TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Taipei is one of Asia’s great cities and can trace its history back more than 300 years. It has so many things to see and do, but visitors to Taipei always seem to wind up visiting the same handful of sites.
This is because, for non-Mandarin speakers, most of the tourist resources are limited to these few sites. Guidebooks, brochures, and travel websites all carry information about Taipei 101, the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, and the National Palace Museum.
But Taipei has so much more to offer than the usual attractions. So where should you go if you want to get off the beaten track and experience a different side of Taipei? This is why I have compiled my Top 10 alternative places to for tourists to visit in Taipei. It could easily have been a Top 100, so to narrow it down, I have picked places that I have enjoyed visiting with my family.
1. Dihua Street (迪化街)– Dadaocheng (大稻埕)
Dihua Street is the oldest street in Taipei probably will not be classed as an alternative destination for long and this historic former center of Taiwan’s trading past is rapidly moving into the 21st century. At the moment though, it offers a unique fusion of the old and the modern, as traditional shops sit side by side trendy art studios and independent cafes.
There is much to explore and it is a great place to spend perusing traditional medicines, hand-carved kitchen equipment and dried goods. Dihua Street is also home to some of Taipei’s oldest and most beautiful architecture, even if some is looking a little tired these days. Do not miss the fantastic fabric market too.
The easiest way to find Dihua Street is to get the MRT to Beimen (北門)and then walk up Tacheng Street(塔城街).
2. Lin Liu-hsin Puppet Theatre Museum (林柳新紀念偶戲博物館) – Dadaocheng (大稻埕)
Taiwan Puppets Museum.
Puppetry is important performing art in Taiwan and across Asia and the Lin Liu- Puppet Theatre Museum, situated just off Dihua Street on Xining North Road ( 西寧北路), gives a fascinating insight. It houses a beautiful collection of puppetry artifacts gathered from around Taiwan and beyond.
There is good English-language signage throughout and the museum also hosts regular live performances, usually on a Saturday. After each performance, the audience has the chance to see the puppets and the puppeteers up close, which is great fun for adults and children alike.
Entrance costs NT$120 for adults and NT$80 for children, but tickets for performances cost extra.
3. Lin Antai Old Homestead - Zhongshan District (林安泰古厝)
Lin Antai Old Homestead.
Lin Antai’s Old Homestead is the most intact example of historical architecture in Taipei. This spectacular house was constructed in 1783 and originally stood on Sihwei Road. Public outcry saved the building from demolition in the 1970’s and it was moved to its current location instead.
Whilst the current setting, in the shadow of an Expressway, is not ideal, it does not detract from the beautiful architecture. There are some exquisite details to admire and more than 30 rooms to explore and visitors can learn a great deal about how wealthy Taipeiers would have lived 200 years ago. It is located within walking distance of Yuanshan (圓山) MRT Station, close to the Taipei Expo Park.
4. Bopiliao Historical Block (剝皮寮歷史街區) and Wanhua District (萬華區)
Bopiliao Historial Block.
Most tourists will hop off the MRT to visit Longshan Temple (龍山寺) and then get straight back on again, but it is well worth taking the time to explore the surrounding area. Xiyuan road (西園路), immediately outside the temple is home to fascinating collection of shops selling Buddhist and Taoist praying implements. There are at least twenty shops all of which offer a fascinating insight into Taiwan’s religious culture and shopkeepers are often happy to chat.
Bopiliao Historical Block, which is just two blocks away from the temple along Guangzhou street (廣州街). Like Dihua Street, this group of shops can trace its history back around 200 years, but these have all been sympathetically renovated and today play host to traditional shops and an education center.
Between Bopiliao and the Temple is Xichang street, where visitors can see and buy all sorts of fresh and dried Chinese traditional herbs. Longshan Temple is impressive, but Wanhua District has much more to offer too.
5. Taipei Botanical Gardens – (台北植物園) - Zhongzheng District
Taipei Botanical Gardens. (Wikimedia Commons image)
The Botanical Gardens in Taipei are often listed in guidebooks, but usually as little more than a footnote. It deserves more though as it is a fascinating oasis in the heart of the city. Visitors can enjoy displays of indigenous plants and trees laid out around spectacular lotus ponds and various species of native birds, insects, and animals can also be spotted.
The Gardens are also an important archaeological site being the location of one of the earliest sites of human habitation in the Taiwan Basin. And if that’s not enough, there are also two fascinating buildings to explore, the Herbarium and Museum of Imperial Envoy Lodging.
It is all free to enter and explore and there is plenty to excite kids and adults alike, as well as lots of photo opportunities. There are several entrances, but the closest to the MRT is a short walk down Bo'ai Road (博愛路) from Xiaonanmen (小南門)Station.
6. Treasure Hill Taipei Artists Village (寶藏巖台北國際藝術村) –Zhongzheng District
There is no shortage of artist hubs in Taipei right now, with Huashan 1914 Creative Park and Songshan Cultural Creative Park being examples in the center which attract many tourists. But to the south of the city center lies my favorite, the Treasure Hill Taipei Artists Village.
Treasure Hill is a former squatter community now turned into an artist community. On first glance, it seems like just a clutter of old houses on a hillside, but within the community are any number of hidden gems. Artists from around the world take up residence here and displays are always varied and rarely unimpressive.
Treasure Hill located just behind Gongguan MRT station and is surrounded by the stunning Yongfu Park, which is also well worth walking round.
7. Mingshen Community (民生社區) – Songshan District (松山區)
Mingshen Community. (Wikimedia Commons image)
For me, Mingshen Community perfectly represents Taipei in microcosm. It is located to the south of Songshan Airport, a short walk from Nanjing Sanmin (南京三民)MRT station. The village itself was the first American model community in Taiwan and is a little slice of peaceful suburbia. The area is mostly comprised of old apartment blocks situated along tree-lined streets, with a smattering of small parks, of which Mingshen Park (民生公園) is the biggest
This old area has been rapidly gentrifying in recent years as young Taipei residents move in. Today, it is home to a great selection of trendy shops as well as being the heart of Taipei’s café culture. It is a place where young local people hang out, so it’s a great place to wander round, explore the shops, and sit down for a coffee and some people watching. I definitely recommend exploring yourself, but two places worth looking out for, close to Mingshen Park, are the All Day Roasting Company and the famous Sunnyhills Pineapple cake shop (微熱山丘), where you can enjoy a free sample!
8. The Grand Hotel (劍潭里) Escape Slide – Zhongshan District
The Grand Hotel.
Most tourists will catch a glimpse of Taipei’s spectacular Grand Hotel during their visit, even if it is just from the top of Taipei 101. A few may be lucky enough to stay in the city's most iconic hotel. But even they may not have the pleasure of exploring the Hotel’s escape tunnels.
It was long rumored that Chiang Kai-shek had installed escape tunnels into the hotel, but not until 1995 that they were discovered. And if that is not exciting enough, it turns out one of them has a slide! Tours of these tunnels can sometimes be arranged with the hotel, but you will need to be in a group.
This fascinating slice of Taipei’s history is located close to Jiantan MRT (劍潭)station.
The Miniatures Museum of Taipei features fantastically detailed miniature models of a wide variety of global destinations and popular scenes from history and fairy tales. These have been painstakingly handmade by skilled craftsmen and are just a joy to look at. The museum is well laid out with low benches next to exhibits to ensure children can see everything up close. Adults love the detail and skill on display while children are entranced by the familiar scenes and intricate, colorful displays.
A fascinating place for adults and kids alike, the Miniatures Museum of Taipei is the only museum of its kind in Asia. It can be found in the basement of 台証金融大樓 and entrance fees are just NT$180 for adults and NT$100 for children.
10. Themed Restaurants – throughout the city
Modern Toilet Restaurant.
For residents of Taipei, themed restaurants are becoming a bit of cliché, but overseas visitors still love them. But it is amazing how many come to Taipei and do not manage to visit one. It’s a shame because they are missing out on a fun experience which Taipei does better than anywhere else.
Modern Toilet is perhaps the best known, but there are plenty more to choose from including Oia Café (with live alpacas wandering round), Brick Works (with a Lego theme), Alice is Coming (Alice in Wonderland), and Rilakkuma Café (Japanese cartoon bear). This is by no means a complete list, so do some research or better yet, ask a local for their recommendation.
No doubt locals will have their own ideas for sites and experiences that I have missed. Why not tweet us @TaipeiNews886 with your recommendations? If there are enough good ones, we might even run a follow-up article.