As Peru’s capital city, the vast majority of tourists first visit Lima before Cusco for Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail or before enjoying some of Peru’s top Amazon Rainforest lodges and luxury Amazon tours.
Although many visitors head straight to Cusco, both Cusco and Lima offer a great place to spend a few days. Ranking as the country’s largest city and one of Peru’s top tourist cities, here we will go over some of the favorite things to do to in Lima to help you make the most of your time. It’s a great place for an introduction to the country, as you can visit different museums to learn about Peru’s incredible history and the various pre-Columbian cultures.
Try some of Peru’s finest cuisine
Some of the world’s top-rated restaurants can be found in Lima and there are many other high-class restaurants to choose. Peruvian cuisine is consistently ranked one of the best in the world and there are many traditional Peruvian favorites to try.
Some examples include lomo saltado (a dish made with sliced steak, onions, and coriander served with rice), tallarines verdes (a pasta dish with spaghetti coated with a basil sauce and topped with steak), estofado de pollo (a delicious chicken stew), and papa a la Huancaina (potatoes in a creamy sauce).
The dishes usually consist of meats, fish, potatoes, beans, rice, and pasta. The top restaurants usually apply their own interpretation of some of Peru’s iconic dishes. Many celebrate the ingredients native to the region and the various fusions of cuisine and culture from the Spanish colonization through to Asian, Italian, and Arabic influences.
Some of the top-rated restaurants to enjoy in Lima include Maras Restaurante, Central, Astrid y Gastón, Rafael Restaurant, Tanta, Restaurante Rodrigo, La Mar, El Mercado, and Maido Restaurante.
Visit the Larco Museum
The Larco Museum was founded in 1926 by the ancient artifact collector Rafael Larco Hoyle and it’s one of Lima’s favorite attractions. Enjoy a large collection of pre-Columbian artifacts with an age span of around 3,000 years. The museum contains a lot of pottery, ceramics, artifacts of gold and silver, jewels, mummies, and textiles. The Inca had a fascinating culture and placed importance on cosmology and studying the stars. They also had an interesting religion, a working economy, and highly developed agriculture. All of these things have influenced their art and the artifacts you can see from this period.
Enjoy a tour to see the items on display and also visit the storerooms to see a massive collection of ceramics with a diversity of forms and patterns. You can take a guided tour of the museum for more information on the artifacts and the museum itself. A unique section of the museum is devoted to Incan erotic pottery, which horrified the Spanish conquistadors upon its discovery.
The museum itself was built on a pre-Columbian temple meaning the building itself is of historical importance and its surrounded with beautiful gardens. You can also enjoy the restaurant serving delicious food where you can relax after your tour for a drink or a meal.
Visit the Museum of the Central Reserve Bank
The Museum of the Central Reserve Bank is home to many pre-Columbian artifacts with particular emphasis on the gold and silver artifacts. In total, there are around 4,000 different artifacts from, among others, the Inca, Moche, Nasca, Chimu, and Chavin cultures. You can find sacrificial knives, textiles, pottery, and wooden artifacts from the different time periods.
The Central Reserve Bank opened the museum in 1982 to share some of Peru’s incredible history and diversity of cultures. The museum holds the Hugo Cohen Gold collection, an art gallery, and also an exhibition on folk art.
Go shopping in Lima’s Larcomar
Larcomar is a modern seafront shopping center in the Miraflores district of Lima. The mall faces the ocean to provide fantastic views as you explore the different high-end international and local shops. There are also different restaurants, cafes, bars, and also a nightclub. Browse jewelry, clothing, electronics, and luggage then relax with a meal or a drink. A great place to visit of a day, the evening provides a completely different atmosphere to enjoy. Around Larcomar, you can find parks and different high-end hotels.
The mall has over 150 different shops and you can enjoy the food court, restaurants with ocean views, book shops, designer clothing stores, electronics shops, and even a bowling complex. This is the most unique mall in the country given its design, however, for an alternative mall with a few more shops but with the same modern feel, you can visit the Jockey Plaza in the district of Surco a little further out from Miraflores.
Enjoy the Magic Water Circuit
Located inside the Park of the Reserve (Parque de la Reserva), the Magic Water Circuit has won the world record for the world’s largest fountain complex. It a great place to go for for a relaxing walk. To fully experience the park, you would need to visit in the evening as the fountains are illuminated with different colored lights and there is even a lazer light show.
