Cakes and heritage in Panaji and central Goa

Goa is usually associated with long sandy beaches, big and loud parties, bright clothes and hippies. Though these all are true characteristics of Goa and many people escape there for a chilling lazy holiday, this state has a vast history and heritage.

Today we will talk about Velha Goa or Old Goa that used to be a capital of Portuguese India and Panaji – the modern capital of the state and how to spend one day exploring this part of North Goa.

One day itinerary for Old Goa and Panaji

Fontainhas street
The charm of Panaji is a fusion of Goan and Portuguese cultures

Here is an itinerary sketch that covers the highlights of this area of Goa. You can use it as a base to build a plan according to your interests.You can start your day with a breakfast at Confeitaria 31 De Janeiro (31st January Bakery). It is one of the oldest bakeries in Goa making lives of numerous customers sweeter since 1930. The bakery is inside of the lane with colorful houses in the heart of Fontainhas or Latin quarters. Though this bakery was on my list, I’ve stumbled upon it accidentally.

Note: I’ve tried several items they’ve displayed and couldn’t understand: what’s so special about this place, the sweets are so typical. Then I found out that many of their cakes are not displayed in the small shop area. This I’ve learned from their permanent customer, who was taking 5 kg of the special bakery from them.

31st January Bakery Goa
31st January Bakery – I wish they start delivering their plum cakes PAN India 🙂

I thought that ought to be good if he orders in such quantities. God, he was right. Ask for rum&plum cake – it’s their specialty and one of the Goan delights. I liked it so much that took half kg with me on the way back.

Also if you are eating non-vegetarian food, try their chicken rolls. They are quite oily but so good.

After the breakfast explore the small and colorful streets of Fontainhas till the weather gets hot. If you are on a bike, you can park it on that street leading to the bakery for free and continue on foot.

Fontainhas – an old Portuguese quarter in Panaji

A charming district otherwise known as a Latin Quarter shows a different side of Goa beyond beaches. Just a several centuries back it was a place of coconut plantations and the main capital used to be in the Old Goa (Goa Velha). It shifted to Panaji back in the 18th century due to the outbreak of plague.

The colorful houses, narrow lanes, majestic villas still keep the history and the atmosphere of the past. One thing that is impossible to skip is the brightness of the color. During the Portuguese rule, there was a law which mandated the residents to repaint their houses every year after the monsoon season. Nowadays it has transformed into tradition kept by local people of the area.

Stairs Fontainhas
One of the numerous staircases in Fontainhas

Fontainhas lies between the Ourem creek and Althino hill. The name of the area was called after the fountain at the foot of the hill. A few highlights of the area:

  • Fountain
  • Rua 31 de Janeiro
  • 18th June street
  • Rua de Ourem
  • Wishing well
  • St Sebastian Road
  • Chapel of St. Sebastian
  • Street art
Fontainhas exterior
Interesting exterior of the house in Fontainhas

Interesting fact: There are two famous streets named after historical dates: Rua 31 de Janeiro (31st January Road) and 18th June Road. The first date relates to Portugal’s independence from Spain which dates back to January 31, 1640. The second one signifies the independence of India from Portuguese rule (18th June 1946).

You can see the abundance of home plants either near the house or hanging from the terrace.

Nowadays, Fontainhas is still a residential area. While some of the houses belong to the families for generations, others have been converted into the guesthouses and cafes due to the charming atmosphere of this part of the city.

Fontainhas has been a UNESCO Heritage Zone since 1984. It takes around 1-2 hours to roam around the area by foot or around half an hour by bike/car.

After exploring the area head to the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church – probably one of the most famous churches of Goa.

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception church

our lady of the immaculate conception church
Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception church

The church is located on the hilltop and oversees the city of Panjim. Initially, the church was built as a chapel in 1541 to serve the needs of the Portuguese sailors. Later on, with the expansion and development of Goa, it was rebuilt as a proper church in Baroque style. The church conducts mass in English, Konkani, and Portuguese every day.

Every year on 8th December it hosts one of the major Christian festivals for three days. During this time, there is a special market functioning nearby and festive celebrations in the evening.

Take lunch in one of the numerous cafes of the neighborhood and head to Velha Goa to explore the Churches and convents of Goa.

The architecture and heritage of Old Goa (Velha Goa) – places to visit

St.Francis Church Goa
Church of St. Francis Assisi

If you like culture and architecture, I recommend visiting Old Goa area. In India, you can see how past co-exists with the present, how people of different religions and cultures live and work together. It’s a very diverse country and Old Goa is just one of the examples confirming it.

Goa Velha is one of the districts, where you can find more about Christianity in India, its history, and meet modern Christians nowadays. The Churches and Convents of Goa were included in UNESCO heritage sites in 1986. There are several places to visit in the area, while Bom Jesus and Church of St.Francis of Assisi are the most popular sites.

Read also: Things to know before visiting Old Goa sites

It takes around 2-3 hours to explore Old Goa if you intend to visit the churches from inside. Afterward, I’ve headed for a sunset to Dona Paula village.

Dona Paula – a scenic sunset from the top"<yoastmark

Dona Paula was a fishing village and you will find several beaches there (popular and offbeat as well). In my opinion, the highlight of this area is a viewpoint surrounded by water from three sides. From one side you can see the sun sinking into the sea, from the other – a view of Marmagoa Port.

I really liked the walking area near the sea till I’ve seen graffiti near the stairs to the viewpoint Kmoon people, there are artistic neighborhoods where street art looks great and there are historic monuments, where it is irrelevant!

