What no one tells you about "The best things to do in Taipei"

We thought long and hard before writing this post. But the truth is we didn’t really rate Taipei.

Apart from Sapa in Vietnam we’ve never really had to write much about what we didn’t like because it simply hasn’t happened.

However, when it comes to travel blogging we think that it’s only fair to say the good and the bad. Taipei is a city that seems to capture the heart of many that visit it so we know this post won’t be popular. We were expecting to love it too but unfortunately we just didn’t get what the fuss was about.

In the spirit of 100% honesty which we wish to convey in all our posts, here are our thoughts on the best things to do in Taipei - warts and all.


What no one tells you about the best things to do in Taipei

Here’s our guide to the hits and misses in Taipei and things people don’t tell you about them.

Miss: The Maokong Gondola

The most expensive pot of tea in the world?!


We always love to find the natural places in any city, so a trip on the Maokong Gondola was one of the things we’d been most looking forward to in Taipei.

The ride itself is lovely, offering great views of the city and forest, as well as tea plantations when you get closer to Maokong. It was a good start, just don’t go on a weekend when the queue for the gondola is over an hour long.

The reason most people come up to Maokong is to sit and sip tea with beautiful views of the tea bushes and down to Taipei. This kind of thing is right up our street. We loved trying the local tea in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. But then we entered the tea house in Maokong and were quoted the equivalent of just over $32 USD for a pot of tea for two! You can say goodbye to your Taiwan budget right there 😂

Our smiles turned to looks of horror and we had to double check that we’d got the conversion right. Surely that had to be wrong! But no it was true, that was genuinely the cost of tea there.

The teahouses here masquerade as a “tea ceremony”, but we couldn’t see much that was ceremonial about sitting on the equivalent of a picnic bench on your own in what looked like every budget cafe (albeit with prettier views).

There was no history, no tea house feel, no ceremony! The “ceremony” entails you buying tea, a random person plonking tea on your bench in a characterless shop who then leaves to serve others. There’s more of a ceremony when you go to Starbucks!

We shook our heads and went in search of alternatives. Maybe we’d gone to the ritziest tea house in town by accident, but the lowest price we were offered after venturing into four other establishments was $26 USD.

Baffled we left disappointed. Normally in tea producing areas you pay less for tea as you are cutting out the middle man, not true in Maokong, Taipei.

If you want a better teahouse experience (which is still insanely expensive) we’d recommend the Teahouse in Jiufen. It is more of a traditional teahouse and is a far better place to spend an afternoon.

Getting to Maokong

If you still want to visit, to get to Maokong, you’ll need to take the MRT to Taipei Zoo (the end of the brown line). From here it is a 5 minute walk to the gondola which will take you to Maokong.

 

Hit: The National Palace Museum

Just watch out for those tour buses

Happily we had a much better experience at the Palace Museum, but only because we went on Friday night. During the day time hours we couldn’t even bring ourselves to enter the museum due to the huge amount of tour buses with selfie stick wielding groups. Having read other people’s stories (and knowing how tourist attractions are in Taiwan) we knew what it would be like.

The museum is beautifully put together and offers a chance to see some of the treasures from the Forbidden City in Beijing, as well as many other excellent exhibits. There are few places in the world with a collection of history and stunning art quite like The Palace Museum and it is undeniably a great thing to do in Taipei.

We could have spent even longer looking at Chinese history that spanned back a thousand years, but we didn’t give ourselves enough time sadly. We’d left ourselves two hours, and would suggest three would be less rushed.

However, take our advice go on a Friday night when the museum is open until 9pm, otherwise you’ll regret it.

Getting to the National Palace Museum

A taxi from the centre of town shouldn’t cost much more than 300 TWD ($10 USD) but otherwise you can get the MRT to Shilin which then has buses that regularly run to the National Palace Museum.

 

Miss: Beitou Hot Springs:

Time it right or be prepared to dig deep in your wallet

This is another of the things to do in Taipei we were most looking forward to. Having done a lot of hiking in Taiwan, it should have been the perfect recovery spot for those aching calf muscles.

The fact we didn’t enjoy Beitou is our own fault really as we arrived too late to get into the public springs. This would have been cheaper and ticked the box.

No matter we thought, every man and his dog seemed to be offering a private version. First we thought we’d head to one of the more famous springs in town, Spring City Resort.

After being told about the hefty price tag $800 TWD per person ($25 USD) we decided to take a look around the facilities before making up our mind about blowing the budget. Let’s just say that what we saw was severely lacking.

We popped into an unassuming little hotel thinking that it would be cheaper, we were quoted the same price as at the resort and although it looked much nicer, we just couldn’t justify it.

In the end, we settled for one in another hotel at half the price (which is still a lot of money for what it turned out to be). Firstly we had to fill the pool ourselves, no problem with that except that half of our allotted slot was spent filling the pool…… and the only way to fill it was using the low water pressure tap and a cold dribble from a shower head.

It took over half an hour to fill, and it’s worth noting that it was in a windowless room more akin to a dungeon than a relaxing spa. But we tried to remain optimistic, it would still do us good. Well it would have if after only half an hour the whole tub hadn’t mysteriously emptied - the plug was still in fast so it obviously wasn’t the right fit - and we were left either having to fill it again, which we didn’t really have time for, or leave. We left.


Getting to Beitou Hot Springs

The easiest way to get to Beitou Hot Springs is to get the MRT to Beitou, then onto Xinbeitou. You can walk to most hot springs from here or get a short taxi ride.

