What to see in Taipei, Taiwan
Taipei has often been skipped by tourists in favor of its East Asian rivals such as Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo, but those who take the time to visit Taipei and look around will soon find that Taipei is just as vibrant as any other major city, and is full of a certain charm which makes it unique in its own right. Just spend a day wandering around Taipei’s streets and you will start finding many surprises.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is the famous symbol of both Taipei and the Republic of China. It is here that the nation’s flag is raised every morning, and the huge court yard in front of the memorial serves as a place for both national celebrations as well as a platform to voice one’s disapproval of the government. The memorial consists of a large bronze statue of Chiang Kai-shek, watched over by two motionless honor guards who are replaced every hour in a rifle twirling ceremony. Downstairs, there is a museum of Chiang’s life, complete with his sedans and uniforms. Even if you are not into memorials, the gardens, with their Chinese style ponds, are definitely worth a visit. The memorial has its own MRT station on the Xindian line. The grounds of the memorial are also a favorite place for locals to gather and practice martial arts, though you’ll have to be there early if you want to see this. Most people begin their work-out at around sunrise, and will have left for the office before 8AM.
Taipei 101. Officially known as the Taipei International Financial Center, this 101-floor, 508-meter high skyscraper is in the Xinyi District of Taipei and is the ninth tallest skyscraper in the world. The tower is rich in symbolism; it was designed to resemble bamboo rising from the earth, a plant recognized in Asian cultures for its fast growth and flexibility, both of which are ideal characteristics for a financial building. The building is also divided into eight distinct sections, with eight being a number associated with prosperity in Chinese culture. The internal architecture of Taipei 101 is similarly awe-inspiring. Pay attention to ornate details on the structural beams, columns, and other elements. Taipei 101 is perhaps most notable for its feats of engineering. It was the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2010, as determined by three of the four standards designated by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. It also boasts the world’s second fastest elevators, which will zip visitors up to the 89th-floor observation deck in a mere 37 seconds. It’s worth taking a ride up, as the views are stunning. It opens 10am – 10pm daily. The best time to visit would be in the late afternoon when you spend a couple of hours and see both day and night views of Taipei (others recommend noon time for it appears less crowded as tour groups have lunch). You can also go up to the outdoor observatory on the 91st floor (note that while it’s possible to go to the outdoor observatory in a wheelchair, the view is negligible, as the concrete railing is too high to see over). Don’t forget to look toward the middle of the building, where you’ll see the world’s largest spherical tuned mass damper (one of three) that keeps the building steady. Attached to the tower is a large, up-scale mall. While the stores are unremarkable in that they offer the same brand-names as stores in other major cities around the world, the open and spacious design of the structure itself definitely makes it worth a visit. A supermarket specializing in imported food items is located in the basement. Taipei 101 is a 15 to 20-minute walk from the Taipei City Hall MRT station (Blue Line) but is best reachable by the World Trade Center stop (Red Line).
Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall
The Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall is constructed in the memory of Dr. Sun Yat-sen who is the founding father of the Republic of China. The construction of the Memorial commenced in 1965 in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of Sun Yat-sen’s birth. It was opened in May 16, 1972, with the majestic architecture and placid landscape covering an area of some 115,500 sq. meters. The park named Zhongshan Park marks the front yard of the Hall. On the inside, there is a 19-foot bronze statue of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, watched over the day by motionless military honor guards, along with a library of 400 seats storing over 1.4 million books. The 100 meter long Zhongshan corridor links the main hall to the four large exhibition buildings where contemporary arts and historical articles are frequently on display. The Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall has grown into much of a community center, and is much less touristy than the newer and larger Chiang Kai-shek Memorial. There is an auditorium which has weekly lectures and seminars on aspects of art and life. It is also a popular site for public concerts.
The National Concert Hall
National Theater Hall and National Concert Hall. Located in the grounds of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, it is an are excellent place to see performances of a Taiwanese play or a dance troupe. They also host many international events. Taiwan’s National Symphony Orchestra performs at the National Concert Hall. The building’s neo-classic Chinese architecture is especially stunning when flood-lit at night.
