Taipei on a Budget: A Local Travel Guide
Taipei, our home away from home. The capital of Taiwan, it is the 40th most populous metropolitan area in the world. A rapidly advancing economic center, Taipei remains grounded in faith, community, and a sense of social harmony. The atmosphere in Taipei feels like that of a scaled-down, less chaotic Tokyo, where the people were more than eager to help every step of the way.
Alev and I could not wait to experience the culture, language, and food in the oasis of calm amongst the industrially booming mainland China. Taipei is a glimmering hotbed of tourism, beautiful mountains, and one of the best night markets in the world. We spent 4 days in Taipei, then Hong Kong for 4 days, Bangkok for 3 days, and back to Taipei for 3 more days. In theory, we visited Taipei twice and fell in love with the city. Here is a recap of our stay in Taipei.
Where to Stay
The Shilin Metro Stay, a three-story building, seemed more like an apartment complex than a hotel. Located conveniently across the street from the Shilin Metro station, the hotel has a 24 hour 711 right at the ground level of the building. Also, the Shilin Night Market is 10 minutes away within walking distance. The location of this hotel is awesome since everything is accessible! The building’s owner was extremely gracious, and our small but cozy room left no cause for complaints. We ended up staying here for a total of 7 nights.
Tip: The actual hotel building is located above Mana, the clothing store with a logo that resembles an elephant; There is a phone where you must dial for the reception to open up the door. 711 is located a few stores to the right.
If you feel like splurging, book a room at the Grand Hotel 圓山大飯店. A beautiful 285- foot building, the hotel is a striking image of an imperial palace. You can book a budget room costing around $115 USD a night, while the deluxe room is worth $4,800 USD a night. Tempting as it is, we’ll stick with Shilin Metro Stay, for now.
You can always visit the spectacular hotel to grab a cocktail or dim sum. Ultimately, you can just visit to take a selfie, free of charge. 🙂
Getting around Taipei is easy by bus or by train; even taxis are not too expensive either. Walking is an option, but if you ever get lost, the locals are very helpful and friendly. Even if your knowledge of Mandarin is limited, the people of Taipei are extremely mindful of personal property and will guide you the right direction.
The best bet is to purchase a Taipei Metro EasyCard day pass. Hop on, hop off any train line or bus for 24 hours for 180.00 NT (5.92USD) per person. You can also purchase a 2-day pass for 280 NT ($9.20USD). The easy cards can also be used at certain Taipei attractions.
The Metro trains are clean, comfortable, and quiet cars; a commuter’s dream in Taipei, Taiwan. During peak hours the trains are jam-packed, but still nowhere near as packed as the buses! The large screen televisions are a bonus.
Enjoy the beautiful scenery that Taipei has to offer as we did. La-la-la…Waiting for our stop… Listening to the conductor’s announcements in Mandarin and English.
Taipei Metro’s Website: http://english.metro.taipei/
Ultimately, you can rent a Ubike and let the GPS guide you around Taipei. Bikes are the best way to beat the traffic while getting your exercise on. The bicycles are very cute with cat designs (sorta looks like our cat Yoshi-ball).
National Palace Museum (國立故宮博物院)
The National Palace Museum is located in the Shilin District. This stunning complex houses 8000 years’ worth of imperial artworks and artifacts. Its design is modeled upon the Palace Museum located inside China’s Forbidden City. The imperial complex in Beijing houses extensive collections of art, artifacts, paintings, and Chinese calligraphies from the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
Discover Taiwanese history through exquisite artifacts, dating over 100 years. You can also purchase a replica of the National Palace Museum as a souvenir.
Tip: Make sure to leave all liquids at the counter and store carry-on (tripod or bags, for instance) in a rental locker.
Cost: 250 NT ($8.22 USD) General Admission
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 8:30am – 6:30pm, Friday and Saturdays 8:30am – 9:00pm
Address: No.221, Sec.2, Zhishan Rd, Shilin Dist, Taipei 11143, Taiwan
Yangmingshan National Park (陽明山國家公園)
One of Taiwan’s nine national parks, Yangmingshan is situated between Taipei and New Taipei City. The park grounds cover Beitou and Shilin Districts in Taipei, as well as New Taipei City’s Wanli, Xinshan, and Sanzhi Districts. Hop on a green bus that takes you directly to the park. Be prepared to spend some time here, walking, hiking, and enjoying the park’s scenery.
