Located high in the Andes, Ecuador’s capital stands at over 2,700 metres above sea level, and is one of the highest capital cities in the world. Quito’s historic district was also one of the first UNESCO World Heritage sites ever listed, which makes exploring it a highlight of any trip to the city. If you only have a short visit, our local Quito tour guides have tips on how to maximise your time and spend 24 memorable hours in Quito.
Start your day in Quito at colourful Mercado Central in the Old Town. The market opens at 7am so the timing will be perfect for getting yourself some breakfast and coffee. This is one of the best places in town to find authentic eats at pocket-friendly prices. Browse the rows of stalls selling everything from fresh flowers and piles of local produce to meats, spices and baked goods. Don’t miss out on a fresh fruit juice, of which there are numerous varieties to try.
From the market, it’s a 15-minute walk to Plaza Grande, at the centre of Quito’s Old Town and a great place to base yourself for the rest of your morning. Surrounded by cafés and restaurants where you can take a break when (and if) you need it, Plaza Grande is also close to some of Quito’s can’t-miss sights. These include Iglesia La Merced, an 18th-century church with the highest tower in colonial Quito; Iglesia de San Francisco, the city’s largest colonial structure; and Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, one of the city’s most beautiful churches.
Following your morning of sightseeing, take a five-minute walk to Cafetería Fabiolita, which you’ll find at the lower side of Quito’s Cathedral. We assume you’re ready for lunch at this point and this is a great place to fill your belly with local goodies. The recipes have been kept in the family for three generations, so you know you’ll be getting a satisfying meal. Try the seco de chivo (goat stew), one of the best versions of this dish you’ll find in the city.
Once you’ve rested up (and filled up), make your way on foot (10 minutes) to Museo de la Ciudad. This is an incredible museum providing extensive information about how the people of Quito lived from the 16th to 19th centuries, and displays include model indigenous homes, colonial kitchens, dioramas and photography. Close to the museum is Quito’s Calle La Ronda, a lively cobbled pedestrian street that might not be lengthy, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in the abundance of bars, cafés, artisanal craft shops prefect for souvenir shopping, and ice-cream parlours. Grab a cocktail from one of the aforementioned bars before moving on to dinner.
Getting hungry? We don’t blame you. If you’re in the mood for dinner, it’s a 15-minute walk from La Ronda to Vista Hermosa (meaning ‘beautiful view’), located in one of the tallest buildings in Quito. Here you’ll get incredible views of Old Town Quito from the open rooftop terrace, along with great food and drinks. If you happen to be visiting Wednesday through Saturday, the restaurant has live music beginning at 8:30pm. Come for the food, stay for the views and entertainment.
For travellers on a short visit, we’d definitely recommend having a layover that will allow you to spend at least two to three hours in the city centre, and another two to two-and-a-half hours for travelling to and from the airport (including time to go back through security).
The best way to get from the airport to the sites is by taking a taxi or the bus and a taxi. Taxis are available outside of the arrivals hall and the fixed rate to the city centre should be USD 26. The trip should take around 45 minutes, but could be up to an hour depending on traffic. Your other option is to take the Aeroservicios bus to Quito’s old airport and then a taxi to the city centre. This should take around an hour (bus and taxi) and the cost is USD 8 for the bus and then likely another USD 5 to 10 to the city centre.
If you want to see Quito in two hours in the morning or afternoon, make your way to Casa Museo Guayasamín, the former home of famed local painter Oswaldo Guayasamín. The museum houses a vast collection of the artist’s work, as well as his extensive collection of religious art and pre-Columbian artifacts.
If you’re in Quito for an evening or nighttime layover, visit Basílica del Voto Nacional, an impressive Gothic church in the Old Town. Rather than the traditional gargoyles of Gothic structures, the church is decked out with carvings of penguins, iguanas, monkeys and other native species. If you’re not deterred by heights, climb the basilica’s towers for panoramic views of the Old Town, which are especially magical by night.