Now that school is finally in session, summer is beginning to feel very far away. Before it’s memory fades completely, I wanted to write a post (or two!) about my family’s trip to Taiwan. I want to begin with some suggestions for things to see and do in the capital of Taiwan, just in case you find yourself in Taipei with kids and some free time 🙂
Important: when booking accommodations, make sure the place you will be staying at has working air conditioning!
Essential Things to Take on a Summer Trip to Taipei
Summer in Taipei is HOT, humid and often rainy. You can know all of this in advance, yet still not be prepared for the wave of heat and humidity that will engulf you the minute you get off the plane (or out of the air-conditioned airport).
Things you need to pack:
- Hot-weather cloths. I recommend mostly tank tops and sleeveless clothing. Loose-fitting is a plus. Anything too tight will stick to your body. Even a t-shirt will feel like too much!
- Water-proof sandals (your feet will get wet).
- An umbrella
- A rain jacket (optional).
- A small, preferably waterproof bag to carry essentials as you walk around the city.
- A spray water bottle, to both keep you hydrated and cool yourself with.
Must See Sights:
The National Palace Museum. If you have only a few hours in the city, this is the one most important place to go to. The Palace Museum contains a vast collection of treasures from the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. The Nationalists brought the collection with them after they lost the civil war in 1949.
There is a lot to see: paintings, porcelain, bronze and much more. You will need many hours to see everything, but your kids might lose interest long before you do. So it might be worth while to chose which exhibitions you want to see first, just in case… The museum has brochures, which tell you what the most popular items are. Go early if you want to see them up close. The exhibition halls do get crowded! And don’t miss the jade cabbage, though I still don’t understand why it’s so popular:
Some exhibitions are kid-friendly. We spent way too much time at the digital painting- manipulation exhibit, by far the least impressive of them all. But it had screens, and my kids got to paint horses! There is also a small kid-playing area in the basement.
If you’re done with the Palace Museum and still have time, cross the road to the opposite Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines. It’s a lot smaller, but interesting, low key and informative.
Chiang Kaishek Memorial. This is another place any local host will take you to. Soak in the vastness of the space and grandness of the architecture–it is meant to impress.
And if you’re there at the right time, your kids might enjoy seeing the change of guard at Chiang’s statue.
Taipei 101. This is the tallest building in Taiwan, and one of the tallest in the world. You can see it from almost anywhere in the city. Once inside, you can go to an observation deck on the top, and see the damper that helps keeps it stable even during typhoons. If you want, you can mail a postcard from the top. And you have to leave through a huge store full of incredible (and incredibly expensive!) jade carvings. For some reason, my kids loved this building. I think it’s actually the only thing my son remembers from Taipei!
A great place to take kids to is the Taipei Zoo. We did not expect much of the zoo, and it pleasantly surprised us. In fact, it is one of the nicest zoos I’ve been to (and I’ve been to a whole lot!). It has a few pandas, held in an indoor, air-conditioned enclosure:
But the other, open-air pans were a lot more interesting, I think. I enjoyed the tropical vegetation as well. It felt like a combination of a zoo and a botanical garden.
If you go there, make sure to take the gondola. The view from above is magnificent, and your kids will love it!
Must Experience Sights:
You can’t be in Taipei without visiting a few temples. One of the more famous ones is the Buddhist Lungshan Temple. The structure you see now is a mid-twentieth century rebuild.
You cannot visit this temple without going to the nearby Snake Alley. This night market really does sell snakes (to eat!). We didn’t buy any, but seeing them for sale left a huge impression on my children.
Many other temples and shrines dot the city, both big and small. Go into some of them and look around. Smell the incense. Observe people worship. Listen to the sounds. With time, you might start distinguishing between Buddhist and Confucian temples.
Night Markets. For a genuine Taipei experience make sure to visit a few of its bustling night markets. These will utilize all your senses: there is a lot to see, hear, feel and smell! Stop by some stalls and get local street food. It’s likely to be nothing like anything you’ve had before. If you’re brave, try the stinky tofu!
If you can be in Taipei for a weekend, the weekend Flower Market is a must. Operating in a parking lot under an elevated road, this is a heaven for plant lovers.
It has a vast array of tropical plants of all kinds. Bonsai pots of all sizes, bamboo arrangements, and amazing orchids that will take your breath away!
Once you’re done with the flower market, go visit the nearby Jade Market. This market, too, is open only on weekends, and holds a big selection of trinkets, jade, beads, antiques and other interesting curiosities. Bargaining is expected.
Taipei has an amazing array of food of all kinds. Taste as much of it as you can! Try the street food, go to different kinds of restaurants, both cheap and more expensive. Experience different kinds of cuisines.
For special treats, try the following two places recommended separately by two of our Taiwanese friends, Siyen and Peisun. The first is a great breakfast place called Fu Hang Soymilk. It offers simple but delicious breakfast staples like fried dough sticks, soy milk and shaobing. When we went there, the line was already very long at 6:30 am, but it did move relatively quickly. Don’t go on your first day! You’ll appreciate the place a lot more if you have other breakfast restaurants to compare it to.
For lunch, try Din Tai Fung, considered the best dumpling restaurant in Taipei. We waited in almost one-hundred degrees for over seventy minutes to get in. The dumplings were good. My kids still fantasize about the chocolate ones!
They also have a branch in Taipei 101, although we didn’t try it.
If you still have time in Taipei, there is yet more to see.
There are many small museums in the city, that can keep kids happy for a while. We enjoyed learning how to make paper at the Paper Museum.
The Ama Museum, dedicated to comfort women, was more somber but educational. The attached cafe was very pleasant, too.
The museum is located on Dihua St,, an interesting place in as of itself. The street, which has some old architecture and a fun mix of shops (some traditional, some new and fancy), is a great place to engage in another nice Taipei activity: strolling and shopping. The street has, among other things, a paper lanterns store that we enjoyed, and a bamboo-product store where we were unable to resist temptation.
Oh, and the best part for the fabric lovers among you (sorry, I just have to put this in!): at the end of the street there is the ginormous Yongle Fabric Market, an absolute heaven for sewers of all kinds. It truly has anything you can think of. The vastness of it completely overwhelmed me!
Finally, If You Have Time to Leave Taipei:
Taroko Gorge is beautiful, and offers hiking trails for all difficulty levels.
Xitou Nature Recreation Area has some amazing bamboo forests, as well as other kinds of vegetation. It attracts many local tourists, and offers shops and restaurants in addition to nature hikes.