What To Do In Quito’s Historic Center

Quito historic center


Quito’s historic center is a UNESCO-recognized world heritage site. Even before the arrival of the Incas, this land was sacred for the people who inhabited it.

Here are some highlights of the historical landmarks and present-day cultural life that you an appreciate during your stay at Illa Experience Hotel.

Museums & Churches


Casa del Alabado
Museo de Arte Precolombino
Calle Cuenca N1-41 y Bolívar

This collection of Pre-Columbian art will leave you thinking for weeks to come. The guide will explain to you that the pieces are not organized by dates and geography/ Rather, this museum walks your through the cosmovision of Ecuador’s many ancient cultures. From the ground floor up, you will learn about the ukupacha, kaypacha, and the hanumpacha, the three spiritual realms recognized by the early peoples of the Andes, and the objects associated with each of these worlds.

Enjoy: A cup of coffee or a chocolate truffle by the museum’s entrance.


Museo Fray Pedro Gocial San Francisco
Calle Cuenca 477 y Sucre

Here you’ll find a fascinating collection of early colonial art and artefacts. Visiting the museum is a great way to learn about how early indigenous artisans learned their crafts– sculptures and paintings from the famous Escuela Quiteña that were then shipped off to the devout around the world–and to consider what day to day life might have been for 17th century Franciscan friars. (Or, indeed, what present day life might be like for the 21st century Franciscan friars who still live here in the monastery.)
Not to be missed: The intricate wooden puzzle pieces that hold up the ceiling of the church’s choir loft, a complex structure that has withstood now centuries of earthquakes.
San Francisco is also the perfect place to hear local legends like the Leyenda de Cantuña, the story of a builder who sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for help finishing the church’s construction, or to learn about the first beer brewed in Ecuador (right here on the premises).

Keep an eye out for: An original of the carved wooden sculpture that inspired the Virgen del Panecillo.


Museo de Acuarela y Dibujo Muñoz Mariño
Junín E2-22, San Marcos

This beautifully restored colonial building houses the work of Ecuador’s most cherished watercolor painter, Oswaldo Muñoz Mariño. Entry to the museum is free. Take advantage of the peaceful atmosphere to walk around the two stories of displays that surround the central patio. The permanent collection includes Muñoz Mariño’s drawings and watercolor landscapes from all over Ecuador and urban scenes from Mexico City, where the painter lived in his youth. The museum also offers watercolor classes in the back patio.

Ask about: Cultural events and special exhibitions.


Iglesia de la Compañía
García Moreno and Sucre

This Jesuit church is a textbook lesson in Baroque architecture. It took almost 200 years to build and is one of the most spectacular sights you will come across in Quito. The facade is covered in fine stone carvings of angels, saints, and other Catholic iconography. When you walk inside, prepare to have your breathe taken away: every inch of the interior is covered in gold leaf. At certain times of the day, the sunlight entering through the windows makes it appear as if the entire building is glowing.
La Compañía is also home to Quito’s most infamous painting, The Inferno, which depicts all kinds of sinners suffering their final judgement. It’s not a painting for the faint of heart. But there is plenty of other beautiful imagery in this building, designed to represent the splendours of heaven.

Look for: The secret puzzle box.


Iglesia de San Marcos
Junín 107, San Marcos

If you look at a map of recently-colonized Quito, one that takes you back to the 16th century, San Marco’s church represents a far corner of the city. Even though the surrounding neighorhoods have grown over the past centuries, this church and the square in front of it still have the power to give you a cozy feeling of seclusion. Locals come here to go to mass, walk their dogs, or sit on a park bench to chat and watch the pigeons.

Check out: The 18th century altarpiece.

Don’t miss

  • The fig tree said to be one of the oldest in the city, that sits in the interior patio of the Casa del Alabado. This tiny courtyard is one of the best places in the city to sit, reflect, and enjoy a quiet moment.
  • The Zaguán of the Iglesia de San Marcos. Padre Tito Heredia, an artist as well as a priest, wants art to be accessible to everyone, so he opened a small gallery in the foyer of the parish house. He invites printmakers and painters to display their work here, and even includes his own art on occasion.

If you’ve been touring historical sights all day, you’ll also want an opportunity to wind down without missing out on the chance to experience local culture. We recommend theses places to enjoy a coffee, drinks, or some music to relax here in Quito’s historic center.


Sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee

Dulcería Colonial is one of a handful of small restaurants residing underneath the atrium of the National Cathedral. It’s really an amazing place to people-watch; the crowds milling by in the Plaza Grande always offers something interesting to see or hear. If you want a small snack you can accompany your coffee with a quesadilla (a sweet pastry) or an humita (a savory steamed corn fritter). If you have more of an appetite, some of the neighboring shops also serve locro de papa (potato soup with avocado) or seco de chivo (a delicious typical goat stew).

Isveglio is a gourmet specialty coffee shop that’s just opened next to the Plaza Grande. Enjoy an espresso in the charming second floor shop that overlooks the busy calle Venezuela. Isveglio is home to some genuine coffee experts. If you want to talk in detail about how acidic or aromatic your coffee beans are or the best flavors to brew in an Aeropress, this is the place to go.

Tip: Check out the well-stocked Pacari store just below Isvelgio. These award-winning chocolate bars make perfect gifts to take back home. Try the iconic raw bar or one flavored with exotic local fruits like maracuyá.
N3-157 Venezuela y Espejo


Café Galletti

Located on the ground floor of the Teatro Bolívar building, this café will be a breath of fresh air for any visitor looking for a space to sit down an relax. The combination of high ceilings and cozy wooden tables contribute to the space’s unique atmosphere. And Café Galletti doesn’t just serve coffee, they also package and sell their own brand of coffee using beans from all over Ecuador. You can sample coffee grounds from the cloud forest and the Amazonian region, and variety of blends, before deciding which one you want to take home with you. At Galletti you can also order a dessert or sandwich to accompany your coffee. Passionfruit cheesecake? Yes, please.

Calle Eugenio Espejo, Pedestrian walkway


Cafetería En-Dulce

This café will warm your heart. Their menu features all kinds of traditional treats. For a savoury snack try a sanduché de pernil, a local recipe for a seasoned pork sandwich. Or if you are in the mood for something sweet, ask about pan de canela, a cinnamon roll, or a chocolate croissant. They also serve seasonal drinks like colada morada year round. For their breads and pastries, the bakers at En-Dulce use classic recipes, and the staff always greets you with a smile.

Tip: Beat the breakfast crowd. Arrive either very early or after mid-morning.

N6-56 Guayaquil y Olmedo

Enjoy drinks, live shows and music

  • Teatro Bolívar/Wünderbar: The Teatro Bolivar is a popular venue dating back to the 1930s. Check their event schedule for information about concerts and performances. Wünderbar, on the upper floor of the same building, is a more hip scene, often hosting Ecuadorian DJs like Nicola Cruz and international artists like Helado Negro.
  • La Ronda: This is a more low-key way to get to know the city. La Ronda, a former red-light district, is now a street lined with small bars and restaurants. Tourists and locals like come here to enjoy empanadas de viento (literally, a wind empanada, this is a cheese-filled pastry that puffs up with air when fried in hot oil) or canelazos (hot, cinnamon-flavored cocktails). Most locales invited musicians to come play traditional and contemporary music on the weekends.
  • Sirka: This bar in San Marcos features an impressive roll of musicians and hosts concerts and events every week. From Ecuadorian legends like María Tejada and Hector Napolitano to excellent jazz bands and even stand up comedy, there’s always something going on at Sirka that you won’t want to miss. They also serve craft beer, hamburgers, and patacones, so you won’t go hungry!

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