Taipei is a fun little city, great for any traveler, especially those who love food. It is easy to see why Taipei is one of the food capitals of the world, boasting 5-star restaurants, street markets, themed cafes and street food that is available 24 hours a day. Any Instagram foodie will be in their element here.
If you want to get a quick taste of what Taiwan is like to visit, you should check out the video I made of our trip.
Taiwan had never been on my 'must see list', it had never even crossed my mind to visit. It was only after a friend nearly booked my flight for me, because she was so desperate to go, that I realised it must be worth a visit. It's safe to say Taiwan has topped all my expectations, and I can’t wait to go back.
I booked my flight's last minute and managed to find an Airbnb on the day. If you don't already have an Airbnb account, stop what you are doing and go make an account. Airbnb is usually much cheaper than a hotel, and if you click here you can get £25 travel credit to put towards your first booking! Just make sure the place you book is near to an MRT station (a metro station).
Even though my trip was unplanned, it was made beautifully simple by two things. First, the public transport is fantastic. And second, Taipei is packed full of lovely people. Strangers helped us with directions when we were lost, waiters chose food for us when we couldn't understand the menu, and taxi drivers sat with us as we tried to explain where we wanted to go (which took a lot of pointing at maps, hand gestures and finally google translate). One taxi driver even accepted our box of Krispy Kremes as a way to make up our fare when we couldn't afford to get back to the airport.
So first, let's talk about getting public transport.
You can get to nearly any tourist attraction in Taipei via the metro, better known as the MRT. It's cheap and simple, and if you are here for a few days, you should get a 'TaipeiPass' which gives you unlimited travel on the MRT and buses during the valid time.
One Day Pass: NT$180 (£4.60/US$5.70/€5.30)
Two Day Pass: NT$310 (£7.95/US$9.80/€9.20)
Three Day Pass: NT$440 (£11.30/US$14/€13)
Five Day Pass: NT$700 (£17.90/US$22.20/€20.75)
Where to buy it from: You can buy a 'TaipeiPass' from either the Information Counter at any Taipei Metro station or the EasyCard Customer Service Centre at Taipei Main Station.
Now you know how to get around, I want to show you some places to go.
If you are only in Taipei for a couple of days, and you only have time to visit one temple, it should be Longshan Temple. The Temple is dedicated to Guanyin, the God of Mercy, but hundreds of other Gods and Goddesses are worshipped here. Hoping to pass an exam you didn't study for? There’s a God of Education. Where’s Cupid when you need him? Visit the Old Man Under the Moon aka the Matchmaker. Realise you ran out of money because you spent it all on travelling? Yes, there is a God of Money.
What's the best chance of getting your prayers answered? Follow the lead of the locals. Buy incense as you walk in, light them, and walk around counterclockwise praying to the Gods.
The MTR stop: Longshan Station
Address: 211 Guangzhou St
Best time to visit: Guanyin’s Birthday on the 19th February, or leading up to Chinese New Year to get the full feeling.
Hours: 6 am to 10 pm
LIBERTY SQUARE (FREEDOM SQUARE)
Liberty Square contains the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, the National Concert Hall and the National Theatre and it should be on the top of your list of things to see. It is an example of neo-Chinese architecture at its finest, photographs don't do this place justice and don't capture the enormity of these buildings. It is culturally and historically symbolic of Taiwan's journey from totalitarianism to democracy.
The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (below) also has a free art gallery inside which if you have time, and enjoy art, you should unquestionably see it while you are here. Inside there are two guards who, even in the sticky heat, didn't move a muscle. I'm not even sure if I saw one of them blink.
There are often mass gatherings here, from dances to military parades. We were lucky enough to get there just in time to see one of the military parades with a full marching band. Their timing and accuracy was breath taking, make sure you ask your hostel/hotel if there is any events in the square during your visit.
The MTR stop: Chaing Kai-shek Memorial Hall MRT Station Exit 5.
Address: 21 Zhongshan S Rd
Da'an District has something for everyone. Shoppers, photographers and especially the foodies among you. These streets are full of quirky boutiques which you could spend an afternoon exploring.There is also a jade and flower market as well as a 24-hour bookstore. Need a break? Da'an District is full of cute cafes, delicious restaurants and student bars.Once it gets dark there are two famous night markets, Tonghua Night Market and Shida Night Market which are worth exploring.
For the food lovers, head over to Yongkang Street. It has everything from street vendors to gourmet restaurants. It has something for every traveller's budget. Fried chicken on a pancake anyone? So far Taipei seems like the Queen of quirky combinations, be a little adventurous because who knew fried chicken and pancakes were a secret power couple?
MRT: Da’an Station
臺北101 / 台北101
For the shopaholics out there Taipei 101 has an enormous five floors of shopping, but better yet you can see some of the best views of Taipei from here. Taipei 101 towers over the rest of the city, there is no way you can miss this giant. It was the tallest building in the world before the title was taken by the Burj Khalifa. The highest point open to the public is at 1,258ft, and the views are worth the queue. It is one of the few observatories I have been in Asia where there isn't a time limit which means you can go up in the evening and watch the sunset.
