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Quito, the capital and largest city in Ecuador, is a beautiful and sprawling South American city. While the city is 40 kilometers long, it’s only about five kilometers wide! It’s the second-highest capital city in the world and its historic center was one of the first UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites.
Many travelers use Quito as a starting spot for trips to the Galapagos or Ecuador’s Amazon region and end up not spending much time in the city. Quito has so much to offer – it’s worth spending a few extra days if you can fit them in! For a perfect introduction to the city, consider planning a 3-day trip to Quito.
I spent about five days in Quito, exploring and experiencing everything the city has to offer. Whether you’re staying for a short time or a long time, Quito has plenty to keep you busy! While I didn’t expect much out of Quito (or Ecuador) at first, I quickly fell in love with the city. Now, I can’t wait to return!
Planning a trip to Quito? Check out my list of the 13 best things to do in Quito, Ecuador!
A World in Reach contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I may receive a commission at no cost to you! Read my full disclosure here.
1. Take a Free Walking Tour
One of my favorite things to do when arriving in a new city is to take a free walking tour. These tours are a great way to explore Quito and learn more about its history, especially when you’re visiting Ecuador on a budget!
Quito has a couple of different options for free walking tours, but the most popular is Free Walking Tour Ecuador. These tours are operated by and depart from the Community Hostel. They have English-speaking local guides and run twice a day from Monday to Saturday. On the tour, you’ll get an introduction to Quito’s Old Town and the history that surrounds it. Limited walk-in spots are available on the tour, however, it’s recommended that you book ahead of time to ensure a spot.
In addition to the Free Walking Tour, they also have a Friday Foodie Walking Tour. While this one isn’t free, it’s a great value at just $25 USD!
Looking for a different tour? Check out Strawberry Tours’ Free Quito Walking Tour and Free Quito Food Tour!
REMINDER: While the walking tours may be free, remember that the tour guides work for tips. When I take a free walking tour, I usually tip $10, but you can tip at your discretion based on the quality and length of the tour. Just make sure to tip your guide!
In addition, make sure to double-check the tour’s website for accurate tour dates, times, and meeting spots.
2. Wander around Quito’s Old Town
Quito’s Old Town is absolutely breathtaking. With all of the colonial buildings, historic churches, and bustling plazas, it’s no wonder that it’s a designated UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site!
After seeing Old Town on the free walking tour, it’s time to explore a little deeper. There are 27 churches, cathedrals, and monasteries in Quito’s Old Town, and you should visit at least a few of them!
The Basílica del Voto Nacional is the largest and most famous church in Quito. The church is actually still under construction – legend has it that once the basilica is completed, the world will end!
Entrance fees to the Basílica del Voto Nacional range from $1-3 USD, depending on what areas of the church you enter.
The basilica is breathtaking from all angles, but those who aren’t afraid of heights must make the climb to the top of the church towers. Once you make it to the top, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the city below! The stairs are steep and the climb can be a bit scary, but the views are worth it!
Of the churches and monasteries I visited in Quito’s Old Town, my favorite was the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús (Church of the Company of Jesus in English). This Jesuit church is sometimes known as Quito’s “gold church.” Why? It’s elaborately decorated in gold leaf! The $2 USD entry fee to the church is more than worth it.
Unfortunately, photography is not allowed in the church. You’ll just have to go see it for yourself!
Some more famous churches and monasteries that are worth a visit in Quito’s Old Town include the Iglesia de San Francisco, the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Quito. There are tons more as well and you really can’t go wrong with visiting any of them!
After exploring some churches, have a walk around Quito’s largest square: Plaza de la Independencia, which is also known as Plaza Grande.
Here, you can wander around and see locals enjoying their day as well as tourists taking in the sites. Plaza de la Independencia is surrounded by important buildings such as Quito’s Municipal Building, the Palacio de Carondelet (the Presidential Palace), the Archbishop’s Palace, and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Quito.
Hungry yet? I highly recommend checking out Cafe Plaza Grande, located right on the Plaza de la Independencia in the historic Hotel Plaza Grande.
My friends and I didn’t plan on eating here, but we were starving and this was the first place we saw. I’m usually a bit wary of hotel restaurants – they’re often overpriced and the food can be mediocre. This ended up being one of our best meals in Ecuador! The food was delicious and the prices were reasonable, though a little on the higher side.
