What to do and see in Lima?
To visit Lima, it is to discover the capital of Peru which was, during colonial time, the most important city of South America and which is today one of the major cities of the region and an important major gastronomic destination.
It is a city still unloved, a victim of a reputation which she struggles to get rid of the gray and chaotic city. Still, she was my 2nd home for 4 years, and I know she has a lot to offer to travelers.
A coastal city facing the Pacific, it is a dynamic city that offers an interesting contrast: on one side of pre-Columbian archaeological sites and traditional places, on the other chic and hipster addresses in neighborhoods that are modernizing.
To not miss anything during your visit to Lima, I present you my Lima guide with all the things to do and see during your next trip.
I present 25 places of interest in different neighborhoods, places to see around Lima, activities to do in Lima with family in addition to my suggestions of itineraries to visit Lima in 1, 2 and 3 days and my hotel recommendations for all budgets. All, as usual, with my best advice and tips to organize your trip.
So what to do in Lima!
To visit Lima: the inevitable
1. The Plaza Mayor or Plaza de Armas of Lima
Plaza Mayor, also called Plaza de Armas, is the heart of the city and an important tourist site of Lima.
- The Basilica-Metropolitan Cathedral of Lima: erected in 1535 on a place of worship Inca and the palace of Prince Sinchi Puma, it has undergone over the centuries many transformations, so that today it presents several styles, Baroque, Gothic, neoclassical and romantic. It is a large structure that contains 13 chapels and the tomb of Francisco Pizarro.
- Archbishop’s Palace: right next door is this neocolonial building with beautiful wooden balconies, which is the residence of the Archbishop of Lima and the administrative center of the Catholic Church of Peru. In recent years it houses a museum of religious art comprehensive presenting a collection of 16 th to the 18th century.
- Government Palace: This is the seat of the Government of Peru and the residence of the President. We can see the changing of the guard every day at noon.
- Museo del Pisco: This is not a museum but a bar specialized in pisco. The local is nice, the bartenders know their products well, the menu is well stocked, we find the traditional cocktails but also original creations with local ingredients.
- Choco Museo: again, it’s not really a museum (although a section presents the process of making chocolate) but it’s more like a shop where we find many chocolate products (tablets, cocoa pisco, jams, etc.). They also offer a chocolate-making workshop (2h).
- Bar Cordano: this bar and restaurant is a real institution in Lima because, since its opening in the early 1900s, it has seen many intellectuals, artists, politicians. It is known for its ham sandwich, and it is also a good place to taste pisco sour or chilcano. But it is especially for its traditional atmosphere that we must go!
2. Casa de Aliaga
At a street corner of the plaza is the oldest colonial house in Lima (early 16C). It is Jeronimo de Aliaga, companion in arms of Francisco Pizarro who made build his house on a ground given by this last one and there was a pre-Hispanic temple.
It is a beautiful house with a lot of imposing: large stairs, wooden furniture, French style living room, mirrors, and Louis XVI furniture, and a very nice interior patio. His descendants still live there today and the house can be visited, but only with prior reservation.
Address: Jirón de La Unión 224, Lima
3. The balconies of Lima
During the time of the Viceroyalty of Peru and the time of the Republic, many balconies were built, becoming a real architectural symbol of Lima.
There are not many examples that have survived the weight of time, but some have benefited from a restoration and conservation plan, launched in the late 1990s.
You will see some beautiful examples in the Plaza Mayor, but there are two buildings built during the Viceroyalty period which are worth, in my opinion, the glance:
- Palacio de Torre Tagle: Two blocks from the Plaza Mayor is the Palace of the Marquis de Torre Tagle. It is worth a look for its facade, of the Andalusian Baroque style, and especially its two magnificent wooden balconies typical of Lima, Moorish style, carved cedar and mahogany. Address: Jiron Ucayali 363, Lima. Open every day from 9h to 17h
- Casa de Osambela: next to the Santo Domingo Convent, this house also called Casa de Oquendo, is one of the largest of its time. The house of a pretty light blue, belonged to a rich merchant and on the top floor, it had a point of view on the Pacific Ocean, in order to observe its boats approaching the port of Callao. I remember seeing this viewpoint with a guide, but in recent years it seems that access has been restricted. What is certain is that its neoclassical façade with Rococo influences (with 5 balconies!) Is worth the detour. Address: Conde de Superunda 298, Lima.
