Several years ago, some CNN video makers came to Taipei and invited me to show them around for a series on off-the-beaten-track places. In the video, I introduced three locations in Taipei. But in this article, you’ll get 30+ unique, offbeat, and totally off-the-beaten path things to do in Taipei and New Taipei City.
I’ll be covering off-the-beaten-track attractions, night markets, temples, day trips, and neighborhoods to explore. Don’t expect these places to be empty of people – Taipei locals are in the know. But DO expect them to be devoid of tourists!
If your main reason to visit Taiwan is to discover hidden gems and avoid tourist magnets, this article is for you!
Here are some alternatives to the typical famous attractions in Taipei that are overflowing with tourist crowds.
For some good ol’ airplane spotting in Taipei City, head to Airplane Alley (飛機巷). From this convenient spot, airplanes taking off and landing at the city center’s Songshan Airport will fly right over your head. Only a small fence will separate you from the runway.
Expect plans to pass by every 10 minutes or so. The spot is equidistant from Zhongshan Junion High School MRT or Songshan Airport MRT. Note: don’t confuse this with Taoyuan International Airport in Taoyuan City, which is Taipei’s main international airport.
Speaking of unusual, how about fishing for giant prawns in an indoor pool in the middle of the city?
You can knock back a few Taiwan beers with the locals while you partake in this bizarre but relatively common local activity. At the end, they’ll even grill the shrimps for you on their in-house barbecue. Find out how this fad started here.
I recommend Quan Jia Le Shrimp Fishing Farm (全佳樂釣蝦場) for this, near Xingtian Temple MRT station. The price is TWD 350 per person per hour, or 500 for 1.5 hours, including the fishing gear and shrimp feast. Another one you can try is Spring City Shrimp Fishing Restaurant near National Palace Museum.
Treasure Hill Artist Village
Treasure Hill Artist Village (寶藏巖國際藝術村) is KMT war veteran village (similar to the more famous Rainbow Village in Taichung). The government decided to preserve this one and convert it into an eco-friendly artists’ village.
Make the 10-minute trek over from Gongguan MRT station and you will discover artists’ studios with their doors open and public artworks on display amist the narrow lanes and staircases of this living village.
Come during the Treasure Hill Festival of Light (usually around April) to see some especially cool art displays focusing on light.
Lin An Tai Historical House and Museum
Lin An Tai Historical House and Museum (林安泰古厝) is a beautiful preserved traditional mansion dating late 1700s. Belonging to the Lin family, it was originally in Wanhua district of Old Taipei.
In the late 1970s, the city government decided to preserve the house but first moved it to the Keelung River park. In 2000, it opened there as a museum. Hardly anyone is ever there.
You can explore the beautiful house and grounds for free. From Yuanshan MRT, cross Yuanshan Park, Fine Arts Park, and Xinsheng Park to get there. If you go by bike, you can connect to Dajia Riverside park via the Lin An Ta Evacuation Gate.
Taipei Botanical Garden
Usually botanical gardens are a major attraction in most cities, but somehow the Taipei Botanical Garden is not. I’ve never heard of a single traveler including it on their Taipei itinerary.
In this relatively compact garden, you can see all kinds of local and Asian flowers, plants, herbs, and bugs. If you’re into macrophotography like I am, this will be heaven for you. There’s also a lovely Lotus Pond and a Japanese-era wooden building here.
The Botanical Garden is a lovely respite and has lots of shade for hot days. It’s a short walk from Xiaonanmen MRT.
Museum of World Religions
The Museum of World Religions is an off-the-beaten track but worthwhile little museum south of Taipei in Yonghe district of New Taipei City – one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the world. Yet inside the museum, I was the only one there the whole time.
This museum was established by a Burmese Buddhist monk. The main highlight is a collection of miniature models of famous religious structures from around the world. These include the Golden Temple (India), Borobudur (Indonesia), Chartres Cathedral (France), and Luce Memorial Chapel (Taiwan).
The museum is a 15-minute walk from Dingxi or Yonan Market MRT stations on the orange line. If this is your thing, there’s also the better known Museum of Miniatures in central Taipei.
Qingtian Street Tea Shops
Qingtian Street (青田街) is a super atmospheric street, with several lanes branching off from it, in Da’an district of Taipei. This is one of the places I took the CNN crew when they came to Taipei.
