Old Town Quito: Ultimate Guide to the Quito Historic Center

If you’re visiting Quito, you’ll definitely want to spend time in the Quito Historic Center, one of the city’s most beautiful neighborhoods. In the Historic Center of Quito, you’ll find incredible testimony to Quito’s past, including colonial churches, fascinating museums, markets, and beautiful views.

After living in Ecuador for years, we’ve done everything there is to do in this beautiful part of the city, and now we’re sharing Quito Old Town highlights and things you can’t miss.

Keep reading for this ultimate guide to Old Town Quito Ecuador, including the best things to do in Old Town Quito, plus where to stay and eat.

Plus, check out our Old Town Quito map, where we’ll show you all the places in the lovely colonial Quito Ecuador we recommend in this article.

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Quito Historic Center

Covering a good chunk of central Quito, the Quito Historic Center is one of the city’s most important neighborhoods and is home to many of the best things to do in Quito.

The Historic Center of Quito is located between El Panecillo in the south and Parque La Alameda in the north – easily walkable, except for a few hills! Check out our Old Town Quito map below for a map of this neighborhood!

In Old Town Quito Ecuador you’ll find colonial churches, museums, charming historic streets, markets, and some of the city’s most important buildings, like the presidential palace. This is a great place to explore when visiting Quito, and an important part of any Quito itinerary.

There is so much to do in the Quito Historic Center, but there are plenty of unmissable attractions in other parts of the city as well. Check out our Mega Guide of Things to Do in Quito for a comprehensive summary of everything there is to do throughout the entire city.

Why Is the Historic Center of Quito So Important?

The historic center of Quito is one of the largest and best-preserved historic centers in Latin America. There is plenty to see and do here, making it a fascinating and beautiful destination to visit.

Despite suffering damage due to multiple earthquakes since its colonial foundation, the historic center of Quito remains remarkably faithful to the past, while still being a lively and active modern neighborhood.

Safety in Quito

Even as a solo female traveler, I felt quite safe in Quito and have no incidents to report after living here for two years. Simply make wise choices – don’t walk alone at night, trust your gut, and take simple safety measures – and you will more than likely be completely fine.

Pickpocketing does happen – as it does in towns and cities in every country around the world. Practicing a few good travel safety measures and you will be totally fine. The key is to not make yourself an easy target.

  • Wear your backpack in front of you in public transport, crowded spaces, and markets. Use s-biner clips to make zippers inaccessible.

  • Women: bring a crossbody purse to prevent bag snatching.

  • Don’t wear flashy jewelry or wander with your phone or camera in your hand. Feel free to take photos – don’t feel scared to! – but put away your phone or camera in your bag once you’re done.
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Old Town Quito Map

We’ve created this Quito Old Town map with all the best things to do in Quito Old Town that we mention throughout the article. This includes where to stay in Old Town Quito, the best restaurants, and things you can’t miss.

Click around the Old Town Quito map to see our recommendations, or keep reading for these topics in this article:

  • Things to Do in Old Town Quito
  • Where to Stay in Old Town Quito
  • Where to Eat in Old Town Quito

Things to Do in Quito Old Town

You could spend two days just exploring the churches, museums, and markets of Old Town Quito – there is just so much to see and do here.

However, I recommend setting aside at least three to four hours to see the best of this neighborhood.

While a visit to Quito isn’t complete without venturing outside of the Historic Center, it is an unmissable part of this city. You’ll want to spend a good chunk of your time in Quito exploring this neighborhood.

Quito Old Town Highlights

With just three to four hours to spend in Old Town Quito, make sure you see these sights – the essential, must-see destinations in the Historic Center of Quito you can’t leave without seeing.

  • Basilica del Voto Nacional
  • Plaza Grande
  • Iglesia Compañía de Jesús
  • Iglesia San Francisco
  • La Ronda

Full Day in Old Town Quito

If you have a full day to explore Old Town Quito, make sure to visit all the destinations above essential for any visitor, and some or all of these places as well. With a bit more time to appreciate the Quito Historic Center, these places can really add to your experience.

