I didn’t have any plans to go to Taiwan. It was a spur of the moment idea (the first time I’ve let Skyscanner decide where I should take a holiday). Obviously the first thing I needed to do after I booked my ticket was make an itinerary of things to do in Taipei.
You know, heading to the observatory of Taipei 101, enjoying some bubble tea and heading to the night markets of the city…
The problem was Google wasn’t giving me any easy answers. There were lots of things I knew I wanted to do, which weren’t turning up on any lists of “things to do in Taipei.” In an effort to make it easier for you to arrange your trip to Taipei I decided to write this list of the best things to do around the city. Let’s get started.
1. Free 4-Hour Pass to the Sightseeing Bus
The thing I love about travelling is the random encounters. “Do you know about the free tourist bus?” the woman asked me.
Free bus? I was planning to pay for it 😀 “Nope, but I’m interested.”
Turns out that the local government has a special offer for people visiting Taipei, which is quite cool. You can get a free 4-hour ticket around the city on the tourist bus. All you need to do to claim your ticket is go to the information desk at the main bus station and give them a copy of your plane ticket to Taipei (so don’t throw it away) and your passport.
The tourist bus has two routes around the city (the red and the blue). It’s a hop on hop off service. The routes take about 90 minutes each. It’s a good way to get your bearings and catch the main tourist sites around the city.
2. Taipei 101
The Taipei 101 World Trade Centre is iconic. Going to the observatory at the top of the building is the classic thing to do in Taipei. The observation deck takes up the top five floors of the building and the views are pretty great.
It’s easy to get to Taipei 101; just head for Taipei 101 Station on the red line of the underground metro. You can buy a ticket to the viewing platform. There’s an underground entrance to the observation tower just in front of the building. It looks like it should head to to the MRT.
3. National Palace Museum
I’m a big history geek so the National Palace Museum was top of my list of things to do in Taipei. The Museum is the last stop on the blue line on the sightseeing bus. It’s designed to look like an old Chinese Palace on a hill with potentially beautiful views. Unfortunately they built some ugly 1950’s style tower blocks just in front of the Museum.
The view is not so important though as the Museum is all about the exhibitions (and they are amazing). There are three floors of history with thousands of antiques covering everything from intricate metalwork using gold and precious gems through to jade ornaments and beautiful calligraphy. In terms of the collection it’s an instant hit. However…
The National Palace Museum is a real hodge podge collection. The layout is confusing and I was constantly doubling back on myself just in case I missed something. It’s also pretty exhausting. By the third floor I felt like I was overwhelmed and flashing past the exhibitions with barely a glance at the artwork. While it is amazing I think the museum would benefit from a less is more approach to exhibiting the collection.
4. Chiang Kai Shek Memorial
The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial is the Central Park of Taipei. The centerpiece of the square is the memorial, which is dedicated to the first President of Taiwan. It’s big enough to make any megalomaniac proud and is supposed to represent peace and unity, which is an interesting sentiment if you know a bit about the guy.
At the opposite end of the square to the main memorial you’ll find the National Concert Hall and the National Theater. The buildings face each other and the design is in the same grand high Chinese style that you’d find in the old city in Beijing.
5. See What’s Going on in Taipei
When I visited the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial I stumbled into an exhibition by Tatsuya Tanaka (he makes miniature designs). It was one of the highlights of my time in Taipei, but I could have easily missed it. So…
If you’re looking for things to do in Taipei check out what’s happening when you’re visiting. I stumbled on this site. It’s run by an Australian who’s living in Taiwan. She seems to publish monthly lists of events, exhibitions and other things happening around the city.
6. Hike the Elephant Mountain Trail
Every city has an Instagram point. That Kodak moment where you want to capture that perfect shot. For Taipei that place is probably the viewpoint from the top of the Elephant Mountain Trail. As you can see from the photo you get great views over the city and Taipei 101.
To get to the Elephant Trail first go to Taipei 101 Station on the red metro line. Take the second exit from the station and just follow the signs to the Elephant Trail (just use Google Maps). It’s an easy 30-minute hike. I recon the best time to visit is actually sunrise, however sunset is the more popular time. Be ready for a sweaty hike to the top and long queues for the photo points.
7. Take the Maokong Gondola
Sometimes it’s nice to just get away from it all and surround yourself with nature. On the hills on the outskirts of the city you’ll find the Maokong Tea Houses. It’s the perfect place to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city (you also get some great views as well).
The most tourist friendly way to reach the hills is on the Gondola. Take the metro to the National Zoo, which is the last station on the brown line. From there just follow the signs to the Gondola. It costs TWD 240 per person for a return ticket. There are some restaurants, temples and tea houses. I went to Red Wood House. It’s a nice café with gorgeous views overlooking the city.
8. Explore the City at Night
One of my favorite things to do in Taipei is just walking around in the evening (it’s also a nice way to fill your tummy). Taipei has a great food culture. One of the best ways to experience it, and see the diversity of the food on offer, is to explore the food markets. There are several large markets around the city. There are several night markets around the city like Raohe Night Market and Ningxia Night Market. You can find a list of all the night markets here.
While there’s a lot of options for where and what to eat at the night markets it can be a bit confusing. You won’t find many menus in English, so a lot of the time it’s a case of pointing and hoping for the best result. If you’re not that kind of person check out this list of 20 things you need to try in Taiwan. It should give you some inspiration 🙂
If you want to party you’ll find there’s plenty of nightclubs around the city. From my research I gathered that many of the larger clubs are around Taipei 101. I didn’t go clubbing so I really can’t give any good advice. Let me know if you have any good recommendations.
9. Take a Day Trip from the City
Ok. So maybe the list of things to do in Taipei should not include activities outside of Taipei, but… Truth is I was on a tight schedule and while I didn’t really have enough time to explore the country I didn’t want to spend my whole time in Taipei. Thankfully with a good and cheap train service it’s super simple to take day trips from Taipei.
During my stay in Taipei I took one day trip from the city. I visited Shefen, which is a large village in the highlands of Taiwan. It’s famous for its lantern festivals and you’ll find tourists all over the train tracks releasing paper lanterns into the sky. There’s also a pretty funky waterfall nearby (I did go the wrong way to the waterfall, thanks Google Maps…). If you’re looking for some ideas, this post has half a dozen interesting day trip ideas from Taipei.
10. Hit the Clubs
For many people the highlight of any visit to a new city is the nightlife. Taipei doesn’t disappoint. People enjoy drinking and you’ll find plenty of nice bars and nightclubs. One of the favorite places I visited was The Speakeasy Bar. It had a fun vibe and the cocktails were delicious. However, it’s not a place where you want to spend your whole evening.
Taipei is a pretty cool city. It’s very tourist friendly once you’ve got used to it. The MRT is really convenient, though I’d recommend starting with a spin around the city on the tourist bus. With the right list of things to do in Taipei you’ll find it easy to fill in your days with interesting things to see, eat and experience. You can spend an easy 3-4 days exploring the city and the sites surrounding it.
Have you ever visited Taipei? What did you think of the city? Share your thoughts with other travellers in the comments below.