Here’s what doesn’t sound like a vacation: standing in line to get into some attraction, or squeezing through throngs of tourists just for a quick selfie. Taiwan is one of Asia’s most popular destinations, and there are extensive guides out there on what the tourist hot-spots and must-sees are. Those places are popular, and for good reason. But if you’re looking for something a little different on your trip, why not stray off the tried-and-tested routes and try something else?
Whether it’s going for a walking tour or joining in with a local festival, you’ll find new experiences in the city where you can learn, laugh, and explore. Here are 20 things you can do in Taipei that’ll take you off of the beaten track, and onto your own adventure:
1. Learn to make dumplings with Jodie’s Kitchen Class
Forget the kitschy souvenirs and take back some awesome culinary skills from Taiwan. Jodie Tsao is a popular chef who runs a small restaurant in the city. She’s branched into cooking classes, and you can sign up to learn how to make Chinese, Taiwanese, and Thai food.
For an authentic Taiwanese recipe, you can sign up for Jodie’s one-day dumpling cooking class. You’ll learn how to make the classic Chinese dumpling, as well as Taiwanese favourites like the green onion pancake and the black sugar and sesame pancake.
Classes take place in Jodie’s home, which is tucked away in the mountainside. Some of her classes also include a mountain walk which offers spectacular views of the city. Class prices range from 4,000 TWD (123 USD) to 12,000 TWD (370 USD). Discounts are offered if two or three people make bookings together.
For more information, click here.
2. Shop for fresh produce at Nanmen Produce Market
Sure, Taipei’s night markets are awesome. The atmosphere is fun and rowdy, and the food is insanely good, but did you ever wonder where the raw materials for that food comes from? The Nanmen Produce Market is where it’s all at.
The Nanmen Produce Market is one of the oldest traditional markets in the city. It was built in 1906, and till today it is still thriving. Think of a farmer’s market, but without the pretentiousness. The market takes up two floors of a building, and is a maze of rows and rows of stalls. On the first floor is where you’ll find packed and dried goods. The second floor is where all the raw foods are. There, stalls overflow with leafy greens, seafood glistens on beds of ice, and carcasses of meat are laid out for inspection.
Even if you’re not buying anything, walking through the market is still an experience. It’s a world away from the antiseptic lanes of a supermarket. If you’re feeling hungry after seeing all that food laid out, you can head to the food court upstairs to grab some authentic and affordable Taiwanese cuisine.
Nanmen Produce Market
Address: No.8, Section 9, Roosevelt Road, Taiwan
Access: Exit 2, Danshui Line, Ciang Kai Shek Memorial Hall Station
3. Delve into the deep layers of history that surround the Manka district
Amid a Taipei that is striving relentlessly for modernisation, the sleepy streets and derelict buildings of the Manka neighbourhood might seem out of place. But Manka was one of the earliest developed areas in the city, and was once an important trade hub before other districts like Xinyi and Daan took over. Manka was first developed over 300 years ago, and today its rich mix of decaying buildings, temples, and hipster stores come together to create an atmosphere that can be felt nowhere else in Taipei. The most popular landmark in Manka is Longshan Temple, which was built over 260 years ago and has withstood natural disasters and war. It’s one of the most frequently visited temples in Taipei. You can also wander down Herb Street, where the scents from Chinese medicine shops will leave you both entranced and grossed out. The Bopiliao area also shows the rich trade market that once stood in Manka.
You can join a walking tour to get the full Manka experience. Click here for more information.
4. Support the local creative industry at Huashan Creative Park
Like any major city, Taipei has its own indie scene. For hipsters, artists, and creative sorts, the 1914 Park, otherwise known as Huashan Creative Park, is where the action is. Here, you’ll find indie fashion, photography, arts and craft, music, dance, and dining.
