Ecuador might be a bit overshadowed by its larger neighbors of Colombia and Peru – and best known for the Galapagos! – but mainland Ecuador and Quito have so much to offer visitors. Here you’ll find South America’s largest and best-preserved colonial heart, and visiting is just one of many things to do in Quito.
Not only does Quito have an incredible historical center, but attractions in Quito range from incredible views, delicious food, cable cars, incredible day trips, and so much more!
After living in Quito for two years, we have truly done it all. So we wanted to create this mega guide (seriously, we’re including everything there is to do here!) to the best things to do in Quito Ecuador. All in hopes you’ll fall in love with it as we did.
Keep reading for all the best in this ultimate guide to the best things to do in Quito Ecuador. We’ve included all things to do in Quito that you just can’t miss, as well as our off the beaten path Quito things to do, and popular day trips from Quito.
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Things to Do in Quito
Explore Quito’s Historic Center
Easily one of the best things to do in Quito Ecuador is visiting the city’s beautiful historic center. Quito has the largest and most well-preserved historic center in Latin America.
You’ll want to spend a few hours exploring this neighborhood and all it has to offer – many of the top things to do in Quito you’ll find here. Check out more in our ultimate guide to Old Town Quito.
Beyond just walking through these historic streets, you’ll want to see important sites like the beautiful churches, lively plazas, and important destinations the area is known for. Keep reading for some of our favorites.
Iglesia de La Compañía de Jesús
This church is a must-visit! Unlike any other church I’ve seen throughout all my traveling in Latin America, the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús seems to be completely bathed in gold. It will truly take your breath away – this is one of those things to see in Quito you just can’t miss.
Every surface of the inside of this church is covered with frescos, gold-leaf carvings, and more.
Tickets cost $5.50 per person, and while visiting most other churches in Quito is free, this is absolutely worth the ticket price!
Iglesia de San Francisco
Another one of the Old Town’s most beautiful churches, Iglesia de San Francisco has a dramatic and beautiful façade in one of the city’s largest plazas.
You can visit the inside for free, or take a tour including a visit to the convent and courtyards, as well as the balcony for a small ticket price.
Make sure not to miss the fresco on the wall near the entrance on the right side of the church – you’ll see a gruesome yet fascinating portrayal of the supposed punishments for different types of sinners.
Presidential Palace – Carondelet Palace
A visit to the presidential palace – the most impressive building in the city’s Plaza Grande, is a fantastic look into Quito’s history past and present. You’ll see the formal salons and meeting rooms used for entertaining dignitaries and heads of state, as well as lavish gifts from famous past visitors.
You can take a free walking tour of the palace, offered every hour throughout the week (except when the Palace is closed on Mondays). You’ll just need to sign up in advance at a ticket booth to the left of the building, between the palace and the Centro Cultural Metropolitano.
If you’re waiting for your tour to start, check out the Centro Cultural Metropolitano to see any ongoing exhibits – admission is free. This is one of those things to see in Quito you might mistakenly overlook otherwise. Head up the main staircase to the rooftop for a stunning view of historic Quito, too!
Make sure you have a photo ID on you for the tour, as you’ll need to pass through security and get a badge for your tour.
This historic street near the Panecillo is a great way to experience some of Old Town Quito’s charm. Here you’ll find small artisan shops, restaurants selling traditional foods, and more.
Come in the evening and try an empanada de viento and canelazo – this combination of sweet, flaky empanada with warm spiked fruit beverage will warm you up on Quito’s cold nights.
Make sure to visit the Dulce Placer ice cream shop and try their unique flavors of ice cream– they have everything from peanut and chile to tropical fruits and more traditional flavors.
El Panecillo – Spanish for “the little bread roll” – is a large, rounded hill in the center of Quito that offers a great view over the city. It’s visible throughout the city thanks to the “Virgen de Quito” Virgin Mary statue that looks out over the city. At the top, you’ll find some vendors selling handicrafts, as well as snacks and drinks.
