Set high in the rolling foothills of the Andes Mountains, Quito is a sprawling metropolis filled with cultural and historical treasures. Founded by 16th-century Spanish conquistadors on the site of an ancient Incan city, the capital of Ecuador boasts the biggest and best-preserved historic center in the Americas.
Featuring an artful blend of European and indigenous architectural styles, dozens of churches, museums and colonial mansions line cobblestone streets. There are plenty of modern tourist attractions in Quito too, including night clubs, trendy restaurants and boutique shops. Quito’s many parks and plazas provide picturesque settings where you can relax while planning your next excursion.
Prepare yourself for plenty of interesting things to do in Quito and breathtaking scenery in this beautiful city that continues to attract visitors from across the globe.
In this post, we'll cover:
17. Museo de la Ciudad
The Museo de la Ciudad is located in the oldest building in Quito, the former San Juan de Dios Hospital, near the Centro Historico. The city museum houses an exhibit of impressive collections from the pre-Columbian era to the present day from the local area.
The building that houses the museum was constructed in 1565. Its historical architecture is the first sight visitors see. It’s welcome step for tours of the grand collection within the museum. Intriguing pieces detail cuisine, traditions, legends, and more through the exhibitions to illuminate the workings of the days of the past in Quito.
For visitors to Quito, the Museo de la Ciudad is the perfect opportunity to learn the city’s story through impactful exhibits.
16. Intinan Museum
Next to the Mitad del Mundo Monument, the Intinan Museum is advertised as the exact location of the equator. Visitors to the museum will see a painted red bisected line that marks what the establishment promotes as the “unofficial-official” site of the middle of the world.
The museum’s exhibits are concentrated on Ecuador’s native tribes, including the Waoranis, the Incas, and the Shuar. Visitors to the museum can learn how the Incas determined the center of the Earth.
The interactive exhibits allow guests to experiment with the laws of physics, like balancing an egg on a nail head, and to learn about the local traditional dance and music. At the Intinan Museum, visitors can witness a Coriolis Effect demonstration, tour the Totemic Forest of carved totem poles, and observe a tzantza, a head-shrinking ritual!
15. La Floresta
The trendiest neighborhood in Quito, La Floresta, has continued to gain popularity over the past twenty years for its beguiling charm. The name for the area was pinned from the eye-catching wildflowers and trees that naturally grew in large amounts to decorate the neighborhood.
Neoclassical-style mansions were built in the area in the 20th century by wealthy families and landowners. Over time, writers and artists flocked to the area, resulting in art galleries, newer era-style homes, and mural-painted buildings. This boosted La Floresta’s popularity, gaining attention worldwide.
There is so much to see and experience within the grounds of La Floresta. Hip cafes, upscale art galleries, alluring bakeries, vintage theaters like the Ocho y Medio Theater, and unique shops line the streets welcoming locals and tourists. For excitement and thrill, the dance club, local bars, and jazz clubs make for a step into the vibrant entertainment only found in La Floresta!
14. Quito Zoo
Close to the town of Guayllabamba, the Quito Zoo emphasizes Ecuadorian species with unique non-native species for a fun addition to the attraction. Some species from Ecuador found at the zoo include the Galapagos turtles and the Andean spectacled bear.
The Quito Zoo is a refuge for animals donated or rescued from dangerous living conditions. There is a primary focus on endangered species by the zoo for dedicated conservation efforts to protect local species.
Touring the zoo, visitors can see local and endangered species up close and personal. The interactive exhibits provide educational content to learn more about the dedicated research, conservation, and biodiversity of the species protected within the Quito Zoo.
13. Museo Casa del Alabado
Settled in a 17th-century Spanish-colonial house, the Museo Casa del Alabado is conveniently near the historic San Francisco Plaza. The museum houses ancient artifacts that date back to the estimated time of the development of the wheel in Mesopotamia.
Rather than focusing each collection on an era or culture, the Museo Casa del Alabado does something utterly intriguing. Each artifact is placed next to another based on commonalities within separate civilizations. These are displayed side by side for comparison so visitors can witness the profoundness of culture, tradition, and history throughout time.
The museum is one of the most worthwhile things to do in Quito, whether you are a history buff or not. It is a grand opportunity to peer and ponder over ancient civilizations that once lived in the area before Europeans ever stepped on the land.
12. Parque La Carolina
Nestled in the central business district, the Parque La Carolina is an expansive park often busy with families and friends looking to explore its many attractions. The bike paths, soccer fields, volleyball courts, and paddle boats are in frequent use in the scenic setting of the park.
The Jardin Botanico’s natural appeal strengthens Parque La Carolina’s charm. This section includes gardens and greenhouses like the ethnobotanical garden and the orchid greenhouse—other features of the botanical garden feature wetland, cloud forest, and paramo.
