Are you looking for things to do in Taipei? Look no further!
When you think of Taipei, what do you imagine? I imagined a city similar to Shanghai. Hustle Bustle, tall towers, language barriers, and of course the only factual image in my mind of Taipei 101. I was pleasantly surprised upon my arrival in Taipei to see an old, developed city with some tall towers but also boasting lush green mountains, waterfalls, markets and a mix of urban and rural not far or isolated from one another. What made it even more appealing is the warmth of the people there. Be the commuters on the trains, the taxi drivers, the café owners, the shop keepers or the hotel staff, everyone seemed kind and helpful. I generally find more positives in any place I visit but hearing the same from my husband and my 7 and 11 years old confirmed my growing fondness of Taipei and its people.
We were there for 4 and half days and here is an itinerary of places to visit and things to do so you can skip the lengthy research I had to do in order to make the most of our trip.
1. YANGMINGSHAN NATIONAL PARK
Yangmingshan National Park is located in northern Taipei City, and easily accessible from downtown. Spanning 114 SQ. KM, the area is home to numerous parks, hiking trails, interesting plants and wildlife, and the internationally famous hot springs.
There are several scenic spots around the park and after careful consideration of my family’s requirements which were not to hike for too long but enjoy the views, I chose Qingtiangang. A mountain-top flatland park, Qingtiangang provides amazing views of Yangmingshan National Park. By definition a lava terrace, the area was formed as a result of volcanic activity in the mountains nearby. After the eruption of Mt.Zhugao, the lava flowed north towards the area, creating this unique landscape. We hiked for just over an hour, stopping to take pictures and admire the views of peaks shrouded in clouds before heading back to the visitors center.
We took a taxi there and back as we weren’t sure about the commute. The drivers charge $400 Taiwanese dollars (SGD $17) to wait for an hour at most places, which is very convenient.
2. BEITOU HOT SPRINGS
Famous home of hot springs in the Taipei area, Beitou is the most convenient area for travellers visiting Taipei to enjoy authentic thermal hot springs. This is where we headed after the Yangmingshan National Park but it was closed for renovations. Although we were not able to experience the Onsons as they were closed for maintenance, they are one of the must do things in Taipei.
Each bath may have different etiquette and general rules, so be sure to first check the rules before entering the bath. Private hot springs in the Beitou area are very popular, so it is recommended to book a private room in advance for convenience while traveling.
The three common types of hot springs include green Sulphur (slightly green coloured and only found in Beitou and Akita, Japan), white Sulphur (a milky coloured spring which make up the majority of springs in the area), and iron Sulphur (transparent springs found around the Ding Beitou area).
Each bath may have rules regarding gender separation, whether or not bathers are permitted to wear clothing, and other regulations such as those regarding food and drink.
3. TAIPEI 101
If you want to truly appreciate the beauty of Taipei and take in the blend of the city and lush green surroundings, go to Taipei 101. It’s the 5th tallest observation tower in the world.
Purchase your tickets at the 5th floor of the mall and take the Guinness World Record-breaking high-speed elevator to the observatory on the 89TH floor, traveling at 1,010 metres/min (60.6 KPH), taking only 37 seconds to ascend to the observatory at the 89TH floor. Your ears will pop so keep some mints or candy in your mouth if that can bother you.
Don’t miss the massive gold-colored iron wind damper that keeps the tower stable through typhoons and earthquakes.
4. SHILIN NIGHT MARKET
This bustling market is a must visit being the largest and most popular one in Taipei. It is a food haven for those who are risk takers unlike us but also boasts tons of quirky shops selling clothes, shoes, accessories, toys, electronics and face masks, a must buy from Taiwan.
I picked up a couple of hydrating masks from “My Beauty Diary” and “Dr. Morita” along with a couple of long cardigans while the children had their names created from aluminum wire in funky colours from a very skilled vendor.
5. JIUFEN (Santorini of Taipei)
Also known as Shifen in Pingxi, this hilly area was an hour away by train from central Taipei. We chose to take the MRT as it would take the same length of time on a taxi and the children had had enough of sitting in a taxi on windy roads. Plus the views were far better and it is definitely a fraction of the price. It was a win, win.