  • Presidential Palace – Carondelet Palace
  • El Sagrario
  • Centro Cultural Metropolitano
  • Plaza del Teatro
  • Parque Itchimbia
  • Mercado Central

Read More

Looking for even more things to do in Quito, beyond just Old Town Quito? Check out our mega guide to the best things to do in Quito for even more inspiration. It’s filled with everything there is to see and do in Quito you can’t miss, plus off-the-beaten-path things to do you won’t read about anywhere else.

Basilica del Voto Nacional

* Old Town Quito Highlight

An absolute must-visit destination in Quito, and one of the best things to do in Ecuador! Much more than just a beautiful church, the Basilica del Voto Nacional also has some of the best views of the Quito Historic Center, and stunning 360-degree views of the entire city.

Visit the clocktowers at the front of the church and the spire in the back for three distinct and beautiful views of the city. The climb to the spire will take you outside the building at one point and up very steep steps, so try to visit when the weather is nice!

You can purchase tickets from the side entrance or the front, and choose from three ticket options: access to the clocktowers and spire, access to the central part of the church, or both.

Unless you’re very interested in exploring the whole Basilica, I recommend just getting tickets to the clocktowers and spire. You’ll get a fantastic view of the church inside from a large interior balcony on your way up the clocktowers.

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Best Hotels & Hostels in Quito

Plaza Grande

* Old Town Quito Highlight

The true heart of colonial Quito Ecuador, Plaza Grande is a great place to start a self-guided walking tour of the city. In the center, you’ll find an impressive monument to Ecuador’s independence from Spain.

Around the plaza, you’ll find the Presidential Palace (Carondelet Palace), the Catedral Metropolitana de Quito with the attached El Sagrario, and the former Palacio Arzobispal (Archbishop’s Palace – now converted into a mixed-use space with shops and restaurants).

This is a great place to people watch, and appreciate the beautiful architecture and scenery of the Quito historic district. A must-visit destination on your Old Town Quito walking tour!

Presidential Palace – Carondelet Palace

On the west side of the Plaza Grande, you’ll see the impressive Palacio de Carondelet, also known as Ecuador’s presidential palace. Closed to visitors for many years, this impressive palace now offers free guided walking tours that are well worth your time.

Guides offer tours in English and Spanish, and take groups through the impressive meeting rooms and salons throughout the building. You’ll hear plenty of fascinating stories from the palace’s history, as well as seeing fascinating details, like gifts to Ecuador’s president from foreign dignitaries.

Register for a time for a walking tour at the small ticket booth to the left of the palace. You’ll likely be able to walk right in, but securing your spot a few hours in advance if possible is best.

Make sure you bring some form of photo ID (it doesn’t need to be a passport), as you’ll need to go through security at the entrance.

On the front walkway, you’ll see ceremonial guards dressed in period-style garb guarding the main doors. Feel free to take a picture with them on your way out, though don’t expect a smile from them!

Catedral Metropolitana de Quito

Another one of the historic buildings surrounding Plaza Grande, the Catedral Metropolitana de Quito is the city’s main cathedral and home to the archdioceses of the city. This is one of Latin America’s oldest churches and holds many impressive altars and artworks.

Tickets cost $4 USD to enter, and in addition to the main church, you’ll get to see a host of crypts and chambers as well as priestly garments, impressive paintings, and more.

Be on the lookout for the painting of the Last Supper featuring Jesus eating a “cuy” – Spanish for a guinea pig, and a beloved Ecuadorian delicacy.

For an additional ticket charge of $3 USD, you can climb the Cathedral’s dome – expect impressive views, but rickety steps practically make this an adventure sport.

