A Travel Guide to Taipei, Taiwan’s Tantalizing Capital

A guide to Taipei city in Taiwan

Taipei City (臺北市) has everything you could possibly hope for in an awesome capital city.

The list of reasons to visit goes on: unbeatable street food and night markets, temples and culture galore, ultra-convenient public transportation and public share bikes, excellent museums, extremely safe streets, welcoming people, and beaches, volcanoes, hot springs and hiking opportunities right on Taipei’s doorstep.

Like any big city, planning a trip to Taipei can be a little intimidating. In this guide, I’ve condensed all the essential info for planning a trip to Taipei, based on many years of living in Taipei, writing about it, and helping travelers in my Taiwan Travel Planning group.

Taipei City Introduction

A pride flag painted on the road with the word Taipei in white at the top
Pride sidewalk in Ximending

The Taipei area was originally home to the Ketagalan aboriginal tribe – you can learn more about them at the free Ketagalan Culture Center at Beitou Hot Spring, Taipei’s premier hot spring village.

Taipei literally means “Taiwan North” (臺 / 台 or tai for Taiwan + 北 or bei for north). It only became the capital of Taiwan in 1894. The original capital of Taiwan was Tainan (臺南 or “Taiwan South”). There’s also a Tai-middle (Taichung), Tai-east (Taitung), and Tai-west (a tiny village called Taixi).

Taipei was originally a walled city, today’s Wanhua/Bangka District (萬華區). It was accessed by five traditional gates, four of which are still standing today, but only one in its original form (North Gate or Beimen/北門). This is considered the Old City of Taipei, where many travelers stay. Popular Ximending neighborhood and Longshan Temple are there, while Taipei Main Station is a short walk away.

People holding up their cameras to take pictures of the sunset and Taipei 101 from Elephant Mountain
Tourists on Elephant Mountain

Taipei’s Eastern District (東區) is, by contrast, a ritzy and glamorous neighborhood of upscale malls, luxury boutiques, and high end restaurants. There you’ll find Taipei 101, the city and country’s most recognizable landmark. Elephant Mountain (Xiangshan) flanks Eastern District, providing the city’s most famous view.

Today, Taipei city is known for its world-class MRT, which makes getting around the city a breeze, high concentration of convenience stores, legendary night markets, vast array of restaurants, and cultural and historical attractions.     

The area surrounding Taipei used to be called Taipei County, but in 2010 it became a city of its own: New Taipei City. Most day trips from Taipei are to places in New Taipei City, like Jiufen, Shifen, Yehliu, and Yehliu (see them on this tour). I cover these, and other popular day trips from Taipei, in my guide to New Taipei City.

New Taipei City (population 4 million) is technically Taiwan’s largest city by population. But in practice, Taipei City (population 2.4 million), New Taipei City, and Keelung form one mega city.

Called Greater Taipei or the Taipei-New Taipei-Keelung Metropolitan Area, it is the largest city in Taiwan, with 7 million people, or 30% of the country’s population.

Quick Tips for Visiting Taipei

  • Try to avoid Lunar New Year (if you have to, see my guide to visiting Taipei during Chinese New Year), Plum Rain Season (May to early June), and summer (too hot and typhoon season). Long weekends and NYE (December 31 weekend) are also very busy.
  • Get an EasyCard for the convenience of swiping onto all public transportation in the city (see more details about EasyCard below). Also see the best apps to download here.
  • Some restaurants and attractions in Taipei are closed on Mondays, so double check opening hours before going.
  • You’ll need cash for most street food and smaller shops in Taipei. Exchange money at the airport or withdraw from ATMs.
  • Book your regular (TRA) train tickets out of the city early, especially to Hualien. They often sell out. You can buy High Speed Rail tickets even last minute, but booking early gives you a discount. More info on all that below!
  • Dress however you want, even for visiting temples, but going barefoot or without a shirt is not OK. Read more FAQs about Taiwan here.

Getting to Taipei

Taipei is extremely well connected to other cities in Taiwan, Asia, and around the world.

