For Stephanie Hsu, the road is home. Her penchant for finding and sharing the best spots in the world through travel is evident in her professional life, where she works as an Editor for Spottly, and in her personal life through her blog, The Thousandth Girl and her newly launched digital magazine, Alleys, focusing on cafes, creativity and design in Asia.
After living in the USA for the former part of her life, Stephanie’s parents moved back to their home country of Taiwan. At the time, Stephanie was living in New York City for school and, when she visited her parents during winter break, she fell in love with her roots. Within a week, she made the move across the globe herself and has been a traveling nomad since. She lives for travel. In her words, “I simply just don’t like to stay in one place for too long,” but no matter where she finds herself in the world, Stephanie finds comfort in the similarities that exist from place to place. Her massive guide to the best Taipei has to offer is expansive, diverse and brimming with options. Enjoy! —Sabrina
I’m Stephanie — a freelance writer currently dividing my time between Taipei, Hong Kong, and a variety of digital-nomad-type trips whenever a location strikes me. I first moved out to Taipei on a complete whim — I was going to university in NYC when my parents moved from the States back to their home country of Taiwan. I came to Taipei to visit for winter break, fell in love with the city, applied for my visa and officially “moved” here a week later. I’ve never looked back. I adore this city because — far from an imposing East Asian metropolis — Taipei is more akin to a charming island village, with its leafy lanes and palm-fringed avenues. My life slows down in the best way whenever I’m in Taipei.
As the city moves away from a dependence on a struggling tech industry, Taipei is increasingly finding an identity in 緩慢深獲 (the “slow life”) as well as 小確幸 — the concept of savoring the “simple joys” of life. It’s a variation on the idea of “the good life” — eat, drink and be merry. Eat well, and often. (Taiwanese culture is notoriously food-obsessed: most gatherings revolve around eating, and many Taiwanese will think nothing of loitering in line for hours to get a taste of a hyped-up culinary trend). Drink better cocktails. Hang out in cafes with your friends.
Urban planners and developers are increasingly turning their eyes on the empty ghosts of Taipei’s industrial history — turning dilapidated warehouse properties into leisure and culture hubs. Adding to the creative energy of the city is a returning diaspora of second-generation Taiwanese such as myself; having been educated and gained professional experience abroad in America and Europe, young entrepreneurs are changing the cultural landscape of their re-adopted city.
It’s actually mind-blowing that I am now the one writing this guide to Taipei. When I first moved here, I got to know the city by printing out the last D*S Taipei City Guide and following it religiously. I went to almost every single place in the guide, and it is the main resource that helped me to discover the city.
You can find my personal and professional writing at The Thousandth Girl and I recently began my newest endeavor, Alleys, a digital magazine focusing on cafes, creativity and design in Asia.
The best way to explore is by bicycle — the city’s extensive “U-Bike” system ensures a set of wheels is never more than a few minutes’ walk away. In the labyrinthine alleys of cultural districts such as the East District and Zhongshan, explore on-foot. You’ll find a bevy of treasures with a strong Japanese influence — the result of a complex and rich history. Take a day to explore an entire neighborhood: wandering around, sampling foods, peeking into shops — it’s the Taipei way.
Non-Chinese speakers may find navigating public buses and taxis difficult, but Taipei’s efficient MRT system has rapidly expanded in recent years to cover most parts of the city. The majority of Taiwanese taxi drivers do not speak nor read a whit of English, so it would be prudent to pull up the address of your destination on your smartphone, or ask a friendly local to help you write it out on a piece of paper. Just about anywhere you venture, Taiwanese residents will not only be cordial, but charmingly enthusiastic about showing you to their favorite neighborhood gems — often escorting you to their favorite beef noodle (牛肉麵) shop, or red-bean soup (紅豆湯) stall.
I’ve organized this guide according to stops on Taipei’s metro system, or MRT.
Beitou Library No. 251 Guangming Rd – As the first building in Taiwan to receive official certification as a “green” structure, this branch of Taipei’s Public Library gets close to nature in the truest sense. The award-winning wood-and-glass structure peeks out from within a lush cascade of trees.
