The Ultimate Travel Guide: Taipei
Marking the capital of the industrial Taiwanese powerhouse, this modern, progressive city is known for more than just its night markets and temples. The city houses the cultural crucible of the nation and acts as the conduit through which many have come before.
Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, or an adventure seeker, Taipei has it all! Along with the city’s modern infrastructure, efficient transportation systems, and friendly locals, there’s little wonder why Taipei regularly tops the list of the safest and most livable cities on Earth!
So in that case, here’s a guide on everything you need to know about travelling in Taipei!
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A Brief Introduction to Taipei
Much like the entirety of Taiwan, Taipei has a turbulent history of colonization, frequent political transitions, and booming economic growth.
The region was first inhabited by the indigenous Ketagalan tribe before it came under the control of the colonizing Spanish in 1626. The Spanish were then replaced by the Dutch in 1642 who later renamed the area “Taipei,” translated as “northern terrace.”
Soon enough in 1661, the Chinese Ming loyalist Koxinga defeated the Dutch and established the Kingdom of Tungning with Taipei as its capital. However, this wouldn’t last either as the Ming rulers were later ousted by the Qing Dynasty in 1683.
Taiwan was then handed over to the Japanese in 1895 following the First Sino-Japanese War. This is when the city first underwent significant modernization and urbanization. Yet, this rule wouldn’t last either, as Taiwan was returned to Chinese control in 1945 following Japan’s defeat in World War II.
Taiwan would have its last significant transition in 1949 after a brutal Chinese civil war forced the then-ruling Republic of China government to relocate to the island and establish Taipei as its capital. Quite a story!
Modern Day Taiwan
The capital saw major growth during the late 19th century when it quickly became a centre of commerce with the construction of railways and the opening of a nearby port.
Taipei expanded further during the 1960s-70s as the government enacted a policy of export-oriented industrialization. As a result, this tiny island finds itself as the 21st biggest economy in the world and regularly tops the list of the most liveable and safest cities on Earth!
Where Is Taipei?
Taipei, officially known as Taipei City, serves as the capital and a special municipality of Taiwan (Republic of China).
The city is placed in Northern Taiwan in a region known as Taipei Basin, which is the remnants of an ancient lakebed. As such, the city is surrounded on all sides by rolling mountain ranges and narrow valleys only broken by the snaking Keelung and Xindian rivers.
How to Get to Taipei
The island nation of Taiwan and its capital is relatively easy to access both internationally and domestically.
Sadly, flights are the only option for international arrivals, though there are a number of options for domestic travel.
Getting to Taipei by Flight
Getting to Taipei by flight is relatively easy and convenient, as the city has two major airports: Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport and Taipei Songshan Airport.
Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport is the primary airport for international flights to Taipei. There are numerous routes available from Asia, Europe, Oceania and North America. Though it is located about 40 km west of the city centre, it’s still accessible by several transportation options, including the Airport MRT.
Taipei Songshan Airport is used for more domestic flights and a few short international routes such as from China, Japan and South Korea. As it’s located right in the heart of the city, it’s by far the most accessible of the two airports.
Getting From the Airport to Taipei City Centre
Luckily for new arrivals, Taipei Songshan Airport is placed in the city itself and has a subway and bus station directly next to it. Thus, getting to the city centre couldn’t be easier.
If you’re travelling from Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, then you also have a number of options.
Airport MRT to Taipei City Centre
Taking the Airport MRT is by far the most convenient option. The train runs every 10-15 minutes and takes about 35-40 minutes to reach Taipei Main Station at the centre of the city.
You can purchase a ticket at the airport or use an EasyCard to pay for your fare.
Bus to Taipei City Centre
There are several bus services that run between Taoyuan Airport and Taipei city centre. The most popular services are Kuo-Kuang Bus and UBus.
Trips take about an hour to reach Taipei Main Station and cost around NT$125.
Taxi to Taipei City Centre
Taxis are readily available at the airport and can take you to Taipei city centre in about 40-50 minutes. The fare varies depending on the time of day, but it usually costs around NT$1,200-1,500.
Getting to Taipei by Train
Taiwan has an extensive railway network that connects major cities and towns across the island and is one of the most popular and convenient options.
There are two major train stations to choose from Taipei – Taipei Main Station and Songshan Station, which can be found on either side of the city centre.
There are several types of trains to choose from, including local and high-speed rail. You can purchase your train ticket at the station or online.
Getting to Taipei by High-Speed Rail
The favoured and most comfortable way to get to Taipei is by taking the high-speed rail (HSR). The railway connects all major cities along the East Coast including Taoyuan, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung.
