17 June 2024

First time in Taipei: 15x fun things to do and see

A city trip to Taipei might not be the most obvious destination given the time it takes for most of us to get there. But if you’re planning to spend more time in Taiwan, then visiting Taipei will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of your trip.

Songshan Cultural and Creative Park with the colourful Taipei sign

I begin and end my Taiwan trip in Taipei. Giving me a total of 7 days to explore Taipei’s most interesting sights and other things the city has to offer. In this Taipei travel guide, I share all my favorite tips for things to do in Taipei. From exploring historic temples and night markets to taking in panoramic views from towering skyscrapers. If this is your first time in Taipei it will help you to know exactly what to do in Taipei and how to get the most out the days you spend here.

1. Hike to the top of Elephant Mountain

Hike the Elephant Mountain trail in Taipei. This is one of the best things to do when you visit Taipei for the first time. It also offers the best view of Taipei 101

There’s a good chance you’ll feel pretty jet-lagged on your first day in Taipei. A bit of exercise is always good to get your body in the right time zone. So how does a hike to one of the best views over Taipei sound? This is also a great spot to take a photo of the iconic Taipei 101 tower.

Taipei is surrounded by mountains and hills. The official name of this mountain is Xiangshan, which means Elephant Mountain due to its elephant-like shape. The mountain is 183 meters high, and the hiking trail to the top is about 1,5 km long.

Climbing 600 steps to the top can be quite strenuous, especially on a hot day (I did it with 30°C). But if you’re in decent shape, take it easy, and bring enough water, it’s definitely doable. At the top, you can sit on a bench and enjoy the spectacular view.

It’s a popular hike, so it can get busy, especially on weekends. I was there on a Wednesday, and it wasn’t too crowded. Want to hike the Elephant Mountain trail? Take the metro to Xiangshan MRT station. The trail is clearly marked with signs.

2. Panoramic views at Taipei 101

From Elephant Mountain, you have a great view of Taipei 101, but you can also do the reverse: get a view of Taipei with Elephant Mountain at Taipei 101.

Wherever you are in Taipei, you almost always see the Taipei 101 skyscraper. Until 2007, it was the tallest building in the world until it was surpassed by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. But it remains an impressive building with its unique bamboo shape.

For a beautiful panoramic view over the city, take one of the fastest elevators in the world to the observation deck in only 37 seconds. Most people, including me, go to the 89th floor where you can walk around behind glass. From there, you take the stairs to the 91st floor where you can go outside (behind a fence). For the absolute best outdoor view, get a ticket for the Skyline460 (460 meters high) on the 101st floor.

Besides the view, the gigantic mass damper (the largest in the world) is also an interesting thing to see in Taipei. Due to its location, Taiwan experiences frequent earthquakes (I experienced one during my trip). With a building as tall as Taipei 101, this had to be taken into account during construction. This massive damper ball (660 tons) offsets movements during heavy storms or earthquakes, reducing 40% of the building’s movements.

Taipei 101 is one of the most popular attractions in Taipei, so it can get quite busy. It’s also wise to avoid weekends if possible. Although it’s recommended to reserve a time slot and buy tickets in advance, I walked in spontaneously on a weekday and didn’t have to wait at all.

3. The best dumplings at Din Tai Fung

Getting hungry after visiting the Taipei 101 observation deck? You won’t have to go far for the best dumplings in Taipei. At the entrance of Taipei 101 you’ll find one of the popular Din Tai Fung restaurants. This Taiwanese restaurant now has multiple locations in Taipei and abroad. If you want to visit the restaurant where it all began, go to Xinyi Road. But you can also enjoy the famous soup dumplings and other delights right here in the Taipei 101 building.

The best dumplings in Taipei at Din Tai Fung restaurant at the Taipei 101

As I mentioned in my post about great food in Taipei, wait times at Din Tai Fung can be very long. Before you go to the observation deck, get a ticket with a number and an estimated wait time, which is likely more than an hour around lunchtime. By the time you’re done with the observation deck, you hopefully won’t have to wait long for your table.

Looking for other great restaurants and cafes in Taipei? Read my Taipei food guide for more tips.

