My itinerary in Taiwan started from Taipei, and here I had my first impact on Taiwan and its culture, a mix between Japanese and Chinese ones. Taipei is a modern city, rich in tradition. Is a city whereyou can feel the past of traditional temples and old pharmacies, but with an open mind projected towards the future. It’s difficult to say exactly what to do in Taipei, because it is a city that needs to be experienced, being intrigued by its streets, its modern buildings, following the scent of the incense of the temples and the smells of the scattered food of the night market.
10 things to do in Taipei
I stayed in Taipei three and a half days, practically half of my trip to Taiwan, but you can safely stay longer because in addition to what I suggest from personal experience, there are many other things to do in Taipei and around the city.
If you have limited time to visit Taipei, here is a list of 10 unmissable things to do in the capital of Taiwan.
1. Seek advice from the gods in the city’s temples.
There are many temples in Taipei, scattered all over the city. Absolutely to visit, the Longshan Temple, the most important Buddhist and Taoist temple in the city. An explosion of colors and wooden carvings, this is one of the most visited temples by the locals who bring flowers and offerings to the gods to ask them for favors or consult them through the Jaobei, crescent-moon shaped woods, that depending on how they fall once thrown on the ground, they express the answer of the gods to the question you asked them.
Other temples to be seen in Taipei are the Confucius Temple, a quiet complex full of information on the teachings of Confucius, where we have also been given a calligraphic inscription of good luck made at the moment by a monk of the temple saying “Everything will be fine” and the near the Bao’an Taoist Temple, full of decorations and lanterns, to which we were lucky enough to attend the sung prayer.
2. Feel small at Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall
The symbolic place is absolutely one of the Top things to do in Taipei: the huge building on one side and the impressive arch of peace on the other, both white with a blue roof, following the principles of Chinese architecture and symbolism. This large square is dedicated to the man who is considered the “founder of Taiwan”, the one who led the nationalists against Chinese communism and after been defeated he retired to Taiwan and founded the Republic of China.
Here there is also a nice park and it is possible to watch the changing of the guard every day, from 10 to 16. (When I was there, because of Covid-19 the memorial hall was closed and there was no changing of the guard ).
3. Eat star ravioli from Din Tai Fung
Taiwan is renowned, especially among Japanese people, for its excellent food and the famous bao, the Chinese steamed buns, are one of the excellence of Taiwan, especially those of Din Tai Fung, which has even received a Michelin star! There are 6 different restaurants in the city, always pretty crowded. However, is possible to pick up a waiting list number and you are informed about the waiting time, so you can occupy the time by visiting the surroundings. Returning to the dishes, the various types of bao must certainly be tasted, but you can also order several other rice or noodles dishes. The price? Definitely accessible, we spent around € 35 total for two people.
4. Drink a bubble tea at Ximending
Bubble Tea, or tapioca, which has now become popular everywhere, was born in Taiwan, so I would say that drinking a bubble tea enters is definetly one of the top things to do in Taipei and the best place to enjoy this drink is the Ximending district, the youngest and most fashionable district, a kind of Taiwanese Shibuya. Visit Ximending in the evening, to see the neon lights of the shops and teeming with young people intent on enjoying bubble tea and street food.
5. Admire Taipei 101 from Elephant Mountain
Among the top things to do in Taipei, we cannot fail to mention the Taipei 101, the 101-floors skyscraper designed to withstand the oscillation due to wind and earthquakes thanks to a pendulum system inside. It is possible to go up to the observatory on the 81st floor to admire the city from above, but to get the best view of Taipei 101, the place to visit is Elephant Mountain.
This hill is at walking distance from Taipei 101 is one of the things to see in Taipei that has been highly recommended and that I can only confirm in my turn, although to get to the observation point you will have to sweat a bit! In fact, you have to “climb” the hill … along a path made of steps! The walk takes about 30 minutes and I recommend you bring water and a towel to dry the sweat, also because the path to double sense is quite narrow and you will find yourself surrounded by people …
Upon arrival, however, the view you have will repay you for the effort made 🙂
6. Fly over the Taipei hills with the Maokong gondola
Maokong is a village in the hills of Taipei, famous for its fine tea plantations and the numerous tea houses that are located there. You can get to Maokong from Taipei Zoo station and you can get there by shared taxi (150 TWD) or with the Maokong Gondola (120 TWD), a cable car over 4 km long from which you can admire the green hills below and the center city that moves away in the background. You can also purchase the combined Maokong Gondola + Sightseeing bus ticket in advance.
