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Trip Ideas

An Insider’s Guide to Taipei’s New and Old Allure

Taipei is a city that grows on you. It’s not the most visually appealing—buildings are made from bathroom tiles to “withstand typhoons”—but it has a magnetic pull on travelers. For many, it’s the convenience of big-city life, including a world-class art scene and fine dining options, mixed with a laid-back mentality and small-town feel. While there are certain sights to cross off on your itinerary, such as the Taipei 101 and National Palace Museum, it doesn’t hurt to have an insider’s perspective for those seeking more offbeat things to do in Taipei.

Get in Touch with Nature

Taipei is a basin surrounded by lush mountains. Follow the hiking trail at the bottom of Xiangshan, or Elephant Mountain, a popular spot for hikers because of its close-up views of the towering Taipei 101 skyscraper.

For a more challenging trek, the nearby Fuzhoushan (next to the Linguang MRT station) is worth the effort. From Fuzhoushan the view of Taipei 101 is equally stunning, and springtime is particularly picturesque with cherry blossoms in bloom.

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Channel Your Inner Artist

Head to art projects space, Pon Ding, to peruse zines. The recently renovated three-story space features works by local and international artists that are conceptual and pop artinfluenced. Nearby is the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, which hosts the Taipei Biennial. The museum’s facade resembles a cluster of white cubes, which themselves resemble the Chinese character for a drinking well. The interior is equally peaceful, with mazelike halls to wander.

For a more bizarre art experience, visit Treasure Hill Artist Village. The labyrinth of ramshackle structures on a hill near National Taiwan University was originally a residential district for soldiers who retreated with the Chinese Nationalist government in 1949 after the Chinese Civil War.

Today the hill is scattered with artist studios open for public viewing, and some outdoor installations, such as giant fortune cookies, might have viewers scratching their heads. Nevertheless, the rooftops of these artist studios, which are easily accessible through outdoor staircases, are ideal romantic settings from which to watch the sunset over the Xindian River.

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Photos courtesy of Taipei Fine Arts Museum

Taste New Taiwanese Cuisine

Dadaocheng in western Taipei was a thriving port for international trade during the late Qing Dynasty. Many red-brick buildings that blend Baroque and Japanese design from Japan’s occupation of Taiwan (1895 – 1945) give the neighborhood a preserved-in-time feel.

Arrive early to see proprietors prepare for the day. Follow the scent of honey-roasted oolong tea and the clapping sounds of pastry molds to enjoy a sweet snack. Shops such as Wang’s Tea House and Lee’s Cake are century-old businesses. Hoshing 1947 puts a modern twist on traditional desserts, such as seaweed puff pastries, that are less sugary and appeal to today’s more health-conscious foodies.

For something hearty and home cooked, noodle restaurant Ja Ho is on point. Diners sit on charming wooden stools with lighting provided by rattan lamps while eating contemporary takes on noodle dishes served at Taipei’s ubiquitous family noodle eateries.

Order the dry noodles with spicy sauce accompanied by side dishes such as cold cucumber and dried tofu. A refreshing and healthy winter-melon juice is the perfect beverage to wash it down.

Those in the mood for fine dining can try the newly opened Tairroir. Chef Kai Ho fuses local ingredients with French cooking methods at this sleek and urbane venue. Seating is limited, so be sure to book in advance. Order the taro cake mixed with egg — a luscious concoction.

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Top three photos courtesy of Hoshing 1947

Sip on Lychee Beer and Rice Wine Cocktails

Taipei has a well-deserved reputation as a home to excellent craft breweries, including 55th Street, 23 Brewing and Taiwan Head Brewers. These breweries specialize in sourcing local ingredients such as lychee and green tea, which are brewed into North Americanstyle ales and porters.

Pubs such as Chuoyinshi (the Tasting Room), Zhang Men or Crafted Beer & Co offer these brews. For a quirkier drinking experience, catch Leben Hsieh, or the “Beer Cargo” guy, who sells craft beer from a tricycle on the streets of the colorful Ximending area.

Wander to R&D Cocktail Lab on a quiet street near the buzz of the nightclubs that encircle Taipei 101. An ethanol molecule painted on a gray wall along Jiaxing Street points the way to the nondescript bar with its 1930s Shanghai-esque interior, where pagodas and medicinal cabinets abound.

Ask the bartender to make you a cocktail on spec. Herbs and fruits prepped sous vide and the extraordinary mixing technique give the cocktails their complex flavors. For a perfect drink to end a Taipei visit, try the Rice Wine Sangria that combines Taiwanese rice wine, Asian pear and hibiscus.

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Read the original story: Artisans and Crafts: An Insider’s Guide to Taipei’s New and Old Allure by Dana Ter, who is a regular contributor to Marriott Traveler