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Taiwan

25 Delicious and Fun Things to Do in (and Around) Taipei

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I went to Taipei curious and hopeful, but with low expectations. I expected a city more like Singapore, which I never really jived with — too flashy, tech-y, crowded. While Taipei is certainly busy, I found it so much more down-to-earth, calm, and livable than other cities in Asia I’ve visited.

To say Taipei was a surprise is an understatement. I didn’t imagine the amount of green spaces, even in bustling central Taipei. I didn’t think I’d be able to hike amongst volcanoes or see sulfuric thermal valleys with steam rising skywards like a dense fog — all without leaving Taipei proper. I certainly didn’t imagine pristine waterfalls and suspension bridges just a short train ride away, nor did I expect to meet some of the friendliest people of my travels (no small feat after visiting nearly 60 countries).

I spent about 10 days in Taipei and the surrounding areas, and honestly, I still didn’t even come close to running out of things to do in Taipei. Taipei is one of the most rewarding metropolises I’ve ever visited. Delicious, unpretentious food cooked in front of your eyes for a few dollars, the most orderly and efficient metro I’ve ever used, and a sense of curiosity and welcome emanating from some of the most smiling faces — these are the things that stick in my mind after leaving Taipei.

While most of these things to do in Taipei are focused on the city proper, Taipei is so well-connected that I’ve included several day trips that you can easily do in case you’d like to get out of Taipei for a bit and see the beautiful surrounding Taiwanese nature.  Taiwan is super well-connected by metro and bus, making getting around pretty easy for the most part, even if you don’t speak or read Chinese (I most certainly do not). I’d at least recommend a trip to Shifen Waterfall or Jiufen, as both were huge highlights of my time in Taipei and easily doable as a half-day or full-day trip.

So, here goes!

Delicious & Fun Things to Do in Taipei

Eat your heart out at Shilin Night Market

fried crabs at the night market - the top thing to do in Taipei!

If you only make time for one of the many things to do in Taipei, you’ve got to check out a night market. Taiwan is famous for its delicious and inventive night markets, where street vendors specialize in a single dish and prepare it to perfection to long queues of salivating visitors.

For my first four nights in Taipei, I stayed within walking distance of the Shilin Night Market, which is the most popular of the Taipei night markets. It’s considered by Taiwanese to be the most “touristy” night market, but since I was visiting Taipei in the off-season (January), the crowd was mostly locals.

A few of my favorites: Japanese-style takoyaki (octopus balls covered in BBQ sauce, mayo, and bonito flakes), the flame-grilled beef sprinkled with cumin, the suckling pork wraps, the steamed leek buns… I’m drooling just typing this and a few seconds away from opening up Skyscanner just to fly back and eat ALL THE FOOD.

One thing I was emphatically not brave enough to try was the stinky tofu. It smells like a toilet pipe exploded. Enough said.

But check out the other night markets, too

Shilin is fantastic, but it’s not the only Taipei night market. During my two weeks in Taiwan, I also went to Feng Shia Night Market in Taichung, which is said to be the largest night market in the world and where all the newest street food inventions are given a trial run.

On my last night in Taipei, I also went to Raohe Night Market, which is a slightly more local night market that was recommended to us by a local who worked at the pop-up craft beer bar at one of the creative parks. The food was delicious (you can’t miss the pepper pork buns) to see another night market. Plus, it has a super central location, so you have no excuse to miss it! Check out this great guide from Migrationology about the Raohe Night Market to help you plan your visit, as the sheer number of stalls at the night markets and the fact that a lot is written in Chinese can make these markets slightly intimidating initially.

Drink bubble tea where it was created

Aside from its night markets, Taiwan is also famous for having invented bubble tea. Bubble tea is basically an iced tea, usually quite milky and sweet, served with tapioca pearls called boba. You use an extra-wide straw to suck up the boba, giving you something to chew as you drink. The boba don’t really taste like anything — the point is the chewiness.

The Taiwanese are obsessed with the texture of food, and chewy textures are one of their favorites (hence why fish cakes are such a popular ingredient in Taiwanese cooking). Curious? Read all about the beloved “Q texture” found in Taiwanese food.

Explore Taipei’s own Yangmingshan National Park

How many capital cities can boast a national park within their city limits — let alone a national park complete with volcanoes, hot springs, and sulfur pits?

Taipei is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, which makes it quite geologically active. In fact, just two weeks after I left Taiwan, a magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit the country. But the small risk of earthquakes is just part of the reason why Taiwan’s landscapes are so visually stunning, full of mountain peaks, waterfalls, and hot springs.

