Ximen (“West Gate”) is one of those neighborhoods into which almost every visitor to Taipei ventures. Sometimes compared to Tokyo’s bustling Shibuya neighborhood, the casual visitor’s first impression after ascending from the MRT is a sea of bright lights cascading into a large pedestrian shopping area packed with thousands of people out for an evening stroll, shopping, eating or just hanging out.
Stick around a little longer, though, and you’ll find that there’s a lot more to Ximen than glittering lights and roving bands of teenagers hopped up on sweet & caffeinated bubble tea. Several charming historical sites are located in and around Ximen, and there’s no shortage of places to eat, drink and stay overnight if you decide to make the neighborhood your Taipei base.
Morning: Visit the Ximen Red House
As you ascend from the MRT, you’ll notice a charming octagonal brick building peeking out from a partially-hidden paved courtyard. This is the Red House, built in 1908 by Taiwan’s Japanese colonial government. Originally meant to serve as a market for Taipei’s Japanese residents, it later became a theater and now hosts a tea house, souvenir shop and “creative market” where artists set up small indoor shops or outdoor stalls. The locus of Taipei’s gay bar scene is located just behind Red House and offers plenty of outdoor seating, but in the morning the bars are shuttered and quiet.
Lunch: Restaurants around Ximen
If you’re craving a bite to eat after exploring Red House, just a short walk up Chengdu Road will bring you to the Somebody Cafe:
Lunch at the Somebody Cafe
The Taipei cafe scene has exploded in recent years. Nevertheless, Somebody Cafe manages to stand out. Tables are fashioned from school desks and there are chalkboard walls and enough plants to give the space a garden-like atmosphere. Food offerings include pizza with unique toppings, such as Thai minced beef.
A selection of frittatas served in small iron griddles is a good choice for those low-carb diets. Pancakes, brunch sets, paninis, and waffles are also available. But the main reason to go – besides the convenient location near Red House – are the drinks. From grapefruit and elderflower soda to “Happiness Hot Chocolate”, coffee, tea, and fruit drinks, there’s something on the menu for everyone. Pizza, frittata and drink discounts are available through the FunNow app.
Address: 65, Chengdu Road, Taipei City
Transportation: Ximen MRT Exit 6
The Biggest Little Temple in Taipei
Near Somebody Cafe is Ximending’s pedestrian shopping area, but if you’re looking for more history, you can walk just a few steps to Taipei Tianhou Temple – a temple to Matsu, goddess of the sea, which fits neatly into an urban three-story building space.
If you’re looking for something even quirkier, you may find it at Fun Lechi, a cafe / Lego shop close to Red House.
Fun and Snacks at Fun Lechi
Walking upstairs to the shop and dining area at Fun Lechi, you first see a variety of boxed Lego sets, and then a set of containers built into the wall where you can buy individual bricks.
Beyond that are tables with colorful chairs and cups in bright jewel tones. This is where the fun begins: take a walk through the rest of the store, and you begin to see models of famous old Taipei sights, including nearby North Gate, Nishi Honganji shrine, and a number of Japanese-era shop houses, all expertly rendered in Lego. The best news of all? Most of these places are within walking distance of the cafe! The food is fresh (you can see them preparing it downstairs), the coffee is hot, and there are a few deals for coffee and food on FunNow.
Address: 10 Xining Road, Taipei City
Transportation: MRT Ximen Exit 1
Mid-Afternoon: Stroll through the heart of old Taipei
The Nishi Honganji shrine
After relaxing with coffee or a meal at Fun Lechi, you’re within a short walk of the Nishi Honganji shrine. Built between 1904 and 1912, it was originally a Buddhist monastery and temple that served as an extension of a Japanese Buddhist order during the colonial era. There is a reconstructed bell tower, a Japanese-style tea house and a park alongside other attractions.
The City God Temple
If you are curious about the real-life versions of the Lego shophouses at Fun Lechi, you’re also just a short walk from Hengyang Road, Wuchang Street, and their surrounding neighborhood. This area still has many traditional commercial buildings including some striking shop houses and a City God temple (the other well-known City God temple is to the north, in Dadaocheng area on Dihua Street). (Check out 15 suggestions for a day in Dadaocheng for more stuff to do in Dadaocheng.)
