Ecuador’s capital city of Quito sits high in the Andes, a pocket of colorful buildings, classic architecture, and rich history with plenty for any vacationer to Ecuador to explore. The new and old of the country come together here, with a burgeoning culinary and modern nightlife scene developing right next to the ‘Old Town’ UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with colonial buildings and monuments.
Just outside of the city you’ll find even more dramatic attractions, from standing on the Equator to exploring volcanoes. Whether it’s nature, architecture, history, culture or culinary treats you seek, you can be sure to find what you’re looking for in Quito. Read on for our picks of the 10 top tourist attractions in Quito, Ecuador.
Perhaps the most photogenic spot in the city, Quito’s Old Town is a beautiful historic walking area with well-preserved colonial architecture. Wrought iron balconies adorn rows of colorful buildings, with impressive churches and monuments scattered along the cobblestone roads. The entire area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and easily tops our list of the best things to do in Quito. Visit the famous thoroughfare Calle la Ronda any time of day to wander and explore the quaint restaurants and cafes. If you can visit on a Sunday morning, you’ll also get to see the weekly festival with music, vendors, and dancers in native outfits.
Quito’s most ornate church, the Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus (Church of the Society of Jesus), is a sight even the non-devout can appreciate. The exterior of the church is understated yet elegant, but the interior is decadently decorated with gold. If you only have time for one church in Quito, make sure it’s this one!
The ultimate art exhibit in Quito, Capilla del Hombre is a museum complex that includes the last residence and adjacent museum of painter Oswaldo Guayasamin, one of the eminent Ecuadorian painters. Art lovers will enjoy the focus on the painter’s work and life, as well as seeing many large pieces known for powerful themes such as poverty, race, religion, and politics. Included in the admission fee is a guided tour.
In just a 15-minute ride, this cable car will take you to the summit of Rucu Pichincha, a height of 4,100 meters above sea level. Incredible scenery and views of the entire city below await you, giving a bird’s eye view of all of Quito. For visitors with just a few days in the city, this is one of the best things to do to get a bit of perspective and understand the city from afar.
If you’ve ever wanted to stand directly on the Equator, this is your chance! Just two hours outside the city of Quito is the “Middle of the World” where you can straddle the Northern and Southern Hemispheres and take photos to prove it. The grounds also include a museum, planetarium, shops, restaurants, and several other related sites that are worth a look. Easily one of the best things to do in Quito, and hands down one of the most popular!
Just a couple hours outside of Quito (and only 4km from La Mitad del Mundo), this reserve is incredibly different from the many other popular things to do in the city. Make sure to check out the volcanic crater of the extinct Pululahua, almost 400m deep and 5km across. Nearby are hiking trails, including one to the Mirador de Ventanillas viewpoint on the southeast side of the reserve. Great for a day trip outside the city!
An impressive white building in the Old Town, the current seat of the Ecuadorian presidency is an interesting visit with notable architecture. Visitors can see the interior through free-guided tours, which change depending on which rooms are not currently in use. If you’re in the city on a Monday morning, you can catch the changing of the guards around 11 am.
People-watching is one of Quito’s popular plazas is a must to see the everyday hustle and bustle as the locals go about their lives. Perhaps the best plaza to do this is the Plaza Grande or Independence Square, with its spectacular surrounding buildings including the Presidential Palace, City Hall, a cathedral, and the Archbishop’s Palace. Soak up the Ecuadorian culture as a veritable plethora of vendors sell their wares from the surrounding cobblestone streets and snap a selfie from the popular central statue, or grab a table at a nearby restaurant to sample local dishes.
The detailed basilica is a great thing to see in the city for any type of traveler. The exterior offers notable architecture, while those daring enough to climb to the top of the belfry and towers will be rewarded with views of the entire city, as far as the Virgin statue and mountains bordering Quito. Those afraid of heights will enjoy the beautiful gardens below with carvings of animals from the Galapagos.
El Panecillo is a large monument to the Virgin of Quito. Situated high on a hill in the middle of the city, it is also known for offering sweeping 360-degree views over the rest of the city. Hire a taxi to take you to the top and witness the glimmering cityscape-one of the best views in the city! If you arrive before late afternoon, you’ll also have a chance to snack at the local food trucks right next to the monument.
There are so many tourist attractions in and around Quito, this top 10 is just the beginning! This makes spending a few days in Quito worthwhile as part of a larger visit to Ecuador. After seeing these favorite sights in the city, you’ll find many other ways to appreciate the architecture, nature, and culture of the Ecuadorian capital.
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