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Exploring the mountain town of Jiufen in Taiwan (east of Taipei) feels a little like being in a fantasy movie. Its ancient and narrow streets, packed full of beautiful tea-houses and street-food stalls, set amidst a backdrop of stunning coastal views almost feels unreal. In fact, legend has it that Jiufen was the inspiration behind the setting for the classic animated Studio Ghibli movie, Spirited Away (although many dispute this so who knows?!). A visit to Jiufen should be high on your list when planning your Taiwan itinerary.
How to get to Jiufen from Taipei
Train and Bus
To get to Jiufen from Taipei, you can take the northbound train from Taipei Main Station to Riufang Station. The journey takes 30 minutes for express trains, or 50 minutes for local trains – both cost around 50 TWD one way.
After alighting the train at Riufang, exit the station, turn left and walk around 200 metres to the bus stop (located next to the police station named Local Residents Plaza 區民廣場). Here you can take bus number 827 or 788 which both head towards Jiufen Old Street. The bus journey should take around 20 minutes and costs 15 TWD.
Alternatively you can take the new Taipei Bus express route 965 from outside Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT Station for around 90 TWD (the bus also picks up from Banqiao Bus Station, Wanhua Railway Station, MRT Ximen Station and MRT Beimen Station).
Alternatively you can book a return transfer from Taipei with the Jiufen Shuttle Bus from Ximen with Klook. The shuttle bus also takes you to the nearby town of Shifen to visit the waterfall and to watch people release sky lanterns.
There are several different tour options you can do which combine a visit to Jiufen with another destination such as Shifen, the north coast and Yehliu Geopark. Check out the tours on Klook and Get Your Guide.
Best time to visit Jiufen
We would recommend visiting Jiufen on a weekday as weekends can be super crowded and a bit unbearable! We would also add you should avoid public holidays too, our visit coincided with the Chinese New Year holidays and the crowds were huge and accommodation was expensive.
Jiufen is an easy day trip from Taipei, but if you want to experience Jiufen without any tourists at all then we recommend staying overnight. That way you get to explore the town at night after everyone has gone home and all the buildings are lit up, or early in the morning before the day trippers arrive.
Things to do in Jiufen
A Mei Tea House
The 100-year old A-Mei Tea House (阿妹茶楼) in Jiufen is likely Taiwan’s most famous teahouse and the centre of the tourist universe here. It is also the particular teahouse that is said to be most associated with being the inspiration for the Studio Ghibli / Spirited Away connection.
An Instagrammer’s delight and featuring in many tourism brochures, the A Mei Tea House is perched on the side of Keelung Mountain, just below the main old street, and boasts stunning views over Taiwan’s north shores and the surrounding mountains.
As you would expect, A-Mei Teahouse offers a variety of cold and hot tea dishes (including tasting demonstrations) as well as wide range of homemade sweet treats and snacks. It is also worth visiting the teahouse at night, to see all the lanterns on the side of the building lit up.
Central Old Street
The focal point of Jiufen, the narrow, windy ancient streets that dissect the centre of this hillside town are what most people have come to experience. Awash with gift-shops, street-food stalls and tea-shops, half the fun here is just wandering around without a map and seeing what you can find.
The downside to these thin, narrow alleyways is that they get full very quickly, especially once the daily glut of tourist buses arrive from Taipei New City (the stampede generally starts from 10am every day). It was raining a lot during our stay here so it became unbearable at times to move around, especially as many tourists use large umbrellas rather than wear waterproof ponchos!
To enjoy without the crowds, we would recommend staying in Jiufen overnight and exploring the central old street early morning, or later at night. Most of the shops and restaurants stayed open until about 7pm at night although the ubiquitous 7 Eleven and Family Mart stay open until much later.
Something also rather unique were the tuneful garbage trucks that would drive along the central old street (generally at night) with a loud-speaker blaring out tinny tunes, a warning for shoppers to quickly get out of the way and seek refuge in a nearby shop entrance or alleyway. Be warned they don’t stop for anybody so jump out of their path as soon as possible.
Jiufen Shengming Temple
Located at the top of the town and overlooking Jiufen and the nearby Keelung Mountain, the Shengming Temple dates back to the 1880s and is the centre of faith for the Jiufen region.
We actually stumbled across this temple at first quite by accident and then ended up visiting Shengming Temple several times during our Jiufen stay and never found it too busy – given the views from the temple and lack of people, it is one of the more tranquil and calm temples we visited during our time in Taiwan.
What to eat in Jiufen
Xiao Long Bao
We found this awesome restaurant on Central Old Street but it did not have an english name so we cannot find it on google and share any details with you! It served some delicious Pork Xiao Long Bao soup dumplings which you can enjoy on their small outdoor terrace with incredible views of the ocean. If you fancy eating there keep an eye out for a restaurant with the menu pictured below.
