15 Things to do in Quito


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It’s easy to see why San Francisco del Quito is a World Heritage gem and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Commonly known as Quito, the city tends to be overshadowed by other dazzling South American places such as the Amazon River, Machu Picchu, Iguazu Falls and the Galapagos Islands. Yet, there are enough things to do in Quito to pique the interest of most travellers. 

Most people go to Ecuador because it’s one of the best countries to visit in South America for wildlife. So, if you’re off to see the Galapagos Islands animals, it’s definitely worth stopping in Quito for a few days. The city’s appeal is its well-preserved historic centre, which has an exceptional collection of colonial churches, chapels, convents, monasteries and plazas.


15 Things to do in Quito 

1- Admire the view from Al Parque Itchimbia

Quito in Ecuador

Our first stop was Al Parque Itchimbia, where we climbed steps to a hilltop view of the city.

The gentle hill left me feeling breathless and light headed as I admired the world’s highest capital city from afar.

2850m above sea level, Quito fills the valley floor and is 60km from end to end, with a picture-postcard backdrop of the 4784m Pichincha volcano.

Unfortunately, the volcano stayed cloaked in cloud during our visit.

2- Soak up Quito’s history at Plaza Grande

quito attractions
Plaza Grande is one of the top Quito attractions.

At Plaza Grande (Independence Square), our guide delivered a potted history of Ecuador while we gazed at the bronze and marble sculpture commemorating Ecuador’s independence from the Spanish in 1822.

The square is surrounded by historic buildings such as the presidential palace (its colonial patio is open to the public), Metropolitan Cathedral and  Archbishop’s Palace (which houses an information centre, shops, cafes and restaurants).

The hero of South America’s liberation movement General Antonio Jose de Sucre is buried in the cathedral).  

3- Go on a walking tour of the Old City

things to do in quito
One of the best things to do in Quito is to wander around the old town.

A walking tour of Quito’s Old City, which is the largest historic centre in Latin America, revealed Spanish and Moorish architecture built around ruins left by the Incas.

The city’s churches are decorated in a distinctive style that is a fusion of Spanish, Italian, Moorish, Flemish and indigenous art known as the “Baroque school of Quito”.

I was struck by the contrast between the opulent interiors of La Compania church – which took the Jesuits 16 years to build and is adorned with gold leaf on its ceiling and walls – and the streets around it.

Around the streets, there were men selling coca tea and lollies; mothers walking the sidewalks with babies slung in crochet backpacks; women with long plaits peddling lottery tickets on street corners, and cloth shops advertising cheap tailored pants for $5.

4- Tour Catedral Metropolitana de Quito

things to do in quito baroque
One of the top things to do in Quito is to visit the Quito Cathedral.

What makes the Cathedral of Quito so unique is that its grandeur is an unexpected treasure in this small city and one of the famous landmarks in Ecuador

It was built in 1535 during Spain’s conquest of Quito and has an impressive baroque altarpiece and houses a priceless painting of the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin María by Manuel de Samaniego.

There’s also a museum, decorated halls, a library and a treasury. 

5- Explore La Ronda

La Ronda Quito
Discover La Ronda as it’s one of the places to visit in Quito for cafes, galleries and bars.

We walked to La Ronda, a traditional street with flags, flower boxes and a view of the Virgin Mary monument atop Panecillo hill.

This street is packed with historic buildings that house bars, restaurants, cafes and galleries.

It can be a bit quiet during the day bu La Ronda is the place to be in Quito at night.

For more things to see in South America try these places:

6- See local crafts at Esquela Taller Quito 

things to do in quito
Watching local craftspeople and students at work is one of the attractions in Quito.

Visit Esquela Taller Quito and you’ll be amazed at how the historic district is being restored with the help of students.

These students are learning traditional crafts like sewing, tailoring, embroidery, woodworking, metalwork and gold-leaf techniques.

7- Explore Mital del Mundo

mital del mundo
Exploring Mital del Mundo is one of the top things to do in Quito.

Ecuador is one of 12 countries that straddles the Equator and there are a couple of tourist attractions constructed around this quirky detail.

In the 18th century, an expedition from the French Academy of Sciences marked the equator 24km north of Quito at a spot called Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World).

