Arriving in Taipei was an instant culture shock of the best kind and we loved every minute of our time in this amazing city. It’s one of the few places where my overly high expectations didn’t leave me disappointed and actually as we’ve continued our journey round Taiwan we’ve fallen more and more for the country. It’s a little crazy, very busy and intense at times but the people are so friendly and there’s so much to do that you can’t really help but love it. Do make sure that if you visit Taiwan you leave time to spend at least 3 days in Taipei exploring all the city has to offer.
From bizarre but delicious street food to plenty of history and culture to beautiful city parks and gardens it has everything you could want. Not to mention the zoo, tea fields up in the local mountains, themed cafes and shopping districts… you could stay here a week or more and not see everything but as a starter you can see plenty in 3-4 days. Our post on travelling in Taiwan gives loads more detail but it helps that it’s really easy to get around with a simple metro system with lots of signs in English and also plenty of bus routes that are user friendly. Another handy feature of the city is that if you look even the slightest bit lost or confused you’ll have many lovely locals come and ask you if you’re okay and to see if there’s anything they can help you with. This happened every single time we felt the slightest bit lost and completely restored any faith we may have lost in humanity. I seriously can’t emphasise enough how amazingly friendly people are in Taiwan.
So yes, we spent 3 days in Taipei and managed to fit lots in – this is what we got up to which I hope is a handy itinerary for other travellers!
Our first of 3 days in Taipei was spent focusing on the main history and ‘typical’ city tourist attractions, as well as trying to see some of the quirkier side of the city. We did a huge amount of walking and managed to cover most places on foot over the course of an afternoon, although it’s also simple to hop on and off the metro.
Ximending Pedestrian Area
This was a short walk from our first hostel and our second hostel was based right in the thick of it – although you can reach it easily enough from the metro. It’s a buzzing, lively area packed with bars, restaurants and shops. Here you can find the famous footlong ice creams that we enjoyed, the Modern Toilet Restaurant and plenty more quirky and fun places to explore. Ximending gets compared to Harajuku in Tokyo with its bright lights and the many young people who come and hang out here on the weekends.
This is more famous as a site associated with Taiwan’s history and transition to democracy, and was completed in the 1970s. It’s another place where there’s always something going on, from military drills to students messing around in the wide open square. You can also see the National Concert Hall and National Theatre which sit opposite each other at one end of the square.
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall
An enormous white building with a series of steps leading up to it, this is a memorial to President Chiang Kai-Shek. There are plans in place currently to transform it into a centre where people can learn more about Taiwan’s history and somewhere that pays respects to previous human rights issues in the move towards democracy.
National History Museum
Handily located right next to the Botanic Gardens of Taipei, this is a fairly small museum that showcases various historical artefacts from China and Taiwan, including pottery and sculptures. It only costs a couple of pounds to enter and is a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. Most signs are in English as well as Taiwanese so it’s easy to appreciate what you’re looking at.
Sadly we visited right at the end of winter / beginning of summer so the gardens were undergoing quite a lot of maintenance work, but I imagine in summer they’d be seriously impressive. Even with not so much in flower, it was still a great place to visit. Highlights include the Lotus Pond, Bamboo Garden and Buddhist Garden.
Shilin Night Market
Finish the day off with a trip to one of the city’s many night markets – Shilin is the largest and most famous and easy to reach by metro. It’s packed with food stalls and I think I read there were over 500, so you’re sure to find some street food you like, and there are also stalls set up selling souvenirs, clothing and all sorts of other goods. Nearby there are many bars and karaoke joints if you want to make a night of it 🙂
On day 2 of our 3 days in Taipei it was time for more history, followed by seeing some of the more modern highlights of the city. We also threw in a hike for good measure – it was one of the most crowded hikes we’ve ever done but offers incredible city views so is a bit of a must do!
