a guide to the commercial hub of the city
Xin Yi District is perhaps the fastest growing hub in the city. With its extensive (almost excessive) network of department stores in the shopping district, luxury high rises and plentiful office space for multinational corporations to settle in, Xin Yi district went from being a local residential neighborhood to a burgeoning new downtown in a matter of years.
Today, it has anchored the cultural and commercial heart of the city a bit further east. While the district limits encompass a vast swarth of land inclusive of Elephant and Tiger mountains and extending all the way up to Songshan station, when most people talk about Xin Yi they are likely referring to the bustling shopping district between Zhongxiao East Rd and Xinyi Rd. After all, it is home to the most recognizable and visible (albeit relatively young) icon of the city: Taipei 101, towering regally over the neon city. It is at the same time the Times Square, Soho and FiDi of Taipei.
Xin Yi district is probably the most popular and globalized part of town for tourists and weekenders. Though the numerous Shin Kong Mitsukoshis and Breezes can feel like redundant rinse and repeat, they fill up like clockwork every evening and weekend with people of all ages coming to shop, eat and meander in climate controlled environments. Add in Songshan Cultural Park, Sun Yet Sen Memorial Hall and Wu Fen Pu and you really have your activities laid out for you. Weekdays are a bit more quiet in the department stores between the morning and evening rush hour of office workers filing in and out of the buildings in and beyond the shopping district. And like any good Asian metropolis, the trendy restaurants are never far from local eats — just duck into the alleys by SYS Memorial or along Songxin Rd.
[ GETTING HERE ]
With Da An District to the west, Song Shan to the north and Nangang to the east, Xin Yi is extremely easy to get to. The original hub is at Taipei City Hall station (blue line), which is connected to a bus terminal station that has a lot of mid distance bus options to places like Keelung and Yilan. From there, exit 2 takes you right into the department store bustle (literally straight into the food court of Uni-President Department Store. And from there you don’t have to even step outside to reach the next set of department stores. Along Zhongxiao East Rd and Keelung Rd there are dozens of local bus routes that stop around that block.
From the other end, you can take the red line to Taipei 101/World Trade Center station. Generally, you should just take whichever line you are closest to, as you can “connect” between these two stations without even getting rained on by navigating the network of sky bridges and underground tunnels between the department stores (though probably safest to go street level unless you know where you’re going).
Xin Yi District doesn’t really wake up until 11ish. After the morning work rush dies down, the neighborhood is pretty dead until the department stores start opening up (after which it just gets progressively busier into the night).
So until then, you might as well get some steps in. Elephant Mountain is an easy hike just a short walk away from Taipei 101 that offers some of the most picture perfect views of the city. A delicious reward for not a lot of work. The hike is basically 15 minutes of stone stairs — easy enough for toddlers and elders to make it a multigenerational family friendly activity.
It’s most popular during sunset, where you can experience the breathtaking transition from golden hour into a neon lit nightscape. But it’s easier to avoid crowding on the viewing points if you go early in the morning, a nice exercise to kick start your day.
On your way back, hit Four Four South Village, a former “military village” that has been converted into a cultural center with art vendors, a museum and one of Taiwan’s most popular bagel shops: Good Cho’s (because let’s be real, any attraction worth its salt has food).
Then, it’s time to seek out some post-hike breakfast. The famed Wu Pao Chun bakery is a popular and easy choice, right by the Xiangshan MRT station. The celebrated bakery is known for letting local ingredients shine in breads that extend from slightly more European to slightly more Asian. In addition to the classic tray-format bakery, there’s a sit down area and drink menu for dining in.
For more of a sit down brunch option, go to Wooloomoolloo, an all day Aussie spot that serves up more hearty western meals (but still with a local twist). The seemingly sleepy area between Xiangshan and Xinyi Rd is actually dotted with local cafes like 象山日光珈琲 Sunshine Cafe , Kaldi Coffee, and oz cafe & bistro. Or you can go full on blogger vibes at Tamed Fox.
And if you’re looking for more of a traditional breakfast, look no further than Wuxingjie, an open market street near the Taipei Medical University campus that has pretty much all the main hits when it comes to morning street foods.
Right across the street from SYS Memorial is a cultural hub that consists of the still yet to be opened “very large egg” or Taipei Dome (think of this like the Barclay Center of Taipei to Taipei Arena’s Madison Square Garden) and behind it, Songshan Cultural Park, a pretty spacious campus that has a hotel, Eslite shopping center and exhibition spaces in reclaimed factory buildings. Whether you are looking for art or just looking for art books, it’s a great place for creative inspiration.
Before you head into the chaos that is the Xinyi Shopping District, grab some lunch. The alleys in this area (kind of blending into the East District alleys) are ripe with restaurants of any genre.