Many of the fountains are interactive and the largest shoots water 80 metres in the air, which was named Magic Fountain. Another of the favorites is the Fuente Túnel de las Sorpresas (Tunnel Fountain of Surprises), which you can walk through. There is also a Children’s Fountain and Fuente de la Fantasia (Fantasia Fountain), which is where you find the light show. In total, you can find 13 different fountains in the area and the surroundings of the park offer some attractive and beautiful scenery, plants, and a tunnel with information on water usage around the world connects the park’s two sections.
Honored with its own national day in Peru, which will you some idea on the cultural significance of the dish, ceviche is one of the favorite foods in Peru. Ceviche is made from raw fish drizzled with citrus juice and spices. As the fish is raw, we recommend trying ceviche in Lima’s top restaurants to make sure the fish is properly prepared. It’s thought that ceviche originated in Peru with pre-Incan cultures, but citrus juice was added later when the fruit arrived with the Europeans.
June 28th is Peru’s National Ceviche Day when the dish is celebrated as part of the country’s national heritage. If you choose, there are dedicated ceviche restaurants around Lima specialising in ceviche and these are known as cevicherias. As an option, one of the favorites to try in Miraflores is called La Mar Cevicheria. This is Gastón Acurio’s second establishement after Astrid & Gastón, which was ranked as one of the world’s best restaurants.
Enjoy the national cocktail
If you can consider ceviche the national dish of Peru then the Pisco sour is the country’s national beverage. Now drank across Peru, it’s hard to imagine that the beverage was concocted in the small and now closed Morris’ Bar in Lima during the early 1900s. The drink is made from the Peruvian liquor Pisco, syrup, ice, Angostura bitters, lemon or lime juice, and egg white, which gives the drink its frothy look. Different hotels adopted the drink and two of the main places that helped promote the Pisco sour were the Hotel Bolívar and Hotel Maury. For a step back in time, you can still enjoy the drink at the historic Hotel Bolivar, which is located on the Plaza San Martín in Lima.
Visit the Monastery of San Francisco and the Catacombs
The Monastery of San Francisco is a favorite city attraction in Lima’s Historical Centre. Built in the 1700s, you can enjoy a tour of the monastery to see the beautiful architecture, hear about the building’s fascinating history, and see the library. The monastery’s library contains around 25,000 books and is regarded as one of the most important libraries on the continent. Throughout the building, you can find fantastic paintings and sculptures. Leading to the library, from the staircase you can see the Moorish-style dome structure made of Nicaraguan cedar. Not only fascinating in its own right, what’s really fascinating for many visitors is below the monastery. Discovered in 1943, the catacombs house tens of thousands of skeletons buried under the building and many of the bones are above ground. The tunnels themselves are fascinating but make sure you stick with your tour group as it’s easy to get lost.
Visit the Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas is a beautiful and historic plaza located in central Lima. This is the main square you will visit when taking a tour of Lima’s Historical Centre. Enjoy the ornately decorated buildings surrounding the plaza and the iconic wooden balconies of the Spanish colonial period. Surrounding the plaza, you can see the Palace of the Union, the Archbishop’s Palace of Lima, the Cathedral of Lima, the Municipal Palace, and the Government Place.
The plaza marks where the city of Lima was founded, as with the wishes of Spain’s King Charles I, cities in the New World were built as a grid around a main plaza. Francisco Pizarro himself decided the plaza’s location on January 18, 1535. After this, the plaza was used for the city gallows, a bullfighting ring, and a market. Adding to its historical significance, this was also the location where José de San Martín declared Peru’s Independence from Spain in 1821.
Dine at the Pucllana Temple
A lesser known feature about Lima, and especially among visitors who head straight to Cusco, is that Lima itself was occupied by the ancient cultures. The city contains several different archaeological sites and you can find the Pucllana Temple right in Miraflores. The Huaca Pucllana, as it is officially known, is a pyramid of the Lima Culture that existed from around 200 AD to 700 AD.
Surrounded by a plaza, the Pucllana Temple is an adobe ceremonial and administrative structure. The temple is being restored, and as excavations continue, researchers are still uncovering different surprises including various mummified remains. The Lima Culture was later overcome by the Wari Culture who defeated all other Peru’’s coastal people. The temple was abandoned, but was still used by the Wari as a burial area for the elite of the Wari Culture.
As a novel feature, the temple is also the location of an on-site restaurant serving delicious food. The restaurant overlooks the structure and you can enjoy your meal enjoying magnificent views of the temple.