The neighborhood has large trees providing a canopy over the street (a little rare in the concrete jungle that is Taipei) and several wooden Japanese houses. These used to house Japanese professors at NTU, which during the Japanese colonial period was called Taihoku Imperial University.
Today, a few of these beautiful houses have been restored and converted into cafés or restaurants. Some of the best ones include Qingtian 76 (restaurant), Qingtian Teahouse (traditional teahouse, starting from TWD 450 per person), and 和合青田 (another traditional teahouse, TWD 600 per person, including small tour and tea brewing lesson, reservation required).
The neighborhood is close to Da’an Park and Taipei Grand Mosque. Get there from Dongmen MRT station, following Yongkang Street (known for its many restaurants) all the way down.
Non-Touristy Night Markets
Find even more info about these in my Taiwan night markets guide!
Nanjichang Night Market
Nanjichang Night Market (南機場夜市) is no secret, really. A handful of its food stalls have even attained Michelin Bib Gourmand status, which always draws in more people.
But still, despite its reputation for excellent food and its central location (15 minutes on foot from Longshan Temple), Nanjichang sees few foreign visitors. It is considered the most local of Taipei’s major night markets.
I don’t think it will stay that way for much longer, so check this one out ASAP!
Jingmei Night Market
Jingmei Night Market (景美夜市) is a super local night market in southern Taipei City’s Wenshan district. It’s near Jingmei Station on the green MRT line, just before it crosses the Jingmei River into Xindian (New Taipei City).
This large night market has hundreds of food stalls, as well as some games, clothing, household items, and even some traditional Chinese knife massage on offer. You can also access the Jingmei Riverside Park nearby – you could even cycle all the way from central Taipei, Tamsui, or in the other direction, Taipei Zoo.
There are several other night markets in Taipei that never make it onto the lists. Shida Night Market (師大夜市) used to be super popular, but it was partially shut down in 2012 after complaints from neighbors. There are still some food stalls there today, plus lots of trendy clothing shops and cafés.
Huaxi Street Night Market (臺北華西街夜市) near Longshan Temple also used to be much more popular, back in the days when tourists actually wanted to see (and taste) snakes. It’s still going today, with an elderly people’s red light district right next to it. It has a bit of a sketchier vibe, but is still safe to visit.
Gongguan Night Market (台北公館夜市) is popular among students, as it is close to National Taiwan University, but tourists seldom make it there.
In New Taipei City, Sanhe Night Market (Sanchong), Nanya Night Market (Banqiao), Le Hua Night Market (Yonghe), and Xinzhuang Temple Street Night Market (Xinzhuang) are totally free of tourists.
Seldom Visited Temples
While almost every tourist visits Longshan Temple, and yes, it’s the city’s most important one, there are so many more temples in Taipei. Several of them are larger and visually more impressive than Longshan (person opinion!)
Here are a few where you won’t see any tourists. You’ll find some other amazing temples further away from the city in my “Unpopular Day Trips” section below.
Dadaocheng Cisheng Temple
Dadaocheng neighborhood is one of the city’s oldest, with its main thoroughfare, Dihua Street, often called the “oldest street in Taipei”. Dihua Street is lined with shops selling Chinese medicines, herbs, and other traditional products. It’s relatively known and popular among visitors, but I still recommend it.
Along Dihua Street, everyone knows about Xia Hai City God Temple, especially for its super noisy parade in June. But if you follow Dihua Street further north, you can find another cool temple, Dadaocheng Cisheng Temple (大稻埕慈聖宮天上聖母), tucked away a few lanes to the east.
What stands out about this temple is the collection of food vendors set up right in front of it. This is a super local spot where taxi drivers and other workers go for lunch. There are tables set up under the shade of trees right next to the temple.
I can pretty much guarantee you’ll never see this temple being mentioned in any guidebook. I found it by accident while wandering around one day. It didn’t stand out much at first, especially since it is sandwiched between two buildings.
But when I went up to the second and third floors of the temple, I was blown away by the extremely intricate decorations and reliefs, especially on the ceilings. Watch the dragon on the ceiling closely – it appears to move around depending on what angle you view it from.
