Taipei is a bustling city with a heady mix of natural beauty, spiritualism, and national monuments. The local gastronomy is diverse and famous for its unique ‘Q’ texture. It’s the best entry point to start any trip in Taiwan and proves to be a good base for day trips.
We visited Taiwan in the month of October (2018), just after typhoon season, when it’s reasonably warm. The hot weather can be quite a dampener for walking or traveling. Although, you won’t worry about the rain or blocked roads.
In and Around Taipei
It’s pretty easy to travel around Taipei City and there are multiple options to choose from. The local metro (official site) connects most tourist sights. Alternatively, you can opt for the Hop-On Hop-Off Tour Bus that starts outside Exit M4 of Taipei Main Station. This bus stops at the popular tourist spots of the city. However, it’s virtually impossible to cover all the spots on one day with this bus. Most tourist spots are quite far from the bus stop and it takes some planning to explore a sight — without having to worry about missing the next bus.
Local buses are equally efficient and you can use your EasyCard on the bus as well. Buses don’t always stop at designated stops — unless you wave your hand. Always keep a track of your stop and press the buzzer to get off. If you’re into cycling, you could also consider renting a YouBike to explore the city.
We used the local metro on the first and last day of our stay in Taipei. We tried a combination of the tour bus with the local bus on the second day.
Taipei Main Station
We stayed for about three and half days in Taipei before exploring the rest of the country. Our first hotel was about 20 minutes away from Taipei Main Station. Our second hotel was just across Taipei Main Station. However, it was one of those cheap hotels that we needed only for a couple of hours — before our early morning flight back to Seoul. I’d never recommend staying in one of these hotels. We had a cockroach infestation and the empty corridors were quite creepy.
The underground shopping plaza of Taipei Main Station is a maze of well planned tunnels — stocked with interesting finds at every corner. Gaming consoles are placed at main intersections and there’s always a small crowd of eager people around the consoles. Manga and anime fans can seek refuge in the shops dedicated to popular characters. You can also buy cheap souvenirs or try local delicacies. For those tired legs, get a traditional Taiwanese massage from a visually impaired masseur/se.
Taipei Main Station is also the starting point for TRA and HSR trains that connect Taipei to the rest of the country. You can book tickets at designated ticket counters or at ticket vending kiosks. Getting to the main ticket counter can be confusing and it’s best to keep an eye out for signboards. Taipei Main Station is quite fascinating and demands at least a couple of minutes to soak in the architecture.
Intercity trains make it possible to do day trips or weekend trips to popular tourist destinations outside Taipei. Check out our other posts on some of the hidden gems around Taipei.
Around Longshan Temple
Taipei is a fantastic city to explore on foot. Each neighbourhood has an interesting selection of sights to explore. You could spend an entire day walking around or a couple of hours — if you’re short on time.
Longshan Temple is probably one of the most popular temples to visit in Taipei. It’s just a 5 minute walk from Longshan Station and has a wealth of interesting sights to explore. Longshan Temple is nearly three centuries old and is a fine example of the confluence of Buddhist, Daoist, and Confucianist principles.
It’s hard to escape spiritualism in Taipei. The city is dotted with quaint temples — tucked in nondescript corners. Check out our guide to finding peace in the midst of a bustling city.
Xichang Street Night Market
We didn’t follow signboards and just walked around Longshan Temple. The alleys lead to a busy local market that also doubles as a night market. Night markets are quite popular for local street food.
Bo-Pi Liao Historical Block
This block dates back to the Qing Dynasty when workers used to peel the bark of the Chinese fir tree. Bo-Pi Liao Historic Block is a hidden gem and is a couple of minutes away from Longshan Temple. The quaint alleys are frequented by social media stars — armed with their own entourage. Some of the galleries are used to display artwork or showcase curated films.
Ximending is close to Ximen Station. Ximending is a melting pot of culture, history, and urban hipsters. On weekends, it’s the place to tap the pulse of the city, and sample some of the finest dining options.
The Red House
The Red House makes quite an impression with its characteristic red bricks. This 100-year-old building is a popular cultural-creative and LGBT gathering space.
