The city is bustling, dense, and cultured. A beautiful blend of old and new as the city modernizes its cosmopolitan roots. Despite the concrete jungle that is a compact city of 2.6 million people, the side street culture is mesmerizing; different areas will yield concentrations of different foods, shops, bars, and markets. While green space offers respite from the city and the thick humidity that can bog you down in the afternoon hours. Street art can be seen strewn throughout the city, offering glimpses into the pop culture, politics, and history of Taiwan. The vibe is one of renewal, forward-looking, and excitement. It felt like there was mounting change as young entrepreneurs carve out a place for themselves in the city — building, creating, designing, and cultivating the present and the future.
The food scene in Taiwan is incredible. The list of iconic food seems never-ending, in the best possible way. There is a beautiful balance of sweet and savoury waiting for you around every corner, whether it is a street vendor or a restaurant. Some of the coolest and delicious foods I have eaten were in Taiwan. There is also a significant Japanese influence meaning you will find a great selection of top quality Japanese offerings, such as the Donburi at Manjedad in Shongshan. Whatever your proclivity, follow your heart and nose and you will not be disappointed — also, small bites. Snack culture is king when you have so many options.
Raohe Street Night Market
This is a remarkable food market, which operates at a dizzying, yet composed pace. The selection of food is wide-ranging, so go hungry and take your time. Things don’t start going until about 6 pm but don’t be scared if it seems quiet, get in there and start eating. Right at the beginning of the market is a famous bao eatery, they have the process dialled in so don’t be afraid of the line. On the east end of the market is the Ciyou Temple. You can access the market on the Taipei Metro, the closest station is Shongshan Station.
Recommendations in Raohe St. Market
- Take your time as your eyes will be bigger than your tummy, so it’s worthwhile to use the slow snack strategy.
- Bring cash, markets run on cash.
- The food runs down the middle of the market, with shops and sit-down style restaurants along the edges.
- I recommend stopping in for a massage, about halfway into the market on the right hand side if the temple is behind you. They are reasonably priced and friendly.
- There are also many non-food shops offering an assortment of goodies to take home. I recommend finding a spot to sit, and people watch. The energy in the city is electric, and it’s worthwhile to stop and take it all in.
- Keep an eye out for the fancy bakeries, this is where you can get cakes and treats to take home.
Wufen Pu Shopping District
This shopping district is a worthwhile stop if you are looking for stylish offerings that highlights the fresh and eclectic trends in Taipei. The prices are reasonable and the assortment thrilling, I could easily have spent the entire day getting lost in the shops. Keep an eye out for: jeans/jeanswear, cute/feminine styles, funky t-shirts, hats, and socks (I should have bought more).
The market is outdoors but has some awnings, so some areas are covered. It’s a great spot if you need to shop and it’s raining. They smartly have street food vendors sprinkled throughout, so when the hunger hits you don’t have to venture far to refuel. It is also a few blocks away from the Raohe Market, so two birds with one stone.
Cultural Parks in Taiwan are concentrations of artists and makers in refurbished industrial buildings, creating a beautiful blend of contemporary uses within historical architecture. With the artists come the restaurants, bars, and cafes offering an assortment of options to keep you fuelled up on your cultural explorations.
Huashan 1918 Culture Park
What was once a concentrated area for the production of wine and sake from 1920s-1980s is now a vibrant destination for artists (in varying mediums), makers (creating an incredible assortment of things you need in your life immediately), green space for relaxing, and a medley of restaurants, cafes, and bars. One of the things that struck me was the preservation of the buildings, which were beautiful sprawling brick buildings. The buildings are imbued with their history, which is visible in the architecture while also allowing for the contemporary style to show through.
Little easter eggs of time are strewn through the buildings in the form of decorative accents and design, keep your eyes peeled. There are large sprawling green spaces that offer a nice contrast to the urban environment surrounding and encasing the park. There is a semi-permanence to the area as pop-up shops, and temporary exhibitions move in and out of the park, meaning there is always something interesting on offer. Check the website before you go to see what is happening because it is constantly changing.
