Quito Introduction Walking Tour, Quito

Quito Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Quito

Nestled high in the Andean foothills, at an altitude of 2,850m, Ecuador's capital Quito is deservedly nicknamed "The City in the Clouds". Its full formal title, however, is much longer: "The Very Noble and Loyal City of San Francisco of Quito". The name Quito is derived from the Quitu tribe that originally inhabited the area, and is a combination of two words: quitso (“center”) and to (“the world”); roughly translating as "center of the world."

Indeed, Quito is the closest capital city to the Equator, sitting just 1 km south of the line. Adding to its unique landscape is the fact that Quito rests on the foundations of an ancient Incan city. In the late 15th century, the Inca Emperor Huayna Capac defeated the Quitu and incorporated Quito into the Inca Empire, making it the capital of its northern region. The Spanish conquest in 1534 marked the start of a new phase in the city's development, and is the date most frequently cited as Quito's official founding, making it the oldest capital in South America.

The historic center of Quito, one of the first declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978, is the largest, least-altered, and best-preserved in the Americas. There are about 130 monumental heritage buildings here, hosting a variety of pictorial art and sculpture, mostly religiously-inspired, dating back to the 16th-17th centuries and blending a multi-faceted range of European, Moorish and indigenous styles.

Among these is the Metropolitan Cathedral, one of the largest religious symbols of spiritual value for the local Catholic community, sitting on the south side of the bustling Plaza de La Independencia (aka Plaza Grande during the colonial times). Nearby, overlooking the same square, is the Palacio de Carondelet, the seat of the national government. The presidential compound inside the palace, a luxurious colonial-style apartment on the third floor, is now a public museum.

The monumental neo-Gothic Basilica del Voto Nacional is yet another important religious site, once the largest on the American continent, and as such worthy of attention, much as the Basilica of San Francisco and the ultra-ornate Jesuit church La Compañia.

Located south of Plaza de San Francisco, in one of the oldest buildings, is the newest museum – Casa del Alabado – showcasing a collection of pre-colonial art. Another museum, dedicated to the history of Quito – Museo de la Ciudad – is housed in the buildings of the former San Juan de Dios Hospital, a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site.

For a more detailed acquaintance with these and other top historic and cultural attractions of Quito, take this introductory self-guided walk.
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Quito Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Quito Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Ecuador » Quito (See other walking tours in Quito)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.4 Km or 1.5 Miles
Author: vickyc
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Basilica del Voto Nacional (Basilica of the National Vow)
  • Plaza del Teatro (Theater Square)
  • Plaza de la Independencia (Independence Square)
  • Palacio de Carondelet (Carondelet Palace)
  • Catedral Metropolitana de Quito (Quito Cathedral)
  • La Compania (Church of the Society of Jesus)
  • Plaza de San Francisco (San Francisco Square)
  • Iglesia de San Francisco (Church of San Francisco)
  • Casa del Alabado (Precolumbian Art Museum)
  • Museo de la Ciudad (Museum of the City)
  • Calle de La Ronda (Round Street)
1
Basilica del Voto Nacional (Basilica of the National Vow)

1) Basilica del Voto Nacional (Basilica of the National Vow) (must see)

At its altitude of 9,350 feet, Quito is the second-highest city in the world (trailing only La Paz, Bolivia). But even at this height, the visitors will be tempted to climb to the top of the Basilica of the National Vow to see the stunning views!

The idea of Quito’s most impressive Roman Catholic church came about in 1883. A congressman, Father Julio Matovelle, suggested building a monument as a reminder of the consecration of Ecuador to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, its patron, and protector. A year later, the construction began to take shape, and the first stone was placed in 1892.

It took 30 years to build the Basilica, but it has not officially been completed. Local legend states that the world will end when completion is final. Located in the San Juan neighborhood, the Basilica has a height of 377 meters, which makes it South America’s highest church.

