Quito is a vibrant city that combines colonial and contemporary styles and has impressive natural landscapes. What to do in Quito when there are many activities to do? This is a frequent question among travelers who visit the capital of Ecuador. For this reason, and intending to help you plan your schedule when you arrive in the city, we tell you about the top 12 things to do in Quito and provide you with helpful general information about the city.
Cover photo: The historic center of Quito. Cover photo by: Ministry of Tourism of Ecuador.
How to get to Quito?
Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International Airport is the main gateway to Ecuador. This is located in the Tababela sector, approximately 43 kilometers (27 miles) from the historic center of Quito if you take the Ruta Viva and about 48 km (30 miles) if you opt for the Panamericana Norte. The most recommended option to get to Quito from the airport is to take a private transfer (shuttle), an alternative we offer to ensure your arrival in the city is safe and pleasant. Likewise, you can get to Quito by public bus, taxi, Aeroservicios, or a transport App (Uber or similar). To find out how to get from the airport to the center of Quito, we recommend you read our note: How to go from the Quito airport to the city center?
Best areas to stay in Quito
Quito offers many lodging options; however, we highly recommend you stay in the city’s historic center, which UNESCO declared in 1978 as a World Heritage Site. In this area, considered the city’s heart, you can enjoy the unique colonial architecture of churches, theaters, monasteries, and convents. Nevertheless, if you prefer a more modern area, you can opt for La Mariscal, La Floresta, La Carolina, Bellavista, or the Mariscal Sucre international airport sector.
For more information, read our note: Best areas to stay in Quito.
How many days are enough to visit Quito?
We recommend that your stay in the city is not less than three days. There is a long list of activities that you must do during your visit. The city offers not only the largest historic center in South America but also a series of natural wonders in its surroundings and fantastic gastronomy.
Is it worth visiting Quito?
Of course, yes, it is worth visiting the city of Quito. There are several reasons for this. First, Quito was founded in the 16th century and has Latin America’s most extensive, best preserved, and least altered historic center. It is full of old churches, convents, perfectly preserved squares, and cultural and architectural wealth that deserves to be seen even once in a lifetime. Quito was the first city in Latin America to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978.
Another reason Quito is worth visiting is that you will be in the Middle of the World. The country is crossed by the Equator line, the imaginary plane that divides the earth into two hemispheres, and bears this geographical division in its name. In honor of this fact, in the parish of San Antonio de Pichincha, specifically in the Middle of the World City, the iconic monument of the Middle of the World, also known as the equatorial monument or Equinoctial monument, has been erected. At “latitude 0-0´-0´´ on the equator line is the quadrangular pyramid of the Equinoctial Monument, which is decorated with a globe surrounded by a flat ribbon that represents the country” (Ministerio de Turismo del Ecuador, San Antonio de Pichincha, a unique tourist destination in the center of the planet, 2015).
Quito is also worth visiting due to its proximity to beautiful destinations in Ecuador. A few hours from the city, you will find important national parks, ecological reserves, protective forests, and cities near the Amazon, all places of abundant nature and unique landscapes. If you are visiting the country, you must necessarily know the Cotopaxi volcano, the second highest volcano in the country, only surpassed by Chimborazo; the Quilotoa lagoon, a lagoon of volcanic origin located in the middle of a crater; the town of Mindo, an ideal parish for observing birds, butterflies and orchids; and, Baños de Agua Santa, a city located on the outer flanks of the eastern Andes mountain range, on the slopes of the Tungurahua volcano, which has excellent hydrological wealth and magnificent waterfalls. In addition, another city close to Quito and of enormous interest to any traveler is Otavalo, a destination where you can visit the largest indigenous market in Latin America.
Is Quito safe?
Like any city in the world, Quito is not immune to insecurity, which is why there are certain areas to avoid. Generally, it is a city where you can walk during the day; however, it is recommended to have much more concern at night. When you walk through the city, you should be vigilant about what is happening around you and use your common sense.
What is Quito best known for?
