With its heady mix of beautiful beaches, charming fishing villages, mouth-watering cuisine (much of it provided by those village fishermen) and lively nightlife, it’s hardly surprising that India’s sunshine state of Goa is one of the country’s most popular destinations. You are certain to spend much of your holiday on Goa's golden sands, but if you do take a couple of days out to explore all Goa has to offer, be sure to use this 48-hour guide to make the most of your time here!
But as tempting as it is to just kick back on a perfect sandy beach - and there are around 50 to choose from - there’s a lot more to Goa than an opportunity to while away the hours in the sun. Take a trip away from the idyllic coastline and you’ll find a wide range of things to see and do, from its intriguing history and Portuguese-inspired architecture, to bustling flea markets and buzzing nightlife. Our special two-day guide - which concentrates on northern Goa, which you can tour by car, taxi or public transport - is a great way to get a real taste of what this wonderful holiday destination has to offer.
Day One: Morning
A great way to get your bearings - as well as shake off any residual tiredness from the travel to get here - is to take a relaxing walk along a white sand beach in the early morning sun. As I mentioned, Goa has plenty to choose from, but since this is the quietest time of day, why not head for one of the most popular? Baga fits that bill, and will be much more crowded later on, so now’s the chance to enjoy it at its most peaceful. Keep on strolling and you’ll reach its bigger neighbour Calangute, and when you’re ready for a rest, grab something to eat from one of the many food shacks dotted along the sand and enjoy your breakfast while taking in the amazing sun and sea views.
Day One: Afternoon
What sort of holidaymaker are you? Or what sort of holidaymaker do you want to be while you’re in Goa? Could this tranquil retreat be the place to change the habits of a lifetime? If you’ve got a sense of adventure - or want to throw caution to the wind - then the beaches of northern Goa offer an array of water sports, including wind surfing, wakeboarding, kayaking, knee boarding, waterskiing and scuba diving. And if that sounds too much like hard work, why not hop on a zany banana ride or get a bird’s eye view of the beach and Arabian Sea by parasailing high above the ocean?
For a more sedate activity, head inland to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Old Goa to explore some of its magnificent churches, including the Renaissance-style Sé Cathedral, which is believed to be the largest cathedral in Asia. Even more impressive is the Basilica de Bom Jesus, a Baroque church that contains the tomb (and silver casket) of Saint Francis Xavier, Goa’s patron saint.
Day One: Evening
On the back of those church visits I’m going to take a leap of faith and assume you’re visiting at the weekend, as the Arpora Saturday Night Bazaar is one of Goa’s genuine must-see attractions. The hugely popular night-time market - the clue’s in the name - takes place between Baga and Anjuna and is a fabulous feast for the senses. As well as stalls selling everything, from spices and clothing to jewellery and handicrafts (haggling is a pre-requisite, as well as part of the fun), you’ll find an array of colourful bars and eateries serving a variety of food and drinks. There’s even a stage with live music, so you can make a bit of a night of it.
If you’re up for a later evening, then Goa has a range of lively nightlife - Club Cubana, a couples-only open-air nightclub that sits on a hilltop overlooking Arpora is among the best rated - as well as a host of casinos, in fact enough to earn it the nickname ‘mini Vegas’. Most of the venues are on boats anchored in the Mandovi River, as local law dictates that live gambling tables are only permitted on floating casinos. One of the biggest and best is the Deltin Royale, a luxury casino-liner moored off the coast of Panaji that offers a heady mix of games, drinks and tournaments.
Day Two: Morning
This morning’s activities will almost certainly depend on what kind of evening you had the night before, but a terrific way to start your second day is to take a trip out to Fort Aguada, a 16th-century hilltop fortification near Candolim that offers wonderful views over the coast and out across the sea. It also contains an ancient four-storey lighthouse - the oldest of its kind in Asia - and a younger version that’s open to the public. While you’re here make sure to check out a scenic spot named the Devil’s Finger and (in the interests of balance), Our Lady of Hope, a church that contains huge bell towers, a statue of Mother Teresa, and somewhat unnervingly, a drop of her blood.
There are more historical artefacts in the Museum of Goa in Pilerne, which features a range of contemporary artworks by Indian and international artists, many of which - including a colourful installation of giant chillies - are influenced by Goa’s spice route history. If it gets your taste buds going then the museum’s café is an ideal spot for lunch.
Day Two: Afternoon
It’s time to head inland again now, this time to explore Goa’s lovely capital city of Panaji, in particular its spirited Latin Quarter, known as Fontainhas. Here you’ll find narrow, winding streets lined with colourful colonial houses and cottages with artily creative doors and red-tiled roofs. There’s plenty of things to see here, including the Cabo Raj Niwas, a 16th-century fort that’s now home to Goa’s Governor; the Public Astronomical Observatory; the Kala Academy Cultural Centre; St Sebastian’s Chapel, which contains a life-size crucifix depicting Christ with his eyes open; and the Old Secretariat, a colonial building that fronts onto the river. A short walk along the riverside will bring you to Campal Gardens, which is a tranquil place to relax, then head back to the Fontainhas for a lunch pit-stop at one of the many taverns and bakeries that line its streets.
Day Two: Evening
After a fairly long day sightseeing, a relaxing way to spend the evening is to take a cruise along the Mandovi River and enjoy the glorious sunsets for which Goa is renowned. The cruises start around 6pm and run throughout the night, and as well as food and drink, many offer music and dancing that turn the whole event into a party.
For something similar but also very different, as well as the chance to enjoy one of Goa’s most spectacular sunsets, head south to Palolem Beach, where there’s a wide range of food shacks and cafés for you to enjoy some excellent Goan cuisine. And the 'something similar but very different' I mentioned above is the chance to end the night in true party style, avoiding Goa’s 10pm amplified music curfew by joining Silent Noise, a hugely popular club night where revellers in headphones dance to the rhythms and beats of their choosing.
Which is a useful metaphor for Goa itself, as India’s sunshine state certainly dances to its own beat, its Portuguese history and influences creating a unique and delightful holiday destination. This guide to a two-day sight-seeing tour of this wonderful Indian holiday destination should get your holiday off to a great start.
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