While many consider a visit to the Panecillo as one of the top things to do in Quito, I honestly don’t think it’s that necessary of a stop. The main draw for visiting is the view over the city, and the view you’ll see from the Basilica is much, much more beautiful.
A nice excursion, but I recommend passing on this one and heading to the Basilica instead!
Basilica del Voto Nacional
Other than exploring the historic center of Quito, a visit to the Basilica is one of the best things to do in Quito. Not only is this a beautiful building worth visiting itself, but it also provides some of the best panoramic views of the city.
The Basilica del Voto Nacional is located on the edge of Quito’s Old Town on a hill – you can either get here by walking uphill through the streets from the Old Town, or by taxi.
Visitors can choose to either visit the interior of the church (accessible from the side), the clock towers and spire (accessible from the front), or a combined ticket to access both. I’d highly recommend just visiting the clock tower and spire, as you’ll get a fantastic view of the church interior with this ticket as well.
Views from the clock towers are unmissable, but make sure you head to the spire for the best views.
To access the spire in the back of the church you’ll need to navigate some very steep steps and a steel ladder that you’ll probably want to avoid if you’re afraid of heights. However, the view of the city with the church’s clock towers is truly one of the most beautiful you’ll ever see, so put your fear of heights aside if you can.
A visit to the Basilica in Quito truly tops my list of the best things to do in Quito Ecuador – don’t miss it!
Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal
If you’re looking for handicrafts or souvenirs of any kind in Quito, this is absolutely the place to find them. This city block is composed of several rows of stalls selling every artisan handicraft imaginable, including sweaters and ponchos, jewelry, hammocks, and so much more.
Come prepared to bargain, and look for about a 30% discount off the initial asking price for most items!
If you don’t have the opportunity to head to the Otavalo market just two hours north of Quito – absolutely worth the journey! – this is where to buy your souvenirs! If your Ecuador itinerary does include a trip to Otavalo, you might be able to skip this market, or at least hold off on purchasing souvenirs until you get to Otavalo. Prices tend to be better there!
Check out our ultimate guide to Otavalo and the famous Otavalo Market to learn more about this favorite day trip or weekend trip outside of Quito.
Head a few blocks south after your visit to Parque El Ejido for people-watching, street food (try cevichocos, fresh fruit cups, or grilled corn with queso fresco), and to see art on display around the edge of the park.
Visiting Quito’s TelefériQo cable car is an absolute MUST when visiting Quito. This cable car whisks you up to the (almost) top of the Rucu Pichincha volcano.
The view over the city is truly breathtaking, and there are 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains as well.
Try to plan your visit for a sunny morning for the best chance of getting a great view. On the very clearest and sunniest of days, you can see up to five snow-capped volcanos all around the city from the top. Plus, lines tend to form later in the day, so coming early is the easiest way to make sure you don’t have to wait.
Be aware that the elevation is HIGH here – you will likely feel winded and out of breath just walking around on the even surface at the top. Even if Quito is sunny and warm, come prepared with a sweater or jacket, as it will likely be quite windy and cold so high up.
You can take a taxi to the bottom of the cable car, and taxis will wait to take people back into the city afterward as well. Make sure you bring a photo ID (it doesn’t need to be a passport) to get your ticket.
Since the TelefériQo is located towards the north of the city, try to plan to visit and head to the Mitad del Mundo (the equator line!) right afterwards, since they are relatively close.
Mitad del Mundo – The Equator
The Mitad del Mundo – “Center of the Earth” and location of the Equator – is just a few miles north of Quito and a great excursion well worth a visit.
You can visit the equator in two ways – visiting the monument to the Equator, or visiting the Inti Ñan Solar Museum just a few minutes walk away.
Booking a group tour of Mitad del Mundo (super affordable!) or even a tour of the Historic Center and Mitad del Mundo is one of the best ways to visit Mitad del Mundo. Slightly outside the city of Quito, public transportation takes a long time to get you here, and taxis can get more expensive, so a group tour here is definitely worth it.
You’ll save time (and probably money on transportation, too!) and learn a lot more about these fascinating sites. If you book one excursion during your time in Quito, this one should be it!
