Taiwan is a country which is only just starting to get noticed on the tourist trail. A legacy of the Chinese anti-communist movement (the Kuomintan government under Chang Kai-Shek escaped here when Mao Tse-Tung took over on the mainland) and a lengthy period of Japanese occupation, not to mention a Taiwanese heritage all its own, the country was seen as less advanced than some of its Asian neighbours until all that changed with the advent of the technology industry. These days, Taipei is a busy, modern capital city which still retains much of its Chinese heritage whilst remaining refreshingly free of mass Western tourism. For a safe, modern, yet fascinating place to visit, it is hard to beat. If you’re looking for fun things to do in Taipei, check out these 7 highlights for the ultimate Taipei bucket list!
Admire the views from Taipei 101
Taipei 101, the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2010, is hard to miss in Taipei. Standing 449 metres tall (508 metres to its tip), the formerly record-breaking tower is built to resemble a piece of bamboo, and has become the icon of the city. High-speed lifts take visitors to the 91st floor, where you will have a sweeping view across the city to the mountains beyond. And check out the huge damper ball and the technology that protects the tower from high winds and earthquakes! Photography from the tower is challenging due to the city haze and the plate glass windows, but the experience is not to be missed. Plan your Taipei 101 visit by booking a timed slot on the official website to guarantee admission and avoid the worst of the queues!
Climb Elephant Mountain
Just behind Taipei 101 is Elephant Mountain. A popular hiking spot for families, this green and wooded hillside gives one of the best views of Taipei 101 and the city beyond. Climbing the steps to the top is hard work, particularly in the subtropical humidity, but the views are well worth the effort!
Check out the street food at Shilin Night Market
Night markets are an institution in Taiwan, and nowhere more so than in Taipei. There are a number of them all over the city (including the infamous Snake Alley), but arguably the best night market in Taipei is the Shilin Night Market to the north of the city centre. Easily accessible by metro, head here after dark and join the crowds thronging the neon-lit streets in search of clothes, souvenirs or electrical bargains. Then head into the food court or track down a street vendor for a taste of Taiwan’s heritage, including traditional oyster omelettes or the surprisingly popular stinky tofu! The Taipei night markets are a dream for street photography, with neon signs, street vendors and traditional foods everywhere you look. Be prepared for a lot of night shooting, but don’t attempt a tripod or you will be mown down by the crowd!
Get geothermal at Beitou Hot Springs
Taiwan sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, which means volcanos. And where there are volcanos, there are hot springs. Much like the Japanese onsen, Taiwan’s hot springs are incredibly popular for their health benefits, as well as a great way to while away an afternoon! Beitou Thermal Valley, on the metro line north of Taipei (it has its own branch line), is the best place to experience Taipei’s geothermal activity close to the city. Walking up the gorge from the metro station, you will pass babbling brooks which look innocent enough, but beware – signs warn you that the water is hotter than you think! Halfway up the valley there is a public bathing house, but if soaking in public isn’t your thing, there is still plenty to discover. Hiking paths start from here to take you into the national park, or check out the steaming pools, where water bubbles at a naturally-occurring boiling point. You can even try a hard-boiled egg cooked in the spring water! Beitou Thermal Valley is incredibly photogenic, with its trees, river and turquoise pools. Just watch the steam on your equipment!
Explore the mangroves at Tamsui
Tamsui (also spelt Danshui), a seaside town to the north of Taipei, is a less common day out from the capital but can make for a fascinating change of perspective. The last stop on the metro line, it is easy and cheap to reach. Once there, admire the fishing boats that line the quayside, and check out Old Street with its shops, souvenirs and food stalls. A 20-minute walk (or quick metro ride) south of Tamsui is the world’s most northerly mangrove forest, where you can cross boardwalks through the mangroves as you marvel at the plants up close. Situated on the northwest coast, Tamsui is great for shooting city skylines and picturesque harbour views. It’s also a spectacular place to watch the sun set over the ocean.
Check out this guide for more things to do in Tamsui!
Soar above the trees at the Maokong Gondola
In the southeast of the city, the Maokong Gondola rises above the treetops. Officially part of the city metro network (although a separate ticket is required), the gondola is a cable car which carries you over the mountains that ring the city. Giving spectacular views of the city itself and the treetops below you, the gondola will carry you beyond the city limits to check out hidden temples and walking trails in the hillsides. A gondola ride will give you a great opportunity to shoot those city skylines and pretty mountain views – not to mention the odd sneaky temple shot in between!
Get spiritual at a local temple
Taiwan’s religious heritage combines Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist practices, but all 3 religions have something in common: spectacular temples. Often hidden down side streets, the temples are well worth tracking down. Ornately carve roofs and extravagant decorations make for some stunning close-up architectural shots, and the temples’ dark wood and colourful decoration mean it’s hard to know what to photograph next. Add in the local life (the temples are still a popular place to pray, burn incense and make offerings), and you could happily spend all day soaking up the atmosphere. Temples such as Longshan and Baoan are some of the top places to visit in Taipei – just remember to be sensitive to local worshippers while you do so.
Take a day trip out of the city
Taiwan’s rail network is superb, and can get you all over the country in a matter of hours, making many far-flung parts of the island accessible as a day trip.
Take the bullet train (Taiwan High Speed Rail) from Taipei to the southern cities of Tainan and Kaohsiung in less than two hours. Or take an intercity train to Hualien for a visit to spectacular Taroko Gorge. There is so much to see outside the capital!
How do I get to Taipei?
Taiwan is situated just off the southeast coast of China, and has a busy modern international airport (Taipei Taoyuan International Airport) which is the most common place to enter the country. The airport lies around a 45 minute journey by bus from the city centre. Many nationalities can enter Taiwan without a visa, but check with your local embassy.
Is Taipei expensive to visit?
For western visitors, Taipei is a relatively affordable destination, with prices similar to North America and a little cheaper than Europe. Whilst not a budget destination like some countries in Asia, it won’t break your budget!
When is the best time to visit Taipei?
The Tropic of Cancer runs through Taiwan, with Taipei sitting just outside the tropical zone. But that still means it is hot and muggy for much of the year. For almost-guaranteed good weather and comfortable temperatures, late autumn (October-November) is a great time to visit; springtime (March-April) is similar, although there can be more rainy days. The country does suffer from typhoons and heavy rainfall from June to September. Winters are mild and dry, rarely dropping below 10C(50F).