Less than two hours by plane, Taipei is high on every Hongkonger’s list of quick weekend getaway destinations. And with its strong street food culture, its spattering of historical architecture and temples, and proximity to stunning natural backdrops just a short distance away, it’s clear to see why. The only difficult thing you’ll find is narrowing down your list of things to do while you’re there – that’s why we’ve put together a list of essential things to see and do in Taiwan’s capital city.
1. Taipei 101
Standing tall at over 500 metres, Taipei 101 soars above the rest of the city. Though it may have lost its title as the world’s tallest building (to Dubai’s Burj Khalifa back in 2010), it still boasts the best views in the city. If it’s the building itself you’re looking to admire, then set off on a hike to Elephant Mountain. The walk itself is steep but short, and it should take no more than half an hour from the start (a short walk from Xiangshan subway station).
2. Bopiliao Old Street
Surrounded by modern skyscrapers and 21st-century frenzy, Bopiliao Old Street retains an old-world charm, despite its neighbours. With its roots grounded in the Qing Dynasty, the street was once the centre of a thriving merchant trade. Today’s street features elements of the original architecture as well as Japanese occupation-era structures, all preserved through a painstaking restoration process that was complete in 2009. It now serves as a Heritage and Culture Education Centre, hosting art exhibitions, educational workshops, and more.
3. Huashan 1914 Creative Park
Originally a vineyard and rice wine distillery, the Huashan 1914 Creative Park opened in 2017 as a sprawling cultural complex, giving the formerly-abandoned winery a new lease of life. It now hosts numerous arts and exhibition spaces, shops, cafes, and more. Performances at the park are ticketed, and tickets can be purchased online, ahead of time. The park also provides lockers for weekend travellers who are lugging heavy bags around the city.
4. Shilin Night Market
Taipei is near-synonymous with its street food culture, and there are few better ways to eat your way across the city than through its night markets – row upon row of market stalls and animated vendors selling local delicacies from beef noodle soup to the aptly named stinky tofu. The most well-known among the markets is Shilin Night Market, which is a popular destination among locals and tourists, alike. If you’re unlucky enough to experience Taipei in a downpour (its torrential rains are as infamous as the market is famous), then head underground to the lesser-known cooked food centre underneath the market.
5. Longshan Temple
Dating back more than three centuries, Longshan Temple is a firm fixture on most visitor’s Taipei itineraries. It has been continually rebuilt and restored, having suffered at the hands of the region’s earthquakes many a time in its 300-year history. Longshan Temple serves Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist worshippers. If you’re single and looking for love, you may find yourself among the many praying to Yue Lao – the god of marriage and love.
To the south of the city lies Maokong, a picturesque tea-growing district. Since 2007, a gondola has been in operation taking tourists and locals uphill without working up a sweat, with two stops at the Taipei Zoo along the way. The village of Maokong sits atop the mountain and boasts several shops, tea houses, and restaurants. Be sure to look at the weather forecast before you go, as the gondola will cease operating in particularly bad weather.
7. Pingxi Station
Pingxi is the train stop after the more popular Shifen (known for its historic street). Offering a quieter alternative, walk along the train tracks of the former mining town, visit local eateries and shops, and set lanterns off from the train tracks. While the whole sky is alight with lanterns and makes for quite the spectacle during the Lunar New Year, you can actually light a lantern at any time of year from Pingxi Station.
8. Houtong Cat Village
Forget the lions ruling the land – at the old coal mining town of Houtong, it’s the small cats that matter. Situated on the same train line as Pingxi, Houtong Village is famed for its feline population, with over 200 cats roaming free. To say the village is cat crazy would be a gross understatement – all manner of cat-themed paraphernalia can be found for sale here across its many restaurants, cafes, and shops.
9. Beitou Hot Springs
One of the more popular tourist attractions, Beitou Hot Springs is situated just north of Taipei, and are accessible by train to Xinbeitou Station. The area is home to numerous museums, hotels and resorts, as well as several public bathhouses. It’s worth researching which bathhouse you plan to visit, as some are open only to men or women and each has its own regulations to abide by. If you aren’t spending the night in the area, the Millennium Hot Springs is a publicly accessible bathhouse that welcomes all, with four pools to choose from, each of varying temperatures. Entrance is priced at NT$40 (the equivalent of about HKD $10).
10. Dine at the Original Din Tai Fung
Founded in 1972, popular dumpling chain restaurant Din Tai Fung has taken the world by storm, with outlets across 14 countries in cities as far as London. Those visiting Taipei are spoiled for choice, but for a truly authentic experience, can head to the restaurant’s roots and visit the original restaurant, located at 194 Xinyi Road – just a short walk from Taipei 101.