While hundreds of thousands of tourists from Japan, China, and Korea pour in every year to see the dozens of famous sights, Taipei remains relatively unknown in the west.However,Taipei is one of the hidden jewels of Asia. As such, many westerners stopping through Taipei aren’t sure where to start or what to see.Today I want to share some excellent sites to you.
Here are our top 10 things to do in Taipei.
Look out over the city from Taipei 101
Taipei 101 is famous worldwide both for being one of the tallest structures ever built and for it’s iconic design. Once you’re in downtown Taipei you can’t miss it, because it towers over all the other skyscrapers. It’s impressive from the outside but the real fun starts once you go inside. There’s a mall, a movie theater, an observatory, and countless restaurants. There’s more to explore and see in this one building than in some small cities. Before leaving you have to go up and see one of the many views once you get to the top floors.
Try milk tea in Shilin Night Market
Taiwan is famous for it’s night markets. If you haven’t heard of them, they’re large, at times maze-like streets packed with tourists and locals. Stands and shops line the sides of the streets, selling snacks, clothes, souvenirs, electronics, and, well, just about anything else you can imagine. Shilin is the most famous night market in Taipei, and not without good reason. You can get the best deals on the latest fashion trends in Asia, or try a ton of foods you’ve never seen before. The bravest travelers will want to try the infamous ‘stinky tofu.’ Even if you’re not that courageous, make sure to try some milk tea, it’s a local favorite!
Learn some history at the Presidential Office building
When you’re in Washington DC, you see the White House, when you’re in London, you see Buckingham Palace, and no trip to Taipei is complete without a visit to the Presidential Office Building. Both the both the literal center of government and the metaphorical representation of Taiwan’s history, the building was built under Japanese rule over 100 years ago and was built to be in the style of European buildings, but with a distinct eastern flair. Look for yourself.
While you’re there you’ll have the opportunity to learn about Taiwan’s colonial past and explore the many halls of this huge capital building.
Talk to the Daoist Gods in Longshan Temple
Taiwan has no shortage of breathtaking temples, and no temple draws more travelers every year than Longshan Temple. Located in a historical district of Taipei called the ‘old village’ Longshan Temple is over 350 years old and has been the spiritual heart of the city for decades. You’ll see monks selling flowers for good luck, a tranquil flowing waterfall, fish swimming in the lotus pond, smoke from the incense lazily rising through the air, and maybe even hear some traditional music being played by locals. While you’re there, make sure to have someone show you how to talk to the Gods in the traditional Taiwanese style, by throwing crescent wood blocks on the ground, and after you leave be sure to walk around the ‘old village’ nearby to see what Taipei looked like 100 years ago.
Take in the Grand Hotel
You’ve probably seen Chinese-style buildings before, but we can guarantee you’ve never seen one like this. The Grand Hotel is one of the tallest and largest classical Chinese buildings ever built. After Chiang Kai Shek retreated to Taiwan in 1949, he felt he needed to build a hotel that would be both large and extravagant, but also a celebration of Chinese culture, and open it to the world. In 1952, he fulfilled this ambition when he opened the Grand Hotel. To this day it remains an unrivaled icon of Chinese architecture.
Breath deep in Beitou Hot Springs
Beitou is an area in northern Taipei famous for it’s natural hot springs. During the Japanese colonial period, the Japanese, famous for their love of hot baths, cultivated the area into a series of hot springs and spas open to the public that continue to this day. Nothing is quite as relaxing as taking a warm bath in the spring water, which locals believe can heal many illnesses and physical pain. Even if you don’t have time for that, it’s worth walking through the rocky terrain just to see the mist that covers everything and gives off a unique smell. A small stream runs through the area. The stream is perpetually warm and there’s no rules against taking off your shoes, and wading in. If you follow the stream, the mist gets thicker and eventually you come to a vast lake. Don’t wade in this lake though! The water is scalding to the touch. The steam coming off the water, and the deep, greenish blue color of the water, make it unlike any lake you’ve ever seen.
Peek into the past at Lin An Tai Historical House
Look, we know you’ve always wanted to walk onto the set of a kung fu movie and karate chop the air, or maybe take a picture of yourself jumping and kicking. We can’t take you to a kung fu movie set, but we can do even better; we can take you to the real thing. Going to the Lin An Tai Historical House is a little like stepping into a time machine. Actually that’s not true. With red brick walls, octagonal windows, balconies overlooking peaceful ponds, the Lin An Tai Historical House is less like going back in time and more like stepping into fairytale. While it’s not as famous as Taipei 101 or the National Palace Museum, this historical residence is equally worth your time and has the added benefit of having fewer tourists.
Take a hike in Yangmingshan National Park
Taipei is a city that is surrounded on most sides by mountains. Once you get away from the towering skyscrapers downtown, you can almost always see the mountains off in the distance somewhere. You might wonder where the best place to spend a day hiking is. The answer is Yangmingshan national park! Getting there from Taipei can take about 45 minutes by bus, making it incredibly convenient. The park covers a mountain range and from the bus stop you can immediately start up the mountains, or just walk around enjoying the natural beauty. Visitors in mid-March are in for a special treat. That’s when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, and they’re definitely a sight to behold. Even if you’re not there during cherry blossom season, you can still enjoy the fresh air and even visit a palace that was the former residence of Chiang Kai Shek, now converted into a museum that sells local teas and tasty treats. Yangmingshan park is great both for those who want a challenging hike up the mountains and those who just want to relax in the park and sip tea. Don’t miss it!
Visit Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall
In this list we’ve mentioned Chiang Kai Shek several times and those unfamiliar with Taiwanese history might be wondering who this man is that he apparently is involved with so many different parts of Taipei’s history. Chiang Kai Shek, also called the Generalissimo by some western historians, is considered to be the father of Taiwan and oversaw the construction of Taipei as we know it in the mid-twentieth century. You don’t need us to tell you this though, you can learn for yourself at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. Easily accessible via Taipei’s public transportation, this memorial is a museum dedicated to the most celebrated figure in Taiwanese history. Comprised of three, huge buildings and a peaceful park, there’s plenty to see here and even more to learn. The buildings are an impressive sight from the outside and inside the main chamber you can take a picture in front of a two-story tall statue of the man himself. Outside there are always shops selling local art and interesting trinkets to the souvenirs and the view of the memorial on a nice day is absolutely spectacular.
See the treasures at the National Palace Museum
Speaking of Chiang Kai Shek, when he retreated to Taiwan, he didn’t come empty handed. He ordered a campaign to take all the greatest historical treasures in China at the time, and bring them to Taiwan with him. This means that the single largest collection of artifacts, nearly 700,000, from the past 10,000 years of Chinese history are ironically not located in China, but in Taipei. You can see them all for yourself at the National Palace Museum. The Museum itself is an impressively large and majestic looking building, with huge status of lions at the gate to symbolically protect the treasures inside. Next to the main building is a small park you can walk through and across from that is another building which often contains traveling collections of art and history from all over the world. Year-round you can go to the National Palace museum to see the greatest works of art from the long history of Chinese civilization, all for a surprisingly cheap price.