Curious about which places in Old Goa to visit and if you should even include it in your India itinerary? Check out this complete guide, written by Jules, our local Goan expert!
Old Goa, also known as Velha Goa, is a city full of history located on the banks of the lovely Mandovi River. Situated in North Goa it acted as the capital city of Portuguese India back in the 15th century before Panjim took over. It is probably the most religious area in the state with lots of beautiful churches all located within walking distance or a short car journey of each other.
Goa, as I am sure you are all aware, is mostly known for its beaches. It doesn’t have as many tourist landmarks as other Indian states and cities, so if you do find yourself needing a break from the beach and a thirst for some culture – visiting Old Goa is one of the best things to do.
“I thought India was mainly Hindu and Muslim,” I hear you say.
Well, the Portuguese are said to have brought Christianity to India during their colonization in the 15th century. Firstly to Kerala and then along the Konkan coast. It is the third largest religion in India, and there are a few states that have large populations of Catholics and Christians – Goa being one of them. If you have been traveling around other parts of India, especially the North you will notice you have mainly seen temples, mosques and gurdwaras. It is now time to feast your eyes on some beautifully designed, (usually) white Goan churches!
Tours to Old Goa
There are lots of great tours to be found in Old Goa. There really is so much history so if you are interested in finding out a bit more then I would recommend joining a tour to really be able to learn about the different Saints, about how Catholicism made it’s way to Goa and all the beautiful architecture. Below are a few options:
Klook offers a great walking tour around the ruins and a few churches. Viator has a private heritage walk if you don’t want to join a group. And my favorite but may not be as informative is the B:Live electric bike tour around Old Goa.
I would also suggest pairing a day out to Old Goa with a trip to the Spice Plantation in Ponda. This can all be done in one day and is a great way to see both. Hire a taxi for the day and start with lunch at the Spice Plantation and then Old Goa on the way back.
Tips for Old Goa
How to Dress
You will have noticed that the dress code in Goa differs largely from the dress code around the rest of India. Shorts are encouraged and a cheeky shoulder or knee are welcomed. However, when visiting Old Goa it is recommended to take a shawl or sarong with you to cover up those cheeky knees and shoulders.
Especially for ladies, I would recommend taking two shawls, one for your shoulders and one to act as a stand in skirt while you enter the churches. This means you won’t have to overdress for the day and melt in the heat. For men, as usual, it is fine to be wearing shorts but it is best to carry an extra shawl just in case.
Be respectful of worshippers
When inside the churches, notice your surroundings and try and keep conversation to a minimum as there may be people attending a service or coming in to pray. Old Goa gets very busy with tourists so it can be hard on the people actually going there to worship.
Careful with the photos
Some churches don’t allow photographs inside so please keep to these rules. If they aren’t allowed there will be a clear sign outside saying so. If there isn’t one then take it as pictures are fine but please make sure the flash is off.
Pace yourself, don’t feel like you have to rush around and see everything to tick it off the list. I always feel like it is better to see 3 places slowly than see 10 in a rush. If you have been traveling around India then I am sure you know what it feels like to be temple’d out!
Places in Old Goa to Visit
Goans are very proud of their faith and churches, and many will make the journey to Old Goa every Sunday for their weekly service. Within the Old Goa area there are eleven churches in total. However, I wouldn’t recommend pushing yourself to see them all unless you really want to. Below are a few I recommend:
Basilica of Bom Jesus
Opened in 1605, this is not the prettiest of places in Old Goa from the outside and, unusually, it is not white. However, it is maybe one of the most sacred as it holds the remnants of St. Francis Xavier’s body who was the Patron Saint of Goa. He is said to have done a lot for Catholicism back in the 15th century in Goa and is very well respected and worshiped.
Rumor has it that a lady who was visiting tried to bite off the toe of St. Francis Xavier and keep it for herself and that is why the body is no longer on show all year round. It is now kept in a glass case up high and only comes down every ten years. I am not sure how true this story is but the every ten years part is now true!