Not as ornate or flashy as some of Quito’s other lovely churches (especially the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús) the Catedral is still a lovely spot to visit if you’re interested in history. If not, you’ll probably be just fine with visits to Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús and Iglesia de San Francisco, Quito’s two stars.

old town quito

El Sagrario

Once a part of the adjacent Catedral Metropolitana, this chapel is one of Quito’s many beautiful churches. Its beautifully detailed interior and golden altar are impressive and characteristic of colonial Quito Ecuador.

Admission is free, and because it’s located steps from some of Old Town Quito’s must-see attractions, it’s worth a visit, even if only for 10 or 15 minutes.

Centro Cultural Metropolitano

Located across the street from both El Sagrario and Carondelet Palace, the Centro Cultural Metropolitano (Metropolitan Cultural Center) is well worth a visit when walking Old Town Quito.

This mixed-use building contains everything from cafes and restaurants to an academic library, but the true attraction is the rotation art exhibits, most of which are free admission.

Even if you don’t stay here long, make sure to visit the terrace for the view. Climb the central staircase to the building’s rooftop terrace for an incredible view of El Panecillo and the rest of the Quito Historic Center.

Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús

* Old Town Quito Highlight

Located just one block from the Plaza Grande and between the Carondelet Presidential Palace and Iglesia de San Francisco, Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús is – in my opinion – the most beautiful church in Ecuador, and one of the most beautiful in all of Latin America.

This ornate church seems to be covered from top to bottom in gold leaf, with extensive carvings, paintings, and elaborate altars filling the main nave.

It is a breathtaking sight to witness such an elaborate and ornate building, and even the most beautiful churches around the Quito Historic Center don’t compare.

Admission to most churches in Quito is free, but tickets here cost $5. Don’t less the admission deter you from visiting. The ticket price is well worth the visit to this church, easily one of the most beautiful and breathtaking destinations in all of Quito.

This is a highlight of any tour of Old Town Quito.

colonial quito ecuador

Iglesia de San Francisco

* Old Town Quito Highlight

One of the most visually stunning churches in Quito, the Iglesia de San Francisco is an absolute must-visit destination when touring Old Town Quito. Set in the massive Plaza San Francisco, this church is just as beautiful inside as it is outside.

The gilded central altar and chapels throughout the church are stunning and display the wealth of the Spanish empire in Quito at the time of its construction.

The history of the site is heavy, though – it was constructed on the site of an Incan marketplace and temple, which is why the plaza slopes upward towards the site of the church.

For more dark history, check out the large-scale painting on the right side of the church near the entrance. You’ll find a detailed display of the tortures awaiting specific sins (tongue chopped off for gossip, etc.).

Entrance to the main church is free, though with a $5 USD ticket you can access the beautiful convent, adjacent chapels, and second-story balcony of the main church. These are worth a visit if you have time, though just seeing the church itself may be sufficient for you.

Plaza San Francisco is a great place to people watch, so don’t hurry on to your next destination. Check out Cafe Tianguez, located near the steps up to the church – they have covered seating in the plaza for a quick meal, and inside they sell beautiful local handicrafts.

Casa del Alabado Pre-Columbian Art Museum

If you’re interested in learning more about Ecuador’s history through archeology, this is a fantastic little museum well worth a visit. Housing some of the country’s best archaeological finds, you’ll see pottery, sculptures, jewelry, tools, and more, including from numerous pre-Incan cultures.

Housed in a beautiful colonial building, the Casa del Alabado has eight permanent exhibit rooms, along with one temporary exhibit room and a nice museum shop. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday; tickets cost $6 USD.

Museo de la Ciudad – Museum of the City

Yet another small but excellent museum in Quito, the Museo de la Ciudad has permanent exhibits that will help you get a great understanding of the city’s (and country’s) history and culture.

Standout exhibits display the unique clothing of indigenous groups throughout the country, the impact of the Spanish conquest, and everyday life pre- and post-colonization.

The museum is located within one of colonial Quito Ecuador’s first hospitals, in a gorgeous colonial building that would be worth a visit alone! The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday and also offers guided tours in Spanish and English (at an additional cost).

