From the colonial grandeur of the Plaza de Armas to its pre-Columbian huacas (ruins, often tombs), Lima serves up a melting pot of Peruvian culture and history, but the city’s proud heritage is also on display at its many museums. Here are some of the best.
Things to do in Lima
Welcome to Lima
Lima, Peru has emerged from its reputation as a layover on the way to Machu Picchu to be a destination of its own accord, offering world-class art museums, preserved colonial plazas, and a trendy, destination-worthy culinary scene featuring a signature cocktail: the Pisco sour. Discover the city’s charms on a guided tour, visiting the collection of pre-Columbian artifacts at the Larco Museum, the Spanish-influenced Plaza de Armas, the dazzling fountains of the Magic Water Circuit, and the tomb of Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in Lima’s City Centre, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cultural tours of the city bring travelers in contact with local communities, artisans, and chefs through food, drink, and market tours for a taste (literally) of the daily life in the city. Contemporary charms abound in the bohemian Barranco District, while ancient Peru’s history is on display at the Pachacamac archaeological site, located 25 miles (40 kilometers) outside of the city. Those looking for outdoor adventure can indulge in a day of swimming and sun bathing on a day trip to the nearby Ballestas Islands and Paracas National Reserve or sand board at the Oasis of Huacachina, while those seeking to learn more about ancient Peru can fly above the famous Nazca lines or visit a number of nearby archaeological sites and still make it back in time to enjoy a drink on the veranda.
Top 10 attractions in Lima
The swanky beachfront suburb of Miraflores is one of Lima’s most sought-after zip codes. Miraflores is where you’ll find Lima’s best restaurants, shops and hotels, plus the waterfront mansions and high-rise towers of the city’s movers and shakers. It’s also home to lovely parks and gardens, beaches and promenades. Some ancient history remains in Miraflores, including the Huaca Pucllana, the remains of a pre-Inca mud-brick temple. Paragliders come to Miraflores to leap off the area’s rocky cliffs over the sea. The beaches are popular, but the coast tends to be rocky rather than sandy and the better beaches lie further south....
Lima’s Plaza Mayor (main square) is central Plaza de Armas, the city’s historic heart and birthplace. Landscaped with palm trees, elaborate lampposts, flower beds and greenery, the square’s focus is the 1650 tiered bronze fountain in the center and the statue of Francisco Pizarro on horseback nearby. Visit at 11:45am to watch the changing of the guard, or visit any time to find an empty seat and watch the world wander by. There’s plenty to look at, with the cathedral on one side and the beautiful balconies of the Palacio Arzobispal next door. Several other attractive buildings with balconies and arched porticoes line the square, including the City Hall and Government Palace....
The Iglesia and Museo de San Francisco is a spectacular example of Moorish-inspired Spanish baroque colonial grandeur, but the real highlight is the spooky labyrinth of catacombs underground. One of the best preserved churches in Lima, the Convent of San Francis of Assisi also has a remarkable library of antique texts and a tranquil cloistered garden. A guided visit to the Museum and Convent takes you through the buildings’ history and architecture, before venturing into the underground passages lined with the bones of 25,000 Lima citizens from over 200 years of burials. Bones were interred here until 1808, when Lima’s cemetery was established, and the catacombs lay undiscovered until 1943. A visit is not for the fainthearted, but those who do make the journey will be surprised to see the various skulls and thigh bones arranged in decorative patterns....
Inaugurated in 1921 to celebrate a century of Peruvian independence, Plaza San Martin is named after the man who liberated Peru, Argentina and Chile from Spain, José de San Martín whose bronze likeness sits astride a bronze horse in the center of the plaza. Located within the UNESCO-listed Historic Centre of Lima and surrounded on three sides by neocolonial architecture, the plaza is considered one of the city’s most important public spaces. The plaza becomes especially lively in the late afternoon and evening, when the buildings are lit up beautifully and locals gather to chit chat or, more often, argue politics beneath the trees. On the northwestern side of the plaza sits the Gran Hotel Bolivar, a perfect place to sip a pisco sour within the historic art deco building....
