Taipei Escape: Your 7-Day Itinerary Revealed!

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This Taipei travel guide would not be complete without an itinerary. For a city as large as Taipei, one will need at least 7 days to truly experience and appreciate what the city has to offer. During the last three years of residing in Taipei, many friends have often visited me and I’ve taken them around to the best places in Taipei. Whether they liked it or not, I’ve been able to polish a good itinerary for the traveler who wants to experience the best of Taipei. This itinerary is targeted towards the budget-conscious traveler. This is not to say that it’s for backpackers, as I myself am not a backpacker. I call it value-conscious traveling. Note that this itinerary is heavy on culture, food, and experience. It is not geared toward shopping. This is for all you travelers who want to absorb as much of a city and its culture and will be thrilled at the thought of doing some place-specific activities, not dropping all your money on an overpriced t-shirt.

Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan, is known for its busy and dynamic metropolis combined with beautiful landscapes and an exceptional cultural diversity. Food is regarded highly in this city due to the mix of cultural diversity with inhabitants from all parts of China and Taiwan. However, given the fact that a lot of travelers do not speak Mandarin and Taiwanese, very little is known about the city. This Taipei travel guide aims to change that. It is practical and concise, and also includes some insightful information on day-to-day life in Taipei.

Overview of Taipei

Although the Taiwanese feel that they are friendly-natured people, Taipei doesn’t give off the best first impression for foreigners. This is because many are struck by the apparent lack of couth. Most Taiwanese who did not have the opportunity to learn English when they were younger tend to avoid using it as a result of feeling embarrassed. Meanwhile, those who have had the exposure may sometimes be a bit overzealous in trying to exhibit their abilities. This can leave a visitor in quite a situation if they attempt to ask for directions from a passerby who responds in less than adequate English. People in the service industry as well as young students probably have the best English-speaking ability, so if all else fails, it might be best to seek out this demographic. Nonetheless, though an individual may not be able to clearly communicate their intentions to a local, one may more often than not still receive aid in kind. Most travelers do find, however, that they have quite a conflicting opinion of the city by the time their visit has ended.

The best time to go to Taipei is in the spring, just when winter is ending and the weather is warm and dry. However, it’s good to avoid the heat of summer and the typhoon months of September and October. Fall is also a nice time, though you might run into the occasional rain. For those who don’t like chilly or rainy weather, the winter is generally mild. A city tour in Taipei might consist of a visit to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall for a lesson in Chinese history and culture, and then a visit to the Beitou hot springs or perhaps taking a bus to Yangmingshan, which is Taipei’s nearest nature park. The park is a great place to pick up a still image of how the Japanese once imagined Asia to be. On the grassy plains of Yangmingshan, be sure to visit the many Xiao Chi stalls which are unique to Taiwan. Xiao Chi is essentially a variety of snacks, but with all the stalls bunched together, it’s almost like eating a feast as each type of food tends to cancel the last, cleansing the palate of the previous flavor. Night markets are always a big part of nightlife in Taiwan, so if you’ve had a long day of traveling but still can’t resist the urge to see more, a quick pit stop at the Shihlin market for a few snacks or a meal is highly recommended.

Taipei is the political, economic, educational, and cultural center of Taiwan where traditional Chinese culture is preserved. Together with Japanese colonial culture, it has also become an important western-style city. The bustling city has a pristine past where the Chinese tradition of a deep sense of shame can still be seen. This reality defines the Taiwanese as humble, polite, and honest. Many festivals are observed throughout the year intended to preserve tradition and culture, unlike festivals in western cities which are often fun and entertaining. Taipei has a very regular and congested festival schedule. You will find folk parades and temple fairs, which are still today the gathering point for Taiwanese. Activities such as Chinese opera and various forms of traditional Chinese music can also be found. These performances are usually held for free in the park. The Taiwanese “get for free” attitude might mean a burden of a different sort for you, but most of these performances are rather casual.

