As a major airport hub in Asia, Taipei is often seen in the brief window of a layover. But Taiwan’s capital is a destination all on its own. A growing metropolis at the forefront of the technology history, Taipei is quickly joining the ranks as a world-class city.
Below the flurry of modern skyscrapers is a city steeped in history, of multiple rulers leading to a diverse culture, unique architecture, insightful museums and mouthwatering eats. Jump between historic neighborhoods which tell tales as old as time and trendy art villages that show Taipei’s open and inviting approach to life.
Wander Through Ximending Neighborhood
Bursting with cultural flavor, Ximending is the trendy neighborhood you always wanted to call home. Along its pedestrian-only streets you’ll discover a world that refuses to sleep, with high-rises blanketed in vibrant, flashing advertisements that coat Ximending in neon into the early hours.
A hive of activity, Ximending is the shopping capital of of Taipei with a wide range of local and international brands alongside street eats and renowned restaurants serving up ay-chung flour-rice noodle.
The “Times Square” nature of Ximending busiest intersections makes it a wonderful spot for people watching. You’ll also stumble across a stunning collection of street art that creates an edgy side to the happening district. Before heading out to other attractions, stop by the Red Theater. Once a Japanese theater, it’s now home to the most popular weekend craft market in Taipei.
Capture the Views From Taipei 101
After experiencing the rush of the crowds from the street level, take your time getting your bearings while enjoying spectacular views from the 91st floor of Taipei 101. From around the city, you can see the unique structure rising high above the surrounding skyline. In fact, the second tallest building in Taipei, Nan Shan Plaza, is 53 stories smaller.
If that doesn’t get you excited about the far-reaching views from Taipei 101, then one of the world’s fastest elevators sure will. After entering the building, and arriving early to beat the crowds, you’ll get to ride the elevator that reaches speeds of 37.7mph (60.6kmh), getting you from the base to the viewing area in under 30 seconds!
From your envious viewpoint on the 91st floor, you can take in the cityscape’s entirety, along with the mountain ranges to the south and east.
Hit Up the Night Markets
One of the most attractive aspects of traveling through Taipei is the litany of night markets on offer. It’s enough to make anyone drool, let alone a bonafide foodie. You know they’re good when they stand out among strong competition throughout Asia. While you could excuse these markets for becoming annoying tourist traps, they’ve refused to do so.
The night markets are lined with authentic (and cheap) street eats that promise to give you a thorough introduction into the local culinary scene. Some of the must try eats at any of the night markets include the infamous stinky tofu, oyster omelets, the Taiwanese hamburger called gua bao and last but not least, some shaved ice for dessert.
When it comes to settling on which night market to visit, Taipei is home to the Big Five. Those are Shilin (the biggest and most popular), Raohe, Ningxia, Huaxi, and Tonghua. For the most memorable experience, head to the best of the best, the Shilin Night Market. Here, you can sample delectable eats with a crazy range of novelty gifts and entertainment within the market’s chaotic atmosphere.
Bathe in the Hot Springs
Once you’ve braved the organized chaos that is the Shilin Night Market, you’ll be wanting a way to recenter, bring the heart rate down and relax. 30 minutes from downtown and within its own MRT train stop, the Beitou Hot Springs are the perfect way to do just that. Within a resort setup, there are a variety of springs to choose from, ranging from budget-friendly to extravagant experiences.
The most popular is the Millennium Hot Springs which costs around $1.30usd. Other options include private rooms within spa hotels that last for up to 2 hours and cost $32usd. After finding your Zen, explore the Hot Springs Museum and the Xinbeitou Historic Station from 1916.
The public hot springs in Beitou allow both genders. However, the majority of springs are sex segregated, with the only family-friendly spring situated in the on-site Spring City Resort. Other hot springs to consider around Taipei include the Wulai Hot Springs and the Guanziling Mud Hot Springs.
Embark on a Walking Tour
Taipei will surprise a lot of first-time visitors who will quickly notice just how much is crammed into the city. The buildings and streets feel tight and dense with the sensation that each one is growing over the other. It can take a minute to get used to. One of the best ways to do so while getting your bearings, learning the history and local culture, is on a walking tour.
Via your hotel concierge, street advertisements or word of mouth, you’ll find an amazing selection of walking tours that focus on specific neighborhoods such as Ximending and Dadaocheng (listed below). But for a well-rounded experience, this half-day private tour guides you to all the major highlights in Taipei with plenty of time exploring unknown gems, street eats and learning local stories.
Visit Historic Dadaocheng
Along the riverside, Dadaocheng is a neighborhood which besides Ximending could lay claim as being one of the most fascinating in Taipei. Dadaocheng was once the biggest port on the Tamsui River. Now its major claims to fame is the bustling Dihua Street, one of the oldest in the city, and the boisterous Yongle Fabric Market whose sheer scale is hard to fathom.