Barranco is located just south of Miraflores on the coast and is known as Lima’s relaxed and artistic district. Although lesser visited and lesser known to tourists visiting Lima, Barranco offers a completely different feel to the rest of the city. Barranco is where Lima’s elite used to purchase their properties for the relaxed environment, the different restaurants, and the ocean views. This is where many of Lima’s leading artists, photographers and musicians choose to live because of the more relaxed vibe. Around Barranco, there are different cafes, restaurants, and bars to relax taking in the views and relaxing coastal environment. There are a few different attractions in Barranco, including the Bridge of Sighs, however, the main draws are the cafes and restaurants. There are different art galleries, small museums, boutiques, and many colonial mansions where Lima’s elite once resided.
Walk the Malecon in Miraflores
If you feel like a relaxing walk in Miraflores, we recommend heading to the Malecon, which is a special stretch of parks located along the cliffside and extends six miles along the coast. When you visit, you will no doubt see local joggers, cyclists, and walkers enjoying the area. The parks are then dotted with various sculptures and artwork adding some fantastic features to the oceanic views. One of the more famous sculptures is Víctor Delfín’s carving of a couple in romantic embrace, which sits purposely in the Parque del Amor, or Park of Love. Further on, this is where you will see different paragliders taking off from the cliffside and they often fly around the high end mall of Larcomar, which sits towards the end of the Malecon. In addition to the parks and sculptures, you can find different cafes to relax while taking in the oceanic views.
Walk the Jirón de la Unión
The Jirón de la Unión is a pedestrian street between the plazas of Plaza de Armas and Plaza San Martín. The street is lined with shops and restaurants and is a must-visit when exploring Lima’s Historical Center. In the 19th Century, this was where the city’s aristocrats would come and meet and was Lima’s main boulevard. After the decline of the centre’s importance when Lima continued its expansion, the aristocrats left and shops and restaurants lined the pavement. The street is still one of the most interesting and lively in Lima and was personally planned by Francisco Pizarro himself.
Visit the Plaza San Martín
One of the main plazas in Lima, the Plaza San Martín is in Lima’s UNESCO listed Historic Centre and is linked to the Plaza de Armas by the Jirón de la Unión. Giving the plaza its name, the central monument is of José de San Martín on horseback who was known as the Protector of Peru because of his lead in the fight for South America’s independence from Spain. The plaza is now illuminated in the evenings, which creates a beautiful effect. Facing the plaza is the famous Gran Hotel Bolívar, which was built in the 1920s and played a crucial role in promoting the famous Pisco sour to its current status.
Browse the Mercado de Artesanias
One of the best places in Lima to buy souvenirs, the Mercado de Artesanias on Avenida Petit Thouars are a serious of artisan markets where you can find hand crafted jewelry, textiles, clothing, ceramics, wooden sculptures, and more from all over Peru. Browse items from the Andes, the coast, and even the Amazon Rainforest. Almost all the avenue is lined with shops selling handicrafts and other souvenirs. Make sure you take care when choosing products of animal origin that they were not made from wild animals, as you will be unintentionally supporting illegal or unsustainable hunting. This is a major problem the world over and it’s often tourists who drive the market.
Visit the Natural History Museum
Peru’s most important museum of natural history, the Museo de Historia Natural is operated by the National University of San Marcos and was established in 1918. The museum was founded around the study of minerals, plants, and animals. Different expeditions were taken in the 1900s to stock the museum that took collectors all over Peru. There are different displays of various animals and fossils found in country, including skeletons from whales, fossils of extinct horses, and fossils of giant ground sloths and other extinct megafauna. The museum is located near the Parque de la Reserva mentioned further up on Avenida Arequipa.
Enjoy some snacks in Lima’s Kennedy Park
Kennedy Park is an attractive city park in the heart of Miraflores and is also a great navigational landmark when exploring the city. Of an evening, different vendors sell a variety of local snacks and there is also a market on the weekend. Painters also visit the edges of the park to sell attractive paintings. The Kennedy Park is separated into two parts with the Virgen Milagrosa Church between both areas. As an unusual feature, the park has become famous for the number of cats that roam the flower beds and the first cats appeared many years ago. Now, some caring locals offer veterinary care and food to the cats and donations can be made at the park entrance.