Importance of Planning a 7-Day Itinerary

It’s a common question that can be answered with a simple example. How often do you think of having fast food on the same day you had it previously? Most of the time we’ll think back and realized that we had that dish yesterday and should try something else. But when it comes to deciding what to do the next day, many decided to play it by ear. This often leads to wasting time thinking of the things-to-do and in the end, go back to the hotel due to indecisiveness. Planning is like deciding what to eat before you’re actually hungry. By planning your meal ahead, you will be able to decide what to eat and through looking at the remaining meals left for the day, you can choose to take a light snack rather than a full meal. Similarly, by planning your day ahead, you will be able to allocate time for each activity and also manage to decide what activities to do given the remaining time.

“But why should I plan? Can’t I just decide when I feel like doing something?”

Think about the last time you were relishing a vacation to a new destination. It has been an exciting trip and all you can think of is the next thing that you want to do as soon as you can. From visiting widely-known tourist spots, to trying the local food and experiencing the nightlife, there are so many things that you want to do! But chances are, in your excitement, you end up doing all those activities in a single day. By the time you reached your accommodation, you will be surprised that there is nothing left to do in your planned vacation. Although planning is tedious and a mood-killer, it is extremely essential, especially if you’re going to a city like Taipei.

Day 1: Exploring the City Center

It is very difficult to miss the goliath that is Taipei 101. Touted as the tallest building in the world, 101 has a shopping mall, some very fine restaurants at the top floor and the world’s fastest elevator. There are also free telescopes on the observatory level with a spectacular view. Go to the Taipei 101 MRT station.

Next, take a trip a bit further south and take a look at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial hall and the National Theatre and Concert hall. The area is famous for its huge square and the traditional Chinese architecture. Usually there is a changing of the guard every hour on the hour in front of the CKS Memorial. Go to the 228 park MRT station.

One of the lesser-known memorials in Taipei, 228 park is adjacent to the entrance of the Taiwan National Museum. There is a huge amount of history behind the 228 incident as the park and the museum displays so it’s worth reading into. It’s a very pleasant place to sit and simply relax or read a book. Oftentimes, there will be free tai chi lessons in the morning and free concerts here during the day. If you’re hungry, 228 park is a great place to pick up a bento from the bento ladies who put out their wares around lunchtime.

Starting out from the hostel, head down to Ximen MRT station and because the day is going to be so long, buy an All Day MRT pass. Go to the underground street to exit 6.

Here’s a walking itinerary that aims to cover some of the most popular and historic areas in Taipei City. The circuit is about 6.7km and is relatively flat with a few small hills. For those who want to explore further, there are other links that go to the sights in the nearby MRT stations. Be warned that it is a full day so the faint of heart (and body) may want to consider shortening it to your tastes.

Visit Taipei 101

So what are some of the options to fill a full day in Taipei City? Start by heading to one of the world’s tallest buildings, Taipei 101. It’s good to go on a clear day, as the views from the top are impressive. On a foggy day, the mall at the base is also a nice spot to shop, eat and escape the heat or cold. Directly across from Taipei 101 is the Elephant Hill trailhead, which offers a great view of the building framed by the surrounding mountains. People with more time can combine a visit to Taipei 101 with a trip to Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, which is also near the MRT. Walking around Xinyi District or the World Trade Center area near Taipei 101 is also a good option for those with more time. Various shops and dining establishments can be found in this modern commercial district, and hotels to suit every budget can also be found. Xinyi District is also a good place to catch a performance of any kind, as this is a cultural and financial center for Taipei.

