If you are going to be visiting Ecuador, you likely will be coming through Quito! This huge city is a wonderful place to stop for a few days and these are the best things to do in Quito, Ecuador.
Quito is the most populous city in Ecuador with 2 million people! Being established in the 1500s, it has tons of history and has done a great job as it continues to grow into the future.
We found that our two days in Quito Ecuador were perfect to get all the major attractions under our belt. If you like to go at a quicker pace, you could certainly do one full day in Quito but it will be full because of the long distances to travel between all the main stops.
This list of the best things to do in Quito, Ecuador was everything that we had researched and we got to almost all of it in our two days. We’ll go over the best things to do in Quito, Ecuador, unique things to do in Quito, places to eat in Quito, Ecuador, and more!
This post is all about the best things to do in Quito, Ecuador!
Things To Do In Quito Ecuador:
Cross the Equator
Entry: $5 per person
One of the biggest things to do in Quito, Ecuador is to visit its namesake (the Equator). The Equator runs through the northern part of Quito in a small town called Ciudad Mitad del Mundo or City Middle of the World. Back in the 1700s, the French set out to confirm the shape of the world and find its Equator. This spot is where they marked and although they were slightly off, they came pretty darn close for the 1700s. Be sure to visit the Museo de Sitio Intiñan to see the actual Equator marker. The Mitad del Mundo is full of fun stuff to do and can easily be an entire day’s adventure. It’s quite far from the rest of the city and we took an Uber. It cost about $12 each way.
Once you are here be sure to take all the fun photos and videos of you doing two things on either side of the Hemisphere! You’ll see tons of people taking goofy photos, but that’s part of the fun. The monument in the middle is 30 m high and has gorgeous views over the surrounding neighborhoods. On either side, it tells you which direction you are facing and on the ground, you’ll find two large circles with N & S so you know which side is the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere. They have quite a few museums on-site to explore including some hands-on activities like balancing an egg on the equator and see the water flush down in opposite directions. We ate at Cafe Guayasamin and were impressed by their sandwiches. They also have some nice restaurants and even a Beer shop and Museum!
> Read more of our itineraries and tips for South America
Ride the TeleferQo
Entry: $8.50 per person (foreigner)
The TeleferQo is a cable car that takes you from the already high-altitude city of Quito (2,850 m or 9,350 ft) to 3,945 m (12,943 ft). It’s a 20-minute ride up and the views are stunning the entire way. With the pandemic, they are taking social distancing very seriously so we were able to get a car to ourselves for the ride. We highly recommend going as early as you can as the weather is usually a lot clearer in the mornings with the afternoons being covered in clouds.
Once you are at the top, there is quite a bit to do. We were pleasantly surprised! There is a cafe just off to the right that has huge windows overlooking the valley and city below. We stopped here for a warm drink before exploring because it is quite cold up here. You’ll need a few layers and be sure to wear some shoes for hiking if you want to explore more! On the bottom floor of the cafe, there is a ledge over the mountain that you can go out to get beautiful photos. You’ll need $1 in coins per person to enter.
If you exit through the back of the cafe you’ll find the start of the hiking trails. They have long hikes up to 4 hours that will take you much higher into the mountains. We opted to just take the 20-minute walk up to the swing. It was quite steep and because we were at such a high altitude, we were quite breathless. The swing is definitely worth it though. It’s so peaceful to swing so high up in such a quiet environment. There is usually a small line but it never took more than 10 minutes to get on.
On the way up, be sure to look in the opposite direction of Quito. You’ll find sprawling hills and a sweet chapel nestled into the side of the mountain. You can also take your walk in that direction to visit. There are usually locals on the hike with alpacas or llamas for photo opportunities. Remember these aren’t free and you will need to pay for the opportunity to take these photos. They are super adorable though!
Explore Historic District
The UNESCO World Heritage City is as charming as you can imagine. We started in Plaza Grande and in every direction you find gorgeous architecture and the kindest people. Be sure to admire the sprawling President’s Palace on the west end. You won’t be able to go up or into it (currently with the Pandemic, normally it opens at 9 am Tuesday through Sunday). It’s a short routine but cool to see the tradition regardless. On Mondays at 11 am, they put together a more elaborate changing of the guard that is definitely worth checking out. The president of Ecuador comes out and waves to the crowd and there is a large ceremony of the changing of the guards that watched over the palace for the past week.
The Catedral Metropolitana de Quito is beautiful to check out as well. The Convento de San Francisco Monastery is just around the corner as well. And of course, you should spend some time just sitting in the Plaza watching everyone go by. The main statue in the center is the Monumento a la Independencia. This is a great spot to grab a coffee at the outdoor cafe, Las Delicias De La Plaza Grande.
Admire the Basílica del Voto Nacional
Cathedral Entry: $2 per person
Clock Tower Entry: $3 per person
Central Tower Entry: $2 per person
We could have spent an entire day here because this place is incredibly massive and there is surprisingly so much to do! Basílica del Voto Nacional is a Gothic Roman Church perched on a hill just above the historic district of Quito. If you enter the Cathedral from the southeast side (Calle Venezuela) you will be able to enter into the cathedral and admire the incredible stained glass throughout. There is a small room on the right side behind the stage that is strictly for worship and no cameras are allowed. It’s a gorgeous room and I highly recommend it. You are also able to climb up two staircases in the middle to reach the choir balcony. It offers a unique view over the rest of the pews.
The main attraction of visiting Basílica del Voto Nacional is the fact that you can climb the towers to get incredible views over the city. To climb the clock towers you will actually need a separate ticket to do so. You will walk around the outside of the Cathedral to the southwest side off of Carchi Street. There you will be able to purchase tickets for the towers.
Surprisingly there is a lot more than just towers up here! You will climb up the first set up steps to the large circular stained glass windows. You will get to admire the beauty of the stained glass up close. It really is something. You will also be able to see into the rest of the cathedral. This is great if you are only able to do one of the ticketed entries for budget or time purposes. From here you can see out onto the first section of the roof through a few doorways.
Next, you will climb up higher and higher. We climbed the left tower when you are looking at the cathedral from the outside (where you entered). We passed an art gallery and a cafe before reaching the inside of the clock. You can go even higher up the spiral staircase to the rooftop of the tower. It is a tight squeeze so be careful! You get fantastic views over the historic district of Quito on one side and of the rest of the Cathedral on the other.
The cafe on the right side was amazing. Everyone who worked there was so sweet and offered tons of advice for us. We ended up sitting on the balcony of the clock tower and tried some local cocktails. The Canelazo is our new favorite cold-weather drink and the coca boozy milkshake was so chocolatey and delicious. Plus the views were incredible.
To climb the center tower, you will need to climb metal ladders and cross a platform through the center of the roof. The views are incredible overlooking the clock towers and if you look up you can get a great view of the condors on the top of the north tower.
Stroll Calle La Ronda
This trending street is located along the lower edge of the Historic District in Quito. As we were walking from the Plaza Grande to Calle La Ronda, we were stopped a few times by police officers informing us that we shouldn’t go past Calle La Ronda because of safety issues. While we were on Calle La Ronda during the morning hours, everything was closed and all we could do was walk the street. It is a very colorful street though! If you do want to experience Calle La Ronda for what it really is, be sure to come via taxi or Uber and come in the afternoon or evening. There are tons of restaurants, shops, and live music. It looked like a great time but while we were there, quite dead.
If you are looking for some good cheap food, head to Mercado Central. Its location is close to the historic center and could be walked. However, we were told often that we should be careful with all of our gear out so we would recommend a short taxi or Uber ride or trying public transportation. The lower floor of the market is full of stalls with meat and veggies and clothes. If you head up to the second floor, you will find stalls selling food and drinks. Most people will be jumping out and shouting for you to come to their stand. Just say “No, gracias” until you find what you are looking for.
We headed all the way to the back near the street entrance. On the left was the last stand selling fruit juices. She was so sweet and helped me figure out what to order. I ended up getting a mora and coco (blackberry and coconut) juice blended. It was incredible and only $0.75. For food, we shared a Llapingacho meal. It’s a traditional Ecuadorian meal usually served for breakfast or lunch. It includes potato omelets, sausage, meat, egg, avocado, and a small salad. This one, in particular, was delicious and only $3.25 and perfect to share with a juice!
See the Views from Loma El Panecillo
El Panecillo Entry: $1 per person
Top of Monument Entry: $2 per person
If you are interested in more views over the sprawling city of Quito, you can head up to the top of Loma El Panecillo. This hill is located just south of Calle La Ronda but isn’t in a great neighborhood. Although you could try to walk the trail up there we recommend trying to grab a cab or Uber instead. The Virgin Mary’s statue sits at the top. You can enter the grounds to get views of Quito or even climb to the top! She can be seen from all over the Historic District of Quito. Even if you don’t have a chance to go up the hill, be sure to spot her statue from various points around the city!
Getting Around Quito:
Quito is massive. Even though its population is only 2 million and smaller than many of the cities we have visited in the Americas, it feels much larger than all of them. It’s situated between Cerro Guagua Pichincha and Cayambe-Coca National Park and rather than a proportional city, it’s extremely long from North to South. This means it’s definitely not a walking town. Although you can walk around the Historic District, we still wouldn’t highly recommend it. We were stopped by countless police and even locals telling us to be careful and be sure we don’t stray out of the main tourist areas.
Ride Share Services
This was by far the safest way to get around town. You know exactly who is picking you up and can easily tell them where you are going without a huge language barrier. We prefer ride shares over taxis for that reason mainly. It’s also nice to be able to pay via credit card on the app rather than needing change. And you know exactly what your price will be ahead of time. Taxis will often hike up their prices for tourists and especially tourists with cameras. We found Uber to be readily available and never had to wait more than 15 minutes for a ride.
There is a readily available public transportation system throughout Quito. This article on Quito’s public transportation from Lonely Planet is helpful to know all the details about the buses, electric buses, and a metro. We didn’t opt for public transportation this trip. Although it is much cheaper, around $0.25 for a ride, with all the warnings we got about safety, we felt better about rideshares.
Renting a Car
You could always rent a car. We love the freedom that comes with renting a car. Since Quito is a densely populated city, it could be challenging to get where you are trying to go. We didn’t see any parking options around the Historic District and traffic was pretty crazy. There was parking at TeleferQo although paid. The same for Cuidad Mitad del Mundo with paid parking. This isn’t the best option but could work if you are using the car to drive elsewhere in Ecuador.
> See the best prices for Car Rentals in Quito, Ecuador!
Accommodations in Quito:
Since Quito is so large there are tons of neighborhoods to choose from for accommodations. The Historic District is full of great hotels and is the most commonplace for tourists to stay. You could also stay in the La Mariscal area. This is where we stayed and loved the walkability to great restaurants and the ease of getting a relatively cheap Uber ride to where we needed to go. If you are looking for a quiet neighborhood, check out La Floresta or La Carolina.
Budget | Masaya Quito – This clean and modern hostel has private rooms for a great price. There is a friendly atmosphere here and a great place to meet people!
Mid-Range | Vista del Angel Hotel Boutique – This gorgeous boutique is located in the heart of the historic district. There’s a restaurant and bar on property as well as a spa and hot tub!
Luxury | Villa Colonna – If you are looking for true luxury in Quito, then the Villa Colonna is for you. This colonial-style building is rich in history. The reviews rave about their great service and beautiful property.
> Look for even more accommodation options in Quito!