44 BEST Things to Do in Quito: Culture, Food & History Lovers

by | Mar 10, 2024 | Ecuador, Travel

Are you planning a trip to Ecuador and wondering what to do in Quito?

Is the city even worth visiting?

In this article, I’m going to share with you 44 things to do in Quito for culture, food, and history lovers. You’ll also find my honest opinion about each attraction and activity and which ones are worth visiting or doing. This list is based on my 3 trips to Quito and my 6 weeks touring and working remotely in the city.

I’m sure that by the time you finish reading (or skimming) this list, you’ll realize that Quito is a necessary addition to any Ecuador itinerary. I’d say for at least 3 days if you want to get a good taste of the culture, history, and food of the city and get to some off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods. For ideas on how to plan your trip, you can follow my Quito itinerary for 3 days.

Let’s begin!

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Best Things to Do in Quito – Quick Guide

In this article, you’ll find a list of 44 things to do in Quito. You won’t be able to do all of them on your Quito itinerary unless you stay at least 5 days.

So, which tourist attractions are the must-see ones?

Here are my top 10

  1. Wandering around the historic center
  2. Do a Quito food tour
  3. Go on a guided walking tour
  4. Go up the towers of the Basilica
  5. Stop by Plaza de San Francisco and grab some hot chocolate at Minka
  6. Go up the TeleferiQo to Pichincha Volcano
  7. Visit the Panecillo for views of Quito
  8. Explore El Mitad del Mundo
  9. Visit the Museum of Casa del Alabado
  10. Try as much of the food of Ecuador as you can

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BEST Things to Do in Quito – Historic Center

The heart and soul of Quito is the historic center. This is where Spanish Quito began (it was built on top of an Incan settlement), so this is where you’ll find the oldest and most interesting buildings and monuments. It’s a lively area (especially on the weekends) filled with locals going about their daily lives and tourists snapping photos.

You don’t need a car to get around the historic center. Just your two feet and a lot of glute strength to get up those hills.

1.      Wander Around the Historic Center

OPEN: 24/7 (but safer during the day) | ENTRANCE FEE: Free | LOCATION: Map

A street with buildings and a hill in the background

If you have only one day in Quito, the best way to spend it is by wandering around the historic center (also known as Old Town). It’s an architecture and history lovers’ dream city with beautiful ornate buildings and churches dating back to the seventeenth century.

The streets and plazas of the historic center are full of the vibrant culture of Ecuador—street vendors selling Ecuadorian street food, street musicians singing traditional Andean songs, the elderly and families hanging out in Plaza Grande, and protesters demonstrating against something the government did that was wrong.

2.      Join a Walking Tour of the Historic Center

I always do a walking tour when I visit a new city. Quito was no exception. The city has some excellent walking tours that combine the cultural highlights of the historic center with popular Ecuadorian food. It’s a great way to learn about the culture and history of a city and try some food.

Walking tours usually last three to four hours.  You can do paid tours or free walking tours, which are tip-based. Here are a few walking tours that I’ve done or have gotten rave reviews. They follow the SAME route, so either one will work.

  • Culture Walking Tour with Food – It starts at 10:00 am or 2:00 pm. The tour starts at the Basilica. Then it goes to Plaza de Independencia, where you’ll learn about the history of Ecuador and try some Ecuadorian sweets and chocolate at Palacio Arcobispal. It ends at San Francisco Plaza and a stop at Yumbos Chocolate Workshop.
  • Free Walking Tour with Food – This tour is tip-based. It starts at 10:00 am, 1:30 pm or 2:00 pm. The tour starts at the Basilica. Then it goes to Plaza de Independencia where you’ll learn about the history of Ecuador, stop at Palacio Arcobispal to try some street food and Ecuadorian sweets and chocolate. Then it heads to San Francisco Plaza. The tour ends at Yumbos Chocolate Workshop where you get to learn about chocolate and taste some.

I did the free walking tour and had a lot of fun! The guide was passionate and knowledgeable and we got to sample some delicious foods. However, she canceled on me at the first minute. We rescheduled to the next day but then she changed the time on me at the last minute. The free walking tours are sometimes not the most reliable way to see a city. It’s something to consider when you have a tight schedule.

3.      Visit Plaza de Independencia (Plaza Grande)

OPEN: 24/7 (but safer during the day) | ENTRANCE FEE: Free | LOCATION: Map

people sitting on benches in front of a fountain in a park with old buildings in the background in Quito, Ecuador

One of the first things to do in Quito is to visit Independence Square (also known as Plaza Grande). This is the main square of Quito—its heart and soul. I think it’s one of my favorite squares in Latin America.  It’s got enough benches to sit on and people watch along with enough trees to give you shade and cool you off from the hot sun.

The square is lined with some of the most important buildings of Quito—on one side is the presidential palace. The other is the Palacio Arcobispal (the home of the Archbishop of Quito but now a commercial center filled with restaurants, souvenir shops, and vendors selling traditional sweets and street food). A third is the Metropolitan Cathedral, where you can climb to its rooftop for stunning views of the Plaza.

In the center is a monument commemorating Ecuador’s independence from Spain. On the top of the statue is the Greek goddess of liberty. On the base are the names of the men who were the first in South America to rise up against Spain. They were eventually executed for it.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: Watch out for the bird poop scammers in the historic center. This scam usually involves a pair of thieves. One thief spills some stuff on your backpack that looks like bird poop. His or her partner tells you that there’s bird poop on your backpack and while he’s helping you clean your backpack, the other one steals your phone or wallet or both.

4.      Watch the Changing of the Guards

HOURS: 11:00 am (Tu) | COST: Free | LOCATION: Map

Every Tuesday morning (the rest of the Internet says Monday, but I went on a Tuesday in 2023) in front of the presidential palace (Carandolet), the changing of the guards is held. It was an impressive spectacle complete with horses and smartly dressed soldiers and an interesting part of the culture of the city. I was lucky enough to see it on my first full day in Quito.

