Get Off the Beach with these 15 Other Great Things to do in Goa
India’s smallest state – Goa is famous for it’s tropical beaches and with 101 km of coastline there is a beach in Goa to suit everyone. Most of the over 2 million visitors to Goa don’t stray far from the beaches but there is so much more to explore in Goa and some of the very best things to do in Goa are actually found off the beach.
But what makes Goa so interesting and captivating is that there is so much more to a holiday or visit to Goa than just beach bliss.
What keeps people coming back to Goa year after year is the culture and the sense of adventure – the fascinating, captivating Indian culture that sometimes frustrates or bewilders but never fails to surprise, endear and amaze.
If you don’t escape the sun lounger and explore the other things to do in Goa then you are really missing out.
Here’s 15 alternative things to do in Goa – that don’t involve the beach!
Explore the Goan countryside by motorbike
One of my favourite things to do in Goa is hiring a scooter or motorbike (approx 300 rupees per day) and setting out to explore Goa.
There’s nothing like the freedom of your own two wheels, just be careful with the Indian roads and traffic! (See my tips on how to ride a motorbike in India and survive to tell the tale!)
Look at the map and plan a route up and down the coast, or even better, into Goa’s hinterland or just set out and see which direction takes your fancy. You don’t need to get far from the beach resorts to get an intoxicating taste of India’s incredible culture and heritage.
Along the way you will feel the breeze along a riverside road, zip past green paddy fields, wandering cows, Portuguese churches and colourful Hindu temples, bustling market places, chilled out farms, colourful villages, crumbling colonial villas and forts, sari draped ladies, curious children and crumbling forts complete with stunning coastal views.
It doesn’t matter where you go – just exploring is one of the very best things to do in Goa!
Visit the Churches of Old Goa
Goa spent over 400 years under Portuguese rule and the legacy of the Portuguese is is still very apparent today – you can’t miss all the cute, white washed Portuguese churches dotted over the countryside.
One of the most essential things to in Goa for history buffs is visiting the UNESCO listed churches at Old Goa, once the capital of Goa under Portuguese rule. Old Goa was once so grand and important that it was known as ‘the Rome of the East’ and rivaled Lisbon.
However, Old Goa was blighted by illness and disease and was abandoned for the new capital of Panjim in 1843. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and you can still marvel at the massive churches they left behind, including the largest church in Asia and the remains of an over 300 hundred year old, very slowly, decomposing corpse of St Francis Xavier in the Basilica of Bom Jesus, attracts many pilgrims to Old Goa.
Explore Goa’s Capital Panjim (Panaji)
Another one of the things to do in Goa is to explore Goa’s laid back state capital – Panjim (Panaji)
If you haven’t been to any other cities in India then visiting Panjim will be an interesting taste of the hustle and bustle of India. If you have visited the likes of Delhi and Mumbai or Bangalore then Panjim with it’s riverside setting, broad streets and colourful Portuguese architecture will be a pleasant surprise – Panjim is definitely the most laid back, clean and beautiful Indian city I’ve visited.
Don’t miss the elaborate white Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and take time to explore the old atmospheric and colourful Portuguese districts of Sao Tome and Fontainhas and colonial buildings.
See more local tips on where to eat, shop and stay and things to do in Panjim
Take a Cruise along the Mandovi River
From Panjim you can jump onto a boat and cruise down the Mandovi River getting a glimpse of life from the river and trying to spot dolphins and other wildlife.
There are various options to choose from, from the free local ferry to a backwater cruise or a sunset cruise or casino boat with dinner and entertainment.
Pick up some bargains and learn to haggle one of Goa’s unique markets
The opportunities for shopping in Goa are endless, from designer malls to boutique designers to local markets. One of the most popular things to do in Goa is visiting one of the many quirky, unique and fun hippie markets and if you can learn how to haggle you can take home many bargains.
Anjuna’s famous hippie flea markets on Wednesdays is one of the most popular things to do in Goa and the Apora Saturday Night Market complete with live music and food stalls is also a really popular night out. For a more local flavour don’t miss Mapusa’s bustling and vibrant market.
Whichever market you visit there are plenty of chances to pick up souvenirs, hippie chic clothing and practice your bargaining skills. See more about the best markets in Goa.
Climb up and take in the view from one of Goa’s Forts
Everyone wanted a piece of Goa and her colourful history has left many crumbling forts to explore in Goa.
There’s not that much left of many of the forts themselves but whether it’s Cabo de Rama Fort in the South, Fort Aguada with it’s lighthouse and views over Panjim or Chapora Fort above rocky Vagator in the north the climb up is worthwhile for the views over the coast alone.