In Yangmingshan National Park, you can hike to the highest peak in the park, Mount Qixing, enjoy the hot springs all around the park, walk across the beautiful Jingshan suspension bridge, see the aptly-named “Milk Lake”, and so much more.

We kind of bungled this day trip by getting there too late in the day to properly enjoy all the sights, but we still enjoyed our day out of Taipei. Here’s a great guide to visiting Yangmingshan National Park independently.

However, if I did it again I would probably take a guided tour to make sure I saw all that I wanted to see, such as the sulfur fumaroles and all the best hot springs. This tour of Yangmingshan National Park (check availability and ratings here) hits all the highlights and is a lot more convenient than trying to figure out the bus system inside the park, which is a bit complicated for non-Chinese speakers.

Relax in Taipei’s Beitou hot springs

Taipei is positively covered in hot springs — and you don’t even need to venture to Yangmingshan National Park to find them, as they are quite literally out in the open in the city for all to use and enjoy!

Just take the metro out to Beitou on the red MRT line and you’ll find plenty of hot springs available, including a free hot spring foot bath being enjoyed by all the locals in a public park!

But the biggest draw to me was “Hell Valley,” which you will most definitely not want to dip your toes into, considering the hot springs are nearly boiling! It was gorgeous to see the milky, whitish blue water sending up a layer of mist towards the sky — the smell, though, not so much!

There are also a lot of hotels in the area that offer thermal waters and spa treatments if you’re looking for a bit of a getaway within the city, but I haven’t tried this personally.

Stroll along the Tamsui Old Street boardwark

bridge at sunset - Tamsui lover's bridge is one of the best things to do in Taipei

Tamsui Old Street is one of the coolest places to visit in Taipei. Simply take the red MRT train to the end of the line at Tamsui and walk along the waterfront to enjoy the historic neighborhood of Tamsui.

There are countless food vendors to enjoy, plus the area around the boardwalk is super gorgeous around sunset with the many bridges and mountains across the river. It’s popular with families but I also really enjoyed walking around ordering from all the different street food vendors and drinking way too much bubble tea.

I recommend going at sunset so you can photograph the beautiful Tamsui Lovers’ Bridge, which is gorgeous silhouetted against the sky.

Drool over delicious xiao long bao

delicious dumplings on Shifen Old Street

One of my favorite foods to eat in Taipei is the tasty xiao long bao, aka Shanghai soup dumplings. I’ve yet to go to Shanghai, but I’d be willing to bet that Taiwan’s version of the xiao long bao gives Shanghai’s a run for their money.

Soup dumplings are usually either pork or a mix of crab and pork, filled with a piping hot dose of broth and wrapped up neatly in a pleated dumpling skin. They are steamed to perfection and served with a soy and rice vinegar mixture as well as some thin ginger matchsticks which you place in the soy-vinegar sauce.

To eat a soup dumpling, dip it in the soy-vinegar-ginger combo, place it in your spoon, poke a hole or take a small nibble of the skin to slurp out the sauce, and then eat the dumpling all in one bite. It sounds tricky, but by your second or third dumpling, you’ll have gotten the hang of it.

The iconic place to eat xiao long bao is Din Tai Fung, but I’m not a fan of waiting in massive lines. To be honest, I never had a bad xiao long bao my entire time in Taipei! If you’d like, you can do a dumplings and night tour of Taipei (check ratings and availability here) that includes a stop at Din Tai Fung without the crazy waits you normally have to endure.

Get a breath of fresh air at the lush Taipei Botanical Garden

Sure, there is tons of nature within a short distance of Taipei – from the waterfalls of Shifen to the mountains of Yangmingshan National Park to the hot springs of Wulai – but if you really want a quick hit of nature without even leaving the city center, it’s definitely worth taking a stroll through Taipei’s gorgeous botanical gardens.

The Taipei Botanical Garden is over 100 years old and is home to over 2,000 different species of plants and takes up a massive 82,000 square meters of central downtown Taipei – further proof of how much the Taiwanese value being close to nature.

It’s just a short walk away from the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall and entrance is free, so there’s really no excuse not to visit this lovely garden if you have time while in Taipei.

Go to the top of the Taipei 101 (and drink at the world’s tallest Starbucks, if you must)

Formerly the world’s tallest building for 6 years (before being unseated by the Burj al Khalifa in Dubai), the Taipei 101 is the most recognizable icon of Taipei and even Taiwan as a whole. It’s a beautiful skyscraper, inspired by Chinese pagoda-style architecture and looking — to my hungry eyes, at least — a bit like an ornately layered cake (others say it looks like a stack of Chinese takeout boxes, and I can’t disagree with that either).

