The City Guide Taipei gives you an in-depth look at Taiwan’s riveting capital city!
When it comes to mapping out Asian trip itineraries, Taipei tends to fly under the radar. But hidden underneath a deceivingly industrial and mute facade is a vibrant metropolis where the synergy between food, people, and architecture has created a colorful cultural landscape. Taipei is a city of superlatives, boasting the world’s highest Starbucks and mailbox. It’s a place where food hawkers reign supreme, with legions of loyal subjects coming out in droves for a nightly spectacle of pop-up markets; where “hot spring hotels” help beat the winter blues; and where nursing a good read at a 24-hour bookstore is just as good as nursing a pint at a Taiwanese re chao 熱炒 beer house. Taipei is arguably the most underrated destination in Asia and has unseated Seoul as my favorite city in the world. Learn more about how I fell in love in this City Guide Taipei. Also, special thanks to my cousin Zayra and my friends Cait and Trang for their travel tips!
- Travel up the world’s second fastest elevator to the Observation Deck of TAIPEI 101 located on the 89th floor of the building; at around 5 p.m. on the eastern side of the indoor observatory, you can see the inverted image of the Chinese pagoda-inspired superstructure leaning on Elephant Mountain.
- Pay your respects to Former President Chiang Kai Shek at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall; the two sets of stairs leading to the great hall are comprised of 89 steps in commemoration of President Chiang’s age when he passed away.
- See how many street carts you can order from in the course of a night at one of the city’s heralded night markets, the most popular being Shilin Night Market.
- Shell out some cash for your very own private hot springs room where you can lounge in the steamy hot waters of Xinbeitou thermal valley or if you’re in the mood to make friends, try the public bath house.
- Work up a sweat during an afternoon hike up Elephant Mountain, home to one of the best sunset lookout points in the city with the TAIPEI 101 at odds with a setting sun making for a perfect Kodak moment.
- Feel Taipei’s young and vibrant energy surge through your body in a walk through Ximending District where you’ll be rubbing shoulders with hordes of adolescents looking for some cheap threads and even cheaper bites.
- For art enthusiasts and fans of design-oriented concept stores, the Huashan 1914 Creative Park is a visionary dream, full of exhibits, shops, and cafes that specialize in the trade of wondrous aesthetics.
- Immerse yourself in local spirituality and history at Longshan Temple, one of Wanhua District’s “Big 3” temples and Taipei’s oldest Buddhist establishment built in 1738 and rebuilt after incurring heavy damage during WWII.
- Take the slow-grinding Maokong Gondola lift to the esteemed tea houses of Maokong Village perched atop Taipei’s southernmost ridge, where a cup of highly select tea goes hand in hand with a magnificent view of Taipei.
- From lavish manuscripts to various jade ornaments, the majority hailing from the personal imperial collections of China’s dynastic rulers, The National Palace Museum is one of the largest showcases of ancient Chinese artifacts in the world.
IF YOU’RE NOT A FAN OF SIT-DOWN MEALS
- 阿宗麵線 Ay-Chung Flour Rice Noodle (No. 8-1, Emei Street, Wanhua District8 — Nearest MRT: Blue/Green Line, Ximen Stop, Exit 6) Down Emei Street in the busy Ximending area is a street stall of immense popularity that offers diners the chance to savor its sole dish sans tables or stools. You eat while standing, hunched over the goopy mess of “flour rice” noodles in a thickened gravy-like broth called Misua flavored by smoky bonito flakes, a beloved Japanese ingredient made from dried, fermented skipjack tuna. Add some minced garlic and vinegar to the soup for extra depth.
PRICE: NT$65 (~$2.15 USD) for a large bowl
IF YOU NEED SOME ENERGY TO POWER-UP YOUR DAY
- Yong He Dou Jiang Da Wang 永和豆漿大王 (No. 30 Hankou Street, Zhongzheng District, — Nearest MRT: Blue/Green Line, Ximen Stop, Exit 6) Yong He, a Chinese-type breakfast shop is best known for their homemade dou jiang, soy milk, served either sweet or salty, and hot or cold. I loved the hot sweetened soy we ordered. Made fresh every day, this beverage paired with one of their several carb bombs such as the shao binh you tiao, a fried and flaky sandwich, or the dan bing, a scrambled egg crepe-burrito hybrid, is the breakfast of champions.
