7 BEST THINGS TO DO IN TAIPEI
Taipei is a bustling and energetic modern city, yet still has plenty of old world charm.
Its big draw attractions are perfectly complemented by the pleasures of wandering its traditional streets and the unique atmosphere and outstanding food of its night markets. And with many places of genuine interest easily visited by day trip from Taipei, Taiwan’s capital is the perfect place for a short break. If you’re planning a trip to this fine city, here are 7 of the best things to do in Taipei.
Wander The Streets
Sometimes, the best pleasures are the simplest ones. Wandering the back streets will get you into the inner psyche of Taipei. Barely a few steps away from the city’s main thoroughfares, these meandering and narrow streets give you an intriguing glimpse into the daily life of its residents.
Shopfronts and houses
In these alleyways, buildings built close together – four, five or six storeys high – are covered in similarly styled, long, narrow tiles. Windows are covered by distinctive grates, giving the streets a pleasing, patterned uniformity, broken up by dark green plants spilling from balconies.
At street level, delightfully ramshackle shop fronts sell everything from foodstuffs to motorcycle parts. Small parks are dotted here and there; they appear suddenly around corners, as do the many local temples, some no bigger than a small house. If you’re interested in street photography, you can get lost for hours.
Closed for Lunar New Year
Take the time to delve into the byways of backstreet Taipei, soak up the local atmosphere, and you won’t be disappointed.
Signs and grates – enjoying Taipei’s facades
Chiang Kai Shek Memorial
One of the most visited sites in Taipei, The National Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall sits at the east end of the expansive Liberty Square. Built in memory of Taiwan’s first President, this 76 metre high concrete and marble monument is an impressive sight.
Chiang Kai Shek Memorial dwarfing the spacious surrounds of Liberty Square
The memorial hall features a huge seated statue of the former leader. It’s flanked and watched over by two guards. And while you can see the changing of the guard ceremony every hour, on the hour, this may soon change. The Ministry of Culture said in 2017 that it plans to move away from the old cult of personality. Instead, the building is to change into a national centre for recognising the mistakes and troubles in Taiwan’s history.
Old and new – the traditionally styled gate is overlooked by a modern skyscraper at the west of Liberty Square
A visit here however, is about more than just the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial. Liberty Square itself, named after its role in Taiwan’s transition to democracy, is an amazingly wide and open space to have in the middle of the city. Covering more than 240,000 sqm, the huge square is flanked north and south by two massive twin buildings: The National Concert Hall and National Theatre.
The famous white gate stands at the western end, and the square is surrounded by attractive parkland. It’s a great place to just wander and watch the world go by.
The spectacular National Concert Hall
Elephant Mountain Sunset Hike
Xiangshan, to give it its Chinese name, is a mountain in the east of Taipei, and it’s the best place to watch the sun go down. Located in Xinyi District close to Xiangshan Station, it’s only one stop along the line from Taipei 101. Named due to its elephant-like shape, the term ‘mountain’ is a bit of a misnomer – it tops out at a mere 183 m. But this is more than tall enough to get you into prime position for an outstanding view over the city, with the imposing Taipei 101 taking centre stage.
The hike up Elephant Mountain itself is gorgeous, surrounded by giant rocks and lush and varied vegetation
The well maintained hiking trail leads you up stone steps, along wooden boardwalk, through lush vegetation, and past the Six Giant Rocks and several viewing platforms. The largest viewing platform is along the ridge at the top. It’s here you can get the most expansive view of the city and the best view of the setting sun. Understandably, it’s extremely popular. Expect the entire hiking trail to be crowded and arrive early if you want to get set up for that spectacular shot.
Golden Hour views over Taipei
It takes about 30-45 minutes to reach the top. You’ll want to get there at least an hour before sunset to ensure you’re not disappointed, but an hour and a half would be even better.
Sunset views of Taipei 101 from Elephant Mountain
Eat at Din Tai Fung
Founded as a cooking oil retail shop in Taipei in 1958, Din Tai Fung adapted to survive when tinned cooking oil threatened its business in 1970. After a successful trial period selling steamed buns, it became a bonafide restaurant in 1972. Since then, it’s grown to be an internationally renowned restaurant, with numerous outlets around the world. It’s most famous for its xiaolongbao (steamed pork soup dumplings), and these are quite simply, not to be missed.
Kim has thought about these almost every day since that first taste…
There are several Din Tai Fung restaurants in Taipei, but you’ll most likely want to choose between the biggest and the original. The biggest sits at the base of the Taipei 101. The original is located on Xinyi Road near Dongmen Station. In both cases, expect to wait to be seated. At the Taipei 101 restaurant, the waiting time can be as much as 2 hours, although you can be seated much quicker if you’re happy to be seated at a communal table. We turned up, opted for that, and were seated right away.