5.      Check out the Food at Palacio Arzobispal


an interior courtyard of a 3 story building lined with balconies on each floor

Another top place to visit in Quito is the Archbishop’s Palace on the main square. This 400-year-old building was once the home of the archbishop of Quito. It’s now a commercial center filled with restaurants and souvenir shops. It’s a beautiful space with a beautiful interior courtyard.

a woman standing behind a counter full of Ecuadorian sweets with their price tag on them in Quito

But for foodies like me, the highlight is the chance to sample some traditional Ecuadorian chocolates and sweets.

There’s also a food cart selling amazing traditional empanadas for US$1 that you have got to check out. Buy an empanada and then grab a chair in the interior courtyard and have lunch or take the food out to the Plaza Grande and have a picnic.

6.      Climb to the Rooftop of Catedral Metropolitana

OPEN: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (M-Sa); 10:00 am – 2:00 pm (Su) | ENTRANCE FEE: US$2 (museum) US$4 (museum and dome) US$3 (dome) | LOCATION: Maps

the interior of a Metropolitan Cathedral in Quito

The main reason to visit the Metropolitan Cathedral is for the fabulous views from the church’s dome of the Plaza Grande and the surrounding mountains. Just pay for the dome and skip the museum.

The main area of the church is free. You will find the tomb of Ecuador’s greatest independence hero, Antonio Jose de Sucre, and the tomb of President Moreno. A controversial figure, Moreno was a conservative president who was stabbed seven times and shot three times outside the Presidential Palace and then carried into the cathedral, where he died. His tomb is behind the altar.

Near the ceiling is a large painting of the Last Supper. Jesus is holding a humita (an Ecuadorian pastry) and chicha (liquor made from sugarcane) instead of wine and bread.

The museum isn’t worth the visit. It’s behind the altar and just consists of paintings of former archbishops.

the rooftops of old buildings and the mountains surrounding Quito

The highlight of a visit to the church for me was going to the rooftop of the church (dome) for the views, looking down on Plaza Grande and then above at the skyline of Quito and its surrounding mountains.

an old and dilapidated wooden door that is open in the wall of the Metropolitan Cathedarl

However, it’s not easy finding the entrance to the stairs that take you to the dome and it’s a bit of an adventure getting up to the roof. The entrance is a small wooden nondescript door inside the church. You may need a guide to help take you up there. Go up these narrow stairs and then through a very narrow hallway and then up some more steps. Once you’re up there, you’ll think it was worth the adventure.

7.      Check out Centro Cultural Metropolitano

OPEN: 9:30 am – 4:30 pm (W – Su) | ENTRANCE FEE: Free | LOCATION: Map

Another interesting but not one of the most essential things to do in Quito is to visit the Metropolitan Cultural Center along Garcia Moreno Street. This center is the home of the city library as well as a place for art exhibits and lectures. I visited on a walking tour. We took an elevator up to the rooftop for views of the city.

8.      Visit Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus

OPEN: 9:30 am – 6:30 pm (M-Th); 9:30 – 5:30 (F); 9:30 – 4:00 pm (Sa); 12:30 – 4:00 pm (Su) | ENTRANCE FEE: US$5 | LOCATION: Map

people walking past a church in the historic center of Quito

The Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus (Church of the Society of Jesus) is the most beautiful church in Ecuador and it is one place you must not miss on your trip to Quito. I’ve seen about a zillion churches in my 3 years traveling in Latin America and this one still managed to impress me.

Construction of the church began in 1605 and finished in 1765. The inside of the Baroque church is covered in gold leaf with intricate carvings of Ecuadorian plants and people.

It costs US$5 to enter and I could never figure out the opening times—none are posted outside the church. I recommend that if you walk by and it looks like people are entering (there’s a fence around it), then try to enter.

They don’t allow photos. I didn’t see the no photos sign when I entered and got in trouble for taking some.

9.      Visit Casa Museo Maria Augusta Urrutia

OPEN: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (Tu – Sa) | ENTRANCE FEE: US$4 | LOCATION: Map

an interior courtyard with fountain of Casa Museo Maria August Urrutia, one of the best places to visit in Quito

Want to see how the people of Quito lived 100 years ago?

One of the better house museums I’ve visited in my travels is the villa of Casa Museo Maria Augusta Urrutia, a nineteenth-century philanthropist who was involved in educating and helping the poor children of Quito.

The best part of visiting this museum is that you get a tour in English (and Spanish) as part of the price of admission. I was lucky in that I had an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide who patiently let me take tons of photos.

The house museum is well-preserved. You’ll see every room from kitchen to bedroom, giving you a sense of how someone of Maria Augusta Urrutia’s class lived in the early nineteenth century. The bathroom with its stained-glass window was the highlight for me!

10.      Learn About Ecuador’s History at Museo Casa de Sucre

OPEN: 9:00 am – 3:00 pm (Tu – Su) | ENTRANCE FEE: Free | LOCATION: Map

For those wanting to know more about the history of Ecuador, one of the best things to do in Quito is a visit to the House of Sucre Museum. This is the former home of Mariscal Antonio Jose de Sucre. He was Simon Bolivar’s most trusted general who defeated the royal army of Spain in the Battle of Pichincha, thus liberating Quito and its provinces from Spain.

Not only do you learn about Sucre’s life but you also see what the home of a wealthy Quiteño looked like in the nineteenth century.

The only issue is that you can only enter on a tour. There are tours every hour and they are only in Spanish. If this changes, let me know in the Comment Section.

11.      Wander Around Plaza San Francisco


people walking in Plaza San Francisco and the church and convent of San Francisco in Quito, Ecuador

No visit to Quito would be complete without a stop at Plaza de San Francisco, This huge and empty plaza (no trees, no benches, no fountains, no monuments) sits right in front of the Church and Convent of San Francisco. It is indeed atmospheric. Every time I stepped foot in the plaza and looked around at the stark white church and convent, I felt like I’d gone back 200 or 300 centuries.

Sit on the steps of the convent and watch the people walk by. Better yet, grab a cup of hot chocolate and a table at Minka Chocolate Experience for views over the Plaza. Or splurge on a gourmet meal at the restaurant at the Casa Gangotena Hotel. They have an outdoor terrace overlooking the Plaza.