PRICE: NT$120 (~$3.90 USD) for a pastry and a glass of soy milk
IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A TASTE OF THE PAST
- Yong Kang Beef Noodles 永康牛肉麺館 (No. 17, Lane 31, Jinshan S. Rd., Sec.2 — Nearest MRT: Orange/Red Line, Dongmen Stop, Exit 3) The belle of the ball at this 50-year-old, ambiance-void, one-room store is the Spicy Beef Noodles with Soybean Sauce. Melt-in-your-mouth beef soaks in a robustly saporous stock made from soy sauce, star anise, and five-spice powder, with noodles acting as a neutralizing element of all that is savory. We got their at 11 a.m., right when they open, and the whole place was almost already packed.
PRICE: NT$220/250 (~$7.25/8.30 USD) for a small/large bowl
IF YOU NEED SOMETHING PORTABLE
- Fuzhou Shi Zu Black Pepper Bun 福州世祖胡椒饼 (At the entrance of Raohe Night Market — Nearest MRT: Green Line, Songshan Stop, Exit 1) Raohe Night Market’s main attraction has to be these tandoori-style buns. Huijao bing, or pork pepper buns, are baked in a cyclical oven. Bite into a toasted shell of dough dotted in sesame seeds to expose a filling of dripping, marinated pork sheathed in a layer of chopped green onions. The contents are PIPING HOT! so make sure to let the bun cool down, especially right after its been taken out of the tandoor. The Fuzhou stall can be found right at the mouth of Raohe Night Market, temple side, flanked by a crowd.
PRICE: NT$50 (~$1.50 USD) per bun
IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR THE ORIGINAL DIN TAI FUNG
- Din Tai Fung (No. 194, Section 2, Xìnyì Road, Daan District— Nearest MRT: Orange/Red Line, Dongmen Stop, Exit 5) After falling in love with Din Tai Fung in Manila last year, I was more than enthused to discover the original branch was located in Taipei. The internationally-acclaimed restaurant owes its popularity to their xiao long baos, a soup-filled steamed dumpling. An 18-pleat folding technique has been heralded as the most perfect way to make soup dumplings. The truffle and pork xiao long baos are a worthy splurge but the potstickers and spicy wontons are also divine.
PRICE: $$$ prices vary
IF BUBBLE TEA IS SOMETHING THAT FLOATS YOUR BOAT
- 50 Lan 嵐 (Lane 50, Section 2, Wuchang Street behind the Uniqlo — Nearest MRT: Blue/Green Line, Ximen Stop, Exit 6) While bubble tea was born in the city of Taichung, Taiwan’s largest bubble tea chain, 50 Lan (50嵐) excels in bringing the “bubble” to the masses. There are a number of locations around the city but all branches consistently boil chewy tapioca pearls and on top of that, their teas can be adjusted in sweetness, temperature (i.e. how much ice), and you can also ask for either small or large tapioca bubbles. Get the original Pearl Milk Tea if you want a fail-safe.
PRICE: NT$50 (~$1.50 USD) for an original pearl milk tea
IF YOU THINK YOU CAN HANDLE SPICY
- 老罈香川味兒 Chuan Wei (Alley 5, Lane 130, Section 3, Minsheng E Rd, Songshan District — Nearest MRT: Brown Line, Zhongshan Junior High School Station Stop) ‘Wait till you try authentic Sichuan and you’ll know what spicy really means. In the course of this meal, we had to take 10-minute breaks to get our taste back—because it’s literally tongue numbing/slightly tear inducing/fan-your-mouth HOT. Weirdly enough, it was the boiling cauldron of mapo tofu (made with Sichuan peppercorns) that was more violent than the pot of beef with a mountain of chili. Both so good nonetheless. Words by my cousin Zayra
- While Shilin District is known for its famed night market, dig a little deeper and you’ll stumble upon one of the many DIY indoor shrimp bars around the MRT stop, open around the clock. With enough patience (and luck), patrons can catch their very own dinner. Watch my vlog on my personal shrimp fishing experience here.
- Did you know? Taipei has a huge “book fragrance” culture, a concept that reflects a passionate appetite for learning. Bibliophiles should make a pilgrimage to Eslite Bookstore Dunnan Branch (2F, No.245, Sec.1, Tunhua South Road, Da’an District), the world’s first 24-hour bookstore, open seven days a week. For travel enthusiasts like myself, check out Zeelandia Bookstore (106 Lane 12, Qingtian Street, 12-2號, Da’an District), a bookshop dedicated to all things adventurous a.k.a travel-oriented.
- Calling all artists! Taipei Treasure Hill Artist Village (No. 2, Alley 14, Lane 230, Section 3, Tingzhou Rd, Zhongzheng District), once an illegal military settlement, is now an “artivist” compound with street art tattooing almost every inch of this commune. While beautiful, the village is not free of controversy, as the recent restoration of the site in 2010 has been criticized of gentrification.
