Welcome back to this very neglected blog! A couple of years have gone by, and I’m afraid some of my pre-Covid posts are out of date. So consider this an updated list of classic Taipei experiences — whether it’s your very first time or you’ve got friends visiting who need some pointers.
1. Cook Your Own Taiwanese Food
Trust me: it’s a total game changer to make your own boba and drink freshly made bubble tea. And there’s nothing quite like the bouncy goodness of a handmade guabao you put together yourself. Some cooking classes around Taipei are more official and some are more homestyle. Two of the better known ones are CookInn Taiwan and Ivy’s Kitchen.
2. Have a Soak in Hot Spring Waters
You can hot spring however you like in Taipei. You can get naked in a public hot spring, or get naked in a private tub in your hotel room. You can go first thing in the morning, or you can end your night with a soak. There are options at all price points: from the Beitou Public Hot Spring’s 40NT entrance fee, to 12,000NT per night at the Grand View Resort. Hot tip: for late night adventures, drive up to Kawayu in Xinbeitou. They open daily from 6am until 3am.
3. Take the Gondola to Maokong
It’s an amazing view that never gets old and one of the best value public transport rides in all of Taiwan. A one-way ticket up to Maokong from Muzha MRT station costs only 60NT for Taipei residents and 70NT for tourists. The entire route is around 4km long, with an elevation of 275m. For an even better view, line up for one of the “crystal” cabins with a reinforced glass floor. Save some tea houses or restaurants in your Google Maps for when you reach the top. If it’s bad weather, first check with the Gondola website to make sure it’s operating.
4. Pop into a Temple or Two
The best people watching in Taipei is at the temples because religious practices and beliefs are mainstream and widely practiced. The temple buildings are pretty wild — super intricate and colorful. Bao’an Temple and Xingtian Temple are popular, but the most famous is Longshan Temple. If you want a deeper understanding, book a walking tour of Longshan Temple with TourMeAway (it’s a free tour but they accept donations). They run a night tour that takes around two hours, or afternoon tours on Sundays.
5. Visit the National Palace Museum
You can’t really come to Taipei and not visit the National Palace Museum. So many amazing things there, and I’m not even talking about that jade cabbage thing. If you’re really into museums and old stuff, you can book an English tour through the website. It needs to be done two days in advance. My other tip is to book a taxi or Uber there. Saves time trying to navigate the bus.
6. Hike One of Taiwan’s Mountains
Taiwan has zero UNESCO World Heritage Sites because Taiwan isn’t in the United Nations, but there’s so much natural beauty here worthy of that label. It’s not that easy to get to some of the national parks, so check the ParkBus website to see if they are offering daytrips during your stay. They set itineraries of various difficulties (easy, moderate, hard) and run trips out of Taipei, Hsinchu, Taichung and Chiayi. This one is on my to-do list!
7. Taste Some Local Beers and Liquors
A few places to save to your Google Maps if you’re looking for local drinks: 23 Public for craft beer, Zhangmen’s rooftop bar, Taihu’s Landmark outdoor bar (great pizza too), Kavalan Whisky Bar. If you’re wondering what to do on a Saturday night, TourMeAway does a pub crawl every week. It looks pretty fun and a great way to spend the evening for 700NT. Warning: I’d stay away from places named On Tap, The Brass Monkey etc.
If you find a place with a Taiwan Beer fridge, do the Taiwan Beer Tasting Flight. (It’s not really a thing, I’ve just made it up.) Basically you get one tall bottle each of the different variations of Taiwan Beer: Classic, Gold Medal and 18 Days. If you see the brown Weissbier bottle then definitely get that too.
8. Go to Din Tai Fung
Don’t listen to the haters. It’s not overrated, it’s awesome. And it tastes the best right here in Taipei.
9. Try Not to Eat Too Much
You can’t eat every dinner at the night market, so bookmark these Taiwanese restaurants and keep them in your back pocket: Du Hsiao Yueh, Shin Yeh, AoBa, My Stove, A Cheng Goose, 渣男 Taiwan Bistro, Hai Jiu Penghu Seafood, Baxian Grill, Fuhang Soy Milk (breakfast), and Chun Shui Tang, the chain restaurant of the famed bubble tea brand.
10. Bonus Experiences
- Get a cheap but incredibly painful reflexology-style, full-body massage. I go to Dancing Fingers.
- Hike Elephant Mountain. Confession: I haven’t done this yet.
- Order a ridiculous Taiwan-only pizza flavor from Pizza Hut.
- Buy fruit from the morning traditional market nearest you. Extra points if it’s longan.
- Experience a local baseball game. Here’s how to buy tickets.
- Check the schedule at the National Theater & Concert Hall, Taipei Music Center and Taipei Performing Arts Center in case there’s something interesting happening.
- Sing late-night karaoke at PartyWorld or SingGo and order an entire table of food. If you have a fat budget then definitely book a room at Oncor.
- Try a seasonal fruit drink at one of the MACU tea shop locations. It’s one of my favorite ways to have fresh fruit.
- Take a half-day getting to Jiufen and back. I haven’t been in maybe 10 years. It’s like the Times Square of Taipei.
- Book yourself a full-body medical checkup at a private wellness clinic that specializes in them. (Yes, I’m serious.) I’ve gone to Lianan, but there are lots of options if you ask around.
11. Tips for Souvenirs
- Buy your boxed up pastries from SunnyHills, Pan’s Cake, ChiaTe or Taipei Leechi. Taipei Leechi have the bestest suncakes everrrrrr. My pick for pineapple cakes is ChiaTe, but I promise you there’s gonna be a line to get into the main shop. Save time by skipping the individual stores and going straight to the Taipei 101 mall. There are a bunch of booths outside the Din Tai Fung on the B1 level.
- Buy all other souvenirs like cute packaged teas, stationery and small items at Lai Hao near Yongkang Street.
- If you need gifts for little kids, my book Hey Taipei is sold at Lai Hao and also the Tamed Fox cafes.
- When you’re at Din Tai Fung, grab a couple of the boxed chili oils and XO sauces as gifts.
- At the airport, find the Hsin Tung Yang gift shops. You can get the Morinaga fruit drops made with Taiwanese fruit flavors like mango, lychee, passionfruit, guava and peach. The tin looks like this.
- If desperate, go to PX Mart or Mia C’Bon and get some expensive Taiwanese instant noodles. Or maybe just a bag of expensive Taiwanese rice.
Finally, here are some old guides from pre-Covid days. A lot of places might be closed, sadly, but they still might be helpful.