The building is truly remarkable. It’s one of the greenest skyscrapers in the world, with a platinum certification in environmental-friendly design. It’s also built to withstand both the typhoon winds and earthquakes that often shake Taiwan, thanks to the unique pendulum damper inside. And in true Taiwanese form, apparently, this steel damper has even been given the mascot treatment by Sanrio and now a “Damper Baby” mascot exists. You can’t make this shit up.

Honestly, I gave this one a pass, because I generally prefer to look at the tallest buildings from ground level than go up inside of them — more because of my hatred of lines and crowds than any other logical reason.

But I understand that visiting the Taipei 101 is the #1 thing to do in Taipei for most visitors, so of course, even though it’s not my thing, it surely deserves a spot on this list.

Hike to the top of Elephant Mountain for sunset

Now this is more my speed.

If you want a killer photo of Taipei 101, you can’t miss hiking up Elephant Mountain, one of the easiest but most rewarding hikes in Taiwan. It’s more of an eternal staircase than an actual hike, to be honest. Simply take the red line to its beginning stop and follow the signs for Elephant Mountain; it’s pretty hard to miss. After about 20-30 minutes of huffing and puffing, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views over Taipei.

Try to get up there before sunset so you can have the best photography opportunities, although when the city lights up after dark it’s spectacular in a whole different way. I recommend bringing a tripod if you want crystal-clear night shots!

Bask in the bright lights in Ximending

neon lights in ximending - one of the best places in taipei to visit

Ximending is one of the most bustling areas of Taipei, and it kind of reminds me of Tokyo’s Shinjuku or Osaka’s Dotonbori. With neon lights everywhere, groups of friends out for nighttime strolls, and delicious restaurants everywhere, it’s definitely one of the best places to go out in Taipei after dark.

Oddly, though, there aren’t a lot of bars in this area — nor in much of Taipei, either. It became a bit of running joke between Janet and me that we could never find a proper bar in all of Taipei (until we caved and researched a pub on our final night).

Still, even though we ended up beerless, we had so much fun wandering around Ximending at night and enjoying the energy of all the young Taiwanese out and about. It’s also one of the best areas for LGBT travelers to Taipei to go out!

 

Taste your way through Taipei

If you want to taste the very best of Taipei and suffer no FOMO, I’d recommend signing up for a tasting tour (check availability and ratings here). This tour lasts three hours and will cover 8 food samples and 2 drinks, including scallion pancakes, sushi, meat pies, mochi rice cake, tempura, pork rice, and so much more. While you snack hop, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about Taipei’s history and how the confluence of Japanese and Chinese cuisines mixing over the years to create a uniquely Taiwanese food scene.

You’ll get to explore hole-in-the-wall eateries, local markets, hidden alleys, and other places packed with locals yet not so well-known by tourists yet. The price is super affordable for the amount of food it covers, so I’d highly recommend doing this while in Taipei!

Check out Taipei’s unique creative parks

Taiwan has several “creative parks,” which are an interesting combination of pop-up shops, handmade craft stalls, nature, and selfie “parks” where you can take photos with a variety of the cartoon characters the Taiwanese are so enamored with.

I had never seen anything quite like these, so I visited two in Taipei and one in Taichung. Huashan 1914 Creative Park was really cool, but I was a bit sad to see that their upside-down houses display that was so beloved by Instagrammers had been dismantled. We also saw what looked like a really interesting color-themed selfie park that was in the process of being built, that we couldn’t visit. Basically, these creative parks are in constant flux, so just go and prepare to be surprised. We did, however, stumble across a Canada-themed (I know, I’m confused too) pop-up craft beer bar with a lovely, super friendly bartender who kept us full of samples of different craft beers.

We also visited Songshan Cultural Creative Park, which had more nature and was super beautiful to wander around but had fewer galleries and things to see.

Eat at a themed restaurant

Taiwan is well-known for its kooky themed restaurants, the most notorious of which being Modern Toilet, which is — you guessed it — toilet themed. I couldn’t help but join in on this hilarious gimmick. I mean,  how often do you get the chance to eat out of a miniature toilet bowl while sitting on a toilet while people around you eat poo-shaped meatballs and pay $10 for the honor?

The food wasn’t great, and the price was definitely on the expensive side for Taiwan, but the hilarity was definitely worth it in my eyes. However, it’s definitely a one and done experience, I’d say. Check out the hilarious video my friend Janet made when we went!