Villa 32 - No.32 Zhongshan Rd – The Japanese began building hot spring hotels in Beitou’s geo-thermal valley at the end of the 19th century, initiating the beginning of a beloved Taiwanese pastime. With its sleek design and stunning views, Villa32 is one of the most luxurious, but worth the splurge — it’s been featured by everyone from Conde Nast to the Wall Street Journal.
MAJI MAJI Square - A collection of shops and restaurants has sprung up in the formerly abandoned expanse of the former Taipei International Flora Exposition grounds. Grab groceries or a quick bite at the gourmet market Maji Food & Deli, or stroll through the numerous outdoor handi-craft booths that pop on the weekends — with a blueberry yogurt ice cream from Midori in hand.
EAT & DRINK
Good Cho’s - A outpost of the larger Good Cho’s store in the Xinyi District, the little shop sells freshly made bagels in a range of unique flavors — many have a distinctively Taiwanese twist: think match, red bean, and sweet potato varieties.
Shilin Night Market / 士林夜市- Although a guide-book classic with stalls encompassing all the traditional night market foods, renovations for the worse, a decrease in food quality, and an increase of tacky tourism make this a miss in my book. Do as the locals do and hit up Raohe or Tonghua night markets instead.
SONGSHAN AIRPORT MRT
Although it’s quite worrisome to have an airport in the midst of the city, the Songshan Airport MRT stop serves as the current closest stop to Minsheng Community – one of Taipei’s most underrated gems, particularly for the design fanatic. Originally built by the US military to have the feel of an American suburb, Minsheng Community’s unusually wide, tree-lined avenues (the main veins are leafy Fujin Street and Minsheng East Road) now house the greatest saturation of designers and design studios in the city.
EAT & DRINK
Daughters Cafe - Cafes tend to feature heavily in Taiwanese romantic dramas, and this quaint little shop rose to popularity through the movie Taipei Exchanges. Stop by for a coffee and to create your own romantic tableau, if you choose.
Beher Lifestyle Kitchen - A gourmet food shop stocking items from imported jams to local specialities. The owner also hosts cooking classes in the space, where participants can learn how to make a range of different cuisines from around the world.
3,co - A ceramics studio featuring the works of several in-house artisans.
Fujin Tree 355 / Fujin Tree 353 Cafe by Simple Kaffa – Select shop carrying zakka-style goods and clothing; next door is a complementary cafe opened by an artisan coffee roaster.
BEAMS - The Taiwanese branch of a well-known Japanese fashion and home goods retailer is always good for a quick peep-in for fresh finds.
Named after the arts-centric university that provides much of the area’s clientele, Shida centers around the Shida Night Market. This has changed in recent years, as government crackdowns have reduced Shida Night Market to a shell of its former glory. However, cafes and cheap student eateries abound, and night after night, the glow of the night market stalls light up as the sun sets, with vendors hawking a charming combination of cheap Made-in-China knick-knacks, Taiwanese street food, and Korean clothing imports. Don’t miss JSF - Taiwan’s de-facto stationery and home appliance store is always a good visit for souvenir shopping.
Hi, Ryou – Charming tatami-style floor seating, a little patio garden, and homemade desserts offer a respite from the commercial bustle of Shida Road.
Le Chat 路上撿到一隻貓 No. 2, Ln 49, Wenzhou St.－ The Chinese name for this late-night institution literally translates into “picked up a cat on the road.” One can only assume that the cat in question is a grumpy tabby that perches on the cafe counter, where a group of endearingly grumpy employees alternately dispense caffeinated drinks and play video games. Open until 1 am or later. Upstairs, Apartment is a small coffee bar / design goods store with a view out onto the quiet street.
Good Design Institute – A refreshing departure from the more ramshackle, student-frequented cafes that dominate the area, the space was opened by an interior design firm and doubles as a showroom, consistently changing its layout and decoration according to a constantly rotating selection of artisans.