There are some great views of Taipei 101 and the city if you climb Elephant Mountain or a more relaxed way is to grab a drink at the WOOBAR in the W Hotel. Unfortunately, we only had a few days here and didn't have time (next time though).
The MTR stop: Taipei 101
Best time to visit: 9am-10pm, last ticket sale 9.15pm
Hours: 9am-10pm, last ticket sale 9.15pm
Price: Adult ticket NT$500 (around £10. 90/US$15.50/ €13.70)
Here are a handful of places to get your tastebuds started:
DIN TAI FUNG
In the basement of Taipei 101, there is a restaurant called Din Tai Fung. If you haven't had a chance to visit yet, go! It was ranked as one of the world's 'Top Ten Best Restaurants' by the New York times, and it has a Michelin star and the best part? It won't break the bank. I have been a few times, and I have never paid more than £10 (US$14.55/€12.85) with drinks, and I have always been uncomfortably full. Always order more than you think you need because it's so good I promise you will be fighting over the last Xiaolongbao.
Din Tai Fung is always busy in Taipei, so if you go, and you should, either reserve a table or give yourself plenty of time before you eat. If you haven't booked a table, they will hand you a ticket with a number on it, then wander around the Mall for a little bit to kill some time. When you get inside the restaurant half the fun is being able to watch the chef's cook.
The kitchen is surrounded by glass and watching the chefs is hypnotising. No one in the kitchen has any less than three years of training, and not only are they exceedingly fast at making their famous dumplings, rolling out 20 per minute but they are also meticulous. For the pleated effect you see on top of each dumpling it must be pinched 18 times, not 19 not 20 always 18.
If you still aren't convinced have a look at their menu here.
The MTR stop: Taipei 101
Hours: 11am-9:30pm (serving food)
SHILIN NIGHT MARKET
If you only have time to visit one market visit Shilin Night Market, it's the largest and probably the most popular market in Taipei. It is a maze of streets with literally hundreds of food vendors. The atmosphere is electric; there is so much going on you will want to rush ahead to see what's down the next road. Make sure you go hungry because you are going to want to eat everything here.
It also has some pretty edgy clothing stalls and a lot of the time you can talk to the designers who tend to be sat with them. Leave some space in your suitcase; you'll need it. Shilin will be one of the highlights of your trip, and you could easily spend all night here.
There are a few traditionally Taiwanese dishes you should try while you are here. First, the drink that no one can get enough of - Bubble Tea, and don't worry you will find it here. You can also get your hands on Giant Fried Chicken Steak, grab some Fried Buns, an Oyster Omelette or Tempura.
One that you will undoubtedly smell before you see is Stinky Tofu, which I’ll admit I was never brave enough to try. But be braver than me! Do better! Take on the full Asian adventure that you came for! And even if it tastes how it smells - which I sincerely hope it doesn't for your sake - there are some fun things to try afterwards like Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream, and my absolute favourite, the squid. Don't be intimidated by any of the food; it is all so cheap that if you don't like it, you can buy something else.
The MTR stop: JianTan Station (Use Exit 1)
Google Maps: click here.
Best time to visit: Don't head down until the evening or night to see it in full swing, but food vendors will shut at 12 am
Hours: Mon-Sun 11:00am to -02:00am
No trip to Taipei would be complete without a visit to one of their themed restaurants. Da’an district is a paradise for any foodie, and home to one of my favourite themed restaurants “Restaurant Kobitos”.
This quirky restaurant is based on the Japanese children’s book Kobito Dukan. The restaurant is full of these weird little cartoon characters, who are small ugly things which are strangely adorable. Japan is known for this style “kimokawaii”, an odd mix of ugly (kimoi) and cute (kawaii). Japanese culture is still prevalent in Taiwan, which explains why Kobitos is so popular here.
Like most themed restaurants in Taipei, the food is good but pricey. On the plus side, the food here is as quirky as the little monsters. I had a bacon, banana and peanut butter burger, because why not? And it was honestly delicious.
If you love the idea of a themed restaurant, but Kobitos doesn't seem like your thing, don't worry. There are so many great themed restaurants dotted all around the city, some even stranger than Kobitos. Here is a list to get you inspired.
P.S. Bu Bu Restaurant
Alice Is Coming
Address: No. 2, Alley 40, Lane 181, Section 4, Zhongxiao E Rd, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106
Google Maps: click here
MRT: Da’an Station
Etiquette in Taipei:
If you are giving or taking something from someone (e.g. money, or a menu, a card) always hand it to them with two hands. It's rude to give or take something with one hand.
In Taiwan it's rude to point at people, if you need someone to come to you, you should wave your hand toward yourself with your palm down.
If you get the chance to go inside a Taiwanese home make sure you take off your shoes.
Now you know everything you need to know, and don't forget to pack a toothbrush!