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12 Free & Fun Things You Can Do in Quito!

Updated October 17, 2019

12 Free and Fun Things to do in Quito (Pinterest)

Quito is renowned for its colonial architecture and living culture. For that reason, UNESCO declared it the first World Heritage Site in 1978. And despite its growing tourism (again it is ranked as one of the top destinations by the World Travel Awards), Quito still offers dozens of FREE museums, churches, and activities. Every corner of the city opens another door into its rich culture and history.

Here I present to you a dozen of my favorite free activities the Ecuadorian capital has for us budget travelers. Some are well-known on the tourist circuit. A few of these jewels, though, are lesser-known.

1. Iglesia San Francisco

White church people with people in front in QuitoSan Francisco Church is Quito’s iconic landmark. It is the home of the Legend of Cantunya, and another tale about a black hand. The famous Good Friday procession begins (and ends) here.

Iglesia San Francisco (1537-1705) and its two chapels, six convents, two schools, a museum, library, and large plaza occupy 3.5 hectares in the Centro Histórico. Upon entering the church, note the wood-lattice ceiling. Executed in the mudéjar technique, it is like a giant jigsaw puzzle with no nails, pegs of glue used.

San Francisco church was home to the most important art academy of the Quiteño School. The temple’s collection includes sculptures by Caspicara and Bernardo de Legarda, author of the famous Virgen de Quito which is replicated atop El Panecillo hill; and paintings by Miguel de Santiago and Andrés Sánchez de Gallque.

Adjacent to the church is Museo Fray Pedro Gocial (Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Entry: $3).

Hours

Daily 8 a.m.-noon, 2-5 p.m.

Address

Calle Benalcázar, between Calle Bolívar and Sucre. Take the Trolley to the Santo Domingo stop, then walk 3 blocks west (uphill) on Calle Bolívar.

Website

Fray Pedro Gocial Museum (click here)

2. Centro de Arte Contemporáneo

Concrete and glass building of Roman-Modern architectureThe Center for Contemporary Art offers temporary exhibits of cutting-edge art by national and international artists. Every two years, the national Mariano Aguilera art salon competition takes place here. If you will be in Quito for a while, check into the free drawing and painting classes. This museum is situated atop a hill in a former military hospital, thus providing incredible views over both the old and new sections of Quito.

Hours

Daily 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

Address

Calle Montevideo and Luis Dávila (Antiguo Hospital Militar), Barrio San Juan. Take the Trolley to the Alameda stop. Walk west (uphill) six blocks on Calle Antonio Ante. The Center is 3 blocks north of the Basílica.

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Centro de Arte Contemporaneo Quito (click here)

3. Iglesia de la Merced

Church dome lighted up by white and yellow lights in the nightThis white-washed, Andalusian-styled church is where Ecuador’s independence forces came after their decisive victory against the Spaniards (1824). Compared to Quito’s other religious temples, La Merced is home to a few incredible treasures, like the altar screen made by Bernardo de Legarda. Lining the nave is a collection of paintings by Ecuador’s premier Art Deco artist, Víctor Mideros, recounting miracles of the Virgin of Mercy in Quito. Some of the canvases’ luminosity is breathtaking. The feast of the Virgin (September 24) includes fireworks and traditional dancing in the adjoining cloister.

Hours

Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-noon, 2-4 p.m.

Address

Calle Cuenca and Calle Chile. Take the southbound Trole to the Plaza Chica stop. Walk 1 block west (uphill) on Calle Espejo to Calle Venezuela, cut diagonal across the Plaza Grande to Calle García Moreno, and then one block west up Calle Chile.

Website

Iglesia de la Merced (click here)

4. Itchimbia

Quito Ceremony events built with glass, resembles the idea of a palaceThe Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace) – once the home of a market – now features temporary art exhibits and other cultural events. It is set in a park with several walking trails. On a clear day, over 20 volcanoes and the entire city may be seen from this hilltop. (A map on the north and south ends of the hill show the volcanoes.) Several times a year, rock and alternative music festivals are held in the park.