Even if you have to wait a while, it’ll be worth it.
Xiaolongbao are the perfect blend of flavours and textures – the small amount of soup expertly parcelled inside these heavenly dumplings keeps the filling deliciously moist. They’re reasonably priced, and what’s more, the extensive menu features a plethora of great sides, plus a host of different options if you fancy something else or really want to go to town.
A perfect little steamed bun filled with mushroom deliciousness
Aside from the food, you can watch the xiaolongbao being handmade behind the glass panels of the open kitchen. It’s kind of mesmerising. The guys rock back and forward rhythmically, as each little circle of dough is vigorously rolled. When the rolling’s done, rows of hands fly in and out, expertly filling and wrapping each one before placing them on a metal tray, ready to be steamed. Honestly, it’s hypnotic, and a real pleasure to watch.
Visit A Temple
Intricately and elaborately designed, Taipei’s temples are a visual feast. But more than that, in a country where traditional religious observance is alive and well, visiting a busy temple is a multi-sensory experience. You should visit at least one during your stay in Taiwan’s capital city.
Lighting candles at Longshan Temple
Probably Taipei’s most famous and iconic temple, Longshan Temple in Wanhua District should be at the top of your list. Built in 1738 and dedicated to Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, this venerable old temple carries its age well. It was constructed in the style of a palace complex and is the perfect mix of dim candle-lit interior and open courtyard. The smoke blackened wooden ceilings and carved stone pillars are perfectly complemented by the brightly coloured dragons guarding the temple’s roof.
Lunar New Year celebrations at Longshan Temple
Datong District’s Baoan Temple is another fine example, famed for its dragon carved stone columns and annual folk arts festival. It was lovingly restored between 1995 and 2002, receiving a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award as a result. Qingshan Temple in Wanhua District, famed for its wood-carved ceilings, and Ciyou Temple in Songshan District, known for its elaborately ornate roof, are two more of Taipei’s top temple attractions.
Intricate carvings and beautiful designs are typical of Taiwanese temples
Eat All The Food At The Night Markets
Put simply, you cannot visit Taipei without spending at least an evening at one of Taipei’s outstanding night markets. Taiwan’s capital has a staggering number of night markets, ranging from small local affairs to huge and sprawling ones. They are busy, bustling places full of incredible smells, sights and sounds. The city’s night markets give you a fascinating insight into Taiwanese culture, and what’s more, they are an incredibly affordable way to eat.
On the side-streets surrounding Shilin Night Market
If you can only visit one, Raohe St. Night Market in Songshan District is the pick of the bunch. The market’s open air atmosphere has a genuinely authentic feel, and there’s so much choice available that it’s nigh on impossible to leave unsatisfied. And you can easily circumnavigate its 600m long row of food stalls by walking up one side and down the other.
The enticing entrance to Raohe St. Night Market
Shilin Night Market in the city’s north is the biggest, oldest and most famous of its night markets. It has a big indoor food hall, as well many stalls sprawling through the surrounding streets. In addition, Ningxia, Tonghua/Linjiang and Huaxi night markets are three more of Taipei’s famous night markets.
THE famous pork pepper buns –
moist and succulent on the inside and perfectly crispy on the outside
Go On A Day Trip
Taipei’s a wonderful city, but it’s nice to get out and explore more of this country if you have the time. There are several places around the north of Taiwan that can be easily explored on a day trip from Taipei.
Some of them you don’t even have to leave the city limits for. Heading north up the red MRT line takes you to the Beitou Hot Springs area. Head a bit further to the end of the line and you’ll reach Tamsui, where the Tamsui River meets the Taiwan Strait. There’s Tamsui Old Street selling local specialties, an old Spanish fort, and a spectacular sunset view from Fisherman’s Wharf.
Beitou Hot Springs – the public pools.
Men beware, no swimming shorts with pockets allowed!
Heading a bit further afield, there are some great places to visit east of Taipei. The old gold mining town of Jiufen has beautiful, winding streets full of character, atmospheric red lanterns and fantastic food.
The old-world charm and lanterns of Jiufen Old Street
Further along the railway tracks, Shifen and Pingxi, nestled among the lush mountains of Pingxi District, are famous for their sky lantern festival. If you miss the festival itself, fear not; sky lantern shops line the railway tracks year-round and there are always opportunities to see them being released into the sky, complete with their inked messages. The quaint old streets and beautiful scenery further add to the charm of this region.
Railways tracks, sky lanterns and old-fashioned houses at Shifen Old Street
View from a rail-side cafe in Pingxi
7 Best Things to do in Taipei
So there you have it! These are 7 of the best things to do in Taipei. If you’re heading here for a short trip and want to make the most of your time, this is the list for you. If you have more time and are able to explore this fine city further, well then, lucky you! This Taipei taster certainly left us intrigued and keen to return in the future.