There’s no shortage of things to do in Taipei’s dynamic capital city, but if you’re only here for a short time and need to winnow it down to six must have experiences, these are our picks:
1.Looking out over the city from Taipei 101
It’s impressive, iconic, and represents the spirit of Taiwan in more ways than one. Visiting Taipei without checking out the view from the top of Taipei 101 would be like visiting NYC and not heading to the top of the Empire State Building.
The green tinted glass exterior recalls a stalk of bamboo, uniting the island’s agrarian past with its high tech present (while simultaneously paying homage to both). Though the structural design, which mixes elements of flexibility and rigidity is a practical necessity, the design also symbolizes the resiliency of the Taiwanese people to bend without breaking, to adapt to all circumstances, and to grow and thrive come what may.
Insider tip: Line at Din Tai Fung too long? Taipei 101 Mall’s basement food court has some excellent choices for dining on the fly!
2.Eating your way through a Taipei night market
Taipei’s night markets are famous. These large, noisy maze-like streets serve an insane variety of delectable dishes. Night markets are where you’ll be able to taste the latest in Taiwanese culinary trends, so don’t be afraid to experiment. From standard Taiwanese dishes like meat on a stick and stinky tofu to distinctly more esoteric fare (on our last trip to Raohe we ate German pig knuckle with excellent sauerkraut and fried sweet potato puffs), if Taiwanese people are eating it, you’ll find it at a Taipei night market.
Insider tip: Taipei’s three most popular tourist night markets are Raohe, Shilin and Ningxia, but if you’re looking for a less touristy experience Take the Green line to Jingmei Station and check out the way more local Jingmei night market.
3.Talking to the Daoist Gods in Longshan Temple
Home to flower selling monks, a tranquil flowing waterfall, fish swimming in the lotus pond, smoke from the incense lazily rising through the air, this 350 year old temple can arguably be called Taipei’s spiritual heart. It’s where locals come to seek advice from the spirits by throwing crescent wood blocks on the ground. Stick around long enough and someone will teach you how to make a divination on your own.
(Read more: Baosheng Cultural Festival: A Festive Event Full of History, Religion and Community)
Insider Tip: After you leave the temple, be sure to stroll around the ‘old village’ nearby to see what Taipei looked like a century ago.
4.Basking in history at the Grand Hotel
After Chiang Kai Shek fled to Taiwan in 1949, he felt the need to build a large and extravagant monument to Chinese culture in which to entertain visiting dignitaries. This hotel, among the largest classical Chinese building ever built, remains an unrivaled icon of Chinese architecture. Even if you don’t spend the night here, it’s worth visiting just to stroll among the ornate pillars inside the lobby. There’s an excellent HK style restaurant here as well.
Insider Tip: The Grand Hotel’s two 180m air raid tunnels were kept secret for decades. Though still not technically open, members of the press and public are occasionally invited inside.
5.Seeing the treasures at the National Palace Museum
Chiang Kai Shek didn’t come to Taiwan empty handed, bringing with him on his retreat much of the treasures of China for safekeeping. Much of these treasures are now located at the National Palace Museum, an impressively large and majestic building flanked by huge stone lions. Despite the enormity of the collection, items on display represent only a small fraction of items brought over from China.
(Read more: Taiwan’s Architecture Comes of Age)
Insider Tip: After checking out the crowded National Palace Museum, head across the street to the Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines for a completely different side of the Taiwan story.
6.Experiencing the changing face of Taiwan at Democracy Plaza, Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall and 2-28 park
The blue and white facade of Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall is iconic, and inside you can snap a selfie in front of a two-story high statue of the man himself. But the fact that the lovely park surrounding the shrine is now called Democracy Plaza tells a great deal about the evolution of Taiwanese society in the 21st century. Should you wish to gain an even fuller picture of Taiwan’s history in the tumultuous 20th century, head over to nearby 2-28 memorial park and visit the museum dedicated to The 2-28 incident, which lead to 38 years of martial law in Taiwan.
Insider Tip: Feet sore from all the walking? Both Democracy Plaza and 2-28 park have excellent stone foot massage paths. Take off your shoes and have a stroll!
Only in town for a day but want to see the best of the city in a single day? MyTaiwanTour’s Ultimate Taipei Day Tour will bring you to Longshan Temple, the Presidential Office Building, CKS Memorial Hall, Taipei 101, the Lin Tai Historical House, The Grand Hotel, Yamingshan, Beitou, the National Palace Museum and Shilin Night Market. It’s a whirlwind tour guaranteed to give you maximum bang for the buck.