Running out of leave days and have just one weekend to spend in Taipei? You can cover a lot in Taiwan’s bustling capital in just 48 hours. Taiwan is one of my all time favourite countries and I’ve visited several times, always stopping over in Taipei at some point during my trip.
If you have never been to Taiwan in your life, change that soon because it’s an amazing country. There are a ton of things you can do in Taipei and this is not an exhaustive list, but this is what I would recommend for a first time traveller to Taipei. This is quite a packed schedule so pick and choose accordingly, but it definitely covers stuff that I consider must-see and must-do in Taipei. Feel free to leave your own recommendations in the comments.
- Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall – history
- Yong Kang Street– local food
- Xi Men Ding – shopping
- Bei Tou Hot Springs – local traditions
- Dan Shui / Fisherman’s Wharf – local food and scenery
- Shi Lin Night Market – local culture
- Xiang Shan – viewpoint
- Taipei 101 – viewpoint + shopping
- Formosa Chang Lu Rou Fan – local food
- National Dr Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall – history
- Song Shan Cultural & Creative Park – local design
- Wu Fen Pu – shopping
- Ci You Temple – local culture
- Rao He Night Market – local culture
- Rainbow Bridge – architecture
Start with some history
If you don’t know anything about Taiwan other than the fact that you have a plane ticket there, it might help to start out doing some of the historical stuff to get a little bit of context. Start with the iconic Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall dedicated to the Kuomintang leader of Taiwan in the 50’s and 60’s. This is Taipei’s landmark historical attraction where you get history amidst lovely Chinese architecture gardens. Tick this off your Taiwan list of must-dos – I have been to Taipei numerous times but have never made it here, but it’s top of my list for future visits.
Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall
Opening Hours: 9am – 6pm everyday – the gardens are open from 5am – 12 midnight
Getting There: Take the MRT Danshui-Xinyi Red line to CKS Memorial Hall Station – details here
Eat some awesome Taiwanese Food
From CKS Memorial Hall, I suggest grabbing lunch at nearby Yongkang Street, a very popular foodie destination. I’ve heard good things about the Yong Kang beef noodles, but this is also where the original Din Tai Fung restaurant on Xin Yi Street. this Chinese restaurant has branched out worldwide and is one of my favourite places to eat, even here in Singapore. I personally don’t think there’s a big difference between branches as quality is pretty consistent – there are 6 Din Tai Fung outlets in Taipei City alone – but if you want to visit the original Din Tai Fung store, this is the time to do it.
Expect Din Tai Fung to be packed with people – grab a menu and place your orders to get a table number and just wait around as tables do move quite quickly. The soup dumplings or Xiao Long Baos are a must-try if you haven’t already had them, but my favourites include the fried rice with pork chop, chicken noodle soup and the fried prawn pancake.
Din Tai Fung – Xin Yi Street (Original Outlet)
Opening Hours: 10am – 9pm everyday (starts at 9am on weekends and holidays)
Getting There: Take the MRT Dan Shui – Xin Yi Red line to Dong Men Station Exit 5 – other outlets here
Do a little shopping
Walk off your lunch at one of Taipei’s more famous shopping districts. Xi Men Ding in Wan Hua district is not far away and has lots of shopping malls and little lanes to walk around in. The shopping here is more skewed towards the younger hipper crowd and while you could get cheaper stuff if you went to wholesale districts like Wu Fen Pu, this is a more convenient option if you are short on time.
If you can still eat, my friends usually make a pilgrimage to the famous Ah Zhong Mian Xian (Ay Chung Rice Noodles) – a bowl of vermicelli in a thick gravy with oysters.
You are also right next door to The Red House – it’s an interesting building right opposite the subway station exit that’s hard to miss. This very western-style or architecture (though the building is in the shape of a traditional Chinese Ba Gua/Octagon) was the first public market and one of the most well preserved historical buildings in the city. I found a nice local design and art market when I was there and bought myself a tunic from a local designer.
Xi Men Ding
Getting There: Take the MRT Ban Nan Blue Line or Song Shan – Xin Dian Green Line to Xi Men Station
Go for a hot dip
To really relax after a hectic day, I suggest then taking the MRT up towards Xin Bei Tou where you can go for a nice relaxing hot spring bath in the late afternoon. Hot springs are one of my favourite things about Taiwan and I always make sure to indulge, no matter how hot the weather is.
