Home of some of the finest street food on the Asian continent, Taipei, Taiwan is very much a growing tourist market. It offers visitors one of the most diverse city-break experiences out there. Enjoy sky high views of the city from Taipei 101. Sip on a nice cup of tea whilst overlooking the verdant rolling tea-growing hills of Maokong. Hike through the grasslands and sulfur fields of Yangmingshan National Park. Dine oceanside and visit ancient forts in Tamsui. Soak in the hot springs of Beitou. Explore a handfull of Taipei’s 12,000 temples. What more could you ask for? If you’re looking for tips and ideas of what Taipei has to offer then you’ve come to the right place!
Taipei Top Tips
Taipei operates two international airports, Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport and Taipei Songshan Airport. Songshan, which is basically in downtown Taipei, used to be the major international airport but today only operates a limited number of domestic (China) and international (mostly Japan) flights. If you do happen to arrive at Songshan then you’ll be pleased to know that the airport is connected to downtown by several bus routes as well as Songshan Airport MRT station which is on the Wenhu (Brown) line. A taxi rank is also conveniently placed directly outside the arrival’s hall. However, more likely is that you arrive at the much larger Taoyuan International Airport, which is located approximately 45km out of the city (an hour drive in decent traffic). You have four main options for getting from the airport to the city:
- The easiest, and most expensive, is to hop in a metered taxi. Taxis operate 24 hours a day from outside the arrivals terminal.
- For those on a budget the second choice is to take one of several bus routes that’ll drop you in downtown. You can check out the bus options HERE and they all take about an hour to reach the city center.
- A third option is to take a shuttle bus to the nearest high-speed rail station, THSR Taoyuan Station. From there, a 20-minute, high speed, journey will drop you in the city center.
- However, my advice is to take the MRT (see below) from the Taoyuan MRT station – it drops you off directly at Taipei Main Station downtown.
There is no doubt that 99.99% of your transport needs in Taipei can be covered by the Taipei Metro system (MRT). It has tentacles that spread to the furthest reaches of the tourist map, including Maokong, Tamsui and Beitou (See below for more details on why you’ll want to visit each of those places). You can check out the MRT map HERE to get your bearings before you arrive. The MRT has a dizzying array of ticket options and what you opt for is probably going to be determined by broader travel plans and length of stay. Although there are more classic single-jounry and all-day passes, if you want to go for the ultimate in flexibility then grab yourself an ‘EasyCard’. The Easy Card can be topped up and its use extends well beyond public transport to designated inter-city trains, taxis, bike rentals, inter-city buses, parking garages, shops, restaurants and cafes. So, if you’re touring around Taiwan then it might be worth purchasing one.
In addition to standard transportation options you could also chose to purchase a Taipei Fun Pass. Like many other city sightseeing passes, Fun Pass options twin public transport with “free” admission into some of the city’s major attractions. In the case of Taipei Fun Passes can include attractions such as Taipei 101, the National Palace Museum and the Maokong Gondola. In honesty, unless you’re planning on visiting a whole bunch of attractions that demand admission fees, I think it might be easier and more flexible to just buy MRT passes and pay for attractions as you decide to visit them. However, it’s probably worth checking out the Fun Pass options just to make sure; in case your own individual tastes when it comes to sight-seeing vary from mine. You’ll also find details of Fun Pass prices and where to buy them on their website.
For those of you who don’t like the idea of trying to navigate the MRT on your own, or prefer being guided around the city without the hefty price tags of a private tour, Taipei offers its own Sightseeing Bus which operates along two predetermined routes. The routes extend as far north as the National Palace Museum, east to Taipei 101 and west to Longshan Temple. In my opinion, and other than the running commentary the tour provides, the bus offers nothing that the MRT can’t (other than reduced flexibility that is). Also, if you’re hoping to visit Maokong, Tamsui or Beitou, then you’re going to have to navigate the MRT at some point anyway! For those of you who still aren’t convinced then you can check out the sightseeing bus route maps, ticket prices, and purchase options HERE.
Whilst Taipei does have 4 seasons Spring only lasts one month (April), as does Autumn (October) and the weather can be unpredictable year-round. I’d suggest that March thru May is the optimum time to visit as you’ll avoid the heat of the summer (particularly August) and the rain (which always coincides with the heat in Taipei to create a sticky mess). March thru May also happens to avoid typhoon season and both monsoon seasons. Summary: it’s the sweet spot to aim for.