We’ve noticed specific animals making homes in certain parks all over the world, such as the Iguanas in Parque Seminario in Quito, Ecuador, in the article on Ecuador attractions or the many monitor lizards in Lumphini Park, Bangkok, Thailand. If you have encountered a high population of unusual animals in tropical city parks on your travels, let us know in the comments section below.
Improve your Spanish
Peru is a great place to learn or improve Spanish and there are different friendly Spanish schools to choose from. Given the often friendly nature of Peruvian locals, this is also a great country to practice your language skills, which helps give you a deeper experience of Peruvian culture.
Many people travel to different places happy not to interact with local people, but learning the language, or at least enough to communicate, can be very rewarding and you will also benefit from local knowledge. Not to mention, Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language worldwide after Mandarin (English is 3rd). Given the lower cost of lessons in Peru and the friendly locals and staff, it’s a great place to learn one of the world’s most important languages.
To help you interact with locals and make it a little less daunting, many Spanish schools offer volunteering or even accommodation options and homestays to allow you to mix and practice what you have learned in the classes. In Lima, a high-rated school is the Peruwayna Spanish School that offers daily lessons and is priced per week.
Try a plate of guinea pig
Guinea pigs are known as ‘cuy’ in South America and were domesticated in the Andes thousands of years ago as food. They are still commonly eaten in Andean regions and are one of three domesticated native mammals on the continent. The other two are the llama and alpaca. Despite not being in the Andes, as Lima is the Peruvian capital city with many people living in Lima of Andean descent, cuy can still be found in different restaurants.
Being domesticated so long ago, their wild ancestral species is now extinct in the wild. Guinea pigs were introduced to European countries after Spanish colonization in the 16th century. However, guinea pigs continue to be very important in Peruvian culture. Despite their sometimes surprising presentation on the plate, guinea pig meat is actually quite tasty and you can try the local delicacy at various Peruvian restaurants, including restaurants in Miraflores and Barranco.
Try some green spaghetti
One of Peru’s most visually interesting dishes, tallerines verdes (green spaghetti) is spaghetti with a Peruvian pesto sauce, which is usually topped with steak. The Peruvian version of pesto is creamier than its Italian influence. The dish can be be traced back to Italian migrants, which has been adapted over time. The Italian migrants to Peru were one of the main groups of Europeans to migrate to the country. Most came in the 1800s, however, early Italians had a significant place in Peruvian history even being present and involved in the capture and death of the Inca Atahualpa. Italian influence has extended deeply into the culture and has had a long-lasting effect on the country’s cuisine.
Learn Salsa dancing
Salsa dancing as we know it today originated in New York in the 1970s with the Cubans who migrated to the USA and adapted the dance from traditional Caribbean dances. From New York, salsa was adapted in Puerto Rico, Colombia, and has since spread throughout Latin America and the world. There are now a few different salsa variants to try.
There are some great places in Lima to learn salsa dancing and to go out and practice, including some great salsa clubs in Miraflores and Barranco. Some of the favorites and most popular places in Lima to enjoy salsa dancing include the Casa de Cuba on the Calle de Pizzas in Miraflores and Sargento Pimienta in Barranco.
Take a cooking class
Peru is home to one of the world’s top-rates cuisines and Lima contains a few of the world’s best award-winning restaurants. There are a few different delicious national favorites to try, including lomo saltado, estofado de pollo, aji de gallina, papa a la huancaina, and ceviche. Given the world-renowned cuisine and the diversity of influences, it’s great to learn how to prepare a few of the classic dishes and to learn the interesting history of the food. You will also impress friends and family by cooking some delicious and lesser-known dishes.
One of the more popular cooking classes in Lima is SkyKitchen, which is based in Miraflores so should be within easy reach of your accommodation.
Visit a top-rated chocolate shop
Roselen Chocolatier is a family operated chocolate shop in Lima has been ranked as one of the world’s 10 best chocolate shops by National Geographic Traveler. Each chocolate is hand-painted and flavors are influenced and inspired by the Peruvian rainforest. The Roselen Chocolatier chocolate shop is located on Av. Caminos del Inca #257 and Av. El Polo 670 Tienda B-104 in Surco.
Chocolate has its origins in the Amazon Rainforest and the rainforests of Central America where you can find wild-growing cocoa fruit. So far, we think chocolate in the most similar form to today originated in Mesoamerica with pre-Olmec cultures. In the area now known as Mexico, different cultures prepared and drank a bitter tasting beverage made from cacao beans around 1900 B.C. Even the name chocolate comes from the Aztec name for the drink, which was ‘xocoatl’ and some accounts mention that the Aztec emperor Montezuma used to consume the beverage exclusively.
