Jeremy and I went on a four-day trip to Taipei at the end of July. It was just after monsoon Matmo and extremely hot, but we still had a great time. One thing I have noticed is that Taiwan seems to be omitted from a lot of people’s travel itineraries. Thailand, Vietnam, and mainland China are can’t-miss locales for an Asian tour, but for some reason Taiwan often doesn’t make the cut. I’m not sure why that is, but I’m here to tell you that Taipei deserves a slot on your itinerary.
Before we get to our top ten list of things to do and see, there are a few other reasons why a trip to Taiwan is worth taking. For starters, the locals were so friendly and welcoming. I’m not just talking about service in hotels and restaurants, which was awesome in our experience, but also just people we encountered walking around and on the metro. Speaking of the metro, public transportation in Taipei couldn’t be easier, with good signage and less crowded trains than I’ve experienced in many other cities. Though we mostly used the train, we did take cabs a few times. They were also decently priced and we never felt we were being taken on the “scenic route”. Another plus to note is that many sights do not have an entrance fee. A welcoming atmosphere, easy transport, and a relatively inexpensive holiday- perfect for a long weekend. But what is there to do while you’re there, you ask?
Here are ten places WE LOVE in Taipei! These aren’t exactly ranked, but they aren’t listed completely randomly either. Jeremy and I tried to put some order for sightseeing into the list, starting with the place we suggest you visit first at number 10 and ending with a nighttime activity. We also tried to put sights that are close to one another ranked one after another on the list and where applicable we have suggested seeing these sights together. We were able to fit in more than ten attractions over a 3 and a half day trip, but these are the ones we suggest you not miss.
10. Taipei 101 http://www.taipei-101.com.tw/en/index.aspx
The former tallest building in the world is now the third tallest, and the view is spectacular. I recommend starting your trip here to learn about the city while getting the lay of the land. We paid NTD 600 (about US $20) for a combo ticket with the National Palace Museum, good for one year. Once you reach the top, you can pick up a handheld self-guided audio tour that will take you around the floor. The tour is mostly to promote Taiwan and its achievements but it also is informative about the various sights you will be visiting eventually on your trip around the city. It’s fun too, as you will get a little glimpse from above of what you have planned for the next few days. Once you start looking for the little blue roof between two orange roofs, you’ll be excited to head on over to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial.
While you’re there, be sure to check out the Din Tai Fung in the basement. They’re world-renowned for their soup-filled dumplings (xiao long bao), but my personal favorite is the pork chop with fried rice.
9. Sun-Yat Sen Memorial
Just a few Metro stops away from Taipei 101, this beautiful memorial to the founder of the Republic of China (the official name of Taiwan) is set in the middle of a large park. There’s a garden with a pond and zig-zag bridge to one side and a fountain and flower garden in front.
The pond area just to one side of the memorial is a great place to get a distance shot of Taipei 101, juxtaposing the traditional Chinese garden with modern city architecture.
The changing of the guard at Sun-Yet Sen Memorial is one of three guard changes you can enjoy while visiting Taipei. Their slow and precise movements are riveting to watch, and the intimate indoor setting with Sun-Yet Sen’s statue overseeing the ceremony makes for a moving experience.
8. Dalongdong Baoan Temple and Park http://www.baoan.org.tw/english/index.html
You can combine this with a visit to the Confucius Temple as the two temples and the park are all located across the street from one another. In 2003, the Baoan temple received a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation. Paintings in the temple include murals adorning the exterior walls and corridors plus door guardians.
The temple features many beautiful stone, wood, and clay carvings on the exterior walls and atop surfaces.
The park across the street likewise has many carved and brightly painted statues, all in very good condition, such as this dragon and the robed figures below.
7. Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
The grounds here are beautiful, with the monument itself, arched “Liberty Square” gate, gardens, and National Theater and National Concert Hall. Climb the steps to the Memorial Hall and then turn around to take in the view before heading inside.
When facing the gate, the National Theater is on the left. The building on the right with light blue and white decorative panels on the roof is the National Concert Hall.
6. Ximending Pedestrian Shopping District
This area of town is Taipei’s answer to Times Square. You can exit the Metro straight into the shopping district, or you can do what we did, which is to exit the other side and visit the historic Red House, a red brick building built during the days of Japanese rule. It was built originally to be a market building but was used as a theatre after 1945.
In front of the Red House is a small market with stalls selling art and crafts, such as purses, home décor, and plants in a bottle. It’s a cute little area worth checking out. Take a peek inside the Red House as well. They have a café and an adorable gift shop with retro-themed souvenirs, plus a small area with information about the Red House itself.
Across the street from the Red House is the pedestrian district, filled with plenty of shops, restaurants, and a few food stalls as well. You can find just about any kind of food here- sit down, street food, western, Asian- they have something for everyone.
