Home to mammoth landmarks old and new, Taiwan's capital is an urban paradise of malls and shopping streets, museums, galleries, parks and spas
The colours most closely associated with Taiwan as a whole may be forest green and sea blue, but the capital leans more towards multiple shades of neon and incandescent white. Embraced by mountains in the island’s north, Taipei is a major metropolis of three million people that’s packed with towering skyscrapers, heritage landmarks, bustling markets and ancient shrines. The city’s historic centre is home to the mammoth National Palace Museum and Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall along with the venerable Mengjia Longshan and Baoan Temples. To the east is the eye-popping Taipei 101 and a vast array of other skyscrapers along with department stores, restaurants, teahouses and night markets. To the north are the Yangmingshan and Xinbeitou Hot Springs along with a range of hiking and biking trails, while Maokong with its temples, teashops and scenic views from its 4.3km gondola (cable car) lift makes for a great hinterland day trip.
Things to do
Art of facts
The palatial National Palace Museum has no peer when it comes to displays of ancient Asian art and cultural artefacts. The bulk of the staggering array of paintings, porcelain, lacquerware, jade, calligraphy and other antiquities here – nearly three-quarters of a million items in all – was moved out of Beijing in 1949. Needless to say, coping with the crush of tour groups is the price visitors must pay for feasting their eyes on all that priceless art.
At your mercy
A true Taiwan survivor, Mengjia Longshan Temple has stood tall through natural calamities, WWII-era bomb damage and repeated renovations since its construction in 1738. Once you’ve marvelled at the lavishly decorated interior, including a statue dedicated to the Buddhist goddess of mercy Guanyin, have your fortune told on the temple grounds or venture over to the night market next door for a bowl of snake soup.
Buy and large
A bargain-hunter’s haven on par with Singapore, Seoul, Hong Kong and Tokyo, Taipei devotes a huge portion of its real estate to shopping streets, markets and malls. From the pedestrian-friendly fashion boutiques of Ximending – Taipei’s answer to Harajuku – and the high-end malls of Xinyi district around Taipei 101 to the maze-like Shilin Night Market with its countless stalls and food spots, there’s virtually no end to the list of shopping options in Taipei for travellers prone to hauling home twice as much baggage as they came with.
One of the precious few positive outcomes of Japan’s WWII-era occupation of Taiwan was the development of the volcano-fed thermal hot springs in Beitou, which is about 30 minutes from downtown Taipei on the MRT. A resort area full to bursting with inns, tea houses, parks and even a hot spring museum, this paradise of pampering is the sure antidote to just about anything that ails you, including the nagging suspicion that your holiday relaxation meter hasn’t quite reached “maximum”.
Tall cool one
How high can you get? At the cloud-scraping Taipei 101, the answer is 509m. While Taiwan’s entry in the never-ending world’s-tallest-building competition no longer holds the number one slot, it’s still worth risking vertigo by ascending to the tower’s 89th- and 91st-floor observation decks to drink in sweeping views in every direction.
Travel time 50 minutes
Taxi About NT $1,100-1,200
Bus journey takes about 50 minutesBack to top
When to go
The weather is cool and comfortable from late October to January, which virtually coincides with the tourist low season. February to April tends to be rainy, and May to October sees the occasional typhoon. As is the case elsewhere in North Asia, Taipei becomes a virtual ghost town for about a week during Chinese New Year in late January or early February. The school holiday months of July and August, which tend to be very hot, are another peak period for travel. The Lantern Festival marking the end of Chinese New Year is a colourful spectacle that’s typically held in January or February. The Dragon Boat Festival happens in June, and Ghost Month and the Mid-Autumn Festival, both steeped in many centuries of tradition, are typically observed in August or September. The Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards, the Oscars of Asia (where films are subtitled in English) is held in November.Back to top
Taipei’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) network makes it easy to take in the sights of the city. The bus system is tougher to navigate but maps showing bus stops can be found at MRT stations and signs on buses indicate start and end points in both Chinese and English. Fares are NT $15 for most downtown routes. Stored-value EasyCards for both the MRT and city buses sell for NT $500 (NT $300 for children; in both cases the price includes an NT $100 deposit). EasyCards are available for purchase via the card machines at MRT stations and at selected stores such as 7-Eleven, FamilyMart and Starbucks.Back to top