Taipei is an ultra modern city and a blend of ancient cultures. From street food to temples, here are the best things to do in Taipei.
There are shopping malls and a vibrant downtown. But there’s also a rich heritage seen in the temples and shrines tucked into sidestreets.
Here are the best things to do in Taipei:
1. Fill up on street food at a night market
There are more than a hundred loud and bustling markets throughout the country. And they’ve played a vital role in nightlife for more than a thousands years.
The bustling night markets are filled with incredible flavors. There’s exotic fruit sold in snack-sized baggies. And ginger scents everything from sugarcane juice to hand lotion.
And the food in Taiwan is full of surprising textures – from the chewy tapioca balls in bubble tea to rice hamburger buns.
If you’re visiting Taiwan, then some of your best memories will center around food.
The Tonghua (Linjiang) Night Market is about a 20-minute walk from Taipei 101. It’s brilliant for sampling street food, browsing racks of trendy clothes, and exploring shops full of Hello Kitty toys.
The delicious sugar cane juice, served hot with a dash of ginger, is perfect on a chilly evening. And the fish patties on a stick are well-seasoned and juicy.
The Tonghua night market offers an authentic experience and local flavors right in Taipei’s ultra-modern downtown. It’s perfect as a budget-friendly alternative to central Taipei’s pricier restaurants. And it’s delicious for a quick meal between sightseeing.
Although it’s tiny on the map, Tonghua offers an endless variety of fruits and veggies, arcades, and fast fashion versions of Comme des Garcons.
It feels lively and loud. Though Tonghua is less touristy than some of the city’s more popular night markets.
Specialties include stinky tofu (fermented in a brine mix) and bubble tea. Food stalls are squeezed between shops selling household items and quirky souvenirs.
2. Explore the Ximending district
The trendy Ximending district is packed late at night with street vendors calling “yummy yummy” to entice people to the street food Taiwan is famous for.
There are oyster omelets, bite-sized tropical fruit served in plastic baggies and hot sugar cane juice with ginger. And even though it’s past midnight, it’s perfectly safe for a woman wandering alone.
Ximending is a fashion hub filled with boutiques, cinemas, hip cafes, pubs packed with young people and alleys lit up with lanterns and colorful murals. Known as “little Tokyo,” the district is a haven for fans of Japanese culture. Posters of the scantily-clad women of anime decorate shop windows, and Japanese magazines are sold inside.
3. Visit a Taoist temple
Small but colorful Taoist temples are everywhere in Taiwan. They’re lit by bright red lanterns and smell of the incense visitors burn to honor celestial beings.
The temple is often dedicated to a Taoist deity. But there are also other gods, heroes and figures in a lavishly decorated array. Many temples have roofs that spill over in layers of carvings, dragons and bright flowers.
Seeing a Taoist temple for the first time is a beautiful and disorienting experience, all at once.
4. Watch a temple parade
Follow the deafening noise and smoke as you stumble into a temple parade.
There are larger-than-life performers on stilts, musicians sounding gongs and huge drums, and crowds carrying tit-up palanquins, or sedan chairs, to a nearby temple.
Along the way, shops and households burn joss paper and put out tables of flowers and fruit to honor ancestors and gods in the traffic-stopping ritual. A petite man clasps his hands together and bows respectfully to a figure walking on stilts.
Parades sometimes end in sidestreets, in small temples nestled between shops. Inside, idols with their faces covered behind strings of gold beads tower over offerings of fruit and flowers.
5. Visit the Taiwan Design Museum
The Taiwan Design Museum, inside Songshan Cultural and Creative Park, is a fascinating look at creative Taiwanese and international design.
You can admire the original French Chanel no. 5 bottle, a series of Taiwanese bicycles, or a set of 1990 Taiwanese blades forged from bomb shells.
If you’re a history or design buff, then plan for at least a few hours of browsing.
Set in a former tobacco factory that was set up during Japanese rule, the museum includes great collections of furniture, household items and incredible designs that blend creativity with function.
And don’t miss the Song Yan Gallery at this creative park. It’s a beautiful shop filled with quirky and fun designs and makes a great spot to pick up some adorable rolls of Washi tape or cute pencil cases.
The park is perfect for a sunny afternoon with its gardens and cafes, and it’s worth checking ahead because there are often festivals or performances happening.
Called the “creative hub of Taipei,” the park often serves as a venue for fashion shows, seminars and short-term exhibits. There are also fun events for children.
6. Explore Treasure Hill
Treasure Hill Artist Village is a former squatters’ community where war veterans fleeing mainland China sought refuge. It’s now repurposed into an eco-friendly art village full of open studios, street murals and galleries.
The once illegal settlement was developed into a community of artivists and reopened as an artist village in 2010.
The grey houses clinging to the hillside are a maze full of hidden passageways leading to hip cafes and open studios.
There are arts-in-residence programs where international creatives can leave their mark on this historic site. The space also hosts occasional farmers markets and music events. Steep stairs lead up to the rooftops or down passageways in a maze of flights. Once used as an air raid shelter, the village is a mix of hard concrete and vibrant art.
