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Taiwan’s capital is alive with thronging night markets, an oasis of urban parks, historic temples and many other things to do. A rich mix of the new and old, such as one of the world’s longest cable cars taking you high in the mountains to ancient tea plantations, Taipei should firmly be on your bucket list, and top of your Taiwan itinerary.
A fantastic fusion of the very best of Japan and China, this was our second visit to Taiwan in as many years and even in that short time, we have noticed a massive influx of western and domestic tourists. So visit now, seize the moment and see all that Taipei has to offer. Here are our top tips:
Top things to do in Taipei
1. Elephant Mountain
The best way to see the Taipei City and the iconic Taipei 101 skyscraper in all its glory is to climb the steep steps up Elephant Mountain. Be advised it can be a bit of a free for all at the very first viewing platform (where most people finish) and you’ll be vying for position with umpteen selfie sticks (or an umbrella in the eye if it is raining).
We decided to carry on a little further to the right of the first viewing platform and after a short 5 minute walk, found the most glorious secluded viewing platform with practically no-one else in sight. So please don’t just visit the first platform, take a snap amongst the crowds and grumble how busy it is – then venture on a little further and it’ll feel like you have the whole of Elephant Mountain to yourself!
On the stairways, keep an eye out for several canny vendors (mainly local elderly men and women) who sell refreshing drinks to cool you down, including freshly squeezed orange juice plus ice cold beers (which are priced the same as the nearby convenience stores so better to support the local economy here).
2. Liberty Square Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
This huge white building dominates Liberty Square and takes its name from the man who ruled Taiwan for nearly 50 years. There is an exhibition on Chiang inside (along with some rather nifty gift shops) but the main reason to visit is the awesome architecture and the hourly changing of the guard inside the hall (don’t try and distract them or you’ll likely be shouted at). Their gun twirling during the guard changing routine is particularly impressive and masterful.
Liberty Square is a vast public plaza and also home to an impressive arched gate (paifang), the National Theatre and the National Concert Hall – local school children also congregate here at the weekends and after school to perfect their street-dancing (very common all over Taiwan).
3. Night Markets
We’ll say it quietly but we think the night markets we encountered in Taipei (and in other cities like Kaohsiung and Tainan) are probably the best night-time street eats we’ve eaten at (sorry, Melaka and Bangkok).
From the neon lights of Liaoning Street to the Chinese New Year Delights of Dihua Street, through to the old school Tetris machines at Huaxi Market, there is a style of night market to suit every taste.
It isn’t just the foodie delights that make the Taipei night markets so special – keep an eye out for the numerous amusement stalls (children’s fishing stalls seem to be very popular) plus doggy fashions. Some of the stall holders even dress to impress!
4. Taipei 101 Viewing Deck
Taiwan’s most iconic building and once the tallest (until superseded by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa), this first came to our bucket list attention after we had seen it year after year as part of the annual New Year’s countdown, where synchronised fireworks shot off the building to celebrate the new year.
The views at the top are impressive and we were enthralled by the damper (a huge pendulum which helps to stop the building from swaying!), but we actually think Taipei 101 is better viewed from the outside, so that it appears in your photos. The journey down is also far from glamorous as you are shepherded through numerous gift-shops before waiting in a lengthy queue to go down.
Did you also know that Taipei 101 has a ‘secret’ Starbucks on the 35th floor, and is the world’s highest Starbucks? To visit, you have to book ahead (generally days in advance) and then show up at your allocated time in an annex on the ground floor – we like the idea of a high up secret Starbucks a ‘latte’…
Short on time? Skip the long queues and book a Taipei 101 Observatory Priority Pass Ticket online with Klook.
5. Beitou Thermal Valley
The mists of time (and Taiwan). Historically one of Taiwan’s 12 Great Sites, Beitou Thermal Valley has a mystical quality as the sulphuric clouds of steam swirl over the hot spring lake and through the nearby forest. Reminiscent of Rotorua in New Zealand, this section is free to visit and only a short train ride away from downtown Taipei (take the red line northbound to Xinbeitou MRT station).
Beitou is naturally supplied by geothermal energy and the town has many communal public pools and fancy private spa resorts. Book a Hot Spring Spa experience at the Grand View Resort Beitou online with Klook.