Looking good, carrot cake! We enjoyed snacking around the shopping district, just as you would at a night market, but we mixed in some brand-name eateries with our street food. This cook-to-order stall served a variety of classic Asian fried foods and was a hit with my husband. If you aren’t familiar with Asian carrot cake, it’s a steamed cake of rice flour and radish that is sometimes sold in the states as “rice cake”. After steaming, it can be eaten as is or fried up with sauce, as seen here.
There’s less street food available at lunchtime in the pedestrian shopping area, but that shouldn’t stop you from dropping by for a nice sitdown lunch on your way to the next place in our list…
5. Lungshan Temple
This is an attractive yet very crowded and well-used temple. Go here not just for the temple architecture but for the slice of life you’ll get to observe while walking around the grounds. Candles, joss sticks and worshipers are found side by side with tourists, fortune tellers and people watchers. “Lungshan” translates to “dragon mountain”. You will find stunning carved dragons on the roofs, curling around pillars, and in the fountain in the front courtyard.
4. The National Palace Museum http://www.npm.gov.tw/en/
This museum houses one of the largest collections of Imperial treasures from Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, with pieces dating back to the Neolithic age. Scrolls, calligraphy, painting, sculpture, pottery, and carvings are all on display. No photos are allowed and crowds can be daunting. Expect to wait in line just to gaze upon the more famous works, such as the Ting ware “white ceramic pillow in the shape of a child” or “Tou-ts’ai cup with chickens”. However, there are areas where visitors are sparser so if you’re comfortable weaving around the tour groups for those empty spaces, you should do fine. Probably the most famous piece there is the “Jadeite Cabbage with Insects” (pictured). If you’re a fan of this piece or just of cabbage in general, you can buy a small replica in the museum’s vast gift shop. Also available: cabbage necklaces, cabbage T-shirts, and cabbage magnets. If you’re in the mood for something else, there’s a wealth of choice of museum shop curios for every budget. I highly recommend a visit to this museum if you are at all interested in seeing beautiful and/or historical items. You might be frustrated by the crowds, but you won’t be disappointed by the collection. There are several places that do a combo ticket with the National Palace Museum. We did the Taipei 101/NPM combo ticket for NTD 600/ about US $20. Check the NPM website for current offers.
3. The Grand Hotel http://www.grand-hotel.org/main/default.aspx?lang=en-US
No matter where you choose to lay your head while visiting Taipei, be sure to swing by the Grand hotel for some photos of this amazing landmark hotel. If you’re there at lunchtime, there’s a buffet lunch at The Grand Garden, Cantonese restaurant The Golden Dragon, and dim sum at Yuan Yuan. We tried the dim sum and we definitely recommend it. After lunch, wander around the shops on the second floor and check out the photos of politicians and celebrities who have stayed at the Grand Hotel. Once you’re done touring this hotel, head outside for photos. When you get to the parking lot gate, go down the stairs on the left to the street. Turn left, then left at the corner and walk about 15 minutes to….
2. National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine
Honoring the military and civilian fallen of a number of battles, the Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine also holds an hourly changing of the guard. The key difference from the other two guard changes already covered is that this one is held outside and spectators can follow the soldiers in their tribute from the arched entranceway to the courtyard steps just outside the buildings housing the spirit tags of the martyrs.
1. Shilin Night Market
There are plenty of other choices for night markets in Taipei, but Shilin is the largest and most famous. Come hungry and taste your way through. Here are just a few of the offerings:
Hot Star Large Fried Chicken is located at a popular strip of stalls at the corner of Wen Lin Road and An Ping Street. There’s a number of other places to try this large fried chicken cutlet, including Ximending and a host of other countries in Austaliasia, but why not grab a chicken cutlet to share with your travel partners while you’re here? The stall here is as popular as they come, but the queue moves quickly as they fry multiple cutlets at a time. The chicken is served in a sleeve so you can grab and go.
Right next door to Hot Star is Alibaba Ladu. This stall serves large wraps filled with everything from chicken to seaweed to butter and raisins. Delicious!
Pork buns. Din Tai Fung may have the best xiao long bao in Taipei, but come to the night markets for these fried pork bao, which are slightly larger than the soupy XLB and are browned on the bottom. If you don’t eat pork, there are stalls with vegetarian alternatives.
This completes our list of our 10 places we love in Taipei. Unfortunately, we were not able to visit all of the sights we wanted to see. We missed taking the Maokong Gondola (http://english.gondola.trtc.com.tw/). We were eager to ride the gondola and see the Zhinan Temple and Tea Promotion Center at the top of the hill, but inclement weather and just some poor timing got in our way. Hopefully someday we will return to Taipei and dig a little deeper. How about you? Have you been to Taipei? If so, I’d love to hear some recommendations for our next trip! If not, I hope you’ll check it out someday.