Quito Itinerary: How to spend three days in Quito, Ecuador

Almost every traveler I met in Quito was traveling to or from the Galapagos Islands. Quito is a popular launching point. It is accessible to Mindo Cloud Forest, Cotopaxi, the middle of the world, and so much more. But Quito should be on your list of destinations as a place to visit in and of itself. 

I spent a week working remotely from Old Town Quito before my trip to the Galapagos and spent my free time exploring this unique city. I was fascinated by Quito, and I certainly did not have enough time. Before you plan your Quito itinerary adventures, make sure you read my top tips for visiting Quito. This is a city you want to prepare for. 

Quito Itinerary: Three Days in Quito — A Vibrant Adventure!

I chose Hotel Casa Gardenia for its aesthetics, its super fast wifi speeds since I was working remotely, and its walking distance to the few landmarks that I knew I wanted to see. The bonuses were the third-floor “salon,” a shared-space living room-type area that was perfect as a very comfortable remote office; the amazing breakfasts; and the hospitable staff.

Because I worked during the day, these activities were spread out over six days, but you could easily do them in three.

Unless you are from a high-altitude location, you will probably still be acclimating, so it’s good to take it easy the first two days.

Day 1: Discovering Quito’s Historic Center

  • Begin your exploration at the heart of Quito: the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visit Plaza de la Independencia, surrounded by architectural wonders like the Presidential Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral. Here, you will find families enjoying the day and street vendors selling wares up and down the sidewalks. 
  • When facing the Presidential Palace, on your right is Palacio Arzobispal, a former Bishop’s palace converted to shopping and restaurants. One of my favorite meals was on the second floor at La Vid, where I had a fantastic dinner overlooking the grand plaza of Independence Square. There is also an ATM inside this building, a good place to get cash!
  • Take a free tour at Convento de San Francisco, which holds immense historical significance in Quito. I tipped my guide quite handsomely for my private tour of this interesting building. I spent about an hour on the tour and then enjoyed the gardens that are open to the public.
  • There are several art and history museums in Quito that could easily fill a day.
  • End the day with a panoramic view of Quito from the top of El Panecillo, where you can marvel at the iconic statue of the Virgin of Quito and the city lights below. I hired a driver to take me up to El Panecillo; it’s not something you can easily hike up to, and some of the neighborhoods on the way aren’t the safest (according to my driver). You can walk up inside the Virgin sculpture and read all about the history and the construction. It is the tallest sculpture in South America — taller than Christ the Redeemer in Brazil! Take a moment to admire the volcanoes surrounding Quito from high above the city on the outdoor walkway that you can access from inside the sculpture. You will want your driver to wait for you while you explore this monument to take you back down the hill. 

Day 2: Cultural Immersion 

  • There are several free walking tours, and day two is the perfect day to have a resident show you around Old Town. Take the first tour of the morning while it’s a little cooler, as you will do a bit of walking and Quito is very hilly. I booked my walking tour through Community Hostel. On our tour, we went to the local market and sampled lots of fruit and an herbed drink made locally. We learned about some important buildings and churches in the Old Town area, sampled different types of chocolate and had treats at several nearby restaurants. This is a great time to ask questions about places and things to do. 
  • In the afternoon, do a quick tour of the equator line, Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, where you can simultaneously straddle the northern and southern hemispheres and learn about this unique landmark’s cultural significance. I particularly liked this tour to learn about the indigenous people in this area. I also used the Community Hostel for this tour. It was a no-frills tour and was only $10.
  • If you have time in the late afternoon, pay a visit to the Fundación Guayasamín, a museum dedicated to the work of Ecuador’s most renowned artist, Oswaldo Guayasamín, whose masterpieces offer insights into the country’s history, politics and indigenous culture.

Day 3: Adventure in the Heart of Quito

  • Escape the city’s hustle and bustle by heading to the Teleférico, one of the highest aerial lifts in the world, which will take you up to the slopes of Pichincha Volcano. Enjoy breathtaking views of the Andes Mountains and explore hiking trails, or simply relax in the fresh mountain air. I hired a driver to take me up to the Teleferico. It’s important to make sure it’s running that day; I got lucky! The views are breathtaking. You can get great pictures of the volcanos surrounding Quito and a bird’s eye view of the city below. The Teleferico takes you an additional 3,000 feet above the city, which is why I suggest it for day three or later when you have acclimated to the altitude. Once you get off the tram, head up the hill and you can make a big loop that passes by a tiny little church. The views from the entire loop are spectacular. 
  • Visit the Basílica del Voto Nacional. This magnificent neo-Gothic cathedral is located in the heart of Quito, just seven or eight blocks up a hill from Independence Plaza. The Basílica del Voto Nacional is renowned for its stunning architecture, characterized by soaring spires, intricate carvings and gargoyles inspired by Ecuadorian wildlife. The Basílica del Voto Nacional boasts several distinctive features, including its imposing towers, ornate stained glass windows and intricate wooden carvings. Visitors can ascend to the top of the towers for panoramic views of Quito. I love visiting churches because they are so architecturally interesting, and this cathedral is one of the most unusual I have ever seen. 
  • The Church of La Compañía is a short half-mile walk back toward the center of Old Town and is the most opulent church in the city. Renowned for its Baroque style, characterized by elaborate ornamentation, intricate details and lavish golden decorations, it stands as a testament to the wealth and artistic prowess of the Jesuit order in colonial Quito. Constructed over a span of 160 years, from the late 16th to the 18th century, the church is a masterpiece of colonial architecture. Its facade features intricate carvings and sculpted columns, while the interior is adorned with gilded altars, elaborate frescoes and exquisite woodwork. This church holds great meaning to the religious community of Quito. Note: No photography is allowed in the church. 

While many people opt to leave Quito to explore the nearby mountains and rainforests, you’re doing yourself and the city a disservice by not spending a few days exploring the incredible culture and the daily life of the residents of Quito. 

There are some unique things to prepare for when planning a trip to Quito, so be sure to check out my top tips for visiting, then go enjoy this beautiful and affordable city!

Although we strive to provide the most current information, bars, restaurants and attractions mentioned may close at any time, operate with a limited menu or reduced hours, or have takeout options only. We recommend checking individual websites for operating hours and updates before visiting.

The views expressed on this website represent the opinions of the authors; we encourage you to form your own opinions and confirm any facts.

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