Explore Ximending District

As much as I would love to tell readers to sleep in after a long flight, jet lag will not be kind to late risers. To counter this, I suggest starting the day with a visit to Taipei 101. More than anything, this visit is simply for the purpose of walking around and taking pictures, with the added bonus of tall buildings and small children looking even funnier when viewed through a fish-eye lens. Given that entry to the building itself is NT$400 (or over NT$500 if you add in a trip to the top), those who are trying to conserve money might want to give this a miss on their first day and just come back at the end, since a nighttime view will probably be more stunning. Alternatively, you can still get the iconic Taipei 101 shot by walking to the building’s base in the evening, same as my next suggestion. From Taipei 101, make your way to Xiangshan (象山) MRT Station, while still managing to fit in a detour to Xiangshan Trail, which has an entrance in a park on the left just before you hit the station. Trail is a big call; it’s more of a paved stairway path that leads steeply uphill to a lookout platform. Off the top there’s a nice elevated view over the city backed by some cliff faces, and the position of the sun makes this a good spot for sunrise photos, but it’s not the most attractive walk. Coming down from the trail, take the MRT one stop to Ximending and the time to have a nice evening meal with your other half. Depending on waiting time and clientele, Ay-Chung Flour-Rice Noodle (阿宗麵線) is my number one choice for a bowl of super-thick, starch-laden rice noodles that is as challenging to stomach as it is tasty. Finish that off with some mango shaved ice from one of the many franchised vendors clustered around the cinema complex.

Enjoy Night Markets

Your 7-day escape begins with a leisurely tour of one of Taipei’s more traditional, and equally enjoyable features, the night market. Huaxi Jie Night Market, once known as Snake Alley Market, still contains the remnants of old stalls from which snakes used to be displayed and sold. Although snakes are no longer sold here today, the ophiophobes should still watch out as there are snake restaurants in the market with outside seating where people can dine on various snake delicacies. Provided you make it out of the alley in one piece, the next stop should be Long Shan Temple to ensure safe travels through your weeklong journey. Long Shan is one of Taipei’s oldest and most famous temples. It was built in 1738 by settlers from Fujian as a place of worship and to also serve as a social center for the settlers. This temple has served as a place of worship, schooling, and a venue for the Chinese performing arts, and it even played a part in the former political movements surrounding the Taiwan democracy. Today, Long Shan is not only a popular tourist stop, but a place of worship and gathering for locals. Following Long Shan Temple, there are two night markets relatively nearby, Guangzhou Street Night Market and Huaxi Jie Night Market. We would suggest visiting Guangzhou Street Market, which is a traditional market selling various clothing trinkets and foods in a friendly and quaint setting. Following Guangzhou Street Night Market, you can head to Taipei’s heritage Huaxi Jie Night Market for a mix of snack stalls and various small restaurants selling snake and turtle soups and steamed herbal medicine, which are believed to keep illnesses at bay. Whether you’re a gourmet or not, these night markets should not be missed and are a perfect way to immerse yourself in the Taiwanese culture.

Day 2: Cultural Immersion

The National Palace Museum holds the world’s largest collection of Chinese art. Though a complete inventory has yet to be made, the permanent collection totals nearly 700,000 pieces. Each year, a small portion of the Museum’s 655,000-piece collection of Chinese artifacts, paintings and calligraphies, and rare books are on display. Adult ticket. The National Palace Museum in Taipei is home to the world’s largest and arguably finest collection of Chinese art. Although the Chinese civil war and the subsequent years of political and military instability resulted in significant damage to the Palace Museum’s collection, much of the artwork was transported to Taiwan for safekeeping and has been steadily undergoing restoration. The range from neolithic pottery to the late Qing Dynasty era. The Library is home to more than 200k rare books. The Library is essential to the academic innovations in the studies of classical Chinese history, thought and culture. Much of the artwork was initially part of the Imperial collection that served the Emperor and the Royal court. This artwork was later transferred from the Forbidden City in Beijing to the Nanjing Museum and then to Taiwan with the KMT. Today’s National Palace Museum is a true reflection of deep rich history stemming back to over eight millennia of Chinese culture and tradition. The art housed inside the museum is roughly 5000 years old and holds a lot of really nice relics and pots. Items from high peaks of Chinese civilization such as the Tang and Song dynasties are widely regarded as some of the finest artworks in ethnohistory. The museum is rich in documentation of the historical culture and the contributions that Chinese civilization has made to culture over the millennia. On a day to day basis, the museum is able to give a choice selection of art pieces that are both widely appealing and informative to the casual and professional museum goer, a trip back for repeated visits to the museum is necessary to take in the museum’s onslaught of historic treasures. The museum is also a rich resource for topics on Chinese art and culture, where schools and researchers from around the globe come to give special thanks to us for serving a resourceful history of Chinese dynasty. Nonetheless, the main aim of the National Palace Museum is to serve the general public and provide an equipped knowledge of Chinese culture, history and art. Despite this it is no small feat to explain an artwork particularly in calligraphy in language barrier situation, but as the world becomes more globalized there are ever increasing volunteer corps and educational services catering to non-Mandarin speakers. An hour-long tour gives the museum goer the gist of the entire history of Chinese art and other minor to major historical artifacts. English or another language tours can of course be arranged if the group is large enough.