You need to spend at least a solid three hours just to see half of the gorgeous surroundings that the park has to offer.
Cost: Free to the public
Hours: 9:00am – 4:30pm everyday.
Address: No. 1-20, Zhuzihu Road, Beitou District, Yangmingshan, Taipei City 11292
Accessible by bus: http://bit.ly/2gXsfkC
Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall (中正紀念堂)
Chiang Kai Shek is beloved by the people of Taiwan during his leadership. CKS Memorial Hall is now an enormous historic landmark in Taipei. There are two large theaters, one on the left, and one on the right. Open to the public, CKS Memorial Hall covers 62 acres of wide open space, where you can relax, and even practice your kung-fu, dance moves, or yoga.
Chiang Kai Shek’s statue resides inside the marble and concrete complex, standing 249 ft tall. Catch the Taiwanese guards marching up and down at the central area toward the chamber of the Chiang Kai Shek Statue.
Cost: Free to the public.
Address: No. 21, Zhongshan South Road, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan 100
Hours: Everyday from 9AM-6PM.
How to get there: Accessible by MRT Red or Green Line to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall.
Beitou Hot Springs (北投温泉)
After a hike along the Yangmingshan trail, check out the famous hot springs in Beitou. Enjoy some relaxing therapy for your body, skin, and bones in a mineral-rich hot spring.
The Beitou area of Taipei offers a large selection of hot springs and resorts. Make sure you visit a private hot spring instead of a public one, as we did. In hindsight, it was a big mistake.
One option for public hot springs is the Millennium Hot Springs. Immediately after greeting us, the hostess peeks inside the bags to examine our swimwear. Alev was cleared to go, while my swimming trunks were not up to their standards. (Pockets are a fashion faux pas, according to their rules.) Mind you, the tickets are non-refundable, therefore I had no choice but to purchase a ridiculous-looking pair of speedos at their gift shop.
After changing into your swimwear, you must also purchase a token to store your belongings inside tiny lockers for a few Taiwanese dollars. The area is full of with local grumpy old men and a smattering of tourists. A total of six hot springs, they range in temperature from extremely cold to scalding hot. We tried the hot and cold one. The water felt both cold and stinging (a bit like getting water from the Dead Sea onto a paper cut, but without the healing sensation afterward). It might have been due to the sulfur deposits, for which Yangmingshan Park is known.
The experience was memorable, to say the least. This hot spring is overly crowed and not a place that we would recommend. The whole scenario was a bit of a hassle at the time, but at least I got to snap a photo real quick and tell all about it.
Cost: Varies on the location
Getting there: Accessible through the MRT Red Line; get off at Xinbeitou Station.
Location: See google maps.
Confucius Temple 臺北孔子廟
The temple’s model resembles the original Confucius Temple in Qufu, Shandong Province, China. Taipei’s Confucian Temple, built in 1879 during the Qing Dynasty, is the only one to be adorned with southern Fujian-style ceramics. The temple’s main hall bears a black plaque with gold lettering. Step inside of the temple to light an incense and pray for your loved ones to have great health, wealth, and success.
The inscription is by Chiang Kai-shek and reads “Educate without Discrimination.”The temple perseveres after being demolished during the Japanese Era and rebuilt in 1930. September 28th marks a yearly celebration with stylized dancing in honor of Confucius. (Pictured below: statues of Confucian scholars.) As Confucius would put it, “It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop.”
Cost: Free to the public.
Address: No. 275, Dalong Street, Datong District, Taipei City, Taiwan 103
Hours: Tues. – Sun. 8:30 AM – 9:00 PM.
Getting there: Accessible by MRT Red Line towards Tamsui; get off at YuanShan Station. Bus route – 2, 9, 41, 215 Get off at Baoan Temple Station, Jiuquan St. Station, Kulun St. Station.