Free performances by local music, dance, and theatre groups are regularly held here. If you don’t have the time to catch a performance, you can stop by the Ming Shan Art Gallery, which showcases the top names in Taiwan’s art scene. There are usually several exhibitions taking place in the park as well. Some are free, while others are ticketed. There are also restaurants and eateries where you can grab a meal.
The park itself is a fun place to visit. It was originally one of Taiwan’s largest wine factories, before it was abandoned in the 1980s. The park was finally bought by a theatre group. Today, the grounds overflow with greenery and the old buildings help amplify the gritty, indie vibe of the park.
The nearest MRT Stations to the park are Shandao Temple or Zhongxiao Xinsheng Station.
Huashan Creative Park
Address: No. 1, Section 1, Bade Rd, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan 100
Access: Take the Nangang/Blue Line to Zhong Xiao Xing Sheng Station (忠孝新生).Take Exit one and continue to walk straight for about a block until you see an underpass and a giant red diamond. Huashan Creative Park is just across the street.
Contact: +886 2 2358 1914
Nearby Food: Alleycats Pizza
5. Conquer the Four Beasts Mountains at night
Why stand in line waiting to go up to the Taipei 101 observatory when you can get an even better view atop the Four Beasts Mountains? The Four Beasts are four small mountains that overlook the city. They consist of Tiger, Elephant, Leopard, and Lion Mountain. They’re near the Xinyi District, and are a popular hiking spot for tourists and locals alike. Nearly all the trails on the Four Beasts are paved and easy to follow. Signs on the mountains will tell you which Beast you’re currently on. There are viewing platforms on the mountains that will give you amazing views of the city.
The trails can be packed in the daytime, especially on weekends. If you’d like to beat the crowd, try climbing at night. Most of the trails on the Four Beasts are lit at night, and you’ll get some exercise and a lovely view of the city, all for half of the time that you would have spent in the queue at Taipei 101.
Trails start in various places, but one trail starts at the Fengtian Temple, which you can walk to from Houshanpi MRT Station.
This is a useful guide for hiking.
6. Forget mainstream; discover a hotspring waterfall!
Hot springs are popular in Taiwan, and if you don’t like the idea of sharing the springs with hordes of tourists, why not go to a wild spring? The Sileng Wild Springs are found in northern Taipei, and while it’s a popular spring on the weekends, it’s hard to get to, so you can bet it won’t be crowded.
The Sileng Wild Springs comprise a waterfall, and the hot spring water mixes with river water, creating a sulphurous but enjoyable place to soak. It’s a beautiful, natural setting to enjoy a hot spring.
Of course, getting to the springs is already part of the experience. You’ll have to drive to get there. From Mingchih, head west. It’s a long drive, but you’ll also be rewarded with great views of the mountains. After the 59.5-kilometre (37-mile) mark, there will be a small parking area, as well as a sign spray-painted on the concrete barrier to mark the start of the trail. There will be plastic hiking markers marking the way to the springs. Do note that there will be times where the trail is very steep. There will be ropes to guide you down, however. After that, you’ll have to cross the river to get to the hot springs. There are also ropes to help with the crossing.
You’ll have to climb back up the same way, so bring lots of water and take your time with the trail. As always, stay hydrated when you’re sitting in the hot spring and get out of the water if you don’t feel well. It’s not advisable to go after rain because the trail will be slippery, and crossing the river will be dangerous.
Disclaimer: This is a potentially dangerous activity. Please be careful!
For more detailed information on how to get there, click here.
7. Read the night away at Taipei’s first 24-hour bookstore
If you’re not keen on clubbing or drinking the night away, how about reading the night away? Taipei’s 24-hour bookstore, the Eslite Dunnan branch, is open through the night for bookworms and insomniacs.
Eslite is popular not just for its opening hours, but for its policy of allowing customers to stay and read for as long as they want, without having to buy the book. It’s a common sight to see customers tucked away in corners or curled up on stairs with a book in the wee hours of the morning.
So if you’re in the city and you just can’t sleep, or you have a sudden urge to reread all seven books of Harry Potter, stop by the Eslite Dunnan Branch.