Discover National Palace Museum

The best spent afternoon in your life is your visit to the National Palace Museum in Taipei. This three-story building houses one of the largest collections of Chinese arts and bronze, painting, calligraphy treasures in the world. The best-known part of the National Palace Museum collection is its rare Chinese texts and artifacts. The collection of such works is one of the largest in the world. Notable treasures include the complete set of Jin and Yuan dynasty woodblock printing plates of the Buddhist Canon. This is also the world’s largest set of historical Chinese and Japanese calligraphy, painting, and lettered works. Museum staff have digitized every piece in the collection of more than 650,000 pieces and will eventually offer free access over the internet, with many high-demand items being photographed in a globe-spanning effort. The National Palace Museum is designed in Chinese palatial architecture and is close to the actual official residences of retired Chinese emperors. The museum’s main building and first annex (completed in 1969 and 1973, respectively) are situated in the Waishuanxi district. Due to the constant expansion of the collection, three additional annexes were built, and due to their proximity have collectively become known as the Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum. Step into this museum and you will feel like you were walking into an ancient Chinese emperor’s compound.

Explore Longshan Temple

Exploring Taipei’s cultural gems… This vibrant capital city of Taiwan is rich in Chinese cultural heritage. Through its eventful history, Taipei has successfully preserved the folk culture that is the root of many Taiwanese customs. One place where this cultural blend is evident is Longshan Temple. The temple was built in 1738 by settlers from Fujian as a place of worship and the gathering of Chinese settlers. It has been destroyed either in full or in part on numerous occasions because of natural disasters and fires. One of the more momentous periods in the temple’s history was during World War II when it served as a place of worship for Japanese soldiers, who were by then ruling Taiwan. This led to a dispute between the various factions the details of which are best left for a visit to the temple to be explained. Today the temple has been declared a historical site, signifying its importance in Taiwanese history. Exploring the extraordinary… After the commotion and bustle of everyday modern Taiwan, Longshan Temple is a serene and somewhat mystical place. As with many traditional places in Asia, the layout of Longshan Temple is based on a traditional Chinese quad courtyard design. Upon entry to the main hall, you will see the beautiful and ornate carvings on each of the twelve columns. It is quite a peaceful experience to sit and watch the worshippers as they light incense and make offerings to the deities. Many of these people appear to have a heavy-hearted request or wish and it is said that if one makes an offering of money to a specific deity and then proceeds to rap the money on the ground to get the deity’s attention and asks his/her question and the money jingles, this is the deity’s way of saying yes! Longshan Temple has many festivals throughout the year and the two main festivals are quite an experience. On the 15th day of the Chinese New Year, the temple holds the largest and most significant of these festivals. It includes a gathering of all the local Taiwanese opera troupes who perform in a somewhat chaotic but very entertaining event. The second significant festival is held the day before the Mid-Autumn Festival where the temple, in cooperation with the local students from Nanhua University, puts on a Peking opera event.