Presidential Office Building (Chieh Shou Hall)
The Presidential Office Building is a short walk from Ximen Station. The walk takes you through a couple of interesting alleys that eventually open into a wide open space. It’s hard to miss the imposing facade of the building and the presence of security guards. During Japanese colonial rule, this building served as the office for the Governor General. It’s possible to visit the Presidential Office Building without prior reservation on select days of the week. You can make a reservation on the official site.
The buildings that line the neighbourhood around the Presidential Office Building are unique and it’s a joy to walk around the empty streets in the morning.
In the morning, only tourists visit this neighbourhood. To get a true sense of the buzz in Ximen, you have to visit it on a weekend or at night.
In October 2018, Taipei’s Pride Parade danced, sang, and marched from Ximending to Taipei Main Station. In a couple of months parliament would put a historic same-sex marriage law to vote.
In May 2019, Taiwan became the first country, in Asia, to pass a new law that legalised same-sex marriage. Read more here.
National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
The red line connects Taipei Main Staion to Chiang Kar-Shai Hall Station. Local tour buses stop just outside one of the side entrances of the memorial. It’s quite a long walk to get to the main building inside. Time your trip well to coincide with the iffy frequency of the tour bus.
The main gate of National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is imposing and looks stunning under the blue sky. In October, it can get hot and there are few places to seek refuge from the heat.
The building was designed by C.C. Yang, in memory of the first president of Taiwan (Republic of China). The history and politics of Taiwan can be quite complex for a foreigner to understand and assimilate on a single trip. Local sentiment is raw, and understandably so, when it comes to the sensitive nature of the politics of the region. It’s best to tread carefully should you choose to engage in a conversation. To get a better understanding of the situation you may want to read the following links: Official Website of the Republic of China and BBC.
The memorial building gives a panoramic view of the front lawns and main gate.
Changing of the Guard
The changing of the guard ceremony is not to be missed and worth the cost of waiting for the next tour bus. Be ready with your zoom lens because it’s hard to capture this ceremony without tipping on your toes. The guards change every hour or so during the day.
National Palace Museum
The National Palace Museum is quite a distance from the main sights in Taipei City. The tour bus will be an easier option to get here — if you want to escape hopping between the metro and local buses.
Lockers are provided to keep valuables and bags. Selfie sticks aren’t permitted inside. The museum has a fascinating collection of ceramic, jade sculptures, and paintings. The cafeteria has a limited menu and eating here makes sense only if you’re visiting during lunch.
Taiwanese cuisine is eclectic and evolves between regions. Check out our earlier post on Taiwan’s delicacies.
National Revolutionary Martyr’s Shrine
Martyr’s Shrine is way off the tour bus stop. We got lost and tried to find a local bus that lead to the shrine. A young mum, with two kids (one strapped around her chest), asked us if we needed help. She accompanied us to Yuanshan Station (on the red line) and guided us to the bus stop. Taiwanese locals are strong contenders for the friendliest people on our planet.
Martyr’s Shrine is a memorial built for the Kuomintang soldiers (supporting the Chinese Nationalist Party) who lost their lives during the Chinese Civil War. Read more here.
The changing of the guard ceremony (from the main gate to the memorial hall) is held at hourly intervals. It definitely worth the wait and one of the top experiences in Taipei.
This memorial was built in 1969 and honours 390,000 soldiers in the form of spirit tablets. The shrine bears an uncanny resemblance to Forbidden City’s Hall of Supreme Harmony. Lush greenery and lofty hills surround this peaceful memorial.
Few tourists gather before closing time (5:00 p.m.) and it’s easier to capture the synchronised march of the Republic of China (ROC) Military Guards.
Tourists aren’t allowed to enter the main memorial hall and you can only get a peek of the final ceremony — beyond the red ribbon.
The changing of the guard ceremony doesn’t last very long and most tourists disperse afterwards. It’s the perfect time to explore the tranquil environs of the memorial and take in the beauty of quintessential Chinese architecture.
Grand Hotel is Taipei’s first five-star hotel and is quite striking with its bright red facade. It’s a short walk away from Martyr’s Shrine and there are some interesting military installations en route.
There are many hiking routes to explore in Taipei. If you’re short on time and looking for an easy hike: you must explore Elephant Mountain. The view of Taipei is fantastic from the top and worth the effort. You can read the longer version of our hike below.