National Taiwan University. Taiwan’s pre-eminent institution of higher education, NTU is on the south side of Taipei. The campus grounds are surrounded by several blocks of shops, bookstores, eateries, cafes and tea houses popular with students and scholars. This is one of the main transportation hubs, as many buses stop here. While you wait for your bus, or before you go underground to catch the subway, you can shop for clothing, accessories, books, or trinkets. You name it, you can find it. Browse through the stalls and booths directly across the street from the main entrance of the university (don’t forget there is a lot more just behind the main street), grab a bite or two of the popular snacks, such as fresh fruit, spice-cooked meats, soy goodies, sky high ice cream cones, sweets, shaved ice, tapioca teas, fresh bread, and more. You can also sample the yummy Taiwanese fried chicken chain Ding Gua Gua. Try a “Gua Gua Bao,” a flavorful sticky rice pouch. If you like sweet potato, Ding Gua Gua’s fries will make you want to come back for more! There are many American fast food restaurants across the street on the right of the University, right next to several wonderful book stores.
The Grand Hotel
The Grand Hotel. A 5-star hotel near Yuanshan, it was rated as one of the world’s top ten hotels by the US Fortune magazine in 1968. It opened in May 1952, and expanded several times before becoming the landmark it is today. The swimming pool, tennis court, and membership lounge were constructed in 1953. The Golden Dragon Pavilion and Golden Dragon Restaurant opened in 1956 and the The Jade Phoenix Pavilion and Chi-Lin Pavilion opened in 1958 and 1963 respectively. The main Grand Hotel building was completed on the Double Tenth Day of 1973, making it an instant icon of Taipei. And this hotel is a part of scene in the Taiwanese film – Eat Drink Man Woman by the world famous Director – Ang Lee. It is arguably of 4-star quality in 2014, especially when compared to the hot hotel market that is Taipei. With that said one can enjoy the atmosphere and snap some nice photos without actually sleeping here.
The National Palace Museum. The world’s best collection of Chinese historical artifacts and antiquities. The museum is in Shilin. The nearest MRT station is Shilin, with frequent buses from Shilin heading for the Palace Museum. Look for the displays on the buses. Some are written in English. It’s a must-see for first time visitors. It gives combined admission tickets with the Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines.
Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines, 282 Zhishan Road, Sec 2 in Shilin. Located 200 meter further (opposite direction than to Shilin MRT station) on the opposite site of the street than the National Palace Museum. This museum houses exhibitions of Aboriginal culture, beliefs, rituals and lifestyle. Around 100 films about the traditional aboriginal culture and custom can be viewed and visitors can enjoy Austronesian music and of other ethnics in music appreation section. An English audio guide is available. It gives combined admission tickets with the National Palace Museum.
Hua Shan Cultural and Creative Industry Center, 1 Bade Road, Sec 1. This former brewery has been transformed into a creative space in a park. The exhibitions here are well presented and imaginative and the theater performances, while less formal than those at the National Theater, are still first rate. The center also has a great cafe with outdoor seating, an excellent place to watch Taipei at work and play over a cappuccino.
Taipei Fine Arts Museum, 181 Zhongshan North Rd, Sec. 3 (near the Yuanshan
Taipei Fine Arts Museum
MRT Station on the Red Line). Open Tues-Sun 9:30AM-5PM. The museum displays work of local and international artists.
Spot – Taipei Film House, Zhongshan North Rd, Sec 2 (nearest MRT Station: Zhongshan on the Red Line). This former residence of the U.S. Ambassador has been transformed into an art center that focuses on independent films. In addition to screenings, the house also has great cafes and restaurants that spill out onto balconies and into the garden. The book store offers a good selection of hard-to-get art/independent films on DVD, though for other movies, prices are lower at regular DVD rental stores. Open Tues-Sun, 11AM – 10PM. Admission is free for the cafe. Also, most films don’t have English subtitles if they are foreign language, so check beforehand.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, 39 Changan West Rd, nearest MRT station – Zhongshan (on Red Line). Taiwan’s first art space dedicated to contemporary work. The red brick, former Taipei City Hall is easy to locate on an otherwise unexceptional road. Open Tues-Sun, 10AM-6PM.
Taipei Artist Village, near Shandao Temple Station, Exit No. 1, walk to Tian Jin St. and turn right to Beiping E. Road. This village provides residency programs for Taiwanese artists and others from around the world. They provide gallery and studio space for artists. They also have a few cafes which are excellent for a mid-day break while exploring Taipei. The space is open during normal weekly business hours and you are free to roam around the village.
Taipei Story House. The house is in the same plot of land as the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. This tea merchant’s 19th century European style house has been converted into a space for telling the story of Taipei and tea. There are permanent exhibits on these subjects as well as visiting exhibitions and the occasional traditional music concert. The patio serves as a tea garden, which offers pleasant views over the Tamsui River and beyond. Open 9AM-6PM.
National Museum Of History, 49 Nanhai Rd. This museum is in Taipei Botanical Garden, which is famous for its varied selection of exhibits, including Tang dynasty tri-color pottery and Shang dynasty bronzes. Open Tues-Sat 10AM-6PM, closed Mon.