Flights

Glass roofed entrance to Taoyuan Airport at night, with flowing red lights of a car driving up the entrance
Taoyuan International Airport is Taipei’s main airport

Taipei City has two airports. The larger, main airport is Taoyuan International Airport (TPE), located in Taoyuan City, about 30 kilometers west of Taipei. The smaller Songshan Airport (TSA) is in the Taipei city center. It handles mostly domestic flights and a limited number of international ones.

Budget airlines like Air Asia, Tigerair Taiwan, Peach, Jetstar, Scoot, Cebu Pacific, Thai Lion Air, T’Way, Jeju Air, and JinAir opeate low-cost flights between Taipei and other cities in Asia. I recommend using Kiwi.com to search all these budget airlines at once.

Air Canada, United Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and Japan Airlines are a few major airlines flying into Taipei, while Taiwan’s own Eva Airlines (the Hello Kitty one!) and China Airlines are well-rated. Try comparing their prices on Kiwi with booking direct – direct is usually best, but Kiwi is sometimes cheaper.

The smaller Uni Air and Mandarin Airlines operate domestic flights in Taiwan, including to some of the small offshore islands – search for their flights here on KKDay for discounted fares or if you find the airline websites hard to use.

High Speed Rail

An orange and white bullet train parked in an underground station beside the platform
Taiwan’s High Speed Rail

Taiwan’s HSR (High Speed Rail) whizzes down the west coast only, from Taipei City in the north to Zuoying (Kaohsiung) in the south. There are two stations in Taipei City – the first is Nangang in eastern Taipei, and the second and most popular is Taipei Main Station – where you’ll also find the Airport MRT station, TRA station, and Taipei Main MRT station.

The HSR is the fastest but priciest way to travel from Taipei to/from other major cities on the west coast of Taiwan. However, Taipei is the only city where the HSR station is in the city center. In all other cities, the station is outside of the city center.

The HSR doesn’t go to Taoyuan International Airport. To connect to it, you’ll need to ride the Airport MRT to Taoyuan HSR station (going in the opposite direction from Taipei), a 20-minute ride.

You can book HSR tickets from Taipei at any station or convenience store, on the official site, here on Klook, or on the T Express app (the only option for e-tickets). On the official site, you can get an early bird discount (book up to 28 days in advance), while Klook offers a flat discount of 20% off.

You can also buy HSR tickets at the station before boarding, at full price. Just select “non-reserved ticket” on the machine, then sit anywhere in the non-reserved section (cars 10-12).

Find screenshots for all the steps to book HSR tickets 5 different ways here.

TRA Trains

The front driver's car of a white train with red patterns parked at a train station in Taiwan
One of several types of TRA train in Taiwan

Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) operates regular trains, which do a full loop around Taiwan.

There are four TRA stations in Taipei from east to west: Nangang, Songshan, Taipei Main Station, and Wanhua.

These are a slower but cheaper alternative to the HSR, and the only way to reach destinations on the east coast of Taiwan. On the plus side, TRA stations across Taiwan are almost always in the city center.

There are a variety of TRA train types, including Local (free seating), Tze-Chiang and Chu-Kuang (reserved seats or standing allowed), and Taroko Express / Puyuma Express / Tze Chiang Limited Express 3000 (reservation only, fastest).

TRA tickets can be booked up to 28 days in advance at any station or convenience store, on the official site, or on the 臺鐵e訂通 app for e-tickets. Find more details and screenshots of each method in post covering how to book train tickets in Taipei.

Booking TRA tickets in advance is recommended, especially for express trains from Taipei to Hualien (an extremely popular route), or for trains on weekends or holidays. There are no discounts.  

By Bus

A number of bus companies operate relatively inexpensive buses from Taipei to cities across Taiwan (except for Hualien and Taitung on the east coast – take the train for those). These buses are generally very comfortable, with large seats, and some even have WiFi.

Most depart from Taipei Bus Station just north across the street from Taipei Main Station, while Kuo Kuang Bus Company’s main bus station is on the Taipei Main Station side of the street.

Getting around Taipei

One of the best things about Taipei is how easy it is to get around. Visitor’s are often surprised at just how excellent Taipei’s public transporation is.

