A bustling metropolis that has managed to preserve much of its cultural, historical and natural heritage tucked deep into its multifold urban layers and the verdant outskirts.
Along with South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong, Taiwan forms the quartet of ‘Asian Tigers’ and Taipei, its capital, bears brilliant testament of the rapid economic development the country has achieved in little over seven decades, after freeing itself from a long legacy of colonial rule.
Like every global city, Taipei has its own nerve centre, where you can feel its character and spirit. Start off your exploration of the Taiwanese capital at Liberty Square – the huge plaza in the heart of Zhongzheng district. The popular square is the site of public gatherings, the venue for outdoor festivals and concerts and also serves as the red-carpet welcome ground for foreign dignitaries.
The square is flanked by the National Concert Hall on the north and the National Theater on the south, two important civic landmarks. At the east end of Liberty Square stands the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, in memory of Taiwan’s most prominent statesman, inside a beautiful park. Catch the hourly changing of the guard at the memorial hall and spend some time in the beautifully landscaped park dotted with sculpted trees and ornate structures and watch the groups of locals engaged in Tai Chi - a gracefully synchronised form of exercise ever popular in Taiwan.
Standing at an outstanding 509 metres, Taipei 101 was the tallest building of the world from 2004 to 2009 before Dubai’s Burj Khalifa surpassed it. With a brilliant design that defies both typhoons and earthquakes, the iconic tower is a scintillating sight, zooming up from the ground like a stationery space ship that is built like a bamboo reed. The architectural style of repeated rhythms evokes traditional Oriental aesthetics in a postmodernist structure and the main tower features a series of eight segments of eight floors each, resonating with the auspiciousness of number 8 in Chinese philosophy. Head over to one of the observation decks on the uppermost floors for breathtaking 360 degree panoramic views of the cityscape of Taipei.
For one-of-a-kind vantage views of Taipei, climb up the seemingly endless flight of stairs to the Elephant Mountain top. The trail is steep but the city skyline, along with the natural greenery that surrounds it, is stupendously beautiful especially if you are there at sunrise or sunset.
For a dose of culture dipped in religious overtones, visit the ancient Longshan Temple. The elaborately embellished, red-and-gold seat of worship dates back to 1738 and venerates the Bodhisattva, along with countless other deities. Located in Wanhua District, which is one of the neighbourhoods having traces of old Taipei with its medieval buildings and temples, Longshan is not only a bastion of Taoist, Confucian and Buddhist faiths but also of indigenous culture. The beautiful structure, decorated with colourful dragons and urns, has survived bombings, earthquakes and tropical storms and has been restored multiple times with local donations.
Taste tea like a pro and soak yourself into the unique Taiwanese tea culture that produces some of the world’s finest oolong teas. A sky gondola from Taipei Zoo takes you over to the mountain village of Maokong for an intimate glimpse into the world of Taiwanese tea –brewing tips, tea ceremony, tea processing et al. The spectacular views of the Taipei city together with mist-drenched slopes of plantations are add-ons in this unforgettable tea trip.
For a deeper taste of Taipei’s storied past, venture out into Dalong Street. Immerse yourself into the sights, sounds and smells of this chaotic and atmospheric neighbourhood, chock full of food vendors rustling up lip-smacking Taiwanese-style breakfast, including baked rolls, soy milk, egg wrap, noodles and porridge. Located near two of Taipei’s finest religious institutions - Confucius Temple and Bao’an Temple - the street turns more exotic in the evening when the entire stretch metamorphoses into a vibrant night market.
Wherever you are in Taipei, you are never far from a night market – the perfect spot to experience the buzz and bustle of community atmosphere, apart from finding souvenirs at bargain prices and sampling savoury snacks – from soup-filled dimsums to stinky tofu to the specialty bubble tea. From the sprawling, covered stretch of Shilin Night Market to the trendy Shida Night Market, they are famous for traditional gourmet delicacies, quirky novelties and even fashion accessories. If you are feeling particularly gastronomically adventurous, do not miss Huaxi Street Night Market, better known as Snake Alley. Food offerings include turtle testicles, and yes, you guessed it: snake meat and blood!
Modelled on Japanese shopping streets, Ximending is a hipster cultural and entertainment district. With its gigantic digital billboards, neon-lit streets, themed cafes, speakeasy bars, promo events, tattoo and nail artists and street performers, this is the modern face of Taipei – bold, uninhibited and ready to take on the world.
With a plethora of ethnic bazaars, boutique enclaves, shopping districts and world class malls, Taiwan’s capital city is a shoppers’ paradise. Shin Kong Mitsukoshi (SKM) is Taiwan’s most popular department store that leads trailblazing trends in fashion. Housed inside the Shin Kong Tower in the upscale Zhongzheng District, SKM is comprised of four uniquely different department store plazas connected by covered sky bridges, where iconic international brands and edgy, homegrown designers attract millions of tourists every year. The one-stop shopping destination creates an unique blend of fashion and green living space, which also has a great food court for sampling authentic Taiwanese cuisine.
