by Madison Morris
If you're lucky enough to be in Taipei, or you're planning to visit soon, check out our top 10 local things to do so you can explore the real Taipei and get a taste of local life! Of course, this includes tasting all of the flavours of the city, so from eating your way around the best night markets to exploring nearby town and visiting their traditional tea houses, it's time to ditch the Taipei guidebook and explore the city with our top 10 guide instead!
The street food culture in Taiwan is hard to beat, and the best spots to try some of the tastiest local cuisine are the night markets. Taipei has plenty of options for you to choose from. The largest and most popular, and often most crowded, is the Shilin Night Market on the red line of the MRT. Shilin has everything you could ask for, and is home to 539 stalls that sell food, drinks, games, and merchandise. If you’re looking for a smaller, more traditional experience, Raohe Night Market is the better fit for you. The vendors here see fewer tourists and are generally more friendly. The food to look for here is the pork pepper buns, one of the most famous stalls at this market that stands right near the entrance. You can’t miss them, as they are so popular that there is a very official looking line set up. Get to Raohe by taking Exit 5 from the Songshan Station. Close to Raohe but offering a completely different experience is Wufenpu, a type of wholesale clothing market. Grab yourself a snack from Raohe and head over to find a maze of alleys lined with all different kinds of clothing at great prices. The best day to visit is Tuesday, as most shops restock on Monday. Take Exit 3 out of Songshan Station on the Green Line to visit this market.
The spring is a great time to visit any night markets just before the peak season crowds arrive.
Situated at the end of the Brown Line, the Taipei Zoo hosts animals from all over the world, including dessert environments and the Asia Pacific. One of the largest zoos in Asia, the Taipei zoo is celebrated for its commitment to conservation research and education. In 2013, they celebrated the birth of Yuan Zai, the first panda cub born in Taiwan. This beautiful and popular spot for locals and tourists alike has been open since 1914 and is an inexpensive trip, with tickets costing only NT$ 60 (~ 2 USD).
Take a ride up the mountains into another world. The Maokong Gondola is something a lot of tourists don’t make time for, but it is absolutely one of the best experiences that Taipei has to offer. This 2.7 mile gondola lift line brings visitors from the Taipei Zoo up to Maokong, and many of the cabins are fitted with glass bottoms to allow you to watch the scenery pass below you. Maokong is traditionally the largest tea growing area of Taipei, and today hiking paths take you to restaurants and tea houses. On a clear day, many of the tea houses offer views of the sprawling city skyline of Taipei across the mountains. Buy a ticket for the gondola for NT$120, or approximately $4 USD. Make sure you check their website before you head out, as they are open weather permitting and post closing updates regularly.
Beitou Hot Springs
Taiwan enjoys a unique environment due to its geographic location that leads to hot springs of high-temperature with crystal clear water that is, for the most part, clean and safe to drink. Of the number of springs around the island, Beitou is the most convenient for a day or weekend trip. Travellers can choose from a green sulfur hot spring, white sulfur, or iron sulfur. The green sulfur springs can only be found in Beitou or in Akita, Japan. A simple trip down the red line to the Beitou Station followed by a change onto the train with the destination of Xinbeitou drops you off right in the thick of things. The area has really built up and includes resorts, hotels, tea houses, and public and private bath areas. There is an option for every type of visitor, whether you’re more comfortable in a bathing suit or not, separated by gender or not, or even feel like booking yourself a private experience. The minerals in the water are said to have healing properties, and you’ll certainly feel like a new person after a soak!