4. Changing of the guard at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Liberty Square with Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei. Must-see when visit Taipei for the first time.

Another must-see when visiting Taipei for the first time is the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial. Besides Taipei 101, it’s probably the most famous place to visit in Taipei. Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the war with the communists in China. He was the leader of Taiwan until his death in 1975. This period was far from democratic, so it’s debatable whether commemorating a dictator this way is appropriate. For several years now, there’s been an effort to rename and repurpose this site.

The Liberty Square, with its huge gate on one side and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall on the other, is very impressive. Every hour (on the hour), there’s a changing of the guard in the Memorial Hall which is nice to attend.

Front gate at the Chiang Kai shek memorial hall in Taipei. Must see on your Taiwan itinerary

5. Visit the 228 Peace Memorial Park

228 Peace memorial park in Taipei, Taiwan

After visiting the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, walk through the gate towards the 228 Peace Memorial Park. Although this beautiful park has existed since 1908, its name refers to an incident on 28 February 1947, when Chiang Kai-shek’s party (KMT) violently suppressed protests by the local population against the corrupt government. In the following weeks, protests spread throughout Taiwan, marking the beginning of years of oppression and many deaths.

It’s a beautiful park to stroll through. In the center, you’ll find the 228 Memorial Monument.

6. Shopping and nightlife in Ximending

Rainbow road crossing in Ximending with letters Taipei

From historical and political Taipei to the modern and commercial part of the city: Ximending. This is the place for shopping and nightlife in Taipei. With all the stores selling cheap goods and bright lights everywhere, it’s not my favorite part of the city. It reminded me a bit of Akihabara (Electric Town) in Tokyo—busy and overwhelming. I was there on a rainy afternoon. With all the neon lights, it’s probably more fun to walk around later in the day when it’s a bit darker.

Just outside the Ximen metro station, you’ll find Rainbow Road, with the rainbow-colored crosswalk and the text “Taipei.” Perfect for the typical “I was in Taipei” photo.

7. Stroll through Dihua Street, Taipei’s oldest street

If the busy, modern Ximending area isn’t your thing, head to Dihua Street in the Dadaocheng district for a completely different experience.

Dihua Street is the oldest street in Taipei, built during the Dutch colonization in the 17th century. In the 19th century, it became Taipei’s commercial center, and many of the buildings date from that time. Walking through Dihua Street gives you a good impression of what Taipei’s streets used to look like.

Today you’ll find many shops and cafes for tourists in the old buildings, but it looks much more authentic than Ximending. You’ll also find original shops that have been here for over a hundred years, selling Chinese herbs and produce you’ve probably never heard of.

8. Taiwanese food tour with Taipei Eats

One of the most fun things I did in Taipei was a food tour with Taipei Eats. As you walk through the city with a local guide, you learn a lot about authentic Taiwanese food. And of course the best way to learn is to taste everything yourself! Yes, even the infamous stinky tofu. If you do this at the beginning of your Taiwan trip, you’ll know much better what to buy at a night market.

Taipei Eats offers various food tours. I joined the Iconic Food Tour, but there’s also an Old School Food Tour focused on traditional Taiwanese dishes and a Taipei Night Market Tour. I share more about my experience with this food tour in my post about where to eat in Taipei.

9. Visit the National Palace Museum

In a country where food plays such an important role, it’s no surprise that one of the most famous artworks in the National Palace Museum is a jade Chinese cabbage. The National Palace Museum is located outside the city center, in the north. To get there, I took the metro to Jiannan Road, and from there, a bus that stops right in front of the museum.

The museum has a gigantic collection of 700.000 artworks that you won’t be able to see in one visit. But there is some logic in how it’s set up over three floors. So depending on your interests, you can easily find what you’re looking for. The National Palace Museum is worth visiting mainly for its large collection of Chinese art. These artworks were brought here at the end of the Chinese civil war when it became clear that the communists were going to win.

If you have some time left after your museum visit, take a walk through the adjacent Zhishan Park.

10. Huashan 1914 Creative Park

Huashan 1914 Creative Park. One of the most fun things to do in Taipei when you're visiting for the first time.

