Taipei, the capital of the Republic of China or better known as Taiwan, is the center of the island country’s politics, economy, culture, and the arts. Taiwan is not yet known to many but those who have set their feet in this small sub-tropical country can attest to its beauty where Taipei is the main gateway.
Passport & Visa Requirements
Taiwan is very open to foreign nationals when it comes to tourism which gives most European countries together with Canada, United States, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand visa-free entry given that the holder has a passport valid at least 6 months on the date of entry except for Japan (3 months) and Unites States which only need to be valid within the duration of stay. Visitors from Turkey and Macedonia can get a visa on arrival if entering through Taoyuan Airport, otherwise, a temporary visa can be acquired from Consular Affairs office or on one of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taiwan. South East Asian countries such as Thailand, Brunei, and the Philippines can also travel to Taiwan visa-free up to 14 days (until July 31, 2019) while Singapore and Malaysia get a 30-day visa-free stay. For all the countries mentioned, a return ticket is necessary. For other countries, you can check at Taiwan’s Foreign Affairs page for more info.
There are 17 airports in Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport being the busiest and Kaohsiung International Airport in the southern tip of the island country. Taoyuan International Airport is a better entry to visit Taipei and nearby areas. While Kaoshiung is a good entry if planning to stay longer and visit the provinces first and travel through the train to Taipei.
It’s a piece of cake getting around. Bus, taxi, and train system are the main mode of transportation. Renting a car is also cheaper here compared to neighboring countries. Carpooling like Uber and Grab is also available. There’s a bus station in Taoyuan Airport that has several routes including Taipei. Also, a purple MRT line is an express option to go to the city. Both bus and train have their last rides around 12:00 am so if arriving at Taoyuan Airport later than that, the option is to take a taxi to the city.
Most attractions in the city are located within or close to metro rail transit and bus stations, but taking the train is more efficient and also very cheap and uses Easycard for payment although single journey tokens can also be bought. The city is well connected with MRT which have 5 color-coded lines (red, brown, blue, orange, and green.) There’s also MRT line that connects Taipei city to the airport with purple code. In mountainous district of Wenshan, the gondola is a fast mode of transportation to go up and also uses MRT Card. Bikes are scattered all over the city and can also be rented using Easycard.
Places to Visit
Taipei is an ultra-modern metropolis with sprawling infrastructure and yet nature and the mixed culture from Chinese and Japanese influences is ever present in every corner of the city. You’ll easily get motivated to go out of your hotel and visit the city’s popular attractions. Most of them are located within MRT’s stations, thus you’ll never get lost findings these tourist and beautiful places. Also, these attractions can easily be identified through the following 12 districts with distinct characteristics from each other. There are also free walking tours in the city like “Like It Formosa” that will introduce visitors to Taiwan’s culture and history.
This district cradles Ximending, the “Harajuku of Taipei” and the center of teenage fashion and Japanese cultural influences. Bopiliao Block bears the remnants of the Japanese colonial period and is contrasted with the modern urbanization, another interesting part of Wanhua to visit. It is also home to Longshan Temple and the iconic Red House Theater built in an odd shape. It is probably the busiest district especially at night when shopping centers are gleaming with lights and artisans grace the streets showcasing their performances, from painting to cosplay to dance.
This district is for those who love old architecture as Dihua Street is located here where Japanese colonial and Qing Dynasty buildings can be found. This is one of the oldest inhabited areas of Taipei is also a place to look for Chinese herbals and other dry goods. Taipei Confucius Temple is also located in Datong featuring Fujian-style decorations.
The center of power, Zhongzheng is where the Presidential Office is erected along with other important government offices such as Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign affairs, etc. One iconic site Zhongzheng boasts is the white-walled and blue-roofed Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, the largest Buddhist temple in Taipei, Shandao Temple and the 2/28 Peace Park that contains memorials of the victims of the February 28, 1947 incident where many were killed in a protest against the government.
Named after Dr. Sun Yat-Sen who was also known as Sun Zhongshan, this busy commercial district in the western geography of Taipei is home to wonders of art with its museums, riverside parks, and temples. Among its notable attractions are the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Lin An Tai Ancestral House, Rong Xin Garden and Xing Tian Temple.
Except being the educational center of the city cradling Taiwan’s most prominent educational institutions, Daan is also notable for its quirky boutiques and shops, concert venues near Gongguan Subway Station, and Linjiang Night Market. Linjiang better known as Tonghua Night Market is a great shopping destination as one can find many choices and has a wide selection of cheap meals and pet shops.