Hours

Daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Address

Calle Iquique s/n, Barrio El Dorado. Take the Trolley to either the Banco Central or the Alameda stop. Cross Alameda Park and then keep walking east four blocks on Calle Antonio de Elizalde to Calle Iquique. Turn right and walk one block to Calle José María Aguirre, and continue to walk uphill, following the signs.

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Centro Cultural Itchimbia (click here)

5. Museo Casa de Sucre

Quito Colonial hose of yellow brick with some people in the frontThis museum is set in the home of Independence general (Mariscal) José Antonio de Sucre who sealed Quito’s freedom from Spain at the Battle of Pichincha. He also led a number of decisive battles in Peru and Bolivia, later on, he became Bolivia’s first president. Why is his house here? Because he married Quito-native Mariana Carcelén, Marquise of Solanda. On display are the belongings of the Liberator and furnishings from the late 18th – early 19th century. Note the cobblestone entryway floor, inset with bone.

Hours

Daily 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

Address

Calle Venezuela N2-67 and Sucre. Take the Trolley to the Plaza Chica stop. Walk 1 block west (uphill) on Calle Espejo, to Calle Venezuela. Turn left and walk 1 block south, to Calle Sucre.

Website

Casa Sucre Museum (click here)

6. Palacio Presidencial

Ecuador Government's palace, white building with an Ecuadorian flag on topThe Presidential Palace – also called Palacio de Carondelet – is where Ecuador’s presidents have traditionally lived. Today, it is open to the public, with free guided tours daily (bring passport; for reservations, consult the website). Be sure to catch the “Revelo de Guardia” (changing of the guards' ceremony) every Monday at 11 a.m.

Hours

Tuesday-Sunday 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Address

Calle García Moreno and Calle Espejo. Take the Trolley to the Plaza Chica stop. Walk 2 blocks west (uphill) on Calle Espejo.

Website 

Palacio Presidencial (click here)

7. Centro Cultural Metropolitano

Stone pile in the midst on a colonial Quito house with big trees and balconiesLocated next to the Palacio Presidencial, the Metropolitan Cultural Center houses the main branch of the public library (complete with a fascinating rare books room and an internet center) and five galleries of art (temporary exhibits). The Center also hosts concerts, art conferences, and other cultural events – all for FREE! Opening art receptions (inauguración) are usually held monthly, on Thursday evenings. Also here is the Museo Albert Mena Caamaño wax museum (Tuesday-Saturday 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Entry: $1.50). Constructed in 1594, this building once was part of the Compañía church’s complex, and later was the country’s first university.

Hours

Tuesday-Saturday 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. (Library: Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.)

Address

Calle García Moreno and Calle Espejo. Take the Trolley to the Plaza Chica stop. Walk 2 blocks west (uphill) on Calle Espejo.

Website

Centro Cultural Metropolitano Museum (click here)

8. Sunday Feria

Indigenous fabrics made of woolOn Sunday morning, take a leisurely stroll through the Centro Histórico to check out the huge fair. There'll be music, dance, theater, artisans and much more action in the streets and plazas. Also going on is the Ciclopaseo, a 27-kilometer bicycling route (www.facebook.com/ciclopolis.ecuador).

Hours

Sunday 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Address

The streets and plazas of the Centro Histórico (especially on Calle Sucre, and on Calle García Moreno). Take the Trolley to the Plaza Chica stop. Walk 2 blocks west (uphill) on Calle Espejo to the Plaza Grande. Turn left on García Moreno. Calle Sucre is the next street to the south (towards the Virgin on El Panecillo).

9. Parque El Ejido: Free Open-Air Art Gallery

Open-Air market and art gallery with some people walking byOn the weekends, head to Parque El Ejido. Here, dozens of artisans and artists display and sell their works. (In fact, Ecuador’s crafts here are about the same price as in Otavalo!) Wander around the park, and enjoy the open-air comedy theater, local horseshoe competition, and other activities. You can grab a snack from the grill and fruit stands that dot the park.