La Ronda

* Old Town Quito Highlight

A particularly gorgeous section of Old Town Quito, Calle La Ronda (La Ronda Street) is a pedestrian street that winds downhill through the Quito Historic Center and is home to some charming colonial architecture.

The buildings that line the street are also home to tons of small restaurants (at every price point) selling Ecuadorian food, so this is a great place to eat.

Here you’ll find restaurants and cafes selling some Ecuadorian specialties like empanadas de viento (giant, sweet empanadas) and canelazo (a fruity, warm, sometimes alcoholic drink for cold Quito nights).

There are also little shops selling handicrafts, Panama hats (which are originally from Ecuador!), art, and much more. Take your time exploring these shops, cafes, and more as you walk through La Ronda.

Stop at the Pacari chocolate shop on La Ronda for some of Ecuador’s best chocolates from this well-known brand. You can taste-test specialized chocolates infused with everything from rose and coconut to tropical fruits.

Make sure to stop at the intersection of Calle Guayaquil and La Ronda – looking south you’ll get one of the most beautiful views of El Panecillo, framed by historic houses lining La Ronda and colorful flags.

What To Pack for Ecuador

Check out our Ultimate Ecuador Packing List to help you pack for your trip – we’re sharing exactly what to bring to Ecuador and what we never travel without.

backpacking quito

El Panecillo

El Panecillo – “the little bread roll” in Spanish – is a rounded hill that marks the southern extension of Quito Old Town and offers sweeping views over the city. With its massive statue of the Virgin Mary, called “La Virgen del Panecillo,” it is a distinctive and beautiful landmark in the Quito skyline.

Visitors can head to the top of the hill and the base of the statue (take a taxi or public bus to the top!) for views. You’ll also find a few handicraft vendors and carts selling drinks and snacks.

While many consider El Panecillo to be an obligatory part of a Quito itinerary, I generally recommend that visitors to Quito skip El Panecillo entirely, especially if you’re on a tight itinerary!

Instead, head to the Basilica and climb the clocktowers and spire. The views from the Basilica are much, much better. El Panecillo is such an iconic part of the Quito skyline that you want a view OF the Panecillo, not FROM it.

Iglesia de Santo Domingo

Another one of Quito’s lovely churches, Iglesia de Santo Domingo stands out for its colorful painting and Moorish design influence. From the rooftop, you can get incredible views of the nearby Panecillo and the patio of the adjacent Dominican convent.

If you’re headed towards the center of Quito Historic Center from La Ronda and see that the church is open, it’s worth a visit! If not, it may be worth passing by, especially considering how many beautiful churches you’re likely to see in Quito.

Plaza del Teatro

Just in front of the Sucre Theater (Teatro Sucre), Plaza del Teatro is a small but pretty pedestrian-only square that shows off some of the charms of colonial Quito Ecuador. The theater is beautiful, with columns and gold details, and its a great place to consider attending a performance.

The theater often hosts performances that show off traditional Ecuadorian song, dance, and drama.

Here you’ll often find street performers throughout the day, adding to the charm of the square.

Nearby you’ll find some affordable and delicious Ecuadorian restaurants worth trying. El Criollo, located in Plaza del Teatro, offers a great selection of Ecuadorian dishes from the Quito region.

Around the corner (on Olmedo and Guayaquil streets), Cebiches de la Rumiñahui offers great food from the coastal region – try the encebollado, a fish and onion soup.

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Iglesia de San Agustin

Built in the 16th century, the Iglesia de San Agustin is – in my opinion – one of Quito’s most beautiful churches. Not as famous as Iglesia de San Francisco or Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, this church is just as worthy of a visit.

Beautifully and colorfully painted from top to bottom, the interior has an array of ornate altars and a beautiful row of crystal chandeliers. It is usually quite peaceful and quiet inside if you’re looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle.