Even though the French got it wrong (it’s close but not the real equator), Mitad del Mundo receives plenty of tourists who come to be photographed in front of the 30m stone trapezoidal monument topped by a brass globe.

8- Walk the Equator at Museo de Sitio Intinan

Quito things to do
The Equator is one of the top Quito attractions for tourists.

Not far away, Museo de Sitio Intinan also claims to straddle the Equator.

Walking the line that divides the northern and southern hemispheres is one of the fun things to do.

Here, guides entertained us with carnival-like demonstrations, such as water draining counter-clockwise north of the equator and clockwise across the line south of the Equator.

9- Ride the Teleferiqo

Quito’s cable car ascends to 4100 m (12,000 feet ) and is one of the best spots for a stunning view of the city.

Teleferiqo is one of the world’s highest aerial lifts and a 2.5km ride to the top of Cruz Loma.

From there, the hike to the Rucu Pichincha (4680m) summit is 4km and takes around five hours. 

On a clear day, the panorama of Cotopaxi and surrounding volcanoes is amazing to see. 

10- Visit Basílica del Voto Nacional

The basilica is a reminder of Ecuador’s Spanish Catholic roots and built with government funding as well as donations from followers who were keen to have their names engraved on stones.

It’s a beautiful basilica that sits on a hill regally above the Old Town. 

11- Go on a Trolley Tour

One of the best ways to delve below the surface of any place is to let a local show you around and it Quito, there are plenty of locally-led tours. 

A novel way to explore (while saving your back and feet from aching) is to choose a trolley tour that will take to you to all the famous sights.

This is especially helpful as Quito is hilly and located at an altitude that is high enough for most people to notice when exercising. 

What to do near Quito

While exploring historical heritage is the highlight of all the things to do in Quito, venture away from the city and nature is the star.

From volcanoes to rainforests, there are natural areas that are relatively untouched.

12- Antisana Volcano day trip

things to do near quito
A day tour to the Antisana Volcano is one of the things to do near Quito on a day trip.

Quito is located near the Avenue of the Volcanoes, a road through two rows of snow-capped peaks. Nine of them are over 5000m.

The 5700m Antisana volcano is Ecuador’s fourth highest.

On a fine day, visiting the volcano would have been the pick of excursions but grey clouds hung in the sky as our bus crawled out of the city.

In the 120ha ecological reserve, the road wound through the lush hilly countryside with pretty green valleys and steep-sided slopes while knowledgeable guide, Roberto, educated us on Ecuador’s volcanoes and the ecosystems around them.

We reached a stark treeless páramo (or plateau) at the foot of the glacier-covered peak.

It was cold, overcast and drizzling as we hiked along the flat road in a landscape reminiscent of the Scottish countryside on a grey autumn day.

The volcano hid behind cloud the entire time.

We searched for condors, black-faced ibis, carunculated caracaras and Andean gulls, which we saw flying in the distance.

Roberto stopped often to point out lichens, wildflowers, pillow moss and grasses that thrive on the windswept páramo.

Because of the strong winds, nothing taller than grass and low-lying succulents are found in the open.

Plants in this type of habitat are pollinated by beetles or by birds, as the winds are too strong for flying insects.

Later, a couple of chagras (Ecuadorian cowboys), stole the show when they galloped down a steep slope in pursuit of wild horses.

13- Cloud Forest Day tour

The Cloud Forest is a rainforest reserve 80km northwest of Quito known for birds, orchids and rare flora.

14- Otavalo Indian market

The Otavalo India market, in the northern highlands, is famous for textiles, exotic fruit and herbal remedies.

15- Explore Colonial Architecture at Cuenca

If you love Quito, you’ll also like Ecuador’s third-largest city, Cuenca, which is about 470km from Quito.

A historic Spanish city founded in the 16th century, Cuenca has both Spanish and Inca architecture.

Spanish colonial architectural gems include La Concepción convent, El Carmen de la Asunción church and two cathedrals.

Cuenca is the place to stock up on Panama hats, which is a souvenir you must take home. The city is also a shopping haven for textiles, lace and leather.

You can get to Cuenca by taking an organised tour or, if you’re up for an adventure, catch a local bus (see local timetables here). 