The true equator line can be found within the Inti Ñan Museum; the monument to the Equator was built on a site calculated in the 1700s before GPS correctly calculated the true equatorial line.
Both are worth a visit – the monument is impressive and a great photo opportunity, but if you just have time to visit just one, visit the Inti Ñan Museum. This is one of those things to do in Quito that I think gets overlooked, especially with the monument to the Equator nearby.
At the Inti Ñan Museum, you can try fun experiments that only work on the Equator, like balancing an egg on a nail, seeing water run through a sink in different directions north and south of the Equator and more.
Guayasamin House & Museum
Ecuador’s most famous painter – Oswaldo Guayasamin – left behind an incredible home and museum in care of the city of Quito, and today these make up one of the top attractions in Quito for art and history lovers.
A visit includes a tour of his home with a guide, as well as visiting the Capilla del Hombre (Chapel of Man) next door where his greatest large-scale works are on display. If you’re making the visit, you’ll definitely want to see both.
Plus, his home boasts easily some of the best views over the city. After your visit, head about half a block down the hill to get coffee and a pastry at Omama Coffee Shop – it’s the perfect way to finish out an afternoon.
Quito has many lovely parks, but Parque Itchimbia is a hidden gem among others like Parque Carolina or Parque El Ejido. It may not make it on to some lists of the top things to do in Quito, but I’m out to change that!
By far my favorite park in Quito, Parque Itchimbia covers the top of a hill near Quito’s historic center and has a ton of space to explore. It has plenty of running and cycling trails that stroll up and down the hill facing Quito and the opposite valley as well.
Off the Beaten Path Quito
After living here for two years we learned a lot about some of the best ways to spend the day in Quito and see the sights while staying off the typical tourist path.
Of course, make sure you get to the top things to do in Quito but these next ones are some of the things that might slide under your radar… but are well worth it!
These are some of our favorite things to do and see in Quito off the beaten path. Jump ahead in this article and learn more about each one:
- Discover Quito’s Markets
- Quito’s Best (Unexpected) Views
- Discover Craft Breweries
- Quito Festivals And Events
- Try Ecuadorian Coffee
Eat in Quito’s Markets
Ecuadorian food might not be as well-known as the food from some of its South American neighbors like Peru, but it is incredibly delicious and varied, with so much to try. Quito has several large, covered markets that sell fresh food and prepared foods, and are the perfect, budget-friendly places to sample Ecuadorian food.
A visit to any market is something you can do on your own or as a group, but a popular way to visit is taking a street food tour of Quito to learn more about the best things to eat here.
Mercado Central is located near the historic center of the city near everything you’ll want to see and do. More than just a market it’s a site to see in itself. The ground floor has plenty of food stalls perfect for trying prepared foods like whole roasted pigs (hornado), locros, and much more.
Exploring the upper levels, try some of the exotic fruits from the fresh food stalls and find some of Ecuador’s famous flowers. It might seem simple, but exploring Mercado Central and other markets is one of the best things to do in Quito Ecuador and an unforgettable experience.
Mercado Santa Clara
Mercado Santa Clara is my favorite of Quito’s markets, with everything you could be looking for and more, but a bit smaller and more relaxed than Mercado Central. At the entrance you’ll find the vendors with some of the most colorful and artfully displayed fruit you’ll ever see.
The prepared food stalls at the front of the market have numerous options, and there are several stands selling juices further inside to go along with your meal. Try passion fruit juice (maracuyá) if you haven’t yet!
Sangolquí is a town just outside of Quito, easily accessible by public buses from the city in less than 45 minutes. The Sunday morning food market is massive and lively, as it flows outside of the indoor space and into the surrounding streets. This is a lovely escape from bustling Quito, and can easily accompany a visit to the waterfall hikes to Molinuco or Condor Machay close to Sangolquí.
Check out our Guide to Sangolqui and the Valle de los Chillos for more about the beautiful destinations in the valley outside of Quito.