When ordering certain dishes, the waitstaff put on a bit of a show as they serve your dish. Make sure to order the ice cream and keep your camera handy!
Last, no visit to Quito’s Old Town is complete without a visit to La Ronda. This beautiful neighborhood is full of museums, shops, street performers, and so much more. Take some time to walk the beautiful cobblestone streets lined with flower-covered balconies.
3. Eat local food at the Mercado Central
I love trying local foods while traveling and I love visiting local markets. Trying local foods at Quito’s Mercado Central was a highlight of my trip!
Mercado Central de Quito (Quito’s Central Market) is full of stalls selling local dishes, fruits and vegetables, fresh-squeezed juices and so much more. Best of all, everything is SO CHEAP! My friend ordered a meal that included chicken, soup, rice, vegetables, and juice for just $5 USD. Other stalls were selling delicious plates of rice and vegetables for just $1 USD.
One thing to keep in mind: though I wouldn’t consider the area dangerous, this is the neighborhood in Quito where I nearly got robbed. As a precaution, make sure to keep valuables like your phone or camera safely stowed away while you’re not using it. I also recommend using a pickpocket-proof bag to keep any opportunists away.
4. Take a day trip to the Middle of the World
You can’t visit Ecuador without visiting its namesake: the Equator!
There are a few different ways you can get to the equator from Quito. You can take a guided tour (which is what my friends and I did), take a cab (we did this too another day!), or take the public bus.
You could technically take a car and drive yourself, but I wouldn’t recommend this unless you’re very experienced with driving in Quito – the traffic is crazy!
My friends and I took the Community Hostel’s Middle of the World Tour. If you’re looking for a fun and affordable tour to the Equator, I highly recommend this one! The tour is just $10 USD and is scheduled to begin when the Free Walking Tour ends so that you can do both on the same day.
This tour included round-trip transportation in a comfortable van from central Quito to the Equator, which is about a 45-minute drive. The first stop was the Intiñan Museum, which claims to have the most geographically-accurate equator line. Admission to the museum wasn’t included in the tour cost, but it was just around $4 USD.
The tour began with the guide teaching us about different parts of Ecuadorian history and culture such as chocolate-making. We then made our way to the Equator line, where the guide did a few fun, interactive demonstrations showing the equator’s magnetic forces, like the difference in the flow of water between hemispheres. I’m pretty sure these demonstrations were gimmicks, but they were still fun!
After the demonstrations and some further exploration of the museum grounds, you’re able to get your passport stamped with a fun Equator stamp before heading to the next stop of the tour: the Middle of the World Monument.
This is the more famous site – you’ve probably seen fun photos here of people standing in both hemispheres by the large monument. We had some time to go inside the monument area, but we decided to save our money and just take some photos from outside. If you do choose to go inside, the entrance fee is $5 USD.
Upon returning to Quito, you’re given the option of being dropped off back at the hostel or at the TeleferiQo. We chose to go to the hostel as we were planning on riding the TeleferiQo the next morning.
The day before we left Quito, we decided to return to the equator with some of the other students we were studying with. This time, we took a cab. Make sure to negotiate a price with the driver before you depart! On our way to the Equator, we asked the driver to use the meter, which ended up costing us about $40. The ride should be no more than $15-$20 USD each way!
If this tour doesn’t sound right for you, check out this Middle of the World tour.
5. Take the TelefériQo up to the Cruz Loma Lookout
Of all the things I did in Quito, I think riding the TelefériQo to the Cruz Loma Lookout was my favorite!
The TelefériQo, which combines the words “teléferico” and “Quito,” is Quito’s version of a gondola lift. The TeléferiQo will take you 2,237 linear meters up the Pichincha Volcano, where you’ll have gorgeous views of the city below.
Once you’re at the top, you’ll be able to walk around the various viewpoints or choose to hike the volcano. You can hike on your own or hire a guide at the top.
If you decide to do the hike, make sure you’re well-acclimated to Quito’s altitude in order to avoid altitude sickness. In addition, make sure to bring warm clothes: it gets a lot colder at the top of the mountain!
Even if you’re not hiking, make sure to bring a jacket! It gets several degrees colder at the top, and it’s windy. I also recommend going when the TeléferiQo first opens for the best, most clear views. Keep an eye on the weather and plan your visit to the TeléferiQo on a clear day.
