The capital of Taiwan is an enchanting global city, one of Asia’s most important metropolis and a major hub for the Chinese-speaking world. It is a city with a unique flavour, a blend of Chinese traditions with hi-tech, innovative lifestyle, and a dash of Japanese flavour that is controversially celebrated or shamelessly denied, depending on the political season. Whether you are visiting for the historical and cultural tour de force, the street food, or the ever-popular nightlife—the jewel of Formosa is not about to disappoint.
Taipei does not feature prominently in the Spanish and mostly Dutch colonial era of Taiwan. The city started to grow with the arrival of the Qing forces and as the seat of the new prefecture of Taiwan, and two centuries later as a provincial capital when Taiwan was elevated to a province. Slow but steady, the Chinese development was interrupted when the Japanese annexed the island as an imperial colony. Taipei (Taihoku in those days) became a showcase for the imperial colonial system, and as such great investments and public works were carried out, bringing considerable modernisation. With the eventual Japanese defeat in WW2—and the resumption of civil war in China—the city fell to the Chinese nationalist army in retreat, who used the colonial infrastructure to quickly set up institutions and establish control over the island, thus creating a sort of “government-in-exile” of the Republic of China in Taiwan, which exists to this day.
Freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed across the Republic of China. There is a high degree of religious tolerance and diversity, without any sole religion being completely dominant. Most Taiwanese practise either Buddhism (of the Mahayana tradition) or Taoism, or a syncretic combination of both with Confucian principles in what is known as Chinese folk religion. There is a small, but notable, Christian minority in the island, mostly in urban areas such as Taipei.
The culture of Taipei is a modern blend that reflects the historical developments in the island of Taiwan and the larger context of modern China. The dominant ethnic groups are the Hoklo or Taiwanese Hokkien, Hakka, Mainlanders and Taiwanese aborigines. The first two are associated with nearby Fujian province and southern China in general, where most migrants to Taiwan came from since the 17th century, while Mainlanders in the context of Taiwan refers to those who followed the Nationalist retreat, soldiers and elites with mainly northern Chinese backgrounds. Taiwanese aborigines are now a minority but their culture is seeing a revival—they are Austronesian in origin. Japanese influences have survived especially in the city, despite four decades of martial law that sought to remove all traces of colonialism.
- Please remove your shoes when entering someone’s house, even if they insist you do not have to.
- Shaking hands is common in business circles, although not necessarily between males and females.
- Exchanging business cards is common. Give and receive them with both hands and do not write on them.
- No public raging (even loud speech) or loss of face.
- Paradoxically, superstitious beliefs abound in Taipei (i.e. the number 4 is considered a bad omen). Avoid making death jokes.
Taipei is located in northern Taiwan, 689km south of Shanghai, in the eponymous Taipei Basin, surrounded by the Xindian and Taisui rivers. The city exhibits a humid subtropical climate with long-lasting, hot and humid summers that coincide with heavy rainfall and typhoons; while winters are warm and foggy, albeit with occasional cold fronts.
Taipei features two prominent peaks to the northeast of the city, Cising Mountain and Mount Datun, both inactive volcanoes slightly over 1,000m. The cityscape is almost singularly dominated by the supertall Taipei 101 skyscraper, a modern architectural marvel, with Chinese design elements, standing at 508m of height.
Taipei’s blue skies on clear days and air quality are among the best in Asia. The city hosts a great number of parks and gardens (many double as cultural attractions), hot springs, and a zoo. For a great touch of greenery and fauna, travel north to the city’s Guandu Nature Park, a major stopover for migratory birds.
Before you go
- Language: Mandarin known locally as Guoyu, written in Traditional Chinese characters
- Currency New Taiwan dollar (twd), colloquially yuan (or nt$/ntd)
- Time Zone Formosan Time, utc+8
- Voltage 110
- Electric Socket Type A/B
- The easiest way to purchase a sim card is right at Taoyuan airport.
- Although operator stores and convenience stores throughout the city sell sim cards and traveller plans, you may be asked for both your passport and a second form of identification such as a driver’s license
- The network is very reliable, with good coverage and great speeds, especially for download.
- Expect to pay around $10 for a plan with around 1gb of data plus airtime.
- There are atms and bank branches scattered all over the city—many convenience stores carry a machine.
- Most are signed to international networks and thus being able to withdraw Taiwanese currency should not be a problem.
- In most cases, the rates in Taiwan are better than what can be found in your home country (if they even exchange twd there).
- Atm networks give better rates than banks, moneychangers, or hotels and department stores.
- Braised pork rice: pronounced “lurou fan”, this dish consist of minced, marinated pork, soy sauce and some spices served on top of rice.
- Beef noodle: pronounced “niurou mian”, beef shanks, al dente Chinese noodles, and a herbal soup (sometimes with a dash of chili).
- Oyster omelet: pronounced “kezai jian”, it is a combination of eggs, omelettes and tapioca starch, served with both a sweet and mild spicy sauce.
- Bubble tea: also known as pearl milk tea or “zhenzhu naicha” is as much a drink as a pastime in Taiwan, with novel varieties created every year. The classic milk tea with chewy tapioca balls never get old, though.
- Pineapple cake: pronounced “fengli su”, this small pies come filled with pineapple jam, making a great accompaniment to some freshly brewed cup of Taiwnese oolong tea
Tipping is not expected in Taiwan but feel free to show appreciation through small gratuities for great service.
Taxis: More often than not, the driver will give you back all the change you are owed. If you decide to leave the change, they might not expect this as it is uncommon, but they will rarely get offended.