If you wonder what Quito is best known for, it is precisely due to its incomparable historic center. Remember that the city of Quito is recognized internationally for having the most extensive, best preserved, and least altered historic center in all of Latin America. The city was declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978.
Now that you know a little more about Quito, we will tell you about the best activities in the capital city.
Quito City Tour
Quito Tour Bus, the only double-decker bus in the city, puts at your disposal its well-known Quito City Tour and invites you to know, in a safe and fun way, the main attractions of the capital of Ecuador. The Quito Tour Bus makes 7 stops that you can go your way using the Hop On – Hop Off system for a full day. To find out everything related to the Quito City Tour, its stops and schedules, and other variants of the tour that we put at your disposal, visit Quito City Tour.
Quito Night Tour
On the other hand, if you want to visit the historic center of Quito during the night, we offer you the Quito Night Tour, a highly recommended option since from 6:30 PM, the facades of churches, buildings, and squares light up and give an unparalleled beauty to the historic center.
The Quito at Night has a one-and-a-half-hour stop in the traditional La Ronda street, a cobbled alley full of bars and restaurants that was the birthplace of painters, poets, writers, and bohemians. Enjoy a series of typical Ecuadorian gastronomic delights in La Ronda, such as wind empanadas and the famous canelazo. The latter is a traditional drink from the Ecuadorian highlands, made with cinnamon and sugar, which may also contain naranjilla juice, and to which a brandy called “puntas” is added. In the restaurants and bars of La Ronda, it is possible to enjoy live and contemporary music, especially on weekends. To know everything related to our tour, click the Quito at Night link.
Things to do in the Historic Center of Quito
If you visit Ecuador, you must enter the historic center of Quito, considered the best-preserved colonial center in Latin America. This area of the city is full of architectural and artistic treasures that are “the result of the syncretism of Spanish and indigenous culture. Expressions that marked Latin American and world art, with movements like the Escuela Quito” (Empresa Pública Metropolitana de Gestión de Destino Turístico Quito Turismo, 2023).
Therefore, if you are wondering about the things to do in the historic center of Quito, according to what we mentioned above, we recommend you visit: the Compañía de Jesús church (known for its baroque architecture and its internal ornamentation, completely covered with gold leaf); the San Francisco church and convent (the church brings together a mixture of architectural styles, such as Baroque, Mannerist, and Mudejar; and, the main facade of this complex is the most extensive volcanic stone plain in the historic center of Quito); the Basílica del Voto Nacional church (a neo-Gothic style church); the Catedral Primada de Quito (one of the oldest churches in South America) and the Santo Domingo church (which houses the Rosario Chapel considered one of the jewels of the colonial baroque of the eighteenth century). Also, you should visit La Plaza Grande (where the Carondelet Palace – Presidential Palace is located).
If you want to know several famous places in Quito’s old town and see some of the churches and squares mentioned above, we recommend you do the Quito Walking Tour with us. In addition, after walking through this priceless historical jewel of the nation, you will receive a cooking class at a hotel in the historic center and have a chocolate tasting to end the day. To find out all the details of this experience that, without a doubt, will be unforgettable, click on the following link: Quito Walking Tour + Chocolate Tasting + Cooking Class.
Also, if you are in the historic center of Quito, you must necessarily visit El Panecillo, “a natural elevation of 3,000 meters (9842 feet) above sea level, which was given its name because it resembles a small piece of bread; it is located in the very heart of Quito” (Virgen del Panecillo, 2023). In this place, you can find the tallest aluminum sculpture in the world, a giant statue of the Virgin of Quito, inspired “by the Apocalyptic Virgin of Legarda, an Eighteenth-century work by Bernardo de Legarda, one of the most important representatives of the Quito School” (Virgen del Panecillo, 2023). To know more about it, read what to do and how to get to El Panecillo.
Finally, we cannot ignore the varied gastronomic offer of the historic center of Quito, which you can enjoy in its wide range of restaurants, bars, markets, and, of course, traditional hollows. The latter are family-type businesses, generally operating in small places where delicious food is eaten at moderate prices. We recommend visiting some historic center food halls to enjoy Ecuadorian cuisine’s flavors.
