It may be overshadowed by Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas, but every person on Peru travel passes through Lima at some point on their journey. Furthermore, it’s a city with a lot of attractions. It’s massive, with a population of over 10 million. So how do you parse through the many landmarks available here and determine which spots you need to prioritize? With our help.
To make a trip to the city as smooth as possible, we’ve put together a list of the 10 essential things to do in Lima. This includes historical attractions, cultural touchstones, and, of course, great restaurants. There’s no way to capture the enormous opportunity in Lima in 10 landmarks, but with this guide, at least you can feel you’ll seen the essentials.
What are the best historical attractions in Lima?
Visit colonial Plaza Mayor in Lima District
Although very few travellers actually stay in Lima District, it is the centrepiece of the city’s historical attractions. Plaza Mayor (also known as Plaza de Armas) is the main colonial square and one of the essential historical stops in Lima on Peru travel. Stroll around the palm-lined central square, stop for a moment at the fountain, and drink in the sights of the bright yellow facades of the governmental buildings. On the north side of the square, you’ll see the Governmental Palace. To the right, you’ll find Lima Cathedral and the Archbishop’s Palace, which are stunning examples of colonial Spanish architecture and great spots to visit. In Lima Cathedral, you’ll find a box containing the bones of Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish conquistador who conquered Peru back in the 16th century and whose name is infamous in Peru today. Interestingly, the box used to contain the remains of another individual thought to be Pizarro, but historians discovered the real bones of Pizarro in 1977 and replaced the remains on display. At least you know whose bones you’re now seeing when you visit.
Visit the Basilica and Convent of Santo Domingo
There are many churches and monasteries around Plaza Mayor in Lima District, but you should pay special attention to the Basilica and Convent of Santo Domingo, which lies a block to the northwest. It’s one of the most significant churches in the nation. For one, it’s gorgeous, with a pink stone façade on the outside and elaborate mosaics and Spanish designs on the inside. It’s also the site of the oldest university in the Americas. However, perhaps the most interesting fact is that it’s home to the crypts of some of Peru’s most important saints, including Saint Martin de Porros, who was the first black saint in the Americas. You should spend a few hours exploring the basilica and convent. Climb the bell tower for good views over Lima District, admire the elaborate wood carvings of one of Peru’s oldest choral chambers, descend into the crypts to see the resting places of the saints, and enjoy the quiet atmosphere of the convent’s inner courtyards, complete with manicured gardens and water fountains.
Visit the pre-Incan pyramids of Huaca Huallamarca and Huaca Pucllana
Despite its history as a colonial capital, Lima has more than colonial historical attractions. In fact, its historical sites go back further than the Spanish conquest and even further than the Inca Empire. Chief among these ancient sites are the pyramids of Huaca Huallamarca and Huaca Pucllana, which are pre-Columbian pyramids and even pre-Incan, dating back to the Lima culture that controlled the region almost 2,000 years ago. You’ll find Huaca Huallamarca in San Isidro, next to apartment high-rises and trendy mansions for the city’s elite. In addition to climbing the pyramid, you can visit the small on-site museum, which will educate you about the pre-Incan civilizations and show you an example of a mummy discovered in the pyramid. You’ll find Huaca Pucllana in nearby Miraflores. It’s the larger and more popular site of the two. There’s even a restaurant where you can dine amidst the ruins.
What are unique cultural experiences in Lima?
Eat at one of the city’s famous restaurants
You may not have noticed if you’ve never been, but Lima is in the midst of a culinary renaissance, consistently ranking near or at the top of the world’s best food cities. It’s also home to several of the world’s best restaurants. When in Lima, you need to take advantage of this culinary boom and head to one of the city’s great restaurants. Among the most famous is Astrid y Gaston in San Isidro, a gourmet Peruvian joint located in an old hacienda and owned and operated by Gaston Acurio, who has done more to popularize Peruvian cuisine than anyone. It consistently ranks among the city’s best restaurants, although Peruvian restaurant Central in the Barranco District and Peruvian-Japanese fusion restaurant Maido in Miraflores rank even higher among international rankings. If you don’t think you can afford one of these world-class restaurants on your Peru travel, at least head to Isolina Taberna, a popular restaurant in Barranco that offers up delicious examples of classical Peruvian cuisine without an exorbitant price tag. You won’t need to make a reservation months in advance to get into Isolina, so it’s the ultimate backup, and the food is delicious to boot.