There is a big festival in Old Goa every year on the 3rd December for the Feast of St. Francis Xavier where thousands come from all of over to attend. Lots of stalls will be put up selling goodies, sweets, snacks, and unnecessary tat. There will be a large procession with the body being paraded around and worshiped. If you happen to be in Goa around this time I would recommend going to take a look but prepare yourself for the heat and the crowds and for this you will definitely need to dress respectfully.
Chapel of Our Lady of The Mount
This is my favorite place in Old Goa mainly because of the view and location. This is set apart from the rest and is located up a long and very steep hill. You can walk up (I have done this once) but it is also recommended to ask your taxi to take you up and wait at the bottom of the stairs for you – which in itself is quite a hike!
It was built in 1519 and has been rebuilt twice since then. It has a really beautiful sunset view over the Mandovi River and looks way out towards Panjim from the courtyard. If you find yourself in the Old Goa area in the evening, this is a sunset to chase!
Every year in February the lovely Monte Marte Music Festival takes place in the courtyard of this chapel and also inside. I was lucky enough to attend this year (2020) and watch a beautiful Indian flute show with the sun setting behind. My friend’s mum then sang in a choir inside the chapel which was amazing to experience. You don’t need tickets for this but it is best to arrive early to get a chair. If you are in Goa in early February I would highly recommend coming to this to really see the true beauty and culture Old Goa has to offer.
Built in 1602, St. Augustine once had 4 towers. It now lies in ruins as it collapsed hundreds of years ago due to neglect. Now only one tower remains which stands very tall and looks as though it could fall any minute (hopefully it doesn’t!). It is quite eerie. I believe this site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the more visited sites in Goa. There are a few inscriptions to be found along the way and be sure to check the signboards to see what it would have looked like back in the day.
Completed in 1661, this church is said to be modeled on St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. It has a very beautiful altar that isn’t the usual lavish decor you may be used to. If you look up you should be able to find the occasional sneaky bat hanging upside down from the ceiling having a nap. When standing near the altar, have a look on the floor. There you can find the markings of the opening to the cemetery located underneath the altar. It was used for dead Portuguese soldiers. Creepy!
This cathedral, set among a pretty garden, is set just adjacent to the Basilica of Bom Jesus. If you want to see a big extravagant and very gold altar then head over to this one.
I can’t pretend I have visited all eleven churches in Old Goa. However, the above are the ones I have been to and can vouch for. If you are into religious history and the architecture of churches then I recommend making room in your beach-filled Goa itinerary to see them.
If you can’t make it to Old Goa, churches can be found in most neighborhoods around Goa. They may not be as sacred or extravagant, but they do exist. Try Lady of Immaculate Conception in Panjim, St. Alex in Calangute (my grandparents got married here!), St. Thomas in Aldona.
If you also find yourself in Goa around Easter, then check out Old Goa on both Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The churches will have large and long services happening with some holding processions. If you do choose to attend then again prepare yourself for the heat and the crowds and dress respectfully.
I find Old Goa very cool because you really wouldn’t imagine all these churches to be found in India. Goa feels like such a world away from other parts of India, and Old Goa really highlights this for me. If you close your eyes while you are there you could be in Italy, Portugal, or Spain. Just ignore the constant beeping, shouting offers of taxis, and the requests for selfies!
If you do make the trip, let us know which were you favorite places in Old Goa!
For More Goa Travel Planning Guides:
Check out some of these posts to help you continue planning your trip to India:
Goa Travel Tips
- Should I go to North or South Goa?
- Traveling in Goa India With Kids
- Safety Tips For Solo Female Travel in Goa
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- The 30 Best Places to Visit in India
- Travel to India Made Easy With This Step By Step Guide
- 100 India Travel Tips You HAVE To Read
- 10 Tips for First Time Travel to India
- How to Get an India Tourist Visa
- Travel Insurance for India
- How to Book a Train in India As Foreigner
- Do You Need a Filtered Water Bottle For India Travel?
- Money in India: How To Get Rupees & Handle Money
- 10 Travel Essentials For India
- Men’s India Packing List
- The Only Backpacking Through India Packing List You Need
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Cover Photo by Sandeepsea via Wikimedia
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