Before immersing yourself in the experience of touring the historic center of the capital of Ecuador, we recommend you read our notes on how to get to the historic center of Quito and places to visit in the historic center of Quito.
Churches in Quito
Quito, known as “The Cloister of America”, has more than 60 churches, chapels, monasteries, convents, and chapter rooms (Ministerio de Turismo del Ecuador, Camino Quiteño: Art and Faith; 2017). Most recognized churches in Quito are concentrated in its historic center, although other magnificent churches can be found in various parts of the city. We invite you to read about the main churches of Quito, among which are: the Catedral Metropolitana de Quito, the Basílica del Voto Nacional, the Santo Domingo de Guzmán convent, and the Compañía de Jesús church.
Tour the secret places of Quito churches
We recommend you take the exclusive tours with us to discover details and hidden secrets of Quito, the historic center, and multiple churches in the city. Our guides will tell you amazing legends and stories of the capital city, making you want to know much more about it.
Cathedral Domes Tour
In our Cathedral Domes Tour, you can visit the Catedral Primada de Quito, also known as the Catedral Metropolitana de Quito, the highest-ranking catholic temple in our country. This cathedral is located in the Plaza de la Independencia, also called Plaza Grande. On this tour, you can visit the church, the altars, and the domes.
Santa Clara Domes Tour
On the other hand, in our Santa Clara Domes Tour, you can see the secluded monastery of Santa Clara and tour the church, the lower choir, the upper choir, and the orange oval dome. During the visit, we will tell you the history of this convent with more than 400 years of history.
Basilica of the National Vow Tour
Meet with us the fabulous Basílica del Voto Nacional, also called Basílica de la Consagración de Jesús or Basílica de San Juan, one of the most impressive religious temples in the country. Neo-Gothic in style, this building reaches a height of 100 meters (238 feet) and has a facade adorned with endemic animals of Ecuador, such as turtles, blue-footed boobies, monkeys, armadillos, etc.
In our Basilica of the National Vow Tour you will get to know this fascinating neo-Gothic church, and you will be able to walk through usually closed places. At the same time, we will tell you about the hidden secrets of the Basilica of the National Vow.
Santo Domingo Domes Tour
Finally, we recommend you visit our convent of Santo Domingo de Guzmán Domes Tour. On the Santo Domingo Domes Tour, you can see the convent of Santo Domingo: the church, the chapel of the Virgen del Rosario, the catacombs, and the beautiful domes. The chapel of the Virgen del Rosario, considered one of the jewels of the 18th-century colonial baroque, is a magnificent example of this architectural style. On our tour, you can observe its details and the shine of the gold leaf.
Visiting the city markets is always an excellent way to get to know and explore them. Quito has countless city markets you can visit, and there you can enjoy the colors and smells of an infinity of fruits and vegetables from all over the country and the typical dishes offered there. In addition, in some artisan markets, you will be able to appreciate the products generated due to the prodigious work carried out by Ecuadorian artisans.
Among the most prominent markets are: La Mariscal Artisan Market, where you can get handicrafts, textiles, tapestries, paintings, masks, and other handicrafts from all over the country; Iñaquito Market, a place famous for the sale of baked goods; Santa Clara Market, known because the famous sea bass dish with french fries is sold there; America Market, famous for its seafood and flower fair; San Francisco Market which has an area of ancestral medicines where cures and cleanses are performed; and, of course, the Central Market, a place where you can find a great diversity of flowers, where it is possible to enjoy the most varied fruit juices and where “dishes that are characterized by their tradition are sold: colada de churos, bille broth, guagrasinga broth, in addition to the croakers, fritadas, […] among others” (Municipality of Quito, Quito Reports: The Central Market is an icon in the center of Quito, 2021).
