Read more about Taiwan
Before you go…
Taiwan is a memorable destination for everyone regardless of language or travel experience. You don’t have to worry about speaking Chinese. Most major destinations have translated everything into English for you. Brochures at almost every location are offered in all major languages too. Don’t know what weather to pack for? In Summer, it’s hot and humid while in winter it’s colder and humid. Regardless of what you bring, Taipei sells most major clothing brands in case the endless trendy clothing stores at the night markets aren’t quite your style. Now that you’re out of excuses, let’s help you conquer you the Taiwan checklist, all without straying too far from the Capital city of Taipei.
Explore A Night Market
If Taiwan could only be famous for one thing, it would be for its delicious night markets. They are densely scattered throughout the city, each with its own specialties and famous bites, snacks, and dishes. There are a handful of larger ones but you’ll learn quickly that size doesn’t matter in Taiwan. Each night market has more to offer than meets the eye. When you’re not sure where to begin or how to order, just stand in a long line- it’s the local trick that always works and guides you to the most delicious and favorite local dishes. In a rush? The easiest to find of Taiwan’s must try night market snacks are xiao long bao (savory meat in a rich steamed bun) and onion pancake (not what you think).
Visit A Temple
Taipei’s temples are welcoming and plentiful. While each is dedicated to a specific god, in most you’ll be able to experience the diverse and religious tolerance of Taiwanese culture. One of Taipei’s most famous temples, Longshan Temple, is dedicated to Guan-yin (the Goddess of Mercy), but is home to 25+ other gods and deities! You can pray to meet your soulmate to the City God, Taiwan’s equivalent of “Cupid”, at his temple just at the south end of the ancient- market styled Dihua street. Confucius temple and Baoan are two temples of completely different styles right next to each other! If you’d like to experience temples away from huge crowds, try going on a weekend. You can also leave the city center entirely and go north to the stunning temples, like Bishan, in the Neihu hills or ride the MRT southeast to the end of the brown line and visit the various mountain-side Taoist temples at Maokong.
Visit a Museum
You can learn about Taiwan’s inevitable obsession with hot springs at Beitou Hot spring Museum, then take a dip for yourself at the inexpensive (and usually crowded) public hot spring. One of Taipei’s top destinations is the enormous National Palace Museum. It has so many artifacts, in fact, that every three months they rotate out entire exhibits. The displays have English and personal audio guides are offered in most languages. It’s a popular spot, so popular in fact that I recommend going after 16:30 every day when the tour groups clear out and the ticket is 100 NTD cheaper. The Fine Arts museum is a gem just on the other side of the river with discounts for students. It’s good to consider that most museums have discounted hours in the event you’re passing through and don’t have time to dedicate a few hours to each one. The National Taiwan Museum, for example, located within the beautiful Peace Park, is free for the last 30 minutes of every day.
Take a Hike
Coming from the cement desert that is Los Angeles, it was a literal breath of fresh air to come to Taiwan to experience the dense greenery that you can experience even in the city. There are hikes available for all skill levels that offer incredibly beautiful views. Elephant mountain, just inside the city center, offers a must-see view of the city skyline day or night. South of the city one can find endless trails for rock scrambling and waterfall sightings. Yangmingshan National Park and it’s surrounding areas offer hikers half day and full day hikes that start in one neighboring city and end in another. The beginnings of almost all of the trails are accessible by public transportation.
Take a Half-Day Trip
If you want to say that you truly know the city of Taipei, you should explore just outside the main city limits and do one of its frequented half-day trips. Using public transportation and in just under an hour, foreigners and Taipei locals alike can discover the quirky characteristics of its neighboring cities. In Keelung, Visit Jiu fen, the city with a gold mining past built into the side of a mountain that inspired the big red glowing lanterns and other scenes in spirited away. Keelung is also home to one of Taiwan’s most famous night markets. Ride the MRT Red 5 north to the end to the old port of Tamsui to get a glimpse of Taiwan’s colonized past.
Taiwan is a perfect destination for tourists and off-the-beaten-path travelers alike. It provides clear maps with its most visited destinations at every store. A few days in Taipei is enough for you to do every single one of the things on the Taiwan must do list. If you have more time you can lavish in the countless opportunities to relax and appreciate the slower-paced lifestyle of Taiwanese people. If you have so much time that you don’t know what to do next (not likely), then the incredibly friendly people of Taiwan will guide you in the right direction.
So, finally, The top 5 things you must do if you visit Taipei;
- Explore a night market
- Visit a temple
- Visit a museum
- Take a hike
- Take a half day trip
Discover understanding in Taiwan.
Featured image; Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall, one of Taipei’s top destinations. Photo by Ana Varela