Also read:

For more landmarks in the Americas see:

Where to eat in Quito

La Belle Epoque

Dinner at La Belle Époque was a highlight, mostly for its glittering views of the historic centre lit up at night and masked opera singers who entertained us as we dined.

Octava de Corpus

For me, the day’s highlight was lunching at Octava de Corpus, an atmospheric restaurant hidden in a colonial terrace in the historic centre.

The walls were chock-a-block with Ecuadorian and South American art and it had an enormous wine cellar, with more than 230 bottles of wine from around the world.

Swissotel Quito

Swissotel Quito was our comfortable base for three nights, with entry-level rooms (they comfortable but could do with refurbishing). The hotel’s recently opened La Locanda restaurant offered an inventive menu of Peruvian Mediterranean fusion cuisine. 

On a budget? Check out this backpacking guide to Ecuador.

10 Things to do in Quito

10 Things to do in Quito

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I'm a writer, photographer and video blogger based in Queensland, Australia, when I'm not on the road. I've lived in three continents and my career as a travel journalist has taken me to all seven continents. Since 2003, I have contributed travel stories to mainstream media in Australia and around the world such as the Sydney Morning Herald, CNN Traveller, The Australian and the South China Morning Post. I have won many travel writing awards and I'm a full member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers.


  1. We had a very similar experience but with a rival travel company. We loved Quito. It was cheap and a nice break before heading to the Galapagos Islands. Be warned though. Its weather patterns can make it difficult to fly in and out on time, and in fact caused us a delay in our connecting flights, which did create a slight problem if you have a tight schedule.

  2. Quite a few people I know have fallen in love with Quito and are even considering relocating there.
    It seems to offer sights that are quite similar to what you find in Costa Rica-volcanoes, cloud forests, etc etc

    I still have yet to make it this part of the world. Peru, Ecuador and Chile have been on my life for decades. one day!

    I do also like the idea of hitting it on the way to the Galapagos islands-seems like a good itinerary

    • It’s interesting to hear that you know people who are thinking of relocating to Quito! It’s a great base in South America, with plenty of things to do within close proximity.

  3. Oh, wow, would love to see this! Quito really seems like the place to spend some time in. I know I’d like the Plaza Grande and the Old Town stroll. Such vivid colored buildings! Don’t you just love the mixture of Spanish and Moorish architecture.
    La Ronda would definitely be the next stop. Thanks for the suggestion, would have to save this for later! 🙂

  4. I enjoyed the video and walking through Quito again, I agree with you, it is definitely charming. I didn’t know it is the most preserved old towns in Latin America, but I can see why. I would have liked to have seen those Esquela taller workshops, and also the Antisana Volcano trip. I agree, shipping at the Otovalo market is definitely a great thing to do!

  5. Quito looks like the perfect little town I’d like to explore. The architecture in Plaza Grande looks amazing and enjoying a walk though the Old Town is such a great idea! Also, the hilltop view of the city from Al Parque Itchimbia looks like it’d be really amazing. I’d love to see it!

  6. I enjoyed the video and that headline photo is awesome. But I can see why Iguazu Falls, Macchu Pichu, and the Galapagos would have more of a draw. But it probably would be so much fun to live in Quito and not only because of the great climate but for the well-preserved World Heritage Site.

    • Thanks Carol. Quito’s World Heritage treasures are amazing to see and there are a surprising number of things to do in Quito for such a small place.

  7. Your video does a great job of bringing the charm of Quito to life. The Spanish influence is impressive. It’s a shame Quito falls in the shadow of some of South America’s sites – Machu Picchu, Iguazu falls and more. Have heard wonderful things about Quito and this articl definitively confirms it. Hope I get a chance to visit soon. Great article.

  8. I’ve always wanted to visit Quito, but this gave me so much more to add to the list. I had no idea that the Equator cut through there. I knew it did in Ecuador, I just didn’t realize it cut through here! I would definitely want to do a Cloud Forest day tour. That sounds so dreamy!

  9. Definitely a city I’ve been wanting to get to. Well the country as well! It looks similar to Costa Rica in the option of cloud forests and volcanoes, etc. But the local dress and culture look really unique.


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