Vinasse Taiwanese Meatballs
These are traditional meat dumplings from a restaurant called Jin Zhi on Old Central Street (which also operates a separate vegetarian version a few stalls away). The dumplings have a gelatinous casing and a filling of pork which has been soaked in red yeast (vinasse). People say it is an acquired taste – Neil hated it but I (Caroline) loved it!
Jin Zhi also serve others dishes but there is no english menu so we just picked some dishes from the photos on the board on the wall!
Hugely popular in Jiufen, nearly everyone we saw was eating one of these. To be honest we weren’t a fan – they tasted very sweet and had a lot of gristle (ew). We ate two bites of one and then threw the rest away, but you might want to try it yourself!
We think this might be the most popular food/dessert stall we saw in Jiufen. A Gan Yi Taro Balls serves cheap pots of freshly made taro and sweet potato balls and beans, either served hot in a soup, or chilled on shaved ice and queues to purchase these are always long. Most people order to take away but there is a small dining area here with great views of the ocean.
Deep Fried Seafood Balls
We always saw huge queues for these seafood balls, so decided to see what the fuss was about. These deep fried balls are served with sweet chilli sauce and pickled vegetables and are very delicious.
Peanut Ice Cream Roll
We were obsessed with peanut ice cream rolls during our trip to Taiwan, and saw many stalls along Central Old Street selling this dessert dish. The vendor lays out a thin flour tortilla which is then covered with shavings of peanut candy brittle and a row of scoops of ice cream before being tightly wrapped up. The ice cream flavours are usually either taro, vanilla, red bean or pineapple. Coriander is also a strange and optional ingredient you can add to the mix and is highly recommended as an extra aromatic layer. The mixture of ingredients taste sweet, nutty and salty, whilst the texture is creamy and crunchy.
Most restaurants and food stalls close for the day quite early here, compared to the big cities. If you don’t eat before 7pm, your best affordable option is to get microwave meals from either 7 Eleven or Family Mart. We visited both on several occasions – the pasta mac & cheese at Family Mart was a particular favourite. The 7 Eleven in Jiufen also has a little indoor seating area, with coastal views which was always very quite busy.
Accommodation in Jiufen
There are plenty of accommodation options in Jiufen from boutique hotels to guesthouses. Booking as far in advance is recommended however as Jiufen is a very popular to visit.
As we were visiting during the Chinese New Year holidays, we heard that good value, budget accommodation in Jiufen was hard to come by, so we booked months in advance choosing to stay at a family run lodgings called Jiufen 280 Guesthouse.
Whilst our hosts were lovely and it had sea-views, the weather during our three night stay coincided with some particularly cold and wet weather, so our room was very damp – we had water literally dripping down the walls so all our backpacks and gear smelled of damp for days afterwards. The room was also a little on the small side.
If you aren’t staying during Chinese New Year, you should find plenty more options, here are some highly recommended ones:
Flip Flop Hostel Jiufen
Hostel located in a beautiful old house with cosy common area and private rooms.
On My Way JiuFen Hostel
Highly rated hostel in a central location with dorm rooms.
Something Easy Inn
Highly rated guest house with a garden and shared lounge, with some rooms offering outdoor terraces and sea views.
Guesthouse with private outdoor deck with stunning sea views just 350 yards from Jiufen Old Street.
All in all and despite the serene setting, we were not totally ‘Spirited Away’ by Jiufen. The hordes of tourists in such a small space left us a little weary. Juifen was much better explored early in the morning or late evening, when the tourist buses were no longer here and it really came alive.
Visiting Shifen, Houtong, Pingxi and Jingtong from Jiufen
During our 3 day stay in Jiufen we spent one of the days exploring the towns on the nearby Pingxi Rail Line. The start of Pingxi line is easy to reach from Jiufen, simply take a short 20 minute bus to Riufang train station and hop onto the train from there. Highlights include Houtong Cat Village, watching lanterns being released into the sky in Shifen and Pingxi, and the beautiful Shifen Waterfall.
Pocket WIFI rental in Taiwan
Having a pocket WIFI device was super handy during our trip. We pre-ordered one online with Klook and collected the device at Taipei airport and dropped it off at Kaohsiung’s airport. The rental cost was pretty cheap at only £1.25 per day, and we were both able to connect our phones to it.
More Taiwan inspiration
- Taipei for first time visitors
- 10 of the best night markets in Taiwan
- Things to do in Taichung, Taiwan
- Best attractions in Tainan, Taiwan
- Top things to do in Kaohsiung, Taiwan
- What you can find in Taiwan’s 7-Eleven’s
- Ximending guide in Taipei, Taiwan
- Taipei day trip – a visit to Houtong Cat Village
- Anping District in Tainan, Taiwan
- An afternoon eating on a Taipei food tour
Words and photography by Neil Hassall and Caroline Keyzor.
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