A popular walking street, Dihua Street captures the best aspects of the historic district. With colonial buildings and endless shops slinging tea, traditional snacks and Chinese medicine. It’s a glorious place to do some shopping away from the masses that flock to the exciting night markets.
Although its days as a major port have come to an end, a recent revitalization of the riverside area has made it a great destination for golden hour. As the sun falls, head to Pier 5 where you’ll be greeted by several food trucks and ice-cold beer on offer, and take in the last of the day’s light.
Summit Elephant Mountain
You may have been impressed by the exceptional view from Taipei 101, but there was something missing from that view that would have taken it to another level. That being the building itself. After a short 30 minute hike, you can capture the stunning views of Taipei 101 and the rest of the city from the summit of Elephant Mountain.
To see the one-of-a-kind building, the largest in the world when it was built in 2004, is an unforgettable sight. But if you’re up for a further adventure, then the views will just keep getting better. While many are up for the hike to Elephant Mountain, few venture on to the other summits, Tiger, Leopard, and Lion.
Along the trail to a peak in the three-headed behemoth, find your spot away from it all to appreciate the skyline, and the immense nature that envelopes Taipei. Come here for the best way to watch the sunset in town.
Release a Sky Lantern
Built on the side of a mountain with the railroad tracks running through the center, the Pingxi Old Street is worth a visit all on its own. On each side, you’ll find rows of colorful old shops that were built alongside the street in the 1930s. Still going strong, you’ll discover a range of gift shops, cheap eats and clothing stores to peruse while admiring the unique street split by railroad tracks.
From Pingxi Old Street, you can take part in releasing a traditional sky lantern at dusk each evening. This is a fun opportunity if you’ve arrived outside of the Lantern Festival held annually in February. While you can’t beat the mesmerizing scale of the festival, the quaint moment with your partner, friend, or family as you release the lantern is a beautiful experience.
Explore Da An Park
Spanning 64 acres, Da An Park is a sprawling urban forest and considered to be the Lungs of Taipei. For this reason, if you need a way to catch your breath on your exciting yet busy travels through the city, then this is the place to go. You’ll discover a wide variety of plant life, from camphor and maple trees to blooming flower beds planted throughout the year.
Colorful and equally relaxing, you can see how Da An Park has drawn comparisons to New York’s Central Park despite being just 10% of the size. Surrounding Da An Park is a tree-lined neighborhood developed during the five decades that Taipei was under Japanese rule. If you have time, wander down Qingtian Street where you’ll find a collection of ornate homes from the era, some which have and have not stood the test of time.
Take a Side Trip to Jiufen
Popular for a multitude of reasons, the most humorous being thought of as the destination for the film Spirited Away, Jiufen is a simple 40-minute drive from Taipei. On Taiwan’s northeast coast, Jiufen is a gorgeous old mining town with a well-preserved history and classic old streets.
Developed by the Japanese, you’ll uncover narrow alleys reflecting the architecture and culture of the long-gone era. Within the old streets are an abundance of amazing traditional teahouses that make every bit of the drive worth it. Built onto the hillside, many of the teahouses offer extravagant views of the bay.
Have your choice between Amei Tea House, Taro of sweet and Jiufen Tea House before exploring the Jiufen Gold Mine Museum. It’s worth leaving late or spending the night in Jiufen so you can appreciate the historic town after the crowds leave in the late afternoon.
Visit National Taiwan Museum
The oldest and greatest local museum. If you’re intrigued by the history of Taiwan, then you must place the National Taiwan Museum on your itinerary. Far from just a place to look at photos and read information, the museum approaches the task from a scientific perspective, covering both the human and natural past within the country.
Through anthropological efforts, the museum explores the lives of the island’s first inhabitants and aboriginal communities. Zoology and botanical studies then unveil the breadth of flora and fauna around Taiwan. The informative exhibits aren’t overly complex, making it a great museum for families with younger kids.
Interestingly, the National Taiwan Museum continues across the street in the Land Bank wing. Here you can see dinosaur fossils within a vault of an old bank.
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall
While nothing stands out quite like Taipei 101, the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is striking in its own right. Standing ominously above the ground with a strong white facade and an elaborate blue sculpted roof, the hall was built in 1976 to honor Taiwan’s former leader who died the year prior.
The stunning monument, which stands at over 250ft (75m) tall, is complemented by an equally enormous courtyard. In the years since, the memorial has been a popular gathering place for rallies and protests which lead to the courtyard space being named Liberty Square. Inside the memorial you can explore the many exhibits that dive into the leader and the political history of Taiwan.
Beyond political events, Liberty Square hosts hundreds of cultural events like festivals and concerts throughout the year.
