How To Spend A Weekend In Taipei For Less Than USD150

Nestled in a river valley and surrounded by low, verdant mountains, Taipei is both an ultra-modern metropolis and the cradle of ancient traditions; a place teeming with stunning polytheistic temples and glitzy department malls; and a destination where street markets and fine-dining establishments tempt in equal measure. There are options for all budgets, and there’s plenty to do even if you’re on a shoestring.

Photo by Kritsaroot Udkwae / shutterstock.com

Nestled in a river valley and surrounded by low, verdant mountains, Taipei is both an ultra-modern metropolis and the cradle of ancient traditions; a place teeming with stunning polytheistic temples and glitzy department malls; and a destination where street markets and fine-dining establishments tempt in equal measure. There are options for all budgets, and there’s plenty to do even if you’re on a shoestring.

Day 1: Eat, Sightsee, Repeat

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Your first morning in Taipei should start with a quintessentially Taiwanese breakfast of freshly made soy milk and shaobing youtiao, a dry-roasted flatbread dotted with sesame seeds and wrapped around a light cruller. For an OG experience, head straight to Fuhang Doujiang (USD1.70), one of the city’s most popular breakfast spots. Tucked on the second floor of a local market in Zhongzheng District — where landmarks like the 228 Peace Memorial Park and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall are — it doesn’t have any obvious storefront, but just follow the line up the stairs, which forms as early as 5:45am.

Fuhang Doujiang

Shandao Temple, Taipei’s largest Buddhist shrine, is just around the corner, and worth a peek (free entry). Built in 1926, when the island was still a Japanese colony, it’s an imposing but demure building, in stark contrast to most of the other ultra-ornate temples you’ll come across.

From here the next stop is Huashan 1914 Creative Park, an early-20th-century wine factory that’s been restored as Taipei’s most retro-chic venue. It’s cool warehouse after cool warehouse, each repurposed to host  art exhibitions and pop-ups from local Taiwanese designers, stylish restaurants, bars and cafés plus a plethora of indie shops. Take your time to wander and browse; catch the latest retrospective, watch artists perform in the main square at the entrance of the complex and soak in the atmosphere: this is modern-day creative Taipei at its best.

If you’re in the mood for some more art, Jut Art Museum (USD4) in a shiny high-rise in the downtown ’hood of Da’an is just a 10-minute walk away. Established in 2016, it features interdisciplinary exhibitions spanning subjects like urbanism, the future and architecture, and makes for an interesting display of experimental projects by artists from all over.

By now, you should have worked up an appetite. Head to Yongkang Street, a mecca for Taiwanese cuisine, for lunch at James Kitchen. The eatery has a quaint, nostalgic feel to it, with retro memorabilia decking it out, and old Taiwanese and Japanese ballads playing in the background. On the menu are hearty dishes showcasing the art of jia chang cai, or homestyle cooking. Pick three-cup king mushrooms, pork with kumquat sauce and a basil omelet, and accompany it all with lard-topped rice heaped with sautéed scallions and soy sauce (USD24), or ask owner James Tseng to choose dishes for you.

Sunmerry

Back on the busier side of Yongkang Street, more dumplings, noodles, street eats, boba milk tea and cute dessert cafés await. Among the offerings, two are a must: gigantic bowls of mango shaved ice (USD8) from Smoothie House, and bite-sized pineapple cake from Sunmerry (USD1.30 each).

To digest it all, take a leisurely stroll toward the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (free entry), one of the most photographed destinations in Taiwan. The grandiose monument overlooks a massive courtyard flanked by the National Theater & Concert Hall and, with its blue-roofed hall in the Neoclassical style, is truly awe-inspiring. Stand in front of the huge bronze statue of a sitting Chiang Kai-shek for a while, then meander inside the hall, where there’s a museum showcasing artifacts from CKS’s time.

