Because of Taiwan’s strong business ties to the United States, Taipei, its capital, is the perfect gateway city to begin your exploration of Asia. However, staying for an extended amount of time is not necessary, even if you want to gain a good sense of the culture and the best the city has to offer. Instead, I suggest using Taipei as a launch pad and a place for an extended layover.
If you do find yourself in Taipei for a day and some change, there are a few things that you must do.
National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
Remembered as one of the Founding Fathers of modern Taiwan and someone who fought hard to maintain the country’s independence from the People’s Republic of China, Chiang Kai-shek was one of the most influential political and military leaders in recent Chinese history until his death in 1975. To honor him and his work, this memorial hall was created to venerate his accomplishments and display relics, artifacts and personal belongings that were of importance to him. Inside you’ll find various uniforms and medals, documents and even his bulletproof Cadillac. But what is most intriguing is the changing of the guards, which happens every hour on the hour. You’ll find people crowding around 10 to 15 minutes before the changing, just to ensure they can witness it.
The largest building in the country, and one of the largest in the world, is home to much more than just a few offices. Inside you’ll find a mall filled with every major luxury brand, a full food court, a conference center and an observatory on the top level. This landmark is a must because of what you’ll find at the top of the building and at the bottom. At the top you can enjoy remarkable views of the city that extend as far as the eye can see. Visit the observatory during the magic hour for a sight that will leave you breathless. And if you are fearless, take a walk on the outdoor deck. At the bottom of the building is a pretty standard mall food court that is home to one extraordinary restaurant—Din Tai Fung. There you’ll find some of the best dim sum in all of Asia (my mouth still waters every time I come across a picture I took of my meal). Each xiaolongbao, or dumpling, is made meticulously and precisely by chefs who train for three years. It’s no wonder celebrities such as Tom Cruise are huge fans.
Taihu Brewing: The Tasting Room
The guys behind Taihu are on a mission to make Taiwan the craft beer capital of Asia. In a country where craft beer is nearly impossible to find and where most locals are virtually unaware of the definition of craft beer, Taihu is attempting to not only establish a market but also create a desire. Surprisingly (or not surprisingly at all), the younger generation has taken to the idea of craft beer and has turned the brewery’s tasting room into one of the liveliest happy hour and after-dinner spots in the city. Because the company is fairly new and based entirely in Taipei, what is offered on draft is ever changing as they create and test new flavors.
The Top, Taipei
You can’t leave this city without experiencing what The Top has to offer. Located atop a mountain, which sits right outside of the city’s center, is this unique restaurant popular with locals and tourists alike. The Top gives guests an energetic outdoor dining experience that overlooks the city’s skyline and topography. Although all tables allow you to take in the view, there are a variety of table options to choose from. Of course the restaurant has traditional tables and chairs, but they also have lounge areas and private cabanas for parties to enjoy their tapas-style menu. Lively electronic music blasts from speakers and neon lights shine along the walkways as guests make the most of every moment they are there. A crowd of people is always waiting outside to be seated.
Taipei has a handful of really great markets that come to life at night. Hundreds of locals flock to the various streets to buy everything from fresh Taiwanese snacks, to clothing and accessories, and even toys. Storefronts stay open late to accommodate shoppers, and street vendors set up temporary shops. You can smell the local food grilling for hundreds of feet, which is probably why there is almost always a line of dozens of people at nearly every food stand. The markets stay open as late as midnight on any given night, so you truly have no excuse to not experience it.
Late night foot massages
After walking around and exploring a new city your feet will deserve a little attention. Asia is known for their inexpensive, non-luxury massage parlors, and Taipei has no shortage of options. What they lack in aromatherapy scents and plush robes, they more than make up for in convenience, price and technique. For approximately $20, someone will spend nearly 30 minutes using ancient Chinese massage techniques to sooth your aching feet. These parlors are pretty easy to locate. You could ask your hotel’s concierge to recommend one that will pick you up and drop you back off to your hotel for no extra charge. However, you are likely to find one by just walking down almost any street.
Megan Pinckney (@shadesofpinck) is a retired beauty queen turned lifestyle blogger who loves exploring the world and writing about it.