Being a modern financial and business district, it’s no surprise that Xinyi is the location of Taipei 101, the once highest building in the world and Taiwan iconic symbol. One can also find World Trade Center and International Convention Center here. But despite being a modern financial hub, it has a fair share when it comes in nature with its Elephant Mountain, a short hike to view a stunning skyline of the city.
Located just north of Xinyi, financial firms and institutions are in Songshan District along with various museums, riverside parks, and other cultural offices. Taipei Arena and Taipei Gymnasium are some of the most notable structures along with Songshan Airport and Raohe Street Night Market, one of Taiwan’s oldest night market.
This suburban district is famous for Yangmingshan National Park, a mountain range being shared by Shilin and this district. In Beitou, one can hike in then soak on its hot springs being fed by Geothermal Valley or Hell Valley with its steaming hot jewel-colored waters. After bathing, visitors can visit museums and temples like Beitou Hot Springs Museum and Puji Temple. Former Taiwan’s leader, Chiang Kai-Shek also had a residence in Beitou now known as the Grass Mountain Chateau.
This district which got its name from Ketagalan word “Pattsiran” or “hot springs” was home to Chiang Kai-Shek when he moved the Republic of China after the Chinese Civil War. It shares Yangmingshan National Park with Beitou. The current name “Shilin” literally means “congregation of scholars and talents” when it was renamed after many scholars passed in Imperial Examination during the Qing era. Indeed, it is at present home to many scholarly institutions and museum, one of which is the probably the most famous museum in Taiwan, the National Palace Museum. Other important sites include Shilin Paper Mill, Chiang Kai-Shek Residence, Shuangxi Park and Chinese Garden, Hwa Kang Museum among others. Shilin’s Night Market is also famous and worth a visit.
This northern city district has a name which translates as “inner lake” because of its inner lakes in Bihu and Dahu. Along with Jianmianshan and Bihu trail, it’s a great place for hiking, jogging and cycling in summer. In the spring season, Bihu Park offers a beautiful view of cherry blossoms. It also has Bishan Temple, the largest Taoist temple in the district and offers magnificent views of downtown Taipei. Spending the night at the temple is also possible by offering a donation. Lane 737 NightMarket, although not as big as Shilin or other Taipei’s night market, has a very local feeling into it.
Nangang sits south of Neihu and provides a big green area. It shares with Xinyi the magnificent Elephant Mountain. For a relaxed day, spend it on Shanshuilu Ecological Park or Nanhu Riverside Park.
The southernmost district of Taipei, Wenshan is located on a higher elevation and mostly mountainous. In the lower land, one of the largest zoon in Asia, Taipei Zoo is a popular destination especially for kids because of the giant pandas of the zoo. It is easily connected to the higher lands through Maokong Gondola, a cable car that goes up to Maokong. Many potholes can be seen in Maokong, a suburb of the district and popularly known in tea culture as it was once the biggest producer of tea in Taiwan. Tea plantations are still present in Maokong and tea, whether hot or bubbled tea can easily be enjoyed from its teahouses while having a great view of Metro Taipei.
Other attractions in Wenshan includes Xianjiyan hiking trail, famous for the supposed footprint left by Lu Dongbin, a Taoist deity, Zhinan and Cihui Temple with their great view of Danshui River, Guanyinshan and Taipei Basin, Zhangshan Temple hiking trail with its view if Taipei 101, Ergeshan for it trail that goes up to Taipei county borders with occasional monkeys along the way and Riverside Park, for a relaxed stroll.
Other Places To Visit Near Taipei
There are many places to visit outside Taipei that can be visited within the day. One doesn’t have to spend the night in these areas as they are a short distance away from the city and many travel agencies offer tours for a reasonable price. These places include Yehliu Geopark with magnificent rock formations, the mountain town of Jiufen with its old streets and teahouses, Huotong Cat Village where cats are everywhere even in its train station, and Shifen Old Street where one can fly a hot air balloon with written wishes.
