xavier. The “Apostle of the Indies” co-founded the Society of Jesus religious order with friend St. Ignatius Loyola and spearheaded an extensive mission in India. The basilica has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999.
The modest yet imposing structure is a mix of Doric, Corinthian, and Baroque style 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 since become worn by monsoons.
You can tour the church on your own, or hire one of the independent guides near the entrance for a small fee. Inside, you can see huge ornamental screens, along with the body of the resident saint in a casket that was once covered in precious stones. It’s a compelling place that will transport you back in time.
6. Dudhsagar Falls
Aquatic adventures go beyond the beach in Goa. The state is also home to Dudhsagar Falls, a spectacular four-tiered waterfall that towers some 310 meters above the earth. It’s one of India’s tallest waterfalls and a perpetually popular attraction for day trips around Goa and Karnataka.
To reach the falls, you’ll need to make your way to the village of Colem by taxi or train. Depending on which train route you take, you may get a glimpse of Dudhsagar Falls along the way. Then, you’ll hop aboard a shared jeep through the jungle, passing Devil’s Canyon along the way. Around 45 minutes later, you’ll scurry 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 wish to take a dip can rent a life jacket from vendors at the attraction.
7. Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
Make your way to the laid-back city of Panaji to visit another one 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 atop a zig-zagging staircase that resembles the tiers of a wedding cake. Its perfectly symmetrical Portuguese Baroque architecture is a sight to behold. At night, twinkle lights make the church look like something out of a fairy tale.
While not ornate, the church’s interior boasts bright, colorful decorations. Tourists can see the elegant main altar (dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus) and gilded pillars with elaborate carvings. Vines of blue and white blossoms often adorn parts of the vaulted ceiling around various holidays.
Located just 12 kilometers north of Molem, 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 conquests by the Portuguese and Muslim colonialists. Legend has it that the black basalt temple, which was built to honor Lord Shiva, has a resident king cobra Step inside
11. Palácio do Deão
If Braganza House got you excited, just wait until you see Palácio do Deão. The 200-plus-year-old palace in Quepem has been restored to its original glory. It features a blend of Indian and Portuguese architecture. Tourists are welcome to explore the heritage home, including its game room and library filled with rare tomes.
The property also features sweeping tropical gardens that make for a pleasant place to spend the afternoon. Consider making reservations in advance for afternoon tea on the terrace.
Lace up your most comfortable pair of walking shoes and head to Panjim for a stroll around Fontainhas, one of Asia’s only Latin quarters. Once the headquarters for the Portuguese government in Goa, the UNESCO-recognized Heritage Zone features colonial houses and cottages decked out with pastel and fluorescent façades. Each of the houses get a fresh coat of paint after the monsoon season every year, ensuring that they always look vibrant for visitors. Don’t miss the district’s namesake Fountain of Phoenix.
You can explore the area on your own, or book a walking tour for a more in-depth look at the history of this fascinating neighborhood. Either way, you’ll definitely work up an appetite as you wander the narrow cobblestone streets and snap photos in front of the candy-colored buildings. Refuel at one of the decades-old cafés or bakeries in the neighborhood. Confeitaria 31 de Janeiro, a bakery near Mary Immaculate School, is known for having a wide selection of tasty Goan cakes and sweets.
14. Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary
Wildlife lovers should put Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary at the top of their Goa travel plans. The state’s largest protected wildlife area, which spans 240 square kilometers and is also home to Molem National Park, is home to all kinds of amazing creatures, including the black leopard, Bengal tiger, Malabar giant squirrel, wild boar, slender loris, Indian rock python, and ruby-throated yellow bulbul (Goa’s state bird).
Hiring a guide through a travel agent, and visiting the sanctuary in the early morning or late evening increases your chances at catching a glimpse of these animals. During the daytime, you can see the natural wonders of Dudhsagar Falls and Devil’s Canyon. You can also check out the Tambdi Surla Temple, a temple that has survived since the 12th century, thanks to its remote location in the forest. The structure is adorned with intricate carvings of the Hindu gods Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma.