Quito, the capital, is most likely where you’ll either begin or end your journey in Ecuador. And what better destination than the first city ever to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
Within the bustling metropolis, there is a lot to see and do so make sure to plan at least a few days to explore. From breathtaking viewpoints to extravagant cathedrals, here are my recommended best things to do in Quito.
We spent seven weeks in Ecuador, another helpful article to read next is Important Tips and Things to Do BEFORE Arriving in Ecuador.
1. Join a Free Walking Tour
One of the best free things to do in Quito is to join a walking tour. It is a fantastic introduction to the city and the perfect thing to do on your first full day in Quito, Ecuador.
You’ll meet other visitors as well and get a crash course on some of the traditions and history of the country.
Every tour is slightly different, but on ours, we walked to the city market, tried popular fruits and drinks specific to the region, visited a Cathedral and a beautiful boutique hotel, and learned about and sampled some famous Ecuadorian chocolate.
If you’d like to know who we booked through or more detailed info, read What to do in Quito for One Day – A Walking Tour.
2. Ride the Teleférico Cable Car
Another must-do on your itinerary is to take the Teleférico cable car.
At 12,943 feet high, it is one of the highest aerial lifts in the world.
The sky tram glides up the slopes of the Pichincha Volcano roughly 2,700 feet in a little over 10 minutes. It is quite the ride!
The views are stunning but at that high altitude, you will notice a difference in your breathing. It’s one of those experiences you want to do after being in Quito for a few days after you acclimate.
At the top, you’ll find a few things to keep you busy. You can swing in the clouds which we thought was just a cheesy photo opp, but it ended up being a lot of fun!
There’s something special about being on a giant swing set in the sky overlooking the city. It’ll have you grinning from ear to ear.
3. Hike to the Summit of a Volcano
Another popular activity at the top of Cruz Lomo Plateau from the cable car is hiking Rucu Pichincha, a challenging trail that goes up over 15,000 feet.
But, oh is it stunning!
You’ll be rewarded with extraordinary panoramic views of Ecuador’s magnificent volcanoes. Read more about the Ruca Pichincha hike here.
4. Tour the Towers at the Basilica of the National Vow
Even if you are not religious, put the Basilica of the National Vow on your itinerary.
We have visited countless cathedrals and churches during our travels, but this Basilica really stands out.
The grand building was designed by the French architect Emilio Tarlier, who was inspired by the Parisian cathedral of Notre Dame.
You’ll see Ecuador-themed gargoyles watching guard outside and exquisite stained glass on the inside.
It is one of the largest neo-Gothic basilicas in the Americas and not only has stunning architecture, but you also get spectacular views of the city from the towers.
The tower ticket is only $3.00 per person which can be purchased outside at the entrance of Carchi and Venezuela.
It allows you to view the inside of the basilica from an elevated balcony before climbing three towers of one of the tallest structures in the city. It’s on your own and not guided which makes the experience one of the unique things to do in Quito.
The two front towers are 377 feet high (115 meters) and the stairs keep going round and round inside until you reach the top.
Note: there is an elevator option but that just isn’t as much fun.
The third tower is open air and the steps are super steep making it a very special experience. Once you get to the top, you are rewarded with views of the two towers and the other side of the city.
Related: Best Restaurants in Quito
5. Visit the Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve
Just a 45-minute cab ride from historic Quito is the Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve – one of only two volcanic craters in the world inhabited by humans and the only one that is farmed!
It’s free to enter with an Uber ride roughly $11 and is a great combo with The Middle of the World City only 10 minutes away. If you do not feel comfortable taking public transportation, book an all-day tour that leaves from Plaza Grande here.
The driver will drop you off at the top of the crater so you either take in the view at an overlook or make a hike of it.
The 1.2-mile (1.8 kilometers) trail is tough but worth it. It’s a steep and rocky trail that winds down to the small village at the bottom.
On the weekends, there are a few restaurants open in the village but if visiting during the weekdays plan ahead. The souvenir shops and one cafe with drinks and snacks are open for business at the top every day.
6. Straddle the Equator
With the Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve only three miles away from the Middle of the World City, combine the two for a day trip.
Take an obligatory picture standing on the equator, conduct interesting experiments, shop for artisanal souvenirs, visit the monument, see a live performance, and experience the cultural exhibits at the Mitad del Mundo.
7. See the Church of the Society of Jesus
The Church of the Society of Jesus is one of those buildings that even if you didn’t have on your list of places to see and you walked by, you’d stop in.
With its ancient-looking volcanic stone and twisted columns, the facade beckons travelers to enter.
Once inside, you’ll be amazed at the amount of gold-covered ornamentation and elaborately decorated artwork.
Related: Things to Do in Quito at Night
8. People Watch at Plaza Grande
The heartbeat of Old Town is found at Plaza Grande, the historical center of the city. It’s where locals and visitors alike soak in the colonial architecture and bustling atmosphere.
At the center is a large monument, Heroes of the Independence, standing tall in honor of the first attempt at independence from the Spanish Monarchy.
Surrounding the square are important buildings such as the Presidential Palace, City Hall, Archbishop’s Palace, and the Metropolitan Cathedral.
Enter the Arch Bishops Palace on the north side to find restaurants on balconies overlooking a charming patio serving up traditional Ecuadorian food.
Tip: If you’re visiting Quito on a Monday, plan to visit around 11:00 am for the changing of the guard ceremony in front of the Presidential Palace.
9. San Francisco Monastery and Church
The Convent of San Francisco was started by three Franciscan Monks between 1537 and 1560.
For a small fee, you can walk around part of the vast complex and see a few of the cloisters, more than 3,500 works of religious art, try a local craft beer in the Antigua Cerveceria (where the monks used to brew their own beer), take in a special overlook of the San Francisco Church from a balcony, and climb the bell tower for more views of the city and plaza.
10. Parque La Carolina and the Quito Botanical Gardens
The sprawling Parque La Carolina provides the perfect escape from the hecticness of the big city.
The beautifully landscaped park is home to a small lake with paddleboats, lovely botanical gardens, a children’s library, multiple playgrounds, an auditorium, bike paths, a skatepark, tennis courts, and numerous food stalls.
What to Do in Quito for a Week
If you’re staying for more than a few days, here are other things to do in Quito that we enjoyed.
- La Ronda
- El Panecillo
- Parque El Ejido
- Banditos Brewery
- Espejo Street
If you are asking yourself, is it worth visiting Quito Ecuador? The answer is yes! Quito offers plenty of things to do and see!
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