From historic buildings to celebrity hangouts, paragliding and fantastic surfing spots, there are endless things to do in Lima, Peru which makes it the perfect place to start off your Peru itinerary.
11 million people call the capital home, and while it has its fair share of noise and traffic the ocean coastline, charming neighbourhoods and leafy parks make up for it.
Known as the “City of the Kings”, Lima was one of the most important cities in South America until the middle of the 18th century. Much of that history remains today, and the historic center is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The bustling city of Lima is packed with millions of people, bumper to bumper traffic and a constant chorus of beeping horns. Fortunately, refuge comes easy thanks to the beautiful coastline that is the city’s pride and joy.
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Is is worth it to go to Lima?
Lima has so much to offer, and certainly more than can be seen in just a few hours or a day. Instead of making Lima a place to rest your head en route to the Sacred Valley or Machu Picchu, consider making it a larger part of your trip and spending at least a few days here to properly soak up the vibe.
How many days do you need to explore Lima?
I recommend at least 2 days in Lima, though you could easily spend a week here. If you only have one day it’s still worth it to visit Lima and see the highlights, but a longer trip is ideal for exploring the neighbourhoods, enjoying the incredible Peruvian food and taking a few day trips to places like the Huacachina oasis and Nazca lines.
The best things to do in Lima, Peru
Take a walking tour
If you want to become oriented in a city quickly, a walking tour is the way to go. There are quite a few options including this free walking tour, a food-themed one which includes stops at a local market and learning about the coffee making process, and one that heads into the catacombs.
The Miraflores district is the crown jewel of Lima, featuring some of the best views, shopping, parks and restaurants in the entire city. It’s no wonder it’s also home to prime real estate, featuring high-rise modern condos and homes with spectacular ocean views that are rightfully popular with ex-pats.
Despite the fancy zip code, it’s accessible to all tourists regardless of budget, offering everything from hostels to five-star hotels.
Surf in Playa Makaja
What Miraflores really has going for it is that aforementioned coastline, and it makes the most of it.
Surfers flock to Playa Makaja, a long stretch of sand that’s battered by waves, making it perfect for thrill-seekers. There are a number of booths set up where you can rent equipment or get a lesson.
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Wander El Malecon
If you don’t like the idea of getting wet, enjoy the views from El Malecon, a six mile-long stretch of parks that wind along the coast. It’s a fantastic place to spend at least a few hours—even on a cool day—and boasts a paved running/cycling/rollerblading track, gym equipment, lighthouse, gardens and huge green lawns perfect for lazing around on.
You’ll also be amazed by the number of dogs (this city loves their pets!) and it’s not uncommon to see some sort of dog agility competition taking over part of the park.
The most popular spot along the strip is Parque del Amor (the Love Park). Surrounded by mosaic walls decorated with romantic quotes, the theme continues as you walk past the immaculate gardens and stone staircases towards the highlight: El Beso.
The statue ‘The Kiss’ is a large brown sculpture depicting two lovers embraced in a passionate makeout sesh. Get a room, already! Joking aside, it’s pretty cool to look at, even for single folks. And if that doesn’t do it for you, well, there’s always a great view of the Pacific Ocean crashing against the shore below.
Shop or dine in Larcomar
Not too far away, you’ll find a shopping centre that boasts something that few others can: it’s built into the site of a cliff.
Larcomar is a beautiful, modern outdoor mall tucked right into the hillside overlooking the ocean. It has dozens of stores, restaurants, cafes, food court, indoor parking, bowling alley and a movie theatre. If you’re trying to kill time before your red-eye flight home, this is the place to be.
There is also a taxi service booth, but I found the prices to be double what a regular cab would charge, so keep that in mind. A nice way to spend the afternoon is to find a table with a view, and enjoy the sunshine while watching the daring paragliders fly overhead.
Visit Huaca Pucllana
My absolute favourite spot in all of Miraflores is Huaca Pucllana.
Just steps away from a bustling neighbourhood you’ll find this archeological site which is basically a pyramid in the middle of the city. Take that, Egypt!