Experience Taiwanese Cuisine

Taiwanese cuisine is another distinctive cultural attraction offering a variety of tastes in each meal. It has a reputation for being one of the best places to eat in Asia. The island’s culinary style is influenced by various international food cultures including native Taiwanese flavors as well as traditional Chinese, Japanese, and Western. A visit to any of the local food markets or night markets is bound to offer a new discovery of some Taiwanese specialty. The number of dishes to choose from seems endless with a mixture of noodles or rice followed by a type of stewed, pan-fried, or deep-fried dish. These are accompanied with a number of vegetable and tofu dishes, sometimes a soup, and finally a meat/fish dish. As it is very difficult to sample every dish in one trip, trying signature Taiwanese dishes such as Taiwanese Sausage, Oyster Omelette, Rice Dumpling, Beef Noodle Soup, Shaved Ice, and Bubble Tea are a must. Foreigners may find some traditional Taiwanese dishes less palatable or strange to their taste, e.g. chicken feet, stinky tofu, century egg, or pig’s blood cake as these are acquired tastes and not for the faint-hearted! However, it is a wonderful opportunity to experience a culture through sampling its food.

Attend Traditional Performances

Another fine location for traditional performances is the National Theater and Concert Hall, located in the heart of Taipei near the Sun Yat-sen Memorial. This beautiful complex is the center of the performing arts in Taiwan, and regular performances of Chinese opera, classical music recitals, and traditional dance can be enjoyed in a world-class setting. Ticket prices for events here are a moderate NT$200-600. These two venues mentioned are merely scratching the surface of performance opportunities in Taipei, and those interested should inquire with local residents or hotel staff during their time in the city.

As Taiwan’s capital and cultural center, Taipei holds the most variety in terms of regularly scheduled traditional performances. Many of these events are held in the city’s numerous temples, and are almost always open to the public. Of note are the regular Sunday evening performances at Chiang Kai Shek’s old residence, featuring traditional dance and music performances. These events are free and open to the public, but go unadvertised and are generally only known to local residents. Foreigners wishing to attend may inquire at the foreigner’s reception held on the same grounds.

Taipei has many cultural attractions, but one of the least recognized is the wealth of traditional performing arts events. While the casual visitor is unlikely to see a performance of any variety during their time in Taiwan, those who plan to attend an event in advance can be assured a rich and rewarding experience.

Day 3: Nature and Adventure

Hike up and down Elephant Mountain. Hiking in Xiangshan district is an increasingly popular activity among Taipei residents. The area is accessible to most people and provides great views of the Taipei 101 building and Taipei Basin. The main hiking trail takes about 20 minutes to the top, with stairs leading up to a viewpoint, as well as a trail around the peak of the mountain. At the summit, Taipei 101 and Taipei Basin can be seen on one side, while the riverside scenery and Guandu Plain can be seen on the other side. Many also hike the mountain in the evening to view the city lights. Yangmingshan, at an elevation of almost 200-300 meters high, is a Tatun Volcano Group terrain, with Datun Mountain being the highest at 1092 M. Surrounding the volcano are grasslands, farmlands, and rivers, creating a beautiful landscape. Because the area is easily accessible and is home to about 50 hiking trails, it’s suitable for people of all ages coming in from different areas. In addition to that, the region is quite misty and cloudy in spring and wintertime, but the weather is a perfect escape from the summertime heat.

Hike Elephant Mountain

The most common Elephant Mountain trailhead is just a short walk from the Xiangshan MRT station. The tenderness and serenity of this little valley often attracts picnicking families and loving couples. The cleanliness, quietness, and lack of garbage are fairly astonishing compared to the rest of the island and even other Taipei area hiking trails. After a spell of rain, this writer once observed a trailside food vendor tossing his leftover cardboard scraps into the stream, upon which a passing hiker stopped, plucked the soggy cardboard from the trickling water, and carried it to the nearest waste receptacle. This same stream was also at one time a habitat for frogs now extinct from the island (something we’ve been guilty of), whose loss detracts from the general biological soundscape of the Taiwanese outdoors.

At the heart of the sprawling metropolis, Taipei 101 stakes its claim as the world’s tallest building. A total of 101 floors above ground and 5 floors underground. One supposed motivation for ascending this immense structure is to occasionally glance at the very peak of Elephant Mountain. Now, the hike up the beast itself is neither logistically demanding nor time consuming. If the sweating and panting Taipei citizens scaling the nearby staircases in the evening is any indication, this can be a 30-90 minute affair, depending on one’s hiking speed and constitution.