When visiting Parque La Carolina, check out the Vivarium. Visitors can view, and some even touch, amphibians, and reptiles here. The Museo de Ciencias Naturales is not far away, where stuffed animals from the Bengal tiger to the harpy eagle decorate the museum.
11. Plaza Foch
When it comes to nightlife in Quito, Plaza Foch is the place to go. Dozens of bars, nightclubs and eateries fill the blocks immediately surrounding the square. It’s also a great spot to meet the locals. Thursday through Saturday, young people gather here to join in the fun.
Prices are higher in this neighborhood than in other areas in affordable Quito, but the diversity of entertainment available makes it all worth it. From live music to karaoke to dancing, there’s something for every taste. Plaza Foch is where you’ll find some of Quito’s best tapas bars, pizzerias and upscale restaurants too.
10. Basilica del Voto Nacional
The most significant representation of neo-Gothic architecture in the Americas, Ecuador’s largest basilica is a must-see attraction. Built in the style of Notre-Dame in Paris, construction for the concrete cathedral began in 1887. Instead of the traditional gargoyles, however, Ecuadorian animals like monkeys, iguanas, tortoises and pumas adorn the structure’s edifice.
Inside, standout features include the mosaic floor and an altar to the Virgin Mary located in a side chapel. If you’re up for a long climb up stairs and ladders, the top of the main tower offers great views of Quito and the volcanic mountains beyond.
9. Casa Museo Guayasamin
The Casa Museo Guayasamin is situated in the previous home of the iconic painter Oswaldo Guayasamin. It preserves the nearly complete collection of Guayasamin’s works and other artworks the painter had collected. These include fantastic pre-Columbian collections, religious artworks, and pieces created by indigenous artists of the Escuela Quitena.
While touring the museum, visitors will note a theme in the arrangements. These are influenced by fertility figurines, bowls, and Guayasamin’s signature color schemes and geometric designs. Many of Guayasamin’s pieces focused passionately on the suffering of the indigenous poor in Latin America.
At the museum, visitors can pay their respects to the legendary painter at the burial site of Guayasamin. The painter was buried next to his friend, a famous Ecuadorian politician and writer named Jorge Enrique Adoum.
8. Plaza Grande
You could spend an entire day in the Plaza Grande and still not see everything this historic square has to offer. Since the 1600s, royalty, dictators and presidents have governed the country from the buildings surrounding Plaza Grande.
Visitors can tour the presidential palace Carondelet, which has been converted into a museum, and the 16th-century Cathedral of Quito, Ecuador’s oldest Catholic church. The Archbishop’s Palace and Hotel Plaza Grande are open to the public as well. At the center of the plaza stands the Heroes de la Independencia, a moment to those who fought in Ecuador’s war for independence from Spain.
7. La Capilla Del Hombre
Dedicated to the people of Latin America, La Capilla Del Hombre is an art museum designed by famed Ecuadorian artist Oswaldo Guayasamín. Located in Bellavista, the strikingly modern-looking structure sits atop a hill overlooking the city.
Guayasamín used his murals and sculpture to capture the experience of a people fighting political oppression. Completed three years after his death in 1999, the “Chapel of Man” offers the perfect backdrop to his emotionally moving paintings. The adjacent Museo Guayasamín features a more expansive collection of the artist’s work as well as artwork from Ecuador’s pre-Columbian and colonial periods.
6. Calle La Ronda
By far one of the best attractions in Quito, the Calle La Ronda is a historic street that dates back to when the Incas once walked its paths. After the Spanish took over in the 16th century, it transitioned into an Andalusian style to reflect the popular style in Spain in those times.
Calle La Ronda has swiftly become one of Quito’s jewels. Its romantic balconies and lantern-speckled streets create a charming allure that continues to attract visitors. Elegantly quaint cafes and restaurants, dedicated museums, and pristine art galleries decorate the street, perfect for adventuring to dip into the beauty of Quito.
By far one of the best attractions in Quito, the Calle La Ronda is near the Museo de la Ciudad and the historic district for an easy walk to other top things to do in the city.
The TeleferiQo tramway whisks visitors from the city center to the peak of Cruz Loma on the eastern side of the Guagua Pichincha Volcano. The entrance to the gondola ride is located within the new VulQano amusement park, a tourist destination in its own right.
You’ll want to ensure you’re acclimated to Quito’s high elevation before taking on the aerial tramway. The six-passenger gondola cars rise 1,100 meters (3,620 feet) in just 10 minutes. There’s a café at the top where you can relax and regain your bearings. Bring along some warm clothing so that you can enjoy the breathtaking views of the city in relative comfort.
4. El Panecillo
Quito’s hilly terrain offers scenic views from just about every vantage point, but the panoramic vista you’ll enjoy from El Panecillo makes a trip to the summit a must-do experience. Named after the Spanish bread panecillo, the hill is located in the south-central section of the city, providing expansive views from every side.