The ruins are believed to have been built somewhere between 200 and 700 AD and were the site of human sacrifices and important ceremonies. It’s beautiful to visit at night when you will be some of the only people in the entire complex, and it’s lit up with a golden glow.
The site is formed by a large pyramidal building with a truncated top and low structures around it, and filled with boulders and sand.
Admission is 15 soles (7.50 for those age 5-12, and free for those under 5), which includes a tour guide.
Not only are the ruins incredible, but there’s also a fantastic restaurant on site that’s hosted the likes of former President Bill Clinton, KISS rocker Gene Simmons and actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus among others.
This gastronomic delight serves traditional Peruvian fare, and dresses it up in ways that actually makes things like eating guinea pig delicious.
The ambiance is also incredible, with big leather chairs and fireplaces when you first walk in, open fire pits in the middle of the open-air restaurant, and unobstructed views of Huaca Pucllana. Reservations are recommended.
Book a tour with GetYourGuide:
Explore San Isidro
San Isidro is known as the business district, not only because of all the office buildings but also the stores. This is where Lima’s money is, and it shows in the prices.
There are dozens of boutique stores—many of them dedicated to interior design—as well as fancy restaurants, clothing stores and ex-pat favourites like Starbucks. Many of Lima’s high-end hotels can also be found here, including the Country Club Lima Hotel which has its own golf course—right in the middle of the city.
Once you’re all shopped out you can take in the beauty of the area, which boasts some beautiful colonial homes overlooking the parks. A favourite is Parque de Olivar (the olive grove park) which is a national monument thanks to its rows and rows of strangely shaped olive trees. It’s also a prime place for bird watching, and signs have been put up throughout the park to help visitors identify them.
See the Huaca Huallamarca pyramid
A short walk away from Parque de Olivar is a pyramid called Huaca Huallamarca. The archeological complex dates back to somewhere around 200 BC, and was originally used as a temple, then a cemetery, then a human settlement.
Well preserved, it now hosts a museum holding artifacts like mummies, vessels and musical instruments. Try to head over in the evening when it’s all lit up.
Explore the historic city centre
While Miraflores and San Isidro are the touristy areas, a trip into the historic centre will give you a better idea of what Lima is really about.
This is where the locals are. Forget the culinary offerings of the fancy-pants restaurants scattered throughout high-end areas: in the centre, you can find the hole-in-the-wall places that real Peruvians eat at. Oh, and a bonus? They’re dirt cheap!
You can easily pick up an empanada, drink and a sweet cinnamon churro for about 3 soles ($1). If you’re lucky, you’ll stumble into a festival where you can sample more traditional dishes like roasted guinea pig or breaded alpaca. There are also some lovely outdoor cafes closer into the tourist area, but keep in mind you’ll pay a premium for the view.
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People watch in Plaza de Armas
Once you’ve gotten your fill of the historical highlights, head into beautiful Plaza de Armas, a great spot to sit and take in the view while enjoying the fountain, palm trees and old lamp posts that add to the ambiance.
It’s not uncommon to see a horse drawn carriage trot by, making you feel like you’ve been transported 50 years back in time!
Important buildings surround the plaza, like the Palace of Government which is guarded by a large steel gate and guards in full regalia. You can also head into the cathedral, which costs a few soles admission. Another attraction worth noting is the yellow San Francisco Cathedral which is a few blocks away.
Explore artsy Barranco
This neighbourhood is known as the eclectic, bohemian arts district, and home to the city’s photographers and artists. It sure lived up to the hype when I was there: as soon as we walked into the main plaza, we were surrounded by dozens of students sketching the surrounding fountains and architecture.
The district features neat little shops and grand homes lining the streets as you walk towards the ocean. Barranco is also famous for being a great night spot, thanks to its many restaurants, bars and clubs. It actually used to be a beach resort for Lima’s finest, and remains a popular choice today for surfers as well as those rich enough to need a place to dock their yachts.
A popular spot in Barranco is the Bridge of Sighs (Puente de los Suspiros), which is basically a small wooden bridge that crosses over a ravine, flanked by restaurants on one side and a church on the other.
Near the bridge you’ll find a path that leads past the church to a fantastic lookout point, which is a great spot for an ocean view. There’s a gazebo and a wishing well, and during the day you can expect to find people selling jewelry, shutter-happy tourists and amorous couples.
Visit the Catacombs in San Francisco Church
The catacombs under the San Francisco Church once served as the original cemetery in Lima, with an estimated 25,000 people buried here, including Lima’s upper class who believed they’d be closer to God if buried under the church.
Today, taking a tour of the catacombs is one of the most popular things to do in Lima. It’s pretty creepy, especially as the bones and skulls have been arranged in artistic patterns which is a bit…odd. But perhaps better than complete skeletons everywhere?
The San Francisco Church itself, with its ornate decoration, is also worth touring.
Both the church and the catacombs are usually included in tours of the Lima historic centre but you can also visit independently. The church is free to visit, while the catacombs require joining a tour and paying a small fee.
Tour Casa de Aliaga
Casa de Aliaga (Aliaga House) holds the claim to “oldest house to be continually occupied by the same family” in the Americas. It was originally built by Jerónimo de Aliaga around 1535, after being gifted the land by Pizarro when he founded the country (Aliaga was a trusted ally to Pizarro.) That makes the house almost as old as Lima itself!
Today, the house is still lived in by the family, and part of it has been converted into a museum filled with Peruvian art and artifacts.
Visiting is not the easiest thing to do, as you must hire a guide and organize a tour in advance. The price is 30 soles plus the independent guide fee. That said, if you’re interested and art and history, this is definitely one of the best things to do in Lima and worth the hassle!
Take a Peruvian food tour
Peruvian cuisine has so much to offer! While there’s a lot of talk about ceviche and eating guinea pigs, those aren’t the only traditional Peruvian dishes worth trying.
Joining a food tour in Lima is a great way to sample local dishes, and a few worth checking out include this small group tour in Barranco, this evening gourmet food tour, and this street food tour in the historic centre.
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Take a cooking class
Take sampling the local cuisine a step further by learning how to prepare it yourself! A Peruvian cooking class is a great way to not only discover a new dish but learn how to make it as well.
This tour begins at the local market where you’ll select ingredients, cooking everything in traditional ceramic pots, and noshing on dishes like Pescado a la Chorrillana and Aji de Pollo.
Sip a pisco sour
When in Rome, do as the Romans do and when in Peru…drink a pisco sour. Pisco sour is the unofficial cocktail of Peru, made with pisco (a fermented liquor made from grapes) and sour mix.
You’ll find them throughout the country at basically every bar or restaurant but Lima in particular has some great variations, especially at some of the more upscale bars.
Paragliding is one of my all-time favourite things to do while travelling to get a unique view, and it’s also one of the top activities in Lima thanks to the consistent winds along the coastline.
During your 15 minute tandem flight, you fly over several different districts of the city to enjoy the bird’s eye view, and most packages include a video of your flight. I promise it’s not scary at all, since you peacefully float in the area versus dropping.
Book a tandem paragliding flight in Lima:
Visit the Larco Museum
If you’re a museum person, the Larco Museum should be at the top of your list of what to do in Lima. It houses thousands of pre-Colombian artifacts, making it the largest collection in the city by far. You can even wander through the store rooms to see everything they have, not only what’s on display at the time.
In addition to the pre-Colombian artifacts, Larco Museum is also known for its erotic ceramic collection. Yes – you read that right. Don’t be shocked when you find some ceramic Kama Sutra statues!
You can visit Larco Museum independently for 35 soles or visit on a city tour of colonial Lima.
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Check out the urban art
Over the past several years, Lima has developed a budding urban art and street art scene but it’s not always easy to discover on your own. You can find stunning murals throughout the city, as well as unofficial art spaces, galleries, and small museums.
The easiest way to discover this slightly hidden part of Lima is by booking an art tour.
Visit the Natural History Museum of Lima
Learning about the history of a destination is an important part of travel, and in Lima you can do just that at the Natural History Museum of Lima.
The museum has exhibits of flora and fauna, ranging from the Stone Age to current times. One of the most striking exhibits is the skeleton of the sperm whale but you can also find fossils, minerals, and more.
The museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm, Tuesday to Saturday.
