There are many incredible things to do in Lima, Peru. Some travelers will suggest that the Peruvian capital is not worth more than a day or two and advise to get out of it quickly to devote more time to other, more popular destinations in the country. But I disagree. Lima is definitely worth seeing.
Facing the Pacific coast, Lima is packed with interesting historic sights; it has an up and coming art scene; delicious restaurants and one of the most thriving nightlife in South America. Sure – it’s chaotic, loud and it will probably drive you nuts at some point. But for some reason, you can’t end up loving it, and wanting to return. That’s what happened to me: after visiting once, I returned for more.
Curious to discover the unmissable things to do in Lima? Continue reading this post – I will not only suggest what to do in Lima for the most classic experience, but also reveal some hidden gems and lesser known places to visit in Lima.
The Best Things To Do In Lima, Peru
Join a walking tour of Lima
One of the best things to do in Lima as soon as you arrive (well, other than checking in at your hotel, that is!) is going on a walking tour to get the hang of the city. If you are traveling on a budget, you can join one of the regular free walking tours that depart daily at 11:40 am from near Plaza San Martin, in the historic center of town.
Free walking tours last typically about 2 hours, and you are expected to tip the guide at the end of the tour. The main issue with them is that they can get super-crowded, so sometimes it can be hard to hear what the guide says, and the group may move really slowly.
If you’d rather join a smaller group, there are plenty of tours too. Most of them are walking tours and go to the main spots in the historic center, but there also are others that explore a bit further.
There are several walking tour options available on line, the prices vary depending on whether you want a small group tour or a more expensive private tour.
Get educated at the Larco Museum
Set inside an 18th-century viceroy’s mansion, Museo Larco holds one of the best collections of ceramics in the city. It was founded in 1926 by Rafael Larco Hoyle, and boasts over 50,000 pieces from across the nation – from ancient pottery, through Inca, Nazca, and Chimu.
Not only that, but there’s also jewelry and gold to admire here, as well as a separate section of erotic pre-Colombian artwork (one of which depicts a sexually transmitted disease).
See local art art Museo de Arte de Lima
If you are into art, visiting The Museo de Arte de Lima is easily one of the top things to do in Lima. This is the city’s top fine art museum, and as such is a landmark destination in the city. Known as MALI, the museum was inaugurated in 1981 and is housed inside a grand neoclassical building.
Inside, modern additions to the historic structure create a contemporary space for viewing its art collections which, in addition to paintings, includes textiles and ceramics from across the country.
The MALI is open Tuesday to Saturday and there are two time slots for visiting: from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm and from 3:00 to 5:00 pm. On Sundays, there are reduced entry fees.
Take in architecture at Museo Andrés del Castillo
Housed in a 19th-century mansion and known as MAD this private museum showcases a huge collection of textiles, ancient pottery, and other artifacts, as well various Peruvian minerals (i.e. rocks). As impressive as the collection itself are the colorful Spanish tiled floors throughout the building.
The museum itself is well presented and there’s good English signage throughout. A quiet place to learn about Peru’s geology – and particularly good because it’s one of the only places with regular opening hours on a Monday.
MAD is open Monday to Saturday, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Pay a visit to the Natural History Museum
If you are a fan of natural history, visiting the Natural History Museum is definitely what to do in Lima. Part of the National University of San Marcos, the museum first opened in 1918 and has a very interesting exhibit with a strong focus on Peruvian flora and fauna.
The museum is self explanatory, so you can definitely visit independently. Otherwise, for a more in depth experience you can join a guided tour – you can get a guide directly at the museum.
The museum is open Monday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and on Sundays from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm.
Check out photography at Museo Mario Testino
Photography aficionados looking for what to do in Lima should head to Mario Testino Museum. Yes, the famous fashion and portrait photographer Mario Testino is from Lima, and the city has named a photography museum in his honor. Though it’s compact in size, the Museo Mario Testino still houses a sizable collection of his work.
The permanent exhibition includes some of his most iconic portraits which feature the likes of Kate Moss and Princess Diana. Also included at the museum are portraits by Testino of native Andean Highland people in traditional dress.