Dona Paula Sunset
Sunset from Dona Paula viewpoint, Goa

There are several legends about the origin of this place, though, all of them are about the tragic love story.

Practical tip: The main road to Donna Paula viewpoint has often jams because it’s narrow and it can handle only certain traffic. If you are on a bicycle/bike – you can take left after leaving the parking lot. There is no proper road, but it’s a popular route for bikes that try to avoid high traffic. Just within 1 km or so, you will get to the main road.

Practical information

Fontainhas street
Colorful streets of Fontainhas
  • The most practical way to explore all the above-mentioned places is by bike. If you don’t drive, there are also state buses going from Panjim main station to Old Goa, though be flexible in time. It takes around 40-45 min to reach by bus.
  • Try to finish your day by 6 p.m. if you have to come back to North or South Goa. I started to the South around 6.30 and at times was stuck in a jam.
  • I’ve visited numerous places in Europe, though still liked Old Goa and Panjim. In my opinion, spending one day in the places mentioned above is worthwhile. If you are fond of history and architecture, you might enjoy these destinations too.

    Fontainhas hotel
    One of the heritage homes in Fontainhas, converted into hotel
  • In Fontainhas there are public properties (e.g. cafes, guesthouses) and private (homes of the residents). It’s quite easy to identify one or another. Please don’t come with the camera to the windows or click people on the balconies without their agreement. The residents also want some privacy.
  • Plan a trip on weekdays to avoid crowds and traffic.
  • Wear comfortable shoes so you can walk around and explore the sites.
  • Viva Panjim is one of the famous restaurants for Goan Sea Food in Fontainhas area.
  • Though Goa is known as a more chilled area of India in terms of dress code, I recommend dressing modestly (covered knees and shoulders), especially for Goa Velha. It doesn’t matter if you are a religious person or not, the outfit is just a small sign of respect towards another culture.
  • Different areas of Goa host cultural festivals all around the year – you can find the calendar here.

What about you? Would you be curious to explore history and heritage of Goa?

24 thoughts on “Cakes and heritage in Panaji and central Goa”

  1. The colorful houses are so pretty and interesting! Also, it’s something mesmerizing about the white color of the churches. Amazing!

  2. Goa looks simply wonderful! Rum and plum! That was unexpected. I’m really curious to try that! Thank you for sharing your experience!

    • I recommend this cake if you come to visit (or maybe it’s a foodie talking in me) 🙂 After coming back from Goa, I’ve bought plum cake multiple times in other states of India, though haven’t found same taste so far)

  3. I have a friend who kept mentioning Goa because they saw it in a movie and now seeing your pictures I may have to visit it myself. I had no idea of the beauty and I am so loving the sunset. The

    old Portuguese quarter in Panaji has a lot of hidden gems as well.

    • True! Many movies and photo shoots have been done in Goa due to its scenic views 🙂 And do visit if you get chance! India has many touristic and offbeat experiences to offer.

  4. Love this, as I think you’re right that most of us just think of Goa for its beaches, but there is clearly much more to see. How much time do you think should be budgeted for a trip to Goa?

  5. I’ve heard about Goa and its beautiful beaches, it’s great to know that there is so much more beyond that. The architecture is certainly interesting and the churches very beautiful. Thanks also for telling us the history.

  6. I’ve been to Goa several times during my younger days but it wasn’t for the purpose of exploring history or culture. Goa is like the Vegas for Indians and even when I visited during my college days, it was to have fun, party, beach shacks etc. I guess I’ll have to visit again for a very different purpose this time, to explore the historical and cultural sites. Thanks for sharing !

    • Thanks for sharing, Medha! I agree, that Goa is a popular destination for party and fun lovers in India, though, at times, I’ve felt that some tourists created “their Goa” within the state.

      Maybe that’s one of the reasons I’ve liked much more the “non-beachy” side – be it natural or architecture sites of the state 🙂

  7. I always thought Goa was ‘only’ a beautiful beach destination and wasn’t aware that there was all this Portuguese heritage – how interesting. There are even spots with Portuguese names – that’s amazing. Although the Baroque buildings look a little bit out of place in India to me, your pictures are really great and the description of the Catholic churches very informative.

    • I’m happy you found it interesting, Renata! India is a fusion of architectural styles, cultures and colors – I think diversity is the key point that makes this country so unique)

  8. This area of Goa looks lovely! I had no idea it used to be under Portuguese rule, it would be nice to take a break from the beach and get some culture – and some delicious seafood and bakery cakes!

    • That would be a great balanced trip, Claire 🙂 India has quite diverse history due to both internal and external influences, thus each state feels like another country with its own culture, language and traditions

    • Let me know if you plan a visit, Leah, I will be happy to share some advice and experience 🙂 I wouldn’t recommend forgoing other cities though) India is so diverse and has so many experiences to offer!

  9. Thanks for the tip on the 31st January Bakery – sounds divine! I had only really heard about Goa for its beaches to date, so it’s cool to now have some insight beyond that. The old Portugese quarter is so colorful – I love it! And then Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception church looks like one unlike any I’ve seen before. Looks like it would be a really fascinating self guided walking tour to wander around the streets and neighborhoods and stumble across heritage listed gems. Thanks for the guide!

  10. Amazing article and definitely intrigued me to Goa. Also, from your pictures, Goa oozes out the Cuban vibes with the colorful houses and cobbled streets

    • Thank you for reading, Fad! Cuba is one of my dream destinations and from your words, it looks like I will love it 😉 Hope you get chance to visit Goa too!


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