Note the thermal valley lake is closed on Mondays.
6. Maokong Gondola and Maokong Village
A tea-riffic Taipei adventure, Maokong is a quaint mountainside village with hillside tea plantations, with remarkable views of Taipei City. Once remote and only accessible by road, the Maokong Gondola opened in 2007 and is a stupendous feat of engineering.
Starting from Taipei Zoo, the cable cars offers a unique vantage point (especially the crystal / glass bottom ones) of the city and hillside temples. Upon arrival, head to the left to find lots of street-food vendors and cute hillside cafes.
We recommend the Maokong Tea Museum (‘Taipei Tea Promotion Centre’) as they have wonderful gardens plus offer free mugs of Chinese tea (although they don’t actually promote the free tea urn too well). You will find two signposted wooden cupboards in the central hall and you can then enjoy your tea on one of the tables in the museum or in the gardens at the rear of the building.
Whilst in Maokong, also try one of the famous green tea matcha ice-creams, complete with green tea cat-shaped biscuits – a ‘purrfect’ treat to enjoy whilst looking back across the mountains towards Taipei in the distance.
7. Huashan 1914 Creative Park
Originally a winery, Huashan 1914 is now a hotbed of creativity with lots of gorgeous craft stores, pop-up shops and exhibitions dotted all over the park – in a nutshell, a hipster’s wet dream!
Taiwan is full of creative parks and this Taipei is one of the best (along with Kaohsiung’s Art Center). During our last visit, there were lots of anime and character pop-up shows.
Taipei comes alive at night and this is no more true than the busy streets of Ximending – a vibrant mix of shops, street-food, restaurants and attractions, we always try and stay near here so that after a full day of sightseeing, we can have some fun at night and eat like kings and queens.
9. Modern Toilet restaurant
Holy crap! A whole restaurant dedicated to going to the toilet, where the food is ‘sh*tty’ and the drinks are pis*y. We first heard about this restaurant years ago when we worked at STA Travel and a visiting colleague from Taiwan raved about this place – we had to see it (and taste it) for ourselves.
We took our (toilet’) seats and chowed down on the themed set menu. Although we weren’t toilet-ally bowled over by the food quality, this is a fun and unique experience – read our full blog about visiting Modern Toilet in Taiwan >
There are two branches of Modern Toilet in Taipei – one in Ximending and one in Shilin (plus one further south in Taichung City).
10. Longshan Temple
Likely Taipei’s most well known temple (well, definitely on the tourist circuit), this may not be the most tranquil place to experience, but it is a must visit when in Taiwan’s capital (if only to hear the hypnotic afternoon prayers or morning chants, which Longshan is renowned for).
Built in 1738 and surviving many natural and manmade disasters (including bombing in World War II), thousands of worshippers and tourists deign to drop in here every day. The Longshan Temple complex comprises of several halls, worship halls and is a perfect place to see some of the more traditional practices such as Jiaobei (fortune-telling cups / sticks that are thrown on the temple floor) and Qui Qian (long sticks to provide worshippers with answers from the gods).
11. Taipei Eats food and walking tour
If you are time poor or don’t fancy spending several days trundling around Taipei’s streets finding your own culinary delights, we highly recommend taking a tour with Taipei Eats. We did the XinYi Backstreet tour, which takes you through the small hidden alleys of a district typically associated with sleek shopping malls and high end eateries.
We enjoyed our Taipei Eats tour so much (we had very happy bellies) that we wrote a dedicated blog about it >.
12. Yongkang Street
Yongkang Street (which we affectionately prefer to call ‘Yum Yum street) is home to the original Din Tai Fung restaurant (see below) but this isn’t the reason why we love it so. It is a foodie paradise with restaurants and street-food vendors to suit all types of budgets. Flavours from around the world including Korean, Chinese, Western and Asian fusion dishes can be found here (as well as ubiquitous Western dishes) – Anthony Bourdain (RIP) was also a big fan of Yong Kang Beef Noodles here.
