When psychologists classified Type-A personalities as hardworking, detail-oriented, industrious and maybe workaholics, those psychologists could have easily been describing the homophone city of Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. This metropolis combines culture, food, nature and history with a talent and drive for hard work and success.
Founded by Han Chinese immigrants from the mainland in the early 18th Century, Taipei has seen a meteoric rise since the sleepy market village on the island of Taiwan was named the prefecture capital of the north in 1884. Briefly renamed as the capital of the ‘Republic of Formosa’, Taipei grew during the turbulent first half of the 20th Century when it was mostly ruled by the Empire of Japan.
Taipei is pretty in neon!
Supported by western powers since 1950 as a bulwark against encroaching Communism, Taipei quickly recovered from war to emerge as the technology and manufacturing powerhouse of east Asia. One of the most important sources of high-quality technical components in the world including microchips, electronic components and finished devices, Taipei is today a metropolis of more than 3 million residents who have the second highest per capita income in Asia (behind Singapore). Taipei is a triumph of business and technology while still maintaining its unique history, culture and style.
You’ll fly into Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport which is located 46 km from downtown. The airport sits on a plateau above the city and the ride into Taipei is literally downhill the entire way. The Taoyuan Airport Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) line connects the airport to the city directly and runs every 15 minutes. Alternatively, the AirPoPo Taoyuan Airport Shuttle offers a more relaxing way to reach the city and is bookable in advance with the mobile app at around 350 NT$ (£9.10). You can also take a taxi or rideshare. Explore the city using the MRT or YouBike (Taipei’s excellent and popular public bike rental system) which has hundreds of drop off points. It costs just 10 NT$ (£0.30) to rent a bike for 30 minutes.
Here’s a Pro-tip: The Taiwan Dollar is abbreviated as ‘NT$’ or ‘TWD’ and its exchange rate is typically just a bit less than NT$40 = GB£1.00.
There’s plenty to see and do in Taipei City, but these are my favourite sights:
- Taipei 101– Experience a bird’s eye view of the city from Taipei’s most iconic structure. Resembling a stalk of bamboo or stacked pagodas, the skyscraper was the tallest building in the world until surpassed by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai in 2010. Ride the elevator to the observatories on the 89th and 91st floors and enjoy the knockout view.
- National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall – Situated in Liberty Square, this national monument was built in 1976 in honour of the late leader. The exhibits are the best place to learn about the former President’s deeds and gain understanding of ROC and PRC relations and history.
Liberty Square makes me reflective!
- Beitou Hot Spring – Soak in these thermal hot springs, located 30 minutes from downtown, with prices starting at only 40 NT$ (£1). You can also visit the sulphurous lake in Thermal Valley.
- National Palace Museum – This museum houses more than 650,000 art objects and documents, many of which are part of the Chinese Imperial Collection.
- Temples– Almost 90% of Taiwan residents identify as either Buddhist or Taoist, which makes for a diverse range of temples. Here are some of the most popular:
You’ll love this temple, surely!
- – Longshan Temple has been damaged by earthquakes and human strife yet remains a beautiful site. It was built to honour the goddess of mercy, Guanyin, and is the oldest temple in Taiwan (built in 1738).
– Bao-an Temple is a Taiwanese folk religion temple and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Lion carvings, dragon columns and large colourful murals adorn the grounds making this temple enchanting. Try to view it at night when it’s beautifully lit.
- Glass-floor Gondola to Maokong – Ride the 4 km (2.5 miles) route on this sky-high gondola and witness beautiful city and forest views. Famous for its teahouses, Maokong is actually the prime tea growing area in Taiwan.
- Treasure Hill – This environmentally friendly art village is a wonderful place to view cultural exhibits and catch music performances.
- Elephant Mountain– This hiking trail offers some of the best views of the city. It’s part of the Four Beasts (Elephant, Tiger, Leopard, and Lion) which are four connected mountains on the eastern side of the city.
Here’s another Pro-tip: Visiting during the months of February and March will give you an opportunity to see the beautiful cherry blossoms at Yangmingshan National Park which blossom here earlier than in more northerly Tokyo.
A haven for lovers of food, Taipei will fill your stomach and your soul with goodness. Here’s where I recommend you experience some local dishes:
- Shi Lin Night Market– This is your one stop shop for the best street food in Taiwan which will lead you on a food adventure of local treats. Try the famous oyster omelettes and stinky tofu (smelly but delicious and Isabella approved!).
- Lin’s Vegetable Lamb Furnace– Hot pots are a popular dish typically made with tofu or fish. Lin’s mixes it up by exclusively using meat, primarily lamb, in their broths with exciting ingredients ranging from goji berries to cabbage stems. Note they close from July until September due to the heat. That’s ok because their hearty meals are best enjoyed when it’s cooler.
Noodle on this for a while!
- Yongkang Beef Noodle– This family run restaurant started out as a food stall in 1963. Their noodles are served with beef broth, vegetables and stewed or braised beef.
Here’s another Pro-tip: A great way to learn about Taiwanese culture is with a cooking class. This will help you understand the process behind the many noodle soups and dumplings and rice dishes you see on the streets.
Taipei is vibrant at night with something for everyone. These are my top spots:
- Shangri-La’s Marco Polo Bar – How do cocktails in the tallest hotel in Taipei sound? This rooftop bar offers stunning views of the city as the sunsets. The mixologists use typical Taiwanese fruits to make the cocktails such as wax apple; delicious!
- TaipeiEYE– This excellent theatre will treat you to an evening of Chinese opera, traditional dance, folk music, acrobatics, martial arts displays, and much more. This is a fun yet educational activity that will give you further insight into the fascinating culture of Taiwan.
- Hanko 60 – This speakeasy style bar serves some of the most innovative cocktails in Taipei using Taiwanese and Japanese ingredients. It’s one of the most popular spots in the city and it’s not hard to see why with its secret entrance to a cool space.
Luckily, you can get a luxurious night’s sleep on a modest budget in Taipei. There are so many great hotels but here are my favourite places to stay in the city:
- Eclat Hotel Taipei– Expect lavish furnishings, priceless artworks, and a sprinkling of modernity. Their rooms are some of my favourites in the city. Enjoy their rainforest shower that cheekily looks onto the living area. But don’t worry, you can frost or defrost the glass wall.
- Palais de Chine Hotel– This culturally rich and sophisticated hotel has an air of royalty as soon as you walk through the lobby. The rooms are decorated with a blend of Parisian elegance and traditional Chinese décor. It’s conveniently located just a 7-minute walk away from Taiwan High Speed Rail Station.
- W Taipei– This stylish and chic hotel offers the perfect mix of luxury and wellness. From its beautiful swimming pool to being pampered in the spa, with remarkable city and mountain views, you won’t want to leave.
There are at least 101 reasons why I love Taipei!
Taipei is a comfortable city for a break which has all modern amenities in a clean, friendly and safe setting. The cultural and culinary delights that Taipei offers will keep you returning to this wonderful metropolis again and again!