The historical heart of Ecuador’s capital, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Quito Old Town is the first port of call for most visitors to the city. Known for its cobblestone lanes, Spanish colonial architecture, and beautiful churches, it’s Quito’s most atmospheric district.
The best way to explore the Old Town is on a walking tour. Most sights are within strolling distance of the main squares—Plaza de la Independencia (aka Plaza Grande), Plaza Santo Domingo, and Plaza San Francisco—making it easy to check off top attractions such as the Central Market (Mercado Central), the Independence Monument (El Monumento a la Independencia), and the Archbishop’s Palace (Palacio Arzobispal).
Many Quito city tours combine a walking tour of the Old Town with a view from Panecillo hill, a ride on the Teleferico to the top of Pichincha Volcano, or a visit to the Middle of the World monument, Ecuador’s equator line.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Quito is located at an altitude of 9,350 feet (2,850 meters), and visitors flying in from areas of lower altitude may need a day or two to acclimatize. It’s best not to plan any strenuous activities during this time.
- Many of the Old Town’s restaurants, bars, and nightlife venues are located along La Ronda.
- Many of Quito’s museums are closed on Mondays.
How to Get There
Plaza Grande marks the center of Quito Old Town, which lies between La Mariscal in the north and El Panecillo in the south. It’s easy to get around the Old Town on foot, but trolley buses and taxis are also widely available.
When to Get There
The Old Town is closed to traffic on Sundays from 8am to 2pm, a lively time when the pedestrianized streets are filled with street performers and handicraft vendors. Another popular time to visit is on Monday morning at 11am, when the weekly Changing of the Guards ceremony takes place outside the Presidential Palace (Palacio de Carondelet).
Religious Buildings of Quito Old Town
The Old Town has more than 200 churches, convents, and monasteries. Among the most impressive are the Catedral Metropolitana de Quito, on Plaza de la Independencia, and the neo-Gothic Basílica del Voto Nacional, Quito’s largest church, both of which offer spectacular city views from their bell towers. Also notable are the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, known for its lavishly gilded baroque interiors, and the Convento de San Francisco, now home to a huge museum of religious art.