There’s much more to Quito’s Old Town than churches and museums. Rather than being a relic of a former way of life, the Historic Centre is a hub made up of a network of buzzing neighbourhoods home to thousands of people, each with their own distinct identity and atmosphere. Below are three of the most iconic neighbourhoods in Quito that sure to pique your curiosity and open a door into local life in the jewel of the Andes.
For one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city, San Blas still has an “up-and-coming” edge to it. From the 16th century until the early 20th it was considered the entrance to the Historic Centre of Quito and marked the northern limit, its slope-slide location giving it some of the best views in town. Now, with its remodelled Plaza alongside its 16th century church, the neighbourhood has attracted new bars and restaurants among the traditional eateries and general stores.
No longer used for bullfights after a referendum led to their ban, the bullring is used for cultural activities like concerts, especially during the vibrant Fiestas de Quito in December. The 1960 structure offers an insight into pastimes of yesteryear.
A relative newcomer to this vintage barrio, La Oficina offers its own San Blas-branded craft beer, as well as frequent live music and movie nights, making it a cultural hub for the community.
Neighbourhoods don’t get much more traditional than La Tola. Home to some 5,000 residents, the area is rife with its own legends (like the jilted bride in her wedding dress said to wander Don Bosco street at night) and even has a cock-fighting arena where in the past youths would box rivals from other communities. It’s here that you can find Mercado Central, a bustling market where locals from all over the city come to buy their groceries.
La Tola backs onto Itchimbia, a glorious park with incredible views over the city. Sometimes a venue for concerts and festivals, the park has a restaurant, Pimms, located within, or check Café Mosaico on the street below, for one of the loveliest terraces around.
The original micro-brewery that sparked off a massive craft beer trend across the city, Bandido Brewing is still the leader of the pack. Any night of the week you’ll find the 1850s church-turned-bar full of both locals and foreigners, merry with pints of pale ale, stout or honey ginger saison and unexpectedly good pizza.
Set all along Calle Junín, San Marcos is a cultural hub where you could happily spend a day dipping into its restaurants, galleries and museum, wandering along the sloping street bordered by quaint coloured houses adored with balconies bursting with flowers. Just blocks away from the city’s most famous sites like Plaza Grande and Santo Domingo, the neighbourhood maintains its laid-back, residential feeling making it a welcome escape from the buzz.
It’s difficult to single out one attraction in this rich neighbourhood. There’s the Manuela Sáenz Museum, Santa Catalina convent, and Casa de la Danza, home of modern dance in the city. Don’t miss Museo de Acuarela y Dibujo, a gallery showcasing beautiful drawings and watercolours from Quiteño artists.
Once again, this barrio is not short on watering holes, all of them eccentric and quirky in their own ways (See Café Dios No Se Muere, Octava de Corpus and La Piedra Cantuña) but Sirka merits a mention for its live music and DJs as well as light shows and movies.