The HSR trains are modern and comfortable, with spacious seats, air-conditioning, and free Wi-Fi. It’s recommended to purchase your tickets in advance, especially during peak travel periods.
Getting to Taipei by Conventional Trains (TRA)
Taiwan also operates conventional trains which are divided into three categories: local, regional, and express.
Local trains stop at every station and are the slowest, while express trains only stop at major cities and are the fastest. Regional trains fall somewhere in between, making stops at both major and minor stations.
Unlike the HSR trains, these conventional trains also travel down the west coast to places such as Yilan, Hualien and Taitung.
Getting to Taipei by Bus
Taipei is well-connected by bus to other major cities in Taiwan. Kuo-Kuang Bus and Ubus are the main operators and run from most destinations across the country.
How to Get Around Taipei
Public transport in Taipei is fast, convenient and cheap! By using a combination of subways, buses, train lines and taxis, it’s easy to access anywhere in the city!
Getting Around Taipei by Subway
Taipei’s subway system, also known as the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit), is an efficient and convenient way to travel within the city.
The system is made up of 6 main lines that connect all parts of the city. Trains run every 3-8 minutes, depending on the time of day and function until about 1 am across the city.
Tickets can be bought individually or by using an EasyCard (more on this below). A single journey ride starts from NT$20 to NT$65 (depending on the distance). You can also buy one-day passes at each station’s service counter for NT$150.
Getting Around Taipei by Bus
Taipei has an extensive bus network that covers most areas of the city. The buses are affordable, and the fares are based on the distance travelled.
You can also use an EasyCard to pay for your bus fare or pay individually. Buses are charged by zones, with one-zone tickets starting at NT$15; Two-segments, NT$30; Three-segments, NT$45. Most journeys stay within one zone.
Getting Around Taipei by Taxi
Taxis in Taipei are relatively cheap compared to most countries. The price depends on several factors including the distance travelled and the time of day.
The base fare for a taxi ride is NT$70, which covers the first 1.25 kilometres. After that, the fare increases by NT$5 for every additional 250 meters travelled.
During rush hour or late at night, there may be additional surcharges added to the fare, and toll fees may also be added.
Transportation is very convenient in Taiwan. To make things easier for travellers and locals alike, public transportation can be paid for with a discount by using an EasyCard.
This highly practical transport card works for transportation throughout Taiwan. It serves the MRT in Taipei, Taoyuan and Kaohsiung as well as public buses in Taipei, New Taipei City, Keelung, Taichung, Yilany, Matsu and Tainan.
EasyCards can also be used to pay for taxis, ferries, TRA trains, supermarkets, YouBikes and convenience stores. These cards can be bought in any major convenience store, including 7-Eleven, FamilyMart, Hi-Life, or OK Mart. They can also be topped up at those stores too as well as subway stations.
By using this card in Taichung, any bus journey less than 10km will be free.
What Is There to See in Taipei?
Towering above the city’s skyline, this monumental skyscraper has become the defining image of Taiwan and Taipei alike! The elegant bamboo-like structure was completed in 2004, it held the title of the world’s tallest building until the Burj Khalifa in Dubai surpassed it in 2010.
Inside you’ll find a shopping mall, a food court, and a variety of restaurants along with its most famous feature, its external damper, which is designed to counteract the building’s movement during earthquakes and high winds. And of course, be sure to check out the observation decks on the 88th, 89th, and 91st floors.
Located in the historic Wanhua district, Longshan Temple is considered the most significant temple in Taipei if not the whole country! The temple was originally built in 1738 by some of the first settlers from Fujian province in China, making it one of the oldest temples in the city.
Inside you’ll come across stunning architecture and intricate decorations, which combine elements of traditional Chinese and Taiwanese styles. The temple itself consists of numerous halls and shrines dedicated to different deities. Some of the most revered deities are Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, and Mazu, the goddess of the sea.
For a detailed guide on Taiwanese temples, check out The Ultimate Guide to Taiwanese Temples.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
In 1949, the Republic of China’s government retreated from their Chinese homeland to the island of Taiwan in the midst of a bloody civil war against the communist party. The R.O.C. went on to establish their own nation, with the party’s leader Chiang Kai-shek serving as Taiwan’s first president from 1949 to 1975.
Today, his reputation is a source of controversy. While some see him as a national hero, others consider him to be a brutal dictator. Regardless, one thing is for certain, they built quite a dedication in his honour!
