Weekend Trip to Taiwan
With travellers everywhere buzzing about Taiwan, and a flight time of only 1.5 hours from Hong Kong to Taipei, we were keen to explore everything our neighbour has to offer.
We’ve broken down the best sights, sounds and tastes for every type of traveler. Read on for inspiration as you pencil in Taiwan for an upcoming weekend. Build your itinerary from our pick of themed weekends away or pick and choose from the different categories to craft the perfect holiday that’s uniquely you.
The Foodie Trip
Taiwan is a foodie haven with street stalls open 24/7 serving up bubble tea, fried chicken, oyster omelets and buns. From the busy Raohe and Shilin night markets to tea houses and the swanky Ximending area, there’s plenty of great spots to explore with your tastebuds.
Let your tastebuds lead you through one of Taipei’s famous night markets and you’ll have ample choices to indulge. Taiwanese snacks are the highlight here and include a range of local treats such as bubble tea, tempura, oyster omelet, stinky tofu and fried chicken.
Tamsui Old Street
Just a few minutes walk away from the Tamsui MRT Station, but you’ll feel a world away from modern Taipei as you walk down this old thoroughfare. You’re sure to find some delicious bites from the diverse range of street food available here. Highlights include oily bean curd which is exclusive to the area. Iron-hard preserved eggs are also a favourite here as are fried fish crackers. Enjoy these treats as you browse the area’s boutiques and folk art shops.
Another destination to explore authentic Taiwanese street food is Wulai Street. Here, you’ll find local food with a strong emphasis on sausage. There are sausages displayed at every turn with roasted boar sausage being a favourite here. You’ll also find other favourites like peach rice, bamboo rice and hot spring eggs.
Beef Noodle Soup
You can’t leave Taiwan without trying a bowl of beef noodle soup. Look for a hole in the wall joint that specializes in these noodles in beef broth with cubed beef and sour vegetables. There’s places all over the city but Yong-Kang Beef Noodle is one of the best. You’re likely to find a queue unless you come during the off-meal hours but believe us, it’s worth the wait.
Chanshuitang Tea House
Rumoured to be the cafe where bubble tea was first invented, Chanshuitang Tea House offers a DIY experience where you can learn to make it yourself.
Xiao Long Bao
Taiwan is easily one of the best places in Asia to tuck into a hot basket of xiao long bao. You’ll find them stuffed with traditional pork as well as crab roe and other treats. One of the best places in Taipei to try them is Kao Chi near the Dongmen MRT (subway) station.
You don’t have to go all the way to Taiwan to find great Xiao Long Bao. Check out the best in Hong Kong here.
The Nature and Adventure Trip
If you travel for beautiful nature, Taiwan will not disappoint. Even if you don’t leave the capital, opportunities abound to get out into nature and enjoy the country’s legendary scenery. Go a bit further off the path and find even more places to hike, climb, snorkel and more.
The easily accessible Elephant Mountain is one of the most popular hikes for Taipei-based travelers. It offers a taste of Taiwan’s mountains without the time commitment that many other hikes require. A bit further out, Mount Keelung offers a more difficult hike with thousands of steps to reach the peak. You can reach it by taking a day trip to Jiufen which is known as the “Santorini of Taiwan” and once you are here it’s easy to see why. This mountainous town has a number of hikes available with trails taking anywhere from a couple of hours to a full-day. The peak of Mount Keelung offers commanding views of Taiwan’s North Coast and the area’s mountains. On clear days you can even see Taipei 101 in the capital. While in Jiufen you can take a short train jaunt to the Shifen Waterfall which is one of the most beautiful places in the country and certainly worth the extra effort.
Geoparks and National Parks
If you’re still keen to experience Taiwan’s natural beauty after all of that hiking, you have a few options. Head north to Yehliu Geopark to explore an area of particularly unique geological formations that take the shape of mushrooms, honeycombs and other interesting objects. Yangmingshan National Park is easily reached from downtown Taipei and is home to numerous parks, hiking trails, flora and fauna and hot springs.
A mountainous region on Taiwan’s eastern coast, approximately 2 hours from Taipei, Hualein County offers some of the country’s most stunning scenery including the awe-inspiring Taroko Gorge. Here you can explore Taroko and Yu Shan National Parks, or go river rafting on the Xiuguluan River for more of a thrill.
Rock Climbing at Long Dong (Dragon Cave)
If rock climbing is more your thing, then there’s no better place in Taiwan than Long Dong. People come from all over the world to scale some of the crags and cliffs here. The area is incredibly scenic and offers climbing at all grades for every skill level.
Taiwan may not be known widely for its snorkelling, but if you enjoy exploring what lies beneath the sea, then you shouldn’t miss out on visiting Laomei Green Reef. The scenery is both stunning and unique as a volcanic reef sits right by the seashore. There are trenches throughout the reef and each spring the reef becomes covered in a striking green algae. Other popular snorkelling destinations include Kenting Beach on the island’s south, Fulong Beach in the north and Green Island off the coast.