National Taiwan Museum
National Taiwan Museum, 2 Xiangyang Rd. This museum is in ‘Peace Park’ (near Taipei Main Station) in a splendid Baroque and Renaissance style building. Opened in 1899, it was Taiwan’s first museum and focuses on anthropology and the fauna and flora of the island.
Miniatures Museum of Taiwan. B1, 96 Jianguo North Rd, Sec 1. This is a small, private museum that is a monument to patient and steady hand. The 40 bulb chandelier, which is the size of grain of rice, is one of the many impressive pieces on display. The museum is in the same building as Thai Airways. Open Tues-Sun 10AM-6PM (last admittance 5PM).
Su Ho Memorial Paper Museum, 68 Changan East Rd, Sec 2. This museum was founded by Su Ho Chen, one of Taiwan’s last few masters of papermaking, and who was killed in 1990 in a plane crash. You can enjoy exhibits about paper, and make your own sheet of paper here. Open Mon-Sat 9:30AM-4:30PM (Closed Sun and Spring Festival).
Discover Center Of Taipei, 1 Shifu Rd. Located just inside the main entrance of Taipei City Hall, this is a good place to know the history and culture of Taipei City. Open Tues-Sun 9AM-5PM, closed Mon. Admission is free.
Museum of Drinking Water
Museum of Drinking Water 1, Siyuan St near the Tai-da campus. The Museum of Drinking Water was completed in 1908, and is the first pumping station and filtration plant in Taipei. The museum is in Taipei Water Park. Open: 9AM-6PM (tickets offer till 5PM), closed Mon.
Beitou Hot Spring Museum, was built by the Japanese as Taiwan’s first public bathhouse in 1913 and it was the biggest hot spring bathhouse in East Asia in its day. Free. Closed Mondays.
Tittot Museum, 16, Ln 515, Zhongyang North Road sec.4. Just east of Guandu MRT station on Red Line, this is the first glass works museum in Taiwan and Asia. Open Tues-Sun, 9AM – 5PM.
Daan Forest Park
Daan Forest Park is one of Taipei’s newest parks. The park rests on 26hectares in central Taipei bordered by Xinyi Road, Jianguo South Road, Heping East Road, and Xinsheng South Road. Due to its size and location, it is also known as Taipei Central Park.
Taipei Botanical Garden. The gardens are nearest MRT station ‘Xiaonanmen’ on the green line between the MRT Ximen station and MRT C.K.S Memorial Hall station. This beautiful garden has inspired the citizens of Taipei for over one hundred years. The lotus ponds are a hallmark of the park and are especially captivating when these symbols of peace are in full bloom and swaying in the summer breeze. The gardens are close to the National Museum of History.
228 Peace Park
228 Peace Park – This park is on the north side of Katagalan Boulevard and the MRT station ‘National Taiwan University Hospital’ on the Red Line. The park was founded by the Japanese in 1907, and was originally called New Park. The name was changed in 1996 to commemorate those killed in the 228 Incident of 28 February 1947. The park is popular with practitioners of taichi and senior citizens playing Chinese chess. The National Taiwan Museum marks the northern entrance to the park.
Zhongshan Fine Arts Park – This park is south of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. The open green space and many stabiles are on display in the park.
Dajia Riverside Park – This park is a 12km long green belt on the south bank of the Keelung River. One of the most beautiful banks in Taipei. Basketball, tennis, and badminton courts are available, as are bicycles for rent. The Red 34 bus between the MRT Yuanshan station (Red Line) and Dajia Riverside Park.
Zhishan Garden – A beautiful park on top of a hill between the Shilin and the Tianmu district. It’s just a 10 minutes’ walk from Zhishan metro station. There are several temples and shrines scattered across the hill and there is a nice boardwalk around the area offering some nice views across the city.
Longshan Temple – This temple is where countless generations of Taipei citizens have come to pray and seek guidance at times of trouble. As the temple is dedicated to Guanyin (the Buddhist representation of compassion) it is officially defined as Buddhist, but there is a great amount of folk religion mixed into the fabric of the beliefs at this temple. However, if you want to feel the real heartbeat of Taipei, one that is far removed from the skyscrapers and shopping malls of East Taipei, this is the place to come. It just oozes with character, although don’t come expecting to find teachings on meditation. The area around Longshan Temple, Wanhua, is one of the original districts of Taipei. And, while much of the traditional architecture has been lost, the area still maintains a traditional feel. It is here that the blind masseurs congregate to offer their skill. Likewise, this is the area where the Taiwanese come to learn who they should marry or what to name their children by consulting one of the many fortune tellers that set up shop along the roads and alleys around the temple. The temple is located at 211 Guangzhou Road (near junction with Guilin Road) and is open daily from 5AM to 10PM. The nearest MRT station is ‘Longshan Temple’ on the Ban-Nan Line.