In contrast to the hip, fashionable East District, Yongkang (Qintian) is Taiwan’s cultural heart, with many gorgeous houses preserved from the time of Japanese occupation. The area is serviced by Dongmen MRT.
Qintian 七六 Formerly the abode of a famed geology professor at nearby National Taiwanese University, the traditional Japanese-era building has since been renovated into a cozy Japanese restaurant. Peep in at noon (make sure to bring socks, as no shoes are allowed) to catch a pleasant tableau of professors and academics on lunch break.
Petit Pearl – No. 25 Ln 243 Jinhua St. The most delicious cinnamon buns and traditional Taiwanese pineapple cakes can be found at this tiny bakery; part of a picturesque row of shops often featured as a backdrop in Taiwanese television dramas.
Les Bebes – A strikingly modern exterior featured on many a design blog opens up to a single counter lined with rows of pastel-hued cupcakes, immaculately packaged and offered in both regular and “mini” sizes.
8% ice - Ice cream has been a consistent trend in the city for the past few years, but this serves up perhaps the most creative: their signature matcha and sea salt soft-serve swirl is divine.
Hui Liu A vegetarian restaurant and tea shop, a calm oasis located just on the outskirts of Yongkang’s tourist bustle.
Din Tai Fung - No.194 Sec. 2 Xinyi Rd. The titan of Taiwanese dining. Mind-blowingly delicious food, and absolutely impeccable service. It just doesn’t get any better than this, and there’s certainly a type of merit to eating delicious xiaolongbao in the “OG DTF,” where it all began. Order one of everything.
James Kitchen - 65 Yongkang St. This cozy spot’s take on rustic Taiwanese home-cooking is oily but satisfying. Embark on a culinary Taiwan throwback with simple dishes like pork lard over rice, and turnip-egg omelette.
Yongkang Beef Noodle – No. 17 Ln. 31 Sec. 2 Jinshan S. Rd. Debate rages long and heated in regards to the best beef noodles in Taipei, but this is often on the short list of the best.
Ecole Cafe – No. 6, Ln. 1 Qingtian St. Located directly across one of the area’s elementary schools, Ecole features a light-drenched atrium “living room,” copious plugs, and decently priced meal sets, drawing a consistent clientele of hungry creatives — and, of course, students.
Cans Tea & Books House – No. 9 Lishui St. House-blend oolongs both for sale and immediate sipping at this intimate bookstore/tea-shop space, which curates an impressive collection of literature on tea-culture and the fine arts.
Green Steps – No. 27 Ln. 243 Jinhua St. In stark contrast to some of the more digitally connected cafes around the city, this little glass storefront hidden behind a leafy courtyard eschews the laptop crowd, cultivating a deliberate air of relaxation — brown rice tea latte served in delicate floral cups; a slice of matcha cheesecake — over conversation, not the computer.
Cafe Libero 小自由 - Open late into the night, this famed cafe is more known for its whiskeys than its coffee.
Cafe Kuroshio – Drip coffee accompanies an array of mouthwatering homemade desserts, posted daily on their Facebook page.
Mooi - Part mid-century furniture shop, part cafe, housed in a gorgeously preserved Japanese-era building in a leafy alley.
PINMO Pure Store – No. 63 Yongkang St. Pinmo began as a design studio mainly working on brand identity; eventually developing their own select shop selling a variety of quirky finds, including over 200 types of paper.
Earth Tree, TWINE and Motherhouse – No. 35-1 Ln. 30, Sec. 2, Xinsheng S. Rd. Fair-trade products, including famed Japanese brand People Tree, sold from a cohesive retail space.
Taipei’s de-facto design ‘hood; an area full of showrooms, galleries, and Japanese businesses.
Galerie Bistro – A Euro-inspired bistro set within a three-story brick-and-concrete mansion dating back to the 1930s. The fare: Taiwanese takes on French, Italian and American favorites, which you can enjoy on marble tables in the spacious outdoor patio — a rare find in the city’s dining scene.
Fei Chien Wu – No. 13-2, Ln 121, Sec. 1 Zhongshan N. Rd. Famous eel rice — Taipei has some of the world’s best Japanese cuisine outside of Japan itself.