12.      Admire the Beauty of Iglesia de San Francisco

ENTRANCE FEE: Free | OPEN: 7:00 am – 12:00 pm; 3:00 – 5:30 pm (M-Sa); 7:00 am – 12:00 pm (Su) | LOCATION: Maps

If you make it to San Francisco Plaza, you’ve got to visit the stark white church of the same name. Built from 1534 to 1604, the church has beautifully carved walls and pillars as well as a vibrantly blue and ornate ceiling, making it the second most beautiful church in Quito.

Once you’ve seen a few of the Catholic Churches of Quito, it will easily become apparent where it likes to spend its money. Since I grew up Catholic, I won’t apologize for my snarky comments.

13.      Explore Museo Franciscano (San Francisco Convent Museum)

ENTRANCE FEE: US$3 | | OPEN: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (M-Sa) | LOCATION: Maps

a pathway leading through the garden of the interior courtyard of the San Francisco Convent Museum in Quito

Next to the Church of San Francisco is the Convent of the same name. Convent can mean both convent for women or monastery for men in Spanish. This one was probably a monastery.

The museum includes exhibits of religious art. If that’s your thing, then you’ll like this museum. It’s not mine, but I did enjoy some of the ghoulish paintings.

Included in the entrance fee is a free beer in the convent’s brewery. I was really feeling the elevation that day so I didn’t make it to the brewery. And I missed the bell tower! I hear the views are spectacular!

When I visited a free tour in Spanish was starting. I was told that sometimes they have tours in English. But not that day.

14.      Stroll Down Calle La Ronda


a person walking with her dog down a narrow pedestrian-only street lined with colorful colonial buildings in Quito

I am a sucker for cobblestoned streets lined with colorful historic buildings, so one of the first things I did in Quito was to stop by Calle La Ronda. The reality was a bit different from my expectations. The street is beautiful and colorful. But sadly, La Ronda is also devoid of people and there aren’t enough shops and restaurants to make it worth the hype.

The manager of my hotel said that it was the only street in the historic center I should walk down in the evening alone. I never visited it at night, so I can’t say if it was actually livelier in the evening. I hope it was.

15.      Explore Ecuador’s Ancient Civilization at Casa del Alabado

ENTRANCE FEE: US$6 (adults); US$3 (seniors); US$2 (children & students) | OPEN: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (W-Su) | WEBSITE: Casa del Alabado | LOCATION: Maps

an ancient figurine of a shaman at the Casa del Alabado museum, one of the best places to visit in Quito

My favorite museum in Quito is Casa del Alabado. Located in a beautiful colonial mansion, this world-class museum contains pre-Columbian artifacts from around Ecuador. The museum pieces range in age from 7,000 BCE to the arrival of the Spaniards in 1530.

The rooms are organized according to the theme: shamans, the afterlife, the elites. The pieces in the first rooms you come across would please Steve Jobs if he were alive today. They’re sleek and minimalist in design. As you make your way through the slick and beautifully designed rooms, the pieces become more intricate and gruesome.

As you enter each room, there’s an explanation in both Spanish and English of the main theme of the room. Sometimes you’ll find explanations for a particular work of art. The museum staff gave me a book to carry around with detailed explanations of certain key pieces.

The staff spoke English when I was there and were most helpful. Definitely, a museum you should add to your Quito itinerary.

16.      Learn about Quito’s History at the Museo de la Ciudad

ENTRANCE FEE: US$4 (adults); US$2 (children & students); US$0 (seniors) | OPEN: 9:30 am – 5:30 pm (Tu-Su) | WEBSITE: Museo de la Ciudad | LOCATION: Maps

a display of hanging candles at the City Museum of Quito

If you’re interested in learning about the history of Quito and you know Spanish, then your best bet is the City Museum. However, I do have mixed feelings about this museum.

I’m a sucker for architecture and history and the museum fits both of these needs. It’s located in a beautiful 450-year-old former hospital (San de Dios Hospital).

The other thing I liked about this museum is that it’s slick, modern, and professionally designed. There are models of indigenous homes, a colonial kitchen, a grocery store, an artist’s studio, and a 20th-century home. You’ll learn about pre-Columbian burial customs, a brief history of the War of Independence and the first years of the Republic, and the history of public transportation in Quito.

However, the museum tells a rather superficial and boring history of Quito. What’s missing are stories. Instead, the museum feels like a boring textbook. For example, we learn that the first mayor lasted for two years, but we don’t learn who he was or why only two years. The museum mentions the uprising of the tobacconists—but there’s no explanation of what happened. There must have been some interesting characters over Quito’s 500 years of post-Incan history.

There are no English explanations, so if you don’t know Spanish well, you might want to just skip this museum, sadly. You can, though, use the camera on Google Translate, but that takes up a lot of data and battery.

You can hire a guide by contacting the museum ahead of time at 992624465 or [email protected].

For those who do make it to the museum, two special treats are waiting for you:

  1. A beautiful chapel connected to the museum
  2. A terrace with views of Panecillo Hill

17.      Explore Monasterio Museo del Carmen Alto

ENTRANCE FEE: US$4 (adults); US$2 (children & students); US$0 (seniors)| OPEN: 9:30 am – 5:30 pm (W-Su) | WEBSITE: Museo del Carmen Alto | LOCATION: Maps

a room in an old convent with religious paintings along the wall and a painted wooden ceiling

If you want to visit just one convent or monastery in Quito, make it the Monastery Museum of Carmen Alto. It’s beautiful, full of great works of art, and it has an interesting backstory.

The monastery used to be the home of Mariana de Jesus (1618-1645), one of Ecuador’s two patron saints. Living in seclusion by choice, Mariana used to regularly self-flagellate (whip herself) and fast for eight days straight. She also supposedly performed miracles by healing the sick. She once even brought a dead person back to life. Look for the painting on the second floor of Mariana de Jesus’s whipped back and the display case of whips that she used to whip herself.

After her death, her home was turned into a convent for wealthy unmarried women.

Today Carmen Alto is partly a museum and partly the home of 19 cloistered nuns who still make traditional sweets that you can buy in the shop next to the entrance to the museum. Lonely Planet recommends trying the limones desarmargoados (desoured lemons), which are tiny lemons that have been hollowed out and filled with condensed milk. The shop was already closed when I showed up at 3:54 pm. If you do visit the convent, go to the shop first. Let me know if the desoured lemons are any good.