Nestled across six lower floors of the iconic Taipei 101 Tower, the country’s finest shopping mall boasts of the highest concentration of boutique flagship stores, as well as the largest number of jewellery and watch stores in Taiwan. The glass dome high above radiates the exuberance of a global metropolitan plaza and the bespoke luxury labels are always in step with the trends fashionistas the world over are embracing at the moment. Elegance and style are the buzzwords here in Taipei 101, with unbridled creativity in the design elements surprising you at every corner. The gourmet food court showcases exquisite and authentic flavours from around the globe, and many of the outposts carry the coveted Michelin-star.
Hosting a remarkable range of brands from luxury international to mid-range boutique, Breeze Center Mall’s 12 floors, perched in the middle of the Songshan district, collectively comprise an ever-popular zone of shopping, entertainment and dining. Each floor dedicates itself to a particular theme and this recreational shopping destination is partial towards women’s fashion and accessories.
Restaurants & Bars
With its culinary roots going back to the days of Japanese colonial rule and later influences from neighbouring China seeping into its cooking traditions, Taiwan’s gastronomic canvas is an epicurean extravaganza – from raucous street food stalls in the exuberant night markets to the fine elegance of Michelin-starred enclaves in hipster neighbourhoods.
Chef Andre Chiang remains loyal to his native Taiwan’s culinary traditions, and creatively tops them up with Western flavours in his two Michelin-starred RAW Taipei - a modernist space with sculptural elements of wood-and-stone on the surface accentuating its contemporary flair. The tasting menu rotates in lockstep with each of Taiwan’s 24 microseasons and always highlights Taiwanese seafood, meat and its exotic, freshly harvested fruits and vegetables. Check out the extensive French wine list to perfectly pair your food with.
Known for his creative methods and innovative interpretations of Japanese cooking, Chef Seiji Yamamoto’s mission has been to pursue the endlessly rich possibilities of traditional Japanese culinary culture and his constant endeavour has earned the two-star Michelin accolade for his Ryugin Taipei restaurant. Located in the Zhongshan district, the outpost is Taiwan’s finest kaiseki cuisine destination, where the freshest produce of the country is matched with seasonal ingredients that are flown in daily from Japan to craft culinary masterpieces.
Le Palais serves the finest Cantonese dim sum alongside Chinese banquet cuisines. The tables are expensive here in this Datong district outpost, which is Taiwan’s only three Michelin-starred restaurant where dining is a delectable experience with the superbly crafted braised fish maw or crispy roast duck or edible bird’s nests. The six opulent private VIP rooms merge oriental and French aesthetics in its luxuriant, chic décor. An ideal retreat to enjoy a sumptuous dinner with friends and family with magnificent night views of the city.
Think Taiwanese culinary legacy and think Nordic cuisine. A pretty oddball combination, but there you get the fabulous MUME at the confluence. Chefs Kai Ward, Richie Lin and Long Xiong bring together their diverse cultural background and experience to utilise hyperseasonal local ingredients and apply Nordic cooking techniques. The result is immaculate edible art – gorgeous, bright-hued delicacies like braised abalone with triple cooked bamboo shoots and Taiwanese caviar that are a treat both for the eyes and the palate.
The lively metropolis turns even more exciting as dusk sets in with the bars and nightclubs getting filled with a feisty young crowd and pulsating music. With its lavishly designed interiors, and a rotating roster of internationally-acclaimed DJs revving up the music, Omni claims the top nightspot in the city. Dance your night away on the huge dance floor packed with suave men and gorgeous women, dressed to kill. The vibe is super energetic with creative lighting arrangements turning the space into a visual extravaganza. The bottle service is impeccable too.
Perched in the middle of the hipster Xinyi district, Room 18 is the mainstay of Taipei’s nocturnal canvas where you get to rub elbows with the city’s celebs and business honchos. Spinning hip hop ad electronica, the house music is always in sync with the super cool ambience where you can move yourself back and forth easily between the seated drinking area and the cavernous dance floor that holds up to 1000 people, and gets particularly busy on weekends.
Museums & the Arts
Four floors packed with a huge and stunning collection, National Palace Museum is a treasure trove of ancient Chinese imperial artifacts. The undisputed showstopper is the Jadeite Cabbage, a beautiful sculpture carved into the shape of a Chinese cabbage head, but the exquisite collection of paintings, calligraphy, ceramics, rare manuscripts and religious objects is equally enticing. After spending a few good hours, head over to the onsite Silks Palace that offers a fine-dining experience with traditional Taiwanese dishes.
Established in 1908 during the colonial rule of Japan, the National Taiwan Museum is the oldest museum in Taiwan. Located in the 228 Peace Park, the museum is housed inside a magnificent Renaissance style building. With its elegant architecture, abundant and diverse collections and strategic location in front of the Taipei Railway Station, it is an important landmark of the city and embodiment of Taiwan's financial, economic, architectural and craft histories. The permanent collection of aboriginal exhibits is brilliant and an excellent way to learn about the history of Taiwan’s indigenous tribes. When you are walking in, do not miss the splendid stained glass in the lobby of the ceiling that has retained the original design since the day of inauguration of the museum.
