Known for its humble voice and down-to-earth charms, Taipei surprises visitors with its foray into art and cultural preservation. Often overlooked for convenient cosmopolitan distractions are the various temples and natural attractions dotting Taiwan’s capital city. But one thing for sure – Taipei’s food scene snatches the limelight with budget-approved ease. For more hidden gems waiting to be discovered, dive straight into these best things to do in Taipei:
Commemorate a historical figure
Built in 1980 to commemorate former leader Chiang Kai-Shek is a memorial hall of its namesake. A somewhat controversial monument believed to rehash its former military leadership, many nonetheless appraise its grand design. Have you noticed that its white coat and blue-red accents mirror the colors of the Taiwanese flag? It is also octagon-shaped as the number eight is believed auspicious. Not only does this memorial summarize Taiwan’s history, but also showcases a few Presidential cars. Regardless of sentiment, the outdoor square entertains musical elderlies and young dancers in a show of community.
Hike up one of the Four Beasts
Towering views seem to be the theme. Taipei’s connected Elephant, Tiger, Leopard and Lion mountain ranges step up to serve postcard-perfect views of the city. Elephant Mountain is a crowd-favorite, but quality is consistent from every angle. A popular 4-hour route loops around Tiger Mountain, Thumb Mountain, Nangang Mountain and Elephant Mountain; you can isolate sections for a shorter walk. Depending on your chosen trail, pavilions and temples guard the path. Paved stairs alternate with dirt ground, as do easy inclines and steep ridges. More adventurous routes even include short rock wall climbs with knotted ropes. Watch out for slippery rocks and dress in appropriate hiking boots. But do challenge yourself and reach for the rewarding views up 95 Peak.
Catching a show at the National Theatre and Concert Hall
Sharing space with the imposing Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall is the National Theatre and National Concert Hall. Twin performance art venues, the traditional edifice of these halls have welcomed international ballet companies, orchestras, opera troupes and soloists. You can catch kabuki theatre or Shakespearean dramas depending on visitation period; list the genre and it’ll be on the list. These architectural highlights are best admired from the white-and-blue Liberty Square Arch.
Take to new heights at Taipei 101
Start tall with the bamboo-shaped Taipei 101. Breaking several records as the world’s tallest green building with the fastest elevator and sky-high Starbucks, it is a great vantage point to map out your next stop. Purchase your ticket on the 5th floor before stepping into the pressure-controlled lift. It takes only 40 seconds to reach the 88th and 89th floor observation decks. If weather permits, you might get to feel the wind in your hair on the 91st floor open deck. Retire below for some retail fun when you’re done picking up jaw at the stunning views.
Spend the night at Sun Moon Lake
A three hour ride out of Taipei center, Sun Moon Lake is as ethereal as its name suggests. Name derived from the unique geography; the east side of the lake rounded like a sun whilst the west curves long and narrow like the moon, it is a resplendent span of blue. Thousands of swimmers flock here during Mid-Autumn Festival to participate in the Swimming Carnival. Water activities aside, the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway is a scenic gondola ride connecting to the Formosa Aboriginal Culture Village theme park nearby.
Explore edgy Huashan 1914 Creative Park
Leading the trend of repurposing old buildings across Taiwan is the brewery-turned-arts and cultural center. This 1914 construct was discovered by members of the Golden Bough Theatre in 1997, and promptly used as an unconventional stage for plays. Local artists slowly drifted over and the space grew into a collective of creatives. Now teeming with exhibition, performance and conference facilities alongside quirky indie brands, bookshops and interactive displays, it is a fully-fledged hipster hub. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a mini-concert at this outstanding venuw. Besides hosting art exhibits and events, the lawn outside Huashan 1914 Creative Arts Park is ideal for picnics.
Conquer your fear of heights
What is more scenic (and low-key terrifying) than a glass-bottomed gondola ride? Hit four attractions in a row with the Maokong Gondola line, linking up the boarding station, Taipei Zoo, Zhinan Temple and Maokong, where the latter awaits with traditional tea houses and hiking trails. An elevated village with breathtaking views, Maokong is famous for its tieguanyin tea. For more information on this staple brew, visit the Tea Promotion Center! Take to the “Healthy Hiking Trail” for small depots of tea fields, neatly planted squares broken up by ferns, bamboo groves and other fauna. Near the end of the trail are “pot holes” stamped in the seabed of a river – curiously shaped like a tea pot holder.