Tickets for the TeléferiQo are $8.50 USD for foreigners. It is recommended that you take a taxi to the base of the TeléferiQo as the neighborhood isn’t one of Quito’s best. A taxi shouldn’t cost more than $5 or $6 USD from most places in central Quito.
6. Walk around Quito’s New Town
Once you’ve explored Quito’s Old Town, you need to explore Quito’s New Town!
New Town, known as Mariscal Sucre (or La Mariscal), is much different from the Old Town. Here, you’ll find plenty of bars, clubs, restaurants, and shops. While the neighborhood might not be as charming as Old Town, it’s still worth a visit – especially if you’re into exploring a city’s nightlife.
The main square in Mariscal Sucre is known as Plaza Foch. Here you’ll find locals and tourists looking for some fun. Grab some food and a drink and settle down for some people watching or find a club to dance the night away. You can do both in Plaza Foch!
When you’re in this area, make sure to be aware of your surroundings. There are a lot of scammers and pickpockets targeting tourists, so keep this in mind while exploring the New Town!
7. Visit the Quito Sign at Parque Itchimbia
Located on the eastern side of Old Town, Parque Itchimbia is a large public park perfect for exercising, relaxing, or just taking in the views of the city. The park is also home to the iconic orange Quito sign, making for a perfect photo opportunity!
There are several steep steps from the street up to the park, but they aren’t too terrible. The beautiful views of Quito from the park are well worth the exercise! After the climb, take some time to enjoy the views and watch as the locals go about their day.
Parque Itchimbia is also home to the Centro Cultural Itchimbia, however, it was being renovated during my visit.
8. Shop for souvenirs at the Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal
I LOVE souvenir shopping, especially at local markets. Wanna know a fun fact about me? I collect thimbles! One of my favorite parts of traveling to a new place is the treasure hunt of trying to find a new thimble for my collection.
The Mercado Artesenal La Mariscal is the best place for souvenir shopping in Quito. Here, you can find everything from t-shirts to chocolate bars to blankets made out of alpaca wool. It’s a souvenir lover’s dream – I was even able to find a few thimbles!
When doing your shopping, make sure to negotiate the price. Haggling is part of the fun! For tips on haggling, check out my post on bargain shopping in Beijing. Though the post is written based on my experiences in China, the tips in the post apply to any country where you can haggle.
9. Explore the Quito Botanical Garden
I could spend hours wandering through botanical gardens. Visiting the Jardin Botanico de Quito (Quito Botanical Garden) was a highlight of my trip.
The Quito Botanical Garden is very biodiverse and has an extensive collection of Ecuadorian and South American flora. My friends and I spent a couple of hours wandering through the colorful garden seeing all of the beautiful flowers. The garden is very relaxing – it’s a nice break from the hustle and bustle of Quito!
Highlights include the orchid garden, a bonsai tree exhibit, and a carnivorous plant room. Admission to the garden is just $3.50 USD.
10. Visit a Museum
Did you know that Quito is home to more than 50 museums? Many of them are very cheap or free, making a museum day the perfect budget-friendly activity in Quito! Some of the most popular museums in Quito include:
- La Capilla del Hombre and Casa-Museo Guayasamin: La Capilla del Hombre is one of Quito’s most famous museums. This museum is actually two museums in one: one showcases the works of Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamin while the other showcases Guayasamin’s personal art collection in his home. In addition to the art, you’ll find a beautiful viewpoint of Quito.
- Centro de Arte Contemporaneo (Contemporary Art Center of Quito): Located in a former military hospital, the Centro de Arte Contemporaneo is home to a vast collection of modern art.
- Museo de la Ciudad (Museum of the City of Quito): Located in a hospital which was Quito’s first public building, the Museo de la Ciudad showcases the history and socio-cultural practices of the Ecuadorian capital.
- Centro Cultural Metropolitano (Metropolitan Cultural Center of Quito): The Centro Cultural Metropolitano is a large museum dedicated to the culture of Quito and Ecuador. It’s home to Ecuador’s only wax museum features several rotating exhibits.
- Museo Nacional del Ecuador (National Museum of Ecuador): Recently renovated, the Museo Nacional del Ecuador is home to several Ecuadorian artifacts that depict the country’s history.
11. See El Panecillo, Quito’s Statue of Virgin Mary
At the top of El Panecillo hill is a statue of Virgin Mary that’s visible from nearly everywhere in Quito.