Designed in the Neo-Gothic style, the Basilica’s construction was supervised by Emilio Tarlier, a French architect. Tarlier fused the design of France’s Notre Dame and Spain’s Cathedral of Burgos. For the construction, Congress designated 12,000 pesos.

Around the church’s central nave are 24 chapels. Each chapel represents a province of Ecuador. There is also an underground crypt and a pantheon, where four Heads of State have been laid to rest.

Visiting the Basilica is easy, as the guests can walk around and see the architecture on a self-guided tour. They can climb even higher than Quito’s 9,350 feet, take an elevator (or climb the stairs) to the top floor, where there are a museum and a café. However, what’s spectacular are the views of the city from the top of the tower.

The Basilica of the National Vow is open daily from 9 am to 4 pm and the towers from 8:30 am to 6 pm.
2
Plaza del Teatro (Theater Square)

2) Plaza del Teatro (Theater Square)

Quito comes with a lot of history, and this is evident when visiting Theater Square, a small traditional square in the historic district of the city. Before the square, it was a marketplace, a bullring, and a slaughterhouse.

Today, the square’s main landmark is the Sucre National Theater, Ecuador’s largest theatre opened in 1886. It’s a beautifully designed Baroque-style building with a Neoclassical façade. Quito’s main theater, offers concerts, plays, and dance performances. The cultural center is also home to the National Symphonic Orchestra. The oldest theater is named after Antonio José de Sucre, one of the most influential leaders in the fight for independence against the Spanish. He liberated Quito from Spanish rule in 1822.

The square sits in the center of cobblestone streets, shops, restaurants, and colorful architecture. UNESCO named Quito’s old town a Cultural Heritage Site. If you’re taking a break from a busy day of seeing museums and churches, the Theater Square is a perfect place to sit down, grab a coffee, and people-watch.
3
Plaza de la Independencia (Independence Square)

3) Plaza de la Independencia (Independence Square)

If you’re looking for the heart of Quito, this is it. Independence Square is a central public area of the city, home to the Carondelet Palace or Presidential Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Quito, the Archbishop’s Palace, and the Municipal Palace. It is located in Old Quito Town and is a pedestrian-only area.

The square offers tree-lined paths where visitors can stroll and admire the fountains, the Independence Monument, and the surrounding buildings or sit outside the Carondelet Palace and marvel at the architecture.

The Municipal Palace’s Information Center offers information about the historical area and tours. Even if the building is modern, it blends well with its colonial architectural surroundings.

There are street vendors selling snacks and souvenirs. The visitors can also enjoy traditional food at an Ecuadorian restaurant or café on a side street.
4
Palacio de Carondelet (Carondelet Palace)

4) Palacio de Carondelet (Carondelet Palace)

Located in Independence Square, the Carondelet Palace, also known as Presidential Palace, is the seat of the Government of the Republic of Ecuador. Before being turned into government buildings and the home of Ecuador’s president, the Carondelet Palace was pieced together from various buildings bought by the crown.

The palace was named after Barón Francisco Luis Hector de Carondelet, chairman of the Audience. Carondelet renovated buildings in the city center, including the Cathedral and the Palace. He hired Spanish architect Antonio Garcia to restore the palace. In 1803 work was officially completed.

The palace has a stunning architectural façade and beautifully decorated interiors. There is a mural by the local artist Oswaldo Guayasamin, which depicts the discovery of the Amazon River.

During the presidency of Rafael Correa, the Ecuadorian Government declared the Carondelet Palace an Ecuadorian cultural heritage. The palace was opened as a museum and allowed the public to see the interior and its decorations, as well as the various gifts presented to presidents over the years.

Tours of the museum are free and last for about 45 minutes. The visitors must reserve the tour at least a day in advance.
5
Catedral Metropolitana de Quito (Quito Cathedral)

5) Catedral Metropolitana de Quito (Quito Cathedral)

The Quito Metropolitan Cathedral, known as Quito Cathedral, is located on the southwestern side of Independence Plaza. Construction on the church began in the mid-1550s. The architect in charge of the first two construction stages was the Spanish Antonio García. The Cathedral was officially completed and consecrated by the second Bishop of Quito, Pedro de la Peña, in 1572.