Mid afternoon looks very different in the Xinyi shopping district on a weekday versus a weekend (or public holiday). On a typical weekday, it’s slow. There are people there, there may be a short wait to get into a coveted afternoon tea spot, but it’s relatively peaceful. On weekends, it is chaos by lunchtime. Crowds of people fill the pedestrian areas between the department stores. It is near impossible to snag a table at any of the food courts (well, you may be ok in Bellavita or Nanshan or the basement of A13) and don’t even think about trying to get into a cafe. The bustle is evident as soon as you enter at Taipei City Hall station (and equally as bad, except with more tourists, if you enter from the Taipei 101 station).
But the fun part is trying to weave your way through all of the department stores without actually ever walking outside ground level. There is a method to the madness, but every single department store in the area is connected either underground or through sky bridges (ok fine, every single one except Neo19 which is pretty forgettable anyways unless you’re 17 and looking to pre-game with questionable convenience store alcohol at FamilyMart before hitting the nightclubs).
To be honest, I’m not convinced people actually come here to shop. Sure, you can run some errands, pick up some things from stores that have an outpost here, make a return, check out the sales. But to come to Xinyi is an activity in itself.
It means walking these streets, navigating the buildings, wandering through food courts for the sake of it, taking unnecessary detours, checking out a pop up on purpose or passively walking through whatever experiential retail situation is happening in Xiangti Avenue Plaza. It means walking through MUJI and Uniqlo every time you encounter one (yes, especially the absurdly crowded ones in Uni-style), and waiting in line for afternoon tea or Din Tai Fung or honestly probably some other restaurant that you can find elsewhere in the city but this is where you choose to meet up because it is a vibe and a place worth being in just for the sake of being in.
You don’t come here for the convenience, you come here for the free AC, for the cosmopolitan hustle, for the adult and child friendly trendiness that makes Ximending feel particularly adolescent. There are things to do here, even if you do nothing. Merely existing in this part of town counts as an activity. Because if you wanted to you could buy designer bags and international fast fashion, catch the latest movies, eat at the trendiest restaurants from all over Asia, grab some internationally imported dessert, participate in an ad-sponsored event, go clubbing, eat at 3 Din Tai Fungs, see a national landmark, get specialty groceries, read some books… all on a rainy day without getting rained on.
From the Taipei City Hall MRT station, take exit 2 and follow the current of people past the escalators that go up into the bus terminal flowing into and out of the Uni-style department store basement. Walking in from the station, to the right you’ll find the food court and to the left an expo area with various retail pop ups and a MUJI. You have options. If you walk through the MUJI and out the other end, you’ll be led through a tunnel that connects into Breeze Xinyi. If you follow the food court around the corner, you’ll be led to a tunnel that connects directly into Eslite’s basement food court.
From Breeze, you have to go up to the 2nd floor in order to access the skybridges that connect to SKM A4 and Bellavita (aka the one that feels like a sad empty Vegas hotel). The skybridges continue across Song Gao Rd to SKM A8 and Breeze Song Gao. The Shin Kong Mitsukoshi A8, A9 and A11 are also connected via tunnels underground in addition to the skybridges that run along the plaza. A13 (which is actually a Far East department store) is the new kid on the block, and also connected (though not really conspicuously) via skybridge through a detour left at the front (northern side) of A11 that drops you off right by DTF. If you continue on past A9 and A11, the skybridge will reconvene across Song Shou Rd to Vieshow Cinemas.
This marks the weird and younger skewing part of the neighborhood with a multiplex flanked by two “cheap” department stores that feel a bit too vibey for anyone over the age of 22. The skybridge takes you right through the theater, crossing over to the other side where you can continue straight onto Breeze Nanshan or turn and walk through a strange (indoor) hallway of ATT4Fun (yes, we all have questions and it is not lost on me that “warner” is right next to “att”) that seems to perpetually have a glasses store (who stops to buys glasses in a traffic zone??).
When you emerge on the other side, the skybridge continues, meeting up with the bridge running along Breeze Nanshan and then crossing over Song Zhi Rd to your final destination: Taipei 101. Which in turn is actually connected via Skybridge to the Grand Hyatt as the true end of the mostly above-ground maze. And honestly no matter which end you start at, by the time you get to the other end, you’ll have gotten your steps in so your work is done.
