There's plenty to do on a visit to Taipei – you could be admiring spectacular views over the city, experiencing the very best foods in the legendary night markets, or learning all about Taiwan's history and culture in its many temples and memorial halls.
Put these experiences and activities at the top of your list to experience the very best of Taipei on your next visit.
Admire the rarities at the National Palace Museum
Love a good artefact? You’ll love the National Palace Museum, which has 700,000 ancient imperial artefacts from both China and Taiwan. You’ll find plenty of rarities from China – the museum has close connections with the Palace Museum in Beijing’s Forbidden City, and many of the exhibits were originally displayed in the museum there.
The museum is especially popular with art fans, who flock here to admire the enormous collections of decorative carvings, enamelware, ceramics, lacquerware, and ceremonial bronzes. My absolute favorite exhibit is the beautifully carved jade cabbage, complete with a locust hiding amongst its leaves. It’s believed the sculpture was given to a former emperor’s consort in the late nineteenth century.
Take a hike in the wilderness surrounding the city
Taipei is a city surrounded by forested mountains and reaching the lush tracts of wilderness from the city center is surprisingly easy. The route I like best is the spectacular Jinmianshan Trail. It starts just a short walk from Xihu Station and it connects with a large number of other trails, which means you can opt to hike for as little or as long as you like. But the most popular hiking route has to be the Xiangshan Trail weaving up the side of Elephant Mountain, which nudges right up against the city center. It’s a one-hour circular route and you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views over the city and of the Taipei 101 tower.
Check out Taipei's beautiful temples
Taipei lays claim to some of Asia’s most beautiful temples, many of which subscribe to the Southern Chinese style of Qing Dynasty architecture – a style you’ll probably recognize if you’ve been to Singapore. Most Taipei temples pay nods to Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, while a smaller number are dedicated entirely to Buddhism.
To see the best ones, head to Taipei’s oldest neighborhoods, such as Wanhua, which was once a walled city (only one of the original city gates remain). This is where you’ll find the Bangka Longshan Temple, which dates back to 1738, and the Qingshan Temple, where you’ll find a statue of Zhang Gun – a Taoist deity whose eyes are said to follow visitors as they move around the temple. There’s no dress code as such, but remember to dress respectfully, remove shoes and step over each temple’s door sill, rather than on it. These sills are believed to ward off unwanted spirits and remind visitors that they’re about to enter a sacred space.
Marvel at the views from the top of one of the world's tallest buildings
Got a head for heights? Make a beeline for Taipei 101, which clung onto the title of world’s tallest building between 2004 and 2009, when it was eclipsed by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. The 1667-ft (508m) skyscraper has been designed to withstand strong earthquakes – handy, considering it’s 600ft from a major fault line.
There are observation decks on levels 88, 89, and 91, although it’s worth noting that the one on level 88 has been designed mainly to provide visitors with a view of the (admittedly spectacular) mass damper – the largest and heaviest one in the world. This enormous steel sphere moves back and forth to counter any movement by the building itself. Head to level 91, which is open-air and has been the setting for several concerts, including performances by Japanese pop band AKT48.
Go shopping at a night market
Taiwan’s night markets are legendary. You’ll find them throughout the city: sprawling clusters of stalls serving up traditional dishes such as braised pork rice, Taiwanese spring rolls, and tempura. The most famous ones include Wanhua's Huaxi Night Market, where there’s a focus on traditional dishes (salty rice pudding washed down with snake wine, anyone?) although I'm also a huge fan of the market on Linjiang Street, known for its wallet-friendly cuisine. The offerings aren’t just limited to food either – market stalls sell everything from homeware to clothes.
Hardcore foodies should also squeeze in a visit to Ningxia Night Market, where specialities include oyster omelettes, sesame-coated mochi, and taro balls.
Eat at Din Tai Fung, Taipei's best dumpling restaurant
It’s said that you haven’t tried xiao long bao dumplings unless you’ve sampled the ones at Din Tai Fung, a chain of restaurants which dates back to the 1970s and was founded by Bing Yi-Yang, who moved to Taiwan as a youngster. In 2010, the Hong Kong branch earned a Michelin star – a first for a Taiwanese restaurant – and there are now restaurants in America, Europe, and the Middle East.
However, the best place to try the dumplings is the branch at the base of Taipei 101 – a glass-walled kitchen allows visitors to watch chefs at work, and waiting staff dash across the restaurant floor carrying wobbling towers of dumpling baskets. I recommend the original xiao long bao dumplings, although the braised beef soup is legendary, too.
Tour the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is a national landmark and memorial erected to honor the late Chiang Kai-shek, the former president of China who fled to Taiwan in 1949, after Communists established the People's Republic of China. Once in Taipei, he established a government in exile and to this day he remains Taiwan’s longest-serving leader, albeit a divisive one – his party was responsible for the imprisonment of 140,000 Taiwanese, and it’s believed Chiang Kai-shek hoped to regain control of China until the day he died.
Many Taiwanese feel that their country’s countless memorials to Chiang Kai-shek should be removed, but whatever your viewpoint, a visit to this one, with its bronze statue of Chiang and the emblem of the Chinese Nationalist Party adorning the vaulted roof, is a great option for anyone keen to learn more about Taiwan’s turbulent past.
Visit the National Dr Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
For a different insight into Taiwan’s past, visit the National Dr Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, a tribute to the man who many see as the father of the Republic of China. He was a physician, revolutionary, and political leader who helped overthrow the Qing dynasty in the late 1800s. He became the first President of the Republic of China in 1912 and is revered in both China and Taiwan, where his portrait hangs in parliament.
There are several exhibition halls filled with Chinese art, and a library stuffed with thousands of Chinese manuscripts. For me, though, the biggest attraction is the Central Hall’s hourly changing of the guard, when soldiers in immaculate white uniforms perform a choreographed routine in front of an enormous statue of Dr Sun Yat-Sen.
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