The museum is beautiful in the simplicity of the white-washed walls and two inner courtyards. On the second floor of the main building are these fascinating murals from the 1800s. Most likely they were painted by the nuns living at the convent.

You’ll also find models displaying the life of the nuns including their kitchen, bedroom, and embroidery room and the dining hall. Standing in the dining hall, I could imagine the nuns sitting around the room silently eating while the head nun looked on, making sure no one was talking.

There’s one painting of Mariana de Jesus supposedly done during her lifetime. When I visited the painting wasn’t on display as it was being restored.

In 1950 she was made a saint for her virtuous and ascetic life.

18.      Visit Basilica del Voto National

HOURS: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (M-F); 9:00 am – 6:00 pm (Sa & Su) | ENTRANCE FEE: US$4 (tower & stained glass windows) | LOCATON: Map

a person walking by the front of the Basilica of Quito

Don’t leave Quito without a visit to the Basilica del Voto National. Located several blocks up a hill from the main square, this Notre Dame copycat looks centuries old but it’s not. It was constructed from 1887 to 1924. The church was also never finished because it’s believed that god’s work is never finished. If the church is completed, the world will end. If only life were that simple!

Even though it’s not that old, It’s still an architecturally fascinating church. One reason is for the Ecuadorian-style sculptures flying out of the roof. On most churches you’ll find gargoyles but not on this Basilica. Instead, you’ll find a variety of Ecuadorian native animals: fox, iguana, alpaca, and so on.

You have to pay to go inside, which unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to do.

However, I did pay to enter the towers. There are two towers. Both can be reached by an elevator that takes you to the tenth floor, where you’ve got stunning panoramic views of Quito. You can then climb up to the sixteenth floor via a spiral staircase. I ran out of time as I needed to join my walking tour, so I never made it up that far. I also wasn’t able to go to another floor to see the stained glass windows.

19.      See the Art of Camilo Egas at Museo Camilo Egas

OPEN: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (Tu-F); 10:00 – 4:00 pm (Sa) | ENTRANCE FEE: FREE | LOCATION: Maps

I want to kick myself for missing out on seeing this small museum dedicated to the works of Ecuador’s most famous painter, Camilo Egas. He is one of the first Ecuadorian artists who painted indigenous people and their social conditions.

20.      Join a Guided Night Tour of Quito

people walking down a street in the historic center of Quito and the tower of a church illuminated at night

Quito’s got a reputation for being not so safe at night. The manager of the hotel I stayed at during my first time in Quito told me not to go out alone in the historic center at night.

If you’re hesitant about seeing Quito at night, then try these night tours:

  • Urban Legends of Quito by Night – I did this tour. It was OK. After getting picked up near my hotel in a trolley car, we headed to the Basilica and then to Independence Plaza and Santa Domingo Plaza. The highlight was seeing a bride and groom leave the Iglesia de la Compania and the fireworks go off in celebration of their wedding. Then they headed to Plaza Santo Domingo for wedding photos. The tour ends at the top of the Panecillo. Read Reviews & Book Tour: Get Your Guide
  • Night Street Food Art and DrinksThis tour of Quito by night takes you not to the historic center but to a part of Quito tourists rarely get to: the hip and very local La Floresta neighborhood. I did another tour with the same company and loved it! You get to see street art, eat street food, and hang out in a local watering hole savoring the nightlife of Quito. Read Reviews & Book Tour: Get Your Guide

21.      Book a Hotel in the Historic Center with Rooftop Terrace Views of Quito

What will make your trip to Quito complete? 

Book a hotel in the historic center with rooftop views of the city and surrounding mountains. There are so many amazing hotels and even hostels in Quito for all budgets that have terraces where you can have a meal or a drink and look out over the city.

You can read this in-depth guide on where to stay in Quito. But for those who don’t have the time to read through all of it, here are the top hotels with rooftop views of the city:

Top Things to Do in Quito – Outside the Historic Center

Quito has a few neighborhoods outside of the historic center that are worth exploring: La Mariscal, La Floresta, San Blas, and La Carolina. There are some nice parks, great street art, great markets, and some hip cafes and restaurants.  

If you can only choose one area, I’d make it La Mariscal for its laid-back vibe.

For those of you willing to get off the beaten path, here is a list of things to do in Quito:

22.      Wander around the Mariscal Neighborhood

a street lined with trees and colorful buildings in La Mariscal neighborhood in Quito
picturesque street in la Mariscal area Quito Ecuador South America

If you have at least 3 days in Quito, spend half a day exploring the Mariscal neighborhood. Mariscal is the newer part of the city with buildings built in the nineteenth century. It sort of reminds me of Condesa and Roma neighborhoods in Mexico City in that the atmosphere is laid back, safe, and peaceful with lots of restaurants, bars, and cafes. The air is fresher here compared to the historic center.

Stop by Fochs Plaza or go for souvenir and handicraft shopping at the Artisan Market. Grab a bite to eat at one of my favorite seafood restaurants in the city: Cevicheria Siete Mares. If you’re vegetarian, there’s a great Chinese vegetarian place with US$4 set meals for lunch at Mile Time. For some traditional Ecuadorian food, visit Santa Clara Market. The top floor has my favorite food court in the city.

23.      Wander around La Floresta Neighborhood

La Floresta is another local neighborhood worth exploring for its street art. Cafes, and bohemian lifestyle. The area is a favorite hangout for Quiteños. Stop by a popular restaurant/cinema called Ocho y Medio. One of the best restaurants in the city, URKO, in located here—try their tasting menu. My favorite seafood restaurant is here as well—Ecuaviche Veintimilla. José Navarro Park is a great place to go at night for street food.

What’s the best way to explore La Floresta?

The best way to not miss out on the best parts of the neighborhood is with a tour. I tried visiting on my own and seemed to always miss places. There are a couple of tours in Quito that take you to some of the best spots in the neighborhood:

  • Night Food and Bar Tour shows you the best street art in La Floresta, takes you to a night market for some street food and then to a bar to enjoy some traditional Ecuadorian drinks. Read Reviews & Check Prices: Get Your Guide or Viator
  • This Quito Bike Tour starts in La Floresta at one of its best hangouts: Ochy y Medio before tackling some of the neighborhood’s street art. Read Reviews & Check Prices: Viator

24.      Explore Quito by Bike

One of the most interesting ways to see Quito is on a bike. Every Sunday, some of the main streets close for only bike traffic. No cars are allowed on these streets, making Sunday the perfect time to get out on a bike and explore the city. You can rent a bike yourself and go out exploring on your own or do it with a tour.

This bike tour takes you through the less touristy La Floresta and La Mariscal neighborhoods stopping at markets and parks. The Secret Garden Hostel also does a bike tour on Sundays.

25.      Explore Quito by Bus

a woman is standing up on the top deck of a bus and taking a photo of a statue
Doing a bus tour is a great way to visit the Panecillo in Quito

One of the quickest and cheapest ways to see as much as Quito as possible is to do a bus tour. Quito has a very good hop-on hop-off bus tour that stretches from La Carolina Park to the Panecillo with stops in La Mariscal, the Artisan’s Market, the Basilica, and Old Town. A perfect itinerary for those with only one day to spend in Quito. Read Reviews & Check Prices: Get Your Guide or Viator.

26.      Take the TelefériQo Cable Car to Pichincha Volcano

OPEN: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm (M – Th); 8:00 am – 6:00 pm (F); 8:00 am – 7:00 pm (Sa & Su) | ENTRANCE FEE: US$9 (adults) $6.50 (seniors), $7.00 (under 18) & $6.50 (disabilities) | LOCATION: Map

the city of Quito in the distance and the people taking a cable car up the slope of Pichincha Volcano is one of the best things to do in Quito

One of the most popular things to do in Quito is to take the TeleferiQo Cable Car up to Pichincha Volcano, a volcano overlooking the city. You get great views of the city and the rolling hills and farmland of the countryside around Quito. If it’s a clear day, you can see some of the other volcanoes near the city.

The cable car takes you from 3,117 meters (10,225 feet) to 4,050 meters (13,287 feet). You arrive on the side of the volcano called Cruz Loma (not the top – that requires a long hike of several hours).

There are a few things to do besides looking at views of the city: hiking, horseback riding, eating, and swinging on a swing.

To get to TeleferiQo, take an Uber or DiDi. You need a photo ID (in case you go on a hike and get lost and don’t come down) to buy a ticket. They accept credit cards.

TRAVEL PRO TIP: One of the BEST ways to stay connected to the internet while traveling overseas is with an eSIM. There are many companies offering eSIMs. I like to use Airalo.

27.      See Quito from Above at the Panecillo

HOURS: 24/7 | ENTRANCE FEE: Free (hill) US$1 (statue) | LOCATION: Map

Don’t leave Quito without making it to the top of Panecillo. This is the hill right on the edge of the historic center and that’s topped with a statue of the Virgin Mary. It’s another great place to go for views of Quito. You can climb up inside the statue for even more epic sights.

I visited Panecillo on this night tour Quito and saw the city all lit up. If I had to do it over again, I would have gone up in the late afternoon and stayed until sunset.

Take an Uber or DiDi to the top. Don’t try walking up the winding street—it’s a popular spot for thieves to mug tourists and vicious dogs to bite tourists.

There’s also supposedly a blue public bus that connects the Panecillo to the historic center and even with El Mitad del Mundo. But I had such bad luck with those blue buses that I never tried the particular one from the Panecillo.

28.      Stand at the Equator at El Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World)

HOURS: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (M-F); 9:00 am – 6:00 pm (Sa & Su)| ENTRANCE FEE: US$5 | LOCATION: Map

a tall monument of Mitad del Muno in Quito

El Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) is probably the most popular tourist attraction in Quito. Everyone who goes to Quito goes to this park. In the middle of the park is a monument that marks the equator that runs through Ecuador, which means “equator” by the way, and commemorates the French-Spanish mission that located the equator and proved that the earth bulged at the middle and was not a perfect circle.

If being able to say that you stood on both sides of the equator at the same time is on your bucket list, then you’ll get a kick out of this place. For me, it was a bit hokey and a big tourist trap whose goal was to extract more money from tourists.

Inside the monument is a museum dedicated to the various indigenous groups of Ecuador. There are displays on each floor until you get to the top. At the top are panoramic views of the outskirts of Quito.

Other than the monument, there seemed to be just souvenir shops. Maybe there was more here than what I saw. My tour guide didn’t do much guiding. He just let us wander around on our own.

At the end of the tour, we all tried to stand an egg on the head of a nail. It’s supposed to be easier to do at the equator due to the magnetic pull. But I’ve read that it’s all BS. I couldn’t get the egg to stand but other people did.

How to get to the Middle of the World?

The Middle of the World Park is 45 minutes by car from Quito’s Historic Center. It will cost you between US$15 and $20 to get there by Uber and another US$15 to US$20 to get back to Quito. That’s a lot!

You can do a tour like I did. Mine was cheap at US$19 and included the entrance fee. A stop at the Middle of the World is often included in many Quito city-wide tours. Here are just a few tours that you might want to consider:

  • This Quito City Tour is what I would do if I didn’t have much time. It gets great reviews and takes you to the historic center, TeleferiQo, and Middle of the World. Read Reviews & Book Tour: Viator

If you want to get there cheaply and independently, it’s time-consuming but doable. Get to the La Ofelia Bus Terminal and then catch a bus going to El Mitad del Mundo. It will say the name of the park on the front of the bus.

The owner of my hotel recommended that I take a blue city bus from Western Avenue (Avenida Mariscal Sucre) from the historic center (right before the tunnels) to the Middle of the World. But I’ve never had much luck with the blue city buses in Quito.

29.      Learn about the Equator at Intiñan Equator Museum

HOURS: 9:30 am – 5:30 pm (M-Su) | ENTRANCE FEE: US$5 | LOCATION: Map

Some people love this museum. Others think it’s lame. Me? I never went because the tour I went on for the Middle of the World didn’t tell us about this museum. I have serious FOMO, so I’m truly bummed that I didn’t visit.

