Taipei is the gateway drug to Asia. It’s Japan without the rigidness, Hong Kong without the hyperactivity, and China without the pollution. It’s also one of the most socially liberal democracies this side of the Pacific. The people here are warm, friendly, and laid back. English signs are everywhere and everywhere is just a subway ride away.
What’s the best way to experience Taipei?
Glacially. With a beer in one hand, a snack in another, and a view to look at. Maybe a good conversation if you're lucky. For me, I’m just happy to be part of the scenery. I’ve learned that that’s all it takes when I’m in Taipei. Because being home is enough.
Who should use this guide/itinerary?
Independent couples or small groups (i.e. 3-5) who are looking to avoid the crowded tourist traps in favor of a slower and less conventional way to experience Taipei.
What’s the best time of the year to visit?
Avoid the summers and typhoon season, which runs from June to early October. Taipei in the summer is a humid and miserable experience. Like swimming through the intestinal tract of a gassy farm animal. Also, steer clear of Chinese New Years, which runs from late January to mid-February.
Where should I stay in Taipei?
Stay within walking distance of Taipei Main Station. From there, it’s less than a half hour subway ride anywhere in the city.
For mid-range accommodation, we’d recommend the Cosmos Hotel ($100-120) for maximum comfort and convenience. More frugal, minimalist alternatives include the Star Hostel ($60-70) and Meander Taipei Hostel ($60-70).
How do I use this guide?
The map is divided into three areas by color:
- Day 1 attractions are in blue
- Day 2 attractions are in red
- Day 3 attractions are in yellow
- The gray markers are for optional sites
Note: For simplicity’s sake, this guide assumes that you’re staying at either the Cosmos Hotel or within walking distance of Taipei Main Station. All prices below are in USD.
A Three Day Taipei Itinerary
- Land in Taoyuan International Airport. Follow the signs to the buses and take the Kuo Kuang 1819 Express Bus ($4) which takes you straight to Taipei Main Station and lets you off right across the street from the Cosmos Hotel. The journey takes 45 minutes. The taxi is more expensive ($35) and is only 15 minutes faster. We timed it. IMPORTANT: By mid-2017, the long-delayed subway line should be open, which will take you from the airport to downtown in under 35 minutes.
- Arrive at the Cosmos hotel. Freshen up. Then head out to explore the surrounding area. Lunch nearby at Liu Shandong Beef Noodles ($5-7), a local hole in the wall serving piping hot bowls of beef noodle soup.
- Book an appointment for a body and foot massage to relax after an international flight. The most popular is Manyi Ting Massage Parlor ($30 per hour), but we recommend the smaller, family run Jingqi Massage Parlor ($30 for 90 minutes). To get there, take the escalators down into Taipei Main Station from the Cosmos (Exit M3) and follow the underground signs to Exit M8. Cross the street, make a left. The place should be on the second floor up a narrow flight of stairs. The staff there speak English and know what they’re doing. Feel born again.
- After the massage, take the subway a few stops down to Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall (free). There’s a changing of the guard ceremony every hour from 9 to 5.
- Dinner at Hangzhou Xiaolongbao ($15-20) for soup dumplings. We prefer this place over the more prestigious, Michelin star rated Din Tai Feng ($25-30). Prestige is basically another way of saying that everyone else thinks a certain way. When it comes to food (as opposed to the laws of physics), this is both irrelevant and meaningless.
- Take the subway north to Jiantan Station. Exit 2 leads you to the Shilin Night Market. It’s gotten touristy (and crowded) over the years, but it’s still the best that Taipei has to offer. Get there well after dinner (8 or 9).
- Time to go late night shrimp fishing. Take a taxi from Jiantan Station ($8-10) and ask your driver to take you to Zhishan Road Section 2 (‘Zhishan lu er dwan’), where you’ll see a row of buildings with large indoor pools. These places have similar prices and are open twenty four hours a day. Grab your bait and fishing pole. Drink your weight in Taiwan beer as you wait for the shrimp to bite. After you’re done, you get to clean and cook them yourself on an open grill. Don’t worry, there’s staff onsite to help the beginners and the squeamish.
- Taxi back to the hotel and pass out ($15-20)
- Take the MRT to Zhongxiao Fuxing Station. Follow these directions to get to Jiufen Old Street. The bus ride should take about an hour. We recommend going to Jiufen on a weekday to avoid the crowds. The scenery allegedly served as inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away. Our favorite thing to do in the afternoons is to find a cafe with a nice view to watch the sunset.
- Grab a taxi and head over to the nearby Houtong Cat Village. The name says it all. This sleepy former coal mining town is now overrun by cats. Everything here is cat themed.
- Take the final half hour taxi ride of the day to Keelung Miaokou Night Market. Keelung is a small port city about a 45 drive north of Taipei and Miaokou is probably the most “authentic” night market in northern Taiwan. It’s renowned for its cheap, fresh seafood which is cooked to order (crabs and shellfish).
- Walk along the harbor towards Keelung Railway Station. Take the train back to Taipei Main Station ($4-5).
- Breakfast at hotel or take an order of Taiwanese savory breakfast crepes to go from Dasifang Egg Pancake (大四方蛋餅). The old man who runs the stall is the real deal and typically drops the mic (closes up shop) by 10 am.
- Skip the Taipei 101 Observatory (not worth the $20 admission) and instead hike up Xiangshan (free) for a nicer view. It only takes 20 minutes to reach the summit.
- Lunch at one of the many basement food courts beneath Taipei 101. Snap an obligatory photo in front of the building as you leave.
- Head over to MRT Taipei Zoo Station. Follow the signs to catch the Maokong Gondola (closed on Mondays) up to Maokong scenic area, known for its teahouses.
- Most of the teahouses in Maokong are touristy. Locals prefer the mile long hike away from such establishments to Yao Yue Teahouse (open 24 hours). It’s the perfect place to while away an afternoon brewing your own tea leaves from traditional clay pots, playing cards and eating tea infused dim sum while enjoying a gorgeous view of the city. Watch the sunset and wait for the city lights to come on. It’s magical.
- Make your way back to the Maokong Gondola (shuts down by 9 pm). The ride down in the darkness will take your breath away.