Hours

Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Address

Parque El Ejido. Take the Trolley to the El Ejido stop, or the Ecovía to the Casa de la Cultura stop.

Website

El Ejido Park (click here)

10. Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana

Quito City theater, full of people attending a conferenceThe Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana is the seat for many of Ecuador’s cultural institutions. The white mansion (facing Avenida 6 de Diciembre) has several galleries featuring temporary art exhibits and a bookshop of writings by Ecuadorian authors.

In the Edificio de Los Espejos, the round building on the corner of 6 de Diciembre and Avenida Patria, are the National Library (Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., National Theater, Museo Nacional, Cinemateca Nacional (free movies), and various theater, dance and literature groups. Drop into the Museos de la Casa de la Cultura, spotlighting musical instruments and modern art. The second Sunday of each month (10 a.m.) is Casa Abierta, with free (of course) music and dance performances. Check the Casa’s calendar for free theater, literary and other events.

Hours

Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Address

Av. 6 de Diciembre and Av. Patria, in front of Parque El Ejido. Take the Ecovía to the Casa de la Cultura stop.

Website

Casa de la Cultura Museum (click here)

11. Rumipamba: Fun Trip back to the Past

Archeological complex in Northern Quito made of stone and ancient arquitectureDid you know that people have lived in the valley of Quito for over 12,000 years? One of the archaeological sites within the city is Parque Arqueológico y Ecológico Rumipamba. Not only will you find ruins, but also nature trails, ancient coluncos (ancient, semi-underground trails used as trade and contraband routes) and a museum. Free guided tours are given.

Hours

Wednesday-Sunday 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Address

Avenida Mariana de Jesús y Avenida Occidental (Avenida Mariscal Antonio José de Sucre), Bº Rumipamba (near Hospital Metropolitano and the Casa de la Música). Take the Metrobus to the San Gabriel stop, or the Trole to the Mariana de Jesús stop. Walk west on Avenida Mariana de Jesús to Calle Nuño de Valderrama (about 1 kilometer, uphill), where you will see the signed entrance on the right. Alternatively, take a bus going along Avenida Occidental and tell the driver you want to get off at Rumipamba and walk down Avenida Mariana de Jesús to Calle Nuño de Valderrama (about 0.5 kilometers).

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Rumipamba Archeological Park (click here)

12. San Diego Cemetery

Cemetery and Church in Downtown Quito: of white and orange colorsSan Diego, one of Quito’s oldest graveyards, is the final resting spot for several of Ecuador’s presidents, writers, and other luminaries. With funerary architecture designed by Italians Antonino Russo, Pietro Capurro, and Francisco Durini, San Diego ranks along with Buenos Aires’ La Recoleta as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Latin America. The chapel is reminiscent of Armenian architecture.

Next to the cemetery is Iglesia San Diego and the Museo Franciscano del Padre Almeida, personage of one of Quito’s most famous legends and originator of the phrase “Hasta la vuelta, Señor” (On the backswing, Lord!) (Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-1 p.m., 2-5 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Entry: $3).

Hours

Hours: Daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Address

Calle Chimborazo 199 and Imbabura. Take the Metrobus (Corredor Sur Occidental) to San Diego stop.

Website

Padre Almeida Musem (click here)

Did you like this article? Tweet or share it and we'll send you a free interactive digital transit map of Quito! Put it on your phone or tablet, and learn about interesting activities and places nearby various stops along Quito's three major mass transit lines.

Safe Journeys!

Lorraine Caputo is a travel writer, poet, and translator. She has authored 10 guidebooks for South America. Her literary works appear in over 150 journals in Canada, the US, Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa; 18 anthologies and 12 chapbooks – including the collections of travel poetry, Caribbean Nights (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014) and Notes from the Patagonia (dancing girl press, 2017) For several decades, she has been traveling through Latin America, listening to the voices of the pueblos and Earth. Follow her travels at lorrainecaputo.wanderer.

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