The Intiñan Equator Museum is right next to the Middle of the World City with the monument marking the supposed equator (actually it’s a few hundred meters from the spot). So, you can stop here after visiting the Middle of the World.

The museum has exhibits dedicated to astronomy and the importance of the location of Ecuador at the equator. There are also some fun but dubious demonstrations proving the effect the equator has on water and energy.

30.      Escape Quito for Pupulahua Volcano

HOURS: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm | ENTRANCE FEE: Free | LOCATION: Map

green fields at the bottom of Pupulahua Volcano crater with a sky full of clouds

If you want to escape the smog-filled streets of Quito, head to the Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve. It’s only 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) from El Mitad del Mundo.

The highlight of the reserve is a huge crater formed when the cone of Pululahua Volcano collapsed (Lonely Planet). Today the bottom of the crater is covered in farmland. The sides of the crater are a smorgasbord of birds, plants, and flowers because of the moist wind that blows in from the Pacific Ocean.

When you arrive, you’ll find yourself at the Mirador de Ventanillas (lookout). If you’re lucky and there are no clouds, you’ll see the beautiful green fields of the crater. You can hike down to the crater via a steep trail.

Near the Mirador is a fake Incan temple called Temple of the Sun.

If you completely want to get away from the city-life, there’s a fancy hotel called El Crater that overlooks the crater.

31.      Do Some Shopping at Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal

ENTRANCE FEE: Free | OPEN: 8:00 am – 7:00 pm (Every day) | LOCATION: Maps

For those wanting to do some souvenir shopping, the easiest place is at the Artisan Market in La Mariscal and neighboring shops that line both sides of the street. It’s a medium-sized market with lots of vendors selling things like textiles, jewelry, clothes, handicrafts, bags, and paintings. The quality of the products here is mixed. I saw lots of cheap stuff as well as more higher quality handicrafts.

32.      Learn About Ecuador at the National Museum of Ecuador

ENTRANCE FEE: Free| OPEN: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm (W-Sa); 10:00-3:00 pm (Su) | WEBSITE: (None) | LOCATION: Maps

The National Museum of Ecuador is the saddest museum I have ever been to. Located next to Elejido Park and within walking distance from the Artesanal Market, this museum is a definite skip even for die-hard history nerds like me.

There are two floors. The first floor is the permanent collection. It includes exhibits on the history of the museum and the history of Ecuador. There are only 5 or 6 rooms of artifacts from pre-Columbian times, religious at, landscape and portrait paintings, and modern art. Don’t expect to learn much about the history of Ecuador.

The second floor contains temporary exhibits. When I visited, there was an exhibit on the history of a famous hotel in Quito, the Hotel Colon, which is now the Hotel Hilton Colon.

The two best things about the museum are that it’s free and the bathrooms have toilet paper.

33.      Check Out the Street Art of Quito


a street whose sides are covered in street art

I love looking at street art when I travel, especially if it’s colorful like in Oaxaca or politically edgy like in San Cristobal. Quito also has pockets with some interesting street art. Luis Felipe Borja Street is lined with street art and there’s an exhibition of street art at Spacio Cultural Center. La Floresta neighborhood also has street art.

Still, if you’re interested there are a few Quito tours that will take you to streets and neighborhoods lined with street art by professional artists.

  • I took the Street Food Essentials Tour and we visited the Spacio Cultural Center on Luis Felipe Borja Street with lots of street art – Read Reviews & Check Rates: Viator or Get Your Guide
  • This Bike Tour covers the La Floresta neighborhood with its street art – Read Reviews & Check Rates: Viator

34.      Visit Casa Museo Guayyasamin

HOURS: 9:30 am – 4:45 pm (M-Sa) | ENTRANCE FEE: US$10 | WEBSITE: Museo Guayasamin | LOCATION: Map

Travelers who’ve made it to Museo Guayyasamin rave about it in the Facebook Ecuador group that I’m in. I tried getting here on my own but the darn Quito bus system stymied me again!

The museum is the former home of one of Ecuador’s most famous artists, Oswaldo Guayasamin. It houses the most complete collection of his work as well as his own collection of pre-Columbian artifacts.

There is also a chapel on site called Capilla del Hombre. According to the website, it’s less a religious building and more of a meditative center with an emphasis on human rights. The chapel is full of symbolism and works of art.

35.      Walk Around Parque de La Carolina


Aerial photo of La Carolina Parque surrounded by tall buildings in Quito
La Carolina park located in the northern center of the city of Quito surrounded by modern buildings

The largest park in Quito is Carolina Park in the northern part of the city. This is a great place to check out if you have kids. The park houses a water park where you can rent a boat and row around a human-made lake and a botanical garden.

However, don’t go out of your way to visit the park if you’re not staying in the area.

36.      Do a Day Trip from Quito

Cuicocha Lagoon with an island in the middle
Cuicocha, beautiful blue lagoon inside the crater of the Cotacachi volcano

One of the reasons I love traveling to Quito so much is not just for the things to do in the city but also for all the places you can visit from the city. There are about 12 worthwhile day trips to take from Quito. Each requires one day or half a day to explore.

Here are the best Quito day trips:

  • Cotopaxi National Park – Great for nature, hiking, wildlife, and beautiful scenery
  • Quilotoa Lagoon – Great for nature, hiking, and beautiful scenery
  • Papallacta Hot Springs – Great for relaxing in thermal pools and getting a massage as well as doing some hiking
  • Otavalo – Great for shopping and indigenous culture
  • Mindo – Wildlife and nature
  • Check out the complete list of the 12 best day trips from Quito.

Some are doable on your own, while others are better done on a tour. Here is a fantastic guide to the best Quito tours to some of these destinations.

Top Things to Do in Quito – For Food Lovers

For me, travel is all about food. In every city I visit, I eat as many local dishes as I can, take as many food tours as available, scour as many street food stalls as I can find, and try out a cooking class or two. Therefore, I’ve made a special section in this post for food in Quito. These last few items on this list may be at the end of this post, but these foodie activities are the absolute best things to do in Quito.