Situated on the northeast coast of Taiwan, nestled high in the mountains overlooking the ocean, sits the iconic town of Jiufen. Known to have inspired the famous Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki during the creation of Spirited Away, this former gold mining town is now a very popular tourist attraction. Perched amongst towering mountains like Mount Keelung, Jiufen offers breathtaking views, cozy tea houses, plenty of shopping, and a plethora of delicious food opportunities in the form of restaurants and food stalls. Jiufen is littered with small alleys that boast a dense variety of attractions. You can get lost amongst the history and celebration of Jiufen. The areas surrounding the town offer everything from hiking to exploring museums like the Gold Museum. Getting to Jiufen is quite easy as there are plenty of shuttle buses to board from a variety of accessible locations like Taipei Main Station and the MRT stop Zhongxiao Fuxing. Along the route between Jiufen and Taipei are two more hot spots with rich history and activities galore - Pingxi and Shifen.
Pingxi and Shifen
Formerly used as a coal transportation route, the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) Pingxi line now brings visitors from across Taiwan to popular destinations including the towns of Pingxi and Shifen. Pingxi Old Street is fabled for its cobblestone walkways and small alleys that host its unique local cuisine and souvenir shops. Some buildings date back to the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, and resemble the architecture of that time period. The Pingxi area also hosts the annual Sky Lantern Festival, which brings visitors from across Taiwan to release Chinese Lanterns in celebration of the new year. Shifen, which lies within the Pingxi District, is a small town that offers visitors a unique glimpse of the area that surrounds northeast Taiwan. With a famous 40 meter tall waterfall, Shifen Waterfall, only 30 minutes walking distance from Shifen Old Street, this location is perfect for those wanting to get outdoors and explore. The market area surrounding the train station is also a hot spot for those wanting to release Chinese Lanterns and taste the local cuisine. Accessing the Pingxi area is convenient as visitors can come by bus, train, car or scooter, and if you’re in for a day long adventure, you can’t miss the port town of Keelung en route to or from Taipei.
Keelung lies just east of Taipei and sits on the coast lining the Pacific Ocean. It’s about a 40 minute train ride from Taipei Main Station and once inside the city, Keelung offers many activities for the wayfaring tourist. Perhaps the most famous attraction in Keelung, the Miaokou Night Market is host to an enormous amount of munchable goodness that ranges from the traditional to the experimental. The market doesn’t end with these stalls, and at night its fingers (or in keeping with the seafood theme of the area - tentacles) stretch down side streets and spill out into main thoroughfares. You are certain to leave full and content with the tremendous amount of delicious food here, so perhaps you want to earn those extra calories by going for a stroll along the canal or hiking up to one of the local temples.
Just north of Taipei lies the magnificent Yangmingshan National Park. This park is filled with hiking trails, waterfalls, parks, and many indigenous plants and wildlife. It’s easily accessible from Taipei and portions of it creep within the city limits of New Taipei. It’s highly recommended to rent a car or scooter in Taipei to truly get the feel for this awesome park at your own pace. Huge conservation efforts have taken place within Yangmingshan including wildlife corridors, animal rescue, plant disease prevention, and removal of invasive species. It’s safe to say that this is one of the most cherished and well protected areas in all of Taiwan.
Translating to “fresh water”, Tamsui is one of the most popular districts to visit in Taipei among locals and visitors alike. One of the most scenic reasons for this is the opportunity to watch the sun set into the Taiwan Strait. Once you arrive, be sure to try the local specialty that originated here of iron eggs, which are eggs that are boiled in soy sauce and spices, then left to air-dry. Take a stroll through the streets and watch performers and enjoy the view of the river and the surrounding mountains. Tamsui is a relaxing day trip and perfect for photos!
Taipei 101 and the surrounding area
Many tourists do the popular ride up the elevator of Taipei 101, but find themselves so distracted by the height and impressiveness of the 8th tallest building in the world that they fail to notice all of the great dining and shopping in the area. The top of this list of course is Din Tai Fung, awarded one Michelin star, which has 11 locations around the world but began in Taipei. Enjoy the incredible xiaolongbao here, a steamed dumpling that’s filled with broth, they are not to be missed! For the shoppers, the mall in this area holds high fashion boutiques, world brand flagship stores, a bookstore, and cosmetic stores, along with an international grocery store if you find yourself in need of a comforting snack from home.
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