Address: No. 245, DunHua South Rd. Sec. 1
Access: From Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT Station, take Exit 6 and walk straight along Dunhua South Road. From Xinyi Anhe MRT Station, take Exit 6, walk straight and turn right onto Dunhua South Road.
8. Guide ghosts at the Keelung Chung Yuan Festival
In the summer, ghosts roam the city. The Chinese believe that during the seventh month of the lunar year, the Gates of Hell are opened and hungry ancestors and spirits spill forth. It’s common to see food set out on roadsides to feed the spirits, and lavish celebrations are held at temples. Families take the time to visit their ancestors and pay their respects.
You can see the festivities in any part of Taiwan, or any country with a Chinese community, for that matter. But the city of Keelung has a special take on the Ghost Month. You’ll see an usual parade of floats being paraded through the streets, but after that, the floats are taken to the Badouzi Harbor, released into the water and then set alight.
The Ghost Month typically takes place in August, but the exact dates will vary from year to year.
9. Work out on a paddle boat in BiTan
Get off the beaten track … and get into the water instead! For a calming, peaceful day on the Xindian River, you can head down to BiTan. Although rivers and peace might sound hard to come by in Taipei, BiTan is just a five-minute walk from Xindian MRT Station. From there, you can head down to the riverbank and rent a paddle boat. The boats can hold two to six people, and prices are typically about a few hundred TWD, depending on the number of people in the boat. It’s a fun way to improve your teamwork and coordination skills!
After all the tough work, you can reward yourself with some yummy street food! Lots of restaurants, cafes, and vendors line the boardwalk outside the MRT, so you’ll be spoilt for choice. You can sit at one of the cafes and admire the view of the river and the mountains beyond it.
10. Devour stinky tofu and pig's blood cake
If you’re walking through the night markets and happen to catch a whiff of something that smells a bit, uh, interesting, don’t turn your nose up! It’s most likely stinky tofu, one of Taiwan’s most beloved foods. It’s basically tofu marinated in a brine of fermented meat, milk, or vegetables. You can find it almost anywhere in Taiwan. Different varieties are sold too, ranging from deep fried to part of a spicy stew. Deep fried seems to be a crowd favourite, and you can buy a stick of it at a night market. For extra flavour, douse it liberally with chilli or cheese.
Other street food treats that you just can’t miss out on include pig’s blood cake, which is exactly what it sounds like: pig’s blood mixed with sticky rice and soy broth. You can buy it in the night market as well. It’s typically served deep fried or steamed, and on a stick. No matter how scary some of the street food might sound, you can’t go wrong with food on stick!
11. Take a gastronomical tour through Xinyi
It’s one thing to sample all that Taipei’s night markets have to offer. But have you ever wondered about the stories behind the food that lines roadsides today? I mean, who on earth first had the idea to eat fermented tofu??
For an afternoon of indulgence and deliciously good food, you can join a walking tour through the back alleys of the Xinyi District. There, you’ll get to try some of the best local food in Taipei. You’ll be sampling foods like green onion bread and cold sesame noodles, as well as more adventurous options like betel nut.
Taipei is a land of xiaochi. Literally translated, it means small bites – food that can be eaten quickly and on the go. This walking tour though, spans a leisurely four hours, allowing you to soak in the flavours, cultures, and history of Taiwan’s food. If you’re looking for incredible, authentic food and a great experience, then go for this.
One spot on the tour is 70 USD (2,263 TWD). Give your stomach a treat and sign up here.
12. Cuddle with strays at Lang Lang Don't Cry cafe (浪浪别哭)
Taipei is catching on quickly to the trend of themed cafes. Here, you’ll find alpaca cafes, a toilet café, and a Barbie café, just to name a few. But after a while, themed cafes can feel a bit commercialised, and the novelty wears off fast. Cafes with animals are especially worrying sometimes.