This temple is a 10-minute walk southeast of Yuanshan MRT station and park.
Linji Huguo Temple
Also in the Yuanshan area, but very close to the MRT station, Linji Huguo Temple is a temple which thousands of people pass by every day without even realizing the treasures within.
The temple is visible to the right when you’re riding the MRT red line north to Tamsui, just at the base of Yuanshan Mountain. From the outside, it’s kind of ugly, with gaudy yellow walls.
Inside, those walls conceal an extremely beautiful and well-preserved Japanese-era wooden shrine in the courtyard. When I last visited, I followed some stairs from the courtyard up to a sort of natural meditation area. On the way, I passed by a hall where a group of Buddhist monks were chanting – the perfect soundtrack to my visit.
In some of my itinerary guides, I recommend that people stop at Guandu Temple on the way to Tamsui (I wonder how many readers actually do). This is one of my favorite, and also supposedly one of the oldest temple in the Greater Taipei Area.
It has origins as a place of worship going back to 1616 (Longshan Temple, by comparison, was first built in 1738). Of course, like most temples in Taiwan, it has been rebuilt more recently.
What really stands out about this temple, though, is the long tunnel through mountain, which ends at a natural viewpoint of the river. Facing the river, there’s a beautiful statue of the thousand-armed Guanyin.
The temple is a 10-minute walk from Guandu MRT station, between Beitou and Tamsui.
Bishanyan Kaizhang Shengwang Temple
I want to provide at least one temple with a view, so that choice goes to Bishanyan Kaizhang Shengwang Temple (碧山巖開漳聖王廟). Local photographers surely known about this one, as it is one of the best but lesser-known places to photograph Taipei 101.
The temple sits on the slope of Bi Mountain (Bishan). There’s a small café on site and chairs for taking on the view. To get there, take minibus 2 (小2) from Neihu MRT exit 1. Ride it for 8 miniutes and get off at Bishanyan / Baishihu Suspension Bridge (碧山巖 / 白石湖吊橋) stop.
Little Known Hot Springs
In Taipei, it’s all about Beitou Hot Springs. But you can soak local-style with the below recommendations.
Feet-Nibbling Fish Hot Spring
In Beitou, forget about the usual hot spring spas. At this one, you can let little fish nibble the dead skin off your feet. Just a little warning, though – it tickles a lot!
Entrance to the spa is TWD 140. The male entrance is on the left and female on the right. Once inside, you need to undress, put your clothing into a locker, then clean yourself in the shower. Besides the foot nibbling tubs, there are regular hot springs. Bring your own soap and towel.
The spa is a short walk from Beitou MRT station. Kids are not allowed. You can also soak your feet for free at this park in Beitou, minus the hungry fish.
Xingyi Road Hot Springs
Another alternative to the popular hot springs like Spring City and Beitou Public Hot Spring is this collection of hot spring spas on Xingyi Road (行義路). While it’s still in Beitou area, travelers pretty much never go because they don’t know about it, plus you have to take a bus or taxi to get there.
The pick of the bunch is Kawayu Spa (川湯溫泉養生餐廳), which looks like something out of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. The exterior, main path through the grounds, and restaurant areas are especially atmospheric. The hot springs themselves are basic and traditional, with tiny private rooms or a nude, sex segregated, open-air bathhouse.
To get there, take a taxi or bus 508 or 535 from Shipai MRT and get off at Xing Yi Road 3 Stop (行義路三).
Ba Yan Natural Hot Spring
For a totally wild hot spring experience within easy day trip of Taipei, nothing beats Ba Yan Natural Hot Spring (八煙野溪溫泉).
This hot spring features several hot pools in a wild area. Some locals (and my father) like to rub mud from the spring on their body for its skin softening properties.
To get there, ride bus 1717 from this stop near Taipei Main Station for 1 hour 20 minutes to Gaocuo (高厝) stop. You’ll be driving through Yangmingshan National Park on the way. From the bus stop, it takes 30-45 minutes to walk to the hot spring on this trail.
Although there are always locals there, it’s technically forbidden to visit this hot spring. Once in a while, the police show up and stop people from entering, but even if this happens, you can usually just wait a little while then still go in.