The large, white, octagonal memorial hall was built to honour his positive attributes and to showcase his life and achievements. It’s also somewhere you’ll be able to witness the changing of the guard ceremony.
Being an ancient lake bed, Taipei is surrounded by vast mountain ranges on each side. Some have such a reputation, they’ve come to be known as the Four Beasts Trails. Those include Lion Mountain, Leopard Mountain, Tiger Mountain, and the most iconic of all, Elephant Mountain.
Also known as Xiangshan, Elephant Mountain is the favoured hiking trail in Taipei. Little wonder why, as it provides an immense panoramic view of the city’s skyline!
Once you’ve completed the relatively short trail, you’ll have the best possible view of Taipei 101 along with Taipei City Hall and Taipei Songshan Airport nearby. Not to mention the real beauty when the sun begins to set!
Songshan Ciyou Temple
Taipei has a fair few temples along its streets, but none are striking as this! Considered one of the most significant temples in the city, this Taoist temple and its multi-tiered structure are by far the most photogenic!
It was built in the 18th century by yet more immigrants from Fujian and is dedicated to the god Yuesheng, who is believed to protect people from disasters and bring good fortune. With its stunning ornate designs and colourful figures throughout, it’s a beautiful introduction to the faith of the city.
It also finds itself at the entrance to Raohe Night Market (one of the best in the city), making it the perfect spot for any tourist to visit!
Beitou Hot Springs
Located just on the outskirts of the city, Beitou is a popular district known for its iconic natural hot springs that are said to have therapeutic benefits. The hot springs are the result of the geothermal activity that still remains beneath the surface, which made a popular hangout spot for centuries!
The area comes with a number of hot spring resorts, ranging from public baths to luxurious private rooms. Even better, you can explore the spot fit for a superhero origin story at Beitou Thermal Valley – a volcanic crater filled with steaming hot radioactive water!
Want to explore Beitou? Check out The Ultimate Travel Itinerary: Beitou in 1 Day!
Yangmingshan National Park
Continuing with our volcanic theme, further north of the Beitou district you’ll find one of the most geothermally active regions in the country!
Revered for its natural beauty, Yangmingshan National Park is filled with stunning natural scenery, mountain ranges and of course, natural hot springs. There are even active sulfur vents that spew steam regularly into the air! Also, be sure to check out the 20-meter-high Qixing Waterfall.
National Palace Museum
At the latter end of the Chinese civil war, it wasn’t just the R.O.C government that found its way to Taiwan! Many of the treasured items that were once housed in the Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing were moved to the island to ensure their safety!
Today, the National Palace Museum’s collection includes over 700,000 items, including jade carvings, bronze vessels, calligraphy and paintings, and rare books detailing imperial China’s ancient past. It is considered one of the greatest Chinese cultural treasures and as such attracts millions of visitors every year.
There’s more than one way to explore the fascinating mountainscapes that surround the city! On Taipei’s southern end, a spectacular gondola takes you deep into the mountains of Maokong, an area known for its stunning tea plantations.
The area has become a popular tourist hotspot with its beautiful mountain views and numerous hiking trails. But above all, many stay for a drink and a bite to eat in one of the many teahouses set up along the edge of the mountain.
Often called the “Harajuku of Taipei,” in reference to the trendy district in Tokyo, Ximending is a bustling district in Taipei known as the favoured spot amongst the city’s youth. From hosting a healthy selection of independent stores and regular street performances, it’s also one of the liveliest places in Taipei!
The highlight for visitors and locals alike is the pedestrianized shopping area which has a gathering of shops, restaurants, cafes, and street vendors.
Taipei Confucius Temple
In the melting pot of Taiwanese culture, there are three main religions practised in the country – Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. The latter is a form of religion dedicated to the teaching of the Chinese philosopher Confucius. As you may be able to tell, these temples have a far more humble design!
This temple was first built in 1879 during the Qing Dynasty and features iconic Confucian design elements such as red-painted walls, intricate roof designs, and elaborate wood carvings. The temple’s main hall is where the statue of Confucius is housed, and it is surrounded by a courtyard with stone tablets that contain the names of Confucius’ disciples.
Huashan 1914 Creative Park
Located on the grounds of a former Japanese-era winery, the Huashan 1914 Creative Park has now been repurposed into a one-stop-shop of culture and arts.
Within are a number of art exhibitions and performance spaces, that showcase concerts, film screenings, and numerous art exhibitions. To go along with all that, there are also a bunch of shops, cafes, and restaurants for you to meander through.
Dedicated to Xingtian, the God of War, this stunning temple is one of the more popular in the city. It’s also one of the more modern having only been built in 1967.