37.      Eat as much Ecuadorian Food as Possible

a plate of cuy, a traditional Ecuadorian dish
Cuy is another traditional dish in Ecuador

The food of Ecuador may not be as famous as Mexican and Italian, but it’s still got some delicious dishes that you’ve gotta try while you’re here. The ceviche and other seafood dishes like encebollado are out of this world, the roast pork is the best you’ll ever taste, and the empanadas are to die for. Of course, for the more adventurous, you’ve gotta try cuy (guinea pig). At least once! Not to worry: it tastes like chicken.

I created an article on what to eat in Ecuador. You’ll find a list of the 40 most traditional dishes and street food of Ecuador.

38.      Go on a Food Tour

a plate of fritada, corn, plantains, toasted corn and salad
Fritada from Mercado Armas is the first dish I ate on the street food tour I took in Quito.

One of the best things to do if you’re a foodie is to do a food tour. The tours are one of the best ways to learn about the cuisine of a country. Do one at the beginning of your Ecuador itinerary so that you can learn what to order, how to order, and how to eat in restaurants here.

I did a really good food tour in Quito called the Street Food Essentials Tour. I got to try so many dishes that I never would have thought of eating before, and we went to several non-touristy markets. The best part of the tour, though, is all the exotic fruit we got to try at the Santa Clara Market. Don’t think twice about doing this tour! Don’t believe me? Just check out the reviews on Viator or Get Your Guide!

You can also read my complete Quito street food essentials tour review!

39.      Take a Cooking Class

If you want to dig even more deeply into Ecuadorian cuisine and you’ve got more than 3 days in Quito, one of the best things to do in Quito is to take a cooking class. Usually, when I travel to a new country, I try to learn how to cook the national cuisine by taking a class. But in Ecuador, I didn’t as I couldn’t find a class I liked. Then after I left the country, I found this class on Viator that has gotten nearly perfect 5-star reviews. If (or when) I return, I’m going to definitely take this cooking class as I really love Ecuadorian food. The class involves a market visit as well, which is another favorite thing my food heart loves to do.

40.      Learn About & Taste the Chocolate of Ecuador

a table covered with jars in a basket, a bolw, and cacao fruit

Ecuador is the birthplace of chocolate. It was in Ecuador where cacao was first harvested and consumed over 5,000 years ago (1,500 years before it was used in Mexico). Nowadays, most chocolate is grown in Africa. But Ecuador still grows it for export.

Quito has a few tours, café, and workshops that help you explore chocolate more deeply and let you do some chocolate tastings. They also make for great places to buy souvenirs.

  • Yumbos Chocolate Workshop – Many walking tours end with a chocolate workshop and tasting at Yumbos in San Francisco Plaza. See the section on Walking Tour for ways to visit Yumbos. (Map)
  • Minka Chocolate Experience – This chocolate shop serves the best hot chocolate you’ll ever taste as well as lots of chocolate desserts. It’s right on San Francisco Plaza. Try to grab one of only two tables overlooking the plaza. (Map)
  • Republica del Cacao – Stop here after a day of sightseeing for a hot chocolate, chocolate ice cream, or chocolate dessert. The shop also has a small museum that traces the history of cacao. (Map)
  • Chocolate Lovers Tour – In this tour you’ll get to experience a 6-course meal with chocolate as the main ingredient. You’ll also get to learn all about chocolate. Read reviews and check price with Get Your Guide.

41.      Visit a Market in Ecuador

people standing in line at the Santa Clara Market is one of the best things to do in Quito

One of the best things to do in Quito for foodies is to visit one of the many markets sprinkled throughout the city. There’s the Central Market in Old Town, Santa Clara Market, America Market, and La Floresta Market.

It’s a great way to see what people eat in Ecuador—vegetables, fruits, meat, cheeses, beans, and so on. I especially love to pick up some local fruit. Ecuador is great for having some delicious fruit that you’ve probably never tried before like tomate de abrol, naranjilla, and chirimoya.

There’s generally a floor (top) or a section of the market set aside for a food court with different stalls selling traditional Ecuadorian dishes like hornado, fritada, ceviche, llapingacho. Sopa del bolon, and more. One stall specializes in one dish. Just look for the longest lines or a specific dish you want to try.

The best way to visit the markets is to join a food tour or take a cooking class:

  • Quito Street Food Essentials Tour – I took this tour and loved it. You get to try some of the most popular street food in Ecuador as well as visit two local food markets, Santa Clara Market and Mercado de America. They also take you to a second-hand market! Read my review of this Quito food tour or book your tour with Viator or Get Your Guide.
  • Cooking Class and Market Tour – This cooking class includes a visit to the Central Market of Quito, where you’ll buy the ingredients for that day’s lesson. You’ll also get to meet the best vendors selling the freshest fruits and vegetables, traditional medicine, flowers, and fruit juices. The guide will also take you to try some Ecuadorian street food. Check reviews and tour prices with Viator.

42.      Try the Fruit and Fruit Juices of Ecuador

fruit stand

Do not leave Ecuador without trying their fruit and fruit juices. They are the best part of Ecuadorian cuisine. You’ll come across so many different fruits that you’ve probably never seen or tried before. Here are just some must-try fruits in Ecuador:

  • Tomate de abrol – BEST tried as a juice
  • Guanabana – BEST tried as a juice
  • Babaco – I’ve only tried it as a juice
  • Naranjilla – BEST tried as a juice
  • Uvilla – Interesting but not my favorite
  • Granadilla – A bit like passion fruit
  • Chirimoya – I adore this fruit,  but it can be pricey!
  • Taxo – Not the best tasting fruit

Another way to experience the fruit of Ecuador is by getting one of their jugo de naturales (natural fruit juices). You can find them on the drink menu of any restaurant. But you’ll also find them at fruit juice stands along the street but especially in the markets like Central Market.

The four most common juice drinks you’ll find are tomate de abrol (tree tomato), naranjilla, guanabana, and more (blackberry). But you can get pretty much any kind of fruit in juice form.

Finally, try one of the fruits as an ice cream. There’s an ice cream shop in Plaza Grande that sells all those exotic fruit flavors as ice cream.

43.      Try Ecuadorian Ice Cream

a person making helado paila
Making helado paila

I am not an ice cream lover but I do love eating the ice cream of Ecuador. And so do Ecuadorians – you’ll find ice cream shops on nearly every street. Ecuadorians love their ice cream.