Where To Stay
Each district offers a unique experience when it comes to accommodation and its neighborhood. From busy the district of Wanhua, the more traditional Zhongshan or quiet Daan, and other districts, anyone can find a place that will suit with different needs and personalities. While hotels offer luxury and more privacy, hostels are not bad too. Being a budget traveler, I always opt for hostels. In Taipei, most hostels are decent and clean offering laundromats, hot shower, basic toiletries, wi-fi, and comfortable bed. Here’s a quick look at what districts have to offer:
Mid-Range and Budget Hostels – Daan, Ximending (Wanhua), and Zhongzheng
High End and Boutique Hotels – Ximending, Shilin, Daan, and Songshan
Luxury Shopping Center – Xinyi, and Songshan
Budget and Various Item Shopping – Ximending, Zhongzheng, Shilin, and Daan
History and Culture – Ximending, Zhongzheng, Zhongshan, Shilin, Songshan, and Wenshan
Nature Experience – Shilin, Daan, Nangan, Neihu, and Wenshan
Family Friendly Attractions – Daan, Wenshan, and Zhongzheng
Adventure Seekers and Couples – Ximending, Songshan, Xinyi, Zhongshan, Neihu, and Shilin
What & Where To Eat
Taiwanese food combines Chinese and Japanese influences creating a subtle and distinct flavor. Everywhere you go there’s always something to munch on whether on a humble cart beside the street in a table in a fine dining restaurant. Aside from checking out the neighborhood and spotting crowded eateries, the best way to sample Taiwanese food especially in Taipei is to stroll in the city’s several night markets. While fine dining restaurants around the city offer fancy or fusion cuisines, night markets, and street-side eateries prepare and sell Taiwanese dishes on its purest Taiwanese way of cooking allowing every visitor to have a taste adventure.
This salty, sweet and aromatic pork sausage with smoky char flavor from grilling is very popular in Taiwan that it can be found in almost anywhere be it in Taipei or other night markets or while hiking on small kiosks. Sausage is a very popular snack in Taiwan that an equally delicious authentic Taiwanese snack is made out of it wrapped in sticky rice and is called “small sausage in large sausage.” Munching on this freshly grilled treat is perfect while strolling Maokong and enjoying the view of Taipei and the weather.
Baobing or Tsuabing is a shaved ice dessert popular in Taiwan. This sweet concoction is made by adding different toppings and sugar syrup in a bowl of shaved ice. Condense milk is also added but with or without milk, the toppings are so good as it is. Popular toppings include red beans, taro balls, tapioca balls, soy pudding, mango among others. Fancy variations can be found in restaurants but those in nights markets like Shilin and old streets like Jiufen are equally delicious and feels more authentic.
Bubble Tea/Pearl Milk Tea
A visit to Taipei or Taiwan is not complete without sampling the popular drink which originally came in this magnificent country. Bubble tea is traditionally made of black tea, milk, sugar syrup, and black tapioca pearls but nowadays a wide array of flavors from fruit infused green teas to black pearl milk tea. Bubble Tea shops are sprawling all over the city and sampling either from Yi Fang Fruit Tea, Presotea, Chun Shui Tang, KQ Tea, Xing Fu Tang or Coco among others wouldn’t be disappointing. In Maokong, enjoying the view of downtown Taipei from Maokong Station’s observatory is even better with bubble tea and “Maokong Cha Wu” which literally means Maokong Tea House.
This signature Taiwanese food blends the traditional Chinese pastry with sweet, tangy and tart jam made with tropical fruit pineapple for its filling. Anywhere in Taipei or Taiwan, from supermarkets to bakeries, it is always available. Pineapple cake making is also part is some tours offered in Taipei like the Jiufen-Houtong-Shifen tour where tourists visit San Shu Gong Food Co. Ltd and sample their product while being toured around the factory and then make their own pineapple cake. While it’s baking, guests can check out the products in their store that are a popular gift to bring home.
Beef Noodle Soup
Another popular dish in Taipei and the rest of Taiwan is the beef noodle soup. This steamy, rich, and savory is broth is served with traditional handmade noodles has become world famous and given the title “the national dish.” You can sample it small restaurants like Niu Kung Kuan in Ximen, Bu Tai Yang Tang Bao in Wanhua or in the much famous restaurants like Din Tai Fung (which is also famous for Xiao Long Bao). A bowl can cost around USD 2 to 15 or maybe the sample the USD 325 bowl from Niu Baba in Neihu District.
Duck Blood Soup with Pig Intestine
Duck blood is a common ingredient in Taiwanese cuisine. And its complex but good tasted is perfect in a stew after a walk in a cold night or any given day. One type of duck blood stew in Linjiang Night Market is cooked with stinky tofu and comes with or without chilies. The broth is rich, thick and peppery which is distinctly palatable.
This famous food from Taiwan have a bad reputation for its smell but is actually very good. I first had it with stew and then fried with pickled cabbage in Linjiang Night Market, both smelled strong with the fried version stronger but for me, it doesn’t smell bad at all. It smelled like any other fermented food and has a sharp flavor to it that’s quite delightful.
A truly incredible city, one can never get short of the experience that Taipei has to offer. It is modern and on trend with efficient technology and system yet it is one of the cheapest cities in Asia to spend your money with. And despite being super modern, the culture and history are solid and very much present, there are lots to learn on every corner of the city. Taipei has it all that is to give to anyone who wants adventure and fun holiday! Just like in an article I’ve read before, it truly is an easy piece of Asia.