EasyCard

A white transportation card called EasyCard with strips of yellow, pink, blue, and green
EasyCard works across Taiwan

For the sake convenience, you’ll want to get an EasyCard for swiping on to the MRT and local buses in Taipei and all other major cities in Taiwan.

The card costs TWD 100 (non-refundable deposit) plus however much money you want to load onto it. Buy it on Klook for pickup when you arrive at Taoyuan Airport (note the available times), at any MRT station, or at convenience stores (super cute ones available).

You can also use EasyCards to pay for some taxis, some street food stalls, convenience stores, ferries (Tamsui, Cijin Island), TRA trains (standing tickets only), a few long distance buses in Taiwan (for example the bus from Sun Moon Lake to Alishan, but most long distance buses require a ticket), and a few attractions (like Taipei Zoo).

You can only reload EasyCards with cash, in any station or convenience store. Buying an EasyCard on Klook allows you to have a pre-loaded card when you first arrive in Taiwan.

MRT

The inside doors of an MRT in Taipei, with cat stickers on the walls
Taipei’s world-class MRT

The Taipei MRT system is the pride of Taipei. Most visitors to Taipei rely on it heavily for getting around. Download the Go! Taipei Metro app for a high-definition map, route planning, and more.

Kids under six ride free, while 6-12 can get a Concessionaire Card from the ticket window in any station – it only offers some very small discounts. You can also buy single-ride tokens from the machines in every station – cash only. All stations have restrooms, trash bins, and are wheelchair friendly.

There are some rules on the Taipei MRT: no eating, no chewing gum, dark blue seats are for the needy, line up in the designated spots, keep talking to a whisper, and the right side of escalators is for standing.

Note that the Airport MRT is operated by Taoyuan City, not Taipei. You can swipe EasyCard for the Airport MRT, but arriving at Taipei Main Station, you’ll have to swipe out of the Airport MRT station, walk 5-10 minutes, then swipe in to the Taipei MRT station for transferring to other areas in Taipei.

Local Buses

Sometimes it is more convenient, faster and/or cheaper to hop on a local bus in Taipei. You’ll need to swipe your EasyCard when you get on and again when you get off. For most buses, you can get on / off at the front or back door.

Buses are the only way to get to National Palace Museum or Yangmingshan National Park by public transportation.

GoogleMaps or the Bus+ app are good for finding bus times and bus stop locations.

Taxis/Uber

A man and woman getting into a yellow taxi at the airport.
There are yellow taxis everywhere in Taipei

Yellow Taxis are extremely common in Taipei. You can stand on just about any main road at any time of day or night and one will come by within a few minutes. A little red lights shines in the front window if it is available. Use the FindTaxi – Taiwan Taxi Finder to order one in English.

Taxis are relatively cheap, with a starting rate of TWD 85. They are safe and always use the meter. However, some taxis are old, messy, or smelly, and some drivers are a little wild. Most drivers speak little or no English, so it’s best to show your destination address in Mandarin.

Uber, on the other hand, almost always has new cars, safe drivers, plus the benefit of entering your destination first. They can be cheaper, similar price, or more expensive than taxis depending on the time of day.

Where to Stay in Taipei

With so many cool neighborhoods and hotels to choose from, choosing the right one for you can be tough. Ideally, you’ll want to be close to an MRT station for exploring the city.

Taipei Main Station Area

View from above of the large Taipei Main Station building with orange roof
Taipei Main Station – the HSR, TRA, and MRT are below it, and Airport MRT station and bus station are nearby.

Staying close to Taipei Main Station is the most convenient for access to Taipei Main Station, which has the Airport MRT, HSR Station, TRA Station, Bus Station, and MRT.

Taipei Main Station is huge, with a maze-like network of underground walkways and malls. It’s easy to get lost. Sometimesit’s best to just go up to street level then find your way from there.

APause (see on Booking / Agoda) is a good budget choice near Taipei Main Station. CityInn Taipei Station Branch III (see on Booking / Agoda) is a popular mid-range choice with family rooms.

For rooms with an amazing view of the city, stay at Roaders Plus (see on Booking / Agoda). It also has a children’s playroom and free snacks in the lobby.

