It goes without saying that few people will come to Taipei, capital of Taiwan just for 24 hours. However, should you find yourself here on business then try to escape for a few hours to experience a truly different taste of the East. For those who have visited China, well done. Taiwan is a whole new world and what better place to taste it than the capital city, Taipei, sitting right at the northern tip of the island.
Most international tourists will arrive in Taiwan via Taoyuan International airport, located on the west coast of the island. The regular MTS train service runs direct to the Main Station in around 35 minutes from all terminals and costs around TND$160 (£4). Taxi’s are regulated although the traffic around the city centre can be heavy so the train is the best bet. For further travel around Taipei it is worth investing in an EasyCard which works like an Oyster and gives a discount on all fares. If you buy individual tickets you need to keep hold of the token as you need it to exit the station. All signs on the subway are in English so you won’t have an issue finding your way around.
Looking for a starting point to get a view of the whole city? That’ll be the once tallest building in the world, Taipei 101, which unsurprisingly has 101 stories. Designed to evoke both technology and Asian tradition, with a post-modernist style that puts a modern spin on traditional design elements, the tower serves as an icon of modern Taiwan. Designed to withstand a serious earthquake thanks to its impressive tuned mass damper, a rather large ball that sits near the top of the tower and absorbs any shock waves. Views are incredible even on a rubbish day. Entry is through the shopping centre which sits on top of the World Trade Center metro stop on the red line. If you love a blag then try to enter the VIP club that sits on the 101st floor.
The Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial is in the heart of the city and is one of the most famous meeting points in Taipei. Two almost identical pavilions sit opposite each other across a large square with ornamental gates at one end. The monument was built to celebrate the life and success of Taiwan’s former president Chiang Kai-Shek. The memorial grounds include the National Concert Hall and National Theatre and there’s also a museum dedicated to Chiang’s life and the history of Chinese rule in Taiwan. If you fancy trying a bit of Tai Chi, then this is the place to come after lunch.
What visit to the city could be complete without going to the Museum of Drinking Water? Located in a pumping station, naturally, close to the river and a few minutes walk from Gongguan station it is certainly a one of a kind tourist attraction. At the end of the brown subway line is Taipei zoo which sprawls up the hillside and can be access from the main entrance by the subway or from the Maokong cable car which takes you to the top. The zoo is famous for its Pandas and Hippos.
Want to get an even better view you say? One of the most popular walks is up to Elephant Mountain. Clamber up the stone steps for the best photos of Taipei 101 – it’s possible to follow the trails from Tiger Mountain (start at Houshanpi Station), taking in the views on the way. If you fancy a longer but more leisurely hike. If you have a bit longer in the city then just 40 minutes by cab is the magnificent Yangmingshan National Park where you can hike to your heart’s content and take in some amazing views from the top of Grass Mountain.
For those looking for some retail therapy then you are in luck, although some brands have gone a bit over board. A walk around the Ximen area (Green and Blue subway lines) and you won’t fail to notice half a dozen or so Adidas and Nike stores. There’s plenty of other major brands around this area as well as the iconic Red House and the Armed Forces Museum.
Unaccustomed to the food? Get yourself down to the Shilin Night Market, open daily from 5pm and the closest metro station is Jiatan and experience some grilled octopus, deep-fried chicken hearts or basically any part of an animal you can think of. Whilst there are plenty of night markets in the city, Shilin is the biggest and the best and heaves of a weekend.
If you are looking for your food in a bit more of a refined way then Din Tai Fung is a chain of very well-known Soup Dumpling restaurants that now have a few restaurants open in California. If pigs knuckles are your thing (don’t dismiss it until you have tried it!) then Fu-Ba-Wang in Nanjing Road is the place to go as they have a whole menu devoted to them. To splash the cash then the Yen Bar at the W-Hotel is the place to be seen. If you are looking for something quick and cheap then there are hundreds of 7-11’s around the city that provide just that. Finally, it would be remiss not to mention the Modern Toilet Restaurant chain where you sit on old toilets and your food is served in..mini toilets.
If you want to find somewhere for a beer, then fear not. The number of bars serving craft beer in Taipei grows almost on a daily basis. Highly recommended options include a Mikkeler outlet located at the end of Di Hua Street on Nanjing West Road, Zhangmen which is a local Taiwan craft brewery with over 20 taps at their various locations – Yong Kang Street, on the 4th Floor of Breeze Mall, and one in Neihu. Landmark is also a great destination in Zhongxiao East Road.
Obviously you will need a bed for the night and as with most large cities there is a huge range depending on the size of your wallet. Possibly the most famous name is the Grand Hotel, which once put up Ronald Reagan, and certainly looks the part with its red pagoda exterior and a very big pool, located on Zhongshan North Road. The W-hotel is probably the plushest hotel in the city, with a roof-top pool and some amazing views. If you want to be close up and personal to 101 Taipei then the Sparkle Hotel is a mere stone’s throw away and offers some good value rooms. Finally, the Sheraton Grand is a short walk from the Main Station and offers a number of excellent restaurants.
One odd thing to look out for – when residents hear Beethoven’s “Für Elise” playing outside, everyone goes into a mild panic. There are no rubbish bins on the streets (to keep vermin in check) so this music signifies the arrival of the bin men.