Are you planning your first trip to Taiwan? Planning out what to do can be time-consuming, especially if you’re the type of person who jumps enthusiastically into the planning phase (that’s certainly me). I decided to make this list of Taiwan’s highlights to help out anyone looking for a Taipei travel guide and making their first trip to Taiwan.
One thing that first-time visitors to Taiwan underestimate is just how much there is to see and do. Seriously, after six years in Taiwan, I still have a lengthy to-visit-list that somehow keeps growing!
This 3-day travel guide to Taiwan will focus on the most important things to see in and around Taipei. Three days is enough to get a taste of the island – although you will probably leave with plans of making a return visit. Let me know what you think of this travel guide, and what you’re looking forward to doing in Taiwan!
Also, we have a guide to Taiwanese SIM cards if you’re planning on getting a local SIM. It goes in-depth and explains how to choose the fastest and most affordable data plan for your visit.
Spend your first day in Taipei by seeing some of the highlights and trying some of the most famous food here. We will be making stops along the Red Line of Taipei’s metro system. Single rides start at 20ntd ($0.65) and go up based on distance. It is fairly affordable on its own, but if you plan on taking a lot of trips you can buy unlimited use passes ranging from 24-72 hours. You shouldn’t need it if you follow this schedule, but it is worth considering.
Start your day by grabbing some breakfast at the nearest breakfast shop – they are on every corner so you won’t have to go far to find one. You can find all kinds of sandwiches, dan bing, and other breakfast food here. Dan Bing 蛋餅 is an egg crepe that is wildly popular in Taiwan. It comes stuffed with your choice of various meats and vegetables. This type of breakfast shop is quite popular in Taiwan, so you can’t go wrong here. Check out this post (coming soon) for a breakdown of the food you can order – translated into English of course.
Next up, a trip to the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. This massive monument was built in honor of Taiwan’s founder and is quite spectacular, although not without controversy. There are actually three main buildings here including the Main Hall, National Concert Hall, and National Theater. The changing of the guard at the Main Hall is worth checking out. It happens at the top of every hour so try and plan your visit around this. It gets crowded so I’d look at getting there at least 10 minutes early if you want to get a good look.
After some photos and a walk around the plaza, it’s time to move on. Head down the red line to the Taipei 101 station. As you might guess we are here to see Taiwan’s tallest building. The Taipei 101 is 508 meters tall and can be seen from nearly anywhere in the city. It was designed in the shape of a stalk of bamboo. Can you see it?
Spend some time walking around Taipei’s ritzy XinYi district which encompasses the Taipei 101 and surrounding areas. You can choose to take a trip up to the observation deck, or shop in the malls below. The ride up to the observation deck costs 500nt ($15). It is interesting to see Taipei from above but I wouldn’t recommend it on cloudy days. The view won’t be so great if it is rainy and overcast. There is a lot to check out around the Taipei 101 so prepare for some walking!
I’d recommend having lunch at Din Tai Fung located on the first floor of the Taipei 101. They are famous for their xiao long bao (soup dumplings) which are totally worth trying.
If you prefer a buffet, know that there will be plenty to choose from. My favorite has to be The Kitchen Table located on the 10th floor of the W Hotel. This was one of the best memories of my first trip to Taiwan in 2010. I have been back a few times since moving to Taiwan in 2013 and I’d say it amazes every time.
Make sure you don’t overeat too much though because our next activity is a moderately physical one. We will want to head to Xiangshan Station the last stop on the red line. Xiangshan, or Elephant Mountain in English, is a popular hiking spot for both locals and tourists. The way up is almost entirely stairs so prepare some good walking shoes. Xiangshan is one of the best places in Taipei so don’t miss it – as long as the weather is good!
After 15-20 minutes you will come to a viewpoint that looks out over Taipei. This is a great place for capturing bird’s-eye photos of the city. The path continues up, but the viewpoint is the main reason for hiking Elephant Mountain.
Once you’re down from the mountain I’d recommend heading to Raohe Night Market. This is one of the largest night markets in Taipei and has a very distinct feel to it. The street starts at a temple and you can take a look inside and take some photos first before walking the night market. Just know that night photos of the temple don’t always come out so well. The night market itself has all you could want in the way of food and snacks. In my opinion, this is the best way to spend your first night in Taiwan.
Day one itinerary
- Breakfast at a Breakfast Shop
- Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall
- Taipei 101
- Lunch at Din Tai Fung or The Kitchen Table
- Hike to Xiangshan Viewpoint
- Raohe Night Market
Start your second day with another stop at the breakfast shop. There is a lot of great things to try so be sure to order a few new things and see what you like best. You can’t go wrong with any of the dan bing combinations.
After breakfast, I’d spend some time taking a walk and checking out anything near your hotel before heading to Tamsui.
Tamsui is the terminal station on the red line and a popular weekend destination. Tamsui has a large boardwalk along the river that is good for walking or biking. The boardwalk is lined by the river on one side, and a string of street-food vendors on the other. If you ever dreamed of walking around the city with an oversized bucket of fried squid, well, this is your chance!
There is a lot to see and do at Tamsui besides taking in the river views. One of the area’s attractions is Fort San Domingo. The Spanish Fort was built in the 1600s and is a good way to learn about the island’s history.