Xiaoqi + K - Japanese home-cooking at its simplest — carefully prepared set meals (grilled salmon, fried pork cutlet with egg) are served in a spare glass storefront with an open kitchen.
Cafe Melange - No. 23 Ln. 16 Sec. 2, Zhongshan N. Rd. A tired-but-lovable classic of the Taipei cafe scene — still known for their waffles. Unlike their American counterparts, Taiwanese waffles are cakey and extremely dense, served with scoops of ice cream and heaped with fruit. (If the waffles appeal, try the fruit-laden versions at Coffee Alley).
SPOT Taipei Film House - The former American embassy of Taipei has been renovated into an arthouse theatre, design goods store and airy cafe space. A perfect date night: catch a movie and go for a coffee afterwards to discuss it. Order the affrogato.
Booday - 18-1 Ln. 25 Nanjing W. Rd. Taiwan’s flagship “slow life” brand began with a line of cotton t-shirts and has since morphed into a line of clothing and accessories that celebrate simplicity, handicraft, and sustainability. A visit to their multi-story store-cafe space will uncover tables made of recycled wood, Japanese decorating magazines, and more.
Galoop (G Love) – No. 24 Sec. 2 Zhongshan N Rd. Beloved Taiwanese lifestyle brand Galoop centers around simple garments with playful details and understated patterns. G Love is the free-spirited younger sister to the more sophisticated Galoop brand, and I swoon for the quirky stationery and their nail polish line, offered in every imaginable hue.
61note - A prime example of the mixed-use, LOHAS (lifestyle of health and sustainability) influenced spaces across the the city, this part tea-shop, part store, part cafe features an understated aesthetic. Stop by for a bit of shopping before indulging in tea-time.
Ppaper Shop - Run by the creative agency behind Chinese-language design mag Ppaper, the retail space is a carefully curated complement to the magazine’s aesthetic — stocking imported clothing, home and office goods, as well as a selection of creations of its own design.
‘0416 x 1024 - Quirky graphic t-shirts with amusing illustrations and sayings are the speciality of this small design collective. Fun: duck into a little wooden house built in the corner of the retail space — it’s used as their changing room.
Lovely Taiwan - Featuring items crafted by Taiwan’s aboriginal tribes — often made with traditional techniques and materials — this multi-outlet shop aims to give back. Much of the proceeds from the range of goods on offer (wood carvings, homespun cloth bags, and ceramics) return to the communities that produced them. A perfect place to find sustainable souvenirs.
East District / 東區
The capital’s creative and fashion hub, The East District’s soul lies in the labryinth of small alleys stemming from main vein Zhongxiao East Road. Although the area is serviced by a growing number of MRT stops, the main ones being Zhongxiao Fuxing and Zhongxiao Dunhua, keep in mind that many shops are still quite a bit of a stroll from a station.
ZHONGXIAO XINSHENG MRT
Huashan Cultural and Creative Park 1914 – An abandoned brewery in the midst of the city was rediscovered by a group of thespians, before undergoing the transformation into a vibrant creative center. Brick buildings and vast warehouses house a myriad of boutiques, exhibition venues, galleries and restaurants. Have a coffee and flip through books at VVG Thinking before catching an indie flick at SPOT Huashan.
Paper St Coffee Company – Filter coffee in an airy little corner of a busy intersection across from Huashan.
Cafe de Riz - A calm, minimalistic space with an equally minimal menu — a few versions of donburi (raw fish over rice) are offered, along with a selection of coffees, craft beers, and other cafe drinks.
Eastern Ice Store 東區粉圓 - Lane 216 of Zhongxiao East Road is the premiere foodie street of the area. An extremely popular joint serving up sweet, chewy rice balls — a traditional Taiwanese dessert and a variation on the Japanese mochi — with an array of toppings, including molasses-drizzled shaved ice, red-bean, grass jelly, and almond tofu.