If you are looking to marvel at the rich landscape of the Andean páramo and enjoy the view of the city surrounded by mountains, going by cable car is another recommended activity to do in Quito. When you get on the cable car, you can travel “more than 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) in less than 20 minutes” (TeleferiQo, 2023), and at the end of the ascent, you will reach a height of 3,947 meters (12,949 feet) above sea level, a fact that makes it one of the highest cable cars in South America.
If you decide to take the cable car, you can hike to the famous Rucu Pichincha (4,696 meters / 15,406 feet above sea level), Guagua Pichincha (4,776 meters / 15,669 feet above sea level), Cerro Ladrillos (4,600 meters / 15,669 feet above sea level) and Padre Encantado (4,500 meters / 15,091 feet above sea level), elevations that belong to the Western Cordillera of Ecuadorians Andes. Climbing to the top of Rucu Pichincha is one of the most sought-after tours by tourists visiting the Ecuadorian capital. Do not forget that on the way to Ruco Pichincha, you can find the “swing in the clouds”, from where you can take outstanding pictures with the city in the background. Also, if you like extreme sports, you can take your bike in the same cabin as the cable car and have a unique experience of downhill the route that will take you back to the city.
Get to know this and other must-see destinations in the city on our specialized tour: Quito City Tour + Cable Car + Panecillo + Middle of the World.
Mitad del Mundo
Ecuador is one of the countries in the world that is crossed by the equinoctial line. The country bears this geographical division in its name. And for this purpose, a monument has been built in Quito to honor this fact. Hence, if you are in the city, visiting the iconic equatorial monument is something that you must necessarily do.
The emblematic Equatorial monument is located in the Middle of the World City, specifically in the parish of San Antonio de Pichincha, north of the city. There you will be able to obtain a photo of yourself in one of the famous monuments of Ecuador, in which you must place each of your feet in both hemispheres simultaneously. In addition, in the Middle of the World City, there is a series of museums where you can learn about the Equator line, also called the Equatorial line or 0° parallel, and everything related to the phenomena that only occur there.
We have all the necessary information about this famous tourist destination in Ecuador. Read our notes on how to get to the Middle of the World, what to do in la Mitad del Mundo and curious facts about the Middle of the World. If you want to visit the famous Middle of the World City and live a series of experiences on the Equatorial Line, we recommend that you opt for the Mitad del Mundo Tour, a safe and fun way to enjoy this unique destination. In our company and aboard our tourist transport, you will arrive at Mitad del Mundo City and visit its main attraction, the equatorial monument. You can visit the traditional houses, the cacao square, and the local craft shops.
One-day tours around Quito
If you have little time to get to know Quito and its surroundings, we recommend taking one-day tours. We have tours that depart from Quito to various famous places in Ecuador. Next, we will tell you about them:
Cotopaxi Tour from Quito
The Cotopaxi volcano is an active stratovolcano found in the Cotopaxi province. This majestic volcano is “an almost perfect snow-capped cone that stands at an altitude of 5,897 meters (19,374 feet) […] and is perhaps, together with the Galapagos, the greatest symbol of our natural geography recognized throughout the world” (Sistema Nacional de Areas Protegidas del Ecuador, Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, 2015). Reaching its top is the dream of many mountaineering lovers visiting the volcano from different parts of the world to achieve this long-awaited goal.
In our note about how to get to Cotopaxi, we tell you everything you need to arrive at this unmissable site in Ecuador. In addition, we put at your disposal our Cotopaxi Tour from Quito, in which you will visit the Cotopaxi National Park, the Limpiopungo lagoon and the Mariscal Sucre Interpretation Center (a place where you can learn about local flora and fauna, as well as various curiosities of the park). In addition, you will hike to the José Rivas Refuge, located at 4,864 meters (15,958 feet) above sea level.
Quilotoa Tour from Quito
Quilotoa Lagoon. Photo by: Ministerio de Turismo del Ecuador
The Quilotoa lagoon is of volcanic origin, is considered one of the most beautiful of its kind, and is characterized by its turquoise-colored waters. It is located three hours from the city of Quito, specifically, “66 km (41 miles) south of Latacunga, in the parish of Zumbahua in the canton of Pujilí and is part of the Los Ilinizas Ecological Reserve” (Ministerio de Turismo, The Quilotoa, destination of nature and rurality, 2020).