The city’s official art museum, Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM), is Taiwan’s first space dedicated to preserve, research, develop, and popularize Taiwanese modern and contemporary art. The architecture is a local interpretation of the Japanese Metabolist Movement - a traditional siheyuan courtyard with a modernist edge – and the artfully lighted interiors are perfectly suited for the innovative and traditional exhibitions the museum regularly hosts. TFAM is the venue of the prestigious Taipei Biennial that goes a long way to promote exchanges with the global art community and to expand the cultural horizons of the city.
Sports is Taiwan’s favourite recreational activity and the most popular spectator sport is baseball primarily due to the Japanese and American influence in the region. The intensely popular major league went through some rough phases in recent decades, but has witnessed a resurgence since 2016. Located in Tianmu Sport Park in Shilin district, the Taipei Tianmu Baseball Stadium hosts professional games over the weekends. Catching a game with the Taiwanese fans cheering, singing and clapping for their heroes on the field can be an exhilarating experience.
The 104-year old Taiwan Golf & Country Club is the oldest institution where you can head over if you are looking for a tee off in style. Nestled within dense woodlands on the estuary of the Danshui river, TGCC boasts magnificent views and top-notch facilities making it one of the world’s iconic golf courses. Located in the Linkou district in New Taipei City, the 36-hole golf complex at Miramar Golf & Country Club comprises of impeccably-maintained fairways and greens, along with two 18-hole courses. The prestigious golf resort can be a challenging venue for its curves and changes in elevations.
A graceful Chinese martial art designed as a health care therapy as well as a defense mechanism, Tai Chi is everywhere in Taipei, and you can spot single practitioners and semi-choreographed small groups practicing this ancient sport in parks across the city. It is extremely easy, and just about free, to study Tai Chi while you are in Taipei, with teachers giving instructions in public parks and community activity centres. Learn the philosophy of the forces of yin and yang, and pick up the basics of slow, waltz-like movements in a short module during your stay, and give your mental and physical health a boost the Taiwanese way!
Knife therapy. Raised eyebrows? A chill down the spine? It does sound dangerous, but the ancient art of dao liao is believed to have emotional and physical healing powers. It had originated in China more than 2000 years ago and later spread to Japan, but rarely practiced in either of those two countries. But here in Taiwan, it has surfaced back and practitioners say that it is a wonder treatment to drive out negative energy from a stress-filled modern life and also good for curing ailments. With swift chopping motions of rather intimidating-looking, blunt meat cleavers, the muscles and pressure points are gently pummelled to enhance metabolism, improve sleep quality and after an hour long session, you come out with rejuvenated muscles and a general sense of well-being. Unbruised, of course.
For an authentic experience, head over to one of the many branches of The Ancient Art of Knife Massage Dao Liao Iching Education Center that have burgeoned across Taipei in recent years.
Steeped in Taiwanese history and culture, the tiny but bustling town of Jiufen is nestled in the mountains just 2 hours northeast of Taiwan, and commands stunning views of the Pacific Ocean. A former gold-mining destination in the final decades of the 19th century, Jiufen passed into a phase of relative obscurity when mining activities declined, but bounced back into the spotlight when this coastal mountainous settlement became the inspiration behind period dramas and international award-winning movies to be filmed in its unique location. The town is easily navigable on foot and its warren of charming alleyways running up and down the cliffside brim with archaic teahouses, souvenir shops, and atmospheric cafes – all lit up by the magical glow of the lanterns hovering above the narrow streets.
And if you thought Taipei is all about skyscrapers, night markets and a vibrantly colourful city life, save a day for Yangmingshan National Park. Located just a short bus ride away, it is a hidden green paradise with hot springs, cherry blossoms, sulphur deposits, fumaroles and Taiwan’s tallest dormant volcano Qixing Mountain standing majestically in the middle of it. Explore some of the hiking trails wandering off into the deep recesses of this beautiful mountainous landscape.
Must Buy Souvenir
Considered one of the best in the world, Oolong Tea has been one of the best agricultural products of the country since early 18th century. With light floral notes and subtle fruity flavours, high mountain Taiwanese Oolong tea has delighted tea connoisseurs around the globe, and the best places to collect a few samples are Chuan-Shang Tea Store in Heng Yang Road and Hui Liu Tea House and Vegetarian Food on Yung-Kang Street.
The vibrant metropolis is peppered with luxurious lodging options around its prime locations. Urban-style, ultraluxe resorts come with well-appointed suites, world class amenities, professionally-managed tour desks and state-of-the-art convention centres, making them ideal retreats for affluent holiday seekers and well heeled business travellers.
The Airport MRT is the fastest way to reach Taipei city centre from the Taoyuan International Airport (TPE). Hop on the MRT from the airport terminal and it will reach you to Taipei Main Station in just over half an hour.
An extensive metro system (MRT) runs from 6 am till midnight, features both underground and elevated sections throughout the city, and links all the top attractions. Another excellent option is the bus network that services sections of the city and surroundings that are not well covered by the MRT
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