Cafe Costumice - A favored hang-out of the fashionable denizens of the neighborhood, this rustic-chic cafe boasts wooden tables, a large outdoor patio and a selection of fashion books and magazines to while the afternoon away. Must-order: the lychee “beauty vinegar,” served in a wine glass.
Woo Taipei – In addition to having the best interior of any bar in the city – think funky, upscale British gastro-pub — they offer the inimitable “Blossom Sangria” cocktail: like smelling an entire bouquet of roses – even better because you get drunk at the end. Many a night has begun (and ended) with their deadly absinthe drips. An Italian-inspired dinner menu is available.
Zhongxiao Fuxing MRT
Coffee Megane - Megane means “eyeglasses” in Japanese — and indeed one will have to keep a sharp eye out not to miss this tiny Japanese-inspired cafe, marked only with a simple line illustration of glasses. The ideal cafe light lunch: a set meal of two types of onigri.
Diary Bistro - A sleek, industrial interior designed by the proprietor himself houses an open kitchen with a delightful fusion menu. The tapas are especially stand-out — the “fried rock,” seafood fried in black squid-ink batter, is a visual trip.
Man Zhe Die – A famed Taipei chirashi (raw fish over rice) joint. Highlight: toasting sheets of seaweed over your own miniature grill. Be prepared, as with most well-regarded eateries in Taipei, for a wait.
Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT
Nonzero - An airy space and rows of fresh ingredients welcome diners to a slow food experience, with a seasonally changing menu (primarily Western).
Slack Season Noodle 度小月 - A go-to staple of mine when my visitors are looking for a taste of local food. This chain centers around Southern Taiwanese cuisine and is famous for their Tainan-style braised pork noodles and rice. Photo-op: watching servers ladle up bubbling pork fat from a huge iron pot placed strategically in the window.
VVG Something / VVG Bistro / VVG Chiffon / VVG Table – It seems that the city’s small alleyways contain all the beautiful shops and cafes — this alleyway especially, as it’s home to three shops in the VVG food and design “family.” VVG Chiffon features a charmingly haphazard collection of DIY and sewing-related knick-knacks. VVG Bistro is the grandmother of Taipei slow-life cafes, and undoubtedly still one of the best – proof that a combination of impeccable interior design, homemade food, and a lush patio never become dated. Mosey over to VVG Something across the street – a little shop crammed to the rafters with art and design titles. VVG Table has a Moroccan flair and serves heartier fare.
Blah Blah Blah - Handcrafted fabric bags with leather handles and delicate jewelery star at this little shop.
Snow Monster - The shaved ice at this bright, quirky shop inspires queues even on less-than-sweltering days. Order the shaved ice made of milk tea and topped with boba.
a poet - Impeccable design, vintage decor and lush surrounds make this cafe a darling of Taiwanese home interior magazines and Instagram addicts. Light tea-time food and Mediterranean fare is available.
Xinyi Eslite - The largest branch of Taiwan’s largest bookstore chain sells far more than printed matter — with clothing, accessories, cafes and even a food court, Eslite’s Xinyi location is essentially an artsy, well-curated department store. The Dunhua Eslite location (the original) is open 24 hours.
Smith & Hsu - No. 8 Sec. 5 Zhongxiao E. Rd. At this tea shop, waiters bring a tray of more than 40 tea samples for discerning drinkers to choose from. The scones, an adaptation from English tea-time, are not to be missed. Several branches located around the city.
Shin Yeh – A good option for a sit-down meal of 台菜 “tai cai” — traditional Taiwanese dishes — though at premium prices. A location atop of 101 offers a particularly good dinner view.
Good Cho’s - Yet another feel-good story of a dilapidated complex with a prime city-center location being given new life instead of being razed for valuable real estate, a military housing complex in the shadow of 101 now houses a selection of permanent and pop-up exhibitions. Stop by for a red-bean bagel fresh out of the oven and a stroll their shop, which features the work of local artisans. On Sundays, Simple Market sets up its stalls in the courtyard: one side is a small farmers’ market, while the other has weekend entrepreneurs offering everything from henna tattoos to mini-terrariums, often to the soothing background tunes of a live band.
