Although Taipei is one of Asia’s most compact capitals, it’s still surprisingly easy to get lost when exploring this beautiful city, famous for the forested hills that surround it, and the sky-scraping buildings that tower its over temples, night markets and museums.
With that in mind, we’ve come to the rescue with a guide to the Taipei neighborhoods that should be on your radar.
Say hello to one of Taipei’s oldest neighborhoods. Dadaocheng is a wonderful tangle of narrow streets full of beautiful architecture, family-fun businesses and heritage sites. Chief among them is Museum 207, a former private home that has been filled with artifacts intended to provide insight into Taipei’s history.
Dihua Street, which runs north to south, is the neighborhood’s main artery (and Taipei’s oldest street). Head here for a reminder that the city was once at the forefront of the export trade. Although most of the tea factories and tea shops that lined this road are now gone, several remain, wedged alongside independent stores specializing in everything from pottery to art.
Beitou, Taipei’s northernmost district, is a wonderfully wild neighborhood easily accessible from the city center. It’s where you’ll find the country’s only metro-accessible hot springs (you’ll need to take the Tamsui–Xinyi line to get there), nestled at the base of the mountains that fill Yangminshan National Park. The park is dominated by Qixingshan, a dormant volcano.
Don’t miss the Beitou Hot Spring Museum, with its 800kg (about 1760lb) chunk of Beitou stone (famous for its white, diamond-shaped crystals) and make sure you take the time to bathe, too. (Image-based information boards explain the etiquette, but in summary, you’ll need to get naked.) We also recommend visiting Thermal Valley, a short walk from the metro station. A steamy - and admittedly stinky - area filled with steam-belching hot springs, the valley has a network of walking trails that weaves around the sulphur pools.
A city center neighborhood often compared to Tokyo’s Harajuku district, Ximending is where you’ll find everything from cosplay cafés and street art to luxury hotels and some of the city’s best independent boutiques. It’s also a major nightlife hub; head to bars like Hanko 60 or Geography Bar & Café to sip cocktails and people watch.
But most people come to shop. Ximending is often referred to as Taipei’s arts district, and its hub is the historic Red House Theater, filled with independent arts and crafts stores. On the weekend, it’s the setting for a brilliant market. Love a good sneaker? You’ll find Taipei’s best trainer stores here, including ABC-Mart, which specializes in limited editions. When it’s time to refuel, we recommend Snow King, where you can try ice cream topped with everything from red beans to meat flakes, or the (in)famous Modern Toilet restaurant, where dishes are served in miniature toilets and drinks are served in tiny urinals.
Xinyi Commercial District
This is where to shop until you drop. Often referred to as Taipei’s version of Manhattan, the Xinyi Commercial District is the city’s newest area. It is dominated by the sky-high, observatory-topped Taipei 101, towering over the luxury shopping malls and department stores.
There are also plenty of opportunities for a culture fix: the National Dr Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall and the Discovery Center of Taipei should both be on your list. The best thing about Xinyi? It’s incredibly easy to navigate, with a logical, organized layout which means exploring it on foot is the best option. Despite the skyscrapers, there’s plenty of green space, and on the weekends, its outdoor plazas double as settings for festivals and concerts.
A riverside area that is often referred to as a district of Taipei but is actually a 40-minute metro ride to the north of the city center, Tamsui was a bustling trading port during the 19th century. Its influences are wide-ranging: it was colonized by Spain in the 17th century before being taken over by the Dutch, hence the diversity of the historic sites, which range from a castle built by the Spanish in 1626 to the former residence of the British Consulate, built in the late 1800s.
Surrounded by mountains and rivers, Tamsui is a brilliant option for anyone keen to escape the city for an hour or two. We suggest exploring the narrow streets that nudge up against the riverside. This is where you’ll find some fantastic street food, whether it’s ah gei (oily bean curd) or fish dumplings.
Songshan is a bustling commercial district, and it’s also where you’ll find Taipei International Airport. The recent opening of the Songshan railway and metro station has made this area, a popular shopping spot, infinitely more accessible. It’s where you’ll find the Raohe Street Night Market – one of the oldest in Taipei – along with the Taipei arena, which hosts Taipei Ice Hockey League games, as well as some of the world’s biggest pop stars. Madonna, Celine Dion and Justin Bieber have all performed here.
Da’an is an easily accessible neighborhood with plenty of space, largely thanks to the fact that it’s home to the Da’an Forest Park, which is the city’s largest green space. It’s a great place for a culture fix – this is where you’ll find the Taipei Grand Mosque and the Wistaria Tea House, which dates back to the 1920s and was once the home of political activist David Chow.
You’ll also find some fantastic food in Da’an, which has the original outpost of Din Tai Fung, the Taiwanese restaurant famous for its xiao long baos (steamed pork dumplings) and that now has restaurants in the UK, the UAE and the USA. Finally, if you’re looking for a hip place to crash, book a room at the achingly cool Kimpton Da’an, filled with countless nods to its location, including cute mini rice cookers in the rooms.
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