If strolling through scenic history-drenched streets filled with cultural attractions, unique shopping venues and an abundance of great food is your thing, Taipei’s Dadaocheng neighborhood is well worth a visit. The neighborhood just north of Taipei’s Bei Men , or north gate station become increasingly popular with travelers over the past few years (much to the bemusement of locals, who’ve been hanging out here since the late Qing dynasty).
While we haven’t been coming here that long, we do remember the days when the sight of a western tourist was enough to turn a head or two, which gives us an interesting perspective on the area.
Here then is a 15-point primer designed to help you make the most of your own experience in Dadaocheng:
1. Do your sightseeing from North to South
The further south you go in the neighborhood, the more crowded things get, with the epicenter of the people mountain people sea experience being in the area centered around the City God Temple. Since you’ll get there eventually (and there’s an attraction nearby best saved for later in the day), we suggest you do the unfashionable thing and take the MRT to Daqiaotou Station, starting your tour at the northern end of Dihua street.
2. Stop into Uni Jun soap shop
(No. 358-1, Section 1, Dihua St)
Located in a Japanese-era year old complex just south of Minquan West Road, Uni Jun is a fragrant shop where visitors can by handmade soaps (and even make their own). It’s a good place to shop for gifts, but the reason we love it so much is that they make great coffee – which is a good way to start any journey. The relaxing vibe is another plus.
3. Grab a meal at Rise & Shine
(No. 329, Section 1, Dihua St)
A two-minute stroll down Dihua street brings you to a restored two-storey red brick historic building that demonstrates both the typical facade and interior of the area’s Japanese colonial period. The restaurant serves good (and surprisingly healthy) traditional Taiwanese style set lunches for under NT$350, and has an English menu. Even if you’re not eating anything, the restaurant is worth checking out.
4. Stop into Lee Cake
(No. 309, Section 1, Dihua St)
Just a bit further down Dihua Street is a traditional cake shop dating back to the waning days of the Qing dynasty. They offer DIY cake making classes and free samples. Due to the pedigree of the place, locals come here to buy gifts to bring relatives down south. If you’re visiting Taiwanese friends or business associates later in your trip, a small present from Lee Cake will be greatly appreciated.
5. Remember the past at the AMA Museum
(No. 256, Section 1, Dihua St)
This unassuming not-for-profit museum is dedicated to keeping alive the memories of women forced to serve as sex slaves, or “comfort women” by the Japanese military during the second world war. It’s a heavy subject, and the volunteer-run museum has done an amazing job in making sure that the voices and stories of those victimized are not forgotten. Leave a donation if you can, have a coffee on the first floor, or both.
6. Wander off the main drag
Most casual visitors stick to Dihua Street, but the alleyways of Dadaocheng pack a lot of cultural cache, including small temples and shrines, neighborhood gardens and shops, and of course the locals who are the lifeblood of the neighborhood. While much of the main drag has a mixture of old-school shops and hip artistic venues, the alleyways are where you’ll find the most authentic (and in some cases, barely renovated) old Dadaocheng vibe. (Read also: Why Dadaocheng should be your first stop in Taipei)
7. Stroll through Dadaocheng park
This small park located In roughly the center of the neighborhood has a traditional Chinese pavilion and red brick archway. But the centerpiece of the park is the bronze sculpture of Li Linqiu, one of Taiwan’s most popular 20th century songwriters. If you show up at the top of the hour between 9am-6pm, a speaker next to the statue will play a medley of Li’s most famous tunes, including “Expecting the spring breeze” and “Spring of Hope”.
8. Do some artsy stuff at InBlooom
(No.28, Minyue St., Datong Dist.)
InBlooom is a Taiwan designer label of printed fabrics, and this store is its headquarters. In addition to being able to purchase all sort of cool locally made gift items at the shop, you can also try your hand at creating print and fiber art masterpieces of your own at one of InBlooom’s DIY classes. (The name of the place isn’t a typo; like the Nirvana song, but minus the space and with an extra O.)
9. Head back to Dihua Street to do some snacking
Because three whole suggestions without food is way too long for any adventure in Taipei! The main drag around Mingsheng West Road is the nexus of shops offering free samples of dried fruit, nuts & other local delicacies. Though sampling is always acceptable, if you come in the weeks before Chinese New Year, free snacks will be literally thrust upon you.
10. Pray to a variety of deities at the City God Temple
(No. 61, Section 1, Dihua St)
Not for nothing is the City God Temple considered Dadaocheng’s main attraction. In addition to being one of the oldest temples in the area, it’s home to both The City God and a celestial host of other folk deities. Traveling couples take note: The temple is a popular prayer site for the young and in love set, who come by to pray for romantic wishes involving couple-hood to be fulfilled. (Read also: 13 Tips for having a deeper Taiwan Temple experience)
11. Catch some traditional Taiwanese Puppetry at the Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum
(No. 79-1, Xining North Road)
Part museum and part theatre, this lively spot around the corner from the City God Temple is dedicated to the promotion and preservation of various forms of Asian puppetry, including (of course) traditional Taiwanese Potehi glove puppetry. The building itself, like most in the area, is worth the visit alone.
12. Check out the fabric at the Yongle market
(No. 21, Section 1, Dihua St)
If fabric is your thing, you’ll want to spend hours navigating the booths and aisles of Taipei City’s traditional fabric market. Even if fabric isn’t your thing, it’s worth the time to check out some of the shops on the first floor which specialize in making costumes for festivals and temple gods.
13. Stop into Wang Tea for a spot of tea
No 26. Section 2, Chongqing North Road
This fifth generation tea shop is popular with travelers looking to learn about Taiwan’s traditional tea scene. Wang Tea specialize Oolong and Pouchong teas, and visitors are welcome to visit the roasting and fermentation areas. Naturally, it’s a great place to buy tea to bring home as a gift. (More tea stories: A Tale of Three Tea Shops)
14. Have a drink or three at Fleisch Bar & Ginspiration Bar
(No. 76, Section 1, Dihua St)
These are two bars under one roof. Fleisch serves Taiwanese dishes and a variety of mixed drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic). The third floor GinsiprationBar is more specialized, serving a variety of high class cocktails made with…you guessed it, Gin.
15. Keep snacking all the way home
Since you’ve started from the north, you’ll probably end your tour by continuing south to Beimen Station, or heading southwest to the Ximending neighborhood for a completely different vibe. But there’s no reason to hurry, as Dihua Street and the surrounding alleys south of the City God Temple are chocked full of hole in the wall eateries, cafes and snack shops galore. Hang out late. Dadaocheng is a timeless neighborhood, and Taipei is a city that never sleeps.