You can find any of their exotic and delicious fruit turned into ice cream. There’s an ice cream shop in Plaza Grande that sells taxo ice cream, guanabana ice cream, etc. Another of my favorite places to get Ecuadorian ice cream is in La Mariscal at …

However, what you REALLY must do is try the special ice cream called Paila de Helado. It’s made in large copper bowls called paila. The bowls are placed in ice and fruit juice (blackberry (mora) is the most popular) is poured into the bowl. The fruit juice is then mixed with a spatula while the bowl is turned until the liquid becomes “ice cream.” It’s really quite delicious.

You can find paila de helado street vendors all over the historic center. They come out especially on the weekends when the area fills with Ecuadorian families. You can also find a stall at the Artesanal Market in Mariscal.

44.      Have Dinner or Drinks at a Rooftop Restaurant or Bar

Having dinner or drinks at a rooftop restaurant is last on this list but it should be first on your list of things to do in Ecuador. Lingering over a meal or a drink is a great way to take in the spectacular views of Quito.

It’s going to be a bit chilly at night and a hot beverage will be perfect. Order a canelazo, a traditional Ecuadorian warm alcoholic drink that contains rum or aguardiente (South American sugar cane alcohol), sugar or panela, and cinnamon. It’s so delicious!

Here are some popular rooftop restaurants with great views:

If visiting any of these restaurants at night, take a taxi or an Uber. You should be fine getting to the restaurants by foot during the day.

  • The Secret Garden – They have one of the most popular rooftop restaurants in the city; when I stayed there (it’s also a hostel), they were all booked up for dinner; they serve international food. (Map)
  • Casa Gagontena – This terrace restaurant has great views of San Francisco Plaza; the food is a mix of international and Ecuadorian; expensive. (Map)
  • Pim’s – Located on Panecillo with great views of the city below; they serve international food and some traditional Ecuadorian dishes; food is expensive but reviews are positive (Map)
  • Café Mosaico – Very popular rooftop restaurant with amazing views in the San Blas Neighborhood; they serve international food and even have a vegan menu; their bar menu serves cocktails, wine, beer, and traditional Ecuadorian drinks like canelazo and ponche (Map)
  • Vista Hermosa – Another popular rooftop restaurant with great ambiance and views; they serve international and traditional Ecuadorian dishes. (Map)

Where to Stay in Quito

If you happen to be also looking for ideas on where to stay in Quito, here are my recommendations for every budget.

These suggestions are based on my time in the city and my friends’ visits to Quito. I spent 3 days in Quito before my trip to the Galapagos and 6 weeks after. During this time I stayed in 4 different hotels and hostels.

I recommend staying in either the historic center or in La Mariscal neighborhood. The historic center is convenient—close to all the main attractions—and you’re surrounded by lots of beautiful historic buildings. La Mariscal has got loads of restaurants and feels safer than the historic center.

You can also check out my complete list of where to stay in Quito.

Here is my Quick guide:

$ – Under US$40 | $$ – US$40 – $100 | $$$ – US$100 – $300 | $$$$ – Over US$300

Traveler’s House ($) – Great location in the historic center; in a 300-year-old house; huge rooms; I stayed here before my Galapagos trip. Very helpful and friendly owner. RATING: 9.2/10 (230+ Reviews) | BOOK YOUR STAY: Booking.com | Agoda

Viajero Quito Hostel ($)– Great location in the historic center; I stayed here on my last night in Quito and loved it! Their private rooms are very comfortable! RATING: 8.9/10 (1,100+ Reviews) | BOOK YOUR STAY: Booking.com | Agoda

Friends Hotel and Rooftop ($$) – Perfect location in historic center; breakfast included, rooftop restaurant with incredible viewsRATING: 9.3/10 (1,300+ Reviews | BOOK YOUR STAYBooking.com

Hotel Casa Gangotena ($$$$) – This beautiful and historic hotel is perfectly located right on Plaza San Francisco!  RATING: 9.1/10 (65+ Reviews) | BOOK YOUR STAY: Booking.com | Agoda

Illa Experience Hotel ($$$$) – The most stylish hotel in Quito has great views of the city and is located within walking distance of Plaza Independencia. RATING: 9.1/10 (42+ Reviews) | BOOK YOUR STAY: Booking.com Agoda

Check out this list of the top 25 places to stay in Quito – you’ll find a list of hotels with rooftop terraces, giving you stunning views of the city!

Final Thoughts on Best Things to Do in Quito

That’s my jampacked list of all the things to do in Quito—PERFECT for those who love to explore the culture, food, and history of Ecuador.

I hope you’ve found some things to add to your Quito itinerary. Let me know in the Comment Section what you think!

If you’re looking for more ideas for your trip to Quito and Ecuador, here are some more articles:

Here are some travel articles to help you plan your trip to the Galapagos:

Best Resources for Your Trip to Ecuador

Book Your Flight:

Use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights to Ecuador. They will turn up results for all airlines including major ones and local airlines. You’re guaranteed to find EVERYTHING that’s available and thus get the cheapest price.

Book Your Accommodations:

The best hotel booking sites are Booking.com and Agoda. They have the most choices and they consistently churn out hotels and hostels with the lowest prices. Another site for backpackers and budget travelers is Hostel World.

Book Your Tours:

Viator has the most tour choices of any site in Ecuador. They’re reliable and trustworthy. I also like using Get Your Guide for Ecuador for their excellent service. Both booking sites are reliable and trustworthy, and if you have trouble with your tour, they’ll quickly help you.

Get an eSIM

The most convenient way to stay connected to the internet is with an eSIM. I like to use Airalo for their excellent prices.

Want More Ecuador Travel Info?

Check out my Ecuador Travel Guide for more ideas, inspiration, and tips on traveling in Ecuador.

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About the Bamboo Traveler

The Bamboo Traveler

Welcome to The Bamboo Traveler, a travel blog dedicated to helping those travelers who want to dig deeply into the history, heritage, and culture of a place. Whether it’s through the pages of your passport or the pages of a book, I’ll help you travel the world and uncover the history, culture, food, architecture, and natural beauty of some of the world’s most fascinating places.

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