20 OF THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN TAIPEI, TAIWAN
I absolutely loved Taipei while visiting Taiwan. It has everything you could want when experiencing a new city -- friendly locals, trendy hang-outs, lovely food, green getaways within or just outside the centre of it all, not to mention countless things to do that can be easily reached by foot, bicycle or public transport. I found Taipei to be a good blend of Chinese and Japanese culture. It had the traditional ways of China but the craziness and uniqueness of Japan. There is just so much to see, find and appreciate in and around this city! You can get around quicker and pack your days fuller by using the extremely easy and efficient metro system. You could be chasing waterfalls, hiking within National Parks, riding cable cars in the mountains to quaint tea-houses all the while just spending an hour or so on the train from the city.
I spent a full 7 days in Taipei and fitted in as many activities as I could. Below I've written about my favourite things to do in the city that shouldn't be overlooked on your travels.
#1 HANG OUT IN XIMENDING AFTER DARK
Taipei really does become alive after dark. You will find certain streets only become busy very late or you will notice movies play in the cinema ALL through the night (3.30am viewings). One of the best areas to experience life after dark for yourself is Ximending. Its filled with neon lights, talented street performers, trendy youth's, cinemas, loads of cool shops and in my opinion, some of the best food stalls/restaurants.
Coming off the escalator from the MRT to the bright lights, busy sounds and manic zebra crossings made me feel as if I was stepping off the steps to Tokyo. Make your way round the well connected, neat streets of chaos, visit the famous Red House (there's some hidden bars behind it) and enjoy one of the best night spots in Taipei. HOW TO GET THERE: MRT Ximen Station. Blue or Green Line. Exit 1 or 6.
#2 SPEND THE DAY AT TAIPEI ZOO
The Zoo in Taipei is well worth a visit. It's the largest zoo in Asia (there's even a McDonald's in it) and home to a vast amount of animals from all around the world including Pandas, Elephants, Kangaroos, Gorillas, Koalas, Giraffes etc.
It's so spread out that it doesn't feel as if the animals are in a zoo at all, they have loads of room to roam in. While walking through it I felt as though we were in a huge park and was one of the best things we did while in Taipei. Even if zoo's aren't your thing, at $60NT a ticket (£1.50), it makes for a crazy cheap day out.
HOW TO GET THERE: MRT Taipei Zoo Station. Last stop on the Brown Line.
#3 RIDE THE MAOKONG GONDOLA
The Maokong Gondola is the little cable cars that take you high through the mountains on the outskirts of the city all the way to the hidden village of Maokong home to tea plantations, hikes, temples, tea houses and little roads filled with street food and souvenirs. The ride itself is actually the best part as it's a lot faster, higher and longer than I expected. It brings amazing 360 views of the greenery of Taipei as well as the city's skyscrapers. It's something that's perfect to do after Taipei Zoo as the station you disembark from is connected to the zoo's shuttle bus system. It's $100NT for a one way trip from Taipei Zoo South Station to Maokong Station. After exploring the little town, you can return to Taipei Zoo Station by cable car ($120NT), bus ($15NT) or taxi ($75NT) and then from there return back to the city.
HOW TO GET THERE: Taipei Zoo South Station
#4 HIKE ELEPHANT MOUNTAIN
Elephant Mountain (Xiangshan Hiking Trail) isn't so much a mountain but a fairly steep hike to an epic viewpoint within a quiet and peaceful area of the city. It's in the form of many steps that take around 15 minutes of climbing to reach the top.
After reaching the peak, you will find the best views of the city including the Taipei 101 tower. We did the hike around 4pm and stayed until sunset. It's amazingly calming at the top even though it brings out a lot of visitors (tourists as well as local fitness fanatics racing up and down the steps). We waited for the perfect weather day to complete the walk which ended up being our last day. It was the perfect ending to a great trip.
HOW TO GET THERE: MRT Xiangshan Station. Last stop on Red Line. Exit 2.
One of my favourite things to do when visiting a new place is trying out and tasting the local food being it new trends or what the country is known for. Taipei was no different. It's somewhere you will be sure to find the current Asian crazes as well as unique delicacies.
My favourite's were Beef & Tomato Noodle Soup, Sweet Potato Balls, Shaved Ice topped with Taiwanese fruits and sweet sauces, Fried Chicken, Crispy Fries topped with Cheese Sauce.
Taipei didn't have much of a boozing scene at all but the drinks you need to try while there are in the form of sweet bubble teas. Bubble teas were invented in Taiwan and nearly every street holds a stall selling them. The best chain to head to I found were Tiger Sugar. Order the Brown Sugar Milk Tea that comes with the chewy pearl balls - so sweet, caramel-y and delicious. I became addicted to them! Another one of my favourite drinks were the Passion Fruit Iced Teas or Passion Fruit Ginger Sodas -- so so good!