The Girls Trip
Girls getaways have been some of my favourite trips and Taiwan has everything you need for a great one. Your gals weekend in Taiwan will include plenty of opportunities for shopping, indulging in spa treatments and partying all night long (if you’re into that).
Start your weekend off right by heading straight to Taipei 101 for amazing vistas of the city from the 89th floor observatory of the 10th tallest building in the world. The views here are magical any time of day but are especially great at sunset and make for the perfect induction into the city.
Shopping in Taiwan
What’s a girls trip without shopping? Shilin Night Market is one of the most famous places to shop in Taipei but others say it’s lost its spark and the Raohe Street Market has taken its place as the best street market in the city. Why not check them both out and make your own verdict? If you visit either one, make sure to come with an empty stomach as you’ll certainly want to snack your way through the market stalls and you’re sure to wind up stuffed.
If you’re looking for even more shopping, head to the Wufenpu area to find eye-catching and quirky clothing and fashion-forward accessories. The Underground Mall at Taipei Main Station is also worth a visit. Here, an impressive stretch of vendors selling almost anything you could imagine sprawl over more than a kilometre.
What better way to finish off a trip with your best girls than by spending a day pampering yourselves? Try a massage with a blind masseuse at any public hospital or other public places around the city. They tend to be very well trained professionals and we love supporting someone’s business who otherwise might have a difficult time finding work. Alternatively, if you’d like to really come away feeling relaxed and pampered, visit one of Taiwan’s famous hot springs. Beitou is one of the most famous areas for this. You can take a dip in the public hot springs but if you stay in a resort in the area many of them also pipe in the hot mineral water to each and every hotel room so you can enjoy your own hot spring tub right in your room.
If you and your gal pals like to party, descend on Taipei’s social hub, Ximending, as the sun goes down where you’ll find countless clubs, bars, food joints and shops that stay open late into the evening.
The Family Trip
Taiwan was once thought by many to be a destination that was ideal for independent travellers and backpackers, but more and more families are visiting and proving that the country has much to offer families with kids. Bringing along the kids usually means a more relaxed itinerary and plenty of family-friendly attractions. You’ll find everything from cultural attractions, hands-on workshops, theme parks and more.
Theme and Amusement Parks
Most of the country’s best theme parks are located outside of Taipei but the country is relatively small and easy to get around, making these parks accessible on a long weekend trip. Lotus Lake is most well known for the many temples in the area, but older kids will enjoy the water sports available on the lake. If you have adventurous kids, head to Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan and spend a half day or so learning to kneeboard or wakeboard.
For those who feel the need for speed, Taroko Park Go Karts is the only go-kart course of its kind outside of Japan. It’s located in a new shopping center with all sorts of different sporting activities to keep your kids entertained for hours. Near Taichung you’ll find a water park complex called Lihpao Land and Mala Bay with a number of thrilling rides for older kids and calmer activities for littles. If you aren’t planning to leave Taipei you can still have a bit of a theme park experience at Taipei Children’s Amusement Park which has many rides all geared towards families.
When kids can learn new things and not even realise they are learning, then everyone is happy. Visit Dragon Eyes Community Farm to learn about Taiwan’s agricultural lifestyle. This hands-on farm teaches visitors about how local crops are grown. You’ll get to pick your own pineapples and then eat a pineapple-themed lunch with a group of locals and visitors. The San-Ying Waterfront across from the Ceramics Museum is a great place to take kids to learn about the arts in an aesthetically pleasing environment which is a welcome reprieve for city-dwellers. They conduct hands-on workshops regularly where visitors can learn to make various art and craft items.
Exploring nature with kids
The hills around Taipei are ripe for exploring. We’ve included a whole section on adventurous nature travel above, but will highlight a few kid-friendly options here.
One of the easiest and most family-friendly ways to explore the hills is to hop on the gondola right beside Taipei Zoo and visit the Maokong tea plantations there where you can learn about the tea production process in the beautiful surrounds.
Hiking Elephant Mountain one of the more family-friendly nature experiences you can have with fabulous walking trails, suitable for all hikers and ages. The walk only takes about 20 minutes for an adult and there’s plenty of places to stop off for a short break. The views from the top and the natural scenery along the way are both quite memorable.
If you need a bit of room for the kids to run while in Taipei, head Da’an Forest Park – a city park in Taipei’s Da’an district with beautiful plant life, including a bamboo forest. The park has ample green space and a children’s playground.
Melanie Grosjean is a full-time mommy and part-time writer who left the U.S. for Asia several years ago and never looked back. Nowadays, she spends as much time traveling with her husband and toddler as possible. When she isn’t on the road or squeezed into economy class, you can find her sipping an iced latte or blogging at www.adventurefamilylife.com.