Night markets, street food, good vibes and friendly people – Taipei has these aplenty. No wonder Singaporeans love to visit the city; some have even been there multiple times. But did you know that Taipei has a lot more to be discovered? From lush hills to fine dining and festive partying, here’s a peek into its best-kept secrets.
Revel in luxury
Many Singaporeans have explored Taipei’s streets and alleys and the quaint cafes and hipster shops hidden in them. Some can even name the city’s top night markets as if they were our neighbourhood pasar. But have you experienced taking in the city and savouring its gourmet food on a bus? Now you can with the Taipei Restaurant Bus.
Call it meals on wheels: Tuck into local produce such as Yilan smoked duck paired with honeydew meticulously prepared by chefs from a luxury hotel aboard a double-decker bus as it gently winds through some of Taipei’s most iconic landmarks. These include Agora Garden, an architectural marvel that bills itself as a “vertical forest”, and more familiar sights such as the Taipei 101 and the shopping belt in downtown Taipei.
Choose between the 1.5-hour afternoon tea (NT$1,800 or S$80) and two-hour dinner (NT$3,240 or S$144). Reservation is required.
For more of the finer things in life, head to Xinyi district’s upmarket malls such as Taipei 101 and Bellavista. Constructed with gold stone imported from Brazil, Bellavista boasts of a seven-metre tall ceiling topped with a cathedral-like dome in its central courtyard. Fountains, flower gardens and palm trees imported from the Middle East dotting the mall combine to transport you to a different realm, and that's even before you dine at restaurants like the two Michelin-starred L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon and shop at Hermès.
Ready for your next stop? Simply cross the skybridges linking the malls to the next shopping haven.
Immerse in culture
So you have already checked popular attractions such as the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and the National Palace Museum off your to-see list. But there is much more for culture vultures to discover around the city.
Dadaocheng, Taipei’s oldest district and the centre of its commercial life before the 1970s, is a good starting point. The area, which borders the Tamsui River in western Taipei, is home to rows of well-preserved shops that now houses cafes and stores selling cultural products like “granny bags” and exquisitely packaged, locally grown tea and rice. Many of the shops are concentrated along Dihua Street, which transforms into a festive goods bazaar during Chinese New Year (CNY).
Creative types shouldn’t miss the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park, just a short walk away from the Taipei City Hall subway station. This art space was converted from a once-derelict 1930s tobacco factory and now features diverse exhibitions and performances, including the Taiwan Lantern Festival (see Celebrations) come February.
And that’s just for starters. Head on down to the new Taipei Performing Arts Center, right next to the iconic Shilin Night Market. Designed by Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Rem Koolhaas, the new-age building features a monumental globe that seems to have burst out of the building. The project was named by Time Magazine in 2021 as the “World's Top 100 Attractions” and one of eight “transformative buildings set to shape the world in 2021” as reported by CNN.
Celebrate with the locals
Taipei is known for celebrating festive occasions in style. The New Year’s Eve fireworks at Taipei 101, for one, is a much-anticipated annual spectacle, drawing tens of thousands of people to the skyscraper with innovative pyrotechnics and a countdown to the new year. Only a couple of months later, the city ushers in spring with the Yangmingshan Flower Festival, just in time for the blooming of auspiciously pink cherry blossoms and hydrangeas.
But next year, the most-touted event in Taipei must surely be the Taiwan Lantern Festival (Feb 5-19). The extravaganza of giant lanterns is held in a different Taiwanese locale and draws millions of visitors each year. The 2023 edition will be one of the first major events hosted by Taipei since Taiwan reopened its doors to foreign tourists.
Expect a lavish display of 300 lanterns installed in a total area of 168 hectares – that’s 39 times the size of Singapore’s Padang – around Taipei. They include the main installation at the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall and three other major installations elsewhere in the downtown area.
In keeping with the festival theme of “Light Up the Future”, each display promises to be a dazzling fusion of cutting-edge light technology and traditional lantern-making techniques conjured up by local and foreign artists.
As the year winds down and temperatures cool, you know ‘tis the season for Christmas as dazzling yuletide displays appear all around Taipei. Soak in the atmosphere simply by strolling down the city’s major thoroughfares.
Indulge in Taiwanese delicacies
Mention Taipei and its most famous foods, such as Din Tai Fung’s signature xiao long bao or steamed dumplings and night market favourites like stinky toufu and oyster omelette come to mind. But there are plenty more goodies worth splurging your calorie quota on.
Taipei has a plethora of specialty restaurants and eateries covering everything from breakfast soy milk and you tiao (fried dough fritters), beef noodles to fine vegetarian food. Fu Hang, for example, is a decades-old establishment known for its silky soy milk, you tiao, and egg-and-bun sandwiches. For beef noodles, one of Taipei’s iconic staples, you can’t go wrong with the 50-year-old Yong Kang Beef Noodles or the unpretentious but mouth-watering Lin Dong Fang.
For vegans and the health-conscious, Taiwan is a food paradise catering to every budget. Those seeking an unforgettable experience should look no further than Yangming Spring. This fine-dining restaurant, which takes its name from its flagship location on Yangmingshan, marries Western and Japanese culinary traditions with exquisite finesse. Each beautifully-presented dish is a veritable feast for both the eyes and the taste buds.
Take in the wonders of nature
No visit to Taipei is complete without a rejuvenating jaunt to one of its many scenic and accessible hiking trails. The city, after all, sits in a basin-shaped region ringed by mountains. Venture off the beaten path to trails popular with locals, such as Jinmianshan in Neihu district, Junjianyan in Beitou and Xianjiyan in Wenshan. All are easy routes that should take less than two hours to complete while offering panoramic views of the city.
If you fancy a nice warm foot soak in the great outdoors, try the Lengshuikeng trail on the perennial favourite of Yangmingshan. Dip your feet into 40 deg C water rich in volcanic sulphur gurgling in hot spring pools that perfectly reflect the surrounding pristine mountains and the blue skies above.