Red Theater – The Red Theater just sits directly outside the southwest exit of MRT Ximen station, near the Ximending shopping area. It was Taiwan’s first modern market as well as a theater in Japanese rule before, now there is an exhibition hall and a small playhouse.
Zhongshan Hall – North of Ximen MRT station. The buildings were completed in the period of Japanese rule on December 26, 1936. In 1945, the former Taipei City Hall was renamed as Zhongshan Hall. In 1992, the building has been identified to Second monuments of the country. Later it was assigned as a cultural space that hosts cultural and art events.
In the South of Datong District, Dadaocheng is a historic heart of Taipei. Dadaocheng, it can be literally translated as large open space for drying rice in the sun. There is one of the oldest communities in Taipei. Getting to this old area, you can take the Red Line (Red Line) MRT to Shuanglian Station. From Exit 2, walk west down Minsheng West Road (about 15 minutes).
Dihua Street – This street located alongside the Tamsui River in Dadaocheng, rows of old shophouses from late 1880s hold Taiwan’s oldest wholesale dried goods market. On Dihua Street Section 1, Xiahai City God Temple was built in 1859. City God, who watched over the citizens in the district and decided a person’s fate after death. Today this temple remains the area’s religious and social center, and one of Taipei’s most important places of worship. Every Chinese New Year, Dihua Street is the most popular place in Taipei where local residents buy snacks and sweets for Chinese New Year festivities.
West of Dihua Street and Xining North Road, there is a small, short lane called Gui-De Street (it was previously called Western Houses Street). This lane once fronted the Tamsui River. In the 1880s, the world famous Formosa Oolong Tea came from a nearby wharf. At the time, many wealthy merchants invested in building along the lane in order to attract international trading firms. One was Chen Tian-lai (A.D. 1872-1939), a Taiwanese tea merchant, who was fabulously rich for his time. His home was one of the model Taiwanese residences on this land and his neo-Baroque home is still standing. (No.73 Gui-De Street)
Dalongdong is at the Datong District’s north end, north of Dadaocheng and is one of the oldest communities in Taipei. Baoan Temple and Confucius Temple are both famous historical sites located in this area.
Baoan Temple, 61 Ha-mi St, the nearest MRT station is ‘Yuanshan’ on the Red Line. Construction began on this temple in 1805 and it was completed 25 years later. Baoan is a Taoist temple and one of the leading religious sites in Taipei. The temple’s main deity is the emperor Baosheng, the god of medicine. The mural paintings and sculptures that adorn the building are considered some of the most impresive in Taiwan, and the temple won acclaims in the 2003 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards.
Confucius Temple – Just next to Baoan Temple, the Confucius Temple was built in 1879 when the Qing Court changed Taipei into a prefecture of the Province of Fujian, China. It was established to serve as the largest educational center in northern Taiwan. Every September 28th, a large number of people from Taiwan and abroad come here to watch a solemn Confucius birthday ceremony and eight-row dance. The temple is located at 275 Dalong St, the nearest MRT station is ‘Yuanshan’ on the Red Line.
Xingtian Temple is located at the corner of Minquan East Road and Songjiang Road. The temple was built in 1967 and was devoted to Guangong (A.D. 162-219), a famous deified general who lived during the Three Kingdoms period, and he is an important character in the Chinese classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The temple forbids the killing of animals as an offering, so you will see offerings of only fresh flowers, fruits and tea on the main altar. Many believers feel that this is a very efficacious temple, and it is frequently thronged with people praying for help and seeking divine guidance by consulting oracle blocks. Outside the temple, the underground pedestrian passages under the Minquan – Songjiang intersection are filled with fortune-tellers and vendors who take commercial advantage of the temple’s popularity.
Even though very little ancient architecture remains in Taipei, four of Taipei’s five original city gates still stand. The city walls which surrounded the old city and the West Gate were demolished by the Japanese to make way for roads and railway lines. Of the four gates still standing, the Kuomintang renovated three of them in its effort to restore Chinese architecture in Taipei, and converted them from the original southern Chinese architecture to northern Chinese palace style architecture, leaving only the North Gate or more formally Cheng’en men in its original Qing Dynasty splendour today. This gate sits forlornly in the traffic circle where the Zhonghua, Yanping and Boai roads meet.