#7 TAKE A DAY TRIP TO SHIFEN
The impressive Shifen Waterfall, known as the 'Niagara Falls of Taiwan' was the selling point for us to choose it as our one day trip during our week in Taipei. Just a ten minute walk from the rustic, mountain side village of Shifen, is the easy trail to the waterfall park. It's completely free to enter the park and is well worth the hour or so train journey from the city. Wander through the trail over suspension bridges, passing even more street food and watch as charming yellow trains pass you side by side of the path.
To our surprise, the waterfall was not the only thing Shifen had to offer. The centre of the village itself is the rail track and surrounding market known as Shifen Old Street. While trains pass you're ushered to the sides of the track but can walk freely while the track is empty. There's loads of cute shops, street food stalls, cool souvenirs as well as the opportunity to buy and release huge Chinese lanterns.
You can buy these different coloured lanterns and paint them with your own personal messages for good luck. Each colour brings a certain type of luck, may it be Health, Happiness, Marriage, Education or Wealth. Or you can pay a little extra and combine different colours (if you fancy extra blessings). They start at $100NT per lantern and go upto $350NT.
After you've created your masterpiece, you're rushed to release the lantern into the sky before the next train appears. The lanterns let off around us were so pretty decorated in neat Japanese or Chinese symbols. Ours ended up being quite messy and looked a bit of a shambles but still cool to do all the same and fun to do together.
HOW TO GET THERE: Take the MRT to a station you can connect to the Taiwan Railway. From there purchase a ticket to Ruifang Station. From here you can transfer to the Pingxi Line and board a train to Shifen.
I really recommend doing a day trip from Taipei as the North of Taiwan has so much to offer. Lushly green, beautiful and incredibly easy to get to. The Taiwanese Railway System is really easy to navigate and we found the staff are always more than willing to help.
OTHER DAY TRIPS FROM TAIPEI:
HOUTONG (Cat Village)
OTHER PLACES IN TAIWAN TO VISIT:
SUN MOON LAKE
#8 EXPLORE THE PARKS (INSIDE THE CITY)
Taipei has amazing, unique and beautiful parks all within the city, walking distance from most attractions. A great place to relax or eat lunch in between seeing the sights and experiencing the city life.
BE SURE TO VISIT:
DAAN FOREST PARK
HUASHAN 1914 CREATIVE PARK (Not much of a nature park but more of a collection of pop up exhibitions, cute coffee shops, tiny bars and galleries) (Very near to the Hello Kitty Cafe)
#9 EXPLORE THE NATIONAL PARKS (OUTSIDE THE CITY)
Another magnificent thing about Taiwan? True, vast and natural wonder is never far away. The country is home to 9 stunningly beautiful national parks. Yangmingshan National Park being the closest to Taipei (part of it is still technically in the city). Here you will find volcanoes, hiking trails, hot springs and sulphur pits. We sadly didn't make it to the park because of a few bad weather days but it's first on my list when I return to Taipei.
HOW TO GET THERE: MRT to Jiantan Station. Exit 1 (Shilin Night Market). Walk to the bus station and take a Northern bus (R5) (S15 or S17) to Yangmingshan Station.
Other national parks that are situated a little further away include Taroko National Park (home to the famous Taroko Gorge), Shei-Pa National Park, Yushan National Park (the largest in Taiwan) and Kenting National Park (in the very south of the country, home to white sand and coral).
#10 EAT AT THE TOILET THEMED RESTAURANT
It sounds disgusting but it's actually hilarious. Everything is toilet themed (even your chair is a toilet seat). We had loads of fun eating meals from toilet bowls, drinking from urinals and tasting poop desserts from squatters. The lamp shades, artwork, menu's are all poop or toilet shaped. There's even a toilet souvenir shop and the larger tables are an actual toilet bowl where the 'flush' is the ring for service.
I don't think it should be missed when visiting Taiwan. It's not somewhere just for photos, you can feel everyone around you in a happy mood and up for the laugh of it all. Least it's something random I can say I've done.
I've been to themed restaurants like this in Tokyo where it's pretty disappointing food but here it's actually not that bad price wise and quality. The rule is everyone must order something but each meal comes with sides, a drink and 'chocolate' ice cream.
HOW TO GET THERE: Located in the Ximending area. Take the MRT to Ximen Station. Blue or Green Line.
There is also a HELLO KITTY CAFE in Taipei. We found it by chance but only purchased a drink because it's crazy overpriced ($230NT for a latte) but was a cool find! There's also an ALPACA CAFE near Tamsui that I really wanted to go to but the bad reviews and the fact it's so out of the way didn't seem worth it.
#11 TOUR THE CITY BY BIKE
The best way to experience and appreciate a new city (if accessible) is by riding around freely on a rented bicycle. With designated bike lanes, good quality roads and loads to see -- Taipei is the perfect place for bike runs. Ubikes (Taipei's Public Rental Bikes) are found everywhere in the city. They are rented though the computerised screen the bike is stationed at. You have to download the app to register and need an Easycard (can be purchased from 7/11 or MRT stations) in order to rent a Ubike.
