Lima is a big, busy city with an interesting history and a world-class food scene. Many journeys to Peru start and end in the capital city, so you may be looking for things to do in Lima at the beginning or end of your trip.
My advice is not to rush your time in Lima too much – spend a couple of days there if you can. Lima is home to 9 million people (a third of Peru’s population), and its attractions are spread out over a wide area. However, if you know where to go, you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied.
Read on for 12 great things to do in Lima, especially for history fans and foodies.
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Table of Contents
Is Lima Worth Visiting?
Yes, I’m glad I included Lima in my Peru itinerary, rather than simply transiting through. In my opinion, it’s not as charming as other Peruvian towns, especially Cusco. And it’s not as intriguing as the many Inca ruins and natural landmarks around Peru. But you see a different side of the country in the capital of Peru – and there’s a variety of things to do in Lima.
Founded by Spanish conquistadors in 1535 as the City of Kings (Ciudad de Los Reyes), Lima was a major power in colonial South America and the inland Historic District is where the colonial landmarks are. It’s a city of contrasts: the outskirts can feel like a sprawl of humble housing, while there are very smart districts along the coast.
Lima has long been a food hot spot with three restaurants on the list of the 50 World’s Best Restaurants – as many as Paris, Tokyo and Copenhagen. It’s a great place to explore if you are a foodie!
Things To Do In Lima – Historic District
Unlike Cusco, where the Spanish conquistadors took over an existing Inca city, Lima was founded by the Spanish and the historical Centro area of Lima is where you’ll find many key colonial landmarks, and also monuments to those that overthrew the Spanish Empire.
The Historic Centre of Lima was declared a World Heritage Site in 1988.
1. Plaza San Martín & Gran Hotel Bolivar
Plaza San Martín is a square in Central Lima which honours José de San Martín, who was a central figure in the liberation of South America from the Spanish Empire. San Martín was an Argentinian General who was made Protector of Peru when it announced independence in 1821. He is regarded as a national hero of Argentina, Chile and Peru. In the centre of the square, which opened in 1921 to commemorate 100 years of independence, there’s a monument to him.
After wandering the square, make sure you stick your head in the Gran Hotel Bolivar before you move on. This was the first large, modern hotel built in Lima, in 1924, and has hosted some glamourous people such as Orson Welles and Ava Gardner. It doesn’t look that exciting from the outside, but inside, there’s a very pretty stained glass cupola.
2. Jirón De La Unión & Iglesia De La Merced
Jirón de la Unión, or Union Street, was built by Francisco Pizzaro, one of the Spanish conquistadors, in 1535, the year Lima was founded. It was one of the most important boulevards of the city, where aristocrats and the most powerful citizens would meet. It is now a pedestrianised commercial street.
One of the reasons for walking down Jirón de la Unión (apart from shopping) is to see Iglesia de La Merced, or Basilica and Convent of Nuestra Señora de la Merced, to use its full name. This is a Roman Catholic church dating from 1535. The unusually elaborate style of the façade is Liman Churrigueresque or Ultra-Baroque.
3. Plaza Mayor & Lima Cathedral
Plaza Mayor de Lima, or Plaza de Armas de Lima, is the main square at the heart of historic Lima. The designation of the square was part of the act of founding Lima itself and here you’ll find key municipal buildings: the Government Palace, the Municipal Palace, and the Palacio de la Unión.
During the colonial era, the plaza hosted markets, a bull-fighting ring and the city gallows. It also witnessed part of the Spanish inquisition including the first heretic to be tried and executed in the New World.
Plaza Mayor is also the home of Renaissance-style Lima Metropolitan Cathedral (or Catedral de Lima), which was built in 1622, and the Archbishop’s Palace of Lima, which is next to it.
4. Cordano Restaurant
Cordano is one of Lima’s oldest restaurants. It opened in 1905 and has played host to all kinds of customers over the decades, including Peruvian presidents, due to its proximity to the presidential palace.
Grabbing a bite to eat here feels a little like stepping back in time – the interior feels almost untouched. I only had coffee when I stopped by, but they have a reputation for great Butifarra, a French baguette filled with country ham and Creole sauce (onion, lime and pepper), and Tacu tacu, a traditional pan-fried rice and beans dish.
5. House Of Peruvian Literature
Close to Cordano, there’s a proud-looking building at the end of Jirón Carabaya. Originally designed to be Lima’s main train station in 1912, it is now the House of Peruvian Literature, a cultural centre with a library and a mixture of exhibitions about Peruvian poetry and prose.
Admission is free.
6. Basilica And Convent Of San Francisco Of Lima
The Basilica of San Francisco, together with the adjacent Convent of San Francisco (or Sanctuary Nuestra Señora de la Soledad and the Church del Milagro), form a major religious compound in Lima.
The current buildings were built in 1672 after the originals were destroyed by an earthquake. The style of the façade is Liman Baroque and the church’s two vibrant yellow towers are very striking.
There are catacombs here, the old cemetery from colonial times and believed to have housed up to 70,000 people.
7. Barrios Altos: Plaza Bolívar & Barrio Chino
In the oldest district of Lima, Barrios Altos, you’ll find Plaza Bolívar. This is also known as the Plaza of Congress or Plaza of the Inquisition as it is surrounded by the Legislative Palace which is the seat of the Congress of Peru and is the site of the former Tribunal of the Inquisition.
