City guide: Taipei

Visitors to Taiwan’s capital can get a stunning view of the city by hiking up Elephant Mountain, rich with ancient landmarks and shrines, or by riding a high-speed elevator to the top of Taipei 101, the third-tallest building in the world. Those choices highlight how the city seamlessly combines history and modernity.

Taipei is the commercial hub of Taiwan. It houses most of the country’s factories, which manufacture textiles, electronics and other exports that drive economic growth. Service industries, including commerce, transportation and tourism, also contribute significantly to the economy.

Getting to and from the airport

Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport is 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) west of downtown. The Taoyuan Airport Access Mass Rapid Transit system links all terminals to Taipei station in the city center. A one-way trip costs $160 New Taiwan dollars (US$5.28 using the exchange rate US$1 = NT$30.29) and takes 35 minutes.

Several bus companies also link the airport to the city’s core. You can buy bus tickets just outside the arrivals areas of terminals 1 and 2. Fares vary by company.

Taxis are available 24 hours a day. A metered ride from the airport to central Taipei costs NT$1,000 (US$33) to NT$1,400 (US$46), depending on traffic.

Getting around Taipei

It’s quite easy to hail a taxi on the street. All cabs are regulated and metered. The fixed rate is NT$70 (US$2.31) for the first 0.8 miles and an additional NT$5 (US$0.17) per additional 0.15 miles. Taipei’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) is fast and cheap. Trains depart every three to eight minutes from 6 a.m. to midnight. A vast bus network supplements the MRT. Most buses have signs and route maps in English. Fares on the MRT and buses depend on distance traveled.

Where to stay

For luxury and upscale accommodation, try Shangri-La Far Eastern Plaza (201 Tun Hwa South Road, Sec. 2; Ph: 886-2-23788888), The Westin Taipei (133 Nanking East Road, Sec. 3; Ph: 886-2-28770656) or Aloft Taipei Zhongshan (No. 1 Shuangcheng St.; Ph: 886-2-77439999). Midscale options include Holiday Inn East Taipei(265 Beishen Road, Sec. 3; Ph: 886-2-26628000) and Novotel Taipei Taoyuan Airport (1-1 Terminal South Road; Ph: 886-3-398-0888).

Things to see and do

Don’t pass up an opportunity to explore the National Palace Museum and its illustrious collection of almost 700,000 pieces of Chinese artwork and artifacts. Works span nearly 8,000 years, reaching back to the Stone Age. Treasures on display include paintings, calligraphy, ceramics and jade. Free guided tours are available in English at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily. You also can opt for an audio tour for NT$150  (US$4.95). The museum is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., with closing time extended to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Admission is NT$250 (US$8.25).

Taipei 101 defines the city’s skyline. Designed to resemble a towering bamboo stalk, the 509-meter building once claimed the spot as the world’s tallest. (It was surpassed by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai in 2008.) Visitors can take in spectacular 360-degree views from the 88th and 89th floors. The observatory houses a museum with exhibits about the building’s design and construction. Don’t miss the outdoor deck on the 91st floor, open when weather permits. The observation decks are open daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Admission is NT$600 (US$19.81).

Juxtapose your visit to a feat of modern engineering with a stop at a traditional temple. There are many to choose from within the city; Bao’an is one of the most popular. Immigrants from Tongan set up a simple shrine and began worshipping on the site in the 1700s. The meticulous restoration of the ornate design of the temple has been recognized by the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation. The temple is open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Admission is free.

Enjoy the natural beauty of Taipei with a trip to Elephant Mountain, known in Taiwan as Xiangshan. The Xiangshan MRT station drops you at the foot of the mountain. Just exit and follow the signs for about five minutes to get to the start of the trail. The hike takes about 20 minutes up a steep staircase, but the vantage point at the top is more than worth it. For a special treat, time your visit with the sunset.

Where to eat

Night markets are an institution in Taipei. Most are open nightly from dusk to midnight and offer a grand variety of clothing, accessories and, most importantly, food. One of the biggest and most renowned is the Shilin Night Market. It has a main food hall and hundreds of surrounding stalls. You’ll find a vast array of Taiwanese specialties like grilled cheesy scallops, pork buns, oyster noodles, fish balls, flame-grilled steak and pineapple cake.

The Kitchen Table is known for creative presentations and internationally diverse food. It’s primarily a buffet-style restaurant that offers something for every palate. With a raw bar, surf-and-turf station, expansive dessert table and more, diners won’t leave hungry. French-style windows face an outdoor swimming pool and flood the space with light, creating an atmosphere that’s cheerful and bright. It’s at 10 Zhongxiao East Road, Sec. 5, Xinyi District; Ph: 886-2-7703-8887.

As a city on an island, it’s no surprise that Taipei offers extraordinary seafood. One of the most popular places for the catch of the day is Addiction Aquatic Development. The sashimi melts in your mouth. And you’ll have trouble deciding among the bento boxes and sushi selections. Find it at No. 18, Alley 2, Lane 410, Minzu East Road, Zhongshan District; Ph: 886-2-2508-1268.