#12 GO TO THE TAIPEI 101 TOWER
At 509m high and built to withstand Taipei's known earthquakes and harsh weather makes this beautiful building truly fascinating. Seeing the architecture up close alone shouldn't be missed while in Taipei, but I really recommend paying the $600NT to enter the observatory on the 89th floor as it was one of the best things I did while in Taipei.
Head to the 5th floor to purchase tickets then spend a mere 37 seconds in the lift to the observation deck. There's also a chance to go outside if weather permits! View and learn about the tuned mass damper (the largest of it's kind) which protects the skyscraper during the city's typhoon winds. You can also see the crazy expensive selection of coral gemstones for sale.
The Taipei 101 is also home to the worlds highest Starbucks. We tried to visit it on the 35th floor on our last day but was turned away because a reservation must be made a day in advance...
Other things worth a visit inside the building is the fancy food court on the basement level or the extra fancy vending machines selling hot, amazing looking meals. There was even a member of staff there to guide you through your purchase ha.
I loved the area outside the Taiei 101 -- it had such a buzz about it and there was always loads going on.
HOW TO GET THERE: MRT Taipei 101 Station. Red Line. Head to 5F to purchase observation tickets.
#13 EAT AT TOASTERIA CAFE
This was one of my favourite places to eat while in Taipei. A modern chain that focuses on mainly panini's and toasted sandwiches served with the best chips ever. They also had my fave passion fruit ginger soda's and really friendly service. They even give you a bag to place your handbag in so you don't have to put it on the floor.
HOW TO GET THERE: MRT Dongmen Station. Orange or Red Line. Exit 5.
#14 SEE BEAUTIFUL TEMPLES
The incredible details of the temples of Taipei are stunning and visiting at least one shouldn't be missed while in the city. Watch as the respected places of worship bring in crowds and observe with an open mind. Visiting different kinds or temples is something I find really interesting when visiting a new Asian destination.
#15 FIND QUIRKY CAFE'S & COFFEE SHOPS
Taiwanese people LOVE tea and coffee. There is a Starbucks on most street corners. This means there are always chilled out, hidden cafe spots waiting to be found to relax in and take a break. Live like a local and tour the cute hang outs for yourself.
#16 WANDER AROUND THE NIGHT MARKETS
Even though I prefer the night markets of Thailand and found the one's of Taipei a little over-rated. They're still definitely worth a visit. Not only do they hold street food stalls, you can also find trendy clothes and shoe shops and different kinds of souvenirs such as cock shaped soaps and cakes. (I stopped to take a picture of the sign which led to being rushed into the shop to see them for myself, the cute old lady was so persistent and eager letting me smell each one -- I had to buy one). The best find of Shilin Night Market was Mr. Cheese (Fresh bread and thinly sliced fillet beef topped with raclette cheese) Yuuum. Plus the HUGE selection in the sweetie shop we found was amazing.
HUAXI (Snake Alley)
#17 VISIT THE CHANG KAI-SHEK MEMORIAL HALL & THE GATE OF GREAT CENTRALITY AND PERFECT UPRIGHTNESS (IT'S ACTUAL NAME)
The Memorial Hall is beautiful and stands directly in between the base of the equally huge Gate within Liberty Square. Both are a lot bigger that expected from photos. We were fortunate enough to view for ourselves the GIANT cartoon balloon that's been placed to coincide with the opening of the city’s Taipei Dangdai Art Fair.
#18 ENJOY COCKTAILS ON A ROOFTOP BAR
Another way to enjoy the city views is to spend the evening at a fun rooftop cocktail bar. We were on a health kick while in Taiwan, so didn't touch any alcohol! But this is something on my list for every new city I visit. There's no better way to enjoy the bright lights of a busy city.
ON THE LIST:
SHANGRI-LA HOTEL MARCO POLO BAR
#19 TAKE A STREET FOOD TOUR
To learn about the new and exotic street food of Taipei better and easier, a guided food tour would never go to waste. Here you can try up to 10 different dishes with your experienced guide, find hidden stalls only the locals know about and visit authentic markets. I'm still not brave enough to try the famous Stinky Tofu -- the smell needs to be experienced to be believed.
I recommend the Taipei Street Food Tour: The 10 Tastings.
#20 ENJOY THE CITY AFTER SUNSET
We did loads of walking in Taipei. We loved to just wander and find somewhere cool for ourselves. The city really becomes buzzing at night and places we passed through the day seemed like a completely different area by nightfall. Wander around the fairy lights surrounding Taipei 101 or the bright neon lights surrounding Ximen Station and stumble upon the unexpected delights the city has to offer.
This has been my best tips on things to do in Taipei! I hope you found what you were looking for.