A sensory extravaganza of bustling streets, bright lights and strong smells, Taipei packs an overwhelming punch that hammers you in the eyes, mouth, ears and nose all at once. It’s like an urban version of ‘Fight Club’ – to experience it is to feel alive.
The architecture is generally haphazard and the signage confusing, but that’s the beauty of Taiwan’s capital and one of its most underrated tourist destinations – you never know what you’re going to get next.
Once you’ve learnt to embrace the bright neon lights and the often overpowering smell of fermented bean curd, you’ll find that Taipei is exciting and vibrant. In Ximending and Shida, Taipei’s traditional Chinese heritage is blending at light-speed with a bright (literally), Japanese-influenced youth culture. With 24 hour bars aplenty and the famed Shilin Night Market to explore, being bored simply isn’t an option.
The hyper-modern Xinyi district is all about ritzy modern mall shopping. But just beyond the rather soulless air-conditioned high rises sit Yangmingshan and Chiufen with their hot springs and ancient temples. There, you can recharge, think deep and meaningful thoughts and prepare for another night of supercharged mayhem back in the heart of Taipei’s hustle and bustle.
Top 10 Attractions in New Taipei City
New Taipei, the most populous metropolitan area in Taiwan, is home to a diverse selection of tourist hot spots – museums, night markets, old town landmarks and streets, and a phenomenal stretch of coastline. Our top 10 for New Taipei captures the essence of the city.
Taipei’s Top 10
10. Taipei City Mall Underground mall where Taipei’s hipsters head to shake their tail feathers, booties and anything else in the associated club.
5. Yangmingshan National Park Vistas, vegetation and a (extinct) volcano – the perfect antidote to the commotion of Taipei city.
9. Beitou Hot Springs Park and Museum A cheap escape from the bustle of the city, but not recommended if you can’t stand the strong smell of sulphur.
4. Taipei 101 This ultra-modern take on the Chinese pagoda is one of the world’s tallest buildings, and sticks out like a swollen yet very elegant sore thumb.
8. Long Shan Temple The ‘meeting place of the Gods” is a cornucopia of culture, elaborateness and incense.
3. Shilin Night Market Taipei’s most celebrated night market is an energetic hub of lights, bargains and, um, pig blood cake.
7. Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Attitudes towards the former dictator may vary in Taiwan today, but this is a striking monument.
2. Chiufen Take tea over the Pacific Ocean in this former gold mining centre, an hour’s bus trip out of Taipei.
6. Taipei Zoo Worth the (actually very cheap) price of admission just for the pandas. So cute, so cuddly, so endangered.
1. National Palace Museum The pride of Taiwan houses over 600,000 ancient Chinese artefacts and, on most days, around the same number of tourist groups.
- Longshan Temple – This marvellous temple built in 1738 is still in use today.
- National Revolutionary Martyrs Shrine – This is a sentinel-guarded shrine created to honour those who died in the war.
- Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall – The monument is one of Taipei’s most famous and popular attractions.
- Bao-An Temple – This 1830 Taoist temple was used as a factory during the Japanese occupation.
- Presidential Palace – This sprawling brick structure was completed in 1919 as a home for Taiwan’s governor general.
Taipei Art & Culture
- Yau Yueh Tea House – Possibly the most popular teahouse in the area, with just the right atmosphere.
- Lin An Tai Home – One of the few traditional Taiwanese homes still standing today.
- National Palace Museum – Its collection of ancient Chinese art is one of the largest in the world.
- National Theatre and Concert Hall – These twin performing art venues feature concerts and performances.
- Snake Alley – This Taipei gastronomic destination offers something for both the culinary bold and the timid.
- Taipei 101 – This skyscraper’s 101 stories (not including five in the basement) are filled with boutiques, eateries and incredible views.
- Pacific SOGO – This popular department store chain offers a pleasant shopping experience for anyone looking for a place to browse, eat and be entertained.
- Shilin Night Market – Taipei’s oldest and possibly largest market, with food stalls and boutique shops.