Woolloomoolo WXY - A quirk of Taipei’s cafe culture is that almost none of the “nicer” cafes open until 10 am or later, with many not opening until lunch time. This Aussie-inspired cafe is one of the few weekday brunch options available, and no complaints here — both the food (avo toast) and flat whites constitute a “proper feed.”
SUN YAT SEN MEMORIAL HALL MRT
Songshan Cultural and Creative Park - One of the city’s most ambitious cultural initiatives in recent years, the empty warehouses of the former Songshan Tobacco Factory have come to life, filled with an ever-increasing number of exhibitions and design initiatives, including the Red Dot Design Museum. The crumbling structures and lush, sprawling grounds are worth a look alone — one can hardly believe that 101 stands less than a 15-minute stroll away.
Songyan Eslite – Taiwanese bookseller Eslite has taken a more curated approach with its most recent location, though with the same basic elements: several floors of books, clothing, design products; and, of course, a quality food court. On the Tea & Books floor, a row of Taiwanese tea shops offers a respite from book-browsing. An underrated attraction is the Eslite Theater, where movie-goers can purchase a selection of gourmet snacks (and coffee!) to enjoy inside.
Sense30 – With the recent explosion of the city’s public biking initiative, Taipei’s emerging urban biking culture has been thrown to the forefront. Sense30’s bicycles are inspired by the elegant craftsmanship and design rationality of Victorian-era cycling gear.
Tripod King - No. 89 Guangfu N. Rd. Hot-pot (火鍋) is a beloved Taiwanese culinary staple, and this well-regarded joint is a prime place to partake. Order plates and plates of marbled beef, fish balls, vegetables to be cooked in a spicy, boiling broth, and sample the duck’s blood cakes, if you dare!
Lan Jia Gua Bao - No. 3 Alley 8 Ln. 316 Sec. 3 Roosevelt Rd. The “Taiwanese hamburger” consists of fatty pork stuffed in a fluffy steamed bun, with crushed peanuts and cilantro to taste. This tiny stall across the main entrance of the university (and next to Chen San Ding) offers what many say is the best version in the city. Finding it amongst the myriad of other businesses crowding the alley is an easy task — just look for the queue.
Treasure Hill Artists’ Village - This housing complex by the Gongguan Riverside, originally built to house war veterans, was slated for destruction. Today, the ramshackle little village still stands and provides housing for a series of rotating artists-in-residence, who each leave their mark in the way of unique sculptures, murals and workshops. They live alongside many of the original residents, who are no doubt amused at the influx of visitors who visit each day to admire their gardens, have a coffee, and pose in photos in front of the art.
Hailed as the “Harajuku” of Taiwan, the neon glow of Ximending once symbolized the heart of Taiwan’s youth and pop culture. Though its glory days have long passed, the area still retains a semblance of its former vitality and remains a popular hangout for young Taiwanese students.
Red House Theater - This century-old structure of red brick is now home to 16 Workshops: a type of artisan-centric “mall” that acts as a one-stop shop for a selection of Taiwanese creatives. A weekend market initiative swells the numbers of both buyers and sellers.
Somebody Cafe - A gem of a cafe hidden amidst garish alleyways — climb stairs up to the second floor, a boutique shop selling products from design studio 26 Creative. The third floor is the cafe proper, and a series of musical performances and art events are hosted on the fourth.
Loft No. 105 / Luminant – A little home goods store focuses mainly on vintage lighting appliances.
Snow King – No. 65, Sec. 1 Wuchang St. In operation since 1947, Snow King offers over 70 flavors of ice cream, ranging from the weird (pork floss) to the intriguing (Taiwan Beer) to the reliably delicious (guava, mango, taro).
Bopiliao Old Street – A stroll through the storefronts and exhibitions of this preserved street transports visitors to a Taiwan gone-by.
Yongle Market – No. 21, Sec. 1 Dihua St. The former heart of Taiwan’s textile industry still offers an impressive amount of yardage for sale. Custom clothing, bags and home goods can be made for a bargain: browse the maze of stalls for fabric before heading upstairs to have it sewn into the form of your choice.