Cross the Bridge of Sighs in Barranco
Barranco is Lima’s bohemian centrepiece and home to countless art galleries and museums in the old haciendas that make up the district. Even if you stay in Miraflores or San Isidro, you should take at least an afternoon to stroll through its avenues, stop off at small galleries, and sample its bohemian vibe. The Bridge of Sighs is the unofficial centre of the district. It connects two attractive parks and crosses a small ravine leading down to the ocean. It’s a popular hangout for lovers and buskers, who flock to the street as the sun sets and the park’s lanterns evoke a romantic atmosphere. It’s not a long bridge, but you need to cross the Bridge of Sighs just after sundown to experience Barranco’s unique atmosphere.
Go Shopping at Larcomar
Lima is not lacking for shopping options, with several upscale malls as well as small indigenous marketplaces and souvenir centres catering to travellers’ obsession with Peruvian rugs and alpaca wool. But no mall is as impressive as the Larcomar, which is built into the side of the coastal cliffs at the intersection between Miraflores and Barranco. If you approach it from the north, you won’t even see the mall, as it’s hidden on the far side of the cliff wall. If you approach it from the south, you’ll see the stunning, open-air design of upscale boutiques and cafes curving alongside the cliff face. If you want to shop in a gorgeous environment with views of the Pacific Ocean, Larcomar is the ideal spot.
See the Magic Water Circuit at Parque de la Reserva
About midway between Lima District and San Isidro, just to the south of the national soccer stadium, you’ll find the Parque de la Reserva, which first opened in 1929 and is dedicated to the many civilian reservists who fought during the War of the Pacific. It’s a beautiful park, but also an essential stop in Lima as each evening it hosts the Magic Water Circuit, which brings its 13 fountains to life with a colourful light show that lasts around 30 minutes. The light show occurs at 7:15pm, 8:15pm, and 9:30pm each evening. You’ll have to plan your travel ahead to avoid the congestion of Lima traffic in the evening, but the planning is worth it once you see the show.
Go for a bike ride along the cliffs of Miraflores
It’s likely you’ll stay in Miraflores during your time in Lima, as the safe streets, abundance of bars and restaurants, and many high-end hotels make it an attractive base for sightseeing on Peru travel. Miraflores also has a beautiful stretch of coastal parks that sit on the edge of cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The best way to see this long stretch along the ocean is on a bike ride, which is made even more convenient as the city recently added bike lanes to the majority of the roads along the coast. You’ll enjoy good views of the Pacific Ocean, have the freedom to stop off at important spots like the Miraflores Lighthouse and the Gaudi-inspired Parque del Amor, and get a bit of exercise along the way. If you want a bit more adventure during your time along the cliffs of Miraflores, consider a paragliding journey high above the coastline.
What are the best museums in Lima?
Visit the Larco Museum
There are many museums in Lima, but the Larco Museum is widely-considered the best. The privately-owned museum is located in an old vice royal residence and has one of the world’s best collections of pre-Columbian artifacts, including a large gallery of gold and silver jewelry and the famously-cheeky gallery of pre-Columbian erotic pottery. The museum is located in Pueblo Libre District, about midway between Miraflores and the international airport in Callao, so it’s a great place to stop for the afternoon of your last day before catching your flight home in the evening. It also has a renowned restaurant in the museum, where you can enjoy gourmet dishes amidst the permanent exhibition.
Visit the National Museum of the Archaeology, Anthropology, and History of Peru
The National Museum is not far to the east of the Larco Museum. Of the many government-run museums in Lima, it’s likely the best, as it’s both the largest museum in the country and, perhaps more importantly, is currently open to the public… unlike the Museum of the Nation, which is currently under remodelling and largely closed to visitors. The National Museum has over 100,000 artifacts in its collection, most notably the Raimondi Stele and the Tello Obelisk, sacred objects of the Chavin civilization of the Andes.
There’s far more than 10 things to do in Lima, while on Peru travel, but if you follow our guide, you’ll enjoy a wide-ranging sample of the city’s many highlights.
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