This is probably the most famous historical sight in Taipei, and the largest ancient temple. There are a lot of tours that offer the opportunity to visit with a guide and learn more about the history and how to worship etc, which in hindsight would have been well worth doing. Originally built in the 1700s it’s been damaged and destroyed by various earthquakes and wars including being bombed by the Americans in 1945. It’s a great opportunity to see some traditional architecture and features a mini waterfall as well as plenty of lanterns and extensive offering tables that are interesting to take a look at.
Bopiliao Old Street
We were less impressed by this, but it may have been because we visited on a day when it was very quiet. It’s very near to Longshan Temple though so worth a quick visit. It features an ancient traditional Taiwanese street that has been reconstructed and preserved – interesting because most of the city is so modern it shows a different style of architecture.
Sadly, having just paid a fair bit of money to visit the top of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, we couldn’t really justify another £30 on visiting skyscrapers but we’ve been reliably informed by other travellers that it’s definitely worth it if you’re not on a tight budget. It’s a really striking building and was actually the world’s tallest until the Burj Khalifa was built in 2009! It gets its name from the 101 floors, and the ground floor features a large shopping mall and plenty of cafes and restaurants.
Hiking up Elephant Mountain is basically a rite of passage and offers the best views of the city, including Taipei 101. It’s not too far away from this part of the city – walkable from the tower, and is a manageable hike that takes around 45 minutes to reach the summit. There are lots of temples and other points of interest as well as viewing points, but most people head up to the giant rocks that offer a great spot for posing in front of the city skyline. If you go at a busy time you can expect to queue for up to an hour to get your picture taken.
Jingmei Night Market & Street Food Tour
If your 3 days in Taipei happens to include a Sunday we would 100% recommend doing ‘The Hunger Games Street Food Tour’. Hopefully my blog won’t put you off, but it’s a great way to try out loads of new food in a way that allows you to know what you’re eating, as well as some of the local history behind the dishes. Jingmei market is also a good one to visit as its mainly used by locals and offers a less touristy experience than night markets like Shilin.
By the final day of your 3 days in Taipei if you’re anything like us you’ll probably be pretty shattered, but prepare yourself for a day of seeing some of the city’s surprising natural beauty. Try to pick a sunny day for this itinerary as we did it in the rain and although we still enjoyed it, it was less than ideal!
If you’re an animal fan then you should probably head straight here when you arrive for your 3 days in Taipei as it’s one of the best zoos we’ve visited. I always feel a bit conflicted about zoos, but they seem to do some great conservation work here and I’d rather see animals looked after safely if they’re endangered rather than left to poachers in the wild. Another debate for another time anyway. The absolute highlight is the pair of giant pandas, which are just the most amazingly cute and funny animals I’ve ever seen – we spent a good hour just sat watching them mooch around and eat bamboo. There are hundreds of other animals to see so be sure to leave yourself at least half a day to spend here. It’s also really cheap at just a couple of pounds to get in, although you may find yourself spending more than planned at the many gift shops.
Cable Car to Maokong Peak
Just up from the zoo on the Gondola are the Maokong Tea Trails – located around the Maokong Peak. The Gondola stops at a couple of places along the way and costs around £7-£8 to reach the top (one way). You can then enjoy traditional tea, amazing views of Taipei city and hiking around the local tea fields. Spend at least a few hours here and try to pick up a map so you can navigate the many interlinking trails – we recommend finding the one that leads to a small waterfall as well as the Pothole Trail.
Finally, you can’t visit Taiwan and Taipei in particular without visiting at least one themed cafe or restaurant. Sadly there aren’t as many still open as there used to be, I guess they must be pretty dependent on tourists and expensive to maintain, but they’re a good if bizarre experience! There are many lists of which ones are recommended, and we picked Rilakkuma Cafe. They LOVE Rilakkuma here and in Japan. He’s a big brown cartoon bear, who apparently appeared in an apartment one day according to the picture books, and has inspired various merchandise. The cafe isn’t cheap but is in a nice area of the city for wandering and shopping, and the cakes are delicious. As with most themed cafes it’s not worth visiting if you’re after good food, but for coffee and cake it’s a fun way to spend an hour and really if you’re spending 3 days in Taipei you should visit as many quirky establishments as possible!