17 Hidden Gems To Find On Your Next Visit To Taipei
Closing Hour At Shida Cafés
BBC names Taipei one of the world’s best coffee cities, and no wonder — in the absence of an endemic pub-crawling culture, cafes take on the function of city’s main hang-out space. Drink craft beers, strong coffees, rice wines past midnight at Le Chat, Café Odeon, Salt Peanuts, or T-Loafer. Rub shoulders with South Taipei’s students, activists and concert organizers. Check the Taipei Cafes Tumblr for more ideas.
Omakase Meals At Tiny Sushi Bars
Taipei’s blog-driven food trend cycle puts most of the world’s to shame, and for now, pint-sized sushi bars are all the rage. For the price of 3 cocktails in New York, you can have one of the best 12-course omakase meals of your life. Sit at the tiny bars at Nomura, Niu, Yun, Jian1, Jubei or Man Zhe Die, and their young proprietors will regale you with tales of slicing seafood around the world. Lunch hours are good for a bargain. Be sure to book reservations early.
The Alleys Near Zhongshan MRT Station
Zhongshan MRT Station has an unmatched saturation of Taipei-ness. The SPOT Taipei Film House anchors a series of alleys with some of the best design studios, cafes, and restaurants in town, while below street level, break dancers practice next to underground malls lined with book stores. Walk further south to Section Y of the underground Taipei City Mall to find the ‘Otaku Street’ hawking anime and video game-related wares (maid café included). Walk further north and you’ll find street food surpassing Shilin’s at Ningxia Nightmarket. To get a good sense of the everyday Taipei charm, Zhongshan Station’s a good place to start.
Beitou’s Hot Springs
A weekend hot-tubbing and drinking near volcanic forests at Beitou will make you feel like the star of your own Hou Hsiao Hsien movie. Those looking to spend a little more (and maybe score a better mountain view) can try Spring City Resort or Villa 32. Wulai boasts a few solid soaking spots as well. Make sure to book in advance.
The Live Music Scene
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Last year, Deserts Xuan’s “To Ebb” concert proved the epic reach local musicians are capable of. Check out GigGuide.tw to see why Taipei is considered the music capital of the Chinese-speaking world. On top of homegrown talent, so many festivals and international big-name artists now pass through town that it’s hard to keep up.
Nightmarkets Other Than Shilin
Chances are you’ve heard of Shilin’s gigantic moveable feast of street snacks (still very much worth checking out!), but Wufenpu can be a better bet for clothes, while Raohe and Ningxia offers more authentic options for traditional Taiwanese street food. If you do go to Shilin Night Market, skip the gigantic dining basement for the street carts around Shilin movie theater and Cixian Temple.
East Taipei’s Speakeasy-style Cocktail Bars
The Wall Street Journal knows what’s up. Sip a library of obscure Japanese whiskies at Mr. 83 (if you can find a seat), or drink Prohibition Era classics at WOOTP or Ounce. At China Pa, you’ll find Chinese herbal tea-infused drinks to match the old Chinese décor. Or simply sidle up to the bar at Fourplay and describe your favorite drink to the mixologist — there’s no menu there.
Taiwanese Theater and Peking Opera At TaipeiEYE
Visitors in Taipei tend to be baffled that TaipeiEYE isn’t as popular with locals as it should be. Besides performing at the height of traditional art forms, TaipeiEYE breaks the fourth wall and allows visitors to peek into the make-up and set design process behind Peking theater.
Go for the cinematic views, stay for the taro tapioca ice desserts. Hayao Miyazaka famously based “Spirited Away” on this tiny old mining town. Be wary of huge crowds, but on a clear day, Jiufen’s scenery of steep old streets is still breathtaking.
Addict Aquatic Development
Across from the Taipei Fish Market is a newly-remodeled warehouse for all your seafood needs. Gawk at exotic fresh catch swimming in burbling tanks, or packed in take-out aisles that look like jewelry displays. The grill area serves as a festive beer hall at night.
Sunset at Treasure Hill
Worth a detour if you’re in the Shida Area. Once an encampment for army families, Treasure Hill later became a semi-hidden riverside hangout for activists and artists. Now, Treasure Hill is run by Taipei City Government, and hosts galleries and bar-cafes among its steep, narrow warrens, giving visitors a glance at what old Taipei tenements looked like. Stop by Tadpole Point for a coffee in its attic.
Old-School Tea Houses
After checking out Yongkang Street, you’ll do well to swing by Wistaria Tea House, reputed meeting place of early dissidents and birthplace of Taiwanese democracy. For those wishing to get out of the city a little, the Maokong gondola takes visitors out to the tea ceremony gardens in the southern mountains.
HuaShan 1914 Creative Park
A convenient place to rest after haggling at the Guanghua electronics market. Stop by for a mid-afternoon meal, a tipple of sake, a visiting theater troupe, a graffiti exhibit, or any other number of itinerant attractions that take up residence at the warehouses every month.
Palatial 24/7 Karaoke Lounges
Karaoke is a national sport in Taiwan. These will probably be some of the most palatial karaoke bars you’ve see. Added bonus: room service beef noodle soup, boba and Taiwan-beer.
Ximending’s Red House Square
Nestled a mere block away from the Ximending’s pop-punk teenage digs, the Red House is a stately old movie theater converted into a craft artists’ alley and a concert venue. The plaza behind it hosts a laid-back, open and unpretentious LGBT bar strip. The décor among the Red Square hangouts are charmingly DIY, more Burning Man than mega-club, all of them content to share the same al fresco brick porch.
Yangmingshan National Park
Yangmingshan’s weather is famously temperamental, but a 30-minute bus ride from Jiantan MRT Station will bring you to the foothills of Qixing Mountain — the tallest mountain near Taipei. A short (but steep) hike will bring you through trails lined with geothermic steam vents and tall grass knolls, leading to a panoramic view of the city from the peak. Don’t miss Xiaoyoukeng at the end of the trail — a Jurassic-looking volcanic crater billowing with sulfuric smoke. If you’re not feeling up for a hike, Qingtiangang offers a picturesque hill-top meadow that’s served as the backdrop of countless Mando-pop music videos and coming-of-age comedies.
New Years' Eve Near Taipei 101
A little known fact about Taipei is that it holds one of the best New Years parties in Asia. Each year, a near-million revelers pack the Xinyi District, and each year, Taipei transformed into one big country fair. Giant art installations flank East Taipei’s streets all December, and the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall Plaza will host a craft fair with Taiwan's best young designers on the year's last weekend. Check out this year's free New Years Eve concert at City Hall Square, which draws enough C-pop star power (S.H.E, William Wei, Show Lo) to sell out multiple tours. And if the sunrise finds you still on your feet, do as the locals do and greet the first morning at the Presidential Palace flag-raising ceremony. Check out this year's NYE activities here.
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