- Zhongshan North – Food and a magnificent selection of great souvenirs can be found.
- Danshui Market – This market offers a quaint and totally “Taiwan” shopping experience.
Gay & Lesbian Taipei
- Funky – This nightclub has packed in the gay crowds for more than two decades.
- Ximending – Known as the LGBT district, find plenty of gay stores, clubbing, theatre and just about anything else in this Taipei hub.
- Red House – Find an entire handful of trendy gay pubs and restaurants under one roof.
- Taiwan Pride – See costumes, skin and more at the festivities held in late October.
- Gin Gin’s Bookstore – This renowned locale sells LGBT products, gifts, DVDs and magazines.
- Taipei Botanical Garden – This lush oasis has walkways surrounded by trees and a lotus pond for reflection.
- Beitou Hot Springs – One of the most popular thermal hot springs in northern Taiwan.
- Yangmingshan National Park – This natural gem is covered with greenery, animals and flowers.
- Taipei Zoo – Its recent relocation to Muzha entails better enclosures and improved surroundings for the animals.
- Shuangxi Park and Chinese Garden – This lovely park features Chinese-style architecture, including pavilions and arch bridges.
- Cycle or jog along the well-maintained path near the Tam Sui MRT station.
- Join the fans in the Tianmu Baseball Stadium.
- Watch taekwondo competitions at the Taipei City Cup in mid-August.
- Cheer on rowers at the Dragon Boat Festival each Lunar New Year.
- See a tennis or judo match at the Taipei Arena.
Once you’re in the heart of Taipei, don’t expect to leave. Incomprehensible signage and maze-like streets will keep you there forever. Well, OK, that’s a slight exaggeration. Armed with a map and some commonsense, you should be able to find your way to the culturally diverse outer suburbs….Wanhua
Made famous by the Taiwanese gangster film Monga, Wanhua is a one of Taipei’s shadiest neighbourhoods. Don’t be shocked to see a drunken cabbie puking next to his car, or a prostitute burning incense in front of a temple. But it’s also the home of many iconic buildings and heritage sites, including the Long Shan Temple, Taipei’s oldest temple, or the Red House Theatre, the original Taiwan teahouse and playhouse. Ximending in the north is younger and trendier, with an unmistakable Japanese influence from architecture to vibrant hairstyles to holding up two fingers in photographs.
Taipei’s premiere shopping spot, ritzy Xinyi is dominated by Taipei 101. The tallest building in the world until those pesky people in Dubai stepped up, it’s over 500 metres tall and features a massive internal mall. Don’t head there expecting to learn the basics about Taipei, though. The name is derived from the number of floors.
Vertigo-sufferers and credit card-torturers should visit high-end department stores Shin Kong Mitsukoshi and New York New York. The latter also tells you all you need to know about the dining options in this district: generic, American and best avoided. However, if you can find your way out of the maze of malls, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall is worth a visit for an insight into Taiwan’s troubled history.Shilin
Best known for the huge and chaotic Shilin Night Market, there’s much more to the district than haggled-down sacks of frogs’ legs – no matter how delicious you find them. Overlooked by hiking hotspot Yang Ming Mountain, Shilin is a chillin’ place for university students, with bars and cheap eateries catering to the youngsters (and visitors who can stand the thought of students spouting pseudo-philosophical nonsense in a foreign language). Cultural highlights include the Chinese Culture and Movie Center and the pride of Taiwan, the enormous National Palace Museum.
To many visitors, Zhongshan is a recreational paradise, a haven for anyone seeking an inner-city escape. To others, though, the charms of Rongxing Garden, Xisheng Park, Zhongshan Fine Arts Park and the Dajia Riverside Park pale in comparison with the underground Zhongshan Metro Shopping Mall or the many pubs and bars in the district. It’s a tough choice.Shida
Once a not-so-hotspot of mom-and-pop vendors, Shida has seen an upsurge of cool over the recent years – thanks in part to its proximity to the National Taiwan Normal University (not to be confused with the National Taiwan University). The Shida night market is smaller than its Shilin counterpart and dining is more tourist-friendly – especially after a late and alcohol-fuelled night. Try the chicken leg rice at Precious Taste and the DIY grease fix at any of the carts lining Shida Road Lane 39 – simply load up a container and hand it to the cook for deep-fried perfection.
