It’s the quintessential beach holiday in India – palm-fringed beaches, a laid-back vibe with distinct hippie undertones and vibrant nightlife. Located on India’s west coast, around 600 kilometres from Mumbai, Goa is a rich and colourful society thanks to the amalgamation of traditional Konkan culture, its Portuguese colonial history and modern influences.
This swathe of coastal paradise can be broadly split in half latitudinally – north Goa is home to the state’s most popular beaches and the capital city, Panaji, while south Goa offers a quieter experience. It’s best to pick the style of Goa holiday you’re after and base yourself accordingly. Dabolim airport is situated squarely in the middle and it takes about an hour to get to north or south Goa.
Not sure where to start? We’ve rounded up eight of the best things to do in Goa.
Laze on the best beaches in Goa
With the Arabian Sea thrashing against the coast and colourful shacks serving fresh seafood and chilled beers straight to your lounger, Goa’s golden beaches are the stuff of legend. Baga, Calangute and Anjuna are perhaps the best-known beaches in north Goa, with a bounty of trendy restaurants and bars to float between. Vagator beach, ringed by rocky cliffs, is also worth visiting, as is scenic Sinquerim, set right next to historic Fort Aguada. Down in south Goa, Agonda beach is a family-friendly option, while Cola beach, accessible via a cliff-side bushwalk, offers relaxed seclusion.
Kayak among mangroves
Goa may be best known for its beaches, but kayaking through the hinterland rivers lets you discover its lush, lesser-known side. Local Beat offers immersive tours to secret spots where kayaking and swimming is bookended with authentic food, cocktails made with local ingredients and traditional music. Konkan Explorers is another tour operator offering mangrove kayaking with bird-watching opportunities.
Enjoy local flavours in Goa’s best restaurants
Traditional Goan cuisine is a blend of influences, taking inspiration from Portuguese cooking and the flavours of the Konkan coast with typically fiery results. Local favourite, Mum’s Kitchen, is one of the best restaurants in Goa to try classic home-style cooking. Jamun is a great option for sampling a diverse range of Indian dishes and locally inspired cocktails in a charming leafy setting.
In Goa, you’re never too far from a drink and a bite on the beach, but for an upscale take on the shack experience, try hip Saz on the Beach, which serves up crowd-pleasers with an international accent – think pizza, tacos and pasta. And for craft cocktails and cool tunes, check out India’s first vinyl bar, For the Record. If you’re keen to recreate Goan flavours at home, opt for a cooking class with a local home cook at Rita’s Gourmet Goa.
Soak up history in Old Goa
Also known as Velha Goa, this northern town is steeped in centuries-old history, but it has earned its UNESCO World Heritage status thanks mainly to monuments that can be traced back to Goa’s Portuguese colonisation, which lasted about 450 years. The most important of these is the majestic Basilica de Bom Jesus, home to the remains of St Francis Xavier. Also worth checking out is the whitewashed Church of St Catejan, ambitiously modelled on Rome’s St Peter’s Basilica.
Head to capital Panaji, around 12 kilometres west, to explore more picturesque churches and Goa’s ‘Latin Quarter’, Fontainhas, a colourful neighbourhood of colonial architecture and cobbled streets.
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While most beaches offer watersports, water babies would do well to head a bit further afield for the best diving and snorkelling in Goa. Grande Island and Malvan Island are among the most popular spots for enjoying the invitingly warm ocean, with the surrounding seas full of marine life such as turtles, a variety of fish and colourful corals. Outfits such as Dive Goa offer guided expeditions and SSI and PADI training, on a seasonal basis.
Explore the markets
Find a cornucopia of clothes, jewellery and homewares at the original Anjuna Flea Market (it’s held every Wednesday except during the monsoon season), which, while a lot more commercial now compared to its 1960s barter bazaar origins, still retains its bohemian flavour. While many imitators have sprung up since, all offering a similar vibe, for after-dark shopping, head to Mackie’s Night Bazaar in nearby Baga beach or the Saturday Night Market in Arpora. For contemporary Goan design finds, trendy Assagao is the place to go for cool boutiques and cafés.
Check in to luxury
The grand dame of Goa’s hotels, the Taj Exotica Resort & Spa Goa oozes laid-back luxe with hacienda-style villas set amid landscaped grounds. With its location on pristine Benaulim beach in south Goa, and well-equipped kids’ club, it’s the ideal family-friendly hotel in Goa. For boutique luxury, check out Ahilya by the Sea, or the low-key comforts of Casa Anjuna, an intimate property minutes from one of north Goa’s main drags.
Visit a feni cellar door
Feni is a potent indigenous spirit made from fermented cashew or coconut. At family-run distillery Cazulo, you can tour cashew orchards, learn how the triple-distilled spirit is made and try different iterations of feni in the purpose-built tasting room; it’s the first cellar-door experience of its kind in Goa.
Images courtesy Taj Exotica Resort & Spa Goa; Mum’s Kitchen; Local Beat