This is an ideal place for ecotourism and adventure tourism lovers. You can walk around the crater’s edge or descend from the viewpoint to the lagoon. In addition, you can enjoy the typical gastronomy of the Ecuadorian Andes. Visit this spot with us on the Quilotoa tour from Quito. We will take you to see the lagoon and an artisan workshop in the Tigua community. We recommend you read our note for other ways to get to Quilotoa.
Mindo Tour from Quito
Mindo is another of the places in Ecuador that delights those who love adventure tourism, hiking, waterfalls, and bird, butterfly, orchid watching. Mindo is located just a couple of hours from Quito and is a parish in the canton of San Miguel de Los Bancos situated in the northwest of the province of Pichincha. This town is part of the Chocó Andino de Pichincha Biosphere Reserve and part of the protected nature reserve called Bosque Protector Mindo-Nambillo.
In Mindo, you can practice sports like canopy, canyoning, tubing, and rafting. In addition, one of the most desirable activities in Mindo is to climb a cable car to reach an area where you can enter the forest and hike to various waterfalls. The Mindo area is known worldwide for bird watching, so thousands of tourists arrive yearly. Remember that you can discover this destination of Ecuador in our tour to Mindo from Quito.
Baños Tour from Quito
Baños de Agua Santa is a canton in the province of Tungurahua, located in the center of the inter-Andean region of Ecuador. Known as the adventure capital of Ecuador, Baños is an ideal place for adventure sports, such as canopy, canyoning, rafting, and bungee jumping, among many others. In addition, Baños is a place where you can visit many majestic waterfalls. One of the best known is the Pailón del Diablo, a waterfall 80 meters high and 20 meters deep, an icon of tourism in Ecuador.
We have all the information you need about this destination, so we recommend you read our notes on how to get to Baños from Quito and the things to do in Baños. Hence, we invite you to make this trip with us; we will make this a memorable experience. Choose any of our tours to Baños from Quito, the one that best suits your itinerary, and you will be on your way to discovering the adventure capital of Ecuador.
Otavalo Tour from Quito
Otavalo is one of the main tourist destinations in Ecuador. Its name is world famous for its indigenous population, the Otavalos, a Kichwa nationality from the Ecuadorian highlands that is well known for the production and sale of handicrafts and its unique musical productions. . Otavalo is considered the “Intercultural Capital of Ecuador” and, therefore, it is a mandatory destination in Ecuador.
We invite you to read our note on how to get to Otavalo. Although, of course, the safest way to arrive and enjoy this destination is through our Otavalo tour from Quito. We will take you to the main tourist attractions of Imbabura, also known as the “province of the lakes”, located in the north of the country, in the geographical area known as the inter-Andean region or sierra. Our itinerary includes visiting the largest indigenous market in Latin America, the Centenario Market, also called “Plaza de Ponchos”.
Things to do in Quito at night
Even though the temperature can drop considerably during the night in the Ecuadorian capital, be sure to explore the city. So if you bundle up well, you can visit the illuminated historic center, a light show that deserves to be seen, or go to other sectors of the city, such as La Floresta, La Mariscal, or Guápulo.
On the street Isabel La Católica, in the north of Quito, in the traditional neighborhood of La Floresta, you can find a series of bars and restaurants for all tastes where you will find national and international food. And, if you feel attracted to local food, near the neighborhood of La Vicentina, you can find the famous “Parque de las tripas” where the famous tripa mishqui, a delicious and typical dish made with pork tripe that is worth trying. Also, in the heart of the neighborhood La Floresta, you can find several cafes, restaurants, bars, independent movie theaters, and more.
The sector of Whymper street, not far from La Floresta, in the north of the city, is a highly crowded street that comes to life mainly at night. On Whymper street, you can find several craft breweries, international food restaurants, and decoration shops.