Ximending

Crowds of people on a street with many lit up signs and billboards at night in Ximending Taipei
Bustling Ximending neighborhood

Ximending (or Ximen) is the most popular neighborhood in Taipei for travelers. It’s only 10-20 minutes on foot, or one MRT stop on the blue line, from Taipei Main Station.

The core of the neighborhood is a walking and shopping district full of cool shops and restaurants. For budget travelers, I liked Ximen Garden Inn (see on Booking / Agoda), which has self check-in. For mid-range travelers, Amba (see on Booking / Agoda) is excellent and has 24-hour reception for late check-ins or the option to check in at 9 AM for half a day’s price.

GreenWorld Zhonghua (see on Booking / Agoda) is great for families and has some connecting rooms.

For a unique experience, Ximen Airline Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda) is an airline-themed hotel. Westgate (see on Booking / Agoda) is a nicer option.

Best Hostels

The best hostels in Taipei are:

To find out why I think these are the best, see my guide to the best hostels in Taipei.

Best Luxury Hotels

A young boy with his hands and face pressed up against a window, looking out at a view of Taipei 101 skyscraper
My son looking at Taipei 101 from our room at Grand Hyatt Taipei

Taipei has some of the top luxury hotels in Taiwan. To summarize the top pics:

Top Things to Do in Taipei

Looking through a white gate at a large square and white and blue monument to Chiang Kai Shek in Taipei
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall

I’ll only graze the surface here. For many more details and ideas, see my guide to the best things to do in Taipei.

The top Taipei attractions which almost every traveler visit are Taipei 101 Observatory (including the new Skyline 460 experience), Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, Ximending walking district, Taipei Zoo & Maokong Gondola, Longshan Temple, and National Palace Museum.

A crowd of people in a narrow lane with lots of lit up signs at Shilin Night Market
Shilin Night Market

Night markets are a huge attraction in Taipei, with the biggest and most famous ones being Shilin, Raohe, Ningxia, Tonghua, Huaxi, and Nanjichang Night Markets.

Read more about Taiwan’s best night markets here!

A traditional Taiwanese temple and square in front of it at night
Longshan Temple, the most famous and important temple in Taipei

For temples, besides the most famous one, Longshan Temple, some others worth visiting are:

  • Xingtian Temple (picturesque and incense-free)
  • Taipei Tianhou Temple (small Matsu temple in Ximending)
  • Songshan Ciyou Temple (large Matsu temple right next to Raohe Night Market)
  • Bao’an Temple (overall impressive)
  • Taipei Confucius Temple (most simple in design than typical Taiwanese temples)

Read more about Taipei’s best temples here.

A girl sitting on a rock on the left with view of Taipei city and Taipei 101 in front of her
The famous view of Taipei from Elephant Mountain

If you’re into hiking, Elephant Mountain has the most famous city view but is very crowded, especially at sunset.

Other good ones are Jinmianshan, Jiantanshan, Four Beasts (which includes Elephant Mountain), Silver Stream Cave & Waterfall (at Maokong), and Fuzhou Mountain. Here are some of the best hikes places to view Taipei 101 around the city.  

Yangmingshan National Park is a volcanic massif in Taipei and New Taipei City. There are several hikes and flower viewing locations – most visitors either plan a single hike there or visit multiple stops on a half-day trip by car. Find all the info in my Yangmingshan visitors’ guide.

A steaming hot spring with visitors standing on a walkway on the side
Thermal Valley in Beitou

Beitou Hot Spring in the north of the city is Taipei’s only hot spring village. It has some lovely Japanese-era buildings, steaming Thermal Valley, traditional bathhouses, and hot spring hotels. Avoid Monday, when several things are closed. See my guide to Beitou Hot Spring.

A few other attractions in Taipei include Huashan 1914 Creative Park, 44 South Village (Sisinancun), Jianguo Weekend Jade and Flowers Market, Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and Treasure Hill Artists Village.

Best Taipei Tours

Taipei is quite easy to explore on your own by MRT. You can hire a private driver here, but parking is difficult at many major attractions. Many people find taking the MRT and occasional Uber or taxi is sufficient.