Experience Lima nightlife
As Peru’s largest city and the country’s capital, there’s some great areas to enjoy nightlife in Lima with different bars and nightclubs. Some have a distinct latin vibe, such as Casa de Cuba in Miraflores and some nights at Sargento Pimenta in Barranco, while others offer a similar experience to other places the world over. As an introduction to the nightlife, or if you’re only here for a few days, a good place to start is the Calle de las Pizzas in Miraflores, which is just next to the Kennedy Park. Other areas to enjoy in Miraflores are found near Manuel Bonilla Street and Calle Berlin. There are also places in Barranco and towards Larcomar, including Aura and Gotica.
Buy some alpaca wool clothing
The souvenir many visitors want from their trip to Peru is a coat or throw made from soft alpaca wool. You can choose to purchase your alpaca items from Cusco and other Andean areas, however, you can also find some great shops in Lima. The wool is used for the blankets and throws in some of the world’s most luxurious establishments and the value of alpaca wool has been known since pre-Incan times. The earliest known alpaca-wool items were discovered from the Paracas culture that existed around 2,000 years ago. Take note that to avoid buying fake items, choose the location where you’re buying your products carefully. In Lima, we recommend LarcoMar, Kuna, and Alpaca 111.
Visit Lima’s Museum of Art
Lima’s main fine-art museum, the Museo de Arte de Lima houses art from pre-Columbian cultures through to contemporary art and spans 3,000 years of Peru’s artistic history. Not only housing paintings, the museum contains different furniture, pottery, photography, sculptures, and textiles. To keep things organized and give you the best experience, the works are organized according to theme. Many of Peru’s different pre-Incan cultures are featured in the museum. One of the rooms is then devoted to contemporary works.
Visit the Sanctuary of the Nazarenas
The Sanctuary of Las Nazarenas is the location of one of Lima’s most famous religious processions, the Señor de los Milagros. The church itself was part of a shantytown inhabited by slaves in the 17th-century. The story goes that a painting of the crucifixion was made by a slave from Angola during this time. The original building housing the painting was destroyed in 1655 by a large earthquake, however, it’s said the wall with the mural was left intact. The painting developed a spiritual significance for many people and each year on October 18th thousands of people take part in a procession with representations of the original painting.
See the Museum of the Inquisition
The Museo de la Santa Inquisición is a small museum and is a great place to spend 20 minutes or half an hour learning the often horrific beginnings of Peru and its Catholic roots. The building of the museum itself dates from the foundation of Lima and is a national monument in its own right. The Holy Office and Inquisition tribunal was located in Lima from 1570 until 1820. This very building is where inquisition prisoners were tortured in the basement, which houses different dungeons and torture chambers. To help you imagine the horrors that took place here to anyone the Catholic colonists regarded as a not following their beliefs or committing other religious crimes, different waxworks have been made to represent the cruel punishments. Although many of the signs are in Spanish, you can take a guided tour in English to learn more about the history of the Spanish and Peruvian Inquisition and the foundation of Peru.
Visit the Real Felipe Fortress & Museum
If you’re interested in Peruvian history, the Real Felipe Fortress was built over 250 years ago to defend the Peruvian coastline and specifically the Callao harbour, which was where all the South American gold was sent to be shipped off to Spain. This is reported to be the largest fortress built by the Spanish Crown outside of Spain itself and is worth a visit for this fact alone. Peru was very important to Spain because of the amount of gold and silver possessed by the conquered Incan Civilization and the constant supply provided by Peruvian mines. Because of the gold, pirates would regularly attack the Spanish galleons and the fort, and the most famous of the pirates to attack the Real Felipe Fortress was Sir Francis Drake in 1579. Within the fortress, you can also find a museum of the Peruvian army to learn about the country’s military history.
Visit the Church of Santo Domingo
The Church of Santo Domingo was built in 1540 and is one of the city’s most historic churches. The land was given to Friar Vicente de Valverde who was at the side of Francisco Pizarro and even had a great influence in the capture and execution of the Inca Atahualpa. Aside from the beautiful architecture, courtyard and garden, the other fascinating feature of the church is that it was the final resting place of three saints: San Juan Macías, San Martín de Porres, and Santa Rosa de Lima. The interesting feature is that the tombs are in the courtyard, but the skulls of two of the saints are at the main altar and are encased in glass as a shrine.