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Once South America's richest city, Lima was hailed the City of Kings by Spanish conquistadors. If you look beyond the urban sprawl, you'll be rewarded with the National Museum's pre-Columbian treasures and Plaza Mayor's colonial splendor. But ask Limeños what makes their city tick and they'll most probably wax lyrical about ceviche (lime-marinated seafood) with pisco sours by the Pacific and Barranco's pulsating Afro-Peruvian peñas (folk nights). A mix of colonial heritage and Latin passion, grime and glamour -- Lima is a tantalizing appetizer of what Peru has to offer.

Things to Do

The ornate Archbishop's Palace and baroque cathedral soar above the Plaza Mayor, the crowning glory of Lima's colonial center, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The mystery of Peru's ancient civilizations will captivate you at the cavernous National Museum; and the Larco Museum, housed in an 18th-century mansion, displays pre-Columbian art from Inca jewelry to erotic Moche ceramics. Locals craving an escape from the city flock to Pacific beaches and flowery gardens in the relaxed Barranco neighborhood.

Shopping

Miraflores' arty markets and galleries are relaxed places to pick up Peruvian crafts such as fleecy alpaca sweaters, Nasca ceramics and chunky silver jewelry. Hide your valuables to haggle for fresh produce and knick knacks under the ornate arches of the crowded Central Market, bordering Chinatown. Designer boutiques and department stores make Jockey Plaza mall a favorite weekend hangout of wealthy Limeños.

Nightlife and Entertainment

When you hear folk songs and the rhythmic pounding of the cajón (box drum), you know you've stumbled across a party in a peña, one of Lima's Afro-Peruvian music clubs. The hottest peñas, cocktail bars, and nightclubs huddle on the clifftops in the distinctly bohemian Barranco district. In seafront Miraflores, the nightlife scene skips from lively Irish pubs to sultry bars where young Limeños gyrate to salsa beats and sip pisco sours.

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Restaurants and Dining

Celebrity chefs such as Gastón Acurio Jaramillo have put Lima on the culinary map. Arrive early for lunch at one of Avenida la Mar's popular cebicherías to tuck into ceviche, seafood marinated in lime juice, served with onions, aji pepper and sweet potato. Michelin-starred chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino puts an imaginative spin on Amazonian food at chic Malabar. Eat noodles and wontons fresh from the wok in Chinatown's lively chifa restaurants, and crisp wood-fired pizza in Miraflores' inviting Italian bistros.

The Best Travel Experiences in Lima

  • Delving into a pre-Columbian past: Lima’s first-class museums are a great introduction to Peru’s complex ancient civilizations, from the Moche to the Chimú. But an unexpected tie to the past are the ancient adobe pyramids (such as Huaca Pucllana) plunked down in residential neighborhoods. 
  • Strolling colonial Lima: Newly safe and spruced-up Lima Centro is home to many of Peru’s best colonial and republican-era palaces and mansions, baroque and Renaissance churches. Strolling through the historic quarter makes plain the city’s great early importance. 
  • Savoring ceviche: Peru’s signature dish is a tantalizing plate of raw fish and/or shellfish marinated in lime or lemon juice and ajíes, or chili peppers. A plate of tangy ceviche served at an informal neighborhood restaurant—a huarique to locals—is an unforgettable Limeño experience. 
  • Kicking back in Barranco: This easygoing former seaside village with colorfully painted old houses is the place to go to get away when you’re feeling overwhelmed by Lima’s big-city chaos. Famous for its happening nightlife, increasingly it’s home to boutique hotels and terrific restaurants. 
  • Rocking a peña: Lima’s vibrant criolla music culture is on display at its peñas, lively music clubs where folkloric and Afro-Peruvian music and dance, emphasizing both percussion and audience participation, go deep into the night. You’ve got to hit at least one in Lima.