For a café experience that will fill both your heart and your stomach, stop by the Lang Lang Don’t Cry café in Central Taipei. What sets this café apart from other pet cafes is that all the animals there are strays. The word ‘lang’ means stray, and the café aims to provide a safe place for strays so they don’t have to cry any more. And if that isn’t the sweetest cause to open a cafe for, I don’t know what is. Customers will sometimes adopt the strays too.
Aside from sweet and adorable strays, you can also find great, freshly-prepared food. Everything in the café is freshly made when ordered, and although that may mean a longer waiting time, the food is absolutely delicious and so worth the wait.
Lang Lang Don’t Cry is easy to find – it’s just a five-minute walk from Taipei Main Station.
To read more about Lang Lang Don’t Cry, click here.
Lang Lang Don’t Cry
Opening Hours: 11 am – 9 pm, closed on Mondays.
Access: 5-minute walk from Taipei Main Station
13. Whizz along Taipei Circle Trail through different landscapes
Push your cycling game up a notch by taking on the Taipei Circle Trail. Completed in 2012, the Circle Trail allows cyclists to cycle in a continuous loop around the city, without having to worry about cutting through busy intersections.
The Circle Trail runs through different landscapes and conditions – from the pavements of the city, to riverside banks and the rougher mountain trails. The trail is about 58.5 kilometres (36 miles) long. With a good bike and a free afternoon, you could spend the day whizzing around the city, admiring the changing landscapes.
If 58.5 kilometres sounds a bit daunting, you can always opt to do one section of the trail instead of the whole thing. You can also use Taipei’s readily available YouBikes if you don’t plan on going to the mountainous areas. (In the event that you do, a bike that’s more stable is highly recommended.)
14. Spend the night catching shrimps
Shrimp fishing is a bit of a national pastime in Taiwan. It’s a weird activity, entirely man-made and not exactly hygienic, but hey, its fun. Shrimp fishing usually consists of sitting around a large pool filled with hungry shrimp and waiting for one of them to take the bait. You have a much higher catch rate in shrimping than fishing, so if you feel like you need an ego boost, shrimping is for you. It’s fun way to while away the night with good company. Plus, at the end of it, you get to cook all the shrimp you caught.
There are a lot of shrimping places in Taipei – most can be found in the Shihlin District. Most of the places sell food and beer, so you can eat through the night, and then top it off with freshly-cooked shrimp.
The cooking part isn’t for the faint of heart! You’ll have to do it yourself, and you have to skewer the (live) shrimps and then cook them on a grill. If you’re squeamish, bring along someone who isn’t.
15. Moon gazing at Lin Historical Garden
The Lin An Tai Historical House and Museum looks like it could have come straight from a Chinese painting. The delicate curves of the building’s roofs, the pavilions dotting the landscape, and the arched bridge all blend into the garden, which is full of bamboo, plum trees, and peonies. The complex was designed to reflect the harmony of nature and life.
The Lin An Tai House was built in 1783, and it is one of the oldest houses in Taipei today. It was originally near Dunhua South Road, but in 1983 it was reconstructed in the Northern Zhongshan District, near the Keelung River.
The highlight of this museum is definitely the garden. It’s a beautiful sight no matter the hour, but at night you can see the pavilions, moon, and stars reflected in the waters of the pond. For the best experience, go in the evening and wait for the sun to set. You can sit on the bridge, gaze at the moon, and pretend to be in a Chinese period drama.
To get there, you can take bus 222 to Xinsheng Park from Yuanshan Station. From there, it’s a five-minute walk.
16. Catch a Taiwanese opera performance
A Taiwanese opera is a visual treat – stunning and elaborate costumes and sets whirl about on stage. Your ears though, might feel a bit confused. Taiwanese opera is typically performed in Taiwanese Hokkien, and is well-known for being dramatic, both onstage and in the music that accompanies it.
