Like a gentle and friendly lovechild of Hong Kong and Japan, Taipei combines some of the best elements of those destinations—a juxtaposition of skyscrapers and majestic greenery, amazing sushi, natural hot springs, efficient subway lines, bustling districts, and side streets packed with hidden gems, and plenty of neon lights and street food to start, plus its own distinct identity, cuisine, and culture.
It's also the most LGBTQ-friendly destination in Asia (and home to a major annual Pride celebration), so there's an openness and creativity that makes this an even more unique metropolis that is family-friendly to boot. Here we've rounded up 15 musts for your visit, be it first time or (eventually!) repeat!
Take in the Soaring Views from Taipei 101
Anchoring the buzzing Xinyi district, the 101-floor Taipei 101 skyscraper currently ranks as the 10th-tallest building globally (at 1,667 feet high, it was number one when it opened in 2004). Instantly iconic, with its stacked-containers-like shape, the 101 draws plenty of visitors for its lower levels' luxury shopping and excellent dining (there's a Din Tai Fung), but its observation deck is its must-see attraction. Occupying the 88-91st floors, which includes an outdoor observatory on the 91st, its views of the cityscape and surrounding nature are unbeatable but don't miss the interior's impressive "Super Big Wind Damper," a gold-hued, suspended 660-metric ton steel sphere that keeps the building safe and secure when swaying due to high winds and earthquakes!
Go Street Food Grazing at a Night Market
Street food rules at Taipei's many night markets, where locals flock to get their evening and late-night dining and shopping on (from electronics and clothing to craft beer!). It's good to check out several for a compare-and-contrast and widest selection of things to gorge on (you'll notice some items, like the self-explanatory stinky tofu and oyster omelets, seem to appear at every market). In its impressive guide to Taipei, launched in 2019, Eater sagely recommended Raohe, located behind Ciyou Temple, as one of the current best - it features a few Michelin guide recommended spots to boot—and Tonghua is also a worthy stop with Michelin-cited stalls for sesame and peanut dumplings, fried and tempura treats, and more. Meanwhile, two of the most famous, tourist-friendly night markets, Shilin and Huaxi, are certainly good for some photos.
Visit One of Taipei's "Creative Parks"
Repurposed industrial buildings and complexes serve as the hubs for Taipei's "creative parks," comprised of art galleries, shops, cafes, and temporary art and pop culture-themed attractions for all ages, plus plenty of space to stroll, sit, and mingle. Japanese art superstar Yayoi Kusama had a pop-up cafe and gift shop at one of the best-known, Huashan 1914, while Songshan Cultural and Creative Park even boasts a boutique hotel from bookstore chain Eslite and arthouse cinema. 2018 saw a new addition to the scene, Taiwan Contemporary Culture Lab (C-LAB), in the former Air Force Command Headquarters.
Explore Taipei's Contemporary Art Museums and Galleries
Housed in a former elementary school, the Datong district's Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Taipei is a fantastic two-level venue showcasing mostly Taiwanese work, including tech-forward multimedia. Don't miss the outdoor installations while at it. There's more modern work and exhibitions to be seen at the Taipei Fine Art Museum, while there are plenty of smaller yet notable galleries peppered around the city, including Aki Gallery, Liang Gallery, Galerie Grand Siecle, and Wild Flower Bookstore, the latter bursting with local artists' self-published (and sometimes provocative) books, magazines, and craft items.
Savor Seafood at Addiction Aquatic Development
As Eataly is to Italian food, Taipei's Addiction Aquatic Development is to seafood. From live seafood to a series of restaurants, and especially sushi and sashimi—offered in varying pre-packaged to-go selections to a standing-room omakase—this is a heaven for fish and shellfish fans (the bulging containers of fresh uni at affordable prices alone will have some drooling).
Initially slated to close for a massive, three-year renovation in 2020, plans have changed, and this sprawling, four-story museum will stay open during the process. A good thing, since this massive 700,000-plus item collection of Chinese artifacts and art is impressive and includes a couple of iconic yet deliciously oddball (to Westerners, at least) attractions: specifically, the "Meat Shaped Stone," which perfectly resembles a succulent hunk of stewed pork belly, and jadeite cabbage. You can buy souvenir reproductions, from fridge magnets to coasters, which you can peruse via the online shop as well.
Shop, Walk, and Eat in Xinyi
With the Taipei 101, chic W Hotel, and Grand Hyatt as anchors, the Xinyi district has become one of the most buzzing, trendy, and shiny retail and entertainment hubs (and transportation: its bus station serves cities across Taiwan and the airport). Its 24-hour, department store-style Eslite bookstore carries endless Taiwanese brands of lifestyle goods, while 2019 saw the opening of the sleek Breeze Nanshan, filled with hotly desired local and international brands (e.g., Blue Bottle Coffee) with a particular focus on Japanese food and goods, from a branch of Tokyo's Sarutahiko Coffee to a Wagyu steakhouse on the 47th floor.