The museum is temporarily closed.
Hang out with creatives at Monumental Callao
Over in the district of Independencia, Monumental Callao is a creative institution set in a 1920s mansion. It was set up by a group of Lima’s graffiti artists who wanted to revive the neighborhood surrounding the building.
Today, it’s grown to become a hotspot for creativity and features galleries, community events, exhibitions, workshops, artists’ studios, and restaurants. Head here on the weekend and you’ll find parties on the rooftop with DJs playing till the early hours.
Monumental Callao is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. For a guided tour, click here.
Hang out in Plaza De Armas De Lima
Visiting Plaza de Armas is one of the unmissable things to do in Lima. Lima’s main square or Plaza Mayor is a 140-square-meter festival of architectural grandeur in the middle of the city’s old town. It’s from here that the city spread out, being the historic centerpiece of Lima, so it’s not surprising that today it remains the heart of the city.
Here you’ll find a long list of the city’s institutions, including the Government Palace, Lima Cathedral, Archbishop’s Palace of Lima, Municipal Palace, and Palace of the Union. At its center lies a bronze fountain dating to 1650.
Pay a visit to the impressive Lima Cathedral
Situated in the Plaza de Armas, construction began on Lima Cathedral in 1535. It was the city’s first church and remains an impressive building to this day. That said, it has been rebuilt several times following earthquakes in 1587 and 1746.
The exterior is a stunning Baroque facade, almost impossibly ornate – inside it’s more neoclassical and simple, but there’s still some Rococo flair to soak up in its 14 side chapels.
The church is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Multilingual guides are available.
Wander around Saint Francis Monastery
This is easily one of the spookiest things to do in Lima. The Basilica y Convento de San Francisco is one of the best preserved churches in Lima. Built in Spanish Baroque style at the end of the 17th century, adjacent to the church there is a monastery with a fabulous collection of antique religious texts (some that date back to the time of the Spanish Conquest) and access to the catacombs.
Once the cemetery of Lima, it is estimated that up to the early 19th century around 25,000 people were buried there – many of them members of Lima’s most prominent families.
The Monastery is also home to Diego de la Puente’s version of the Last Supper painting, where the participants at the meal feast on guinea pigs, potatoes and chillies.
The church is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and it is free to visit. The monastery and the catacombs are open from 9:00 am to 8:45 pm. For a guided tour of the historic center Lima that includes a visit to the Catacombs, click here.
Soak up the history of Iglesia de Santo Domingo
The Church of Santo Domingo is a significant sight in Lima. That’s not only because it’s one of the city’s oldest churches, but also because it is home to officially the oldest university in Peru and the oldest university in all the Americas.
Completed in the 16th century, this blushed pink church has seen many additions over the centuries. It’s got a beautifully charming courtyard, interesting relics, Baroque paintings, and is decorated with Spanish tiles.
The church is open daily from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm.
Visit Aliaga House
The land where the Casa de Aliaga was built used to belong to Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro, who in 1535 gave it to his ally Jerónimo de Aliaga so that he could build his mansion. The oldest house in the Americas is still inhabited by descendants of Aliaga – who obviously live in a modern wing of the house, whereas the colonial mansion (which obviously underwent lots of renovation works throughout time) is now a museum open to visitors.
This is honestly one of the most impressive places to visit in Lima: picture original furniture, gorgeous interiors and colonial grandeur.
Casa de Aliaga can be visited daily from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. To visit, you must reserve at least 24 hours in advance via the official email email@example.com. For a guided tour of historic Lima that also goes to Casa de Aliaga, click here.
Admire the facade of Iglesia de San Agustín
A few blocks from the Plaza Mayor, you’ll find the Iglesia de San Agustin. This church is famed for its awesomely elaborate facade, which is done in the Churrigueresque style – a type of “ultra” Baroque that effectively levels up the ornamentation.
This example uses heavily carved stone and decorations that were completed in 1710. It’s one of only two of its kind left in Lima and is an incredible sight to see – especially if you’re a fan of architecture. The interiors aren’t as impressive, so stopping by the front is enough.
