With millennia of Indigenous history followed by encounters with the Chinese, Europeans and Japanese, Taiwan has always been a cultural crossroads.

This vibrant island democracy holds many fascinating stories, and the museums found within its capital Taipei might tell them best. On a rainy day (or any day except Monday) visit their galleries for insight into tribal communities, Hakka heritage and the contentious relationship between Taiwan and China.

These are the best museums in Taipei.

The neoclassical columns, steps, pediment and dome of the National Taiwan Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
Taiwan’s oldest museum, the stately National Taiwan Museum features exhibits that bring to life the history of the island © Jack Hong / Shutterstock

National Museum of History offers powerful historical insights

Founded by Japanese colonists in 1908, the National Taiwan Museum is Taiwan’s oldest, positioned at the edge of 2-28 Peace Memorial Park in central Taipei. Explore the park and its many pagodas before the day gets too hot, finding commemorations of the “February 28 Incident” on the site where Taiwanese civilians protested against police brutality sanctioned by the Chinese nationalist government (the Kuomintang) in 1947.

Inside the museum’s galleries, visitors can explore Taiwan’s cultural and natural history – including taxidermy models of indigenous animals and dinosaur bones – before moving across the street for free access to the century-old bank vault at Land Bank Exhibition Hall.

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International art lovers will love the Taipei Fine Arts Museum

One of Taipei’s best art galleries, the Fine Arts Museum is a fine choice for a day out. The museum is a frequent stop for international traveling exhibitions that cover fashion, design and art. TFAM also showcases local artists and hosts the Taipei Biennial within its modern architectural space. The entrance fee is usually 30NTD but is free on Saturday evenings. (Discover more ways to see more for less in the capital with our guide to Taipei on a budget.)

Exhibition displays with jade objects and other treasures at the southern branch of the National Palace Museum, Chiayi, Taiwan
At the National Palace Museum, you’ll see dazzling treasures from China’s former imperial collections © 54613 / Shutterstock

See the splendors of Chinese art at the National Palace Museum

If you visit only one museum in Taipei, make it this one. The National Palace Museum boasts a permanent collection of 700,000 Chinese artworks and artifacts – the world’s largest and probably finest – with 8000 years of Chinese history on glorious display across four vast floors. Come prepared to for a visual feast: on display are ceramics, antique calligraphy, jades and bronze vessels that once belonged to the Chinese emperors.

The museum’s grand entrance befits the historical significance of its contents, with a wide walkway lined with manicured shrubs and fountains squared in by a complex built in the style of a Chinese palace.

Learn about alternative histories at Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines

Just down the road from the National Palace Museum, the Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines provides an alternative picture of Taiwan’s history, worlds apart from the glittering wealth of former Chinese emperors. Instead, here you’ll find diverse displays of Taiwan’s native cultures, focusing on the ethnology of the island and the varied customs and lifestyles of its different tribes.

Experience the wonders of the universe at the Taipei Astronomical Museum

Unleash your inner space child at the Taipei Astronomical Museum, exploring the many wonders of the universe through a range of educational exhibits and interactive facilities that include an equatorial telescope, star dome and ecliptic sundials.

A display in the former baths at the Beitou Hot Spring Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
The Beitou Hot Spring Museum hosts history-oriented exhibits in an intriguing building that blends Eastern and Western architectural styles © Alamy Stock Photo

Walk through a forest of Euro-Japanese architecture at the Beitou Hot Spring Museum

A replica of the Shizuokaken Idouyama bathhouses in Japan, the Beitou Hot Spring Museum is an unexpected find in the foothills of Yangmingshan mountains in northern Taipei (accessible via a short walk from Xinbeitou MRT station).

Built in 1913 on the valley’s natural hot springs, this complex blends Eastern and Western architectural styles and served as a public bathhouse for Japanese colonialists. Swap shoes for slippers to walk on the tatami-mat flooring and get a closer look at the arched hallways and tiled walls of the old bathing area as you peruse historical exhibits.

Rest a while on the pavilion overlooking Beitou Park; alternatively, head down the road for a more immersive experience at Beitou Public Hot Spring, baths that remain active today.

Take a quiet walk by jade artifacts at the National Museum of History

Set within the chirping-bird-filled haven of the Botanical Gardens, the National Museum of History stands out among the trees with its Ming-style architecture – all red columns and sloped turquoise roofing – backing onto a tranquil lotus pond. Step inside for textiles, handicrafts and jade jewelry from across some six Chinese dynasties, taking time to roam the garden afterward.

Local residents walk past in front of the golden Guandu Temple on the eve of Lunar New Year, Taipei, Taiwan
An active temple with elaborate architecture, Guandu Temple is a sort of living museum © AFP via Getty Images

Guandu Temple offers living lessons in religious practices

Guandu Temple might be called a living museum. The oldest temple in Northern Taiwan is dedicated to the sea goddess Mazu and tells diverse narratives through carvings inlaid on the walls, columns and dragon sculptures throughout.

Dating back to the mid-17th century and expanded during the Qing Dynasty, Guandu is now a multi-denominational temple managed by an association of Fujian, Guangdong and Taiwanese Indigenous peoples.

Take in the newest and latest at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)

Another of the best galleries in Taipei is the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), which features an eclectic program of modern international exhibitions inside a Japanese colonial building just north of Taipei Main Station.

Visitors view the miniatures displayed at Miniatures Museum in Taipei, Taiwan
Visitors take in the cute and slightly kitschy displays at the Miniatures Museum of Taiwan © Alamy Stock Photo

Sample some kitsch at the Miniatures Museum of Taiwan

On the smallest scale of them all, the Miniatures Museum of Taiwan showcases one couples’s unique collection of global attractions in miniature. Exhibits include a tiny Buckingham Palace, Tudor castle and Roman ruins alongside fantastical scenes from famous fairy tales such a Pinocchio and Jack and the Beanstalk. It’s all a little silly – and utterly charming.

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