Taiwanese opera is markedly different from a traditional Chinese opera; Taiwanese opera originated in Taiwan, as opposed to on the mainland, and is considered to be uniquely Taiwanese because of how the political identity of Taiwan helped to shape it.
Taiwanese operas were originally set around the folk tales of the Fujian region, but increasingly more are set in Taiwan today. Like many traditional art forms, Taiwanese opera is struggling to stay alive. Watching an opera performance isn’t just about watching a fading art though. Taiwanese opera is also a way to drink in Taiwan’s rich history, culture, and political identity. The stories told in performances track the changes in society through Taiwan’s volatile history.
You can catch an opera performance in a theatre. For a truly authentic Taiwanese opera experience though, try to catch a free open-air show. These usually happen on special occasions, and take place outside temples.
17. Learn how to ride a scooter & scoot away on a day trip
Having your own form of transport can be heaven. Say goodbye to trying to flag a cab on crowded roadsides and squeezing in with other commuters on public transport. If you have an international driving license, you can rent a scooter and be out of Taipei in half an hour. A scooter is a much safer option than a motorbike – lots of people in Taiwan use them to get around.
If it’s your first time driving a scooter, it’s not advisable to drive in the Taipei traffic. If you drive out of Taipei, you’ll find light traffic on safe, smooth roads. You’ll also get to experience the countryside and mountains. From Taipei, you can head out to Keelung or Pingxi.
Always carry rain gear with you, and bring warm clothes if you’re heading up to the mountains. Aside from that, wear proper safety gear and bring a helmet.
18. Eat snake meat at Huaxi Night Market
If you thought eating pig’s blood was bad, Huaxi Street Night Market just took things up another notch. The market’s informal name is Snake Alley, and you can probably guess why. It’s famous for having snake on the menu; snake meat is served in many different ways here. It’s served in soup, medicine, wine, and other dishes. In the spirit of waste not want not, every last bit of the snake is used. You can take a shot of snake blood, or take it mixed with alcohol.
Before you strike this place off your itinerary entirely, there are plenty of safer options in the market too! You can find the usual, comforting night market fare like fried squid and oyster omelets. Huaxi Street Night Market used to have a bad reputation among the locals because it was a red-light district. Today, the area has improved and is a popular option if you’re looking for great food, snake-related or not.
19. Visit Taipei Zoo - the largest in Asia!
You’re never too old to go to the zoo. Taipei Zoo is the largest zoo in Asia, and you can spend an entire day here, exploring the 15 exhibits. You can coo over the three resident giant pandas, or learn more about the native Formosan animals. The animals here come from all over the whole earth, with displays covering various continents and ecosystems. You can watch the penguins in the Penguin House, or take a moment at the Education Centre to browse the Zoo Library.
You can access the zoo from Taipei Zoo MRT Station.
20. Chill out on Tour Me Away’s Taipei Chill Out Tour
Amid Taipei’s busy streets, it might seem hard to find a place to just chill out. The walking tour company Tour Me Away, however, has a tour just for that. This is a walking tour for designers, architects, hipsters, or just anyone who’s looking for a fun afternoon with new faces.
This walking tour takes you to Taipei’s slower side. You’ll walk through the Flower Market and Da’an Park, and past antique shops and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. The tours are free of charge, and your tour guides are young locals who are energetic and enthusiastic to let you know more about their city.
The Chill Out tour takes place on Tuesdays and Sundays from 2 pm. Each tour is about 2.5 - 3 hours.
Experience Taipei on your terms
You’d be amazed at how much there is to discover and learn about a place when you’re willing to look just a little bit deeper, or step a little bit further out of your comfort zone.
Whether it’s renting a scooter and navigating the roads by yourself, or signing up for a walking tour with local guides, when you choose to push the boundaries of what Taipei can offer, it won’t disappoint. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to the tourist spots, they’re popular for a reason. But if you’re looking to create an experience that is truly 100% yours, then stray off the well-trodden track, and create your own itinerary of discovery.