Recommendations in Huashan 1918
- Just wander and explore.
- If you have time, book one of the DIY activities, it is a great way to meet locals, make something with your hands, and learn about another culture. Plus, what a fantastic souvenir to take home.
- The Gala Asia shop, which is a beautiful assortment of handmade products, ranging from art prints, clothes, pins, books, jewellery, and food. If you’re lucky, they may have local craft beer available for purchase. This shop experience is a must.
- Eco Hub/ Ecological Engineering Foundation which brings to life the conservation efforts in Taiwan. Showcasing the different principles and strategies for a more sustainable future.
- Pop-Ups Shops
- Across from the park is Paper St. Coffee, stop here to rest your feet and refuel.
Songshan Neighbourhood & Culture Park
Songshan is both a neighbourhood and a culture park. I recommend starting in the district and wind your way to the culture park. Note that on Sundays, things don’t open until noon, so prepare accordingly. There are loads of shops, cafes, and restaurants tucked into the side streets of this area. If you are looking for brunch, this is a great place to indulge; however, there are loads of other tasty restaurants nestles in the side streets of this neighbourhood. Here is a link to a podcast on the Monocle about the food scene in Songshan. Card is accepted here, but have some cash as many of the shops prefer it.
One super fresh bubble tea place we stumbled on is Mingdei, a delightful and contemporary twist on bubble tea. They use sparkling water for a refreshing spin and candied pineapple instead of the traditional toppings. Prepare to go shopping there are loads of independent designers, local and international, offering trendy street wear for all styles.
Songshan Culture & Creative Park
To get to the culture park, walk through the garden, along the pond to the Yue Yue Bookstore (the green building). From here you veer right and head towards the cultural spaces. Songshan is very similar to Huashan 1918, in that there are gallery and exhibition spaces are housed within the old industrial buildings. Although some of the exhibitions are free, many require an entrance fee. If you intend to explore the different galleries, I recommend purchasing your ticket first. Pop-Up Shops are continually changing, so check before you go and don’t forget about the street performers throughout the park. On your way back to the Metro, detour for coffee at StandUp.
Transportation is wide-ranging, from the well connected metro system, (Metro Taipei), busses, city bikes (YouBike), rideshare, and taxis to get you where you need to go. I found the metro system clean, organized, and easy to use. I purchased an Easy Card at 7/11. You have to put $100NTD on the card to start, but I recommend adding a little extra because you can use them for the train and at convenience stores. It’s a great way to have easy cash for small purchases. Taipei is also very walkable, once you are in your desired neighbourhood streets twist and turn, with loads of side streets to wander and get lost.
We stayed at the Meander 1948 Hostel, which was terrific! I was hesitant to stay in a hostel at first because I haven’t stayed in one in years and felt like I had outgrown this accomodation option. However, once we arrived, I was surprised in the best way. A stylish building, with contemporary finishes the lobby houses a delightful cafe offering pour overs, espresso-based coffees and light pastries. A netted lounge area hangs over the sitting area, offering an excellent place to relax after a long day of exploring. There is also a patio, but the mosquitos do get a bit overwhelming later in the evening. The location is super central, a few blocks from the main train/bus station. You can wander the tiny streets adjacent to the hostel for bars, cafes, restaurants, shops, and loads of street food. You will not be hard-pressed to find delicious food on every corner.
We stayed in a dorm, which was super clean and comfortable. The pods are bunk beds (with a staircase, no ladder issues here), thick curtains provide privacy while the beds are super comfy futons, with fluffy duvets and pillows. For security, you have a large cupboard that has security lock activated by your key card, plus an open space next to it for your suitcase etc. The facilities are super clean and modern; the showers have significant pressure and what seems like endless hot water.
What to Bring Home
- Pineapple Cake
- Oolong Teas
- Bubble Tea Accessories
- Handmade Items