Taipei 101 (台北101)
Witness the architectural and cultural wonders of Taipei 101 (formerly Taipei World Financial Center), built between 1999 and 2004. The world tallest building, stated until 2008 – standing at 1,671 ft. Here, you will ascend from the 5th (entrance) to 89th floor (exit) of Taipei 101, on the fastest elevator in the world, roughly around 30 seconds ascending.
Once you reach the 89th floor, you can witness the super-tall skyscraper in the Xinyi District of Taipei, Taiwan. It is the world’s second tallest, rivaled only by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE. Taipei 101 is a 101-story structure (hence the name), built to withstand earthquakes and typhoons. In 2011, Taipei 101 earned a platinum certification and the highest rating according to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design; it became the world’s largest and tallest building during that time.
Tip: Taipei 101 is also a huge shopping mall. Once you exit the observation area, there is a maze of shops of expensive jewelry, antiques, and tea; Make your way quickly through the exit where the descending elevator line, because it can get very crowded.
Cost: Adults 600 NT ($19.85) Students 540 NT ($17.88 USD) Small Child Free
Address: No.7, Sec. 5, Xinyi Rd., Xinyi Dist., Taipei City 110, Taiwan
Hours: Mon. – Sun. 9:00 AM – 10:00 PM
Getting there: MRT Red Line towards XiangShan, get off at Taipei 101 / World Trade Center.
As the sun sets, nightlife begins at Ximending, the shopping district aka the “Harajuku” of Taipei. More like the Time Square with bright lights, large crowds, street performers. A place with a hip bar scene, shopping departments, food, and bubble tea. Typically, a younger crowd and a tourist attraction, it is still nice to check out. The bubble tea alone is worth the trip.
Taipei Zoo / Maokong Gondola
As a child, I loved going to the zoo. The Taipei Zoo is one of the biggest I have been to. Here, you can see pandas, koalas, and other exotic animals (assuming they are not shy that day). The Zoo itself is quite a maze, you can roam around and get lost or you have an option to take a shuttle train for 5 NT (.17 USD) towards the top of the zoo or The Maokong Gondola entrance. Tickets for the zoo are rather inexpensive, 60 NT ($2.00 USD). Can’t go wrong by taking your kids there.
We opted out the Taipei Zoo and head directly towards Maokong Gondola 貓空纜車. Ascend 4.3 km from Taipei Zoo Station to Maokong Station, while viewing the beautiful Taiwan Mountains and Tea Plantations. A worthwhile experience and definitely a must, when visiting Taipei.
Once you reach the top, all the tea houses locations come into view. If you have time, relax inside a tea house, while enjoying a cup of tea with snacks. There’s that cat again… I guess Taiwanese people are cat lovers, just like us.
Tip: Purchase a round trip ticket to avoid paying excessive taxi ride back down.
Cost: One way 120 NT ($3.97 USD) , round trip 240 NT ($7.42 USD)
Hours: Tues. – Thur. 9AM – 9PM, Fri. & Sat 9AM – 10PM, Sunday: 8:30AM – 9PM. Closed on Mondays or bad weather conditions.
Getting there: Take the MRT Brown Line toward Taipei Zoo.
Taiwan features recipes similar to the dishes from mainland China, but with some Japanese influences, dating back to the Japanese occupation. Taiwanese dishes are quite aromatic, usually with a sweet and savory balance. The most popular Taiwanese dishes are usually with chicken, pork, and seafood; they are braised, steamed or stirred fried, served with rice and a side of pickled vegetables. Practically every meal we ate in Taipei included some type of pickled vegetable in it, which is a good thing! 🙂
Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐) (ディン タイ フォン)
Ahh, the famous Din Tai Fung restaurant, known for its iconic dish, the Pork Xiao Long Bao (小笼包) There are several Din Tai Fung restaurants located in Taipei. The Taipei 101 branch is the original birth place, thus it’s super crowed and a food destination stop for sure.
Soup dumplings are made to order by the chefs behind a glass pane. Let’s see what all the hype is about. The Din Tai Fung Dumpling Chef Clan; a surgical white mask is required to made killer dumplings.
