There are infinite numbers of ways to spend 3 days in Taipei. Sure, 3 days is hardly enough time to spend anywhere, but in a city that seems to have as many eateries as it does people, there are far too many options and all of them good. The best way to experience Taipei is to discover it for yourself. Go toward whatever looks cool. Eat at wherever is the most crowded. When in doubt, get in line. Even if you don’t know what you’re waiting for, it most likely won’t disappoint! But for a traveler visiting this foodie haven for the first time, here are some guidelines (along with many options — think of it as a “choose your own adventure” type piece) to get you started.
To begin with, let’s talk about where to stay. If you only have 3 days in this very big city (it sprawls…much like Los Angeles), it’s best to stay near the action and the MRT stations. Don’t even consider options that aren’t within a 5 minute walk to the nearest MRT station. The absolute best options would be by Taipei Main Station or Zhongxiao Fuxing Station. Runners up include DaAn and Zhongxiao Xinsheng, though anything within 2-3 stations of these would just mean 10 more minutes of commute time. Definitely recommend staying relatively central on the red or blue lines.
Start your day early (especially during the summers to beat the heat), and wake up with the oldest district of the city.
Head over to Longshan Temple (MRT: Longshan Temple line 5, take exit 1 and walk straight through the park). The 18th century Buddhist temple is among the most famous in Taiwan and attracts visitors from around the world. But early in the mornings, the temple is a place for local worshippers.
Enter the temple from the door on the right. It is customary to step in with your left foot first, and to step over (rather than on) the shallow ledge. Take 3 incense sticks and light them using the flames on the side. Begin at the front, behind the offering table, and make your way in through the temple in a counter-clockwise fashion. The 3 incense sticks go in the main 3 censers at the front, middle, and back of the temple.
Photography is allowed, given it is a popular tourist destination. But as in any place of worship, be respectful (don’t take pictures of the altars or the worshippers!), especially when it is crowded during prayer days. Exit the temple through the left door (the one you didn’t enter through, which should be on the right side if you are walking out), and step out using your right foot.
Spend a little time walking around the surrounding neighborhood. Stroll around 剝皮寮歷史街區 Bopiliao Historical Block for a glimpse of life centuries ago with preserved architecture dating back to 1799. Cool off with some 青草茶 (a slightly bitter herbal tea) at a stand nearby and feel the city pick up pace as the morning continues.
By this time, you should have worked up quite an appetite. Which is good, because in Taiwan, once the eating begins, it doesn’t end.
So go back down and take the MRT towards Taipei Main Station, and then transfer to the red line and go to Dong Men. It’s time to go the foodie enclave that is loved by tourists and locals alike: Yong Kang Street. Every city has that one street that is especially known for having the best food. While that title is hotly contested in this city of food, this street has probably ranked reliably high through the years.
Now here is when you can start to “choose your own adventure,” depending on how you’re feeling and what experience you’re looking for.
To enjoy comfort carbs in a nice, air-conditioned restaurant retreat, go to Din Tai Fung or Kao Chi. This is the OG DTF. As in it was a family-owned hole-in-wall-type place serving out the same 18 fold dumplings before it became the Michelin star-wielding international phenomenon it is now. Of course, the original location has expanded and renovated to give the same 5 star experience as the many other locations around the world. But if you are not blessed to live in a city that has this, or if you truly love your juicy XLB’s (小籠包 aka xiao long bao aka soup dumplings), think of this as a pilgrimage for your taste buds. Pricey, for Taiwan standards. But a steal compared to US prices for the same stuff.
Right around the corner, Kao Chi is a Shanghai-ese restaurant franchise that has always been outshined by DTF. While DTF is very much a noodle and dumplings store true to its origins, Kao Chi is more of a traditional Chinese restaurant with a big menu of dishes to share in addition to little “dian xin” snacks. But if you could only order one thing, get the 生煎包 shengjianbao. Don't expect the steamed juicy soup dumplings, this is an entirely different experience. The doughy pork baos are cooked inside mini iron(?) pans so that they are crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The dough is more “bread-y” than “noodle-y” and are bigger than soup dumplings but equally addicting.
And there you go. TWO of Taiwan’s most prized food legacies. Within a stone’s throw from each other.
But maybe that’s not your thing. Maybe you’re looking for a more gritty, more “authentic” experience that doesn’t involve dodging tour groups to get a table. Just walk on over to the Dong Men Market. Traditional open markets are a very “local” experience for a reason. They aren’t the most comfortable or accessible places to be. Also, they are not very tourist friendly. Menus are written in Chinese either on a tear-off check-list type menu or just plastered on the walls. Orders are shouted out by hungry patrons huddled around tiny tables on the street to vendors who memorize them as they come. It’s a hectic and sweaty ordeal no doubt, but they always have the best hole-in-wall eats.
In this particular market, there is a corner shop known for 米粉湯 mifentang (ask anyone in the market and they’ll point it out). Even when it is offensively hot outside, this is like next-level comfort food. Vermicelli cooked in savory broth, best enjoyed with the dozens of 小菜 (literally "small dishes") options, usually boiled, chopped and then served with garlicky soy sauce. A full meal with samplings of a variety of dishes, all for less than the price of one round of XLB’s at DTF.
If you’re hesitant to venture into the labyrinth of the market, go to the corner hole-in-wall on Yong Kang Street 天津蔥抓餅 that sells scallion pancake (get it with an egg, and slather on the spicy garlic sauce) - a popular street food enjoyed from breakfast to midnight snacks. It’s worth the wait, and the perfect snack to have in hand as you stroll down the street.
No matter which option you chose, you’re probably pretty full right now. Which is a shame. So take a leisurely walk through the neighborhood. Check out the souvenir shops - a lot of the shops offer hand-crafted goods by local artists.
And then, when you’re ready, it’s time to eat again. Beef noodle soup. The pride and joy of Taiwanese cuisine. The source of controversy and rivalries, the inspiration for contests and awards. Again, you must choose your own adventure:
Yong Kang Beef Noodle soup has crowds that never let up. I’ve even seen tourists pile in with suitcases in tow — not sure if they made this their first stop before even dropping off their bags, or if they had to squeeze it in before heading to the airport. Either way, this is not just a restaurant. It’s a destination. The humble and packed two story restaurant is constantly buzzing with activity. Their beef noodle soup comes in a dark braised soup base or a light/clear broth, and you can choose if you want meat or tendon or a mixture of both. You can’t go wrong with either. Be sure to order side dishes to share. And don’t forget to add in the picked vegetable, especially if you opt for the dark broth.
For a more off-the-beaten-path option, try Liao Jia beef noodle. It’s a bit of a walk, and not close to anything, really. It’s super tiny, and revered by locals. They definitely do not have an English menu. In fact, their menu is pretty concise, and their side dishes vary every day. They serve braised beef in light broth and it is absolutely heavenly.
Now that you’re so full you can’t breathe, you can walk it off with some revitalized culture and trendy shopping. Depending on where you are staying, choose your adventure. Both are essentially the same experience. But after a long first day, you probably won’t regret being that much closer to bed.
Take the MRT 1 station on the orange line to ZhongXiao Xingshen and follow signs to Huashan Creative Park. This former alcohol factory has been repurposed as a trendy “creative park” full of exhibitions, galleries and concept stores showcasing local art. They also often hold live events, screenings, and concerts. This place is worth a visit to peek into the free galleries, but popular exhibitions draw big crowds so it does get congested, especially during the weekends.
Then, either walk or take the MRT one station down to Zhongxiao Fuxing and explore the “east district,” home to a vibrant shopping and dining scene. At the center of it all is two large department stores, both SOGO (a Japanese franchise), right across the street from each other. The green one is newer and features big international brands like Hermes and Chanel, while the white one has been around for quite a while and has more Japanese brands. Both have popular restaurants (top floor) and food courts (basement). There’s also a Breeze Center bougie department store a short walk up FuXing Rd, a third SOGO tucked behind Dunhua Rd, and a giant UNIQLO in Mingyao Dept store by Zhongxiao Dunhua. If the heat isn’t anger-inducing, there are also so many stores on the street, and starting at dusk, street vendors selling cheap clothes and knick knacks will come out as well.
For dinner, continue walking along Zhongxiao East Rd toward Sun Yet Sen Memorial Park and duck off the main street into the alleys. This is where all the best restaurants are. Go wherever your nose takes you. Or just go wherever is most crowded. Here are some options depending on how much you want to spend:
- $: 溫州大餛飩 WenZhou giant wontons: a steaming bowl of wonton noodle soup, best enjoyed with the spicy “tiger” sauce (highly addicting, but you can buy a jar to take home!), a franchise that goes for the hole-in-wall ambience.
- $$: 麻膳堂 MAZENDO: noodles, dumplings (pan fried and steamed), fried rice. Anything that is “mala” (aka numbing from Sichuan peppercorns and spicy from dried chili and chili oil) is a good punch of flavor.
- $$$: Kiki is a celebrity-owned franchise that specializes in different cuisines. There is a Thai and a Sichuan restaurant on the same street. This is a more traditional sit-down style restaurant where it’s best to go with at least a couple other people and order a bunch of dishes.
For dessert, venture into Lane 216 and find the bright white sign for 東區粉圓 Donqu Fenyuan for more traditional-style shaved ice that comes with toppings of your choice and sweet brown sugar syrup. Or, go back to Zhongxiao East Road and line up for a heaping bowl of fresh mango shaved ice (or the boba milk tea shaved ice!) to share at Ice Monster. If sweet isn’t your thing, curate your own bowl of oden from a tiny shop 住吉日式關東煮 (open till midnight!) for a late night snack.
Take the MRT to Zhongxiao Xinsheng and then transfer to the blue line down to Taipei City Hall. Use exit 1 and walk west, cross Keelung Street and walk for a couple minutes until you see a lot of government buildings, and then turn right into the alley. You’ll see a small lake off to the left, follow the path to Songshan Cultural Park. There are cafés and exhibition rooms in the buildings of what used to be a tobacco factory. The tall modern building is the Eslite hotel. Eslite is a bookstore franchise that has locations all over Taiwan, including a particularly big one down the street. This one has a floor dedicated to the arts, with local artists displaying and selling artwork as well as a lot of DIY opportunities, from DIY wood carving to DIY leather crafts.
Of course in Taiwan, even bookstores have food courts. Make sure to go down to the food court and check out Wu Pao Chun Bakery, a pride and joy of Taiwan as the founder received international recognition for the bread he made using local Taiwanese ingredients. The most famous breads are the Taiwan Longan with Red Wine Bread and the Taiwan Litchi Rose Champion Bread.
Then, head back toward City Hall to the department stores. There’s a dozen department stores within a couple blocks, all with essentially the same stuff, but somehow all still in business, and still opening more and more. You can actually walk from the bus station/MRT station all the way to Taipei 101 without getting rained on through tunnels and bridges. If you need a break from shopping, take a tea break at 春水堂 Chun Shui Tang (located in the B1 level of Shin Kong Mitsukoshi A9). Order a boba milk tea and some traditional teahouse snacks. The Taichung teahouse franchise is widely accepted as the first one to put boba in iced tea, thus the inventors of boba milk tea.
But don’t eat too much, because there are so many restaurants and eateries. For a quick option, try MARUKAME UDON in the food court at SKM A8. Pick a bowl of udon and then grab a plate full of a la carte tempura. Or for a more restaurant-y feel, try 三田製麵所 for Tsukemen (though in my opinion, it doesn’t measure up to Tsujita despite the hype), or 靜岡勝政日式豬排 for pork katsu sets that come with unlimited miso soup, rice and cabbage. Or for a lighter meal, try grabbing a combo plate of cold or hot foods (almost like Lemonade, pre-made and displayed in a glass buffet) at MUJI’s adjacent cafe. All of these are located in the basement of Uni-UStyle conveniently connected to the MRT station and bus station. If you like winding down with fancy cocktails and a view, try Woobar or Yen Bar in the adjacent W Hotel.
Pick your own itinerary, if you are more of a history, art and museums person, go with option 1. Otherwise, for food and gondolas, go with option 2.
Start your day on the red line, heading north to Yuanshan and take a free shuttle up to the Taipei Grand Hotel. The hotel in itself is a destination, with the traditional red architecture standing stark against the dark green mountain overlooking the city. Get breakfast at their buffet-style Grand Garden Restaurant. For 600 NT (about $18), this is not the typical continental type breakfast. Just because it’s breakfast doesn’t mean it’s only breakfast food. After all, in Taiwan it is socially acceptable to eat basically anything for breakfast. They offer eastern and western cuisine inspired dishes, including the traditional rice porridge with savory condiments. Note that breakfast is served from 6a to 10a, so come early.
After breakfast, explore the historic hotel and take in the beautiful view before taking the shuttle back to Yuanshan MRT station. But don’t leave quite yet! Cross the street and go into Taipei Expo Park. Originally created for a Flora Expo back in 2010, the expansive park is now home to several museums and exhibition halls as well as lush gardens. Check out the Taipei Story House, a Victorian style house that is now a historic museum, and the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (GA tickets are only 30NT aka $1 for adults).
For a quick lunch, there is MAJI Square, an outdoor eating area with street food-inspired stands. There are also more options in Restaurant Square. Or head up to Shilin and go to 及品鍋貼水餃專賣店 Ji Pin Dumplings (right around the corner from the library), about a 10 min walk from the MRT station.
After lunch, head over to the National Palace Museum. It’s in the middle of nowhere, really. You can either head to MRT Shilin or DaZhi and transfer to a bus to get there. The museum houses the largest collection of Chinese antiquities and is especially known for two things (which, because Taiwan, is of course food-related). The first is a jade carved into bok choy and the second is a rock that looks like braised pork. If it isn’t rainy, be sure to check out the gardens as well.
Once you’re all museum’ed out, make a beeline for Shilin Night Market. Right outside the Jiantan MRT, the crowds start settling in as the sun sets. Neon lights pollute the dark night sky and greasy smoke fills the air. As it gets later, more and more stands (some of them just a blanket with products laid in the middle of the street) come out. Occasionally, the streets clear, as all of these illegal vendors duck into the alleys to avoid getting fined by police. Be sure to check out the “food court” and grab some Taiwanese favorites such as a giant fried chicken chop bigger than your face, 水煎包 ShuiJianBao, 大腸包小腸 Dachang bao xiaochang (grilled rice-filled sausage cut open like a hot dog bun with a sweet Taiwanese sausage inside), oyster omelettes and more. Honestly, just go wherever there is a line.
Start your day early and head to ShanDao Temple Station. No matter how early you go though, there will probably be a line leading up to the Huashan market. But for good reason, this is home to one of the most popular traditional Taiwanese breakfast places, 阜杭豆漿 Fu Hang Dou Jiang. Fried dough and sesame pockets, soy milk and savory scallion pastries and sweet malt pastries. Just get in line and order some of everything to feast on.
Then, take a long MRT ride down to the end of the brown line and spend the morning soaking in views on the MaoKong gondolas. But make sure to check beforehand, as it may be closed due to harsh weather. Mornings are generally safer, as it’s more likely to rain in the afternoons. Or, visit the nearby Taipei Zoo and say hi to the pandas.
For an indulgent meal, head to Addiction Aquatic Development, a revamped fish market that now serves fresh seafood in a sleek and contemporary environment. There still is a fish market to check out, but most people simply make a beeline for the food. There is a sushi and seafood bar, a charcoal grilled barbecue section, hot pot restaurant, a “cooked food” section, and a large supermarket with plenty of packaged grab-and-go sushi sets. Oh and a juice bar and florist, randomly.
Wind down with a stroll through Mingshen Community, a quiet neighborhood full of parks and little shops. Be sure to stop by 微熱山丘 Sunny Hills, one of the most popular pineapple cake shops. Upon entering, they’ll shuffle you in to a dining area and treat you to a pineapple cake and a cup of Taiwanese oolong tea. After the generous sample, you can decide if you want to buy a box. These treats are so good to share, but there are so preservatives so be sure to enjoy them within 2 weeks. They also have a stand at the Taoyuan Airport if you want to grab a box before you board. Each box is nicely packaged and given in a little tote.
Then, continue on to MRT Songshan Station. If you want to shop for cheap clothes that are sold from wholesale bags on the street, check out WuFenPu, a clothing market popular among the younger generations. The things they hang up front are often under $5 a piece. It’s also interesting seeing the styles showcased. A lot are knock offs of brand name clothing, often with styles that you won’t even find at Forever21 until a couple months later.
Once the sun sets, head to Raohe Night Market. Known for their herbs pork soups, this is a very food-oriented market that extends from the CiYou Temple. Make a dinner out of street foods and shop the stands. It will definitely make up for the seafood splurge meal earlier.
Wake up early (again) and head over to Elephant Mountain (the last station on the red MRT line). Cut through Zhongqiang Park and then follow the path toward the mountain, turn right at the temple and you’ll see the entrance to the Elephant Mountain trail. About 15 minutes up, you’ll reach the Six Boulders area, where everyone camps out with their tripods to capture the perfect postcard-worthy shot of the city. If there is one place where you should take a photo on this trip, it should be here. So snap away! While it is absolutely stunning to be here during sunset, everyone has the same idea. So it’s much more peaceful in the early morning. Mostly locals and old people getting their morning exercise in so you won’t have to compete for a spot on the boulder.
Head back toward Taipei 101 and grab coffee and breakfast at Woolloomooloo. The Australian-inspired café pours a great flat white. Otherwise, for a more traditional pick me up, head straight to CKS Memorial Hall Station, also on the red line. Grab traditional breakfast pastries at 江蘇老宜記燒餅舖, right around the corner from Nanmen Market. Get a sweet black sesame one and a savory scallion one. And a cup of cold soy milk.
Then, walk over to CKS Memorial Hall. This is a large park and historical site dedicated to Chiang Kai Shek. On one side is the majestic blue-roofed hall that houses the giant statue of Chiang Kai Shek and hosts exhibitions below. I’ve seen everything from Salvador Dali to Hello Kitty exhibited there so you never know! If you go at certain times, you can also see the guards change. On the other side of the park is the bright red National Theatre, as well as a nearly identical National Concert Hall facing it. CKS Memorial Hall is a beautiful urban park with manicured gardens and picturesque ponds. You can even feed the koi by buying fish food from the dispensers! Some of my best childhood memories were here. Also, I made the Snapchat Geofilter, so use it!
Given that this is the historic center of the city (XinYi became a thing much more recently) there are so many great food options to choose from. Right across from CKS is a place called 杭州小籠湯包 Hangzhou Soup Dumplings, which has the whole DTF ordeal, but you sit on stools and it’s like a third of the price. They market it as DTF flavors, night market prices. Best to be enjoyed with a group of people though, so that you can try more stuff. Or, go back to 南門市場 Nanmen Market and grab a “lunchbox” of whatever dishes look good. Or, go to 金峰魯肉飯 Jin Feng braised meat for the classic Taiwanese dish of rich braised pork over rice. This place is so tiny, but so worth it.
Next, take the MRT green line over to Beimen Station. There, you’ll find 迪化街 Dihua Street, an “old street” as we call them in Chinese. A street that commercializes the preservation of history and is great for visitors to learn about life in the olden days and shop around in traditional stores. This is a great place to pick up a souvenir.
Then, make your way toward Taipei Main Station. If you’re up for navigating an underground labyrinth, go ahead and check out the underground malls beneath the station. There are 4 main ones, all full of little shops and eateries. I prefer the front station K and Z malls. It’s an excellent place to hide out if it’s pouring outside though! Just for fun, check out the station's 2nd floor food court. It has food courts within the food court. You could do a whole enthographic study of Taiwan just on that floor. But don’t eat there.
Instead, continue across the street toward Shin Kong Mitsukoshi. On Guanqian road next to the Uniqlo, there will be stairs leading up to Coffee Alley. It’s time to experience the modern Taiwanese afternoon tea culture: an extravagant and photogenic full meal that leaves you stuffed yet doesn’t count as the main 3 meals of the day. Get the ice cream with cotton candy and espresso. It’s basically a sundae topped with white spun sugar and served with a shot of espresso. Pour the espresso over the cotton candy and it transforms into a think coffee syrup over the ice cream. It tastes as amazing as it sounds.
And then, here are a couple options on how you can walk off the afternoon tea.
If you want more shopping, check out the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi department store and the neighboring building, as well as the streets beside and behind those buildings. There’s a big UNIQLO, and a big MUJI, and a rather narrow and staircase-filled Daiso. There’s also a store called 光南 Guang Nan that sells everything from CDs to stationary, all for very reasonable prices.
Walk it off in the 2/28 Peace Park, which is dedicated to the victims of the 2/28 Massacre. On the northern end is the National Taiwan Museum. There is a monument in the center, and a memorial hall on the southern end. If you continue down, you’ll see the Presidential Office.
Finally, keep walking west until you get to XiMenDing. This is like the Times Square/Harajuku of Taipei. The pedestrian area is full of student friendly shops, street food, movie theaters, KTV complexes and hair salons. And SO MANY tea drink stores. Basically everything Taiwanese students need. If you have time to kill, get your hair washed (for like $5) or rent a karaoke room (yes these are two very common pastimes in Taiwan). By the way, karaoke places in Taiwan are often all-you-can-eat. It’s a great place for shopping and hanging out with friends. Check out the Red House, a former theater that now has exhibits and a tea house inside. But seriously, go KTV - order a round of Taiwan Beer and sing your heart out. They’re open 24/7.
But if you’re really stubborn about not singing, hop back on the green line from Ximen MRT and head to ZhongShan/ShuangLian. This is another shopping and dining hub with two Shin Kong Mitsukoshi's and a lot of other stores and restaurants around. Finish off the night in what is arguably Taipei's best night market for food: Ningxia Night Market.
One last thing. At some point, or at many points, you should go into a 7-Eleven or FamilyMart and just to appreciate the selection of drinks. Or instant ramen. Or to inhale the herbal scent of tea-braised egg. And marvel at the fact that this mini slice of heaven carries the same name as the dumpy gas station convenience store down the street back home. 7-Elevens are the backbone of Taiwanese society and they redefine the meaning of convenience. If you ever need anything, no matter what time of day or night, no matter if there’s a giant storm outside and everything is closed, you can always count on the convenience stores in Taiwan.
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