- I’m not the biggest fan of cats buuuut it’s hard to ignore the rampant cat obsession in Taipei and as the animal cafe trend continues to explode around the world, animal lovers cannot miss out on the world’s first cat cafe, The Cat Flower Garden (No. 129, Fuhua Rd., Shilin Dist, Taipei, Taiwan)!
- If you want something a little more mellow for a Saturday night, Woolloomooloo (No. 379, Section 4, Xinyi Rd, Xinyi District) is an Australian-inspired hip haunt with an excellent indie magazine library, transforming from a communal café during the day into a low-key craft beer purveyor come nightfall.
- Those interested in art-house cinema should catch a film screening hosted six times a day at SPOT Taipei Film House, which now occupies the building of the former American Consulate. The first floor is design store belonging to SPOT Designs, but on a whole, it also boasts a cafe, garden, and exhibition space.
- A Butcher Knife Massage brings tenderizing “meat” to a whole new extreme. Tramp around the underground Y Mall near Taipei Main Station to find daoliao, or the knife massage, where one counter-instinctively relieves stress by way of a dulled cleaver.
- With Taiwan on the verge to becoming Asia’s first country to allow same-sex marriage, members of the LGBTQ community can appreciate a bustling gay-friendly scene around the Red House Theater.
VIA Hotel Ximen (http://www.vhotel.com.tw/en) located right around the corner of Ximending’s Starbucks and the Yong He Dou Jiang Da Wan breakfast shop mentioned above, is as low-maintenance luxurious as it comes! The private rooms are enormous and come equipped with every amenity you may think of from milk tea sachets to a portable back massage cushion for the in-room recliner. If you find you are missing something, head down to the lobby and ruffle through a repurposed library card catalog cabinet stocked with things like dental floss and sewing kits. There’s even a laundry and dryer free for guests on the 5th floor. What’s more, our private room also came with a Japanese-style soak tub similar to the one we booked at Villa 32 in Xinbeitou Hot Springs. It was hard to leave our hotel every day but with the convenience of location, we needn’t go too far to experience the city. ($75 for a Deluxe Double Room — only private rooms starting at $60.)
NYS Loft Hotel (read my full review here) is a new 80-room property opposite to Taipei Main Station that features a mix of private and shared rooms. The hotel is spacious and feature its own dining room area and lounge, creating a socially conducive atmosphere that most hotels fail to foster. Breakfast isn’t the most impressive affair, with meager complimentary servings on the weekend, but at least you’re right across the street from the city’s largest transportation hub to get you to anywhere you want to eat. (Dorms starting at $29 per night; private rooms at $88.)
Couchsurfing (https://www.couchsurfing.com/places/asia/taiwan/taipei) When other travelers told me the Taiwanese are the friendliest people in the world, I felt like I had heard the endorsement before, but it’s SOOOOOO true. Taiwanese people are the paragon of hospitality and if you want to immerse yourself in the culture and do so on a budget, couchsurfing is the way to go! It’s actually one of the most popular modes of accommodation in Taipei, with 30, 496 registered couchsurfing hosts. So many of my friends who’ve visited Taipei raved about their awesome hosts and suggested to us to go that route instead of booking a hotel, which is a first! (Create a profile on the website to find a host today.)
RECOMMENDED MODE OF TRANSPORT
BY BUS Go to the far left of the terminal following the “Bus to City” sign and make your way to the basement. Find the Kuo-Kuang Bus 國光客運 kiosk to purchase ticket to Taipei Main Station on bus number 1819 (Taipei Express Free Connection to Ximending.) One-way fare is NT$125 ($4 USD). Journey will take approx. 50 minutes. Once you’ve arrived at Taipei Main Station, proceed to your final destination using the Taipei MRT. The bus comes every 20 minutes or so and operates 24 hours but is infrequent post-midnight up until the early morning. Same bus can be taken to the airport from drop-off spot. Buy tickets in advance if trying to catch a bus back to airport and seats may get booked, especially during the holidays.
Interested in learning more about Taipei? Check out the resources below:
- Best Taipei Restaurants by Eater
- Taipei Guide by The Hungry Suitcase
- Taipei Guide by Smart Travel Asia
- Taipei Travel Guide by Migrationology
- 17 Things to Know Before Going to Taipei by Roads & Kingdoms
Have you ever been to Taipei? Share your tips for seeing the city in the comments below! With love, Izzy xoxo
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