It is named for Simón Bolívar, a Venezuelan military and political leader who led Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Panama and Bolivia to independence from the Spanish Empire. He is known colloquially as El Libertador or the Liberator of America. There’s a statue of Bolívar in the centre of the square.
Just a couple of blocks from Plaza Bolívar is Barrio Chino, Lima’s Chinatown, which occupies several blocks around Jirón Ucayali. This area was established in the mid 19th Century by Chinese immigrants and it retains a distinct ethnic character. The archway at Calle Capón was a gift from the people of Taiwan in 1971.
Things To Do In Lima – Miraflores & Barranco
The Historical Centre of Lima is way inland, but the culinary centre of Lima is closer to the coast. The coastal districts of Miraflores and Barranco are where you’ll find many of the best places to eat in Lima and some panoramic sea views. Miraflores is upmarket and fairly modern; Barranco is kind of bohemian.
8. Taste World Class Dining In Miraflores
Before I went to Lima, I was lucky enough to get some tips from someone who works for a major food producer in the UK. This food producer had conducted a research trip to Lima to try all kinds of Peruvian food to inspire products they would create in the UK. And I got to see their notes!
So, I got the heads up on some great places to eat in Lima, and one that I tried and loved was La Mar. This place, which specialises in ceviche, has a large, casual dining space. But don’t let the laid-back vibes fool you the food is top-notch. I had a ceviche tasting trio: three small bowls of ceviche, each with different flavours. A teriyaki-inspired one was sweet and sticky; the red one was extra spicy, and the other was a classic ceviche with red onions – this was my favourite. I ate at the counter, facing a display of fearsome-looking fish!
I didn’t need an insider tip for the other restaurant I tried in Lima. Central has been winning awards for years and is 2022’s number 2 in the list of World’s Best Restaurants (up from #4 in 2021) – and it has topped the list for South America for several years. I went to Central on my final night in Lima and Peru before flying home. I had the 17-course tasting menu, with dishes inspired by local ingredients and the varied altitude of the Peruvian landscape. It was not cheap, but it was a spectacular meal – a multi-sensory experience I’ll never forget.
9. Parque De Mariposas
When in Miraflores, I urge you to take a coastal walk. Lima is located on the coast of the Pacific but the land is elevated, with sizeable cliffs separating the city from the shore.
The weather can be foggy and drizzly in Lima – in fact, I don’t remember seeing the horizon on the sea while I was in Lima! But despite this, the walk around Parque de Mariposas in Barranco is very nice. There are some well-tended gardens and the path parallel with Malecon Paul Harris will take you past some handsome houses.
10. Enjoy A Classic Peruvian Dessert
This is a good thing to do after your coastal walk: grab a sweet treat in a café. The traditional café I tried has closed, sadly, but Barranco has several to choose from, including Alayana Reposteria and Colonia & Co. Try Alfajores, which is a classic South American treat consisting of dulce de leche sandwiched between two cookies.
If you have a sweet tooth, you might be able to handle a Lima speciality: Suspiro Limeno. It is basically dulce de leche caramel topped with meringue. It’s really sweet!
Seasonal Things To Do In Lima
11. Mistura Food Festival – September
If you happen to be in Peru in September, you might be in luck because there’s a food festival that happens most years in early to mid-September. Now, it didn’t happen during Covid, and there were some years it was held elsewhere in Peru, rather than Lima, but it’s definitely something to look out for.
When it’s in Lima, Mistura is normally held at Costa Verde in Magdalena del Mar and it’s a huge event. There are stalls where you can buy chilled and ambient food to take home, and a huge selection of fresh food stalls where you can get something to eat on the premises. I tried some roast pork, but the highlight for me was fresh ceviche, served by the ladleful with sweet potato and corn. It managed to be comforting and invigorating all at the same time!
Other Things To Do In Lima
12. Take A Day Trip
A popular day trip from Lima that I can recommend is visiting the Nazca Lines. These mysterious lines and figurative drawings made by the Nazca civilisation lie in a vast and beautiful desert and are best seen from the air.
You can visit the Nazca Lines on a day trip from Lima. There are various options you can choose from, including a Nazca Lines flight only, or packages including a visit to the Huacachina Oasis.
However, before you commit to it, read more about what is involved in taking a Nazca Lines flight – because they’re not for the faint-hearted!
Map: Things To Do In Lima
Here’s a map of the things to do in Lima that I recommend:
How To Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left-hand corner of the map to view the layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each one. If you click the star next to the map’s title, it will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu, go to ‘Your Places’ or ‘Saved’, then click Maps and you will see this map in your list.
Practical Questions About Visiting Lima
How To Get To Lima
Most international travellers fly into Lima, and it is also fairly common for travellers to fly domestically across Peru, as it is a big country and some of the roads are challenging. Jorge Chávez International Airport is located 11km outside of the city.
Check Skyscanner for flight deals.
Is 2 Days In Lima Enough?
I think two days is enough to get a good feel for Lima, but more would help you get to know the city better. It really is a big, spread-out city and the roads can get congested, so having more time to explore will take the pressure off your itinerary.
I had planned to have three days there, but my inbound flight was delayed, so I only had two days in Lima. I felt like I saw and experienced the main things I wanted to, but I didn’t have much time for relaxing and people-watching.
Where To Stay In Lima
I stayed in two different hotels in Lima – one when I arrived in Peru and one when I returned to Lima after exploring the country. Both were very comfortable and looked after me well. The San Agustin Exclusive and Casa Andina Select are both located in the affluent coastal area of Miraflores.