Goa Velha is a historical district in North Goa that used to be a capital of Portuguese India. Despite Portugal was ruled by Spain, the Portuguese maintained the influence in certain areas of India for 450 years. As a result, you will see a cultural blend in cuisine, architecture, and traditions in these parts of India.
Today I would like to speak about Old Goa. There are several religious monuments in Old Goa that have become a group of UNESCO heritage sites. Let’s look into details about places to visit in Old Goa and what to expect from this experience.
Should you visit Old Goa?
Depends on your travel preferences and expectations. Though there are travelers on some forums saying Old Goa is a great destination unless you’ve been to Europe. In my opinion, this is not a relevant comparison.
For me, Old Goa is more about the present than the past. It is not just about the Portuguese chapter in India, rather what local people have made out of this place.
Old Goa is another example of the mind-blowing diversity of people united in one land. It was fascinating for me to meet Indian Christians in Bom Jesus coming to a mass before Christmas. I had a chance to see an Indian lady in the veil praying in the front row of St. Assisi Church. It was interesting to notice people bringing flowers to the icons as it is accustomed in the temples in India. Yet this mix of local customs looks so natural.
If you pay attention to the interiors of the churches, there are clear outlines of the western style standards a few centuries back. Nevertheless, all the artwork and décor was done by the local artisans. Handwork and craftsmanship skills always stood out in India and attracted foreign interest. Nowadays, whichever part of India you visit, you will find street stalls & shops where artisans sell their artworks.
Beyond the cultural specs, I liked that parts of the buildings were under restoration, there were gardeners watering plants and there was staff near the entrance of popular sites informing people about the dress code and behavior inside.
All the details above left a positive impact in my memory about Goa Velha. Also, I like visiting places where I learn something new. I’m an introvert and don’t enjoy loud parties and street shopping, which Goa is famous for. The getaways to Panjim, Goa Velha and heritage masons created a good balance between the beach life and the cultural experiences. If you have similar interests as me, you will enjoy Old Goa as well.
Places to visit in Old Goa – Churches and Convents
There are numerous churches and convents in Old Goa. I recommend choosing a few popular and a few less visited sites to feel the atmosphere of each. Below are a few sites to visit in Old Goa:
- Church of St Francis Assisi
- Basilica of Bom Jesus
- Se Cathedral
- Church of Saint Cajetan
- Chapel of Saint Cathrine
- St Augustine Church and tower
- Church of Our Lady Rosary (Opposite to St. Augustine Tower)
Each place has an introduction plate before the entrance as well as some notes inside the premises explaining the history of the place.
I had an impression that Church of St. Francis Assisi and Bom Jesus are the most popular sites. In other places, there were five people at most except me at the same time, thus I found them more interesting and peaceful.
Church of St Francis, Se Cathedral, and St Cathrine Chapel are part of the same complex, while Basilica of Bom Jesus is opposite to them and Church of St Cajetan behind the complex surrounded by the green park/forest.
After these places, I went to explore the ruins of Saint Augustine Church and tower. There are almost no visitors there since it’s a bit of walk from the main square.
How to reach Old Goa?
If you are traveling by public transport, there are regular buses (every 15 min) that go from Panjim bus stand to Goa Velha. It takes 45 minutes to reach by local bus. Unless you stay in Panjim, calculate as well the time required to reach it from North or South Goa.
A more popular solution is to hire a bike. There are bike rentals near beaches, bus stands, and train stations. In the peak season, even a scooter rental can cost you around 600 INR per day, while in the off-season you can find deals for 300 INR/day. It takes 25 minutes to reach Goa Velha from Panjim by scooty.
If you come by bike, I recommend leaving your vehicle in the parking space near St Francis Assisi Cathedral and start from there by foot. All the places are close to each other, which makes it easy to explore the area.
Old Goa travel tips
- It took me 2.5 – 3 hours to explore several churches from the complex. I like to make it slow. There are people who visit only exteriors and yards of the churches.
- Don’t try to cover all the points from Wikipedia. Choose a few popular, a few offbeat and spend more time absorbing the ambiance.
- Photography is allowed, but pay attention not to take pictures of specific people.
- Dress modestly – shoulders & knees covered. Though Goa is a beach destination, it will be inappropriate to come to Old Goa in shorts or top if you intend to go inside of the church. Whether you are a religious person or not, local or foreigner, the dress code is just a sign of showing respect to another culture and religion.
- The Churches in Old Goa I’ve named above don’t have an entrance fee. Some of them have museums annexed – for those there are symbolic fees ~ 10-20 INR.
- Visit on the weekdays to avoid crowds and traffic
- Wear comfortable shoes as it takes a while walking around.
I’ve visited numerous religious sites in Europe, though still liked Old Goa. If you are fond of history and architecture, you might enjoy this destination. What about you? Have you visited Churches with a local culture touch outside of Europe?