Another desirable place to enjoy Quito’s nightlife is the sector of La Mariscal, where you can find a wide range of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. While another great option to visit during the night is Guápulo, a bohemian and very colorful neighborhood with a wide range of cafes, bars, and restaurants. In addition, it has tourist attractions such as the viewpoint and the church of Guápulo. Regardless of the place you choose in Guápulo, you will enjoy a beautiful view of the valley.
Finally, another great alternative is to perform a Quito at-night tour and tour the illuminated historic center. The best way to do it is aboard the only double-decker bus in the city! Enjoy the historic center at night and get to know the traditional La Ronda street. You can find all the information about our tour in Quito at Night Tour.
What to do in Quito as a couple?
Nothing better than sharing time with the loved one. Although trips usually involve a high energy drain, you can always take time to do a romantic activity with your partner. Hence, if you are in the capital of Ecuador, and you are looking for what to do in Quito as a couple, You have several options, such as:
- Give a kiss that unites the two hemispheres in the Middle of the World
- Dine in several very romantic restaurants in the historic center
- Take a night walk through the city
- Hang a padlock on the Guápulo viewpoint
- Share a espumilla
If you are interested in doing romantic activities in the capital, be sure to read places to visit as a couple in Quito.
What to do in Quito with children?
Family vacations must become unforgettable experiences. The interests of parents and children should not conflict. Hence it is essential to select sites that interest children and promote good times for parents. If you are in Quito with your children and you wonder what to do in Quito with children, do not stop doing these entertaining activities.
- Go to the museums in the city
- Visit the city zoo
- Travel on the only double-decker tourist bus in the city
- Visit the Nayón Xtreme Valley Adventure Park
If you want more information about things to do in Quito with kids, we recommend you read our note about it.
In summary, the best things to do in Quito are:
- Perform the Quito City Tour y discover the main attractions of Quito aboard the only double-decker bus in the city, the Quito Tour Bus. In this tour, through 7 stops, you can visit the famous sites of Quito on your way using the Hop On – Hop Off system for a full day.
- Tour the most extensive and best-preserved historic center in South America with the Quito Walking Tour, a walk through the priceless historical jewel of the nation accompanied by a bilingual guide.
- Go up to the El Panecillo viewpoint, an emblematic city site where you can look at the tallest aluminum sculpture in the world, a giant sculpture of the Virgin of Quito.
- Enjoy the Ecuadorian gastronomy offered in the wide range of restaurants, bars, markets, and, of course, in the traditional hollows of the city.
- Enter the churches of the historic center of Quito. Among the most outstanding are: Compañía de Jesús church, the Catedral Primada de Quito, the Basílica del Voto Nacional, and the Santo Domingo de Guzmán convent. We recommend you take our tours to the secret places of the churches in Quito: Cathedral domes tour, Santa Clara domes tour, Basílica del Voto Nacional Tour, and Santo Domingo domes tour.
- Visit the city markets: La Mariscal Craft Market, Iñaquito Market, Santa Clara Market, America Market, San Francisco Market, and Central Market.
- Climb one of the highest cable cars in South America, the Quito cable car. A perfect place to contemplate the city’s beauty, the surrounding hills, and snow-capped mountains. In addition, this is a place from which you can hike to the well-known Rucu Pichincha, Guagua Pichincha, Cerro Ladrillos, and Padre Encantado.
- Get to know the Mitad del Mundo and live a series of experiences on the equinoctial line. We recommend that you visit this place on the Mitad del Mundo Tour.
- Travel to destinations near the city of Quito on day tours. We recommend you travel with us to the Cotopaxi volcano, the Quilotoa lagoon, Mindo, Baños de Agua Santa, and Otavalo.
- Enjoy the nightlife of the city in different areas of the city. You can tour Quito at night and visit the illuminated historic center aboard the only double-decker bus in the city, the Quito Tour Bus.
- Live a romantic experience in Quito in the company of your partner.
- Carry out activities in Quito with kids.