Taipei is not a place that conquers you immediately. It’s not like walking the streets of most European cities where architecture blinds you with all its glamour and everything is tidy and in perfect order. Not at all! You won’t find elegant streets with perfectly decorated façades and fancy cafés. Actually there are fancy cafés everywhere but they are mixed with street stalls and local restaurants. Taipei is in fact a down to earth metropolis that doesn’t strive to show off. And it could: everything works perfectly, there are some really interesting historic and hi-tech buildings, beautiful parks and forests surround the city which has hot springs that you can easily be reached by a short metro ride. Perhaps this reality reflects the modesty of Taiwanese people who don’t seem aware of how cool their country is!
Taipei is a huge city resting in the valley where the Keelung and Xindian rivers meet to form the large Tamsui River. The city centre lies between these three rivers, with the rest expanding all the way to the East China Sea. Divided into 12 districts, Datong, Wanhua and Zhongzheng are considered the central ones. Old Taipei lies next to the Tamsui River in Datong and Wanhua districts and it’s the only place with small curvy streets and old architecture. The rest of the city is comprised of wide boulevards, freeways and local streets that intersect perpendicularly making it easy to find your way in Taipei.
Taipei has a plethora of interesting places to visit. Two historical streets are not to be missed: Dihua Street in Datong and the short Lane 173 on Kangding Road in Wanhua. Just a block away, the Longshan Temple is a great example of Taiwanese classical architecture. The other two important temples are near the Yuanshan metro station, north of the city centre: Dalongdong Baoan Temple and Confucius Temple, both richly decorated. South of the Main Train Station one can find the most elegant and monumental structures. Next to the Peace Park the grand Presidential Office Building is a unique Japanese ornamental edifice that dominates the area. A couple of minutes away The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is TaipeI’s most important landmark. The main hall displays a massive statue of Taiwan’s ex president while the National Concert Hall and the National Theater are housed in two similar buildings symmetrically placed. Another fantastic memorial place you have to visit is the National Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall dedicated to father of the nation, a unique building with an interesting exhibition surrounded by a nice park. North of the Keelung River you will find an interesting example of Chinese folk revival architecture, the National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine. The lavish Grand Hotel is next to it. If you get tired of architecture there is an astonishing forest just behind the corner. Among many interesting modern towers Taipei 101 certainly deserves a special place. A beautiful design inspired by a bamboo tree this gigantic building stood as the world’s tallest for 5 years. We were so lucky as to see the New Year’s Eve fireworks, a pretty unique world class spectacle.
The wide city centre spreads between the three rivers all the way up until the commercial area around Taipei 101. So staying anywhere within this area is a good choice. Perhaps the best location is within Datong District, close enough to several interesting spots, very well connected to the entire city, and affordable. South Datong around Dihua Street is an interesting historical area with a few hotels, North Datong is home to plenty of tourist apartments. The neighborhood close to the Main Train station is packed with hotels just like the area around Ximen, where most of the nightlife occurs. Both neighborhoods are considered downtown so hotels can be quite expensive.
Most of central Taipei is flat and streets are properly organized so walking about and biking can be quite pleasant. Although bike lines are not very common, locals drive with care. Public transport is excellent; it consists of Metro and buses. The Metro network is so developed that it virtually makes no sense using buses or taking a taxi. It is easy to use and the ticket cost depends on the distance. Taxis are reliable, safe, and relatively inexpensive. They are the best option at night, when the metro doesn’t operate.
Taipei is a true hidden gem. A fascinating mixture of fancy and trashy, it is a live display of multicultural heritage settled inside a beautiful natural environment. It is also a city full of contrasts: on one side you have a super rich futuristic metropolis with fascinating public transport and hi-tech towers, on the other eclectic temples, memorial halls and narrow alleys with street markets. But it’s so much more than that. It is home to several great museums and some incredible destinations just a step away. Natural hot springs appear to be everywhere with Beitou and Wulai being the most popular. Treks on the Elephant Mountain reward you with spectacular views and if you are too lazy just take the Maokong Gondola all the way up. In Taipei there is something for everyone and if you get bored you have a serious problem.
Taipei Travel Guide
- In Wanhua or Zhongzheng. Happy Frog recommends Hotel Relax 2
- National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall;
- Longshan Temple and Lane 173 on Kangding Road;
- Dalongdong Baoan Temple and Confucius Temple;
- Martyrs’ Shrine and Grand Hotel;
- Taipei 101 with its observation desk.
- Have dinner in a lively district of Ximending.
- On foot, by bike, metro, bus or taxi.
- Go on an excursion to the old mining town of Jiufen.
DO NOT MISS:
- Walk around Dihua street;
- Discover the architectural heritage around the Peace Park;
- Bike around Zhongshanmeishu and Xinsheng Parks;
- Climb the Elephant Hill or take Maodong Gondola to enjoy the views;
- Spend the afternoon in Beitou hot springs.