Taipei Temples: With over 12,000 temples registered across the country it’s fair to say that religion plays a vital role in everyday life in Taiwan. In terms of pure numbers, Taiwan has one of the highest temple per capita ratios in the world. To put that statement into perspective there are more registered temples than there are convenience stores in Taiwan (a statistic that I’m sure has the senior management teams at 7-11 and Tesco Express quaking in their boots). The good news is that this feverish love of temple construction offers an abundance of sights to see across the capital. Of the temples you could visit, I highlight my favorite 5 in this article. Although Mengjia Longshan Temple is probably the most visited on the average tourist trail, I’d strongly suggest that you also try to check out the Confucius Temple, Bao-an Temple, Ciyou Temple, and Xingtian Temple whilst you’re in town. Thankfully all five temples are easily accessible on the MRT.
Taipei 101: Possibly Taipei’s most well-known landmark, Taipei 101 (formerly known as the Taipei World Financial Center) was the tallest building in the world from 2004-2010. Styled like a Chinese pagoda, the skyscraper is best visited for the 360-degree views of Taipei from the observatory 1,253ft up in the sky. You can advance purchase observatory tickets from the Taipei 101 website, but if you’re looking to save some money then you might want to consider making a reservation at the “secret” Starbucks on the 35th floor (the highest Starbucks location in the world). Admission is only granted by making a 90-minute reservation and reservations must be made at least 24 hours in advance by calling +886281010701 (at the time of writing). Minimum spends apply and you’ll be escorted up to Starbucks from the business lobby on the ground floor.
Maokong: Located off to the South-East of downtown Taipei, Maokong is a mountainous oasis that provides a respite from the crowded and hot city. Nestled within the Erge Mountain range it’s most famous for its tea production (so as a Brit I was obviously naturally drawn to it) and with over 60 tea houses located in the vicinity it’s the perfect place to spend a day sampling the varieties on offer whilst also visiting the myriad temples and engaging in a spot of hiking (if it isn’t too hot that is). Tea cultivation started in the area in the 18th Century and with pretty much the entire local populace dedicated to the industry the Taipei City Government classified Maokong as a tourist tea plantation zone back in 1980. Today tourism is booming, and the tea houses are often ram-packed with both tourists and locals; making it a great place to sit back, relax, and engage in some people watching for the afternoon!
Elephant Mountain: For iconic views of downtown Taipei you’ll need to strap on your running shoes and take the hike up Elephant Mountain. But don’t let the words “hike” and “mountain” put you off. Whilst it’s a 20-minute, step-heavy, climb to the best look-out points, there are plenty of places to rest and handrails along the path. All that strenuous stair climbing will be worthwhile once you reach the top; you’ll be greeted by phenomenal views across the city towards Taipei 101. The head of the Xiangshan Hiking Trail is a 10-minute walk from the Xiangshan MRT stop at the end of the red line and easily found using google maps. My advice is to reach the third look-out point about an hour or so before sunset so that you can take photos at dusk, sunset and after dark. Getting there early also means you can find a spot before the tri-pod wielding “professionals” arrive and steal them all.
Museums: Taipei has an abundance of excellent museums, but two in particular should be on your travel itinerary; the National Palace Museum and The Heritage and Culture Education Center (which includes Bopiliao Historic Block). The National Palace Museum should be one of the first stops when visiting Taipei and contains over 70,000 Imperial Chinese artifacts, many of which were originally from the Forbidden City in Beijing and collected by China’s Emperors. The building itself, and its surrounding gardens, are also worth visiting. The Heritage and Culture Education Center opened in 2006 and the main building includes two floors of permanent exhibitions dedicated to Taiwanese education and medical development. However, the real highlight is visiting the adjoining Bopiliao Historical Block. The Block, which was originally the main thoroughfare connecting the area around Longshan Temple, has been preserved as a cultural district highlighting the different Taiwanese architectural styles prevalent over time, including Southern Fujianese, Chinese Qing Dynasty, Japanese and ROC brutalist. Today, some of the shops in the area house art galleries making it a worthwhile shopping experience as well. If you have even more time then some other museums worth checking out include the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, National Taiwan Museum, National Museum of History (which also has the Botanical Garden next door), Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall and adjoining park, and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Night Markets; Taipei has rapidly become synonymous with its penchant for street food, which happens to be some of the best in Asia. So, if there’s one thing that should be on your Taipei sight-seeing itinerary it’s spending some time hopping between the city’s numerous street food night markets. Although there are a huge number of them across the city, I focused my efforts on what I’d been told were four of the best: Shilin Night Market (the most famous of the bunch and most frequented by the tourist crowd), Raohe Street Night Market (more loacl and handily adjacent to Ciyou Temple), Huaxi Street Night Market (a bit more rough and ready and otherwise known as “Snake Alley”), and Tonghua Night Market (which is also known as Linjiang Street Night Market). From sea food soups and stinky tofu to teppanyaki and sweet peanut soup, just make sure you arrive with an empty stomach and an adventurous attitude!