Restaurants: Most restaurants in Taipei include a service charge of between 10-15%. If the service charge is not included for whatever reason, you may choose to tip as a courtesy.
Hotels: Tipping is not expected at hotels for most staff members. For the porter, consider tipping $1 per bag. If you are extremely satisfied with your housecleaning, consider leaving a small gift as this is part of the Taiwanese culture, or an envelope towards the end of your stay.
Spas, Hair Dressers and Tour Guides: These service workers constitute the major exceptions to Taiwanese tipping culture. These workers may rely on your tips to supplement their incomes, and thus leaving 10% for good service would be a great gesture.
- Suggested Vaccinations: hepatitis A and typhoid
- Safety: Taipei is one of the safest cities in the world. Violent crime is extremely rare. And pickpocketing or scammers do not present a danger. Even at night, the situation stays nearly the same.
- Please respect all local laws, especially immigration laws, avoid public drunkenness and stay away from political demonstrations.
- Tap water is safe in Taipei, but the pipes in your building might be untrustworthy, so if concerned, do buy bottle water.
- Drug use and contraband is heavily punished in Taiwan – with trafficking carrying heavy penalties, including death sentences.
- Emergency Line: 110
- Fire services it is 119
- Chung Shan Hospital (private): Address: 11, Lane 112, Renai Road, Sec. 4, Da’an District, Taipei (15-min walking from Zhongxiao-Dunhua MRT); Tel: (+886) 2 2754 7700
- National Taiwan University Hospital (public): Address: 1 Changde Street, Taipei (near NTU Hospital MRT), Tel: (+886) 2 2312 3456
- Tourism Board: There are several tourist information offices, including at Taipei Main Station, and a hotline at (+886) 2 2717 3737. There is also a Taiwan-wide 24-hour free travel information hotline at 0800-011765.
- Hello (in general): Nǐ hǎo
- Excuse me / Sorry: Duìbùqǐ
- Thank you: Xièxiè
- You’re welcome: Bù kèqì
- Good morning: Zǎoshang hǎo
- Good evening: Wǎnshàng hǎo
- Goodbye: Zàijiàn
- How much is this?: Zhège duōshǎo
- Cheers! (Toasts when drinking): Gānbēi!
- Bon appetit!: Gè bǎo!
- Where’s the toilet?: Nǎlǐ shì cèsuǒ?
- Help!: Bāng bāng wǒ!
- I understand: Wǒ míngbái
- I don’t understand: Wǒ bù míngbái
How to get into this area, and how to get around it!
Taipei is served mainly by the massive Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, the main port of entry into the country and by far its busiest. The airport is located in Taoyuan county, some 50km west of the city. Whether you arrive in terminal 1 or 2, a direct rail link to the city is still under construction. The quickest way, outside of festive seasons, is to take an express bus. The nearby Taoyuan high speed rail (HSR) station is accessible via a shuttle from the airport (30 yuan, 25min), and from there continue to Taipei Main Station (165 yuan, 20 min)—only recommended during major traffic jams (festival periods). Taipei’s secondary airport, Songshan Airport is in the city proper but only charter flights and a few flights from Japan and mainland China land there.
Several inter-city trains, including high speed railway (HSR), depart from Taipei Railway Station/Taipei Main Station (or simply Taipei Station), a huge development that serves as the metropolis’s central transport hub. HSR tickets can be bought online. The HSR uses Shinkansen-inspired technology from Japan to run trains from Taipei down to the southern city of Zouying/Kaohsiung in as little as 100 minutes. Tickets to Kaohsiung start at 1,630 yuan before discounts, which is much pricier than the bus, however unbeatable as far as convenience and time-savings. The conventional rail (TRA) also offers service to the west coast of Taiwan, but in addition goes to Keelung in the north, and Yilan, Hualien, and Taitung counties in the east coast of the island.
Adjacent to Taipei Station is Taipei Bus Station, a new multi-use complex that serves as a hub for inter-city express buses, going close and far across Taiwan to cities including Hsinchu, Taichung, Chiayi, Tainan, and Kaohsiung, as well as Yilan county in eastern Taiwan.
Also known as the Taipei Metro, this massive system comprises 5 lines and 108 stations across greater Taipei (Taipei and Xinbei/New Taipei). The system is clean, convenient and runs from 6am to around midnight daily. Train frequencies are very high and fares are cheap, between 20-60 yuan. Tokens can be purchased before each ride or an EasyCard contactless smartcard can be purchased for 500 yuan (of which 100 yuan is a refundable deposit) at any metro station and most convenience stores. The card offers fare discounts and in addition facilitates payments on the bus system, taxis, and many convenience stores, department stores and supermarkets.
Taipei has a comprehensive, logical system of clearly numbered buses with route information displays for destination and stops clearly visible in English. Coupled with its cheap cost (15-30 yuan, 7 yuan if transferring from MRT), the system offers accessibility to non-Chinese speakers. Signs on the bus indicate whether you have to pay on the way up, or down, or both—if that causes confusion, follow your fellow passengers and you will get the hang of it quickly enough.
For those preferring flexibility, the city’s fleet of taxis operate around the clock. Taiwanese taxi drivers are more patient and polite than your average cabbie, but few of them speak fluent English. It is recommended that you bring an address written in Chinese. Most taxis are equipped with gps and thus it is not necessary to know the route. Taxis are metered, with the initial fare at flagfall being 70 yuan, with an after-hours surcharge of 20 yuan.
Things to see
The top locations to visit in this destination.