For exploring Yangmingshan National Park, I recommend this private driver deal or this Beitou and Yangmingshan tour.

Here I introduce four free walking tours in Taipei. These are perfect if you’ve just arrived.

Many travelers take advantage of some high value day trip tours from Taipei. This one hits all the most popular stops, but there are variations like this one and this one.

How to Plan Your Taipei Itinerary

A Taiwanese mother and her two young kids sitting inside a gondola with glass floor and sides and view of Taipei 101 in distance
My wife and kids on Maokong Gondola

One day is too rushed to truly experience Taipei. If that’s really all you’ve got, visit Longshan Temple in the morning (Buddhist chanting takes place from 6-6:45 AM and 8-8:45 AM).

Next, head to Chian Kai-Shek Memorial Hall and Ximending for lunch. Spend the afternoon at Dihua Street or Huashan 1914 Creative Park. See the sunset from Taipei 101 or Elephant Mountain then have dinner at a night market.

With two days in Taipei city, you can add Taipei Zoo and Maokong Gondola in the south or Beitou Hot Spring, Yangmingshan, and/or Tamsui in the north. Another option is to use your second day for a day trip from Taipei.

With three days in Taipei (my most recommended), spend two full days in the city and use the third day for a day trip.

You could easily spend four, five, or more days in Taipei and never run out of things to do, especially with all the day trip possibilities. I’ve lived there for over 10 years, and there are STILL places on my need-to-visit list.  

Where to Eat in Taipei

Din Tai Fung is Taipei’s (and Taiwan’s) most famous restaurant chain. It specializes in xiaolongbao (soup dumplings). There are several branches, and all are very busy. You can’t reserve a table, but ordering your meal online will get you in a little faster.

A woman food vendor scooping some food in a steaming stall in Nanjichang Night Market
Food vendor at Nanjichang Night Market

Taipei is famous for its street food. Many visitors to Taipei eat every dinner at one of the city’s night markets. There are enough night markets that you could visit a different one every day for weeks and still have more to choose from.

Shilin Night Market is the largest and most famous. Raohe Night Market and Ningxia Night Market are tried-and-tested favorites, each with Michelin-recommended food stalls. Click the links to find out what to eat at each night market!

Tonghua (Linjiang Street) Night Market is close to Taipei 101, while Huaxi Street Night Market is rough around the edges and Nanjichang Night Market is the most local major night market.

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, see my recommended vegetarian food stalls in each night market, my favorite vegetarian restaurants in Taipei, and my vegetarian & vegan food guide.

A heaping bowl of mango shaved ice, with chunks of mango and mango ice cream
Mango shaved ice on Yongkang Street

Several districts of Taipei are also known for their food. Ximending has lots of cool restaurants and some street food, Yongkang Street is known for its excellent local restaurants and shaved ice, and Zhongxiao East Road area in Eastern Taipei has lots of BBQ, hot pot, and upscale restaurants.

For seafood lovers, the holy grail is Addiction Aquatic Development, a seafood market and upscale grocery store, with amazing take-away sushi, seafood and sushi bar, seafood hot pot, and outdoor grilled seafood restaurant.

A platter of sushi and sake glasses
Stand-up sushi bar at Addiction Aquatic

There are some amazing food courts in Taipei – try Taipei Main Station (2F) or the basement of most malls, including Taipei 101 Mall. Maji Square is an outdoor (but covered) food court at Yuanshan MRT station.

Taipei breakfast shops are a world of their own, while the city has pretty anything else you could think of – amazing sushi, fancy Michelin-star restaurants, noodle shops, Chinese restaurants, Taiwanese, hot pot, DIY BBQ, craft breweries, cocktail bars, and international food.

If you’re up late at night, check out these 24-hour restaurants, including breakfast shops, dim sum, and noodles.

Where to Go Shopping in Taipei

Traditional Chinese foods and herbs on display in a shop front on Dihua Street in Taipei
Shopping for tea and traditional herbs at Dihua Street

Wondering what to buy in Taipei? Start with my guide to the best souvenirs in Taiwan.