Discover the Best Views in Quito
Wedged between mountains and volcanos, Quito is an incredibly photogenic city, with incredible views around nearly every corner. Some of the most popular attractions for visitors in the city boast some of these views, including the unmissable views from the Basilica del Voto Nacional.
Don’t miss the TelefériQo cable car that extends up the side of Pichincha volcano – it offers its own, unmatched view of the city and the surrounding valleys. On a day with good weather, you can see multiple snow-capped volcanos.
Another adventurous excursion off the beaten path, the top of the TeleferiQo marks the start of the climb to the top of the Rucu Pichincha peak of this volcano.
This excursion is best in a group once you’ve acclimated at least a few days to Quito’s elevation, but makes for an even better view than the top of the TeleferiQo.
In addition to these classic favorite viewpoints, some of the best views of the city are from some lesser-known spots, perfect for a visit:
Secret Garden Hostel
Secret Garden Hostel is more than just a hostel – it has one of the city’s loveliest views from its rooftop bar, well worth a visit for a drink even if you’re not staying here. Located near the historic center of the city, you’ll have the perfect vantage point over the city’s most beautiful neighborhood. Come prepared to hike up a few flights of stairs to reach the terrace!
Secret Garden Hostel is also my top recommendation for a fantastic place to stay in Quito on a budget – I highly recommend checking it out. There’s nothing like starting the morning eating breakfast on the rooftop or relaxing here after a long day of exploring the city. Rooms are comfortable and dorm beds are relatively inexpensive.
Vista Hermosa Restaurant
Vista Hermosa is very close to the entrance of Parque Itchimbia, and it’s the perfect way to end a day at the park in style. This restaurant practically hangs over the edge of the hill, with the most incredible views of the illuminated city and the Panecillo as the sun sets over the mountains.
It’s definitely the best spot in the city for an evening view. It’s a bit pricier than most standard restaurants in Quito, but the food is great and it’s definitely an experience. Call ahead for a reservation on the terrace to enjoy the view – it’s the most requested area of the restaurant to enjoy, for obvious reasons.
Discover Quito’s Craft Breweries
It’s no longer a secret in Quito that the craft brewery scene is growing rapidly. In fact, craft beer making and breweries have become so popular that they’ve begun to take hold in smaller cities in Ecuador as a result.
Despite their popularity, these spots are still far too infrequently visited in Quito, and well worth a visit during your next trip.
By far my favorite brewery in Quito, Bandido Brewing is a small and friendly spot founded several years ago by expats from the United States. Located near the historic center, Bandido’s has several types of beer on rotation at all times and has great deals on flights.
Bandidos also has delicious pizza and other small plates to accompany your beers, and will entice you to stay with board games like Cards Against Humanity. They occasionally have live music as well!
Sirka Arts & Beer
Located close to Bandido in the historic center, Sirka Arts & Beer is a great second spot for your own self-guided brewery tour for the night. Sirka also has food options and has regular live music events as well.
Located in a lovely converted colonial building with a cozy patio space outside, this is a great place for a relaxed evening with friends.
Festivals and Events in Quito
Casa de La Cultura Events
Visiting Casa de la Cultura is one of the best things to do in Quito for its fascinating permanent exhibits that show off Ecuador’s archeological and colonial history. Plus, there is much more to see and do here that most visitors don’t include on their itineraries.
Casa de la Cultura hosts regular events that include workshops, music and dance performances, and movie festivals that are usually low cost or free to visitors, and are well worth looking into (check out the events listings for more details).
When we lived in Quito, we loved taking advantage of movie festivals to see brand new Latin American movies, and even were able to meet some of the directors in person.
While they sometimes host English-language movies with subtitles, most movies are in Spanish. However, dance performances and concerts by Ecuadorian and Latin American groups don’t need to be translated to be enjoyed!
Carnival is an important holiday around the world, but it is celebrated in many special and unique ways in Ecuador – check out our complete guide to celebrating Carnival in Ecuador for more details!
It’s a fantastic time to visit Ecuador and enjoy tons of cultural activities and events for free. The dates of Carnival usually fall in mid to late February – Carnival Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday – but it is usually celebrated for about a week leading up to the day of!
