On our way to Southeast Asia, we had a long layover in Taipei, Taiwan. To spend an entire day at the airport lounges and hotels seemed like a total waste of time, so we looked up Taipei’s attractions and headed into the city to explore the best of what it has to offer.
Taipei is Taiwan’s vibrant, creative, food-obsessed capital. With organized, fast, and thought-out transportation, Taipei is a treat to explore even when you are crunched for time. The capital boasts fascinating architecture and infinite arts and artifacts. And you don’t need to be a die-hard foodie to enjoy gorging on Taiwanese specialty dishes at world-renowned night markets. Taipei is also a photographer’s dream offering a unique blend of traditional temples, winding streets lit by red lanterns and neon signs, and reflective glass facades of skyscrapers.
To help you make the most of your Taipei stopover, we’ve put together a guide to the top things to do on a layover in Taipei.
Things to do Know Before you Go to Taiwan
It’s incredibly easy to have a fun-filled layover in Taipei, Taiwan. The infrastructure makes it a smooth and worry-free experience despite the slight language barrier. So, if you have more than 6 hours to spare, don’t think twice! But first, here are some things you should consider.
Visa-Free Entry into Taiwan
Citizens of more than 60 countries and territories, the US included, enjoy visa-free entry to Taiwan. Before you head for the departure gates, check if your country is eligible. The duration will vary but will be far longer than you need for a layover. Next, do a quick weather check to see if an umbrella run to 7/11 is needed and if your layover itinerary in Taipei will require adjustments to account for rain.
Figure out how much spare time you actually have by deducting travel time from and back to the airport, check-in time, and subtracting a buffer just in case. If the hours left are in the single digits, we recommend being very selective depending on your interests and sticking to sights within a short distance of the Taipei Metro.
Although the majority of venues accept cards and ATMs are plentiful, take out about $100 worth of cash in local currency at the airport. You want to eliminate any potential hiccups and not waste time finding where to get cash in the city.
Great Airport with Easy Access to City
From Taoyuan International Airport you can swiftly get to Taipei Main Station with Airport Express Metro in under 40 minutes. But if you are in a rush, take a regular Uber or taxi directly to your destination. Taipei’s taxis use a meter and are very reliable. Just make sure to download your Google maps and provide the exact location to your driver. Use the Taipei MRT to get around the city, which has stations conveniently located by Taipei’s main attractions. There are two lines – red and blue – and this comprehensive guide will help you navigate the MRT. Pro tip: Use Apple Pay to tap into and out of the MRT; just look for the stalls with the scanner.
Store your luggage at the airport or reserve a hotel room downtown if your layover is long enough for you to take advantage of the added comfort. Our booking at Hotel Papa Whale was fully justified since the layover was overnight. The hotel was conveniently located near the Main Station in the heart of Taipei, Taiwan, which is where you want to base yourself. We had a 15 minute walk. We stayed at Hotel Papa Whale.
Now that you have the fundamentals for a smooth stopover in Taipei, let’s check out what you can do with your time.
Top Things to Do on a Layover in Taipei, Taiwan
Indulge on Breathtaking Views of Taipei
The best views of Taipei are undoubtedly found at the Taipei 101 observatory, a top Taipei attraction. It’s the largest engineering project the city has seen to date, once boasting the title of ‘the world’s tallest building’. The emblematic tower is the perfect blend of innovation and Taiwanese heritage and culture in that the structure was designed based on the Chinese lucky number 8, and the body resembles stacked pagodas or a stalk of bamboo.
To get there, you can take the Taipei Metro. Get off at Taipei 101 World Trade Center Station on the Red Line or Taipei City Hall on the Blue Line and walk for 10 minutes. Use your downloaded Google maps to navigate, but Taipei 101 is unmissable.
On the 89th floor, you will find the observation deck that offers panoramic views of the city. And at the core of the building, beneath the observatory deck and above it, hangs an impressive golden ball that acts as a shock absorber and stabilizer against wind and natural disasters.
Hot Tip: Photography aficionados should head to Elephant Mountain to capture tree-top framed shots of the Taipei 101 building. It’s an easy but steep climb to the top, which should take only 20 minutes. To get to the base of Elephant Mountain, take the MRT red line to Xiangshan station.
Admire the National Palace Museum
A top Taipei attraction is the National Palace Museum. Not only is it an incredibly fascinating building, but it also houses the world’s largest collection of Chinese art treasures dating back 8,000 years. It is impossible to cover the collection of over 600,000 artifacts in a single visit. But pick a theme that tickles your fancy, and as you learn about Chinese culture and history, know that many of the artifacts were once housed in Beijing’s Forbidden City and have survived two wars.
Hot Tip: Getting to the National Palace Museum by MRT requires a bus transfer. But there is an easier way! Take the shuttle bus that travels from Taipei 101 to the National Palace Museum. The bus departs from exit 4 of the Taipei 101 World Trade Center MRT station and takes 30 minutes. You can purchase bus tickets one way or round trip.
Explore Daan District
Taipei, Taiwan is quite compact and broken down into districts. If it’s not your first visit to the capital and you’ve already ticked off the main tourist attractions, we recommend exploring one of the best Taipei districts called Daan. It’s a hip neighborhood, home to many famous eateries, night markets, Taipei Grand Mosque, and the largest green space in the city called Daan Forest Park. The park was modeled on Central Park in Manhattan and acts like a forest getaway amidst busy Taipei. Quite fitting for a neighborhood with a name that translates to ‘great peace’. Stretch your legs on a stroll through the park after a long flight, or rent a bike if you are in a rush. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, you won’t have to travel far to get your hands on some of the best food in Taipei.
Visit a Night Market in Taipei, Taiwan
One thing you absolutely have to do is visit a night market, a top Taipei attraction. It’s where all the best dishes are gathered in one place and where the best cultural experiences are hidden. The longer your layover, the more night markets you can squeeze in. The biggest and the most popular, the mother of all night markets is the Shilin Night Market. Raohe is a smaller version, but there are many more. Whichever market you choose, you are guaranteed to have a sensory overload. Street food stalls line the alleys for miles. Giant pots and sizzling woks exhale fragrant steam. As if fighting for entry to your nose and screaming “PICK ME!”
While the choice is hard and your stomach space is finite, do prioritize beef noodle soup, scallion and radish pancakes, xiao long bao (soup-filled dumplings), stinky tofu, and bubble tea.
Night market outing is a late night affair. Typically, stalls don’t start opening until 4 pm. If that doesn’t align with your schedule, search for independent street food joints or head to Din Tai Fung for dumplings and Yong Kang Beef Noodles for…you know! Both are conveniently located in the Daan district.
We hope our guide helps you to have the most delicious and fascinating layover in Taipei. Tell us in the comments below which Taiwanese dish was your favorite!
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