Taiwan’s largest city is an exciting metropolis where shopping and eating are high on the agenda for locals and visitors. Although the streets are hectic, the city is punctuated with parks and temples, and even the capital’s hot springs are easily accessible on the affordable MRT subway system. Trendy cafes, restaurants and hotels abound and many say Taipei is friendlier than other major Asian cities.
Start the day on top of the world by visiting Taipei 101, the 508-metre skyscraper that was built to resemble a bamboo stalk and reigned as the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2010, until Dubai’s Burj Khalifa took the honours. There are 360-degree views from the observatory, and also a five-storey shopping mall in the building with high-end brands and a massive food court.
The National Palace Museum, modelled on Beijing’s Forbidden City, has the largest collection of Chinese artefacts and art in the world, covering 10,000 years in Chinese history. The Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall has a giant statue of the Nationalist leader and an hourly changing of the guard. Longshan Temple, Maokong Gondola and Beitou hot springs are other worthy inclusions on a Taipei itinerary.
Eat and Drink
Conde Naste Traveller magazine has called Taiwan the “foodie destination of 2015”, and it’s no wonder with its array of steaming-hot dumplings right through to its growing number of Michelin-starred restaurants. Din Tai Fung is a Taipei dumpling phenomenon with franchises popping up around the world. Be prepared to queue to get in and be sure to try the xiao long bao soup dumplings.
Street food is another exciting option in Taipei. Head for the night markets and try the cheap snacks – called xiaochi – such as deep-fried chicken cutlets, cuttlefish skewers, flame-grilled beef cubes, beef noodle soup and flaky scallion pancake. The food of Taiwan is generally influenced by China and Japan, but there are many local classics, including “Small Sausage in Large Sausage” – a small pork sausage encased in a larger sausage made of sticky rice and often char-grilled.
One of Taiwan’s most stylish restaurants is Le Mout where the Taiwanese-born and Paris-trained owner-chef Lanshu Chen has created a French menu that has propelled the eatery into worldwide top restaurant lists.
Where to Stay
Some of the most central districts to stay include Xinyi, Zhongshan and Zhongzheng. Ximending is another district that is always bustling. There is no shortage of trendy boutique-style hotels in these areas, as well as high-end hotel accommodation that is well priced compared with other Asian cities.
The choices are vast for shoppers, whether you want to spend your Taiwan dollars in an upmarket mall, tourist market, fashion district, electronics shop or department store. The Xinyi district is known for its malls and department stores.
The Eslite bookshop chain, Taiwan’s biggest, has a branch there with a comprehensive English-language section. The stores are full of hipsters and there’s a policy that you can read for as long as you like without buying.
High-end designer brands are found along tree-lined Zhongshan North Road, affordable fashion and accessories in the Wufenpu shopping district, and electronics and cameras in Boai Road or Guang Hua Digital Plaza.
The largest pedestrianised area is Ximending, with endless boutiques, bizarre themed restaurants (such as Modern Toilet) and Japanese influences.
Taipei Like a Local
Head for the night markets where you can jostle for bargains and rub shoulders with Taiwanese at the hawker stalls. The oldest and most famous is the Shilin market. Also consider Raohe, Ningxia, and Shida night markets.