Quito has several parades in the historic center on the weekend before Carnival, which are well worth a visit for the chance to traditional Ecuadorian dances, dress, and concerts.
Head just outside of Quito to Amaguaña for traditional Carnival “games” like throwing water, foam, and colored powder during parades and performances. It’s a dirty game, but fantastic fun and a great way to get involved.
Fiestas de Quito
If your travel coincides with the Fiestas de Quito you’re in for an incredible celebration and tons of cultural events to enjoy. The annual Fiestas de Quito celebrate the foundation of the city of Quito, and are celebrated the first week in December each year.
The city celebrates its history by hosting bullfighting events, parades, and cultural events around the city. A popular way to celebrate includes getting on one of the city’s party buses – called chivas – which have live music and dancing as they travel through the city.
Making the most of these cultural events is one of the best ways to enjoy the city – if you’re looking for what to do in Quito Ecuador to make your trip unforgettable, try to add at least one event to your itinerary.
Try Ecuadorian Coffee
Ecuador is a major global producer of coffee, and though often overshadowed by its northern neighbor of Colombia, it has some of the best ecosystems on the planet for coffee production. Quito’s burgeoning cafe scene has increased ten times in the past several years, and more places than ever are showing off Ecuadorian coffee.
Visiting some of the city’s best cafes is one of my favorite pastimes, and there are more to discover every day. Here are the best of the best to enjoy Ecuadorian coffee.
Cafe Travesia is faithful to only using Ecuadorian coffee roasted and prepared in house, and highlighting its incredible diversity of flavors. It’s very modern yet still inviting, and if you’re looking for a place to get some work done you’ll find people set up with their laptops here. Come back in the evening for local craft beer options, too.
This is a great first stop for exploring the upscale, modern Gonzalez Suarez neighborhood and the picturesque and quaint Guápulo neighborhood. Just a block and a half away is the Mirador de Guápulo, which has an incredible view over the neighborhood.
Botanica is one of my favorite little cafes in Quito – this lovely spot has tons of delicious pastry and coffee options, as well as small plates of more substantial food. They put a real emphasis on their coffee here, and showcase it well with a variety of preparation methods. Baristas are very well informed and happy to share.
Located in the neighborhood of La Floresta, Botanica is the perfect place to start or end a day of exploring all this neighborhood has to offer.
Often overlooked by its more touristed neighbor, La Mariscal, the La Floresta neighborhood could easily make its own appearance on this list itself for the countless things to discover here, like cozy cafes, street art, galleries, and more.
Here are some of the things to discover here:
Best Day Trips from Quito
Too many visitors to Quito only visit the Mitad del Mundo as a day trip from Quito before heading on to their next destination in Ecuador.
However, Quito has so much more to offer just outside the city that moving on too quickly is a shame! These easy-to-visit, beautiful, and natural destinations are worth adding to your Quito itinerary before you head to your next destination.
Cotopaxi Volcano is an unforgettable destination, and one of the most beautiful destinations Ecuador has to offer. Planning a visit to Cotopaxi as a day trip from Quito is a fantastic way to add it to a quick itinerary.
Booking a tour with these components included is the only way to easily get to and from Cotopaxi and navigate the national park in just one day.
If you’re looking to spend a bit more time enjoying Cotopaxi, by far the best way to visit is by booking a stay at The Secret Garden Cotopaxi. This retreat-like hotel (also with hostel rooms!) is situated in the heart of Cotopaxi National Park and offers visits to the volcano’s refuge and glacier line, fun excursions like horseback riding and biking down the side of the volcano, and hikes at other nearby volcanoes.
There is easy and affordable transport from The Secret Garden Quito hostel in Quito’s historic center. The Secret Garden Cotopaxi is my favorite hotel I’ve EVER stayed in – add this to your itinerary if you have a chance!
You can also book a day trip to Cotopaxi and Quilotoa for a whirlwind day at some of Ecuador’s most beautiful natural sites.