A visit to a ‘creative park’ is a must when you’re in Taiwan. Old industrial sites of a factory have been given a new function as a creative hub with exhibitions, pop-up stores, restaurants, and live music. You can find them all over the country, and there are a few in Taipei as well. The most famous creative parks in Taipei are Huashan 1914 Creative Park and Songshan Cultural and Creative Park.

I loved visiting Huashan 1914 Creative Park, walking among the old factories with large chimneys. The site was established in 1914 as a sake and wine factory during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. It was closed in 1987 and has been a creative park since 2005.

You can visit Huashan 1914 Creative Park every day, at any time. However, the shops and restaurants are open during standard business hours.

11. Songshan Cultural and Creative Park

The idea behind Songshan Cultural and Creative Park is the same as Huashan 1914 Creative Park. This time, a tobacco factory from 1937 that produced cigarettes until 1998. In 2011, it was transformed into the creative hub it is today. But although the principle is the same, with pop-up shops, exhibitions, and cafes, it is a different experience, making it worth it to visit both parks.

In the former factory you walk through the long corridors of the old building. It’s like going back in time. On the walls are old photos of the staff who worked there. The factory forms a square around a large courtyard where you can take a break. Additionally, on the factory grounds, there are 5 warehouses where cigarettes used to be made and packed on a conveyor belt.

You can walk around the park at any time, but the buildings are open to visitors between 9 AM and 6 PM.

12. Admire the beautiful temples of Taipei

Dalongdong Bao'an Temple in Taipei. If you only want to visit on temple in Taipei this is the most beautiful one.

There are more than 15.000 official temples in Taiwan. If it’s your first time in Taipei and you want to visit only one, then Dalongdong Bao’an Temple is the best choice. It’s the most beautiful temple according to the Taiwan guide from Lonely Planet. The most famous temple in Taipei is Longshan Temple.

I waited until the end of my trip to visit the temples in Taipei. And because I had already visited several in other cities in Taiwan, I followed Lonely Planet’s advice and went to the beautiful Bao’an Temple.

The details of this temple are so impressive. Its history dates back to the 18th century, but it was completely restored a few years ago. For this, they received a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award. The temple is free to visit and consists of multiple halls you can walk through.

And if you’re already here, also visit the Confucius Temple across the street.

First time in Taipei things to do Confucius Temple

13. Enjoy the best street food at a night market

Food guide Taipei-Ningxia Night Market-street entrance

I already mentioned the night markets in my post about great places to eat in Taipei. But besides the amazing food, visiting the night markets is simply one of the best things to do in Taipei. I especially liked Ningxia Night Market, but Raohe Night Market is also a great choice.

Most stalls specialize in one or two dishes. Which pays off as some of them have received a Bib Gourmand award from the Michelin Guide.

If you’ve done a food tour, you already know more about what you should get. My favorite snacks at the night markets are:

  • gua bao: steamed lotus buns with roasted pork belly, also known as the Taiwanese burger
  • lu rou fan: cubes of slow-cooked pork belly with rice
  • shou zhua bing: a kind of crispy pancake with scallions, also known as scallion pancake
  • run bing: a wrap with (sometimes) meat, various vegetables, egg, coriander, and peanuts, also known as the Taiwanese burrito or a popiah roll

14. Take a photo with the best view of Taipei 101 at night

While looking for things to do in Taipei, I came across a photo of a street with a perfect view of Taipei 101 at night. This is when the top of the tower lights up in a different color every day of the week. But where is this street? For some reason, none of the photos I found mentioned the location. So I’ll make it easy for you and share the location where you can take this photo.

It’s now called Hotspot 101 on Google Maps (which helps), and the address is 1 No. 2, Lane 253, Songren Road, Taipei City. Although it took me a while to find the location, I was certainly not the only one standing here at sunset. Several people were taking turns to pose in the middle of the street. Nevertheless, I managed to take the photo.

15. Other things to do in Taipei that I missed this time

Despite spending 7 days in Taipei, I didn’t get to do everything I wanted. Which is not necessarily a bad thing as I now have a good reason to go back.