While it’s possible to climb to the top of El Panecillo, most visitors prefer taking a taxi. A large statue of the Virgin Mary adorns the summit. Made from 7,000 pieces of aluminum, it’s notable for showing the Virgin with wings. This type of portrayal is popular throughout the northern Andes.
3. Mitad Del Mundo
The Middle of the World, or Mitad Del Mundo, has to be the top attraction near Quito, hour’s trip away next to the Museum de Sitio Intinan.
Attracting attention from all corners of the Earth, the site is said to rest on the equatorial line, hence the founding of the country’s name, “Ecuador.” Visitors to the Mitad Del Mundo can grasp the opportunity to stand, sit, or lie in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres at one time. As the equatorial line is not visible, there is a yellow line that marks the spot.
Modern equipment soon discovered that the true Middle of the World is further away. This doesn’t stop people from traveling from all over the globe to visit the iconic monument of the Mitad Del Mundo in Quito!
2. San Francisco Church
One of the first churches built in the Americas, San Francisco de Quito dates back to the 1570s. Over the nearly 150 years of its construction, Renaissance, Mannerist, Mudejar and Baroque architectural styles influenced its design.
A pair of curved steps are at the San Francisco Church’s main entrance. These were initially designed to be part of the construction of the Belvedere of the Vatican, though the plans were changed to fit in the San Francisco Church’s establishment instead.
Named after Saint Francis, the church’s relatively plain edifice is contrasted by the lavish use of gold in its nave, chapels and altar. The main altar features a winged Madonna crafted by Quito artist Bernardo de Legarda in 1734. The adjacent museum provides access to the choir, which features beautifully persevered Moorish decoration from the 16th century.
1. La Compania de Jesus
Demonstrating the wealth of the powerful Jesuit order in 16th-century Ecuador, La Compania de Jesus is the most impressive church in the country’s capital.
Built over 160 years starting in 1605, the structure is best known for its highly decorated interiors. Around half a ton of gold was used to ornament the walls, ceilings and the church’s 11 altars. The walls of gold-touched elements were designed with the intention of the church to attract natives to attend church using the gold.
In the towering nave, gold leaf, gilded plaster, elaborate mosaics and wood carvings cover every surface. At the base of the high altar lies the remains of Quito-born Mariana de Jesús de Paredes, Ecuador’s patron saint.
An important note – Pictures are forbidden when touring La Compania de Jesus’s interior.
Where to Stay in Quito
If it’s your first time, the Centro Historico is the place to be, where tourist attractions, restaurants, and activities are right outside your doorstep. For a trendy and aesthetic-inspired take on the city, La Floresta is ideal with its decorative and stunning architecture. A stay in La Carolina is highly recommended for families as it is centered around a park full of activities and entertainment, such as the botanical garden.
One of the top stays in Quito, Casa El Edén is an affordable four-star boutique hotel in the Centro Historico. The hotel is situated in a restored mansion exuding an undeniable charm of wooden floors, an appealing rooftop terrace, and a scenic courtyard.
A laid-back and accommodating stay, Hotel David is in Alameda Park, only ten minutes from the Centro Historico. The rooms exude a welcoming ambiance and pristine design, perfect for a budget-friendly vacation in Quito. Guests have access to a restaurant with picturesque views.
How to get there
The best transportation method to reach Quito is by air. The Mariscal Sucre International Airport is the city’s airport to fly into for easy transportation access to visit the city. Depending on where you live, you may need to snag an indirect flight to reach Quito.
If you’re coming from other parts of Ecuador, taking a bus to Quito is a great option. Ecuador has a well-developed bus system that is both affordable and reliable. Although not as common as other modes of transportation, taking a train to Quito can be a unique and scenic experience. The railway station is at the south end of the old city.
Approximate travel times
- Otavalo – 2 hours by car
- Baños – 3 hours by car
- Cuenca – 7 hours by car
- Guayaquil – 8 hours by car
- Galapagos Islands – 2 hours by plane
Best Time to Visit Quito
As it lies so close to the equator, Quito sees almost no change in its daily temperature with averages of 20 and 21°C (68 to 70°F) all year-round. Due to its tropical location, high altitude and setting amidst the Andes, fog, drizzle and sunshine can occur at almost any time.
June through September is the driest period though when loads of people visit. While prices are higher and there are more crowds, these months are best for ambling around its historic centre and enjoying some outdoor activities. In addition to its Corpus Christi and Inti Raymi celebrations, August has a month-long schedule of concerts and cultural events to enjoy.
Although each month sees between 17 and 19 days with at least some rainfall, October to January remains a massively popular period to visit. December, so summertime in Ecuador, is its absolute peak season as people have holidays. Aside from Christmas and New Year’s, the capital also celebrates its founding and All Souls’ Day during these months.
While March to May is even rainier, huge crowds head here for both its festive carnival and elaborate Semana Santa processions. Prices rise around these holidays with its hotels, cafes and restaurants all packed.