Meet the animals at Taipei Zoo
Originally a private zoological garden founded by a Japanese citizen, it is now the largest zoo in Asia. Known as the home of Yuan Zai the panda, its outdoor and indoor display areas covet animals from all over the world. Explore the reaches of the Asian Tropical Rainforest Area, Desert Animal Area, Australian Animal Area and African Animal Area for open-air habitats. Beside the regular amphibians and reptiles are also a Penguin House and Koala House for diversity. Insect lovers will also love the collection of the tiny various-legged creatures.
Dedicated to one of the Eight Immortals, Lu Dongbin, Zhinan Temple is located on the slopes of Houshan. A Taoist temple that celebrates one who loved poetry and books, its exterior is surprisingly intricate. Gold plated roofing and etched eaves add an air of grand dignity. Against the deep backdrop of mountain greens, Zhinan Temple stands out like a work of art.
Admire the goods at Jianguo Jade Market
Unusually posited beneath the Jianguo Elevated Highway is an indoor jade market that occupies the stretch between Ren’ai Road to Jinan Road. Open on weekends, the market attracts a veritable local and tourist crowd. Jade may be in the name, but precious gems, stones, ready-made jewelry and miscellaneous statues and porcelain are on the selling list. Bartering is acceptable; some friendly words in Chinese go a long way! For a unique trinket, choose this one-of-a-kind souvenir stop.
Try some stinky tofu
Infused in the brick and mortar of Shengkeng Old Street is the pungent scent of stinky tofu. Nary devotion like this rural district towards the infamous snack, stacked to the brim with variations and other tofu delicacies. Want a list? Try any of the following: regular tofu, stinky tofu, tofu popsicles, tofu cheese, tofu dessert, dried tofu, tofu ice cream, tofu drinks, tofu cake… the list is endless. Other old-school treats are available for a palate cleanser, such as stick rice cake, egg rolls, milk candy and chewy peanut snacks. Restaurants do specialize in tofu dishes as expected, but don’t worry; they also supply regular fried noodles and poultry variations.
Celebrate the artists with a village
Without art there’d be no national treasures, and Taipei rightly celebrates local and international artists by developing a special enclave – the artist village of Treasure Hill. Originally a military base that had fallen decrepit by 1960s and 70s, this unsightly collection of houses emerged in 2010 with new purpose. Named after the Treasure Hill Temple nestled at its center, the elevated patch is now home to several artists and their works. Locals and tourists are drawn to this grunge-chic “attic”, cooing over the wooden stairways, art installations and granite-hemmed galleries. Rotating artworks keep exhibits fresh, but detailed murals by Candy Bird and architect Kung Shu-Chang’s interactive fortune cookie sculptures remain permanent fixtures.
Hike the national park
Don’t skimp out on your nature retreat. Yangmingshan National Park’s chameleon qualities make it an all-year hiking spot. A treeless “Grass Mountain” back in the Qing Dynasty that is still relatively forest-free, its scenic topology includes sulfur deposits and steaming vents. Escape the smell of rotten eggs by hiking up Mt. Qixing. Easy trails through lush lands can be found at Erziping, where neighboring Datun Nature Park has been replanted to create abundant plant life. Lengshuikang offers a place to soak away a day’s grime, whilst Qingtiangang deposits city views at your feet. Its dormant volcano, Seven Star Mountain, colors a soft pastel in spring and sweeps in silver in the fall.
Smell the flowers at Jianguo Flower Market
What is not to love about a scented market, painted vivid with flower plumages and dainty sprigs? Jianguo Flower Market comes alive on the weekends, grounded pots and hanging trellises extending in a sea of color. Succulents and prickly plantation are sold next to bundles of blooms, alongside potted bonsais and ferns. Gardening tools and pots are also on display beside decorative fountains. Even if you’re not looking to buy, the bustling atmosphere is something to behold.
