Chinese New Year is coming up in a few months, which means there’s a serious case of the “visiting family” going around. It seems that every Taipei citizen gets a visit from their parents, friends, high school classmates, their random relatives. Some are nonchalant about it, which you can term as either brave or foolish–while others fly into a frenzy, trying to plan complicated itineraries and trying to make sure that their visitor gets the true “Taipei experience” and leaves with every single one of their whims fulfilled (and tons of amazing photos on Instagram, naturally).
So, without further ado:
What are some special activities that can only be experienced in Taipei?
You can read about some of the highlights in my 36 Hour Guide to Taipei, listed here. However, I cut out a lot of great experiences due to the time limit constraint. Here’s two more of my favorite things:
(a) Experiencing a Taiwanese night market: I recommend Raohe Night Market, if you want to stay in Taipei, but head to Keelung Night Market for the real deal. (Note: I know that there are many bigger, and some would argue better night markets as you head down south, but I’m talking about the ones closest to Taipei)
(b) Setting off a lantern at Pingxi or Shifen. The next Pingxi Lantern Festival will occur in February 20134, but don’t let that stop you from heading over on the Pingxi Railway Line to either Pingxi or (my personal favorite) Shifen to set off a lantern of your own.
(c) Taking a soak in a hot spring hotel (or a wild hot spring, if you dare): Beitou, in the north of Taipei, is full of hot spring hotels, ranging from large, cheap public pools to luxury hotels with private hot spring tubs in each room. It’s relaxing, relatively inexpensive, and so good for the skin. If you’re a bit more daring and looking for a more adventurous experience, you can also go straight to the source by hiking into the forest in search of some wild hot springs.
(d) Eating at a Taiwanese food court: I know many Asian cities have amazing food courts, Japan has some, Korea does too, yadda yadda. Taiwanese food courts are the best, end of story; the food is so cheap for the portions–and you can eat pizza with a side of oyster omelette. Yum. There’s usually a food court located in the basement of every big shopping center or department store. My favorite ones are the ones at the Xinyi Eslite, Bellavita, Taipei 101, and the Far Eastern in Banqiao.
(e) Taking the Maokong Gondolas near the Taipei Zoo: (I talk about this below).
(f) Eating stinky tofu in Shenkeng: Love the strong stuff? Prefer it baked, not fried? Shenkeng Old Street, reachable by a 30-minute bus ride from south Taipei, has got every single kind of stinky tofu you can imagine. Pair it with a hike in surrounding forest for a truly Taiwanese experience.
(g) Treasure Hill Artist Village: Once a crumbling veteran’s village slated for demolition, Treasure Hill has since become the home of a rotating roster of international artists; each of who contribute to a constant stream of artsy activities and performances in the area. Climb up stairs, down little alleys, and peek into each doorway: each turn seems to reveal something new: giant-fortune cookie seats, a random slide, even a little ice cream shop.
(h) All You Can Eat Hot Pot: Yesssss. There is not more I can really say about this; except that I totally can. You pay a set amount (it ranges from 400NT-600NT depending on the place)–and you get to order unlimited platters of thinly sliced meat to go along with the platefuls of veggies, tofu and noodles you can pick out by yourself. If you can handle the spice, go for the famous mala hot pot: it will numb your tastebuds. Go crazy at the sauce station; and don’t forget the unlimited ice cream afterwards. There’s one in Gongguan that even has unlimited beer.
Best places to go/things to do for a family trip?
First, you can refer to all the things in the question above. Except you can ignore the part about unlimited beer at all-you-can-eat hotpot. Or…not. But I’m not taking responsibility for that.
If you have small children visiting, I’d definitely recommend the Taipei Zoo, which has a surprisingly large variety of exhibits and is so, so cheap. Another popular thing, right by the zoo–the Maokong Gondolas. I love that it’s actually part of Taipei’s public transportation system; which means that you’re getting a 40-min long gondola ride up and down the mountain for a fee only slightly above that of an MRT ride. Once you’re up the mountain, you can have afternoon tea at a teahouse and enjoy sweeping views of the city.
If the children are a bit older, I’d definitely recommend a visit to Huashan 1914 Cultural & Creative Park as well as Songshan Cultural Park. Both used to be old factories that have now been transformed into multi-purpose areas that house a series of rotating exhibits, cafes, restaurants, art + design shops and theatres.
Take the family to Huashan to have coffee in the beautiful VVG Thinking cafe & bookstore, and then check out some of the current exhibits (there was an amazing National Geographic anniversary exhibit when I last visited). At Songshan, you can wander around the nooks & crannies of the sprawling property: all lush vegetation and huge concrete rooms. Shop for souvenirs at the 4-floor Eslite Spectrum; have some afternoon tea at the row of Taiwanese tea shops nestled inside the department store (seriously!).
This post is already enormous, so I’m going to add one more destination, which I’ve already blogged on: Yingge, Taiwan’s Pottery Town.
There are tons of other options, but these are my personal favorites: they’re convenient, cheap, and most of all–they’re all so Taipei. These beautiful places are what make me proud to call this city my home.