Make sure to stop by Lero Lero for a coffee or breakfast before or after your visit to San Agustin – this cafe is built into the side of the church and shows off the interior patio of the adjacent convent.

Museo de Arte Colonial – Colonial Art Museum

Located in a restored colonial mansion, the Museo de Arte Colonial has some important post-conquest works on display. During the colonial period, nearly all art was religious in nature, so you’ll find lots of artwork with this theme, including specific works meant to convert indigenous populations.

This museum is perfect for those interested in art, history, or religion, but may be worth skipping for those without a particular interest in the subject.

If you’re looking for one just museum to visit in Quito, I generally recommend the Casa de la Cultura next to Parque El Ejido, just north of the Historic Center of Quito.

Parque Itchimbia

Parque Itchimbia is my pick for Quito’s most underrated park, and one of my favorite spots in Old Town Quito. Views are unbeatable – you’ll see the entire city! – there is plenty of space to explore, and events like concerts and food truck roundups.

You’ll also find the Palacio de Cristal, an arts and event space made entirely of glass, hosting rotating exhibits and events, mostly with free admission.

This is also a great place to relax on weekends. You’ll find families flying kites and playing, and there are beautiful, wooded biking and running trails with views of Quito’s valley and the valley on the other side of the hills.

Pair a visit with a stop at Vista Hermosa restaurant or Cafe Mosaico, located next to each other on the street below the entrance to the park. Vista Hermosa is fine dining, while Cafe Mosaico is much more casual, and both offer unbeatable views of the city.

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Parque La Alameda

A small park at the northern edge of Quito Old Town, Parque La Alameda always ends up in the Quito guide books but isn’t really worth a visit, as there isn’t much to see here.

If you have time, head to Parque El Eijdo instead. Across the street from the Casa de la Cultura (my top museum recommendation in the city!), Parque El Ejido is a better choice for people-watching and wandering. It hosts artists displaying their works, has plenty more food carts to try, and is overall much nicer than La Alameda.

Parque La Carolina even further uptown is even better, especially on weekends when locals flock here.

Best Hotels & Hostels in Quito

Mercado Central

Ecuador is filled with bustling and lively markets, which make up part of the daily routine of many Ecuadorians. If you’re looking to experience this side of Ecuador while visiting the Quito historic district, there is no better place to visit than Mercado Central.

Here you’ll find several floors where vendors sell fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, flowers, and more. Plus, you’ll find an entire section of food stalls selling prepared foods, fruit juices, and must-try dishes in Ecuador.

You won’t find much in the way of traditional handicrafts here – head to the La Mariscal neighborhood and visit the Mercado Artesanal for the best selection of handicrafts in the city. Or, head to Ecuador’s best market town, Otavalo, just a few hours north of Quito.

Read More: Learn more about visiting Quito’s traditional markets in our Mega Guide to Things to Do in Quito – there are a few more worth visiting in other parts of the city, too!

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Where to Stay in Old Town Quito

Quito’s Historic Center is one of the best places to stay in Quito for all kinds of travelers. Specifically, the Historic Center is where to stay in Quito for historic hotels and charming accommodations – and great views! – even on a budget.

You’ll find beautiful and comfortable hotels at every price point, and even some fantastic hostels (my favorite in the city – The Secret Garden) for backpackers.

Read More: Not sure where to stay in Quito? Check out our article, Where to Stay in Quito: Quito Neighborhoods and Accommodation Guide, for more about all the best areas and specific hotel recommendations throughout the city.

The Secret Garden ($)

My number one hostel recommendation in Quito, I stayed in The Secret Garden several times and would definitely stay again.

They offer a variety of room types, including affordable privates, and a social atmosphere with plenty of opportunities to meet other travelers.

But the real draw is the rooftop restaurant and bar – you’ll get unbeatable views of the entire city and surrounding mountains that make for an unforgettable experience.