Much like every other temple in Taiwan, people come to Xingtian for a specific purpose, typically to pray for good fortune, success in business, or protection from harm. If you arrive at the perfect time, you’ll be able to capture many of the resident workers reading their scriptures at the front of the courtyard.
Situated at the mouth of the Tamsui River, this little port city once played a very important role in Taipei’s history!
This little area became a vital centre of trade during the Qing Dynasty and brought Taipei to the forefront of modernisation. There’s also a fully-preserved Spanish fort (San Domingo) overlooking the bay, which later became a British consulate!
Today, however, all remnants of colonial rule have disappeared, leaving behind a quaint little tourist destination known for its scenic waterfront area, traditional foods and iconic Fisherman’s Wharf.
Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall
The long storied history of the Republic of China began back across the water. Sun Yat-sen, a Chinese revolutionary, is considered the father of the R.O.C as he played a key role in the overthrow of the Qing dynasty. Due to his vast importance to Taiwan’s tale, a memorial hall was built in his honour!
It was completed in 1972 and serves as a cultural centre and a venue for various events and exhibitions that showcase the life and accomplishments of Sun Yat-sen. The hall also stands amongst a large courtyard and luscious gardens that make it a joy to walk through.
Bopiliao Old Street
Located in the Wanhua District of Taipei, this is a true step back in time. The well-preserved architecture of the Qing Dynasty era neighbourhoods is a beautiful representation of 18th-century Taipei!
The streets were once a bustling commercial centre and housed many important government offices and businesses. These unique buildings showcase a tapestry of the city’s history with its varying architectural styles, from Fujianese to Western influences.
Many of the buildings have now been restored and contain quaint little museums, art galleries, cafes, and shops selling traditional handicrafts.
228 Peace Memorial Park
The 228 Incident began on February 27, 1947, when Taiwanese citizens protested against the Chinese Nationalist government, which had recently taken control of Taiwan from Japan. The protests soon escalated into a political uprising that sadly became a massacre resulting in the deaths of thousands of Taiwanese citizens.
The park features several memorials and monuments dedicated to the victims of the 228 Incident, including a wall of remembrance, and a monument inscribed with the names of the victims.
Though it’s not all doom and gloom! The monuments themselves stand amongst a tranquil park that’s surrounded by pristine lakes, walking paths, and several gardens.
Where to Stay in Taipei?
The monumental capital of Taipei has a wide variety of districts that would make great places to stay. That being said, there are still some favoured spots.
This previously mentioned district is known as the youth centre and modern centre of the city. With a collection of independent stores, night markets and plenty of bars to choose from, it’s a great spot to set up camp.
Being as its the youthful centre, you can also find many budget hostels in the area!
This centrally-located district is well connected and has plenty of tourist needs nearby in the form of accommodation and restaurants. It is also the perfect spot to explore the rest of the city and even to travel further out of it.
Though it may be a little outside of the normal tourist districts, it’s certainly a breath of fresh air compared to the rest of the city. The tranquillity and vast park make it a much more peaceful spot.
The aforementioned district is a little getaway within the city! Just a short MRT ride away and you’re in the pristine valleys surrounded by soothing hot springs and forest-covered mountains.
It may be a little inconvenient to keep travelling back and forth from the district, but certainly one of the more relaxed spots you could choose.
What to Eat in Taipei
Taipei is a city of food lovers! Amongst its streets are a vast selection of eateries’ from world-class Michelin restaurants to mouth-watering local joints. Not to mention the immense amount of night markets and their amazing snacks!
As such, there is an immense selection of dishes worth trying. Including…
Beef Noodle Soup
A favoured amongst locals in Taiwan, beef noodle soup is a hearty and flavorful dish made with tender beef, noodles, and vegetables, and it is often served with a spicy and savoury broth.
The dish originated in China’s Shaanxi province and was brought to Taiwan by Chinese immigrants. It has since become a staple of Taiwanese cuisine and can be found in many restaurants and food stalls throughout the country.
Xiao Long Bao
Though the dish originated in Shanghai, China, they have been taken to a whole new level here in Taiwan!
Xiao Long Bao are a type of steamed dumpling that are filled with ground pork other, crab meat or vegetables. Yet by far, the highlight of the dish is the flavorful soup or broth that’s contained within.
One of the favoured dishes amongst locals, the unusual take on a classic omelette has the addition of starch and fresh oysters along with classic extras of spring onions or bean sprouts.