The reason why we love it so it is home to possibly our favourite dish in the whole of Taiwan – scallion pancakes with asian basil, produced by the lovely ladies at Tian Jin Flaky Scallion Pancake stall. To find it, follow your nose or look for the biggest queue along Yongkang Road. We are also partial to the dumplings in the area – if gift shops are more your thing, Yongkang Street has also got you covered!
13. Din Tai Fung
If you haven’t heard of Din Tai Fung before, where have you been? Now one of the most famous dumpling restaurant chains in the world with outposts as far afield as Australia and the UK, it all started back in 1958 in Taiwan.
Best known for its xiaolongbao soup dumplings, Din Tai Fung is affordable and generally very good (we’ve been to several branches in and around Taiwan and always had first class fodder) – however, the original store (in Da’an) is one of the hardest to visit as the queues always seem to snake around the block.
14. Da’an Park
Taipei’s very own version of New York’s Central Park, this is a large public park (the people’s park) in the heart of the Da’an District. We visited on a sunny Sunday afternoon, so the park was bustling with picnicking families, dog-walkers and joggers (plus a roller skating rink – how retro!)
Although not the prettiest park in Taipei, we really enjoyed walking around the lake in Da’an Park, and easily spotting all the wildlife including ducks, egrets plus hundreds of turtles bobbing up and down in the lake.
15. Confucius Temple
Modelled after the original Confucius temple in Qufu, China and originally built in 1879, the temple was sadly destroyed during the Japanese Empire era and subsequently rebuilt in 1930. Old and new worlds combine here as the temple features a 15 minute 4D movie theatre which tells of the story of Confucius and the history of the site.
Along with the neighbouring Bao’an Temple, this is part of the Dalongdong Cultural and Historical District (definitely worth a visit – it oozes charm). As with other temples we visited in Taiwan, the Confucius temple possess intricate interiors with red exteriors dominating throughout.
16. Songshan Ciyou Temple
We came across Songshan Ciyou Temple as we were visiting Raohe Night Market one Saturday evening (it is right next to the main market entrance). We were fortunate enough to visit during Chinese New Year so the temple was decked out with red lanterns, and we were able to watch fireworks being let off across the city from the top floor of the main temple.
Ciyou Temple is a folk temple dedicated to the Goddess Mazu – throughout the temple on our visit, hundreds were paying their respects and the flower / gift sellers in and around the temple were doing a steady business. Free to enter, make sure you head to the rear of the temple and climb the darkened staircases to the top floor, as the temple becomes increasingly intricate and ornate and you ascend the floors.
Day Trips from Taipei
If you have a spare day in your Taipei schedule then you should consider taking a day trip out of the city. Many are easy to do y yourselves, otherwise there are loads of group day tours available, here are a few examples of some available to book online:
Check out our blog posts on day trips from Taipei to the cute mountain town of Jiufen (a must visit for fans of Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away), and the Pingxi Rail Line (for Houtong Cat Village, Shifen, Pingxi and Jingtong).
Here are some highly rated accommodation suggestions for all types of budget in Taipei!
Hostel accommodations that come highly rated include:
If you are looking for something mid range then these hotels are in excellent locations with great reviews:
Alternatively if you are looking for something more special then treat yourself to a stay at one of these beautiful hotels in Taipei:
Getting around Taipei
The MRT metro subway system in Taipei is super easy to use, clean and cheap! There is also an extensive network of buses too. You can get to most places in the city centre very easily just by using public transport.
The two best options for payment to use Taipei’s public transport are:
- EasyCard – the card costs costs NT$100 but saves 20% on regular fares. It can be topped up at metro stations and convenience stores like FamilyMart and 7/11.
- Taipei Pass – unlimited rides on the MRT and buses and can be purchased from MRT customer service counters for either one day, two days, three days or five days.
Uber taxi’s are also available – download the Uber app to your phone and sign up using the code carolinek9322ue to get your first ride for free!
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:
- Guide to Taichung, Taiwan
- A day trip to Hutong Cat Village from Taipei
- Guide to Taiwan’s ‘7-Eleven’s
- Kaohsiung travel guide, Taiwan
- Tainan travel guide, Taiwan
- Pier 2 Art Centre and Shoushan Love lookout in Kaohsiung, Taiwan
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