Take a taxi up the hill to see the statue up close and to get more sweeping views of the city below. If you still haven’t bought enough souvenirs, vendors are at the top of the hill selling their handicrafts.
We were told that it’s best to take a taxi here because the area at the bottom of the hill is full of opportunists trying to scam or rob tourists. Official taxis in Quito are cheap and safe so we grabbed one to be on the safe side.
12. Take a day trip to the Pululahua Volcano
If you want to escape the buzz of the city, a great day trip is to go north of the city to the Pululahua Volcano and Geobotanic Reserve.
Pululahua is a collapsed dormant volcano, but when you look at it it’s hard to believe that it was once a volcano! People even live and farm in what was once the crater!
Hikers can opt to trek into the crater, but I stuck to enjoying the views from the lookout.
Want to do the hike? Check out this helpful post!
13. See it all with the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus
Limited in time and want to see it all? Consider taking the Quito Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour!
For just $15 USD, you can get a ticket on the bus tour that’ll take you to all of the top spots around Quito. Choose to get off to explore or take a leisurely ride seeing the city from the upper deck of the bus.
My friends and I spent a day riding the Hop-On Hop-Off bus. We were able to get off and see Quito’s top sights while also having a convenient form of transportation between each one.
As you can see, Quito has plenty to see and do – you’ll find things to keep you busy no matter how long you’re staying! If you’re going to be visiting the city, make sure to use this list to plan an itinerary full of the best things to do in Quito!
Planning a trip to Ecuador? Read these posts next:
- 3 Days in Quito, Ecuador: The Perfect Itinerary and Travel Guide
- How to Travel Ecuador on a Student Budget: Budget Travel in Ecuador
22 thoughts on “13 of the Best Things to Do in Quito, Ecuador”
Lovely article! You’re right about the Basilica…the climb up is freaking terrifying but the views are incredible. I lived in Ecuador for 2 years and this article got me so nostalgic. Thanks for sharing 🙂
Thanks Carley! I bet living in Ecuador was wonderful. I can’t wait to visit again someday!
I still haven’t visited South America but I always wanted to visit, especially Ecuador and Quito and this article is a great starting point.
I highly recommend Ecuador as an introduction to South America!
I’ve never even heard of Quito before (admittedly, I don’t know much about south america). I would love to go to the Equator. Free walking tours are also my fave thing to do when I first get to a city 🙂
I hadn’t heard much about it before I went!
Ecuador would be an amazing place to explore- The Galapagos have always been on my husband’s bucket list!
Mine too! I was hoping to add on a few days in the Galapagos on this trip but I unfortunately couldn’t swing it on my student budget haha. Maybe next time!
I loved seeing you in the U of Quito, haha! What an incredible picture. Coming to Ecuador, it’s a beautiful country and I would love to visit it someday. I never knew Quito is just 40kms long. That should be pretty easy to explore. Thanks for making my task easier, will definitely refer to this guide once I can make it there.
Thanks Nitasha! That was a fun photo to take.
I’ve never been to South America yet but you got me at the view of the Old Town which was beautiful. I love exploring cities/town with views like this and there’s so much to do in Quito. Indeed something I should be looking forward to if i ever plan my trip to South America
Quito is the perfect introduction to South America, so make sure to include it in your plans!
This is a country I would love to visit, you have defo given me some ideas of what to do once I get there! Thanks for sharing such an informative post!
Thanks Louise! I’m glad you found it helpful 🙂
I love exploring such cities where there’s so much to see and do. Quito has always been on my bucket list. Hope to visit soon.
It’s well worth the trip!
I love Quito, seems like you and I had a very similar experience. I loved the walking tour and the old town was so beautiful. And seriously, how good was the food in Mercado Central for like USD 2 !
It was so good! I knew Ecuador would be cheap but I didn’t realize it would be that cheap!
I honestly think Hop on and Off tours are the best way to get a quick tour of all the main attractions of a city. We always try to do it the first day and follow our own itinerary after!
I think so too! It’s a great way to get an overview of a new city. I always like doing them on the first day of a trip when I’m jet-lagged and exhausted.
beautiful and detailed list of things to do. Your last point made me laugh a bit. Isn’t there in every city a hop-on hop off bus tour? they are just the best, I am wondering who started with this great idea? a place definitely to keep in. mind.
Thanks Corina! I sure wish I came up with the bus tours – I’d be traveling all the time with my riches!