If the idea of eating at a toilet themed restaurant makes you squeamish, that’s understandable. There’s also the more benign Hello Kitty cafe, a Lego cafe, and even an alpaca café (however, this is located way out of the center of Taipei and is quite a trek unless you are a huge llama enthusiast!)

Eat and shop your way down Yongkang Street

Yongkang Street was one of those lucky finds. I originally went here because it is the location of the original branch of Din Tai Fung, but when I saw the insane line I decided it’d be better to eat elsewhere and had delicious xiao long bao and dan dan mien (another one of my favorite Chinese staples) at a small restaurant just down the street.

But Yongkang Street is great for more than just dumplings. There are also lots of cute quirky shops just waiting to be explored, a great coffee shop, and an inexplicably large number of umbrella shops (which seem to be a thing in Taiwan for whatever reason!). This was one of the cutest streets I found in Taipei, and it’s in a very central location between Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall and Daan Park, so it’s definitely worth a wander if you’re starting to run out of things to do in Taipei.

Dine or drink in trendy Zhongxiao

If you’re in need of refreshing your wardrobe when you’re in Taiwan, Zhongxiao is the place to go! But this is also the best area to go out in Taiwan. As I wrote above, one thing we found when we were in Taiwan is that there is a puzzlingly low number of bars in the city. Drinking doesn’t seem to be that popular of a pastime for young Taiwanese — or if it is, the bars are quite well hidden away from the eyes of foreigners.

However, Zhongxiao is the exception to the rule. While there isn’t a proper bar area, there are a few good bars in Taipei if you look for them, most of which are clustered in Zhongxiao. We enjoyed a night out at ON TAP, which was fun, unpretentious, and had passable Mexican food (long-suffering readers of this blog will know that I commit foodie sacrilege in basically every city I visit, which usually means eating Asian food in Eastern Europe, but in a major plot twist, this time involved eating Mexican food in Asia).

It’s also home to some delicious Korean food (again, I’m all about that foodie sacrilege) and cute coffee shops and boutiques, so night or day, this is a great spot to check out in Taipei.

Snack on some Hot Star Fried Chicken

Photo credit: Alpha, Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0 license)

Taiwanese food is famous for its stinky tofu, soup dumplings, and bubble tea, but if you ask a young Taiwanese person their favorite food, odds are they’ll say — Taiwanese fried chicken!

This ain’t no KFC, though. Taiwanese fried chicken is different than any other chicken I’ve tried. It’s pounded thin until it’s really flat and tender, breaded and spiced, deep-fried to golden perfection, and then coated with a little extra spices. I ate a piece of chicken that about twice the size of my face at Hot Star Fried Chicken in Ximending and adored every bite. The sweet potatoes were also really delicious there — I highly recommend getting them too!

Visit Liberty Square and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

I won’t pretend that I understand the full history of the relationship between mainland China and Taiwan. It’s complicated to a degree that I can’t even comprehend, let alone distill into a bite-sized informational nugget on a listicle of things to do in Taipei.

What I do know though is that Chiang Kai-shek ruled over Taiwan from 1945 to 1975 with an iron fist, placing the country under martial law for decades, making enemies of journalists and dissenters. However, he was successful in keeping Taiwan independent from Communist mainland China, a thing for which many Taiwanese are grateful.  Today, his legacy is controversial – in fact, this monument will likely change its name and function in the future.

For now, though, it’s one of the most iconic areas of Taipei and a common meeting and gathering spot. With the National Concert Hall, the National Theatre,  and the DaXiao Gate all within walking distance Despite the complicated history, Chiang Kai-shek Memorial is one of the most beautiful feats of architecture in Taipei.

See the stunning 18th century Longshan Temple

 

Longshan Temple is the most famous temple in Taipei, and it’s very active with local Taiwanese going about their prayers. Visitors are welcome (just dress respectfully, as you would in any place of worship).

There are some interesting customs that the Taiwanese observe when praying that I’ve never seen elsewhere. For one, there are small, painted pieces of wood that are shaped somewhat like a segmented orange. It’s common for people to pick up the painted crescent-shaped wood, hold it in their hands, toss it to the ground, and pick it back up again. They’re apparently called “jiaobei blocks” or “moon blocks”, which are thrown in pairs and used as a divination method — learn more here, as the custom is really interesting

I really love observing other cultures’ religious customs (especially as someone who is not particularly religious) and Longshan Temple is a great place for those curious about Taiwanese religious customs to learn more about them.