The clusters of grey houses perched along a hillside are a fascinating maze of passageways and staircases leading to adorable cafes or artists’ open studios.
The Treasure Hill Artist Village is a former air raid shelter that’s been transformed into a creative community full of boutiques and galleries. It was once filled with squatters and war veterans escaping mainland China.
But it’s become an eco-friendly art village that occasionally hosts farmers markets and music events.
I’d recommend a couple hours for browsing and walking around, though you should prepare to do plenty of climbing stairs.
The village currently has 14 studios, though keep in mind that artists live and work here and not everything is open to the public. The village aims to work on historical community preservation, and it also runs the Treasure Hill Traveler’s Hostel if you want to stay awhile and get immersed in the community.
The Treasure Hill Artist Village hosts events including exhibits and talks that are worth checking ahead on their website.
7. Discover Longshan Temple
This gorgeous temple was built in 1738 by settlers from mainland China, and contains both Buddhist elements and alters to Chinese deities. One of the city’s most famous temples, its fragrant with incense and filled with vases of purple orchids.
Most Taiwanese practice a mix of Buddhism and Taoism, along with various folk beliefs, and this temple is testament to that diverse mix. Longshan was built as a Buddhist temple that later added Taoism deities and now contains more than 100 gods and goddesses.
It’s a vibrant and busy temple but doesn’t feel overcrowded. Nestled in one of Taipei’s most historic neighborhoods, it’s nevertheless full of young people and urbanites taking a few minutes out of their day to pay their respects at the alters.
There’s something otherworldly about watching thick incense smoke rise past the ornate roofing and out past the modern and tall buildings surrounding this architectural treasure. It’s a spiritual place that’s also grounded in the everyday reality of the city.
There’s a small shop where you can buy some gorgeous-smelling incense, bracelets or other mementos from the temple. But since it’s one of the city’s best-known temples, come early if you want to avoid the crowds.
8. Sip on some bubble tea
The Chun Shui Tang teahouse franchise are the claimed originators of the famed bubble tea. And they have a shop in Taichung on the grounds of the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Art. It’s a beautiful spot for traditional tea in a minimalist setting or a tall glass of the country’s most famous beverage.
The “bubbles” are tapioca balls that float to the bottom of the milky tea-based drink. And the varieties are endless. You can have your bubble tea with a variety of syrups, in black, green tea or white tea. Or even blended with ice cream and blitzed into a smoothie.
Liu Han-Chieh, the founder of the Chun Shui Tang tearoom, is widely accepted as bubble tea’s true originator. Han-Chieh says he got the idea for iced tea after seeing cold coffee served in Japan. He later began playing with different syrups and flavors.
But the tapioca balls were added after the teahouse’s product development manager was bored at a meeting in 1988. She reportedly poured her Taiwanese dessert into her Assam tea.
The drink rapidly gained popularity across Asia and abroad. Today, thousands of shops around Taiwan sell endless variants of this quirky beverage.
9. Dine on Hakka cuisine
Tung Hakka Cuisine is one of Taipei’s best for Hakka cuisine, a type of southern Chinese cooking that’s virtually unknown abroad.
The restaurant serves home-style cooking or comfort food in a laid-back setting. Plates of tofu, vegetables and seafood make their way around the table on a revolving tray.
Historically, the Hakka people worked the land and created hearty dishes to sustain themselves during labor. Yet in times of poverty, they got creative with any available ingredients.
The cuisine focuses on textures and emphasizes simplicity and pragmatism. There’s lots of seafood and an abundance of vegetables in place of richer meats.
Spice and flavor is applied with a light hand.
The natural flavors of the fish and veggies shine through. And the cuisine offers plenty of options for vegans and vegetarians.
There are no overpowering flavors. But there’s plenty of ginger and garlic.
Although the island is just some 180 kilometers off the coast of China, the Hakka-style dishes like mochi are worlds away from what many know as Chinese food. An unusual combination of tropical fruits and mayonnaise is wrapped in a layer of mochi, a soft and chewy cake made of sticky rice flour and sprinkled with powdered sugar. A local proverb says that eating one mochi cake is like eating three bowls of plain rice. And it’s a filling dish for a people who’ve faced food scarcities and frequent migrations.
Hakka cuisine is increasingly trendy in Taiwan’s big cities too. And it’s a prime example of the richness of Asian cuisine.
For many Taiwanese, it’s more about the balance of flavors than about luxurious ingredients. The most delicious food is often prepared from the simplest and least expensive ingredients. But the magic is in how those flavors are brought together.
This fun boutique hotel in Taipei is in the pedestrian area of Ximending, a fashion hub filled with cafes, colorful murals and night markets. Known as “little Tokyo,” the district is full of anime posters and shops selling Japanese curiosities.
Amba has a great cafe, a stylish lounge with live music on weekends, and a tasty breakfast buffet with plenty of local food. Have some noodles for breakfast while leafing through comic books.