In 1660, the church was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Pichincha. Much of the damaged sections were rebuilt, and the entire church was completed in 1806. The church combines Baroque, Moorish, Neoclassic, and Gothic designs. The interior features artwork by Ecuadorian sculptor Manuel Chili, known as Caspicara.

From 1545 to 1848, the church served as the seat of the Diocese of Quito. In 1848, it became the Archdiocese of the city. And in 1995, it became the official Cathedral of Ecuador.

Quinto Cathedral is the final resting place of Field Marshal Antonio José de Sucre, Quito’s liberator, Cardinal de la Torre, an Ecuadorian cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as former Ecuadorian presidents and bishops.
6
La Compania (Church of the Society of Jesus)

6) La Compania (Church of the Society of Jesus) (must see)

The Church of the Society of Jesus is a Catholic clerical complex located in the historical center of the city of Quito. The religious edifice features gorgeous Spanish Baroque architecture.

Work on the church was started by Jesuit architects in 1605, and it was completed 160 years later. Although the Spanish priest Francisco Ayerd took charge of the construction, the mantel quickly changed hands. Eventually, the priest Venancio Gandolfi restarted work on the unfinished facade, which was completed in 1765.

Having been built over 160 years and with different architects, the church combines different architectural styles, although the Baroque style predominates.

The most impressive fact about the church is that seven tons of gold were used for the walls and ceilings. The central nave and the domes are decorated with gold as well. The façade of the main temple is entirely carved in volcanic stone.

Besides the beautiful architectural touches, there are 56 sculptures and 44 oil paintings. Some of the most famous paintings include Nicolas Javier de Goribar’s masterpieces “16 Prophets,” “The Four Evangelists,” and “The Cardinals of the Society of Jesus.”

There are also sculptures by Bernardo de Legarda. On each side of the main entrance, visitors can see paintings showing Hell and the Final Judgment. In addition, the guest will find representations of native flora and symbols of the ancestral peoples of Ecuador hidden in the church’s pillars, as well as an old organ dating back to 1889.

In recent years, Pope John Paul II held a mass at the church in 1985 during his visit to Ecuador, and Pope Francis visited the church in 2015.
7
Plaza de San Francisco (San Francisco Square)

7) Plaza de San Francisco (San Francisco Square)

In the Old Town sits cobbled San Francisco Square, one of the oldest and most beautiful sights in Quito. The dramatic San Francisco Church towers behind, making it one of the most Instagram-worthy squares in the city.

San Francisco Square previously served as a marketplace and an exchange point between chiefdoms during the Incan Empire. Huayna Capac, the Incan emperor, built his palace where the San Francisco Church sits today.

During the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire, the Incans burned everything to the ground to prevent the Spanish from using the place and the Inca palace. The Spanish won, and to celebrate the victory, they renamed the plaza “San Francisco de Quito.”

San Francisco Square has a huge religious significance. The Jesus of the Great Power procession, which takes place on Good Friday, begins in the Square.

The Square’s majestic old town beauty attracts photographers, snapping photos early in the morning before the crowds come. Take a great photo from just about every angle!

In addition, visitors can enjoy Ecuadorian blackberry juice (jugo de mora) or an Ecuadorian pilsener beer at one of the cafés located here and watch many tourists and Quiteno people strolling along as they get on with their business, or visit an ancient brewery located in the square.
8
Iglesia de San Francisco (Church of San Francisco)

8) Iglesia de San Francisco (Church of San Francisco) (must see)

The dominant structure in San Francisco Square is the stunning Church of San Francisco, listed as a World Heritage Site in 1978. It is the oldest religious site in Ecuador.

The building has three churches, 13 cloisters for its monks, a library with historical documents, and more than 3,500 works of religious art in the convent’s museum. The complex was built between 1537 and 1560. A century later, it was finally completed, and today it is the largest Catholic complex in South America.