A study in history
Carried over from China during the chaotic civil war were priceless artifacts that now dwell in Taipei’s National Palace Museum. Sharing roots with Beijing’s Palace Museum, most artifacts derive from imperial Ming and Qing Dynasty collections. From ceramics, jades, lacquerwares to textiles, calligraphic works to rare books and rubbings, the extensive exhibitions cover over 8,000 years of Chinese history. Given the size of priceless cultural treasures at hand (approximately 700,000 pieces), only 1% is on display any given time. There are also visitor facilities on-site. Zhishan Garden, much like the artwork within the museum, is a master compilation of ponds, pavilions and stone bridges.
Relax in the hot spring town of Beitou
Soak away the sweat and grime from a day out in Taiwan’s heat at Beitou Hot Spring. Located at the foot of Yangmingshan, its sulfuric smell can be detected even before you step foot into its grounds. The hot spring water draws mostly from Liuhuanggu and Longfenggu thermal valleys. Beitou Thermal Valley is another hot spring attraction that bubbles with “green sulfur” to create layered, creamy diamond-shaped Hokutolite crystals. The area offers choice of private hot spring rooms and public bathhouses. Non-hot spring attractions include the restored Xinbeitou Historic Station, which houses historical displays of the town.
Immersing in the spiritual at Longshan Temple
Temples tell stories and the ornate, incense-heavy worship spaces in Taiwan do exactly that. Despite having lived through earthquakes and bombing raids, Longshan Temple stands solemn and strong. Local community band together to restore the temple with little authority support, imbuing in its restored pieces the resilience and devotion of the people. This open-hearted attitude is reflected in its multi-faith nature, mixing Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian practices. One deity constantly worshipped is the matchmaking Yue Lao. Couples exchange string bracelets to bless their relationship.
Let the colors and muted prayers of Longshan Temple’s contemporaries lull you into a peaceful trance. Qingshan Temple is a historic marvel of stone carvings, elaborate woodwork and ceramic figures dating back to its creation in 1800s. Built to honor Three Kingdoms’ general Zhang Gun, people pray for protection against diseases and for justice. Songshan Ciyou Temple is a colorful and intricate square structure that worships the Black Faced Mazu. Intricate twin dragons symbolize divine protection in regards to wealth, longevity and happiness. Similarly, historic stories are carved into the face of Guandu Temple. The Lantern Festival and Chongyuan Pu Tu are major festivals celebrated here.
Enjoy cosmopolitan delights at Ximending
Let loose at Ximending’s plethora of hip bars, bass-thumping clubs and flashy shopping malls. Founded as a recreational hub during the Japanese colonialization era, Ximending has developed into a youthful tourist district. It is also the epicenter of Taiwan’s LGBT community, the area around Red House Theatre overflowing with gay-friendly establishments. Modern Taipei is encapsulated in this downtown social hub. Ximending Pedestrian Area can be accessed through Ximen Station. See more of the best things to do in Ximending.
Visit the village that inspired Ghibli film Spirited Away
There’s no place more mystical than the hill-perched town of Jiufen. Reach this town by shuttle from Ximen, its layered slopes of shops and lush drapes hide small eateries and trinket stores under a veil of animated beauty. Japanese architectural influences are to be expected as Jiufen emerged from a gold-mining village during the occupation. You’ll find majority of the shops concentrated around the cobblestoned paths of Shuqi Road, as well as in the streets running perpendicular to it. For extra fun, rent a qipao or cheongsam and immerse yourself in Jiufen’s nostalgic ambiance.
Enjoy a hot cuppa at this classic tea house
Bamboo chairs, wooden tables and neutral palettes decorate the interior of charming Wistaria Tea House. Emoting a clean-cut Japanese style, this tea house has housed navy officers and philosophical intellectuals since 1920s. Serenity is the targeted goal; visitors can take a break from the rush of their explorations. If you’re interested in tea preparation, the staff would gladly demonstrate for you – and maybe you’ll try your hand at the meditative process too.
Be awed at Shifen’s stunning waterfall
Neighboring Shifen is another well-loved area home to a scenic and surreal waterfall. This 40-meter tall waterfall is well worth a day trip out of Taipei; it is considered one of the most scenic landscapes in Taiwan. Shifen Old Streets are another hotspot, a collection of lanes around the railway station. A humble market vibe permeates the area, exuding friendliness and warmth in the run-down alleys. Visitors can also re-enact the lantern wishes in Disney’s Tangled; pen your innermost hopes onto delicate lantern paper and send it soaring to the skies.