ArtYard - No. 1 Ln. 32 Sec. 1 Dihua St. A residence built in the colonial era houses local brands Hakka Blue (a ceramics studio whose work is inspired by traditional Hakka clothing), In Blooom (whimsical silk-screened textiles, from cushions to chopstick covers), and a bookstore stocking vintage postcards and other nostalgic memorabilia of a Taiwan’s past. Upstairs, Luguo Cafe serves excellent coffee.
The Gongguan area revolves largely round National Taiwan University, the nation’s largest and most prestigious university. The majestic rows of palms bordering the university’s main avenue, like many of its buildings, have been around since the time of Japanese occupation. NTU’s spacious grounds and wide roads are a delight in such a hectic and oft-crowded city. Do as the students do and head for a coffee break at one of the “coffee trucks” near Drunken Moon Lake, or grab an organic peanut popsicle, on offer at the NTU Farm Store, stocking products made with ingredients harvested from the university’s agricultural initiatives. The area is served by Gongguan MRT and Liuzhangli MRT.
Chen San Ding - Unlike our heated debates on the city’s best beef noodle stall, most 台北人 (Taipei residents) would agree that when it comes to boba drinks, it’s hard to beat the famed stall 陳三鼎 in the Gongguan neighorhood: black-sugar-infused boba ladled out piping-hot and shaken with fresh milk.
Tai-Yi Milk King - Housed in a rickety wooden shop across from the main entrance of National Taiwan University.
T. Loafer – No. 20 Ln. 141 Sec. 2, Jinshan S Rd. Quirky little cafe with a head-turning exterior made entirely of window panes.
Rufuous Coffee - The award-winning barista’s blends, covered in many a Taiwanese coffee publication (Taiwanese are obsessed with coffee and there are many…), often inspire a wait outside the tiny shop.
Picnic - A very cozy “Zakka” style cafe often patronized by students from the nearby university — sit on the couch to eat a scone with marmalade, while sipping on apple butter tea.
Wistaria Tea House – Step back in time with a traditional tea-time, set in a traditional Japanese structure dating back to the 1920s, and historically a favorite meeting spot for Taipei’s literati and academics.
When it comes to accommodation, Taiwan doesn’t have the glitz of cosmopolitan hubs such as neighboring city Hong Kong, but options at all price points have been increasing in recent years.
For those on a budget, Airbnb is a sure bet — although the city’s Airbnb offerings are largely “serviced,” it’s a good way of experiencing a semblance of “everyday” Taiwanese life — good neighborhoods for this are the East District (東區), Yongkang / Shida.
Attic Hostel in Treasure Hill is spartan-chic, and set in a stunning location on the Gongguan Riverside — in an old veteran’s village saved from demolition by turning into an artists’ colony full of studios, cafes and tiny shops. The catch: only people in creative professions visiting Taiwan for a creative endeavor are allowed to stay, and applications are required.
Mid-Range: AMBA Ximending – A design gem in the midst of garish Ximending, AMBA offers modern rooms, and access to its gorgeous facilities, including Chiba, a playful dining nook with shelves of nostalgic toys — and live music performances at Tingba, a comfy living room of a lounge decorated with vinyl records.
While the hipper-than-thou W Taipei is the hotel of choice for young professionals, those less inclined towards neon lighting and frou-frou mojitos may opt for one of the more understated luxury hotels in the city, such as Hotel Quote, with a stunning bar 333, and Humble House, which boasts an top-notch restaurant. Compared to what’s on offer at other cosmopolitan capitals, the hotels are still a steal, with rooms often averaging under $200 USD / night.
Fu Hang Dou Jiang - No. 108, Sec. 1 Zhongxiao E. Rd. This revered Taiwanese breakfast joint inspires long queues at mind-bogglingly early hours (think 5 am onwards) — those who stagger there in time will be surprised to find a mix of tourists and locals, who just want their fix of the shop’s famous soymilk and “you tiao” (fried bread stick).