Visit Yangmingshan National Park

From Beitou Hot Springs, we’ll have to climb even higher up into the mountains. Catch Bus 230 at the Anding Market MRT Station and get off at the Yangmingshan Interchange. Here, take a bus to destinations such as Qingtiangang or the National Park’s main office. However, due to the remote locations and few bus trips available, it’ll be a much better idea if you’ve got a local friend who can drive. Up here, the air is fresh and the group of volcano mountains provide a very interesting landscape. But be aware that temperatures at Yangmingshan are much lower than downtown Taipei, often 10 degrees lower, and the weather is always changing up here so bring warm clothing, water, and an umbrella. The wildlife, ecology, and scenic views at Yangmingshan are quite interesting, but our main destination is Xiaoyoukeng. A post-volcanic geological park, Xiao You Keng contains various geothermal activities such as fumaroles, sulfur crystals, and landslides. A short trail leads through the area, and across the park’s mountain peaks, but be warned that when we say “Nature and Adventure”, this probably the high adventure and close to bizarre nature type that you have to see for yourself to believe. Trekkers might also like to catch a visit to Mt. Qixing’s main peak, the highest point in Taipei City at 1120m. At day’s end, bus down to the hot-spring town of Jinshan, or return to our dormitory and recuperate.

Relax at Beitou Hot Springs

The next stop is Beitou hot springs, which is a world-famous hot spring located in northern Taipei City. Beitou hot spring is the result of the geothermal heat from Datun Mountain. This is the most convenient place to feel the natural essence and tranquility in the hot spring while getting the view of beautiful sceneries. Although many resorts in Beitou have their own hot spring, there are public hot springs as well such as Millenium Hot Spring 台北世紀泉園. Do try out the mixed bathing in Xinbeitou. Now hot spring in Xinbeitou is generally hot spring bath for couple. Normally couple will be in their own cubicle. However there is still few places that allow mixed bathing solar public hot spring by the river. Though it is located at a corner of the valley, a surreal place akin to a paradise hidden within the forest, it is open to all members of the public and bathers may enjoy the rare experience of soaking in sulfur and carbonic acid natural hot springs while taking in the beauty of the surrounding valley, the sound of spring water flowing over the stones, and the chirping of birds. This bath area features Japanese architecture and has separate sections for males and females. Peitou- Chyuan Tang (Pitou Public Spring House) and Peitou Outdoor Public Bath. After immerse in the hot spring, don’t forget to take a sip of the natural mineral water in Beitou. This beverage is called seiryu (green dragon) tea, it is a black tea made in Peitou using the bicarbonate hot spring water. Refreshed, revitalised and surprise, seiryu it is a Coca-Cola product. If you have longed to drink more of this seiryu tea, that the best place to get it is the tea factory and drink it cold. A great idea of bringing the tea home as it is only available in Japan and Taiwan. Close by Beitou is also well known for its sulphuric hot springs and is quite famous among the Japanese. It is the Hell Valley where water from the hot springs have reached temperatures exceeding 100°C. Even though the hot springs here are too hot for human use, the view of the valley and the public foot-bath are still impressive.

Explore Tamsui Old Street

Spend your second half of the day at Tamsui, one of the most loved tourist destinations in Taipei. Tamsui is accessible by the MRT red line ending at Tamsui Station, only a forty-minute journey from central Taipei. Tamsui has a lot to offer from the river, shopping, delicious food, and great sunset. You may start out by checking out Tamsui Old Street. You may not have realized as the area seems very local, but it attracts loads of visitors to sample the food on offer, pick up some cute, unique handicrafts, and enjoy the riverside views. Start at one end of the street and work your way down. There are also often street performances and activities to keep you entertained. Tamsui is also renowned for the “iron eggs” which are eggs that have been repeatedly stewed and braised in a mix of spices and air-dried. They are a local specialty and make a good souvenir for friends.