Swim at Dudhsagar – India’s second highest waterfall
Venture out into jungle the very far corner of Goa and take a bumpy jeep ride through the jungle to swim in the refreshing waters of Dudhsagar India’s second highest waterfall.
The waterfall is best viewed just after the monsoon, but there was still plenty of water when I visited at the end of January. Visiting Dudhsagar Waterfall is one of the most popular things to do in Goa so if you visit during high season don’t expect to get it to yourself though.
Visit a Spice Farm
Delve into Goa’s Hindu Heartland and discover why spices were such a big deal they pretty much started empires!
Exploring Goa’s hinterland is something that many tourists don’t bother to do but it’s one of the nicest things to do in Goa. Near Ponda are many Hindu temples and spice farms, most are pretty touristy but well organised.
I visited Sahakari Spice Farm, for 400 rupees the entry fee included a buffet lunch, a small sample of some spices and an entertaining tour of the spice plantation. It’s really interesting how many different properties plants can contain and how many illnesses and ailments they can treat).
Practise Yoga and other alternative therapies
From Ashtanga to Hatha and everything in between, yoga is everywhere in Goa and with so many yoga schools every inclination is catered for – from beginners, drop in, casual classes to more intensive retreats and teacher training courses.
Popular places for Yoga are in chilled out Palolem, Patnem and Agonda in the South and mellow Mandrem or hippy Arambol and Anjuna in the North. Find a full listing of yoga courses and retreats in Goa here.
Ayurveda – an ancient science of plant based natural medicine is also popular, either take a course or settle for just a nice, relaxing massage. You can also take a mediation course or learn Reiki, Tai Chi, Pilates, tantra, acupuncture, reflexology, the list goes on….
Visit the crumbling old villas of colonial Chandor
Admire the crumbling grandeur of Chandor, once the most spectacular city on the Konkan coast and home to many grand colonial Portuguese mansions and an important part of Goa’s history.
However, many once grand Portuguese mansions are now a shadow of their former glory but decrepitley picturesque. Visit Braganza House, built in the 17th century, this large house is now divided in two and you can see the contrasts between the grand and decrepit in one house and listen to the stories from the owners family feuds.
Take an Indian cooking class
If you can’t get enough of the food in Goa – from tasty north Indian curries to South Indian specialties and the coconuty, spicy uniqueness of Goan cuisine ( you’ll be hooked once you try Goan fish curry) then learn how make it yourself. Mutkhi Kitchen runs an entertaining, hands on, cooking class that is easy for all levels to understand in Arpora (between Anjuna and Baga)
Spot Wildlife at Goa’s National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries
Animals lovers should head to one of Goa’s three wildlife sanctuaries (you could combine the largest one Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary, with a trip to the nearby Dudhsagar Waterfall. Get away from it all by spending a night or two at the Backwoods Camp or spot the bright orange and blue flash or a kingfisher and other birds a the Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary
Discover the ancient Usgalimal Rock Carvings
Far in the Southern hinterland lies one of Goa’s most interesting and least visited sights. It’s a beautiful countryside drive to get here to see the prehistoric rock art, traces of some of the earliest human in-habitation in India. There are over 100 designs carved in the rock that describe everyday ancient tribal life thought to be 30,000 years old that was only discovered in 1993.
Celebrate a Festival
Especially in the dry/ tourist season there seems to be a different event or festival on every week. From photography, dance, art, food, music to religious festivals – there’s all something new going on in Goa. Check out the craziness of the massive annual carnival in mid February before the beginning of lent.
Volunteer and help someone else
It’s easy to relax and enjoy life in Goa but remember not everyone is having such a good time as you are. Spend some time helping someone else and get to see a different part from the touristy side to Goa in the process.
Or if you love animals then pay a visit to the International Animal Rescue in Assago ( between Anjuna/ Vagator and Mapusa) and give some love and attention to the animals there or help to walk the dogs. In Arambol you can help out at I Love Goa Dogs or if you’re in South Goa, near Palolem then check out Goa Animal Welfare Trust.
Take a trip to magcial Hampi
If you’re up for a bit more of an adventure the trip to the enigmatic and bewitching ruins of Hampi in the next state, Karnataka. It’s a night bus or 6/8 hour train ride away but these ancient ruins and the other worldy scenery make Hampi worth at least a few days of your time and is an easy enough jaunt from Goa
With so much to explore and so many things to do in Goa, it will be hard to find time to laze on the tropical beaches!