Yangming Shanshui Hot Spring
I’d like to recommend at least one nicer hot spring spa that few travelers know about. My family and I really like Yangming Shanshui Hot Spring (陽明山水溫泉會館), which is really close to Ba Yan Hot Spring and the much more famous Yangmingshan Tienlai Resort.
This resort has lovely indoor (nude) and outdoor (mixed-sex, bathing suits) hot spring facilities. The view from the outdoor pools is especially breathtaking and totally natural. It’s never busy when we go.
Although these resorts have Yangmingshan in their name, they are actually outside of Yangmingshan National Park, on the road down to Jinshan hot spring area on the coast. To get to Shanshui, take bus 1717, but get off a few stops after the previous entry, at Qiangxin / Yangmingshan Resort, Baian Hotspring) (強薪 / 陽明山水、八煙溫泉) stop. See more info in my guide to getting to Yangmingshan.
Hikes with No People
If you enjoy hiking, you’re really going to like Taipei. There are dozens of impressive hikes in and around the city. The hikes I’ll introduce below are actually medium-known. Few tourists ever do them (most only ever do Elephant Mountain).
But for local hikers, these may seem like very obvious choices. Mainly I chose them because I love them, and when I hike them, there’s usually almost no other people on the trail.
Silver Stream Cave & Waterfall
Silver Stream Cave & Waterfall, or Yinhe Cave (銀河洞), is a small temple with an even smaller waterfall pouring through it. It is buried in the jungle, but surprisingly close to Maokong Station, the upper station of the very popular gondola.
Despite its proximity, almost no visitors to Maokong do this relatively short and easy but rewarding hike. In part this is because it’s not super easy to find. There is a network of trails above Maokong, with a few possible routes for reaching the temple.
Luckily we now have AllTrails, so you can follow this map. AllTrails puts the hike at 3 hours, but I’ve done it in less by taking another routes. Looking at the map, from the start at Maokong Station, you can follow the white road west, then take the stairs marked 樟湖步道. That will bring the hike down to two hours or less.
Wuliaojian Trail (五寮尖步道) in Sanxia District of New Taipei City is one of the most exhilarating hikes in the Greater Taipei Area.
On this challenging hike, you can expert all kinds of fun terrain – ropes, ladders, boulder ascents, thick jungle, and wild views. It’s about as hard as you could get without having to bring your own equipment.
I suggest you do a little research for this one – there are three different route options on AllTrails and several blogs offering guidance.
To get to the trailhead, take a taxi from Sanxia city center area or Dingpu (the last stop on the MRT blue line) to Yu-Li convenience store (玉里商店). Or take bus 807 or F627 from here and get off at Hezuo Bridge Stop (合作橋站).
Huangdi Dian, or Yellow Emperor’s Palace (皇帝殿山登山步道), is another exciting hike that probably few to no foreign visitors ever make it to. This one is southeast of Taipei, past the stinky tofu village of Shenkeng.
This longish hike has tons of stairs, but climaxes with an awesome ridge at the peak. There are railings, but it is still scary enough to be awesome. Here’s a trail map.
To get there, take bus #666 (if Satan operated a bus in Taipei…) from Muzha MRT to Shiding (石碇), which has a cute little Old Street.
Going back to an easy choice, Sandiaoling has always been one of my favorite hikes in the Greater Taipei Area. It’s on the Pingxi Railway Line, which runs to insanely popular Shifen (where masses of tourists set off sky lanterns) and Shifen Waterfall, but somehow no one ever stops at Sandiaoling for this excellent waterfall hike.
Sandiaoling is a stop right at the point where the Pingxi train line branches off from the main train line. When you get off, you’ll walk along the train tracks of the Pingxi line, following it across a bridge (make sure no trains are coming!) after it veers inland.
Once you reach a small school, you follow the staircase beside it. The initial ascent up some stairs is the only hard part of the hike. From there, it’s smooth sailing to three stunning waterfalls.
The first two waterfalls are very easy to reach – I did it with my kids when they were toddlers. At the second one, Motian Waterfall, you can even climb up into a cave behind the waterfall. From the second waterfall to the third one, it’s not far, but it requires climbing up a ladder.
Here’s a map, but you only have to walk to point #5 to see the three waterfalls.