 

Hit: Elephant Mountain

Instagram vs reality

This was easily our favourite thing to do in Taipei. It offers some fantastic views of the city and is completely free to walk, any time of the day or night. What you probably won’t realise if you’ve seen this spot on Instagram is just how popular it really is.

Want that shot on the rocks? You are going to have to queue up for it! We were a bit shocked when we realised that, especially as we’d picked a Monday evening which we thought would be a quiet time of the week.

Having said that the people in the queue were wonderful, everyone waited their turn, no one hurried anyone along and if you needed a hand up to get on the rocks, there was always someone there to give it to you.

All the viewpoint platforms though stunning, were crowded as well, leaving few places for peace and quiet to take in the view! Come expecting some serious crowds and you won’t be disappointed.

Here are our tips for visiting our favourite spot in the city.



Getting to Elephant Mountain

The easiest way to get to Elephant Mountain is to take the MRT to Xiangshan. From here it is a 5 minute walk to the start of the trail.

 

Miss: Dihua Street

Just scrap this one

I’m not even sure why Dihua Street is mentioned as a top place to go in Taipei. We spent ages wandering up and down trying to understand what the fuss was about. It was a market. Nothing wrong with that but it wasn’t particularly special.

The majority of the street were stalls selling local goods and not really the home of some of “the best coffee in Asia” like we’d read as there were only a few coffee shops there! We decided to venture into one and get some coffee after giving up on trawling the street nonplussed.

You’ve probably guessed it, they were charging just under $7 USD for a tiny cup of local brew. Not for any kind of special coffee I might add. So we thought we’d go to the tea shop instead……

I don’t think I need to even write what happened there. Suffice to say I would scrub Dihua Street from your Taipei itinerary.

Getting to Dihua Street

Dihua Street is a little far away from any public transport. It is a 10-15 minute walk from Taipei Main Station.

 

Hit: Baoan Temple

Phew. Here’s one without the crowds


We’ve only got good things to say about this temple and we’re not sure why, but it seems to have avoided attracting the hoards of visitors that other temples receive. This makes it a lot more pleasant to take in!

We visited on a weekend and found only locals there, actively using the temple which was lovely to see. Baoan is full of beautiful murals and is a little oasis in the middle of this crowded and bustling city.

If you want to go to a pretty temple and not feel crowded then head to this one.

Getting to Baoan Temple

The best way to get to Baoan Temple is to get the MRT to Yuanshan station and walk. It’s not far and the temple is tucked away in a residential area.

 


Mixed: Ningxia Night Market

An easy introduction to Taiwanese cuisine

We weren’t fans of Taiwanese food which was surprising given how much we’d read about people loving it. It is all personal taste, but it just wasn’t for us. Adventurous eaters will be delighted with delicacies to try such as pigs intestines or duck head. The less adventurous will find that a lot of the food is deep fried and we wouldn’t put it up there with the gourmet food of the world.

Nonetheless, Ningxia Night Market is a fun place to explore and try some of the local food. You can try any manner of Taiwanese street food, as well as some of the famous bubble tea, which given I hate milk and sugar in tea was actually surprisingly drinkable.

Even better was the lychee tea that the lovely vendor gave us for free just so we could try some of his favourites! If you want a very authentic local market then this may not be the one for you, but we’d been to a lot at this point across the country and thought this one was lively and fun.

Getting to Ningxia Night Market

Ningxi is a 10 minute walk from Taipei Main Street. A taxi ride shouldn’t be too much either.

 

Hit: Yangmingshan National Park

Hiking through a volcanic landscape

We came to Taiwan primarily for hiking and Yangmingshan was a good reminder of the real reason we were here. There can’t be many cities which have an extinct volcano on the outskirts of town, but Taipei does!

The walk is steep and takes you past sulphur vents and to the top of the highest mountain in the area. From the peak you can look out to the sea, the city and the surrounding mountains, making it an amazing view.

Again, it is busy (just like all of Taiwan) but there’s enough space for it not to detract from a great hike.

You can read all about the Mount Qixing hike here. If you love hiking, we’d also recommend Alishan (one of our favourite places in Taiwan), Taroko Gorge and the stunning Fenrui Trail in Fenchihu. None of these will disappoint.


Getting to Yangmingshan

Yangmingshan is a pain to get to by public transport. You’ll need to take the MRT to Jiantan and then the 260 or R5 bus.

Then you’ll need to take a shuttle bus to the start of the trail depending on which one you are hiking! Give yourself at least an hour to get there as the buses are quick, but the queues aren’t.

 

A word on Taipei Accommodation

Whilst this doesn’t have anything to do with the best things to do in Taipei we couldn’t write about Taipei without mentioning the accommodation.

First things first, it’s expensive so you may want to budget more than you normally would. Secondly it sells out fast, especially on weekends. We spent $70 US on a relatively good hotel we booked a few weeks in advance and the same amount on a pretty awful love hotel when we booked just two days earlier.

The best advice we can give is to book as early as you possibly can. And if it’s important to you, read the description carefully as to whether the rooms have windows or not. Many don’t, even in the mid-range price bracket.




Where to stay in Taipei

Orange Hotel - Kaifong

Whilst Orange Hotels outside Taipei are much much better, the one in Kaifong is a decent choice. The rooms are nicely furnished, quiet and not quite as small as the box rooms we got elsewhere in the city!

It is in a great location and they have nice touches such as free drinking water, fruit, tea and coffee in the lobby.

Booking.com
Booking.com

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