Budget travellers can consider the public bath Millennium Hot Springs for a cheap and simple experience soaking in hot spring water, or you can opt for something more private in any of the surrounding hotels if you prefer. You only need about an hour maximum for the hot springs as you don’t want to soak for too long anyway. Check the timings in case there are cleaning times where you can’t use the pool. I also suggest popping into the Beitou Hot Springs Museum for a quick look around and to learn a bit about hot spring culture, or taking a short walk down the river to the thermal valley, also known as the Geothermal Hell Valley where you can see the boiling hot springs (way too hot to bathe) and the steam roll across the water surface.
I love hot springs, especially those in Taiwan. Check out my post on hot springs around Taiwan
Opening Hours: Hot Springs – 5am – 10pm (temporarily closed for half hour every 2 hours for cleaning) | Museum – 9am – 5pm (closed on Mondays)
Getting There: Take the MRT Danshui-Xinyi Red line to Beitou Station and switch to Xinbeitou. Follow Zhongshan Road and you will first pass the Museum, then the Springs, and finally the Hell Valley at the end of the road.
Enjoy a lovely sunset
Take the train line further up north towards Dan Shui (Tamsui), at the mouth of the Dan Shui river that flows through Taipei. Danshui has some charming old streets by the coast where you can stop to have a meal at, but what most people like to do is take a ferry from Dan Shui further north towards Fisherman’s Wharf along the coast line and watch the sunset from Lover’s Bridge.
Hit the night market
If you still aren’t completely knackered yet, make a stop on the way back at Shi Lin Night Market which is on the MRT line. There are plenty of night market options and everyone has a favourite one, but Shi Lin is is one of the more famous night markets in Taipei and has a ton of street food and cheap shopping options. They have renovated and spruced up the place a few times since I’ve visited way back in 2007, but it’s always slightly nostalgic for me – my favourite street food is of course the Hot Star fried chicken cutlet, but there are plenty of options here.
Shi Lin Night Market
Opening Hours: 5pm – 12 midnight everyday
Getting There: Take the MRT Dan Shui – Xin Yi Red line to Jian Tan Station
Climb an elephant (mountain)
Get a good look at Taipei city from up high – one of the nicer places to get a good view and a little hike in is at Xiang Shan or Elephant Hill. Check out some details on the trail at mytanfeet – you can take a longer trek that goes for over an hour, or just a short 15-minute climb up to the viewpoint. This spot is especially popular during sunset but less crowded in the mornings.
Getting There: Take the MRT Dan Shui – Xin Yi red line to Xiang Shan station
Admire Taipei’s tallest building
Taipei 101 is an iconic building and hard to miss around Taipei because of its immense height. It is connected to a shopping mall, so if you want a place to cool off after your hike to Xiang Shan, this is not a bad option. Head up to the observatory for a panoramic view of Taipei City, and Starbucks fans will also want to check out the world’s highest starbucks located in this building – if you want to sit up there you need to make reservations in advance unless you’re lucky enough that it’s not fully booked on that day.
Taipei 101 Observatory
Opening Hours: 9am – 10pm everyday
Getting There: Take the MRT Dan Shui – Xin Yi Red line to Taipei 101 Station Exit 4
Eat some Lu Rou Fan
One of the simplest and cheapest dishes you can get in Taiwan is Lu Rou Fan, or braised meat rice. It’s really just white rice topped with minced meat and gravy and sounds very basic, but when it is done well it is so tasty and I can eat more than one bowl. Formosa Chang is a pretty well known outlet around the Songshan area that specialises in Lu Rou Fan, though from what the internet is telling me, I need to go check out Jin Feng braised meat rice instead (it’s closed to Chiang Kai Shek so you could do that on Day 1 as well) I definitely enjoyed eating this.
Formosa Chang (Tong Hua Street outlet)
Opening Hours: 9am – 10pm everyday
Getting There: There are several outlets all around Taipei – I went to the one at Yong Ji street close to Wu Fen Pu (Hou Shan Pi station), but the outlet along Tong Hua Street is within walking distance of Taipei 101 and makes more sense in this particular itinerary
Stopover for Sun Yat Sen
Just north of Taipei 101 towards your next destination is the National Dr. Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall which has a rather grand yellow curved roof that reminds me of a gold ingot. The aforementioned Sun Yat Sen was a revolutionary in his day and considered the National Founding Father of Taiwan. There are some pretty large statues of Sun Yat Sen around, and the compound is also home to exhibition and performing art spaces, so you might be able to see some interesting art if you are lucky.
You will see most people enjoying the Chung Shan Park gardens outside the building, a nice green spot for a breather with a good view of Taipei 101 nearby.