One more very exciting hike before we move on to the next section, and also on the Pingxi train line, is Pingxi Crags (平溪六尖). These are a collection of extremely vertical sedimentary crags jutting out from the forest. You can summit most of them on ladders – it isn’t particularly hard, unless you have vertigo.
Most people know Pingxi for the insanely popular mass lantern releases during Lantern Festival, which usually takes place at Pingxi and Shifen stations.
Unpopular Day Trips from Taipei
Everyone and his/her dog does the same day trip from Taipei. That would be some combination of Yehliu, Jiufen, Houtong, Shifen, and Keelung Night Market – for example, this extremely popular tour.
There are so many other possibilities – I’ll just scratch the surface below.
Wanli UFO Villages
Quite close to the super popular Yehliu Geopark on the northeast coast of Taiwan, there’s another attraction that only urban exploration types know about – the “UFO pods” on Wanli Beach.
These flying saucer-like pod houses were part of an experimental housing project by a Finnish architect in the 1960s and 70s. There are around 60 remaining around the world today, but Taiwan has the highest concentration of them.
To see (and even sneak into) some of these pods, you’ll have to find them at the northern end of Wanli Beach (萬里海水浴場) – it’s marked Futuro House on GoogleMaps. White House Resort lines much of the beach.
If you’re hungry after, head to Guihou Fishing Harbor (萬里海水浴場) near Yehliu for super fresh seafood.
To get here, take bus 1815 from Taipei Main Station.
Yingge & Sanxia
Yingge (鶯歌) District of New Taipei City is Taiwan’s largest center of pottery and ceramics. On Yingge Historic Ceramics Street (鶯歌陶瓷老街), there are dozens (I might even guess hundreds?) or ceramics shops. You can shop for anything from super cheap cups to the finest teaware or ceramic art.
Nearby, New Taipei City Yingge Ceramics Museum is surprisingly excellent. Yingge is less than 30 minutes from Taipei Main Station by local TRA train – just swipe your EasyCard.
The adjacent district of Sanxia (三峽) has one of the best-restored Old Streets in Northern Taiwan, Sanxia Old Street (三峽老街).
Sanxia Qingshui Zushi Temple (三峽祖師廟), near the start of the old street, is also one of the most beautiful temples in Northern Taiwan, especially known for its details. That’s a winning combination of sights!
Consider visiting Yingge first, then taking a local bus or taxi over to Sanxia, before busing back to Taipei.
Pinglin Tea Farms
If you’re into tea, then you’ve probably already researched and found out about Pinglin (坪林). If you’re not, it’s unlikely to be on your itinerary – yet.
Pinglin is a tea-growing region southeast of Taipei City. It used to be popular among Taiwanese when the slow and winding Highway 9 passing through it was the only way to Yilan. Now people whizz past Pinglin on Highway 5, which goes through a long series of tunnels to the coast, and no one stops in Pinglin anymore.
In Pinglin town, there’s cute Old Street (坪林老街), several teashops and restaurants selling tea-infused foods (try the deep fried tealeaves!), and the Pinglin Tea Museum (坪林茶業博物館), where you can learn all about tea. I recommend hiring a bike in town and riding past the tea fields – the cycling trail starts here.
Pinglin is a one-hour bus ride from Xindian MRT. About half way there, if you get off at Shigansu stop and walk down about 30 minutes, you can enjoy an amazing view of 1000-Island Lake (千島湖), technically part of Feicui Water Reservoir, from here.
Walk a little further and you can have tea overlooking an incredible tea farm, Bagua Tea Plantation (八卦茶園).
You can also visit the tea farm and Pinglin town on this half-day tour.
Fufudingshan Shell and Coral Temple & Yuandao Guanyin Temple
North of Taipei city, there are two super unique temples you can visit as a day trip, but you’ll need to drive to them.
Fufudingshan Shell and Coral Temple (富福頂山寺 / 貝殼廟) is a rather bizarre temple that is totally covered and decorated with seashells and coral. The shrine, altar, walls, and even a tunnel under the main altar are all fully decked out. The temple is in the hills above Sanzhi district in the far north of Taiwan.