From here, take the MRT’s Tamsui- Xinyi Line (the red one, US$0.70) to the city’s most iconic landmark, Taipei 101. Towering above the urban landscape, it’s impossible to miss, both because of its shape — designed to resemble a giant bamboo stalk — and its height: at 508 meters, this skyscraper was for many years the world’s tallest building. Tickets to its observation decks, on the 88th and 89th floors, are on sale on the 5th floor (USD19.70), and will grant seriously spectacular views of the city. Getting up there is probably just as impressive an experience: traveling at 60 km/h, the lift zooms passengers to the top in only 37 seconds. Want to save money, or too afraid of heights? Then hiking to nearby Elephant Mountain is your second-best choice to capture a striking vista of Taipei — and Taipei 101 — at sunset. Getting there is easy: hop on the red line to the stop after Taipei 101, Xiangshan (USD0.70), take Exit 2 and you’ll see signs for the hiking trail to the left. It’s a breezy 20- to 40-minute walk up, depending on your fitness level, and will land you at one of the best spots for a photo op.

Options for dinner after this hectic first day are countless, but you ought to be hitting one of the myriad night markets Taipei is so known for. One close to Xiangshan station is Linjiang Street Night Market (it’s about 10 minutes away via the red line, USD0.70), where you can (and should) feast on deep-fried sweet potato balls, barbecued beef and crispy gyozas (USD7).

 

Day 2: Temples, Museums And A Slice Of Old Taipei

Hsing Tian Kong. Photo by Elwynn / shutterstock.com

Many Taipei cafés don’t open until around 10.30am, but if you’re an early bird and craving some Western fare, then Tamed Fox is where you can begin the day. This airy, laid-back spot opens at 8.30am, and serves healthy breakfast items like blueberry and banana buckwheat crêpes and acai bowls (starting from USD8), plus strong cups of coffee and turmeric lattes (starting from USD3.50).

Once you’re fueled up, take the red and then the orange line (Zhonghe-Xinlu Line, USD1.30) to Xingtian Temple station in Zhongshan District, then walk for about five minutes to the temple — whose name is also transliterated as Hsing Tian Kong — a good place to witness Taiwan’s deep spirituality, and explore your own. Built between 1956 and 1967, it’s an incredibly ornate temple dedicated to the patron deity of businesspeople and scholars, Guan Yu, as well as Taoist practices. On any given day, it’s packed with locals coming to pray for career and personal success through a series of fascinating rituals, like tossing wooden wedges for answers to yes, no, maybe questions, drawing a bamboo fortune and having incense-armed temple functionaries fend off evil spirits.

After chasing away bad juju, head north towards Addiction Aquatic Development (AAD), a gourmet marketplace that’s a seafood lover’s paradise. Grab a 16-piece sushi set (USD13) to go, then take a leisurely walk through the nearby Xinsheng Park Area of Taipei Expo Park, a scenic green oasis featuring open recreational spaces, exhibition pavilions and even a garden maze. You could picnic here, or cross over to the Fine Arts Park, where outdoor sculptures and installations make for an even prettier alfresco lunch setting.

The Taipei Fine Arts Museum (USD1), is adjacent to it, and hosts eclectic exhibitions from local and international artists. Established in 1983 as Taiwan’s first public art museum, the building itself is worth the visit: boasting clean lines and all gray-white surfaces, it’s a lesson in minimalist architecture.

Hop on the red line at Yuanshan Station and get off after two stops, at Shuanglian station (USD0.70). You’re now in Dadaocheng, aka old Taipei. The area was the city’s main trading port in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and today still retains plenty of its heritage charm. Its main artery, the narrow Dihua Street, is particularly noteworthy, with beautifully restored shophouses occupied by long-established businesses — take your time walking in and out of its shops, then stop by the tiny but mighty Xiahai City God Temple, which has the highest statue density in Taiwan; and visit some of the cultural landmarks in the area, like the sobering and compelling Ama Museum (USD3.30), dedicated to sharing the untold history of comfort women during the Japanese rule of Taiwan.

Once you’ve shopped and snapped enough pictures, you could head to Ningxia Night Market, another bustling evening market peddling anything from fresh fruit to oyster omelets, crispy wontons and braised pork rice (USD10). Try as many snacks as you can, or just watch the vendors at work, frying and grilling, chopping and slicing, serving and washing. The perfect way to end the night is to explore Taipei’s neat drinking scene. Go to Ounce, a speakeasy hidden behind a small coffee shop front. Drinks start at USD13, but there’s no menu — the bartender will customize a drink based on your preferences.