Bonus Tip: Planning a trip to Cotopaxi after your time in Quito? Stay at The Secret Garden’s sister hotel, The Secret Garden Cotopaxi. This is my favorite hotel I’ve EVER stayed in, anywhere.

Nestled away in the Cotopaxi National Park, this retreat-like hotel organizes incredible hikes, climbing expeditions, and tours of the park. They offer direct transportation from their Quito site to Cotopaxi daily.

Vista del Angel ($$)

If you’re looking for a comfortable and unique stay in Old Town Quito on a budget, check out Vista del Angel Boutique Hotel. Just a few blocks from the Basilica, this hotel has incredible views – and a spacious terrace overlooking the whole city.

The rooms are simple yet charming, and the service is excellent – this is a great option for enjoying the Historic Center on a budget.

Hotel Casona 1914 ($$)

Hotel Casona 1914 is a beautiful hotel within a historic colonial building at the entrance to the Quito Historic Center. Facing Parque La Alameda and the Basilica, it’s conveniently located near transportation options to easily get around the city or walk the neighborhood.

Rooms are beautiful and feel luxurious, despite being surprisingly affordable, making Hotel Casona 1914 a fantastic option for travelers in Quito.

Hotel Carlota ($$ – $$$)

For a mix of Historic Center charm and all the modern amenities you could ask for, head to Hotel Carlota. One of the neighborhood’s best hotels, rooms are surprisingly affordable, usually costing right around $150 – it’s a steal.

Located just two blocks away from Plaza Grande, you’ll be able to walk and explore the Historic Center with ease. Plus, Hotel Carlota has a rooftop terrace with an absolutely stunning view overlooking the city.

Casa Gangotena ($$$)

Casa Gangotena is well known for being the best hotel in Quito, and the destination of choice for dignitaries, celebrities, and luxury travelers – and rightfully so.

Located in Plaza San Francisco, Casa Gangotena is within an immaculately restored colonial palace and has an incredible view of Iglesia San Francisco and surrounding mountains.

Rooms are opulent and the service is exquisite. Casa Gangotena is truly an unforgettable destination.

More Recommendations

Still not sure where to stay in Quito? Check out our article, Where to Stay in Quito: Quito Neighborhoods and Accommodation Guide, for more about all the best areas and specific hotel recommendations throughout the city.

Where to Eat in Old Town Quito

Vista Hermosa

Vista Hermosa – or, “beautiful view,” in Spanish – offers fine dining and has two locations in the Historic Center, both with great food and incredible views. I recommend the Vista Hermosa location near Parque Itchimbia for the best view of El Panecillo, day or night. Call ahead for a reservation on the terrace or by the window overlooking the city – these are the most coveted tables.

Cafe Mosaico

For a great view of Old Town Quito and El Panecillo – without the fine dining prices and ambiance of Vista Hermosa – check out Cafe Mosaico. Located just down the street from Vista Hermosa near the entrance to Parque Itchimbia, Cafe Mosaico offers coffee and cafe bites, plus a full menu for meals, making it a great option for any time of the day.

La Purísima

Located in a colonial building with a stunning interior patio, La Purísima is a great choice for authentic Ecuadorian cooking in Old Town Quito. They have classic options from all of Ecuador’s regions. Try the llapingachos (Ecuadorian potato balls) and fried yuca, and the huevitos chilenos (deep-fried donuts) for dessert.

Bandido Brewing

One of Quito’s original craft breweries, Bandido Brewing is not to be missed. This chill brewery serves great pizzas and small plates of food along with – of course – a great selection of beers. The historic building adds to the charm, and card games and board games make this the perfect place to spend an evening with friends.

Lero Lero

While this little cafe has a pretty ordinary menu, the location of Lero Lero is what makes it special. It carves out a corner of the convent attached to Iglesia San Agustin and offers a glimpse inside the convent normally closed to visitors through a glass archway. Come here for breakfast and coffee, their standout options, and enjoy this historic little spot before exploring Old Town Quito.