Truly a sight to behold, this volcanic crater and crater lake will take your breath away. Even after traveling to Quilotoa several times I was in awe of its beauty over and over again.
Since Quilotoa is between 3-4 hours away from Quito and requires at least two buses to get there, the best way to visit as a day trip from Quito is by booking an excursion with private transportation. You’ll get to travel comfortably and have plenty of time to hike around in Quilotoa while there.
Plus, you can even book a day trip to Quilotoa and Cotopaxi for double the incredible scenery.
Looking for even more information about Quilotoa? Check out our ultimate guide to Quilotoa and the famous Quilotoa Loop Trek for more.
Located in the cloud forest of Ecuador, Mindo is a beautiful, warm escape from Quito, just about 2 hours north of the city. Here you can enjoy the subtropical forest in what feels like a tiny and remote escape from the city.
In Mindo, you’ll get the chance to try adventure sports like ziplining and repelling down waterfalls, tubing, birdwatching, and much more. It’s one of my personal favorite day trips from Quito!
You can catch a bus in the morning from La Ofelia bus station in the north of Quito, but for a day trip, I recommend booking private transport or a day-trip excursion to Mindo. You’ll save time navigating public transport and have a much more relaxing day in this beautiful spot!
Check out our guides to Mindo for more:
A favorite destination and a must-visit while in Ecuador, Otavalo is a small town in the north of Ecuador best known for its market. Otavalo has the largest market in all of South America and easily tops the list of best markets in Latin America as a whole.
Market day is Saturday, so try to plan a visit on Saturday morning if you can! On Saturdays, you’ll find what seems like the whole town filled with market stalls. However, if your itinerary won’t allow it, the market is open in a smaller capacity throughout the week.
You can catch a bus to Otavalo at the Carcelén bus station in the north of Quito, as buses leave for Otavalo frequently on the two-hour route. Or if you’re on a tighter itinerary (or want to skip the bus!) there are very affordable day trips to Otavalo and its beautiful market.
Check out our ultimate guide to the Otavalo Market for even more about what to do and see while in Otavalo.
Just past Mitad del Mundo heading north of Quito, Pululahua is a long-extinct volcanic crater, now a beautiful, lust valley surrounded by the soaring sides of the volcano. This is a great excursion and a beautiful place to enjoy nature near Quito, with places to hike in the crater and plenty of viewpoints from above.
Many take an excursion to Pululahua as an add-on to a visit to the Equator which is the easiest way to visit, though visiting the park for a longer hike and visit is great if you have time – horseback riding through Pululahua is a popular activity!
Pasochoa is a soaring extinct volcano located just outside of Quito in the Valle de los Chillos, and a very popular destination for climbing outside of Quito. If you’re interested in doing some incredible hiking in Ecuador, but don’t feel ready to take on Cotopaxi, I recommend giving Pasochoa a try.
One of the easiest ways to visit Pasochoa is by staying overnight at the Secret Garden in Cotopaxi, a beautiful, remote lodge in Cotopaxi National Park. The staff organizes regular tours from the hotel each day for a small fee.
They have a few dorm-style rooms, though most are private, making it affordable for budget travelers, too.
Even if you aren’t going to hike Cotopaxi, staying at the Secret Garden Cotopaxi is a MUST when you’re in Ecuador. This is one of my favorite places I’ve EVER stayed while traveling – they serve delicious food, and have an out-of-this-world view of the snow-capped Cotopaxi and several other nearby volcanos.
Valle de Los Chillos
Located just outside of Quito, the Valle de Los Chillos has plenty to explore and see. This is where the Sangolquí market every Sunday morning is located, and it’s a great thing to see along with some of the Valley’s other sites.
Popular Activities in the Valley include:
Hiking to Molinuco, a natural area with several waterfalls to hike and explore;
Hiking to Condor Machay, a dramatic waterfall after an easy 45-minute hike;
Hiking Ilaló, another extinct volcano close to Quito with a dramatic view over two valleys.
Check out our Ultimate Guide to Sangolqui and Valle de los Chillos for much more! We lived here for two years, so we know this area like the back of our hand.