Anyways, here’s a very not definitive list of all the pros and cons of each department store:
|Unistyle||very easy to get to, involves little walking, has a MUJI cafe and some less crowded restaurants upstairs, a good place to kill time when waiting for a long distance bus, a pretty lively cosmetics section too||extremely crowded in the food court and MUJI and Uniqlo because it is so accessible, and otherwise fairly useless in terms of stores|
|Breeze Xinyi||pretty in a gold and opulent way, a nice walk through connection that isn’t too crowded||pretty much just good for designer stores plus the basement Dim Dim Sum|
|Eslite||it’s a giant bookstore with a food court and often hosts fun pop ups, what’s not to love?||it’s literally always too crowded, other branches around the city are a bit more chill.|
|SKM A4||it has a DTF downstairs that isn’t crowded. Don’t tell too many people.||it is otherwise redundant|
|Bellavita||it is spacious in a Vegas version of European kind of way, and has nice uncrowded bathrooms||it is otherwise useless, even the designer shops exist in other department stores that are more interesting and you know it’s a red flag if the food court is empty|
|SKM A8||it has a reliable food court, which we love to see, and generally just feels more lively. also the red accents contribute well to the vibes||because it is in the middle of everything, it does get pretty crowded quickly and honestly doesn’t have anything particularly worth going for that other branches don’t have|
|Breeze Song Gao||it has a giant H&M and just other international brands that are more on the accessible side (a nice contrast from the designer shops in other branches)||it’s kind of set up weird, like in a way where it just feels like a bunch of stores that happen to be connected vs a large entity with a bunch of stores|
|SKM A9||it is actually useful for shopping because it is pretty low key, also it has a bunch of restaurants upstairs that are never too long of a wait in a pinch despite the central location||it has no normal basement food court, not that we need another one in the neighborhood, just weird and probably contributes to why it is low key|
|SKM A11||it has a MUJI that isn’t insanely crowded like the one in Uni-style, it has one of my favorite food courts just because of the maximalist decor – overstimulation in the best way||due to its location (and probably the party food court) it is also pretty heavily trafficked|
|A13||it is new, it is vibe-y and very extra in its Vegas-level decor, it has a giant DTF that just feels like a good time because it is so new and modern and chic||it feels out of the way, it is a little too big to be useful in that so many of the stores and floors feel like filler between a Vegas-level food corridor upstairs and a remarkably unpopular food court downstairs|
|Neo 19||honestly grasping for straws here, do people actually go here that aren’t teenagers trying to get into the club?||it feels like a waste of precious real estate at this point|
|Vieshow||it actually serves a unique purpose whereas the other department stores feel repetitive and redundant, and has some nice counter serve QSRs on the ground floor||it is set up weird and also has a mall downstairs which feels like an overly crowded outlet mall so it’s just overwhelming|
|ATT4FUN||it feels younger, has a lot of fun international food chains that people love to hang out in, and some popular night clubs lol||it has a stupid name|
|Breeze Nanshan + Atre||it’s newer, it feels extra grand and spacious, it has an insanely large food court and supermarket that is never crowded, it has a nice terrace connecting the two buildings that is great for views, and it has a lot of stores that don’t exist in other places||it is almost too big for its own good and kind of difficult to navigate because things aren’t connected in the way you expect them to be|
|Taipei 101||it’s pretty, it’s an internationally recognized landmark, it’s a nice mall for an otherwise corporate building||the waiting area between DTF and Starbucks is quite possibly the worst place to be in all of Taipei|
Dinner time means you’re in for some decision paralysis. One solid way to get around that is food crawl food court edition. Pick a food court and order a little something from every shop that strikes your fancy to piece together a custom spread. The best food courts to do this would probably be A8, A11, Eslite or Nanshan. Or make it a physical activity and get one thing from every single food court making your way through the network.
Or, if you’re looking to commit to one restaurant, take your pick of the many many sit down spots. From casual set meal style restaurants to family style “order dishes” (叫菜) style restaurants to fancy all you can eat buffets to American style bar food to hot pot chain stores, there is all the variety you can dream up. Take your pick of cuisines: it’s probably about a third Taiwanese or Chinese, a third Japanese, maybe 20% Korean and Southeast Asian and then the rest American or Italian or some bastardized combination of vaguely western cuisines. And save room for dessert.
In true Taiwanese fashion, people are always seeking a little something sweet and there’s no shortage of dessert shops and cafés in this neighborhood, as casual (ie: Ice Monster) or fancy (ie: Japanese soufflé pancakes) as you may dream up and across the spectrum of eastern and western cuisines.
Not all food courts are created equally. Some are much more congested than others. Some offer more extensive variety. Most are overstimulating. And one is very very extra. As in they pretty much built out a movie set extra. A13’s restaurant row is a vibe. And that’s not even taking into account they have a full on normal food court downstairs and then restaurants upstairs too.
Pro tip: once 8pm rolls around hit the supermarkets, specifically the sushi and prepared foods sections. There’s often a decent discount on remaining inventory, which is pretty much all these markets are good for besides imported goods and painstakingly perfect fruit that costs a pretty penny.
(this is a joke)
Xinyi Shopping District peaks around 6-10pm. After the department stores close, it gives way to the nightlife scene, which also ranges from gauche nightclubs filled with third culture teens to posh bars where locals mingle with classy visitors.
To go in a different direction (physically and metaphorically), on a clear evening it is a nice walk to Wufenpu, a (wholesale) clothing market with all the night market hits, and from there a short distance to Raohe Night Market by Songshan Station.