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We all need a change of scenery every once in a while, and the healing powers of nature work wonders more than we’d like to believe. If you’re looking to take a breather from vibrant night markets and busy shopping districts, the urban jungle that is Taipei (台北), as well as its neighbouring towns, provide pockets of calm where time stops and life slows down. Despite being popular tourist destinations, these five outdoor attractions offer you an escape from the suffocating metropolis—without actually having to travel far.
They say the best view comes after the hardest climb—and this may be true at Elephant Mountain (象山), one of the most popular trekking trails in Taipei that offers sweeping views of the cityscape. Although arguably the easiest among the Four Beasts Mountains (四獸山), the hike involves ascending through steep sets of stone stairs, making the 600 steps towards the peak quite a workout.
Elephant Mountain boasts several viewing platforms, better known as photo stops, where you can admire the iconic Taipei 101 as it towers over the skyline. But perhaps the trail’s main highlight (and also a common endpoint for many!) is the elevated Six Giant Rocks area, which gets extremely crowded by tourists wanting to get the perfect Instagram shot on top of the boulders. You may have to wait for your turn, especially at sunset, but anything for a photo that gives an illusion you’re as tall as one of the highest buildings in the world!
Elephant Mountain, 110, Xinyi District, Taipei City, Taiwan
The northern part of Taiwan is home to some of the world’s most stunning natural wonders. The list includes Yehliu Geopark (野柳地質公園), renowned for its geological formations shaped through time by sea erosion and weathering. The ecological reserve is separated into three areas, all set against sandstone landscapes that extend to the crashing waves along the coast.
Many of Yehliu Geopark’s mushroom-like rock formations are apparently named after the real-life objects they resemble. We recommend making your way straight to the most popular: the 4,000-year-old Queen’s Head. When viewed from the right angle, it supposedly takes the form of a woman, with a side profile similar to that of Queen Elizabeth. You may also find interest in the other odd rock formations such as the Dragon’s Head, Fairy’s Shoe, Sea Candle, Pineapple Bun, and Ice Cream Rock.
Yehliu Geopark, No. 167-1, Kantung Road, Yehliu Village, Wanli District, New Taipei City 20744, Taiwan
Beyond the old streets and railroad tracks of Pingxi District (平溪區) lies the Shifen Waterfall (十分大瀑布), recognised as the broadest and among the most scenic in Taiwan. The cascading waterfall powerfully flows through a series of rocks that mimic the shape of a horseshoe, and is thus dubbed as the country’s very own downscaled version of the Niagara Falls. As part of the Keelung River (基隆河), its turquoise waters originate from Mount Shigongjiwei (獅公髻尾山) and other surrounding mountains.
Follow the same trail back to Shifen Old Street, which is about 30 minutes away on foot, and grab the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of releasing sky lanterns. These paper lanterns were once used as signals in the coal-mining town, but have now become symbols of hope in which you write your wishes to the heavens. The bustling main street is also lined with food stalls and souvenir shops, so make sure to get your fill of local delicacies and find a keepsake to remember the experience by.
Shifen Waterfall, No. 10, Gankeng Road, Nanshan Village, Pingxi District, New Taipei City 226, Taiwan
With its signature hanging red lanterns, Jiufen Old Street (九份老街) situated in a mountaintop mining village looks like a setting straight out of Spirited Away, the animated fantasy film by Hayao Miyazaki. What used to be a hidden treasure has emerged as a favourite tourist destination, usually for a day trip to the north of the capital. Despite its narrow alleys jam-packed with people at almost any hour, walking through the cobblestone stairway still feels like a step back in time.
Jiufen Old Street is ideal for a gastronomic adventure, especially with the hundreds of food stalls bordering your every path. Munch on warm noodles, grilled skewers, glutinous rice cakes, taro balls, and ice cream rolls, among others. Here you’ll also find the classic xiaolongbao (小籠包; steamed soup dumplings) with much cheaper prices than in the city! Cap off your visit at the century-old A-Mei Teahouse, whose picturesque façade is probably the most photographed in Jiufen Old Street.
Jiufen Old Street, Jishan Street, Ruifang District, New Taipei City 224, Taiwan
For centuries, tea ceremonies have been a significant aspect of local Taiwanese culture. There is no better place to gain first-hand experience of this longstanding tradition—and also run away from the hustle and bustle of the city—than at the hilltop village of Maokong (貓空). One of Taipei’s tranquil escapes, it is known for the high quality of its locally grown tea, and features a wide selection of teahouses that will make even non-tea enthusiasts crave for a cup.
The most scenic way to reach the village is onboard the Maokong Gondola, an approximately 30-minute cable car ride that takes you above mountainside rainforests and tea plantations. The canopies beneath your feet are only a preview of the lush greenery you’ll come across at the village, not to mention the panoramic views of the metro as you enjoy conversations over tea. Don’t forget to bring home a pack of speciality tea, and also grab an oolong-flavoured soft-serve ice cream cone on your way down!
Maokong Village, No. 8, Sec. 2, Xinguang Road, Wenshan District, Taipei City 116, Taiwan