Awarded Top 10 city to travel to in 2022About Best In Travel 2022
Taipei is a friendly city whose allure lies in its blend of Chinese culture with a curious fusion of Japanese, Southeast Asian and American influences.
In many ways this 300-year-old city is like a living museum. The Taoist temples buzz with the prayers of the hopeful; the wooden boards of Japanese-era mansions creak under the feet of visitors; while the treasures in the National Palace Museum date back 5000 years. Merchant villas to military barracks have been restored, reworked and now live again as a museum or a shopfront. From the heirlooms of a tea merchant to the memories of a cemetery for the victims of the White Terror, Taipei is a city that takes great pride in celebrating its history – the triumphant and the tragic.
The Weird and Wonderful
Taipei's oddness is one of its charms. It may be inspired by the kawaii (cutesy) culture of Japan, but there's a lot of home-grown humour in there, too. In the puppet museum you will find a strip-tease marionette; the idea of chocolate sauce on a steak is nothing out of the ordinary; themed restaurants transport you to a world where hotpot is slurped from a toilet bowl; and a park installation invites you to cycle a stationary bike whose pedals power an eerie-sounding pipe organ.
Having Fun with Food
Dining out is so popular that many studio apartments in Taipei don't have kitchens: eating out is cheap, casual and tasty and many families do that or get takeaway most nights of the week. Indeed dining out is the best way to understand the Taiwanese. Whether you're getting your fingers greasy sampling snacks at one of the night markets or sharing dishes at a Taiwanese rèchǎo (stir-fried) joint, the defining characteristic is the element of fun. Yes, that is an invitation to try stinky tofu. While you're at it, you might as well have some Taiwan Beer, too!
With its lanes of blackened walk-ups and countless shopfronts, the city may look like it was thrown together in a hurry, but look again. Great care has been taken to make it a truly liveable place for people: public transport grids the city well and is fast, reliable and cheap; every few blocks there's a park with a generous supply of benches, shelters and flowers; good (and often great) coffee is available everywhere; the MRT has courtesy umbrellas free for rainy days; and a clean and free public toilet is never far away.
Taipei: Voted Top 10 City as Best in Travel 2022
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Home to the world's largest and arguably finest collection of Chinese art, this vast hoard covers treasures in painting, calligraphy, statuary, bronzes, lacquerware, ceramics, jade and religious objects. Some of the most popular items, such as the famous Jadeite Cabbage, are always on display – although check first that it's not on loan to the southern branch in Chiayi. There are controversial plans to partially or even wholly close the museum in 2020 for three years' refurbishment.
Founded in 1738 by Han immigrants from Fujian, this temple has served as a municipal, guild and self-defence centre, as well as a house of worship. These days it is one of the city's top religious sites, and a prime venue for exploring both Taiwan's vibrant folk faith and its unique temple arts and architecture. The temple can get very congested with tourists; try coming early in the morning (before 8am) or late in the evening (after 8pm) to avoid the crush.
This former 'Centre Street' has long been known for its Chinese medicine shops, fabric market and lively Lunar New Year sundry market. It has attracted numerous restoration and cultural projects and is now a magnet for young entrepreneurs, eager to breathe new life into the neighbourhood with cafes, restaurants, art studios and antique shops. Thankfully, this gentrification hasn't squashed the original atmosphere – fancy ceramic shops sit side by side with long-term tenants selling sacks of dried mushrooms and agricultural produce.
Towering above the city like the gigantic bamboo stalk it was designed to resemble, Taipei 101 is impossible to miss. At 508m, Taipei 101 held the title of 'world's tallest building' for a number of years. Until 2011, it also held the title of the world's tallest green building.
This former detention centre, court and jail was where political prisoners were incarcerated and tried during the White Terror period (1947–87). The English audio guide is highly recommended. These peaceful but sombre grounds include tiny jail cells, shackles, the old commissary and a row of telephones where prisoners could speak for just 10 minutes every week with a visitor. This museum is highly recommended for the insight it gives into the horrors of authoritarianism and just how far Taiwan has come.
This grandiose monument to authoritarian leader Chiang Kai-shek is a popular attraction and rightly so. It is a sobering feeling to stand in the massive courtyard. Chiang's blue-roofed hall is a prime example of the neoclassical style, favoured by CKS as a counterpoint to the Cultural Revolution's destruction of genuine classical culture in China. Note the main hall shuts at 6pm, but the surrounding park is open 5am to midnight.
Borrowing from western urban-regeneration models, this early-20th-century wine factory has been restored as Taipei's most retro-chic venue. Remodelled warehouses now hold live-music performances and pop-up shops sell innovative Taiwanese-designed products, there are ever-changing exhibitions, and a host of stylish restaurants, cafes and bars will have you loving the ambience as much as the food. Many of the exhibitions are aimed at children and take over the giant spaces. Don't forget SPOT around the back, Taipei's best independent cinema.
Recipient of a Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for both its restoration and its revival of temple rites and festivities, Bao'an Temple (also called Dalongdong Bao'an Temple) is a must-visit when in Taipei. This exquisite structure is loaded with prime examples of the traditional decorative arts, and the yearly folk arts festival (April to June) is a showcase of traditional performance arts.
This handsome four-storey building, constructed in 1936 for the coronation of Emperor Hirohito, is where the Japanese surrender ceremony was held in October 1945, and later where Chiang Kai-shek delivered public speeches from the terrace following his four 're-elections'. On the 3rd-floor stairwell hangs the masterwork Water Buffalo by Huang Tu-shui (1895–1930), the first Taiwanese artist to study in Japan.