 

Day 3: Go Out And Get Shopping

Beitou Park. Photo by Ichywong / shutterstock.com

One of the great things about Taipei is how close to big, lush nature it is. There are hiking trails everywhere you look (almost), natural wonders just a short high-speed train ride away (check out Taroko Gorge) and even easy-to-reach hot springs a mere 30 minutes from the city center.

Enter Beitou Park. Initially built by the Japanese during their 50-year-long occupation of the island, the park’s steamy volcanic hot springs at the base of Yangming Mountain on the outskirts of Taipei are a popular half-day destination for anyone looking to get away from the city’s bustle.

Taroko Gorge

Get there early in the morning by taking the MRT to Xinbeitou (USD1.60 from Taipei Main Station), then enter Beitou Park, which runs uphill towards Yangming. Along the way, you’ll see the original Japanese-era hot spring building, the Beitou Public Library and the Beitou Hot Spring Museum. Keep walking and you’ll reach the large outdoor Millennium Hot Spring — the cheapest public hot spring in town (USD1.30). Treat yourself to a good, deep soak in the steaming water, and take in the atmospheric surroundings. It’s easy to spend a couple of hours here, and you should. Once you decide to head back, though, make it a point to check out the little Puji Temple and Hell Valley (free entry). The former is a cute wooden structure built by Japanese rail workers, and the latter is the source of many of the local hot springs and a great steamy photo op.

Your last afternoon in Taipei should be spent shopping, eating some more and rubbing elbows with style-savvy urbanites. Take the MRT to Songshan Cultural and Creative Park (USD1.30) to do just that. One of the city’s largest art venues, the complex occupies a former tobacco factory established in 1937, and it’s surrounded by a small lake, lush gardens and adorable little shops and hipster cafés. You’ll find even more inside its industrial-chic warehouses, which serve as pop-ups, showrooms and workshops for local designers and creative entrepreneurs. Design buffs can check out the Taiwan Design Museum (tickets from USD2, depending on the exhibition), showcasing modern designs by local and international artists.

Hungry? Get a snack from one of the stalls around you or grab a table at one of the cafés mentioned earlier. Recently opened BaganHood is a great vegan spot for burgers, salads and pizzas (from USD10.60).

If you’re not too wiped out yet, you can either slowly make your way towards Da’an District, to the west of Songshan park, to explore its skinny alleyways packed with cool spots like Boven, a subterranean library stocking vintage fashion and design magazines; or head back to your hotel to recharge before dinner.

That will be at Ay-Chung Flour Rice Noodle in the eclectic Ximending area. It’s a tiny eatery serving some of the best soup noodles in town — take a small bowl (USD1.80) outside once you’ve added your condiments (vinegar, puréed garlic and chili sauce) to it at a self-service station.

Now you’re ready for the last stop of your trip: the boisterous, fun and unpretentious Café Dalida, one of Taipei’s most beloved gay bars, in Red House Square next to Ximen MRT station. Sit in its leafy outdoor area, grab a signature cocktail like the Happy Cucumber, with gin, vodka, triple sec and cucumber (USD9.20), and, if you’re lucky, enjoy a drag show.

 


Getting Around

The omnipresent Taipei Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) is the easiest and cheapest way to get around. The subway system is fast, has an extensive network and is incredibly intuitive to navigate, with colored maps and signs in English and Chinese everywhere.

Single-use tokens can be purchased at designated machines or service booths (starting from USD0.70). Alternatively, you can get an EasyCard at any MRT station or 7-Eleven (USD3.30 deposit). It’s rechargeable, gives a 20% discount on all fares and can be used for buses and the subway.

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This story first appeared in the January 2020 issue of Smile magazineHotels and airfare not included in budget. Cebu Pacific flies to Taipei from Manila. cebupacificair.com 

Written by

Marianna Cerini

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