It certainly differs from a typical omelette with its combination of crispy on the outside and soft, gooey centre!
Lu Rou Fan
If ever was there comfort in a bowl, this would be it! Found from local eateries to hotel breakfast buffets, this is a true Taiwanese staple!
Lu Rou Fan consists of pork belly braised in a combination of soy sauce, rice wine, and spices until tender and served over white rice. Simple yet hits the spot every time! A few extras may be added in the form of a hard-boiled egg, pickled vegetables, or chopped scallions. Either way, the braised pork is the real star of the show.
Another Taiwanese Staple, this breakfast dish is one that’s enjoyed throughout the day!
This is essentially Taiwan’s version of a savoury crepe with a variety of ingredients added within including scallions, pickles, vegetables, meat, or seafood. Though for a real mouth-watering experience, I recommend my personal favourite – bacon and cheese!
It is then folded or rolled up and served hot with a variety of condiments such as soy sauce, chilli sauce, or sesame oil.
Is Taiwan’s early morning meal the best? Find out by reading Does Taiwan Have the World’s Best Breakfast?
From a Taiwanese crepe to a Taiwanese hamburger! Otherwise known as a pork belly bun, this original take uses a fluffy steamed bun and combines it with braised pork belly and pickled mustard greens.
Though, just like with dan bing, there can be a vast variety of flavour options depending on the store and your own personal taste. Little wonder why it’s a favoured snack in night markets!
This quirky world-sweeping trend started right here in Taiwan! Bubble tea, otherwise known as boba tea, is a unique drink that typically contains tea, milk, sugar, chewy tapioca balls or other jelly-like toppings.
It comes in a variety of flavours, including black tea, green tea, fruit tea, and milk tea, and can be served hot or cold. You’ll find it everywhere from night markets, restaurants, 7/11s and even a variety of chain stores throughout the country.
Want to learn more about bubble tea? Check out What is Bubble Tea? The Rise of a Global Trend.
There is not an institution more beloved in Taiwan than night markets! From the bright lights of Taipei to the indigenous tribes of Lanyu, Taiwan has a wonderful habit of congregating some mouth-watering street food.
They typically operate from when the sun goes down to later at night and can be found in urban areas or near tourist attractions. They offer a wide variety of street snacks, from traditional Taiwanese dishes to international cuisine.
Night markets also function as a one-stop shop with a range of stores and vendors selling everything from clothes to electronics. You might even catch a live performance or try your hand at some carnival games!
Taipei has a fair number of night markets to choose from. So here are some of the best!
Shilin Night Market
Shilin Night Market is one of the most famous and largest night markets in Taipei!
Amongst the winding streets is a diverse selection of vendors and independent stores selling anything and everything you could imagine! Be sure to try the night market’s most famous item, shaved ice, which comes in a variety of flavours and toppings, including fresh fruit, condensed milk, and sweet beans.
Raohe Night Market
Raohe Night Market is another famous night market known for its long history, lively atmosphere, and delicious food. Though it may be smaller than Shilin Night Market, in the eyes of many, it’s still the best!
One of the highlights of Raohe Night Market is the traditional Chinese archway that welcomes visitors. Not to mention the iconic Songshan Ciyou Temple right beside it!
For some specialities, make sure you try the pork pepper buns right by the entrance and another Taiwanese classic, stinky tofu, known for its overpowering odour.
Huaxi Night Market
Huaxi Night Market, also known as Snake Alley, is a unique night market located in the Wanhua District. Not only does it offer a wide variety of typical night market treats, but it has one unique speciality – snake meat!
From snake soup and fried snake meat to glassfuls of blood and venom, there are plenty of serpent delicacies to enjoy. If that doesn’t take your fancy, how about some turtle meat, bull penis, or deer antler velvet?
Want to learn more about Snake Alley’s speciality? Check out The Ultimate Travel Plan: Eating Snakes in Taipei’s Snake Alley.
Ningxia Night Market
Ningxia Night Market may be smaller than its counterparts, but it still has some equally delicious food to try!
Hence its smaller nature, you’ll have the peace and tranquillity to move amongst each stall trying a variety of Taiwanese classics. Those include oyster omelettes, pig’s blood cake, and sticky rice.
Tonghua Night Market
Tonghua Night Market is a bustling night market located in the Da’an district. Due to its proximity to some local universities, the night market has a great focus on affordable shopping!
Here you’ll find vendors selling everything from clothing and accessories to electronics and souvenirs. It also gathers a number of street performers and live music blasts on the daily. As such, it makes it one of the liveliest and hippest night markets in the city.
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