Insider's Taipei

Relaxing Taipei is a perfect city for a mini-break

Relaxing Taipei is a perfect city for a mini-break, with hidden bars, quirky arts hubs, hot springs and night markets. Charles Miller checks into the funky new W Taipei and gets a few tips on what to see and do


Taipei is one of those cities where a city break actually feels like a break. It is somehow gentler and slower than most Mainland cities, with lots of green borne of its subtropical climate – and, having not developed at an absurd pace over the last ten years (it had its boom in the 1980s), feels lived-in in the way that ‘older’ Asian cities do – there are shades of Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Bangkok in the narrow lanes, creeping vines, off-beat bar areas and bustling night markets. It’s relaxing, and there are gems to be found.

Where to stay

The newly-opened W Taipei , next to Taipei 101 in the central Xinyi district, was the first major hotel in 12 years when it opened on Valentine’s Day this year, a remarkable fact given that there’s about one a month in Shanghai.

Maybe unsurprisingly, it has quickly become a genuine hotspot, and is cool in a way that few hotels are – staff are bubbly and speak perfect English; songs from Lykke Li and Santogold play in the lift; and there are intriguing art pieces around the place, including a funky interactive LED installation in the lobby. The 405 guest rooms have names like Fabulous Room and Wonderful Room (the standard room), but are funky enough to get away with it, with lime and orange hues sneaking into the clean design, and ‘Munchies Boxes’ packed with free sweets.

There’s an outdoor pool overlooked (rather publicly) by both Kitchen Table restaurant and Woobar, which at nights teems with Taipei’s beautiful people.

On the upper floors, Yen restaurant serves classy Cantonese from celebrity chef Jereme Leung (of Whampoa Club fame). But perhaps the best bit is that they have a full-time onsite ‘W Insider’, Taipei native Charlie Lin, who can give you excellent tailored tips on where to go and what to do (helpful, given that there isn’t much good information online or in print about what to do in the city). Many of the tips below were recommended by Lin, and tested by Time Out...

What to do

Of the major attractions in Taipei, The National Palace Museum (221, Section 2, Zhishan Lu, +886 (2) 2881 2021. Open 9am-5pm daily) houses probably the biggest and best collection of Chinese artifacts in the world, with rotating exhibits of paintings, calligraphy, jade, ceramics and much more that were taken by the Kuomintang when they fled the Mainland. But it’s dark and stuffy inside, and we prefer the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (21 Zhongshan Nan Lu, +886 (2) 2343 1100. Open 9am-5pm daily), set in Liberty Square, a 240,000sqm park and boulevard. Whether or not you approve of Chiang’s authoritarian regime in Taiwan, the 76-metre tall white marble structure with a blue octagonal roof is imposing and beautiful in its elegant simplicity. The upper part houses a huge statue of Chiang, while the ground floor features a museum that gives a particularly one-sided history of Chiang and the KMT.

For something more offbeat, the Taipei Film House (18, Section 2, Zhongshan Bei Lu, +886 (2) 2511 7786. Tickets 220TWD) is a gorgeous 80-seat cinema set in a whitewashed old ambassador’s villa, which shows indie films from Taiwan and around the world. The film house, which was founded by pioneering New Wave director Hou Hsiao-hsien, also has a shop selling hip filmic bric-a-brac and a café with an outdoor terrace. The quaint little lanes around the cinema are worth a look, too, with independent boutiques and an almost unbelievable number of hairdressers.

For more culture, the Huashan 1914 Creative Park (1, Section 1, Bade Lu, +886 (2) 2358 1914; Open 10am-10pm Tue-Sun), set in a former 1914 wine factory, was discovered by a group of young thespians in 1997 and turned into a grass-roots performance space. It’s gone on to become the city’s main art hub, hosting everything from design expos to music festivals, and is worth a visit to catch an art show or a coffee, or just stroll the lanes of the old factory complex.

is known for its night markets (there are more than ten major ones), and we love Shida Night Market (close to 162, Section 1, Heping Dong Lu. Open 6pm-late daily), which is next to the National Taiwan Normal University and is packed out nightly with hip young students (Taiwanese students seem sharper-attired than their Mainland counterparts), who shop for jewellery, floaty dresses and other Taiwan fashion staples. The market’s also packed with street food stalls and lively bars and restaurants.

Another thing Taipei’s known for are the hot springs in Beitou, a lush, hilly area about 50 minutes from downtown Taipei that’s well worth a visit. Take the Danshui MRT line north to Xin Beitou, where there are scores of places to bathe around Qinshui Park, opposite the station, including some free public baths. The pick of the bunch is Villa 32 (32 Zhongshan Lu, +886 (2) 6611 8888), a gorgeous spa/hotel in the hills, which has daytime and overnight deals. The public hot springs area costs 1,500TWD on weekdays and 2,000TWD on weekends for four hours of relaxing in the eight indoor and outdoor pools, while private rooms for two are 2,000/3,000TWD for 90 minutes. Stays in the five exclusive suites start at 2,500TWD/night, and should be booked well in advance.


Where to eat

If you want to eat local food, AoBa (Basement 1, 39, Section 1, Fuxing Nan Lu, +886 (2) 8772 1109) is a chic version of the traditional Taiwanese joint, and for 40 years has been serving classic seafood and meat dishes accompanied by Japanese rice wine. For a fun area to eat, the leafy Yongkang Street area is worth a visit, with lots of little restaurants around a pretty park where we saw old folk dancing to Lady Gaga. Places to try include cosy vegetarian restaurant Hui Liu (9, Lane 31, Yongkang Jie, +886 (2) 392 6707) and brilliant beef noodles (a Taiwanese staple) at Yongkang Beef Noodle (19, Lane 31, Section 2, Jinshan Nan Lu, +886 (2) 2351 1051).


Where to drink

There’s a glut of drinking options around An Ho Lu, where a series of tight alleys are packed with lounges, whisky bars and cocktail joints. Many are worth a look, but we like L’arriere Cour (4, Lane 23, Section 2, An Ho Lu, +886 (2) 2704 7818), a hidden bar down a quiet lane that has hundreds of whiskies, many of them rare, and an English-speaking barman who can talk for hours about every dram; and The Villa Herbs Lounge Bar (30, Lane 11, Leli Lu, +886 (2) 2935 0880), a chic but homely lounge serving quality cocktails.


How to get there

You can get return flights to Taipei for around 2,000RMB if you’re prepared to transit, usually in Hong Kong. EVA Airways have direct flights for around 2,700RMB return. Most travellers don’t need a visa, but check online, especially if you’re staying more than two weeks.



*1RMB is equal to 4.44TWD (New Taiwan Dollar).

*The telephone code is +886


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