Have a beer at the Ximen Beer Bar
If walking around is making you thirsty, plunge headfirst into the Ximending pedestrian shopping area – not just to browse the trendiest cell phone cases, clothes, and accessories, but to have a few beers at Ximen Beer Bar.
This laid-back watering hole serves a fantastic variety of bottled beers from around the world and a well-curated selection of local craft brews. With a reclaimed-wood-meets-industrial look which is very of the moment and a long bar with plenty of seating, it’s a chic, upmarket place to meet friends for an after-work drink or long, beer-fueled chat session. Keep your stomach lined as you imbibe with snacks such as edamame (Japanese-style beans in the pod with a spicy marinade), Korean kimchi and Doritos with salsa. 3-for-2 and beer + snacks deals are available on FunNow.
Address: No. 83-2, Section 2, Wuchang St, Taipei City
Transportation: Ximen MRT Exit 6
You might think that, at this point, you’ve explored all that historic Ximen has to offer – but you’d be wrong. Between Hengyang Road and Wuchang Street you’ll find the 1930s-era Zhongshan Hall, a performance center housing two auditoriums, some notable modern Taiwanese art, and a cafe. Zhongshan Hall was built by the Japanese but is also notable for being the site of Chiang Kai-shek’s inaugural address as he re-took the Nationalist leadership in Taipei.
Beimen – The North Gate of Taipei
Heading north from Ximen and there are several more historical must-sees, the most notable of which is the Beimen (North Gate). Built in 1882 under Qing colonial rule, its beauty is in its simplicity. Beimen is the only surviving example of local Taiwanese city gate architecture (other surviving gates were “renovated” in a northern Chinese style under the ROC military dictatorship). Around Beimen, you can admire several other historic buildings, including the recently-renovated Railway Ministry (an exhibition is being planned) and the Japanese-era post office.
Futai Street Mansion(撫遠街洋樓)
Head back towards Ximen along Yanping Road, and you’ll pass the Futai Street Mansion(撫遠街洋樓) , a Japanese colonial-era mansion built in 1910 that has been opened as a historic site. You can explore the building – take note of the fragrant Taiwanese cypress wood used in construction – and there is a small shop that serves tea on site.
Evening: Places to stay in and around the Ximen Area
By now, you are probably looking for a place to spend the night. Fortunately, Ximen’s got you covered. There are several excellent options in the neighborhood, including Roaders Hotel between Zhongshan Hall and Beimen, and Xinshe/Hedo Hotel further west.
Roaders takes the concept behind today’s posh hostels – funky decor, great public areas for kicking back, free snacks and drinks – and kicks it up a notch by applying it to a hotel with private rooms. The rooms are cozy, with up-to-date bathrooms and a full selection of toiletries that come emblazoned with racy puns (the blow dryer is in a bag labeled “Blowing With Love”; the toothbrushes are “Lickin’ Good”), and the decor marries industrial chic with 70s vintage flair. The B1 lobby offers free snacks and drinks, comfortable vintage-look armchairs and couches, a few free arcade games and beer available for purchase.
Address: 68, Yanping South Road, Taipei City
Transportation: MRT Ximen Exit 5 (stairs only – take Exit 2 if you require an escalator)
Hedo Hotel Kangding
The days of saving money on a visit to Taipei by staying in low-end, outdated business hotels are over. With a lobby that offers plenty of seating and small but well-appointed rooms with flat-screen TVs and comfortable beds, Hedo Hotel offers excellent value for money. Each room comes with a private bathroom that includes a Japanese-style (short but deep) soaking tub, which fits admirably into the compact space. The rooms are quiet, clean and comfortable.
Address: 32 Kangding Road, Taipei City
Transportation: MRT Ximen Exit 6
Substantial discounts for both Roaders and Hedo Hotels are available on the FunNow app.
If you choose to spend a night (or two, or three) in Ximen, keep wandering around. The more you wander, the more historical gems you’ll uncover!