Taipei is a stunning Asian metropolis full of delicious food and thriving culture, with some lesser-known history thrown in to boot. Your Taipei travel itinerary could stretch over a few days or just be a short layover. Whichever timeframe you’re working on, pick some of these points of interest in Taipei to get a feel of the city.
Night markets galore
If the Taiwanese have a communal passion, it’s food. The culture of night markets packed with famous hawker stalls and classic cuisine with a mix of Japanese dishes with a Chinese twist is synonymous with the city. Book a Taipei tour guide to teach you the culture and traditions of Shilin night market. One of the biggest markets on the islands, you’ll find all sorts of touristy souvenirs here, along with delicious food.
One of the great things about going with a guide is that you have someone to share your food with. There is so much on offer and it’s more enjoyable for you, your travel buddies, and your guide to share some of the scrumptiousness. Make sure your guide takes you to the stall where you can catch your own prawns, it’s definitely a way to work up an appetite for your dinner! If you get a second night in Taipei, Raohe night market squeaks into a close second place for the next destination for your evening feast. Smaller and slightly less manic than Shilin, Raohe is all about the food. The best tactic is to look where most locals are queuing up and join in, these spots are bound to be good.
Foods to try in Taipei
Oyster Omelette – The name says it all for what it actually is – the oysters will have been fished fresh that day from the Taiwanese east coast. Each market, indeed each stall, has its own flavour of the sauce to drizzle over the top so it’s worth trying one at any night market you intend to feast in. Search for Zhong Cheng Hao Oyster Omelette during your trip to Shilin night market for one of the best in the city. Their homemade sweet sauce is famous in the city and the texture is lighter than most.
Beef Noodles – Although simple sounding, beef noodles are a delicacy of Taipei that will leave you wanting it in every meal. The look of the meat, fat, and tendons bubbling away in the massive vats might seem slightly scary, but the juices are delightful. The best places probably won’t have many English-speaking people since they cater to the locals but pointing and smiling will get you far and full, fast. Head to Lin Dong Fang for a delicious bowl of noodles to slurp down, get there early to miss the lunch crowds. The restaurant is always full; you’ll be sitting knee to knee with strangers; it all adds to the experience. It’s a little out of the way but close to the Nanjing Fuxing MRT station so easy enough to get to between the rest of your exploration.
Stinky Tofu – Doesn’t sound so appetising? It’s like the durian of the tofu world, you either love it or hate it. The smell is, admittedly, hard to take, but if you can get the tofu past your nose and into your mouth, you’re in for a treat. The best way to eat it is hotdog style on skewers, filled with sauces and cabbage.
Bubble Tea – Taiwan is the home of bubble tea and there are choices abound. If you’ve not come across it, bubble tea is tea-infused milk with sugary tapioca bubbles waiting to reward you. There are street stalls and little shops on most streets selling it so you can try some of the many flavours on offer. Original is usually best, and you can track down the first shop to sell bubble tea in Taipei, Chun Shui Tang in Xinyi District. It sits between the gondolas up to the tea plantations and Raohe night market. It’s almost like you’re Taipei travel itinerary writes itself!
Talking of tea
Tea is ingrained in the culture of Taiwan. To learn the full story, take a Taipei tour guide up to the south side of the city and over into the tea plantations. Maokong Tea Plantation is the best spot for exploring the growing bushes, getting some stunning photos, and drinking the tea right where it came from.
Take the cable car or gondola that goes over the mountains and you’re transported to a whole new world. Taxis and buses are an option, but you wouldn’t want to miss the view from the gondola. Head up late afternoon to get the evening light and descend in the gondola as the city lights up for the night. Once you’ve seen how they grow the tea and supped it in its natural habitat, now it’s time to visit a classic Taiwanese tea house. Zen Zoo Teahouse serves delicious tea, alongside homemade food and desserts with the classic East Asian flavours such as matcha, red bean, and tapioca. The place was built by the Japanese and used as a revolutionary meeting spot during the 1960s and 70s.
Back through time
Once you’ve learned about one aspect of Taiwanese culture, book a tour with a Taipei tour guide to learn about the rest of the culture and history of the island. There’s the National Palace Museum which houses thousands of pieces of Chinese cultural artefacts, including ceramics, jade, and calligraphy. The pieces were either rescued or stolen from China, depending on who you believe, by Chiang Kai Shek and the museum was built to house them in the 1970s. Next, make sure your guide gets you to the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall in time for the changing of the guard. The intricacies of the ceremony are perfectly timed and executed, the pageantry can rival Buckingham Palace in its elegance and form.
Once at the memorial hall, go down into the museum and see what the government wants you to learn about the history of the father of the nation. The displays are interesting if you’re able to understand the bias that is represented to you, and your guide will be able to offer you context to know the story fully.
Spend, spend, spend
For the obligatory shopping spree, head to Songshan district. It’s in the same area as Raohe night market so have your tour guide build them both into your Taipei travel itinerary. You’ll find shops packed with local brands, as well as Japanese and Korean imports so you can channel some of the K-pop and Asian street style. One last note, the street art in Taipei is really cool. It seems most walls are daubed with graffiti that is definitely Insta-worthy. Stroll around areas such as Zhongzheng District to find some really edgy pieces.
Jo has been through many incarnations since first arriving in Asia ten years ago. From backpacker to English teacher, then tour guide and travel writer, she loves the adventure and diversity of Asia.
Image details and licenses: Bubble tea: https://flic.kr/p/TNjL1d (Sarah Stierch, CC BY 2.0), Maokong Tea Plantation: https://flic.kr/p/qKAjkA (Hombre Tangencial (JOP), CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall: https://flic.kr/p/cfMTj1 (Daniel Aguilera Sánchez, CC BY-SA 2.0)