National Dr. Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall
Opening Hours: 9am – 10pm everyday
Getting There: Take the MRT Ban Nan blue line to Sun Yat Sen (S.Y.S) Memorial Hall Station
Get cultured in Songshan
The Songshan Cultural and Creative Park was once a Tobacco factory during Japanese rule and has since been converted into a design and culture district. The exterior bit also includes a lot of greenery so you can go for a wander, but the compound itself consists of various arts and design related studios and exhibition spaces.
When I was there, many design colleges were having their final year projects exhibited which was pretty cool to browse alongside a ton of students. I also checked out the Taiwan Design Museum which also houses the Red Dot Design Area and saw some excellent examples of contemporary Taiwanese design.
Design and book lovers should also take this opportunity to check out Taiwan’s famous 24-hour bookstore Eslite – the Eslite Spectrum Song Yan outlet is located here alongside the Eslite Hotel.
Songshan Cultural & Creative Park
Opening Hours: various timings, but the info counter operates 9am – 6pm everyday
Getting There: Take the MRT Ban Nan blue line to Sun Yat Sen (S.Y.S) Memorial Hall Station and walk north
Wholesale at Wu Fen Pu
Want some really cheap shopping? If you haven’t had enough of shopping at Xi Men Ding the day before, take a trip to the famous wholesale area Wu Fen Pu where you should be able to find the cheapest prices for anything you want to buy. Avoid Mondays because that’s when stocks come in, the shops are super busy and are more concerned with wholesale orders than selling you a piece or two.
Wufenpu wholesale market
Opening Hours: 11am – 12 midnight (till 9pm on weekends)
Getting There: Take the MRT Bannan blue line to Hou Shan Pi Station
Witness local traditions
There are many beautiful temples to check out in Taipei – the Song Shan Ci You Temple dedicated to the sea goddess Mazu has really beautiful and colourful detailing that is worth checking out. You can enter this temple that was first built in 1753 and climb the stairs to the top where you can get a better look at the roof. I’m not a religious person but I did enjoy just looking around this quite large temple and watching the people do their prayer rituals.
Song Shan Ci You Temple
Opening Hours: 5am – 10.30pm
Getting There: Take the MRT Song Shan – Xin Dian Green line to Song Shan Station
More Night Market madness
The Ci You temple is located right next to another famous Taipei night market – the Rao He Night Market where you can spend another night gorging on more Taiwanese street food. The famous thing to eat here is the Hu Jiao Bing or Black Pepper Buns, which is a bun stuffed with minced meat in a black pepper sauce – be prepared to queue a little. I liked the feeling of this night market better, maybe because it’s more traditional with stalls lining a street, whereas the Shi Lin food section has been into a more sanitized hawker centre like area.
At the end, a rainbow (bridge)
And the last thing you need to do as you digest all the food from the night market is to pop behind it and walk along the Keelung River until you get to the 167m long Rainbow Bridge. It looks like a simple arc from a distance, but the bridge itself has an undulating wavy shape. The Rainbow Bridge connects Song Shan to the Nei Hu district across the river and is well lit up at night, a very pretty way for you to end a busy day and weekend in Taipei.
WHERE TO STAY
I stayed at First Hostel in the Da An district close to the National Taiwan University. It’s not the most central district as compared to somewhere like Xi Men or Song Shan where most of this guide is focused on, but I wanted to try something a little different. Da An is a less touristy district and doesn’t see as many foreigners, but the university crowd makes this area a bit more alternative and trendy. I enjoyed Shida Night Market which was really close by, and I could walk to the Song Shan – Xin Dian Green Line (Taipower Building) station quite easily as well.
The hostel was clean and neat and quite modern but cosy. A big plus point here was definitely the FREE LAUNDRY. I’d recommend it if you don’t mind being a little bit out of the way (i.e. not walking distance to major attractions). If convenience is key, I would suggest finding something near the Taipei Main railway station area, or if you want a bit more life within walking distance, Xi Men or Song Shan
If you have a bit more time for a day trip, here are some nearby spots that you can check out:
- Yangmingshan is good for a hike and some scenery
- Jiufen in the Ruifang district is another popular destination to visit for food and tea
- Take the Pingxi line towards Houtong (cat village), Sandiaoling (for waterfalls and hiking), Shifen (paper lanterns and big waterfall) or Jingtong (old coal village, fireflies if the season is right)
- Go north towards Jinshan – I really liked the Ju Ming Museum (one of Taiwan’s most esteemed sculptors) and you can check out the rocks of Ye Liu as well
Or else head on down towards
- Yilan – Luodong is a good base for exploring this region, and you can also check out the rare Su Ao Cold Springs
- Hualien – Head towards the amazing Taroko Gorge
- Taitung – The rural east coast has stunning views. In particular I love the offshore islands Lanyu and Lyudao