Wander restored old quarters
History latches onto certain neighborhoods, and Bopiliao Old Street is proof of that. Looking almost untouched since its Qing Dynasty days, this nostalgic quarter make for a photogenic backdrop. It encapsulates Taiwan’s long history in various architectural styles; structures take inspiration from Southern Fujianese, Japanese, modern Western touches and brutalist ROC detailing. Common elements include red brick arches, balconies, embellished rails and stone flooring. Covered walkways are also a key feature for convenient shopping. The Heritage and Culture Education Center based in the area discusses education and medical advancement throughout the years.
Take a photo outside the Presidential Palace
The Presidential Palace might not house royalty, but you wouldn’t have guessed so solely from its grand façade. An impressive feat of architecture that beguiles in heavy colonial style; the piercing red and white skein and central tower purports an intimidating air, offset slightly by the arched balcony frames and detailing. Naturally, most areas are sanctioned off as it is the president’s work place, but small areas are open to public.
Shop without breaking the budget
Cheap shopping is forever enticing and Wufenpu District is just the place. Farmland converted to combination garment shops with housing on top, Wufenpu now acts as a gigantic outlet. Specializing in street market-like stalls, clothing of all styles and fabrics are all you can see down the grid-like lanes. Apparel, accessories, bags and shoes are available for a wardrobe makeover. Thanks to its flexible opening hours, you can easily shop from morning to night! Presenting fast fashion at bargain prices, jump from rack to rack in this shop-packed network of alleys and outlets.
Eating is best done at night
Food, of course, is a Taipei highlight. For the most mouthwatering, value eateries and vendor stalls, don’t miss out on the famous Shilin Night Market. This popular tourist spot comes with a food court serving traditional foods like stinky tofu. Bubble tea, oyster omelets and fried buns are all part of the must-taste package. Shop keepers are also friendly, pushing aromatic finger foods in your face! You’re guaranteed to revisit night after night for indulgent street food.
Hunt down electronics
Stock up on the newest tech at the six-storey high Guanghua Digital Plaza. Camera add-ons, travel adaptors, mobile accessories and the like are all you’ll find here. They even sell karaoke systems! Prices are fair and clearly posted to save you the trouble of haggling, although you will find the competitive market tipping the scales in your favor with offers of small upgrades and free accessories. Adjacent Syntrend Creative Park shares the IT theme, but is more of an exhibitory space for technology companies. Bring cash as credit card usage may cost minor service charge.
Fresh air in, stress out
Clear your lungs at Daan Forest Park. Touting twenty-six acres of greenery and random animal companions, it is the height of city-embraced nature. For instance, it hosts two ponds, pavilions and an amphitheater in unexpected collusion. Exercise facilities such as a playground and skating rink also seek to accommodate sporting interests of younger groups. Combining light fun with relaxing strolls, Daan Forest Park is a much needed pocket of calm.
Visit Hobe Fort
Drive up the gravel road and through the hollowed tunnel of Hobe Fort to see this never-used military structure. Built with military action in mind, it boasts massive gates, earthen walls and four batteries. Admission fee includes access to Fort San Domingo, located close by.
Visit the Taipei Grand Mosque
An iconic Islamic building covering over 2,700 square meters, the Taipei Grand Mosque enthralls with its green-domed roof. The interior is dressed with Persian rugs, chandeliers and arches characteristic of architect Yang Cho-cheng’s lavish style. Home to the Chinese Muslim Association headquarters, the mosque offers Arabic language classes. While visitors are permitted into the prayer hall, do be respectful of their rules and pay respects accordingly.
Dining at Yongkang Street
Foodies rush to Yongkang Street to an overwhelmingly good cuisine scene. Gourmet restaurants and road-side stalls exist side-by-side to provide an assortment of venues. Famous names like Din Tai Fung and Yong Kang Beef Noodle are found here, drawing attention to local fare. Trendy cafés break up heavier meals with afternoon treats and of course, bubble tea. Whatever meal of the day you’re seeking, Yongkang Street will feed you ‘til you burst.
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