Quito, the capital of Ecuador, sits high in the Andean foothills and is known for its well-preserved colonial center, rich history, and breathtaking mountainous backdrop. For those contemplating things to do in Quito, wandering through the historic Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site with its grand plazas, ornate churches, and monasteries, and visiting the equatorial monument “La Mitad del Mundo” which marks the exact middle of the Earth, are top activities.
The city’s Panecillo hill, crowned with the iconic statue of the Virgin of Quito, offers panoramic views of the sprawling urban landscape and surrounding volcanoes. Nearby, the TelefériQo cable car ascends the Pichincha Volcano, providing even more stunning vistas and hiking opportunities at higher altitudes.
Beyond its urban and historical attractions, Quito is a gateway to Ecuador’s diverse landscapes, from Amazon rainforests to Andean highlands. For those seeking the best places to visit in Ecuador, Quito’s blend of colonial charm, natural beauty, and cultural richness makes it a must-visit destination.
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Attractions & Things to Do in Quito, Ecuador
1. Basílica del Voto Nacional
One of the most iconic landmarks in Quito, the Basílica del Voto Nacional boasts neo-Gothic architecture and offers panoramic views of the city from its towers. It is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas and is adorned with figures of Ecuadorian animals instead of traditional gargoyles.
Travel Tip: Be prepared to climb steep steps to reach the top. It’s advisable to wear comfortable shoes and carry a bottle of water.
2. La Ronda Street
This charming, narrow street is reminiscent of Quito’s colonial past. It’s filled with beautifully restored old houses, balconies adorned with flowers, art studios, and eateries that serve traditional Ecuadorian food and drinks. In the evenings, musicians and performers add to the vibrant atmosphere.
Travel Tip: Visit in the evening to enjoy live music and dance performances. However, keep an eye on personal belongings due to the crowds.
3. Mitad del Mundo
Located just outside Quito, Mitad del Mundo, or ‘Middle of the World,’ marks the exact spot of the equator. A monument and museum detail the significance of its geographical location. Visitors can straddle the equator line, effectively standing simultaneously in both the northern and southern hemispheres.
Travel Tip: The older monument and the accurate GPS location are two sites nearby. Don’t miss the Intiñan Museum, which showcases indigenous cultures and offers interactive equatorial experiments.
Quito’s TelefériQo is a gondola lift that takes visitors up the eastern slope of the Pichincha volcano. Once at the top, one is greeted with breathtaking views of Quito, surrounded by the Andean mountains.
Travel Tip: The altitude can be challenging for some, so take it slow when exploring the summit. Bring a jacket, as temperatures can be more relaxed at higher altitudes.
5. Church of the Society of Jesus (La Compañía)
This historic church is a masterpiece of Baroque art and architecture in South America. Its interiors are lavishly adorned with gold leaf, ornate sculptures, and intricate carvings.
Travel Tip: Respect the religious customs when visiting and dress modestly. Photography might be restricted inside, so always ask for permission.
6. Museo Nacional del Ecuador
This museum showcases Ecuador’s rich history, culture, and art, spanning from prehistoric times to the present. Exhibits cover indigenous cultures, colonial history, and contemporary art, giving visitors a comprehensive view of Ecuador’s heritage.
Travel Tip: Allocate at least a few hours to explore the museum. Guided tours are available, providing deeper insights into the exhibits.
7. El Panecillo
Dominating the southern skyline of Quito, El Panecillo is a hill featuring the iconic statue of the Virgin of Quito, known locally as ‘La Virgen del Panecillo.” From its vantage point, visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the city stretching out beneath them.
Travel Tip: While the views during the day are spectacular, it’s advised not to walk to the top in the late evening due to safety concerns. Use a taxi instead.
8. Parque La Carolina
Situated in the heart of Quito, Parque La Carolina offers a lush, expansive green space perfect for relaxation, jogging, or family picnics. The park also features a botanical garden, a lagoon with paddle boats, and recreational areas.
Travel Tip: The park is bustling with local families on weekends, making it a great spot to experience local life. However, keeping an eye on personal belongings is advisable as parks can get crowded.
9. Museo de la Ciudad
Located in the heart of Quito’s historic center, the Museo de la Ciudad traces the city’s history from its earliest inhabitants to the modern day. Housed in a former hospital, the museum offers a series of exhibits that paint a vivid picture of Quito’s past.
Travel Tip: The museum offers interactive displays that engage kids. Check for any special events or workshops that might be happening during your visit.
10. Mercado Artesanal La Mariscal
This vibrant market is a hub for handicrafts and souvenirs in Quito. From handmade textiles and jewelry to traditional Ecuadorian hats and wood carvings, many artisanal items are available for purchase.
Travel Tip: Bargaining is common practice here. Start by offering about half of the asking price and negotiate from there. Remember to carry cash, as not all vendors accept cards.
11. Plaza Grande (Plaza de la Independencia)
This historic square is the heart of Quito’s old town. Surrounded by the Presidential Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and the Archbishop’s Palace, Plaza Grande is buzzing with activity and often hosts various cultural events.
Travel Tip: The plaza is a great starting point for a walking tour of Quito’s historic center. Plenty of cafes and eateries around the square offer local cuisine, perfect for a quick bite or people-watching.
FAQ About Things to Do in Quito, Ecuador
What is the significance of Quito’s Old Town?
Quito’s Old Town, also known as the Historic Center, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of South America’s best-preserved colonial centers. It’s filled with historic churches, plazas, and colonial-era architecture, making it a must-visit for history and culture enthusiasts.
Can I visit the Middle of the World Monument?
Yes, the “Mitad del Mundo,” or Middle of the World Monument, is a popular attraction outside Quito. It marks the exact location of the Equator and offers a unique opportunity to stand in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres simultaneously.
Is the TelefériQo worth a visit?
Absolutely! The TelefériQo is a gondola lift that takes visitors up the Pichincha Volcano. You can enjoy breathtaking views of Quito and the surrounding Andean peaks from the top. It’s also a starting point for hikes to the summit of Rucu Pichincha.
Are there any notable churches to visit in Quito?
Yes, the Basilica del Voto Nacional and the Church of the Society of Jesus (La Compañía) are two of the most iconic churches in Quito. Their intricate architecture and rich history make them must-visit sites.
Can I explore the Andean landscapes around Quito?
Definitely! Stunning Andean landscapes surround Quito, and numerous hiking trails, nature reserves, and national parks like Cotopaxi National Park offer opportunities for outdoor adventures.
Is Quito’s nightlife vibrant?
Yes, Quito has a lively nightlife scene with numerous bars, clubs, and live music venues, especially in areas like La Mariscal. Whether you’re looking for salsa dancing or a quiet bar, Quito has something for everyone.
Are there any local markets to explore in Quito?
Yes, the Otavalo Market, located a short drive from Quito, is one of the largest indigenous markets in South America. Here, you can find handmade crafts, textiles, and traditional foods. In Quito, the Mercado Central offers a glimpse into local life and cuisine.
How can I learn about Ecuador’s indigenous cultures in Quito?
The Museo Nacional del Ecuador and the Intiñan Solar Museum offer insights into the country’s indigenous cultures, history, and traditions. Participating in local tours and workshops can also provide a deeper understanding of Ecuador’s rich cultural heritage.