Things to Do Near Taipei (Within 2 Hours)

1- Admire the “Niagara Falls of Taiwan,” Shifen Waterfall

The gorgeous Shifen waterfall

Shifen Waterfall is not technically in Taipei proper, but it is so easy to get there that it deserves a spot on this list. Within about two hours and under 5 dollars, you can be walking in the beautiful park that is home to Shifen Waterfall.

I’ve written a complete guide to visiting Shifen Waterfall if you’re interested in making this day trip, but for now, I’ll let the photos do the talking. Simply gorgeous!

2- Let off a lantern on Shifen Old Street

Yes, this is a super touristy thing to do in Taipei (well, technically Shifen) but it was so much fun, so to hell with it.

For 100-200 Taiwanese dollars (about $3-6 USD) you can purchase a lantern, write your messages on it, take all the selfies, and set it off into the sky with all the other tourists on the train tracks. It was pretty fun to photograph all the other balloons going up into the sky as well.

Aside from setting off lanterns, you can also eat at all the various street stalls selling fried and steamed Taiwanese snacks, check out the nearby suspension bridge, or rent an electric scooter (or walk, it’s really not that far) to nearby Shifen Waterfall.

3 – Day trip to Jiufen Old Street

Jiufen is another day trip well worth making while you’re in Taipei. I’ve heard it called “the Santorini of Taiwan” and honestly, that’s pretty accurate. The city of Jiufen is built on a hill overlooking the spectacular coastline, making it a perfect place to take in the sunset in one of the many teahouses on the hill.

The entire city is covered in orange lanterns and food stalls, and there are gorgeous tea houses dotting the mountainside overlooking the coastline at sunset. In fact, the city is famous for being the inspiration for Japanese director Miyazaki’s film Spirited Away, and there does seem to be a kind of magic in the air.

However… a place this beautiful is impossible to enjoy alone. Expect to share the magic with approximately 75,000 other people, all trying to cram down a few tiny staircases. Claustrophobes and my fellow anxiety sufferers, be warned — descending the stairs after the sun sets is a neverending hellscape of people. We got stuck in a slow-moving river of people for what felt like ages (but was probably 10 minutes). And we visited in January, which is about as off-season as it gets!

You could go with a tour to Jiufen (check out prices here) but that would just compound the chaos, in my opinion. It’s easy enough to go independently. The buses are really crowded on the way back, so I’d suggest taking a collective taxi back to Taipei. I believe it cost about 300 Taiwanese per person ($10) for the one-hour journey back to central Taipei. Well worth it.

4- See the rock formations of Yehliu Geopark

I ran out of time in Taipei to get to do this, but it was on my list and it’s easily doable as a day trip so I figure I’d include it for you, anyway. Yehliu Geopark is an amazing natural phenomenon located on the north coast of Taiwan, just two hours outside of Taipei. Here, rocks have been carved away by twin forces of sea and wind erosion, leaving behind alien-esque rock formations including the famous “Queen’s Head” rock.

It’s perfectly possible to do with public transport, but you can also take a guided tour that will show you the port city of Keelung as well (see prices and availability here) and save you a bit of a headache with local transportation.

5- Go tea tasting and see the beautiful Thousand Islands Lake

If you really want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Taipei metro area, a day trip to Thousand Islands Lake is a fantastic escape, especially when combined with a trip to the Pinglin Tea Plantation where you can sample a few different Taiwanese teas while admiring views of turquoise lakes and terraced tea fields. Check out tour prices and availability here.

6 – Visit Taichung’s adorable Rainbow Village

While I believe Taichung is definitely worth at least two days – especially since you’ve got to check out the largest night market in Taiwan at Feng Jia – if you only have a day and you want to visit Instagram heaven, check out the Rainbow Village just outside of Taichung. This is easily done as a day trip thanks to Taiwan’s high speed rail connections, which connect Taipei and Taichung in a mere 45 minutes — for a price (about $22 each way). If you have more time and you’d like to save some cash, you can also take the regular train, which costs about 1/3rd as much and take twice as long. From Taichung, it’s a cheap Uber or taxi to Rainbow Village, or you can work out the local buses (I’m lazy and took an Uber).

I’ll be honest, before I researched Rainbow Village, I thought it was just an Instagram gimmick. But the story is so much cooler than that. Check out this video I made for the full history of how this village got this way (and who the badass “Rainbow Grandpa” is)

So, if you’ve been to Taipei, what are your favorites — am I missing anything?

Planning a trip to Taiwan? Check out my guide to the most tasty, fun things to do in Taipei (and day trips from Taipei you can't miss), to help you plan the perfect Taipei itinerary!

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