For shopping in Taipei, try Wufenpu Shopping District for discount clothing, Ximending for souvenirs and teenager clothing, Shida Night Market or the small lanes north and south of Zhongxiao East Road (try this street first) for fashionable clothing and accessories,

For upscale shopping, try the boutiques along Zhongxiao East Road between Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT and Sun Yatsen MRT, Taipei 101 area, and departments stores like Taipei 101 Mall, Sogo, Shin Kong Mitsukoshi, Q Square, and Miramar.

For Taiwanese tea and traditional Chinese ingredients of medicines, Dihua Street in Dadaocheng is best. This is my favorite tea shop in Taipei for buying quality, bulk tea. For electronics, go to Guang Hua Digital Plaza, or for camera gear, go to Camera Street.

For Taiwanese snack souvenirs, Taoyuan Airport and High Speed Rail stations have an excellent supply. For regular souvenirs, again the airport, Ximending, or the gift shops at Taipei 101 Observatory or National Palace Museum.

Also don’t miss the chain Don Don Donki for quirky Japanese items.

Taipei Events

Red fireworks shooting from the sides of Taipei 101
NYE is the biggest night of the year in Taipei

The biggest traditional holidays of the year in Taipei are Lunar New Year (not the best time to visit), Lantern Festival (just after Lunar New Year), Dragon Boat Festival (June), and Mid-Autumn (Moon) Festival (September/October). The dates are determined by the lunar calendar.

There are Christmas lights in locations throughout the city from late November to early January, but the biggest Christmas event is in New Taipei City (Christmasland in Banqiao).

New Year’s Eve (December 31) has an extremely popular fireworks display from Taipei 101, making it the busiest weekend of the year in Taipei. Here are the best places to watch the fireworks.

A sea of white calla lilies with misty mountains behind
Calla lilies in Yangmingshan National Park

Late January to mid-March is cherry blossom season in Taipei and surrounding areas. You can also see tulips in February, roses and azaleas (the official Taipei city flower) in March, calla lilies and hydrangeas at Yangmingshan (March to April and May to June), and chrysanthemums in November to December.

For traditional (and usually very noisy) Taiwanese folk religion events, there’s the Baosheng Emperor’s Birthday (early spring), Xiahai City God’s Birthday (late spring), Ghost Festival (late summer), and Qingshan King’s Birthday (November).

Two people wearing large costumes of gods walking down a street in Taipei
A traditional parade in Taipei City

Other Taipei events to watch for include Summer Festival (with fireworks) in Dadaocheng, Urban Nomad Film Festival, Taipei Fringe Festival, Nuit Blanche Taipei, Taipei Jazz Festival, Hakka Yi Min Festival, Pride Parade (Saturday closest to Halloween), and Taipei Marathon.

Looking straight down at a round sewer cover that's painted blue with the word Taipei on it and some iconic landmarks of Taipei like Taipei 101 and North gate

2 thoughts on “A Travel Guide to Taipei, Taiwan’s Tantalizing Capital”

  1. Hello there, I would like your advice my family of 3 thinking to visit Taiwan for a week in December would you please help me with a plans and where to stay.
    we thinking to flying Taipei on the Saturday from Ho chi Minh and leaving the following sat/sunday.
    I can drive but is it necessary to rent a car and drive? I am a Us citizen and also have US driver license as well.
    Again thankyou
    monique

  2. Your US drivers license won’t help. You need an International Driver’s Permit to rent and drive a car in Taiwan. But renting a car here is really unnecessarily, and often slower or more burdensome than taking public transportation. In Taipei, the MRT is far more convenient for getting around. With only a week, you may only visit 1 or 2 other places outside of Taipei, such as Taroko Gorge, Sun Moon Lake, and/or Alishan. Trains and buses are very convenient for reaching these places. Only rent a car if you’re planning to do more of a road trip, visiting more smaller spots along the way rather than quickly getting to the final destinations. Also note that December is the busiest month of the year for tourism in Taiwan, so hotel prices are higher, and many are already selling out, while long distance train tickets are also crucial to book.

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