The Scene: In 1947, upon surrendering mainland China to the communists, Chiang Kai-Shek fled with his army to the island of Taiwan, harboring the intentions of overtaking Mao Zedong in due time. He brought with him the reserves from the Bank of China (Taiwan still has the third-largest of any nation), the most valuable Chinese art and a whole-hell-of-a-lot-of knowledgeable cooks from the disparate regions of China. This strategy blessed the compact little island of Taiwan with the world’s best assortment of Chinese regional cuisine. Today a prosperous and modern city, Taipei is still a surprisingly affordable city to eat across; and it would take a lifetime to transverse all of Taipei’s street-food offerings. Unlike Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing, Taipei has preserved its on-the-go food choices even in face of today’s urban modernity. Start at Shilin night market, where you can rub shoulders with the infinitely hungry (yet mysteriously thin) locals in search of the latest hawker creations like black pepper scented buns roasted in tandoor-like ovens and Taiwanese sausage split open as if it were a bun and stuffed with another sausage. At Gongguan night market, you can wait in line 30 minutes for the hottest cup of milk tea in Taiwan. Near the subway stations, surprisingly good fry stands cook up crispy fresh squid into the wee small hours. Take the subway up north to harborside Tamshui for sashimi and sausage made with fish eggs or tuna. No matter how much you’ve tried, you’ve barely broken the surface here – even the good-natured locals have their heads spinning with new snack options almost daily.
If you’re flying in from another country, you’ll be landing at Taoyuan. It’s a roughly 35 to 50 minute taxi ride into town depending on traffic and where you’re headed. A taxi into town should cost you around 1000 NT or $30 USD. You can also take a combination of bus and train as well which the information counter at the airport can help sort out.
Residents of most countries can visit for up to 90 days without a visa. Check the Bureau of Consular Affairs site for more information and to see if your country is exempt. A shortlist is: Australia, USA, the UK, most European countries, Japan, and Korea are all on the list. Singapore and Malaysia are visa-exempt for only a 30-day visit.
Airbnb is a great option in Taipei because there are a number of properties available despite it technically being illegal for owners to rent through it in Taiwan. When you check in you may get a warning about keeping a low profile and not telling neighbors you’re renting an Airbnb apartment but we’ve never had any problems. Our favorite place to stay is on Yongkang street or the general vicinity where there are a number of great Airbnb options.
Not cheap by Southeast Asian standards, but still cheap. Especially when you’re talking about street food. Plenty of snacks for just above $1. Most meals in the $2-3 range. You could snack all night in a night market and barely break $10. For beer, take-out from 7-11 should suffice, as the city’s bars are disproportionately expensive.
The official currency in Taiwan is the New Taiwan dollar, or NT. Changing money in Taiwan is actually a huge headache. You can change at the airport but the rates are atrocious. In the city, you can’t just walk up to a teller like you can in some other countries. You’ll need to go through a series of forms, passport copies, and waiting inside an actual bank. You best bet is to just use an atm and take the hit on the fees. It’s much easier than dealing with the process.
By far the best way to get around Taipei is on the MRT (subway). The trains are super clean, efficient, and affordable. Pick up an EasyCard for use on the MRT and the city’s excellent bike share program, below.
Youbike is Taipei’s bike share program and it is excellent. Rental is super cheap and easy and the roads are almost all flat so getting around by bike is a great option. The city has recently undergone a massive transformation that has created dedicated bike lanes on many of the sidewalks around town that are separated from the street. This makes biking around the city a pleasure. Just try to avoid rush our, when the pedestrians filling the sidewalk and the heavy traffic on the streets makes biking a bit perilous.
You’ll need a local number to register your EasyCard for use with the Youbike system but if you have that, set up is simple and you can do it right at the kiosk when you’re ready to take your first ride. Check out this map to locate the nearest kiosk.
You can take advantage of the pricing system by carefully planning your trips. The first 30 minutes of riding are extremely cheap so if you can string together sub-30-minute trips you can really ride around on the cheap!
Taxis in Taipei aren’t the cheapest option and the other means of getting around are so easy that we usually stick to the MRT and Youbike.
Having a sim card is handy because you’ll have data on the go for accessing maps, etc, and you also need a local number in order to register your EasyCard for use with the bikeshare. You can easily grab a sim card at the airport or at one of the cell phone shops in town. Just be sure to have your passport with you when you purchase as they’ll need to make a copy.
Taiwan isn’t known for coffee in the rest of the world but there is a serious scene in Taipei. Because there isn’t a large specialty coffee roaster in the area, many shops roast their own beans. A nice bonus side effect of this is that cafes in Taipei all smell like freshly roasted coffee which, if you haven’t ever smelled it, is amazing. The neighborhood surrounding Yongkang street has a huge concentration of great cafes and you’d do fine just wandering the back alleys there and picking a place.
Our Favorite Specialty Coffee Shops
Coffee Stand Up – a great little spot serving specialty espresso drinks in Zhongshao Dunhua. Near the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall stop on the MRT.
Great Chain Shops
Cama – you’ll see it everywhere. The mascot looks a bit like Snoopy. Despite being a chain, every individual shop roasts beans fresh at each location.
Pearl milk tea was invented in Taiwan. There are shops selling it everywhere and loads of great options. And although they’re known for the milk tea, many of these shops make great fruit-flavored tea and other drinks. The lemon iced tea is great. A couple of our favorites:
Lattea – if you’re into the tea crema thing (or if you’ve never tried it) Lattea does a great version with salty cream on top of nice bright iced tea. Expect a wait on the weekends as it’s a popular spot with local kids.