Downtown Lima’s most lively and colorful street is pedestrianized Jiron de la Union. Lined with boutiques and stores for window-shopping, restaurants and cafes for bar-hoppers, and thronged with locals for people-watching, taking a stroll along this atmospheric thoroughfare is the best way to experience Lima in a nutshell. Taking up five blocks of prime city-center real estate, Lima’s most important boulevard was planned by Pizarro back in 1535, when the city was founded. A walk along this thoroughly commercialized car-free route takes you past City Hall, monuments, squares and the La Merced Cathedral, with its pretty square in front....
Dominating the northern quarter of Lima’s UNESCO-listed Plaza de Armas, the grand Presidential Palace, or Casa de Pizarro, is one of the city’s most impressive historic buildings. Built in 1535 by Francisco Pizarro to mark the founding of the city, the Presidential Palace has been the official home of the Peruvian government since the viceroyalty of Peru was first established. Designed by architect Ricardo de Jaxa Malachowski in a French Baroque style, the original building was erected on the site of Indian chief Taulichusco’s former home, and was later the site where Jose San Martín declared the Independence of Peru in 1821. Along with its historical importance, the building itself has undergone numerous renovations and restorations throughout the years, and today, most of the existing structure dates back to the 20th century....
Lima’s most bohemian district, the lively coastal neighborhood of Barranco first became popular towards the end of the 19th Century, drawing an influx of poets, writers and artists to the seaside resorts of Las Sombrillas and Barranquito. Although it was integrated into the capital territory in 1860, Barranco retains its village-like feel, with its striking colonial architecture and brightly painted buildings standing in stark contrast to the modern high-rises of neighboring Miraflores. Best explored on foot, the elegant Plaza San Francisco is the starting point for a walking tour, home to the 19th century Iglesia San Francisco, and encircled by boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Nearby, the Bajada de los Baños ravine is the most popular hangout during the daytime, where the flower-lined Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs) makes a romantic spot for watching the sunset....
The closest archaeological site to Lima is Pachacamac, a pre-Inca collection of sand-blasted pyramid temples and palaces spanning 1,500 years. Over the centuries the now-ruined city developed into one of the Inca’s most important religious and administrative centers. Though all that remains is largely the rubble of walls and stepped foundations rising from the surrounding dusty desert, there are excavations and reconstructions to see, including a rebuilt Inca complex called House of the Chosen Women. The site was inhabited by the Huari people prior to 800 AD, and later by the Inca, who built their Temple to the sun on the main square. Itshma was the name given to the state surrounding Pachacamac and the religious ceremonial temples built to honor the coastal deity, Pacha Camac....
Lima, with a population of nearly 10 million people when counting the metro suburbs, isn’t exactly the first place you’d pick for a natural wildlife refuge. Here at Pantanos de Villa, however, over 200 different species of birds all flit through the wetlands spanning 650 acres outside the Chorillos suburb. On the winding network of walking trails, visitors with binoculars can encounter dozens of species in the span of a couple of hours. Scan the reeds for Black Skimmers, Herons, and Puna Ibis, and look in the water for Great Grebes of Neotropic Cormorants. Many of the birds here are migratory and sightings change with the seasons, and the months of December and January brim with seagulls lining the coast. 11 species of amphibians and reptiles can also be found in the reeds, although unfortunately as the city continues to grow, the manmade threats to Pantanos de Villa are literally encircling the marsh....
Stretching between the Plaza de Armas and Plaza San Martin, and bisected by the principal boulevard of Jirón de la Unión, the historic center of Lima is still the focal point of the modern-day city. Today, the UNESCO-listed area forms the basis of most tourist itineraries, with the majority of attractions within easy walking distance and a wealth of elegant buildings, churches and monumental statues dating back to the colonial era. The Plaza de Armas makes a popular starting point for walking tours, home to a cluster of landmarks including the Presidential Palace, the Municipal Palace (City Hall) and the Palace of the Union, as well as a bronze fountain bearing the coats-of-arms of Lima. Famously the site of the foundation of the ‘City of the Kings’ in 1535, the Plaza de Armas became the city’s first public square and was later the site of the declaration of the Republic of Peru in 1821....
Top activities in Lima
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- 7-Day Lima, Cusco and Sunrise at Machu Picchu
- Paracas and Huacachina from Lima with Ballestas Islands and Sand Boarding
- Half-Day Lima City Sightseeing
- Overflight of Nazca Lines Full Day Trip from Lima
- From Lima: Palomino Islands Cruise & Swimming with Sea Lions with Transfers
Discover the top things to do in Lima.
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Things to do near Lima
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