Go Bubble Tea Crazy
One of Taiwan's most famous, accessible culinary exports—and still spreading around the globe to places like Krakow, Poland—bubble (or boba) tea originated in the 1980s when chewy tapioca starch pearls were added to milk tea ("Q" and "QQ" signify perfection of bouncy, toothsome texture). Now, Taiwan's offerings run the gamut from beverage to types of boba (small? large? clear? brown sugar boiled?) to extras galore, and chains and boutiques are ubiquitous. The Zhongzheng district's Chen San Ding perfected "brown sugar boba," a warm scoop of brown sugar-stewed boba served just with milk and shaken, although as of 2020, it's seeking a new location. Chain 50 Lan conveniently has locations throughout Taipei, is consistently good (they deserve a "Q"), and offers both small and large bubbles. And for a unique full-on dessert take on bubble tea, Ice Monster serves a delectable milk tea Taiwanese shaved ice with a side of absolutely perfect warm boba.
One of Taipei's most iconic and historical attractions, this former site of a military base now entails a 62-acre park, National Concert Hall, National Theater, photogenic gates, and the namesake Hall, commemorating the late President of the Republic of China.
Experience Elevated Taiwanese Flavors at Taipei's Edgiest Restaurants
Taiwanese flavors and terroir have been elevated and highlighted thanks to creative and avant-garde chefs in recent years, with big thanks due to trailblazing fine dining restaurants RAW and MUME, which opened in 2014 and still churn out incredible and artful seasonal tasting menus and hold both Michelin star and Asia's Top 50 Restaurant status. Newer venues include Chef Kai Ho’s Tarroir, logy (deeply Taiwan-centric sister venue to Tokyo's Florilege), and fusion spot Gen Creative.
Do a Starbucks Crawl (Seriously!)
The Taiwanese love Starbucks, and some locations boast incredibly distinctive merchandise (especially changing seasonal and holiday-themed mugs), items, and absolutely stunning and historic surroundings. Essentially its own gated compound, the Shilin district's Tianyu Starbucks is a two-level brick stone and glass affair with a beautiful, minimalist aesthetic (think MUJI) and outdoor seating, while the Wanhua district's Bangka Xiyuan is a multi-level 1932 home that preserves most of its gorgeous architecture (and there's a dedicated mug for this location!).
Chill Out at One of Beitou's Hot Springs
Taipei's northernmost district is a lush, mountainous haven of natural sulfur hot springs (and a Hot Spring Museum!). Accessible via MRT and taxi, you can make a few hours or overnight trip and relax splurge at one of the many facilities. For the latter, Grand View Resort (they offer a free shuttle from the MRT) features stunning views, rooms, and an assortment of gender-segregated private and public white sulfur baths and pools, while the budget-friendly green sulfur Beitou Public Hot Spring is open to all (and requires a bathing suit since it's co-ed).
Get Lost in the Sidestreets of Da'an
Taipei is full of hidden gems—shops, cafes, galleries, and street food stalls—tucked down its endless lanes and sidestreets. In particular, the Da'an District, home to the Gongguan and Linjiang night markets, is worth getting lost in for a treasure hunt of sorts. A few worth marking the map with: cheeky contemporary hotpot restaurant Mr. Meat, world-class, futuristic molecular cocktail speakeasy ROOM by Le Kief, a taproom for Taiwan's creative craft beer brewery Taihu, and if you want to make Da'an your home base, the Kimpton Da'an and Hotel Proverbs.
Get Loose With a Legit Taiwanese Foot Massage
According to foot reflexology practitioners, the way to someone's heart—and every other organ—is through their feet, and getting a foot massage for health is routine maintenance for many Taiwanese. Venues range from inexpensive and bare-bones to atmospheric and luxurious, and some are open 24 hours. A more medicinal-style massage can be a little punishing for newcomers, loosening up a tightness you never realized existed, but some massage spots will go much more gentle on non-Chinese clients.
Experience Asia's Biggest LGBTQ Pride
Taiwan is widely regarded as Asia's most gay-friendly destination thanks to its massive annual Pride celebration in late October, legalization of same-sex marriage in 2019, and an open-air nightlife complex known as the Red House/Red Mansion. If you can't make it for Pride, definitely swing by the two-level Red House in Ximending, which is host to dozens of LGBTQ bars and cafés for almost every crowd, clothing and accessory shops, and more. If the weather's good, grab a seat outdoors and savor the vibe!