Not quite what we expected, it was very basic in terms of amenities. Although the views were breath taking and there were parts of it resembling the houses sprawling down the mountains like Santorini. After hiking uphill along the roadside with traffic going both ways for about 20 minutes, we stopped at a café for a breather. Much to our surprise, not only was the café lovely and welcoming, the coffee and the desserts were fresh and delicious.
6. TEAPOT MOUNTAIN
It takes 15 to 20 minutes by bus or car to reach the Teapot Mountain Hiking trail from Jiufen. We still had daylight hours so decided to squeeze that into the plan as well. The first half of trail is a well maintained stone stairway, so visitors could easily ascend along the steps. Visitors could feel free to stop at any point to enjoy the extensive sea view. It might be slightly confusing when passing by two pavilions and a few forks on the way uphill, so keep an eye on the information map as it is easy to understand. A fully round trip would cost around 2 to 2.5 hours to complete but worth it.
7. SHIFEN WATERFALL
Shifen Waterfall is 40 metre tall and is known to create a rainbow as it splashes into the lake, widely regarded as the most scenic in all of Taiwan. We reached the waterfall after passing by a relatively smaller waterfall at first and were relieved to know that wasn’t it. From the car park, it’s an easy and pleasant 20-minute walk over rope bridges and next to the gorges to the touristy viewing balcony by the waterfall. Very scenic if you did know what to expect.
8. PINGXI LANTERNS
This was certainly the highlight of the trip. Imagine standing in a market with the train tracks running through. Lots of vendors on each side have huge paper lanterns hanging on either side of the train tracks for you to write anything you wish and send them soaring into the sky standing in the middle of the tracks. A siren is rung for the tourists to quickly clear the train tracks as the train approaches and once it has gone by, everyone resumes painting the lanterns and stepping back onto the tracks to light them and release the into the sky. It was a great family activity.
WHAT WE COULDN’T FIT IN BUT HIGHLY RECOMMEND
Another serene place away from the hustle bustle of Taipei city is Maokong. Known as one of the most scenic spot in Taipei to drink quality, locally grown tea. You will find a wide variety of tea houses where you can sit back with a cup of tea while taking in the beautiful views of Taipei.
To make it more exciting, the best way to reach Maokong is to take the Maokong Gondola scenic, retrofitted with Crystal Cabins cable car up the mountain from MRT Taipei Zoo Station.
10. THOUSAND ISLAND LAKE
Shiding Thousand Island Lake is a hidden gem in Taipei surrounded by tea farms. In the middle of the lake are islands covered with greenery, hence the name. It is one of those breath taking views of nature one must see. We missed it but it came highly recommended to us so pay it a visit.
SHERATON GRAND TAIPEI
I highly recommend Sheraton Grand Taipei Hotel for several reasons.
Central location: It is a short walk away from Taipei Main station.
Friendly staff: It would be an understatement to say just friendly. The staff will go the extra mile to make your stay a pleasant one.
Accommodating our needs: We wanted halal or at least vegetarian food which was not part of their Buffet. And they customised the food to our requirements.
Up to date: The rooms are superb. They maintain their standards at a high level and you feel like it’s a 5 star hotel.
TIPS FOR TAIPEI
Start your day early. There is a lot to see and do but parks and attractions close by 5pm and commute from Taipei to some attractions can take over an hour!
Use the MRT. They are very well planned, clean and convenient.
Taxis are not expensive but Trains can save time and be more cost-effective especially during peak hours.
Eat Early. Unless you plan to eat at the hotel, get dinner out of the way by 7:30 as everything closes by 8pm.
Dietary restrictions: If you prefer to eat Halal meat only or vegetarian food, it is hard to find but not impossible. Most fast-food chains cook and serve fish burgers or vegetarian items in separate vegetable oil and most hotels will also cater to your requirements.
Carry your hotel address with you in case you need to grab a taxi.
Toilets. They keep them squeaky clean and you are expected to do the same.
Beef Noodle soup! Must try!
Take our Karachi Challenge. 10 Things to do in 10 Days! Which ones have you covered and which ones have you missed?