Some cabins have a transparent floor and make the experience even more suggestive. To get on the “Eye of Gondola” from the transparent floor the price does not change, but you have to make a dedicated line which can sometimes take a long time, in my case 40 minutes.
Once you reach the top you can relax in a tea house or follow one of the natural paths that wind through nature, between temples and tea plantations. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time, consider an abundant half day to enjoy this destination to the fullest.
7. Browse the traditional shops on Dihua Street
Dihua Street is one of the areas of Taipei with vintage charm. It’s a succession of local product stores, dried food (very popular in Taiwan), sweets, spices …. and many traditional herbal pharmacies.
Here you can admire a super local atmosphere and immerse yourself in a quiet, traditional Taipei, full of colors and scents. There are also several street food stands and it is one of the most photogenic areas, if you love traditional atmospheres. Here there is also a small temple dedicated to love, where singles come to pray to find a soul mate and couples of newlyweds make offers to ask for long happiness in the wedding.
8. Discover the street food of the night markets
One of the top things to not to miss in Taiwan are the famous night markets and the capital Taipei is full of them! From the largest and most popular ones to small night markets frequented only by locals. They are the apotheosis of street food, where you can taste local delights and challenge the most absurd foods. From 5 pm these night markets are filled with life, smells, and people eating on the street, on the sidewalks, or on the tables that occupy the pedestrian area. We visited them, but we only tasted some quick snacks because we found the food offered very similar to that of the Japanese Matsuri stalls to which we are accustomed, but we still enjoyed immersing ourselves in the atmospheres, especially at the smaller Ningxia Night Market, but less touristy and chaotic. Another night market that I recommend is the Rahoe Night Market for the splendid visual impact of its entrance and the nearby Ciyou temple.
9. Relax in the Beitou hot springs
If you love soak in the warm waters of the thermal springs, you should definitely include Beitou among the things to do in Taipei. Beitou is a district in the north of the city, where 3 different types of thermal waters flow into the area creating very hot natural pools and where you can soak in several public and private thermal pools.
It was the Japanese who brought the culture of onsen to Beitou and in fact the style is very similar to the Japanese one, where you dive naked and the tanks are separated by sex. However, there are also some onsen where costume access is allowed and the pools are mixed.
The boiling waters flow from the Termal Valley in an environment that is very similar of the hells of Beppu, and are then directed to the various thermal pools. I absolutely recommend that you allow yourself a few hours of relaxation in the Beitou hotspring during your stay in Taipei.
10. Excursion to Jiufen, between tea houses and lanterns
Jiufen is a town in the middle of the mountains developed around a gold mine. Today it is a delightful village made of narrow streets and red lanterns, which seems to have inspired the movie Spirited Away of Miyazaki. The most photogenic point is certainly the A-Mei teahouse, but exploring the narrow alleys dotted with lanterns and tea and souvenir shops is also an exciting experience. In Jiufen there are also many tea houses to sit and sip the precious Taiwanese tea. We opted for the Juifen Teahouse with a very characteristic environment and quality tea. They made us sit on the terrace, where we enjoyed a splendid view of the A-Mei Teahouse and explained how to make tea infusions to optimize its flavor. The tea leaves that we did not use were then delivered to us as a souvenir, an absolutely recommended experience.
Where to sleep in Taipei
We have chosen to stay in the Dadaocheng area, not far from Taipei Main Station, near the Ningxia Night Market and I absolutely recommend this area for the convenience of getting around (you can also walk to Ximending and Dihua Street) and for the nice atmosphere.
Unfortunately, we changed two hotels because the first one was a nightmare and we literally ran away. This is the King Plaza Hotel which I name only to warn you NOT to book it.
Highly recommended is the City Suites Taipei Nanxi, which is part of the City Suites hotel chain very popular in Taiwan that we will probably use again on a future trip.
Excellent large and clean hotel, with a fantastic bathroom and in a great location: near the Ningxia Night Market, 5 minutes walk from Dihua Street, 10 from Taipei and Zhongshan stations from where the green and red lines leave. Price 2.970 TWD for two nights, without breakfast (water, tea and coffee available for free).
How to move around Taipei
In Taipei there is an efficient metro network, with indications and announcements in English and the cost varies according to the distance. The most convenient method is the Easy Card, a prepaid card to be passed on the entrance and exit turnstiles and which can be recharged either at the Seven-Eleven or at the machines at the station.
Buses are also frequent and simple to use. Some are at a fixed rate of 15 TWD, while for others the rate varies depending on the distance. But rest assured, pass the Easy Card on the sensor both up and down and you will be calm.
Google Maps works very well, so just enter the desired destination and you will be shown precisely the options available.