With a population of just 114,405, Goa’s capital city, Panaji (or Panjam, to use its former Portuguese name) is one of India’s smallest and most laid-back state capitals.
Ironically the city whose name means “land that never floods” is located on the banks of the Mandovi River, and its wealth of well-preserved colourful, colonial architecture could leave you thinking you’d just been transported to the historic streets of central America or continental Europe.
As well as being close to several of the sandy beaches that Goa is renowned for, Panaji is home to a number of ancient monuments, some of the best restaurants in India, and a collection of arty boutiques, old school bookshops and backstreet bars.
The Baroque Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
One of Panaji’s most striking buildings, this whitewashed 16th century church, with characteristic zig-zag staircase, overlooks the city’s main square, and is a superb example of baroque craftsmanship.
Historically, when Panaji was little more than a sleepy fishing village, this church was the first port of call for sailors arriving from Lisbon. Today it continues to be the city’s most important landmark.
Remember to return after dark when the building is beautifully illuminated.
The Old Latin Quarter of Fontainhas
The oldest and most atmospheric area in Panaji, the Portuguese-influnced Fontainhas is located to the south of the city’s main square, between the Altinho Hills and Ourem Creek.
Its attractive tangle of narrow cobblestone streets, flanked with grand 18th and 19th century brightly-colored colonial buildings, is perfect for an afternoon’s wandering.
Don’t leave without taking a peak at the pretty Chapel of Saint Sebastian, built in 1818.
Goa State Museum
Opened in June 1996, this spacious museum currently houses around 8000 artefacts spread across 14 different galleries, and is a great place to brush up on your Goan history.
Although not as secluded as some of the beaches in north and south Goa, the golden sands of Miramar beach are just under two miles from Panaji’s main square.
It’s the perfect spot for an early evening stroll as the sun sets.
Designed by architect Charles Correa, the Kala Academy is located on the west side of the city and is Panaji’s prime cultural centre, featuring a regular programme of theatre, dance, music and art exhibitions.
Some Quality Eats
Panaji is packed with quality restaurants, serving up a variety of Indian and international cuisine.
To enjoy some tasty Indian food in atmospheric surroundings, try Viva Panjim or Hotel Venite, in the old latin quarter. Alternatively the boutique restaurant, Black Sheep Bistro serves up some fantastic European offerings.
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay within the city, there is no shortage of hotels in Panaji.
Hotel La Capitol is particularly well-located close to all the attractions I’ve mentioned in this article. If you’d prefer to stay in Fontainhas then the Old Quarter Hostel is also a good choice.
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