Do you want to take a day trip from Taipei? Go to Jiufen. It looks super photogenic but is also very touristy and crowded. Or would you rather pamper yourself in one of the hot springs just outside the city? Next time, I want to visit the Beitou hot springs in northern Taipei (with the metro you can get there in 30 minutes). Especially the luxurious 5-star Grand View Resort Beitou looks fantastic. Super expensive if you want a room with a private hot spring, but still amazing.

Also outside the city, but then in the south of Taipei, you have Maokong. This is where you go to visit traditional Taiwanese teahouses and the tea fields. And what makes it extra special is that you have to take a gondola to get there. Given the amount of tea I drink every day, I would love to see this.

Other useful tips for your first time in Taipei

In my post with useful travel tips for your first trip to Taiwan, I share more tips for if you’re planning to visit this beautiful country. Like the best time to visit Taiwan, how to get from Taoyuan international airport to Taipei Main Station, and how to travel by train. Here are some tips that are more specific to visiting Taipei.

Taipei 101 on a cloudy day - How many days in Taipei

How many days do you need to visit Taipei?

I would stay in Taipei for at least four days. I spent four days at the beginning of my trip and another three at the end. In four days, you can cover most of the things to do in Taipei that I mentioned above.

Since you’ll probably have a jet lag when you arrive, it’s nice to have a few more days in Taipei at the end of your trip. This way, you don’t feel the pressure to see everything immediately. I had zero trouble coming up with things to do for 7 days. However, if you don’t have enough time, four days should be enough.

How to get around in Taipei

Traffic in Taipei - how to get around Taipei

Taipei is quite a large city, so walking is not always an option. Fortunately, public transportation works great. There is a good metro system, and also the city buses take you everywhere. With the EasyCard, you can use both, so you don’t have to buy separate tickets each time.

Using the metro is pretty easy with the lines and directions clearly indicated (also in English). In the bus, I would use Google Maps to know when to get off. I installed a Taiwanese eSIM on my phone so I could use unlimited data without worrying about high roaming costs.

Besides public transport in Taipei, you can also use Uber. This works very well and is cheaper than standard taxis. Plus they were always very luxurious, modern cars.

Where to stay in Taipei: the best boutique hotels

One of the best neighborhoods to stay in Taipei is, in my opinion, the Da’an district. This beautiful, somewhat upmarket district is centrally located, easily accessible by metro, and surrounded by shops and new, trendy restaurants and bars. I stayed in two very nice boutique hotels, both in Da’an.

At the beginning of my trip, I stayed at the Kimpton Da’an hotel. When it opened in 2019, it was the first Kimpton hotel in Asia. The rooms are spacious and have a modern, calm design. Perfect for relaxing after a busy day of sightseeing.

You can have breakfast in the restaurant, but in the lobby there’s free coffee and tea with croissants and fruit in the morning. So if you prefer to have breakfast somewhere else or aren’t very hungry, you can grab this before heading out. There’s also a ‘social hour’ every afternoon where you get a glass of wine and some small snacks. Do you feel like exploring Taipei by bike? At the Kimpton hotel they offer complimentary bike rentals.

During my last days in Taipei, at the end of my Taiwan trip, I stayed at Hotel Proverbs. This design hotel has won several awards, and I loved staying here. My room was spacious and luxurious, and if Taipei wasn’t such a great city, I would have been happy to stay inside.

Have fun in Taipei!

From exploring the bustling night markets and tasting delicious street food to visiting the iconic landmarks, there is no shortage of unforgettable experiences in Taipei. Once you’ve visited this city for the first time, you’ll want to come back for more. So I hope these travel tips gave you an idea of what to do in Tapei. I’m sure you’re going to love it as much as I do.


12 Useful Taiwan travel tips for first-time visitors

12 Useful Taiwan travel tips for first-time visitors

Taiwan is an amazing country to visit. It is quite modern, so you don’t have to worry much about getting from A to B or finding places to sleep. However, for many of us it’s a country on the other side of the world with from time to time its own ‘instructions’. Are...