Take a Trip On the Maokong Gondola
Quickly covering 2.7 miles (4.3km) of ground, the Maokong Gondola will whisk you away from the busy streets of Taipei up into the hillside for wondrous views. From the peak of the gondola, you’ll have an opportunity to explore Maokong, which was once the biggest tea-growing area in Taiwan.
With the bulk of the climb done, you can wander through the mountainside on well-marked paths that surround the tea plantations still in use today. Some of the trails continue to gain elevation to panoramic vistas of the plantations, and the teahouses tucked into the hillside. Make sure to pay a visit to one of the teahouses and order the famous “Muzha Tieguanyin”. You won’t be disappointed.
The gondola begins at Taipei Zoo featuring a number of stops along the way, including the Zhinan Temple, from which the gondola steeply rises into the sky.
Try Some Bubble Tea
Speaking of tea, well a different kind, you can’t leave Taipei without trying bubble tea. As the home of the drink that has seemingly taken over the world, you can’t beat drinking the real thing. Finding the famous pearl milk tea around Taipei is easy. You’ll barely pass five shops without seeing a bubble tea establishment.
But some do it better than others. So don’t settle for any old bubble tea, try the best. Tiger Sugar is one of the most popular in town, and for good reason. As Insta-worthy as it is delicious, the drink oozes pitch black sugar down the sides, complementing the rich brown and white colors and powerful aroma.
For another option or a follow up experience, try Chun Shui Tang. A branch of the original bubble tea from the town of Taichung, you can drink the O.G. recipe that started a worldwide phenomenon.
Explore Longshan Temple
Built to honor Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, Longshan Temple has a long and often tragic history. Since it opened in 1738, the temple has been destroyed by human conflicts as much as it crumbled under the strength of several earthquakes. However, Longshan Temple still stands strong today as members of the temple’s community continue to rebuild the revered structure over and over.
The temple is not home to one specific religion or spirituality, which may explain the level of community spirit that has kept the space alive. Now one of the most visited temples in Taipei, Longshan Temple features embellished designs and its stunning architecture has no rival in Taipei. The temple remains open for travelers who can explore the grounds without restrictions and are free to capture the delicate exterior and interior works with their camera.
Hike Through Yangmingshan National Park
From within the city and even as far up as Maokong, it’s easy to forget that there’s more to Taiwan than the vibrant city of Taipei. Just an hour north you’ll find a spectacular national park home to soaring peaks, amazing hikes and fumaroles where hot sulfurous gas flies towards the heavens.
You can make your way to Yangminshan National Park via the MRT, which will take you to Jiantan Station. From there you can jump on the bus that takes you right to the park’s entrance. From there, you’ll have a buffet of trail options that suit all skill levels and ages. One of the popular treks is the short and sweet 1.5 mile (2.5km) trek to the summit of Qixing Mountain.
You can find the trailhead from outside the fascinating visitor center before quickly reaching the summit for monumental views among the crisp climate. If you have the time, continue on to Xiaoyoukeng, where the fumaroles are a jaw-dropping reminder that the park was once an active volcano. One of the best places in Taipei to see the cherry blossoms is also right here in the national park.
Take a Cooking Class
You’ll have an easy time falling in love with Taiwanese cuisine. Soon your thoughts may switch to how you can recreate the local styles and tastes back home in your own kitchen. So rather than leave it all to chance and an online food blog, learn the tricks of the trade alongside a local chef.
Cooking classes in Taipei present a myriad of options, often focusing on one or two of the major delights from rice dishes to dumplings and scallion pancakes. But all tend to include an enlightening trip to a local market where you can see the process begin with the selection of fresh produce that makes the meals so delicious.
In this highly rated cooking class, learn the secrets of Xiao Long Bao soup dumplings and Beef Noodles. The market-to-plate experience begins at the historic Changchun Market, before you head to the kitchen to learn the craft and hear the stories behind Taiwanese cuisine.
Go Chasing Waterfalls
Taipei has several beautiful waterfalls in the surrounding mountains and often close to the hot springs. But the Shifen Waterfall stands alone as the best in the city. Its familiar horseshoe shape may remind you of Niagara Falls, and led to Shifen’s nickname as Little Niagara. Spanning 130ft (40m) and rising 65ft (20m) out of the green-blue lake, the cascading white falls are a sight to behold.
Unfortunately, you can’t reward yourself with a refreshing dip in the surrounding water. But trails lead you right up to the base where you can appreciate the scale and power of Shifen Waterfall up close. Around the falls you’ll find further trails leading to suspension bridges that cross over surging electric-blue rivers, along with observation decks that allow you to take in the breathtaking scenery.
