Lima can be a hard city to love. Your first impression, on stepping out of the airport, is of little more than an endless stream of honking, fume-belching traffic. As you make your way into the city proper, you’ll pass what seems like an amorphous gray mass of high rises. And, central Lima can be a disorientating conglomeration, where 17th-century Spanish colonial structures sit alongside the trappings of encroaching globalization.
Yet as international as Lima can feel, this is still a living, breathing South American capital with an unexpected historic core that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It also boasts innovative home-grown art and architecture, monuments to its faded wealth, a pace-setting food scene and a promenade with views over the Pacific. Our specialists have visited the city many times, and are able to direct you to some of its overlooked jewels, from locally known cevicherías to conquistador-era curiosities.
Peru specialist Holly
Don’t be tempted to gloss over Peru’s capital. Downtown Lima has some great architecture, plenty of good restaurants serving Peruvian signature dishes, while the districts of Miraflores and Barranco reward those who take the time to explore them.
Things to see and do in Lima
The Miraflores district and the Huaca Pucllana
Lima’s most affluent area, just south of the central hub, is a residential and retail-focused district that sits on a coastal bluff. It meanders above wave-pounded shingle beaches in a series of neatly trimmed parks, cosmopolitan bars and shops.
Farther inland, you’ll stumble across the Huaca Pucllana, a rambling, adobe-brick remnant of an indigenous culture (usually referred to as the Lima Culture) that flourished here between 200 and 700 AD. It’s thought to have served as an administrative as well as a ceremonial hub (there’s evidence of human sacrifices on the site). You can pick your way up the slopes of its central Great Pyramid. In places, you’ll notice how the clay bricks are not only being excavated, but actively repaired and restored.
Plaza de Armas
The original grandiose heart of Francisco Pizarro’s 16th-century settlement is still a major focal point of Lima’s modern metropolis. It’s a sprawling paved square with manicured, flowered lawns, flanked on all sides by buildings that speak of the city’s centuries of pomp and circumstance.
Guards stand to stiff attention in front of the Baroque Revival Government Palace. The dual towers and plateresque façade of the city’s cathedral (burial place of Pizarro himself) dominate to the east, next to the Archbishop’s Palace of Lima with its cedar balconies. Several other buildings fronting the square have splashy lemon-yellow fronts.
Amid all this officialdom, you find indigenous people wandering around hawking for photo opportunities, often accompanied by a lamb or a llama, while Limeños and visitors alike sit and eat their lunch in the central grassy zones.
Lima’s historic balconies
In its heyday from the 16th to 19th centuries, the Viceroyalty of Peru bequeathed the city many ornate balconies constructed in a panoply of styles, from Baroque to neoclassical to the distinctly Moorish and even French Rococo. Visiting several of the more exuberant creations can give you a good way to explore the city’s streets.
Many are closed wooden-lattice balconies, which, as well as being a symbol of social status and prestige, had a more covert function: they allowed noblewomen to observe the city streets free from prying eyes. Acclaimed Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa even based a play around the city’s balconies, but their survival is really due to a former city mayor, Alberto Andrade, who introduced a restoration initiative called Adopt a Balcony.
San Francisco Monastery
Downtown Lima is littered with Viceroyalty-period churches and religious establishments, but the working Monasterio de San Francisco (Monastery of San Francisco) stands out for several reasons, not least its rowdy, flapping pigeons. Under its bell towers, dome and Baroque outer face, lies a library of hallowed multilingual texts dating back to the 1500s, which only the resident Franciscan monks are permitted to handle.
Mango trees grow in the middle of the cloisters, whose walls are clad by glazed blue Seville tiles, but the greatest (if not the most morbid) attraction is the catacombs. Built into the very foundations of the monastery’s church are dungeon-like pits filled with bones and skulls arranged in concentric circles.
Dating right back to the founding of Lima in 1535, this mansion was, in fact, the plot gifted to conquistador Jerónimo de Aliaga by none other than his good friend Pizarro. Since then, the house has seen 18 generations of the Aliaga family pass through its doors. It has been continually renovated over the years, but it remains the oldest known house on the continent.
Its design is that of a traditional Spanish nobleman’s property and consists of multiple balustraded floors built around an internal courtyard with a fern-ringed fountain. Each room is richly furnished with an amalgam of tapestry, tiling, chandeliers, religious artworks and coats of arms. Visits are by appointment only, so you tend to feel more like a house guest than a curious outsider as you wander around.
Located a little way out of the city on the way to the airport, this one-time private mansion is a treasure chest of anthropological findings from across the continent, as well as a trove of Peruvian pre-Columbian relics. Its most intriguing collection is probably the ceramic erotic pottery, which somehow survived the ravages of the conquistadors who found its Kama-Sutra-like illustrations shocking.
Other permanent exhibitions include a collection devoted to tracing the way human sacrifice was performed among the various peoples of South and Central America, from the Moche to the Maya. Textile enthusiasts, meanwhile, might enjoy the well-preserved alpaca, cotton and vicuña weavings gathered from all over Peru.
Lima, it should be said, isn’t a beachside city, despite boasting a long coastline. Its beaches are mostly pebbly and the ocean is rough — sunbathers are few and far between, but the shores do attract surfers. The beaches are also separated from the main town by a huge expressway, so you’d need to cross bridges to reach the coastal strip. But in some places, such as Miraflores, there are a cluster of good seafood restaurants and bars clinging to the clifftops, so it’s not hard to find a table with a view.
You can also walk along an oceanfront promenade that runs from Miraflores to the street-art-splattered Barranco district. As you go, you’ll weave your way among the local rollerbladers, dog walkers and entwined couples who gather (as the name suggests) in the ocean-facing Love Park. This green space is crowned by a sculpture called El Beso (The Kiss) created by celebrated Peruvian artist Victor Delfin.
Lima’s food scene
Look up any list of world-leading restaurants and you’ll find Lima’s name cropping up more and more. The city has been reinventing itself with several critically acclaimed haute-cuisine dining establishments that offer stylish twists on Peruvian street food and national classics, such as cuy (guinea pig).
But the entire city, especially the Miraflores district, is burgeoning with good food, from modest-looking hole-in-the-wall stands serving sánguche (traditional Peruvian sandwiches) to the star of the show, ceviche. It’s available everywhere, from upscale restaurants to quiet, backstreet eateries, and each of our specialists has his or her go-to place to point you toward.
Festivals, events and seasonal reasons to visit Lima
- 18th January sees the anniversary of the founding of Lima, with concerts and processions held in the city’s central areas.
- On 28th July, Lima celebrates Peru’s Independence Day with military parades.
- The Mistura Food Festival hits the city each September, and streets become lined with stalls selling small portions of Peruvian classics.
- For a week in October, the city erupts into religious elation for the Señor de los Milagros parade, when a fresco that’s believed to be imbued with miraculous powers is carried around the streets.
Best time to visit
You don’t go to Lima for the weather: it’s often humid and encased in coastal mists and fog. It’s best to plan your trip to Peru around the likely weather conditions for other areas of the country you wish to visit.
Suggested itineraries featuring Lima
Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in Lima, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.
Map of Lima
Places & hotels on the map
Places near Lima
- Paracas Nature Reserve 134 miles away
Accommodation choices for Lima
We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Lima. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.
Ideas for experiencing Lima
Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Lima, and which use the best local guides.