50 Lan – with locations around the city, this is a great spot for a traditional milk tea on the go.
Chun Shui Tang – Any list of milk tea spots in Taiwan that doesn’t metion Chun Shui Tang is lacking. They are the inventor of pearl milk tea, from Taichung. With branches all over Taipei, they’re easy to find. Their drinks are much more expensive than most other places but totally worth it. They use top quality tea and milk, and their tapioca is made almost to order.
Yongkang Street is the culinary epicenter of Taipei when it comes to non-night market food. You’ll find a number of famous restaurants here including the original Din Tai Fung location, the best green onion pancakes in the entire world (in our opinion), and some excellent beef noodle soup options, among other things.
Must try: beef noodle soup, green onion pancakes, soup dumplings.
Some of our favorite night markets are listed here. For more detail on them, including a map, check out our post about the Best Night Markets in Taipei.
Shilin – The largest and most popular market. A great place to get lost for an evening and eat yourself stupid.
Raohe – One of the best all-around markets with a large selection that isn’t quite as touristy as Shilin.
Tonghua – A great market right in the center of town with less tourists than some of the other larger markets.
Ningxia – A small, very food-focused market that also has a small section of old-school games at one end.
Keelung – Not actually in Taipei central but one of our favorite markets. Out in the seaside town of Keelung about an hour ride by bus this market is heavily seafood-focused but has some of everything.
Must try: black pepper buns, chicken skin wrapped sausages, bqq squid, oyster omelets, peanut brittle and sorbet dessert crepes.
No visit to Taiwan is complete without trying out some of the best Chinese breakfast in the world. Taiwanese breakfast is a much more Western-friendly palette of breakfast foods than many other Asian culture’s breakfast. It usually includes a bowl of warm soy milk (sweet or savory) and some youtiao (Chinese donuts/fritters). Other great options include the Taiwanese version of the Egg McMuffin, a scrambled egg rolled into a dough pocket that’s been cooked in a tandoor-like oven. We have two favorite spots in Taipei for breakfast and they’re both pretty well-known.
Fu Hang Dou Jiang – this place is a breakfast factory. Plan on waiting in a line that looks like it will take all day but really only takes about 30 minutes or so. Be prepared to order ahead of time because as soon as you get to the counter it’s high-pressure in-your-face shit-or-get-off-the-pot ordering time or they’ll pass you right up and move on to the next. Ask for the English menu and make quick reactions. Our favorite here is the savory soy milk – it tastes like a Japanese chawanmushi made with soy milk and topped with nice crispy youtiao fritters.
永和豆漿 – There are two locations but we prefer the one at No. 63, Section 4, Ren’ai Rd. This one is run by a friendly old auntie who is happy to have foreigners trying out Taiwanese breakfast. Their options have also been a little bit better than the ones we’ve tried at the location at No. 102, Section 2, Fuxing S Rd. Go for the sweet warm soy milk with a side of youtiao and an egg pancake on the side.
Ice Monster – Mango shaved ice. Done. The Taiwanese have perfected a type of shaved ice that has a texture somewhere between ice cream and traditional shaved ice. Ice Monster does it best, in our opinion. Much better than Smoothie House on Yongkang but if you’re in that area that’s another good option still. Ice Monster tip – go to the location near Taipei City Hall for a much shorter line.
The area across from NTU between the Gongguan MRT station and the Taipower building contains some essential Taipei street eats. The gua bao at Lan Jia is legendary. Wait in line, grab one, toss some chili on it, and then head across the alley to the longest line you’ve ever seen for pearl tea at one of the most famous spots for it in Taipei. Just look for the line – you can’t miss it.
Jiufen Old Town
If you can make it out there, Jiufen’s walking streets are packed with awesome snack options that’ll keep you busy for hours. Be sure to hit the famous afro wig sausage lady who sells some of the tastiest Taiwanese sausages we’ve ever had and the famous traditional dessert shop overlooking the stairs.
Jade and Flower Markets
Don’t miss these two markets. Although they aren’t food-related, they’re still great fun. The jade market is in insane collection of stone collectors of all sorts. You can find just about anything from cheap fake jade to high-quality GIA certified gems. Prices are great too so if you’re in the market, do your homework and come prepared to bargain. The flower market is an excellent spot to see the amazing variety of hosue plants and other flora on display for the locals to fill their balconies with.
Drinking in bars isn’t high on our priority list in Taipei. We prefer to eat at the night markets and grab beers to go from 7-11. When we do drink in Taipei, we like it to be somehwere relaxing like a cafe or someplace we can grab a nice beer. A couple of our favorite spots are:
Beer and Cheese
A great beer selection.
A cafe with a great little beer and wine selection as well as lots of other non-alcoholic options.
Tamsui is a great little waterfront town at the end of the MRT red line. It’s a bit touristy but you’ll find some great snacks and views of the waterfront. It’s a good place to spend an afternoon wandering the streets and along the water.
If you’re a fan of Hayo Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, you’ll love Jiufen. It feels like you’re walking inside a Miyazaki set and it’s not wonder because Jiufen was the influence for much of the scenery in Spirited Away.
There are lots of hot springs a short distance from central Taipei. Beitou is the most famous hot spring town in the area and with good reason – it’s beautiful and super easy to access. Take the MRT for a day trip or book an overnight room.Bill