Watch the Magic Water Circuit
The Magic Water Circuit is one of the best things to do in Lima at night. Featuring 13 different fountains, it’s the largest water fountain park in the world and, like the famous Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas, each fountain is choreographed to lights and music.
You can view the Magic Water Circuit several times per night, at 7:15 pm, 8:15 pm, and 9:10 pm. It costs 4 soles to enter.
You can also visit on a larger Lima night tour, if you want to see other parts of Lima after dark as well.
Take advantage of the nightlife with a pub crawl
Lima has a pretty fun nightlife, especially in Barranco and Miraflores. If you’re looking to find the best spots (according to locals) or just want some drinking buddies, consider joining a Lima pub crawl tour.
Swim with sea lions in the Palomino Islands
One of the best day tours from Lima is a trip to the Palomino Islands, located several miles offshore.
The Palomino Islands are famous for their sea lion colony and the main attraction is to jump in the water and swim with them. Be prepared to find yourself surrounded, as approximately 8,000 sea lions call the Palomino Islands home!
You’ll need to visit the Palomino Islands on a guided tour like this one which also goes past El Frontón Island (a former maximum security prison) and Cabinzas Island which is home to the guano birds.
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Visit the Pachacamac Archeological Site
The Pachacamac Ruins are one of the top archeological sites in Peru and an absolute must on the list of things to see in Lima. The ruins are located just outside of Lima and date back to 200AD and are some of the largest pre-Columbian ruins in the world.
You can easily spend a few hours exploring the archeological site, which is made up of pyramids, temples, graves, and more. The easiest way to visit is via a guided tour from Lima.
Day trip to Paracas and Huacachina
If you want to explore even farther away from Lima, consider a bus tour to Paracas and Huacachina. Paracas is a small beach town, where you can hop on a boat to the Ballestas Islands (aka the Galapagos of Peru) to see sea lions, penguins, and more.
And perhaps even more notable is the oasis of Huacachina, where you’ll find the largest sand dunes in South America: perfect for thrilling dune buggy rides and sandboarding!
See the Nazca Lines
Perhaps the only site more famous than Machu Pichu, the Nazca Lines are a natural mystery that’s worth a trip. They’re not exactly close to Lima (about 400km) but if this is your only opportunity to see them it’s well worth it.
The Nazca Lines consist of over 300 geoglyphs in the barren desert, spread over 1,000 square miles. They were discovered in 1925 and to this day, no one is quite sure why or how they exist.
It’s not cheap or easy to see them, which makes the experience even more memorable for those who do make the trip:
Tips for Lima sightseeing
Currency: Peruvian soles
How to get around in Lima: Navigating Peru’s capital city isn’t always easy. Here’s how to get around in Lima which outlines the various taxis, public transportation and ride sharing options, and here’s why you’ll want to make sure you get to the airport early.
Where to stay in Lima
There are endless options of where to stay in Lima. No matter your budget or style, you’ll be able to find something!
Most tourists will want to look for accommodation in Miraflores, Barranco, or the historic centre. These areas are safe and close to pretty much all Lima attractions.
For budget accommodation, Casa Aika is one of the best options out there, offering both private and dorm rooms.
Lima things to do: FAQs
Here are some common questions about the best things to see in Lima and other things you should know when visiting the city.
What is Lima famous for?
Lima’s primary claim to fame is that it’s where most people enter Peru, especially if they’re heading to Machu Picchu. However, the city itself is home to incredible historic sites, a thriving nightlife, and great bars and restaurants.
Is 2 days in Lima enough?
2 days is enough time to see the main sites of Lima. Just don’t brush the city off as a stopover and place you must land before heading off to explore the rest of the country.
Is Lima, Peru safe for tourists?
In recent years Lima has become a thriving, vibrant city that’s welcoming and safe for tourists to visit, especially in areas like Miraflores and the historic city centre. Just be cautious of theft and pick pocketing, as you would in any other city–this post explains some of the precautions you’ll want to take, especially while getting around the city.
Is Lima a walkable city?
Most areas of Lima are walkable, including the historic centre and Miraflores. You’ll likely want to hop in a taxi between neighbourhoods.
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