Addiction Aquatic Development - Opened by the Japan-based Mitsui group (who has opened several upscale restaurants in Taipei), AAD is a carefully planned love letter to the fruit of the sea. The sprawling complex is located next to the city’s wholesale fish market and includes its own tanks, where you can choose fresh seafood to eat raw at the standing sushi bar, or grilled on the outdoor BBQ patio. The closest MRT is Zhongshan Jr. High School MRT.
I just had to add a few listings written with a more personal touch. These gems, while not as well-known or well-regarded as others on my list, are what makes this city home to me.
DATE STAPLE: Bistro Le Pont – One of those funny little gems you’d never know about unless you lived in the ‘hood. An immaculately recreated French bistro serves up a distinctly Taiwanese menu of rice and noodle dishes centered around goose-meat and fat, jars of which are available for sale at the shopfront. Goose-fat fries, a bowl of goose-meat noodles, and typical Taiwanese sauteed greens make the perfect cross-culture meal.
REGULAR BRUCH JOINT: Duomo Cafe 多麼 咖啡 - From humble beginnings as a waffle cart in the Shida Night Market, 多麼 has transitioned into a cozy storefront on a discreet alley near Renai Road. Though they’re more known for their waffles (served with homemade jams) and brunch sets (focaccia with bacon with a hot spring egg), it’s my go-to option for a quiet nightcap as well.
MUST-BUY: Siidcha (locations in Jiufen & Sonyan Eslite, online shop) – The only stop I must make when I know I’m going to be away from Taipei for a good length of time. The shop specializes around a ground Hakka-style tea called leicha. I always place large orders of the peach oolong and the roasted barley green tea, which smell divine.
WEEKEND BREATHER: Shifen - This is far from a secret to Taipei locals, but many tourists give this tiny magical mountain town a miss in favor of less-interesting (but more touristy) Pingxi, or head straight for Jiufen. Trains from Taipei Main Station depart regularly. I always opt for a hike to the Shifen waterfall, followed by a shaved ice and a simple meal of noodles as I wait around for night to fall — to set off my glowing lantern, inked with my wishes and dreams — into the heavens.
STAY: dearbnb.com offers a portal into the myriad of tiny, homespun bed-and-breakfast operations scattered throughout Taiwan’s countryside and in smaller Taiwanese cities. As the site is currently only offered in Chinese, you’ll have to enlist a Chinese-literate friend (or everyone’s friend, Google Translate) for assistance.
MUSEUMS & OTHER TOURIST STAPLES
National Palace Museum - Taiwan’s most famous museum — and Taiwanese are quick to note that the museum houses a vast collection of Chinese ceramics, carvings, calligraphy and other cultural curios incomparable to any elsewhere, including those of China itself. Avoid weekends and peak hours, when tour groups clog the galleries.
The Taipei Fine Arts Museum, a striking, modern structure of concrete and glass, stands in stark contrast to the Japanese-era facade MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) Taipei - the building first served as an elementary school, before serving as the offices of the Taipei city government. Both museums play host to a range of fascinating and well-curated exhibits — and it’s always worth a look to see what’s on.
Taiwan Museum of History - Though the exhibits tend towards the mediocre, the museum is worth a visit if its large lily pond is in bloom. Take a stroll around the Taipei Botanical Gardens afterwards for a bit of green.
CKS Memorial Hall - The memorial to the Republic of China’s first president stands at the east end of Memorial Hall Square, a massive plaza is bordered by the National Theater and the National Concert Hall.
Taipei 101 - Though an impressive sight, the truth is that Taipei is not the most aesthetic city from above. A better strategy would be to skip the queues and fee for the 101 Observation Deck and head up Elephant Mountain (Xiangshan), located only 10 minutes walk from Taipei 101 (and even closer from Xiangshan MRT). A short, steep hike of 20 minutes takes you to a breathtaking view of 101 rising from amidst the city basin.
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Photos provided by my talented friend (and fellow LA-to-Taipei transplant) Sean Marc Lee. For more Taipei flicks, check out his work here.