Taipei Eat & Drink
An unfortunate side-effect of Taiwan’s Western focus is that many people in Taipei – residents and visitors alike – roam the streets with steaming polystyrene plates and takeaway containers full of either Western fast food or cheap and stinky fermented bean curd. The markets are a great snack choice, but Taipei has some of the best and most diverse food in Asia, so don’t miss it.
Tequila Sunrise High-end Mexican in Taipei City. Sounds incongruous, yet tastes divine.
Abu Authentic Cuisine Odd name, exquisite food.
Fifi From fashion designer Isabelle Wen, this is flamboyant but stylish.
L’atelier de Joel Robuchon French cuisine that already has outlets in Paris and New York. Pricey, but worth it.
Justin’s Signatures Celebrity chef Justin Quek delivers his most upscale venture yet.
Shanghai Pavilion Expansive views, expansive menu… pack expanding underwear.
Mitsui Strange as it sounds, no-one does high-end Japanese like the Taiwanese.
Silk’s House Neo-Cantonese cuisine in a chic, contemporary setting. You can’t really go past this.
Azie The ceiling is three floors high – and the food equally well presented.
Shinyeh 101 Go up a level – or 85 levels, to be precise – for dining that literally hits the heights.
A time of family reunion and fanatical celebration, the Taipei Lunar New Year Festival in January/February is an excuse for several days of unadulterated revelry. It’s followed by the six-day Lantern Festival. If you’ve never seen tens of thousands of colourful lanterns mark lit up, it’s quite a site.
The patron saint of fishermen is celebrated at Taipei’s Matsu Cultural Festival each April. But even if fishing leaves you bored stupid, the elaborate rites and festive frolics are worth seeing.
April also brings the cherry blossom-laden Yangmingshan Flower Festival, when locals celebrate the beginning of spring.
The city is a winter wonderland during October’s Taipei Hot Spring Season. Actually, ‘winter wonderland’ is a bit of an exaggeration, but the relative lack of humidity does make it the perfect time to visit the city’s surrounding mountains.
Taipei’s Golden Horse Film Festival each November/December is a local culture junkie’s wet dream, honouring Chinese language cinema.
Taipei locals dedicate one month to the ghosts at the Ghost Festival (August). Some people indulge in four days of non-stop chanting, which kind of puts trick-or-treating in perspective.
Commemorating the attempt to rescue Chinese poet Qu Yuan from drowning, the Taipei Dragon Boat Festival (late-May or early-June) features over 100 dragon boat teams from around the world.
10 October is Double Tenth National Day. Cue huge public parade, spectacular fireworks and an elaborate concert…
The Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated in Taipei with traditional moon-gazing and not-so-traditional barbeques.
When To Go
The humidity in Taipei can turn you into a sweat-soaked mess just by stepping outside, so if feeling sticky isn’t your thing, October and November are the best months to visit.
With its tropical climate, rain can be expected at any time of year. But December and January are generally the driest months.
Taipei enjoys a moderate climate, with summer highs rarely scraping 30°C and winters rarely dipping below 10°C.
What To Miss
Don’t go to Snake Alley expecting to see live snake performances – there are few, and they’re generally just sales techniques.
Cheap bean curd. It’s everywhere, but is best avoided.
The Miramar Entertainment Park Shopping Mall. Impressively big, but irritatingly generic.
Take a pen if you’re planning to catch a cab, as drivers will usually need the destination written down.
Buses are crowded and dusty, but they get around the convoluted streets quickly thanks to marked bus lanes.
Watch the fast-closing doors on the MRT subway, and double-check the map to find the closest station.
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