Thanks to relatives from both my mother and father’s sides, I saw the heart and soul of Taipei as locals would. You may find mentioned of these places online or on travel sites, but they’re not always the most popular (yet) since travelers with shorter stays would want to check off the main attractions first. But if you don’t like touristy spots and prefer a more local approach, try some of these places:
Jing Shan (金山)
How to get there: The day version of the night market. Jing Shan is located outside of Taipei city and can only be reached by car or bus. The coastline view is very relaxing, if you drive you can stop by the beach as well.
What to do: Eat, watch and explore the hundred plus year old houses. Some are open for touring. Try the famous restaurant that serves duck meat and everything is self served (seatings for the restaurant is located at 5 different locations. Makes no sense until you try!)
National Theater Concert Hall
Located in the Freedom Plaza, the National Theater and Concert Hall (NTCH/國家表演藝術中心) features a traditional Chinese palace-like structure. The gold roofs, overturned edges, Chinese red colonnades and colorful arches demonstrate an elegant and imposing manner (source: www.ntch.edu.tw).
How to get there: The NTCH is located at the junction of the Xindian, Zhonghe and Xiaonanmen lines of the Taipei MRT. Take any of these lines to the MRT Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Station and exit through Gate 5 (By bus or car).
What to do: The NTCH website has their monthly programs and ticket information available. Each performance costs roughly NT $300-$500. There are restaurants and coffee shops within as well as underground parking.
Treasure Hill Artist Village (寶藏巖) and URS Taipei
Once an old shanty town with illegally built houses, this hillside village has been preserved after resident relocation. Instead or clearing out the old buildings, the city is allowing artists and small businesses to transform this village into a park/gallery. There’s also a hostel that will open soon when we visited in Mar 2014.
How to get there: The closest MRT stop is Gongguan Station Exit 1 (for bus, visit here). You can also rent a U-Bike and take the bike path that leads right pass the village.
Similar projects sprouted all throughout Taipei, check out the URS website for the full list: www.urstaipei.net
Grand Hotel Taipei
How to get there: The closest MRT (metro) stop is YuanShan (圓山), take exit 1, and then a shuttle to Grand Hotel. The shuttle runs every 20-30 minutes. Cab is also very convenient, approximately $5 USD from Taipei city center.
What to do: Make reservations at one of the three restaurants in the Grand Hotel. Prices are very reasonable and food excellent. You will get the chance to enjoy the artistry, architecture, and atmosphere of Chinese history.
Houtong Cat Village (猴硐)
How to get there: Take a train from Taipei directly to the Houtong station ($3-5 USD RT), you will find yourself welcomed by the furry arms of our lazy four legged friends, cats.
What to do: Feed them cats! IHazCans. They love the canned food. There are specialty shops and an old mining building. Walk around to see what cats you’ll find and explore the town, the residents are pretty welcoming.
The name Houtong literally means “Monkey Cave.” Why would a place filled with cats be named monkey cave, you ask? From the mouth of my wise uncle, he said, once upon a time, there were monkeys, but the government thought it may bring ridicules to its people as the outside world may make jokes about the residents as monkeys. And the monkeys were cast out of the village. Without monkeys to bring in visitors, the villagers began to bring in exotic cats and encouraged breeding. At one point, there were approximately 200+ cats roaming the the villages, but due to the mass visitors, the cats moved further out from the station to get some peace and quiet. There are approximately 60-80 cats that roam around the station on a regular day.
Lanyang Museum (蘭陽博物館)
Located in Yilan approximately an hours and a half from Taipei’s city center, Lanyang Museum and its surroundings makes a great day trip filled with interesting and interactive exhibits, fresh outdoor space, and delicious local cuisine that are hard to find in Taipei.
How to get there: Directions for train, bus, or car.
Elephant Mountain (象山)
How to get there: Take the MRT red line to Xiangshan, or bike from Taipei 101.
What to do: Climb! There’s a tiny station at the foothill (next to the temple) for limited selection of food and snacks. You can take either the left or right stairways to reach the top. If you’re an avid hiker, the trails are massive and Xiangshan is not the only lookout. The trails can take you to Tiger Mountain and 9-5 Peak, two renowned trails in Taipei City. Go in the afternoon to watch the sunset and stars from the top. On the weekdays there are others but not crowded at all. Don’t go on the weekend if possible, the crowdedness will ruin the fun.
- You need a MRT Easy Card and a local phone number to rent an U-bike because the system will send the activation code by text.
- If there’s a line for food, that means it’s good. Taiwanese people don’t wait in line for nothing, so hop in!
- With nearly 7 million people in the Taipei metropolitan area, the city is dense. Unless you enjoy large crowds, try to visit anywhere during the weekdays and be prepared for large crowds on the weekend.
- For sightseeing of major tourist attractions, get there as early as possible to avoid collision with tour groups.