Taipei Destination Guide
Words you will often hear associated with Taipei include underrated, friendly and diverse. Taipei is Taiwan's largest city and its cultural, economical and political power centre. Taipei city is very much a cosmopolitan capital and a pleasant blend of the modern and traditional. In the 1980s, concrete apartment blocks made way for green, leafy boulevards and trendy eateries, giving Taipei tourism a little wink and a nudge in the right direction. Since then, Taipei has blossomed into a city of confidence and friendly faces. Though the streets may be lively and colourful, there are pockets of serenity everywhere with cathartic walking trails, dynastic temples and natural hot springs just minutes from the heart of the action.
Some have described Taiwan as 'China made easy' – more accessible, safer and generally just pleasant to visit. The National Palace Museum, arguably the most impressive of Taipei's many museums and galleries, boasts the world's largest collection of Chinese objet d'art – some 620,000 pieces dating back over more than 1000 years. There is enormous artistic expression throughout Taipei, with particular regard to their tumultuous relationship with China. The larger metropolitan area surrounding Taipei City offers a phenomenal amount of things to do in Taipei, from museums celebrating tea culture to National Parks with trails, beaches and caves beckoning to be explored. Witness Taipei's spiritual side at Longshan Temple where ornate architecture is embedded with centuries of prayer.
Many Taipei restaurants serve up Japanese and Chinese variations of authentic Taiwanese cuisine. Thanks to locals with a foodie focus and incredibly high standards, you can expect attention to detail in flavours and presentation at sit-down restaurants. For tasty street fare, the famous and somewhat hidden Cong Zhua Bing food stall serves up fluffy onion pancakes, with eager eaters lining up all the way down Yongkang Street. Yongkang in the Da-an district is one of the most exciting places for food in Taipei with an assortment of atmospheric bars and night markets. Pop into a tea house to enjoy a Taiwanese tea ceremony – a dedicated process involving multiple infusions to release the true flavours of oolong.
Where to Stay
Taipei is spread out over a large area and accommodation is best chosen by district (there are 12 central districts in Taipei City). Your choices for Taipei hotels include new wave of designer and boutique high-rises in areas such as the Xinyi district and more suburban Shilin area. Many of these hotels are surprisingly affordable and are trendy places to bunk down for the night, often with equally stylish restaurants and bars. You will easily find 5-star stays in the Zhongshan and Da-an precincts, like the Grand Hyatt or Hotel Royal. There are also plenty of comfortable hostels in Taipei City, usually within easy access of transport, if you would rather save your Taiwanese dollars to indulge in the local flavours.
Downtown Taipei is split into East and West – the former filled with stylish boutiques and modern restaurants with and the latter showcasing classic Taipei living. The Xinyi area is the fashion hub of Taipei – a forward-thinking district where the biggest names in retail band together. The Taipei 101 Mall, housed in what is currently the 2nd tallest building in the world, has the best of Taipei shopping on offer with international labels and popular bookstores aplenty. Head up to the 89th floor or above to take in as much of Taipei as the eye can see. Get your cultural fix at one of Taipei's brightly lit night markets where sellers peddle everything from shaved ice treats to eclectic clothing.
Taipei like a Local
16th Century Portuguese sailors called Taiwan 'Formosa' meaning 'beautiful island'. Turns out they weren't wrong, with towering volcanic mountain peaks, scenic coastline and picturesque agricultural plains. What is also beautiful is the food! To act like a local, you must eat like a local. That means as many pork dumplings, oyster omelettes and sashimi as you can fit in. You will find Taipei weather on its best behaviour between October and April which will allow you to traverse the old city laneways to uncover herbal tea shops, traditional incense makers and perhaps a fortune-teller or two. If you're planning an Asian escape, check out flights to Taipei and add this wonderfully gracious, naturally aesthetic city to your itinerary.