Once you are seated at Taipei 101’s Din Tai Fung, your hostess greets you with a mini instructional manual (EatingSoup Dumplings 101) on how to enjoy the dish properly.
To me, the Xiao Long Bao were well-prepared but disappointingly tiny. The dumpling wrappers are thin and translucent, while the pork soup fillings are flavorful and not overly salty. Tasty, but I had better ones in Shanghai, Hong Kong, New York City, and Philadelphia.
Tip: Try other locations besides the 101 branch to avoid the long wait in line.
Cost: 100 NT for 5 five dumplings ($3.31 USD)
Address: 110, Taiwan, Taipei City, Xinyi District, City Hall Rd
Hours: Sun. – Thurs. 11 AM – 9:30 PM, Fri. & Sat. 11 AM – 10 PM
Location: See google maps.
Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup (牛肉麵)
When coming to Taiwan, Beef Noodle Soup is a must! This particular one is from (Tao-Yuan Street Beef Noodle Shop 桃源街牛肉麵) aka “restaurant without sign”, which is tucked away behind Taoyuan St.
Only available in a one-size-fits-all bowl, the soup comes in spicy or non-spicy broth. The noodles are thick and al dente, while the quality beef cuts are moist and tender. The pork soup broth and fillings are salty but not overpowering. Top with a heaping scoop of pickled cabbage (not shown in the picture), and you’re good to go. Get ready to devour a super tasty bowl of noodles!
Tip: There’s a huge red sign, stating “no pictures”. Snag a photo with your phone really quick, as I did. Also, try their dumplings and sticky rice.
Cost: 220 NTD a bowl ($7.28)
Address: No.15 Taoyuan Street, Zhongzheng District, Taipei 100, Taiwan
Hours: Sun. – Fri. 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM, closed on Sat.
Getting there: MRT Blue Line or Green Line towards Ximen station; Exit 4, walk up to Taoyuan Street.
Taipei is famous for their Night Markets, and we’re not talking about tacos or grilled corn. Taiwanese people take their street food seriously. From braised pork rice to stinky tofu, you name it, they got it! We went to a few restaurants in Taipei, but most of our meals consisted of delicious Taiwanese street food. One of the most popular Taiwanese street food is the Taiwanese Grilled Sausage (台式香腸). A smokey sweet fragrant sausage on a stick, it is sometimes served with a piece or roasted garlic.
Price: 25-35 NT ($.83 – $1.16 USD)
Location: Any street vendor
If you ever watch old school KungFu movies, you might see these candied fruit snacks, Tanghulu (糖葫蘆), or in Cantonese Bingtongrulo. These are fruit that are coated in red sugar syrup creating a hardened texture of rock candy. If you have a sweet tooth, try these out.
Price: 40 NT ($1.32 USD)
Location: Shilin Night Market
Lin Chinese Pizza, a two lady operation, is one of my favorite street foods in Taipei. The creation is not really a pizza, but more a Thousand Layer Pancake Omelet. A flaky bread is layered with eggs, cheese, and vegetables. There is always a long line at Lin’s, but the wait is well worth it.
They start out by pressing the seasoned dough down thinly on a machine, then place it onto the grill, while one of the ladies pound the dough with a metal instrument until it becomes a flaky consistency.
You have a choice of toppings, including egg, cheese, pickled cabbage or chilies. My recommendation is to get all of the above!
Breakfast or lunch does not get any better than this! Six out of seven days, I am here at Lin’s. You can’t go wrong.
Price: 35-50 NT ($1.16 – $1.66 USD) depending the toppings
Location: Lane 235, ZhongZheng Road, Shilin District, Taiwan 111 (by the 711 & Shilin Metro Station)
Random Day Market
Tucked in an alley and few blocks up from Lin’s is a fantastic day market. We stumbled upon the bustling hub of activity and throngs of local consumers. Naturally, we decided to follow the locals and check the place out.
The street was packed! “Your bag is open, be mindful of your belongings!”, a local shouted to us in Mandarin. As we navigate through this market, there are some many street vendors waiting for you to try their samples. So much food! So much fun!