Head to the Crest of Fort San Domingo
Just north of the city, in the Tamsui district is one of the most important historical sites in Taiwan. The Fort San Domingo was built at the beginning of the 17th century when the Spanish controlled Taiwan’s northern coast. Since then, the fort has seen many eras, including when the Dutch took power a mere 15 years after the fort was built.
In 1867, over two centuries since the Dutch took the helm, the British took the helm and refurbished the fort into what we can see today. With a burst of color that jumps out upon arrival, the Crest of Fort San Domingo has a rich red roof and an orange brick facade. The colors of the fort complement the lush gardens home to ancient cannons, with plenty views down to the Tamsui River.
Explore the National Palace Museum
At the end of the Chinese Civil War, which split China and Taiwan, there was a fear that nation’s repository of cultural artifacts could be lost. To avoid their disappearance, each piece was supposed to be sent across the Formosa Straight to the island nation. Although the National Palace Museum hosts just shy of 700,000 precious artifacts, only around half even made the journey to Taiwan.
However, what did arrive in the museum is must-see. Visitors can explore the various halls home to historic ceramics, jade figurines and 7th century paintings. Jewelry makes up the oldest exhibits in the National Palace Museum, with the loop earrings dating back thousands of years. They all combine to create of the most impressive museums in the city.
Buy Orchids at the Jianguo Flower Market
Under the Jianguo Road Overpass, an expansive flower market comes to life each weekend. Its odd location doesn’t lend itself to being an obvious spot for a flower market, but nevertheless, it works. As a traveler, it’s unlikely that you’ll load up on flowers in the same way you would local treats and ornamental gifts, but the market is like a nice hot tea, soothing.
The amount of flowers on offer creates a kaleidoscope of colors, with seemingly every primary and secondary color under the sun presented in front of you. Further down the market is a section dedicated to jade jewelry where you’ll also come across tea ware and hand crafted goods presented by rows of vendors.
Feel Like a Giant at the Miniatures Museum
Featuring over 200 mini architectural designs, the Miniatures Museum is like Sim City coming to life. It’s not likely that you pictured spending time at such a place, but the odd museum is a lovely change of pace. The museum was founded by a local couple who had a passion for little things, which ironically became a big hit.
Within the Miniatures Museum you’ll find scale models of historic castles, towns from around the world and even a replica of the Buckingham Palace at a scale of 1 to 12. The majority of exhibits were based on the couple, Lin Wen-jen and Lin Chin-mei’s worldwide travels.
Relax at Huashan 1914 Creative Arts Park
Once a sake brewery, then a camphor refinement mill, the buildings and surrounding grounds became the what the locals simply call Huashan in 1997. The park’s story of repurposing old factory buildings is a common one across Taipei, but the popularity of this park makes it the city’s shining example.
The spacious lawns in front of the old smokestacks and factory walls are an interesting but comfortable spot to have a picnic. Load up on your favorite local treats, find yourself a blanket, and set up camp in the park. From there, you can take in the many art exhibits and murals, while concerts and events are also common.
An alternative to Huashan is the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park, a former tobacco factory turned waterside park is great for a leisurely stroll.
Feast at Yong He Soy Milk King
A local institution, Yong He Soy Milk King, is a 24-our establishment slinging all-day eats. But it’s the breakfast menu that put the restaurant on the map. Whether you’re rocking up for a feed before a big day of adventures, or stumbling in at 2am after a few too many kaoliangs, the food is sure to be everything you need and more.
Yong He Soy Milk King’s speciality is the savory churro, the best of its kind in the city. Crispy and light, forget having to deal with the greasy soft churros found elsewhere. Another popular treat is the fried breadstick and egg pancake, where the pancake acts as a wrap around the sticks.
For something less heavy, check out the dumplings, probably not your typical breakfast dish, but there’s a reason the locals can’t get enough.
Visit the Artists’ Village of Treasure Hill
Built to house the veterans of the KMT War (the Chinese Civil War) the village was later redeveloped into a sustainable community and artists’ district. Along the Xindian River, Treasure Hill is a delight to explore on foot. Home to local and international artists, the village is a hub of events, festivals and performances. Many of the homes are now galleries which are left open for visitors to walk inside. It helps to create an incredible sense that the entire village is one large working gallery. You can reach the artist’s village of Treasure Hill by taking the MRT Songshan-Xindian Line south from downtown Taipei.
Get your Sport Fix with Taiwanese Baseball
If you love to experience live sport wherever you travel, then get along to a game at the Tianmu Baseball Stadium. As a part of the Chinese Professional Baseball League, only five Taiwanese teams remain after a flurry of sports-fixing scandals rocked the sport.
Nevertheless, the league is compelling, with more runs scored in the CPBL than Major League Baseball. With such few teams in the league, the rivalries are strong and the atmosphere enticing. Here the crowd is armed with drums, vuvuzelas and coolers packed with drinks, so the stadium is rocking from the first pitch.
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