See the illuminated buildings at Plaza San Martín
Plaza San Martin is part of Lima’s UNESCO-recognized historic center. You’ll find it just south of the Plaza de Armas. It’s a charming spot that was built in the early 20th century. Recently, the square has seen renovation which meant that many of the buildings and surrounding park have been given a new lease of life.
It’s particularly nice in the evenings when the park and its buildings are illuminated. The plaza itself is named for Jose San Martin – the liberator of Peru – whose equestrian statue sits in the center.
Swing by the exquisite Palacio Torre Tagle
Located in downtown Lima, the Palacio Torre Tagle is a Baroque palace that was completed in 1735. Visiting this casona (mansion) gives you an idea of the wealth and extravagance of the time. It features eye-catching Moorish style balconies, intricate Baroque portico, and beautiful carvings.
Since it’s home to Peru’s Foreign Ministry, entry is limited, but the exteriors are impressive enough for a visit.
Pet the cats at Parque Kennedy
Cat lovers like yours truly will agree that this is one of the cutest, nicest things to do in Lima. Known to be the unofficial main square of Lima, and actually located in the district of Miraflores, not far from the famous Malecon, the park is home to the 1939 Virgen Milagrosa Church and – more importantly for fans of the feline creatures – to a cat sanctuary.
Cats don’t just hang out in Kennedy Park: they literally own it. If you decide to sit on a bench, or lay a blanket on the grass, chances are they will come sit with you – or on you.
Wander around Miraflores
Miraflores is one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Lima. Situated to the south of downtown Lima and set along the coastline, here you’ll find upscale residences and high-end shopping galore. It’s a bustling mix of cafes, restaurants, commerce, and nightlife. The edge of Miraflores is a slice of greenery that affords some beautiful coastal walking, too.
For a bike tour of Barranco and Miraflores, click here.
Stroll along the Pacific coast at Malecón de Miraflores
Easily one of the best places to walk anywhere in Lima is the Malecon de Miraflores This long boardwalk-like coastal path snakes along the Pacific shore and makes for an ideal place to see local life unfolding – particularly on weekends. Here you’ll find joggers, families walking, biking, couples wandering, and people admiring a sunset.
One of the most interesting experiences in Lima is indeed seeing the Miraflores Malecon in the early afternoon hours, when the entire area is covered in a thick fog that slowly lifts as the sun starts to set. It completely caught me by surprise when I first saw it!
There are also a lot of little restaurants and spaces to relax along the way. There are also sculptures and murals by Peruvian artists that dot the coastal path. It’s an ideal place to take a breather or just join in with local Limans. A great way to see it all is to rent a bike from one of the (many) shops along the way and cruise along the coast, soaking up the views.
Get romanced by the Love Park
Called “Parque del Amor” in Spanish, Love Park is a seaside green space that’s decorated with colorful mosaics and flowers. At the center of the park is an enormous sculpture of a couple in a passionate embrace, and this is what gives the park its name.
As you might expect, the park is popular with couples who stroll hand in hand. But it’s also just an attractive place to wander, particularly at sunset (or sunrise), and has plenty of cafes and places to sit and listen to a podcast or read a book.
Discover some history at Huaca Pucllana
Amazingly situated right in the middle of the Miraflores district, Huaca Pucllana is a pyramid built between 200 and 700 AD. At the time, the pyramid was an important center for the Lima culture – on one side administrative, with an area for people to gather and store food, and on the other, the 22-meter-tall pyramid was for religious rites.
Though it could look out of place in the glitzy Miraflores neighborhood, somehow it fits.
The site is open Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 am to 3:30 pm. Tours of Huaca Pucllana are available in English and Spanish.
Explore the Barranco neighborhood
If you’re looking for the bohemian side of Lima, come to Barranco. This district is home to many of the city’s creatives, with artists, designers, and musicians calling it home. Barranco has a chilled atmosphere and is awash with beachfront cafes, bars, beautiful, old buildings, and street art galore. A street art tour of Barranco is among the best things to do in Lima for sure!
In former years, Barranco was a beach getaway destination for Lima’s wealthier inhabitants, with many of the old holiday mansions now turned into trendy businesses.
Experience a Lima lovesong at Puente de los Suspiros
Translating to the “Bridge of Sighs” in English, the Puente de los Suspiros is situated in the city’s Barranco district. While it may not seem like much, this wooden footbridge is definitely worth your time and visiting is what to do in Lima if you’re in the surrounding neighborhood (great if you’re strolling with a coffee).
The bridge, built back in 1876, was initially intended to span a stream that is now a pathway down to the beach. However, its creators didn’t bank on it becoming a symbol of Lima’s modern folklore – local writers, poets, and couples have for some reason been magnetized here over the decades.
It even inspired the 1960s song “El Puento de los Suspiros” by Peruvian singer and composer Chabuca Granda.
Eat your fill of delicious ceviche
Ceviche is a must try everywhere in Latin America, but it actually originated in Peru. Naturally, Lima is home to a whole host of places serving up ceviche, and you’ll be able to find this dish of raw fish cured with citrus fruit all across the city.
Many of them are great, but some of them are top notch. Try Pescados Capitales – an industrial-style eatery serving up some of the best ceviche in Lima. Its signature Ceviche Capital mixes tuna, flounder, and salmon with onions for delicious results. Another option is La Mar, with twists on the classic including Japanese versions.
Dine in luxury at Central
Central is often dubbed the best restaurant in Latin America. A meal here is all about the dining experience, as the chefs – headed up by Virgilio Martinez – experiment with reinventing Andean cuisine, as well as rejuvenating historic Peruvian ingredients.
Dishes include suckling pig served with spiced squash and charred octopus with hefty use of organic and sustainably sourced ingredients. If you want to treat yourself, make sure to book a table weeks – maybe even months – in advance.
Join a cooking class
If you want to learn the secrets of Peruvian cuisine, then a cooking class certainly is what to do in Lima. There are classes for any taste, budget and need (so for example, if you are vegetarian or vegan you will want something a bit less traditional). Personally, I am a fan of cooking classes that start with a good market tour – nothing better than that to get to know local eating habits and food culture.
If cooking is not your thing and you’d rather just go straight to the point and eat, you could simply join a guided food tour.
Go on a Lima street food tour
A simple walk in Lima will reveal an incredible array of food, and you will get the impression that people eat non-stop. There certainly are a lot of dishes and snacks you may want to try. To fully appreciate what’s on offer and get a better understanding of the culinary tradition of Lima, you are probably better off joining a guided tour.
We took this Street Food & Old Taverns Tour in the Historic Center of Lima which we booked through Viator and we were truly happy with it. We tried lots of traditional dishes including the anticuchos (I’ll leave you to discover what it is!) and tamales; local fruits, drinks which included Maca – known as the Peruvian Ginseng; and the Chicaño cocktail. The tour also goes to a market, where the guide explains the local customs as well as the local products on display, and to Chinatown.
You can book your street food tour of Lima here.
Sample a few tipples at Pisco Museum
Although this place may call itself a museum, that’s not necessarily true. It’s actually a bar. Situated on the second floor of a building near Lima Park, the bar is run by an American pisco enthusiast (pisco, by the way, is a type of Peruvian brandy).
Here you can sample an array of exciting and interesting cocktails served up in a sultry setting – an artisanal space that’s one of the best bars in the city. Make sure to try their Pisco Sour!
Head over to Fortaleza del Real Felipe
Fortazela del Real Felipe was built to protect the city and port from pirates and marauders in 1747. The fortress played an important role in the 1820s during the struggle for independence and again in 1866 when the Spanish attempted to “reclaim” Peru.
Still standing to this day, the fort houses a military contingent, but you can go on a guided tour. Nearby Police Park has attractive landscape gardens – true to its name, this features police tanks and statues of police in riot gear!
Fortaleza del Real Felipe is open daily from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. Admission is PEN 15 ($3.70 USD).
Be amazed by the El Circuito Mágico del Agua
Perfect as somewhere to stroll by after dinner, this extravagant fountain light-up is a camp rainbow of sound and light. Multiple jets shoot into the sky in an array of different colors – all to the soundtrack of an eclectic selection of music, from Abba hits to traditional Peruvian music.
If you don’t make it in the evening, it’s a decent place to hang out in the day, too.
To book your night tour to El Circuito Magico del Agua, click here.
Check out the Circuito de Playas
With frigid water temperatures (around 16°C – 60°F) I’d hardly say that going to the Circuito de Playas is one of the unmissable things to do in Lima. Yet, the beaches along the Costa Verde (Green Coast) that run along the road that connects Callao to Chorrillos are charming, and you may even want to bike all the way (it’s about 25 km, 15.5 miles) for incredible views of the Pacific Ocean.
For a bike tour along the coast, click here.
One thing you can certainly do – provided you have a wetsuit – is have a try at surfing. Waves are great and many locals and tourists alike enjoy riding them (you will be able to spot them on a walk along the Malecon).
Enjoy Lima nightlife
Are you landing in Lima at night (or simply, are you a night owl)? Fight the jet-lag and enjoy one of the most fun things to do in Lima: a night out in Miraflores. That’s what I did the first time I visited with my friends, after a full day of flying, and we certainly thought it was a great introduction to the city. It’s not hard to find a good bar in Miraflores – they are literally lined one right after the other!
Don’t know where to start? Why don’t you join a pub crawl? You can book it here.
If you fancy something a bit more traditional, you can also go to a peña – something between a bar and restaurant with regular live criollo music. Sargento Pimienta is probably a great option for that. Don Porfirio in Barranco is another great place, but it’s only open on Fridays.
Paragliding! (What to do in Lima for an adrenaline fix)
I’ve never braved the courage to do it – though I stared at the sky quite a but to look at those who did! But if you are up for a bit of adrenaline, paragliding along the coast off Miraflores (north from the Park of Love is where you need to go for your session) is definitely one of the most popular things to do in Lima. It’s not cheap, but definitely a fabulous way to admire the city from above.
Go on a day trip out of town
Not that you could ever run out of things to do in Lima, but if you fancy getting out of town there are a bunch of places you can visit easily. I strongly encourage you to do your research properly though, and don’t let yourself be fooled by distance in km or miles. I went to San Pedro de Casta to hike to Marcahuasi convinced it would be an easy day trip as it was just over 90 km (56 miles) from the capital, and ended up being stuck there as it took me five hours to get there, and there were no buses back that day anyways.
If you really want to get out of town, here are some good options – and in most cases, it’s much easier to go on a guided tour.
For more options, read my post The Best Day Trips From Lima.
The Lomas de Lucumo are located in the Pachacamac District, about 34 km (21 miles) south of Lima. The site is incredible to explore, and offers phenomenal views of the Pacific Ocean. Much like the rest of the coast, it can get very foggy after 2:00 pm there and until the sun sets. A local guide is recommended.
You can book your day trip to Pachacamac here.
Close to the port of Callao, these small islands are a nice place to admire a bit of wildlife. There is a historic lighthouse and a colony of sea lions. Some tours also include the possibility of swimming with them (and provide all necessary equipment so you don’t freeze in the water!).
You can book your tour here.
Paracas, Islas Ballestas and Huacachina
For an adrenaline filled day, head south of Lima to Paracas and Huacachina. Paracas is a National Reserve with desert and a marine ecosystem, and the getaway to the Islas Ballestas (known as the Galapagos of Peru). Huacachina is a small oasis in the desert that is known among the younger crowd of travelers for being the place to go sandboarding. You can also go on a dune buggy ride – it’s a lot of fun.
I have visited on my way to Nazca, actually, but it’s much easier to go on a day trip as there are lots of tours offered.
Are you planning a trip to Peru? These posts may come in handy:
- Where To Stay In Lima
- The Best Lima Travel Tips
- The Best Things To Know Before Visiting Peru
- The Best Things To Do In Peru
- The Best Hikes In Peru
- A Useful Guide To The Inca Trail
- How To Get To Machu Picchu
- Everything You Must Know To Hike Marcahuasi