Samples of freshly made sweet and tangy jerky straight from the oven outside.
Mochi cakes filled with sweet paste. I would like to sample one of each please. 🙂
An assortment of dried exotic fruit candies by the pound. Keep the samples coming, ma’am. 🙂
Lunch was pretty much-taken care of, but we couldn’t refuse a sample of this Oyster Fritter. The huge fresh oyster is packed to the brim with chives, then dipped into a batter for deep frying and served with chili sauce. A very funky texture and a bit bland to me, without the chili sauce.
Hours: Morning to afternoon, the street is closed at night.
Location: 2 Huarong Street, Taipei, Taipei City
Shilin Night Market (士林夜市)
One of the top tourist attractions in Taipei City; famous for the food, the night market has hundreds of stalls offering various foods such as dumplings, oyster omelets, grilled squid, bubble tea, and the list goes on. Besides food, you can also do a bit shopping for clothing, knickknacks, and knockoffs, if you like.
(Rule of thumb: Look for the stalls with long lines, as that is where quality goods are.)
Speaking of long lines, here is Carbon Barbecue (老士林), a vendor serving bacon wraps (培根卷). They are stuffed with scallions, wrapped with pork and charred over a hot grill. Vendors keep the bacon wraps moist by dousing them with aromatic sweet sauce.
The Baby Octopus Takoyaki balls are to die for. Tiny octopus is placed onto the circular grill waffle pan accompany by the takoyaki batter of cheesy goodness.
Topped with your sauces of preference with wasabi, mayonnaise, okonomiyaki sauce and a generous portion of bonito flakes. Yummy! Our favorite street snack at Shilin.
Shilin Night Market can be overcrowded at times, the best way to avoid traffic is to sit down inside a store and enjoy a bowl of Shaved Ice (刨冰).
Mango Shaved Ice and Passion Fruit Shaved Ice, please. Oh yes! Large mount of ice shaved onto a plate then topped with your choice of fruit and syrups. This is the way to chillax with a Taiwanese beer!
Hours: Everyday from 3 PM – 1 AM
Address: No. 101, Jihe Road, Shilin District, Taipei City, Taiwan 111
How to get there: MRT Red Line towards Jiantan Station; Exit 1
Huaxi Night Market (華西街夜市)
Aka Tourist Night Market, aka Snake’s Alley, is probably our go-to night market. Oddly enough, you will find more tourists at the Shilin Night Market than at Huaxi.
Inside the ark of snake’s alley, you can try Taiwanese delicacies, such as snake stew, snake penis, deer penis, and turtle testicles. Andrew Zimmern would go nuts, pun intended. 🙂
Outside of the alley, is where the goodies are at. If you’re a tea drinker, as we are, visit the Tea Lady at Huaxi Night Market. You can score some decent Taiwanese tea from Alishan Mountain for a cheap price.
If tea is not your thing, try a refreshing Lemon Jelly Drink in a bag. At first, not quite sure what type of drink it was, but the locals love it. We had to give it a try. Turns out to be a lemon juice and aiyu jelly served in a bag with a straw.
Grilled Squid roasted on a slow-burning charcoal grill brushed with sweet soy sauce. After you order one, the vendor chops the squid into small pieces topped with chili and pepper powder. Fantastic!
Hours: Everyday from 4 PM – 12 AM
Address: Huaxi Street, Wanhua District, Taipei City, Taiwan 108
How to get there: MRT Blue Line towards Longshan Temple; take exit 6.
Check out the entire list of Taipei Night Markets here.
Taipei, Taiwan, a colorful city where the food is at its core. A delicious destination for sure, but most importantly also the people are genuine and friendly. Why do I love this city? The culture, mixed with a fusion of Chinese, Japanese, and American influences; making the city a mysterious and marvelous place to visit. The city is surrounded by beautiful temples and historic landmarks where delicious authentic Taiwanese food is not far away; in Taipei, you can eat and drink extremely well on the cheap and be merry without any worries. A place where public transportation is inexpensive, easily accessible, safe, clean and fast. For that reason, I wouldn’t mind staying for a while!