There is a lot of history hidden around Tamsui, and this includes our lunch stop. Red Castle 1899 is one of the best and most unique places to eat in the area. This mansion was built in 1899 to serve as the residence of a local businessman. It has since become a historic part of the city and now functions as a restaurant. On the first floor there is a Chinese restaurant and on the third floor, a cafe. I’d recommend eating a light lunch at the cafe, think waffles and the like, as the cafe has superior views.
Since we are on the topic of history, there is no better place in the world to learn about Taiwanese and Chinese history than at the National Palace Museum. The wealth of artifacts displayed here ended up in Taiwan at the end of the Chinese Civil War and showcase Chinese history from prehistoric to modern times.
To get to the National Palace Museum you will want to head south on the Red Line to Shilin Station. From here there are no fewer than 9 busses that make the trip to the museum.
Plan on spending a good amount of time at the museum. There is a lot to see here and you can easily spend a few hours looking through the exhibits – even if you’re the type who breezes through museums!
Last, I’d recommend a trip to Yanminshan for dinner. The windy trip up Yanminshan is best made in a taxi – which should cost between $6 – $10. At the top of Yanmingshan, there are a couple of nice restaurants that you shouldn’t miss out on. My favorite by far is Sleepless (草山夜未眠) which is located near the Chinese Culture University.
Sleepless has great food and amazing views of Taipei. This has made the restaurant a popular evening destination for both locals and visitors. There is plenty of outdoor seating available and a few photo spots if you’re looking to pose for a photo. Sleepless serves Chinese food with a menu that includes a wide range of seafood, grilled meat, and stir-fried dishes.
Alternative: If you have a craving for a second day of night market food you could skip Yanminshan and head to Shilin Night Market. This is the largest night market in Taipei and, although a bit touristy, is a great experience.
Day two itinerary
- Breakfast at a Breakfast Shop
- Fort San Domingo
- Lunch at Red Castle 1899
- National Palace Museum
- Dinner at Yanminshan
Day trip to Juifen – you could make this into a half-day or full-day trip. I’d personally recommend a full-day trip to Jiufen to avoid rushing and missing out on the things that make Jiufen so special.
Jiufen (九份) / Jiufen Old Street (九份老街)
Leave Taipei in the morning and head to Jiufen. Make sure to grab a light breakfast before getting on the bus or train. 7-11 is a good choice if you’re in a hurry. A good amount of time can be spent on Jiufen Old Street which is the highlight of any trip here. It really showcases the city’s history and character. Take a walk along the old street and try any street food that looks interesting.
Stop for lunch at one of the many tea houses around Jiufen Old Street. There are numerous teahouses here and all are fairly enjoyable places where you can enjoy some Chinese food. My personal recommendation is the Jiufen Teahouse located here. If possible, try to get a seat with a view – it is quite special.
No Taipei Travel Guide would be complete without mentioning Milk Tea in Taiwan! The drink has reached the point of becoming a cultural phenomenon. Don’t pass up on the chance to try a cup (or two)!
While in Jiufen, be sure to check out the Shengping Theater (昇平戲院) located here. This theater is a remnant of days long gone. This building originally served as a theater, then as a movie theater, and now as a museum. You can walk around the theater and watch one of the short films that are scheduled throughout the day.
The theater is located at the bottom of a very famous lane in Jiufen. This lane is where you will find the famous A-MeiTea House. This tea house is said to have inspired scenes from the classic animation Spirited Away. Be sure to get some photos of this gorgeous tea house. It is a bit pricey, so I’d only recommend going inside if you are a huge fan of the movie. Otherwise, photos of the exterior should be enough!
Check out our post on the Ruifang District if you want to spend more time around Jiufen. There is a lot to see if you have more than a day to devote to the area.
Be sure to make a stop for some traditional Taiwanese dessert at Ah Gan Taro Balls (阿柑姨芋圓). They serve a tasty dessert which is basically a bowl of sweetly flavored ice with toppings of beans and taro. It might not sound great but it absolutely is! The seating is in the back, past a long corridor. The views are spectacular and something you wouldn’t expect from such a modest shop.
Another must-visit is the Gold Museum (黃金博物館). This museum focuses on the mining that previously dominated the area and tells the unique (and somewhat sad) history of Jiufen and its mining families.
While you could spend the entire day at Jiufen walking around the Old Town, I’d recommend heading to the famous Golden Waterfall (黃金瀑布) in the afternoon. The bus from Jiufen to the Golden Waterfall will take around 30 minutes, although you could take a taxi in order to save time. The waterfall is very beautiful and makes for great pictures. However, its history is equally interesting. The waterfall got its color due to mineral runoff connected to the local mining activities. As you might guess the water is toxic so don’t get too close!
At this point, it should be nearly evening so it’s time to start thinking about dinner. Consider getting dinner in Jiufen if you are hungry, or waiting until you are back in Taipei. If you decide to get dinner in Taipei know that your options are nearly endless.
Day three itinerary
- Light Breakfast
- Jiufen Old Street
- Shengping Theater
- Photos of A-Mei Teahouse
- Lunch at a Teahouse
- Ah Gan Taro Balls
- Gold Museum
- Golden Waterfall
- Dinner in Juifen or Taipei
We hope that this guide to Taipei is helpful for anyone wondering what to do here. Taiwan is a fairly budget-friendly island and is very welcoming to travelers. Leave a comment and let us know what you’re looking forward to doing in Taipei!
Also, how many days do you plan on staying here?