4. Santo Domingo Church and Convent
With its pink facade, Santo Domingo does not go unnoticed and is a gem to visit in Lima. Built from the 16 th century on land donated by Pizarro in Dominican friar Vicente Valverde is still one of the most important religious complex in the capital.
There are the relics of San Martin de Porres and Santa Rosa de Lima, two important local Catholic figures.
The building is very pretty, but my heart stroke goes to its interior garden: a real little oasis of peace!
Address: corner Jiron Conde Superunda and Jiron Camana, Lima
5. Basilica and Monastery of St. Francis of Assisi
San Francisco is another big must in Lima and one of the most beautiful historic buildings in the capital.
The church can be visited freely, but I also recommend visiting the San Francisco Monastery, one of my favorite stops in the historic center.
The guide takes us through the building, still partially occupied by the monks. Between paintings of the School of Cusco and the School of Lima, colored tiles, sculptures, cloisters, and other rooms, we can see:
- The refectory where are 15 paintings, and the most important workplaces: a Peruvian version of the Last Supper by the artist Diego de la Puente (17 th century) with local elements and characters, including cuy (pig of India) in the main course. Rather unusual!
- The magnificent library with some 25,000 books, the oldest of which date back to the 15 th century
- The catacombs in the crypt of San Francisco, which were used until the beginning of the 19 th century
Address: Plazuela San Francisco, corner Jiron Ancash, and Jiron Lampa, Lima. Entrance to the convent 15 soles with a guided tour included (and mandatory) Spanish or English.
And if you have a sweet tooth, I really recommend you to visit Churros San Francisco ( Jirón Lampa 268, Lima, open from 1 pm to 9.30 pm), freshly prepared before your eyes. These are really the best Lima churros!
6. San Martin Square
Another important place of interest in Lima, the square was built at the beginning of the 20th century in honor of José de San Martin, one of the great figures of the Independence of Peru.
It is recognized with the statue of San Martin on his horse and the white buildings that surround it.
To get there from the Place d’Armes, take the long pedestrian Jiron de la Union. Make a stop at the Church of La Merced, built in the early 17 th century, a beautiful church with granite of Panama and columns of Baroque style.
On the Plaza San Martin, you can tour the Gran Hotel Bolivar, an imposing 1920s building, to taste their pisco sour or simply see impressive lobby with a Model T Ford.
7. Museum of Minerals
If you like a little unusual place, close to the square is the Andres del Castillo Mineral Museum. It is a magnificently restored house, Casa Belen, which houses the largest collection of minerals in Peru. Do not miss the collection of phosphorescent minerals in the special room dedicated to them. A real gem, that very few people know!
Address: Jiron de la Union, 1030, Lima, entrance 10 soles,
The Chinese district of Lima is located just next to the historic center, in the district of Barrios Altos. You should know that Peru, mainly in Lima, it is estimated that more than 2M people of Chinese origin, making it the 7 th largest community in the world outside China!
Despite everything, the ” barrio chino ” is not very big and evolves mainly around a street, Calle Capon. In addition to small shops and walking around, people mainly go for a reason: eat chifa, Chinese (mainly Cantonese) and Peruvian fusion cuisine.
9. Central Mercado
Right next to Lima’s Chinatown is the central Mercado, a huge market that occupies a whole block. It’s a chaotic world where you can find everything.
In the main building, there is food: fruits and vegetables, meats of all kinds, fish and seafood, spices, etc., in addition to the kiosks that prepare dishes to consume on-site at a low cost.
Around this building, the streets are occupied by a multitude of galleries: clothing, car or kitchen accessories, shoes, laptops, books and school equipment, electronic items and even animals!
It’s always crowded (so be careful with your pockets) but it’s an experience I recommend when visiting downtown Lima. Hard to do more local!
At the entrance of the historic center is the Lima Museum of Art, located in a beautiful building of the Parque de la Exposición, built for the Lima International Exhibition in 1872.
It houses a large collection of Peruvian art covering 3000 years of history through 9 rooms, from pre-Columbian cultures to the modern era (ceramics, textiles, furniture, paintings, etc.), in addition to temporary exhibitions of national and international art.
I recommend taking a trip to the MALI café, one of the good (and rare) options for having a coffee or a bite in the historic center.
Address: Parque de la Exposición, Paseo Colon 125, Lima. Tue-Sun 10 to 19h, Sat 10 to 17h. Entry 30 soles.