Earthquakes have repeatedly damaged parts of the church, which means the edifice is under constant maintenance. It has been included in the 2016 World Monuments Watch to ensure that religious art and architecture are conserved.

The interior expertly combines Catholic and Indigenous icons, while the exterior combines Renaissance and Baroque influences. The complex is an important religious and cultural center, receiving almost a million visitors every year.
9
Casa del Alabado (Precolumbian Art Museum)

9) Casa del Alabado (Precolumbian Art Museum)

The Precolumbian Art Museum, housed in a beautiful 17th-century colonial building, is a must for history and anthropology fans. The small museum was established to preserve and share Pre-Columbian cultures in Ecuador.

There are about 5,000 pieces and artifacts, with some artworks going back as far as 4500 BCE. Visitors will have an immersive experience of some of the artwork made by indigenous Americans.

The majority of the artwork is ceramic pieces used in ceremonial or ritual practices. There are pieces from the Valdivia, Jama-Coque, and Chorrera cultures spread over eight rooms. There are also additional pieces from other cultures that came before the Inca Empire.

A tour of the museum takes from 45 minutes to an hour. Afterward, the visitors can enjoy delicious food and wine at the café located in the museum’s courtyard.
10
Museo de la Ciudad (Museum of the City)

10) Museo de la Ciudad (Museum of the City)

The Museum of the City (Museo de la Ciudad) is the first museum that illustrates everyday life in Quito through the centuries. The museum is housed in the former Old Saint John´s Hospital, a stunning sixteenth-century building, and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In 1998, the building was transformed into a museum, which opened to the public in April 2010. The museum has an impressive collection and a variety of exhibitions, providing details on traditions, legends, cuisine, dress, activities, events, daily objects, and much more.

Besides pre-Columbian art, there is a section dedicated to the colonial regime. These are 1500-1700 rooms, and they depict the colonization by the Spanish. Catholicism and how it shaped Ecuador is shown in great detail as well.

Finally, there is a section dedicated to the history of the Old Saint John´s Hospital and how the hospital treated diseases and provided health care to the city's inhabitants.

The Museum of the City can be visited between Tuesdays and Sundays from 09:30 am to 05:30 pm.
11
Calle de La Ronda (Round Street)

11) Calle de La Ronda (Round Street) (must see)

After a day of sightseeing and taking in the city’s architectural sites, head to Round Street (Calle de La Ronda), one of the oldest streets in Quito. Here is where the tourists can get a glimpse of real Ecuadorian life. The area was once the home of artists and politicians, then transformed into what it is today: shops, bars, art galleries, cafés, and restaurants.

Round Street is a beautiful street in the historic center of the city. It is said to be one of the oldest streets in Quito, and it has been nicely restored. There are houses built right next to each other, and inside, there are often small courtyards with gardens.

While strolling Ronda Street, sample the local alcoholic drink, canelazo, and also try authentic Ecuadorian cuisine from any of the elegant, or casual restaurants. For a quick snack, try humitas. Humitas is steamed ground corn wrapped in a corn husk. Have a cup of coffee with a traditional dessert, such as glazed figs or the Ecuadorian quesadilla, which is cheesecake with corn.

For entertainment, check out the street performers, such as the jugglers or musicians. Looking to dance? There is plenty of live Latin American music in Ronda Street's clubs and bars. For those who enjoy shopping, there are clothes and unique craftwork made by local artisans.

Walking Tours in Quito, Ecuador

Create Your Own Walk in Quito

Create Your Own Walk in Quito

Creating your own self-guided walk in Quito is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Historical Religious Buildings Tour

Historical Religious Buildings Tour

A former Spanish colony, Quito is home to literally dozens of Catholic churches. The Spaniards brought their faith with them to Ecuador and built many fantastic churches and cathedrals, one of which pre-dates even the city itself. Follow this self-guided walking tour to see to the most impressive historical religious buildings in the city.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles