6 THINGS TO DO IN JIUFEN

Located northeast of Taipei, Jiufen (九份) is a favorite weekend trip for locals and tourists alike. The historic mountain village grew into a busy town during Japanese colonization, largely due to gold mining. Today, it is a thriving cultural destination that captures the nostalgia of eras past. Built in the mountains, the winding streets are narrow and full of shops catered to visitors and it seems like every turn offers a new breathtaking perspective of the northeastern coastline.

Getting there is easy. Right around the intersection of Zhongxiao Fuxing is bus 1062. There's usually a line of tourists, but there's no need to purchase tickets in advance. Tickets are around 100NT ($3) and the trip takes 1 hour. Alternatively, you could take a train from Taipei Main to Ruifang station and then take a local bus into Jiufen.

Once you're there, it's easy to just follow the flow of people through the historic streets and wander your way through Jiufen. Here are 6 things you won't want to miss:

1 / EXPLORE THE "OLD STREET" 老街

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Like many touristy towns in Taiwan, Jiufen is centered around some historic streets that have shops and eateries that cater to the "brand" of the town. In this case, it's a retro colonial Japanese style. The narrow alleys are full of sights and smells with local artisan crafts and fresh-made specialty foods – both to enjoy right then and there, and packaged gifts to take home.

2 / EAT TARO BALLS AH GAN'S 阿柑姨芋圓

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Jiufen is known for the starchy taro balls that Taiwanese people love eating on shaved ice. There are many shops that offer this, but the "best" according to locals is this one. The purple balls are taro and the orange-yellow ones are yam-based. During the summers, they are served on a bowl of shaved ice with other traditional toppings like mung beans or azuki beans and topped with brown sugar syrup. In the winters, you can get it hot: the same ingredients bathed in warm brown sugar syrup. It may be crowded and rusty-looking, but that all fades away with this view.

3 / TAKE A POSTCARD PIC BY AH MEI TEAHOUSE 阿妹茶酒館

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Japanese tourists flock to Jiufen because of its resemblance to the setting of Spirited Away. The steps leading to Ah Mei Teahouse embody this aesthetic with the rows of red lanterns and traditional wooden Japanese architecture. Inside, they offer tea demonstrations, food (though it's called a teahouse, it's a restaurant too!), and a panoramic view of the mountains and sea. Even if you don't go in, snap a photo along the steps where countless postcard photos have been taken over the years.

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4 / CHECK OUT SHENGPING THEATER 昇平戲院

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This historic landmark was built during the Japanese era (first in 1914, and then rebuilt in 1934) and has essentially been preserved since. It is said to be one of the first movie theaters in Taiwan. Today, it is often used as a set for historical movies.

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5 / VISIT THE GOLD MUSEUM

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The Gold Museum 新北市立黃金博物館 is located in the nearby town of Jinguasi. The museum highlights the history of the mining town and serves as a cultural hub promoting local metal crafts. The surrounding area has a lot to offer, from a mining tunnel (Benshan No. 5 Tunnel) to a traditional Japanese-style dormitory.

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6 / GO ON A HIKE

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Around Jiufen and Jinguasi there are a lot of hiking trails up the mountains (Keelung Mountain, Teapot Mountain) that offer panoramic views of the coast. A few years ago, I was at the Gold Museum and decided to wander out back. I ended up going on an improntu hike and discovered the Jinguaszi Shinto Shrine 金瓜石神社遺址 and an amazing view.

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