The Top Things to Do in Quito, Ecuador

Plaza Grande and the adjacent Metropolitan Cathedral of Quito at dusk
Plaza Grande and the adjacent Metropolitan Cathedral of Quito at dusk | © Diego Grandi / Alamy
Kristen Tideman

Built upon the foundations of an ancient Incan city, Quito is one of the world’s highest capital cities. If that doesn’t make you giddy, check out our top things to do when visiting this unique and fascinating city.

Hoping to visit Ecuador in the near future? Let Culture Trip be your guide and join our action-packed eight-day adventure – led by our Local Insider to ensure you get the fullest cultural understanding through intimate encounters.

1. Visit the Virgin of El Panecillo

Architectural Landmark

Iconic Virgin of Quito statue on the skyline of Quito, capital city of Ecuador, South America on a sunny day with blue sky
© Graham Prentice / Alamy

Guarding the historic streets of Quito’s Old Town, The Virgin of El Panecillo is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. According to local legend, the large statue faces the north and blesses those living there, while her back is turned to the south, explaining the wealth disparity between the two parts of the city. The road to the statue winds around the hill of El Panecillo, which appropriately translates to “little bread roll”. You can even ascend the statue for an even better view of the city below.

2. Journey to the middle of the world

Architectural Landmark

Monument to the Equator, Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, Middle of the World City, Pichincha Province, Ecuador
© Jon Arnold Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

Just a short drive north of Quito sits the equator line, for which Ecuador receives its name. Marked by a massive monument where French explorers initially calculated the equator to be, Mitad del Mundo (middle of the world) lets travelers be in two places at once. The monument is surrounded by an area known as the city of Mitad del Mundo. Here, you’ll find shops, restaurants and small museums which capture Ecuadorian culture perfectly. Keep your eyes peeled for handmade alpaca blankets (you won’t need to look far), freshly made Ecuadorian street food – including guinea pig – and traditional dance performances sporadically taking place in the streets.

A trip to Mitad del Mundo is included as part of Culture Trip’s eight-day adventure through Ecuador, led by our Local Insider to help you make the most of your experience.

3. Cheer in Atahualpa Olympic Stadium

Architectural Landmark

One of the best ways to experience pure excitement in Quito is to watch a soccer game at the Atahualpa Stadium. Ecuadorians from near and far will travel to see their team play, and to say it can be intense might be an understatement. Like football fan culture across all of South America, fans will relentlessly chant team songs while standing and waving banners, on both sides of the stadium. When either team scores pandemonium ensues, so be careful not to spill your drink.

4. Take Pichincha Teleférico

Architectural Landmark

Running from the edge of Quito up the east side of Pichincha mountain, the Teleferico is one of the highest aerial lifts in the world.
© Tim Fleming / Alamy

Looming over the city is the dormant volcano Pichincha, and you can get there via the TelefériQo skyrail to take in the epic views from the top. The rail ascends from Vulqano Park, a small amusement park on the side of the mountain, to a lookout area with spectacular views and a restaurant. You can go horseback riding here, but if you want to climb to the peak of Pichincha, take one of the hiking trails leading from the station. It’s definitely worth doing on a clear day.

5. Visit Plaza Grande (Plaza de Independencia)

Architectural Landmark

At the center of Quito’s Old Town, this plaza is a constant hub of activity, often serving as a site for political activism or public opinion, but also buzzing with travelers from around the world. In the middle is a large monument installed in the late 19th-century in commemoration of Ecuador’s independence. The plaza is also the site of the assassination of Ecuadorian president Gabriel Garcia Moreno in 1875. Ecuador’s Presidential Palace overlooks the plaza and around the exterior are a variety of good restaurants as well as the extravagant Hotel Plaza Grande.

6. Climb the Basilica

Church

Quito - Basilica del Voto Nacional
© Imagebroker / Alamy
Also found in Old Town, the Basilica of the National Vow is another exceptional Quito landmark. Visitors can climb its two large towers up to the clock faces and explore the architectural beauty. Replicas of animals found in the Galapagos Islands serve as gargoyles and the colorful stained glass is not to be missed. Curiously, the building will seem incomplete in places, but it’s with good reason: as the story goes, upon the Basilica’s completion the world will come to an end. Fortunately, Ecuadorians are in no rush to see if the myth is true.

7. Visit La Compañia de Jesus

Church

If you’re fascinated by old churches, you really have come to the right place. As well as the Basilica, you can lay eyes on La Compañia de Jesus – a grand 17th-century church crowned with gilded domes and intricate wood carvings, and what many would argue is Ecuador’s most beautiful building. You can take a free guided tour in English or Spanish to get a closer look at the church’s distinctive features, including Moorish elements and the perfect symmetry running right through the nave. The organ is a curious addition, too – imported from the USA circa 1889, it is made from 1,104 pipes and flanked by spiral staircases at either side.

8. La Floresta

Architectural Landmark

Cafe Rio Intag by the Ochoymedio Cinema, interior, La Floresta Neighbourhood, Quito, Pichincha Province, Ecuador
© Karol Kozlowski Premium RM Collection / Alamy
This edgy neighborhood takes you off the beaten tourist path and has many hidden gems in store. Coffee shops and galleries abound; street art covers the walls, and there’s an artisanal brewery if you’re feeling parched. La Floresta is also home to Ocho y Medio, an indie movie theater and café that sits across from a spooky abandoned house. Both the streets Isabel La Catolica and Avenida 12 de Octubre are lined with restaurants that range from Sushi shops to gastropubs to typical Ecuadorian restaurants. As for live music bars, El Pobre Diablo offers live jazz and P.P. Botella is the place to go for live rock paired with comfort food.

9. Guapulo

Architectural Landmark

Sanctuary of Guapulo, 15th Century Church/Museum, Built In Honor of The Virgin of Guadaulpe, Guapulo is A District of Quito Known For Its Narrow Streets, Ecuador
© Jon Arnold Images Ltd / Alamy

Tucked away from the hustle of Quito’s main valley, Guapulo offers an escape from the city crowds. Descend down the steep cobblestone path towards the eponymous church, and you’ll find examples of boho culture the area has become known for. Pizzeria Ananke, found at the base of the hill, for example, is adorned with arty posters – and happens to be a lovely spot to grab dinner with a view over the valley lit up at night. The ornate Church of Guapulo, or Sanctuary to the Virgin of Guapulo, is open to visitors every day except Sunday.

10. Stay in Plaza Foch and visit the Artisan Market

Architectural Landmark

Looking for nightlife in Quito? Plaza Foch is the place. Surrounded by dozens of hostels and eateries, Foch caters to travelers in search of a lively stay. With clubs, hookah bars, and pubs open until the early hours, the party usually doesn’t die down until late. Visit during the day to explore the Artisan Market – it’s full of traditional crafts, Ecuadorian art and artisanal food that you can snack on or stock up on if you’re there to prepare for the Ecuadorian cooking class included in Culture Trip’s exclusive eight-day adventure in Ecuador.

11. Play in Carolina Park

Park

Quito, Ecuador, July 2018: Young afro skater doing tricks at La Carolina skate park in front of an attentive and excited audience
© Patricio Hidalgo / Alamy

Often compared to New York’s Central Park, Quito’s Carolina Park exemplifies the spirit of the city. During the weekend, it’s a hub of activity where hundreds of families gather to relax. Popular park activities include Ecuavoli (volleyball with three people per team and specific rules), paddle boating and, of course, lots of soccer. There’s also an exotic botanical garden, a reptile house, a skate park, a large airplane-turned-playground, a planetarium and a small museum to explore.

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