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and Liberty Square: Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, located on the eastern side of Liberty Square, is one of the most prominent landmarks of Taipei and was constructed to honor the memory of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, the former President of the Republic of China. The enormous octagonal building, with its bright white paint job and dazzling blue tiled roof, houses a bronze statue of the main man and a small museum documenting his life in the base. In all honesty, neither are all that exciting. However, what you’ll really enjoy is the Hall’s location in Liberty Square, a ginormous public square (in true Chinese fashion) which is flanked by the Hall to the east, along with an imposing entrance gate, the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Park, National Concert Hall and National Theatre. I spent a good couple of hours wandering the grounds taking photos and watching locals engaging in some outdoor karaoke and Tai Chi…highly engaging stuff!
Yangmingshan National Park: Located on the outskirts of Taipei, Yangmingshan National Park is one Taiwan’s most beautiful National Parks and is often combined with an organized day trip to Beitou Hot Springs (see below). With a 44 square mile boundary, it’s no surprise that to see it all you’re going to need to be on an organized tour or have access to a car (even though you can, in theory, access the park by bus from Taipei Main Station or Jiantan MRT Station). From steaming sulfur vents and phenomenal sunrise views over downtown Taipei, to lush green grasslands, hot springs, and hiking trails, Yangmingshan has more than enough entertainment value for a full day trip. If you do decide to go it alone on public transport, then catch the bus to Yangmingshan bus station; which is the closest stop to the visitor center. But if you really want to see everything the park has to offer then take a look at Viator to get an idea of what tours are on offer.
National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine: The shrine was inspired by the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City in Beijing, so as you can imagine, it’s an impressive, and grandiose, sight. Built in 1969, it commemorates the 390,000 soldiers killed during the Sino-Japanese War, Chinese Civil War, Xinhai Revolution, and Taiwan Strait crises amongst other conflicts. Make sure to spend time exploring the entire, sprawling, sight and stay for the Changing of the Guard which occurs every hour. Also nearby is the Grand Hotel, which is the World’s tallest Chinese Classical Building (285ft tall). Although not worth a dedicated visit, the hotel is worth stopping by for a photo or for dinner (there are also some fantastic views of the city from the hotel).
Huashan 1914 Creative Park: If you’re looking for something slightly more “off-the-beaten-path” or somewhere to exercise your inner hipster, then head to Huashan 1914 Creative Park. Like may urban regeneration projects in the west, the project has converted a former factory complex (in this case a former wine factory) into a thriving blend of art exhibitions, music venues, restaurants, bars and shops. It’s the perfect place to spend an evening.
Beitou Hot Springs: The springs area (also known as Xinbeitou) is the perfect relaxing day trip outside the bustling downtown Taipei. The small village is home to a number of public and private hot springs as well as the Beitou Hot Springs Park (which has its own hot spring creek and a hot spring pond). However, the highlight of the town is, arguably, the Beitou Thermal Valley; better known as Hell Valley. It’s a large pool of scalding turquoise water which emits a sulfurous, and highly photogenic, steam. It’s an otherworldly sight that shouldn’t be missed, but clearly isn’t for bathing in. If you’re looking for the full hot spring bathing experience, then the cheapest of the public options is Millennium Hot Springs. However, if you want to splash out (or prefer some privacy when bathing), then there are plenty of private hot springs dotted along the Hot Springs Park. Whilst you’re in town, Beitou also has several other sights worth visiting, including the Sulfur Valley Recreation Area, Beitou Museum, Puji Temple and Plum Garden. Put simply, plan to spend an entire day here if you can (just not Mondays as most things are closed). You can reach the hot springs by catching the MRT to Xinbeitou station.
Tamsui: An easy day trip from downtown Taipei, Tamsui (also known as Danshui, Tansui, and Tamshui) is an easy 40-minute MRT ride out to the northern end of the red line. Located on the northern costal tip of Taiwan, Tamsui district is a weekend getaway for locals that offers an abundance of street food on Tamsui Old street and spectacular seaside sunsets. The town also has a couple of notable tourist attractions including Hobe Fort and Fort San Domingo. In particular, Fort San Domingo is worth visiting for the mountain and review views below. Fisherman’s Wharf and Lover’s Bridge are also worthy of a photo stop; particularly if you happen to be in Tamsui for sunrise (just beware that sunrise at Lover’s Bridge gets pretty busy).
Metro Taipei Website: http://english.metro.taipei/
Taipei Easy card Website: https://www.easycard.com.tw/en/about
Taipei Fun Pass Website: https://funpass.travel.taipei/
Taipei Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Website: https://www.taipeisightseeing.com.tw/en
National Palace Museum Website: https://www.npm.gov.tw/en/