Not too far away, as the crow flies, Yuandao Guanyin Temple is another unusual temple up in the hills. This modern Buddhist temple complex has influences from Japanese and even New Age religion (check out the pan-religious iconography on the pyramid inside one of the shrines).
A few years ago, the temple completed its construction of an enormous Thousand-Armed Guayin statue, which is now the largest of its kind in the world.
Keelung (besides the night market)
Keelung, northern Taiwan’s main port city, is super well known for its excellent night market. However, very few visitors stray beyond the night market. The city actually has a lot going for it.
You can start with hiking, taking a bus, or taking a taxi up to Zhongzheng Park, where there’s a tall, white Guanyin Statue (基隆中正公園觀音大士像) overlooking the port. The port views from here are excellent.
Nearby, Zhupu Altar (主普壇) is the focal point of the Ghost Festival in Taiwan. Read my Keelung guide for planning your trip.
Other cool sights in Keelung are Fairy Cave Temple (仙洞巖最勝寺) and Buddha’s Hand Cave (佛手洞), Heping Island Park for swimming in a natural saltwater pool, and Zhengbin Port Color Houses (正濱漁港-彩色街屋). Hire a scooter, ride taxis, or make use of the Keelung Tourist Shuttle.
Riding the Shen’ao Rail Bike from Badouzi Station to Shen’ao Station is another lesser known activity, but more and more tourists are finding out about it these days. You need to book it here.
DO still visit the famous night market, because it’s awesome. But also include a side trip up to Khóo Tsú-song Old Mansion (許梓桑古厝) while you’re there.
Offbeat Neighborhoods to Explore
Who loves urban exploration? Honestly, just about any neighborhood in Taipei city is great for this. Wanhua in particular is a little crusty but great to explore.
Here are a few neighborhoods in New Taipei City, but still accessible by Taipei MRT, that you may want to consider exploring.
One of the first things my best friend and I did when we first arrived in Taiwan in 2008 (I didn’t even have a smartphone yet!) was to ride the MRT to a random station and see what we could find there.
One of our first and best discoveries was the area around Nanshijiao MRT, the last stop south on the orange line.
Exiting the station, we saw a large Tudi Gong (Earth God) statue on the hill in the distance, so we decided to walk to it. It was an adventure! The statue is part of Hongludi Nanshan Fude Temple (烘爐地南山福德宮).
Since then, we’ve discovered there’s a longer, slower, but more fun hike to the temple, which we’ve done many times since. You can even hike to the top of Nanshijiao Mountain behind the temple and see as far as Taipei 101 on a clear day.
We also now consider it obligatory to stop at Zhonghe Myanmar Street (中和緬甸街) for some authentic Burmese food after the hike.
I lived in Banqiao district of New Taipei City for my first five years in Taiwan. Banqiao is the seat of the New Taipei City government, so it is very well known and even has a High Speed Rail station. I lived right by it, which was super convenient.
Banqiao is also famous for Christmasland, an over-the-top display of Christmas lights every year. For off-the-beaten-track travelers, there are a few highlights to explore in Banqiao.
The Lin Family Mansion (林本源園邸) belonged to the wealthy Lin family. It’s a beautifully maintained traditional mansion and garden, and only TWD 40 to enter.
Not too far away, Banqiao 435 Art Zone (板橋435藝文特區) is New Taipei City’s answer to all those famous art parks in Taipei, like Huashan, Songshan, Sisinancun, and Popop.
This one is especially good for kids, with a Toy Museum and indoor playcenter, some murals, and an old theater, all housed in former military buildings.
From Banqiao 435 Art Zone, you can walk to and cross pedestrian-only Crescent Bridge (新月橋), which is especially cool when lit up at night. This will bring you to the most interesting area of Xinzhuang district, where I’ve lived ever since moving there from Banqiao, and my wife’s family lives there, too.
From the bridge, it’s just a few blocks to Xinzhuang Temple Street and Night Market (新莊廟街夜市). The street is named after the fact that there are around half a dozen historic temples on it.
For an especially old and unique temple, check out this one, which is at the end of a super narrow lane from the Temple Street.
After dining in this very local night market (I can almost guarantee you’ll be the only foreign visitor), head back to Taipei from Xinzhuang MRT, or check out the impressive Xinzhuang Dazang Temple (新莊地藏庵) nearby before you go.