Taiwan wasn’t high in my list of must-visit places, but two trips later and it had become one of my favorite destinations.

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

CHIANG KAI-SHEK MEMORIAL HALL. This octagon-shaped building was built as a memorial to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.

The capital Taipei was bustling without being chaotic, food was plentiful and inexpensive, it was so clean we had no qualms eating along alleyways and in markets, and efficient public transport allowed us to move around with ease.

When it comes to tourist attractions, Taiwan has mountains and woodland trails, parks and gardens, grand structures and temples, old-world places and modern cities.

The sun sets in a sea of clouds at the Alishan National Scenic Area.

The island nation is so close to the Philippines that tribes in Taiwan’s Lanyu Island share similarities in language and culture with the Ivatans of Batanes.

Taiwan attractions

Whether it’s a lengthy stay or brief getaway, any trip to a new place should always include time for the busy capital and Taipei hosts more than enough interesting places of cultural, historical, and natural value to keep one occupied.

If your trip is only for two nights and limited to Taiwan’s metropolis, don’t despair. You can still tally up quite a list of spectacular experiences without having to go far.

Taipei, after all, is home to:

Taipei 101

This engineering feat has a high-speed elevator that takes guests from the fifth floor to the Observatory in the 89th floor at a record breaking time of 37 seconds.

Taipei 101

View of the Taipei skyline from nearby Elephant Mountain.

The change in air pressure for such a swift ascent can be a little bit unpleasant but they distract you by dimming the elevator lights and showing a replica of the night sky complete with constellations and shooting stars on the ceiling. Fortunately, the ride takes less than a minute.

One floor down from the indoor observatory is the engineering marvel that is the wind damper so don’t miss it. The outdoor observatory in the 91st floor may be off limits depending on weather conditions.

National Palace Museum

The local guide in my first trip to Taipei, Jane Fan, shared an interesting fact about the National Palace Museum. Majority of the museum’s treasures are Chinese cultural relics and artifacts passed down by the imperial courts. These were shipped to Taiwan due to fears they would be destroyed following the rise of communism in China.

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Chiang Kai-shek, the first president of Taiwan, was largely credited with its economic development.

Archway entrance

Archway entrance of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

In honor of his contributions, the Taiwanese built the two-level Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall within a large complex that also features Liberty Square with its manicured gardens as well as the National Concert Hall and National Theatre.

Presidential Office Building

Taiwan’s current president holds office in a sprawling Baroque structure designed by a Japanese architect and built during the Japanese occupation.

Visitors are allowed in some parts of the Presidential Office Building at specific times. Visits are allowed from 9 a.m.-12 noon on weekdays and up to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Check the facility’s website for the visitor schedules and guidelines.

Longshan Temple of Manka

The Longshan or Lungshan Temple of Manka is a Buddhist temple founded in Taipei in 1738.

Taiwan is generally tolerant when it comes to worship practices, and there are minority religions like Christianity, Mormonism, Islam, Hinduism as well as native sects aside from the three main ones of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.

The Longshan Temple of Manka in Taipei dates back to 1738 and is one of the oldest and largest Buddhist temples in Taiwan. This religious structure was built in honor of Guanyin or Goddess of Mercy and is used by Tao and Buddhism followers.

Elephant Mountain

While the Taipei 101 Observatory allows visitors a bird’s eye view of the metropolitan, Elephant Mountain gives them a panorama of the skyline with Taiwan’s tallest building as main feature.

Elephant Mountain

These steps lead all the way to the top of the Elephant Mountain in Xiangshan District.

The best time to climb up through is late in the afternoon leading up to nighttime. The trail is made of stone steps and really goes all the way up to the top of Elephant Mountain. Some measure of fitness is required in the climb. Wear good footwear and bear in mind that the top of the mountain is several degrees colder than the downtown area.

Ximending District

For shopping in Taipei, no place beats the neighborhood of Ximending when it comes to quality and value for money. There might be cheaper clothes, shirts, bags, souvenirs and other goods sold in the night markets but the Ximending retail shops carry the quality local and global brands.

Din Tai Fung

The capital Taipei hosts the first Din Tai Fung, the original xiao long bao house that spawned a chain of restaurants.

There is a long line of locals and tourists eager to dine at Din Tai Fung so make sure you set aside 40 minutes to an hour for the wait to get a table.

Shilin Night Market

Shilin Night Market

If there’s one thing that the Shilin Night Market is known for, it’s authentic and scrumptious Taiwan dishes.

One of the biggest night markets in Taiwan, the Shilin Night Market combines cheap, delicious eats with inexpensive retail goods like shirts, bags, shoes, and souvenirs like ref magnets or key chains. A whole floor (basement area) is devoted to food and features many of Taiwan’s must-try treats.

Other places

If your schedule allows it still, a few more nearby attractions are absolutely worth your time.

Shifen

A walk along the train tracks of Shifen Old Street is like a trip down a bygone world. Shifen evokes memories of olden times with its nostalgic ambiance and people going about their everyday chores along the railway of the Pingxi line.

Tourists fly lanterns in Shifen Old Street, a community by the railroad tracks in Pingxi District of New Taipei City.

These houses sell souvenirs, other knick knacks, and the sky lanterns that tourists release into the sky with their hopes and wishes.

Jiufen

Whenever I think of the former gold mining town of Jiufen in the mountain area of Ruifang District in New Taipei City, I think of food. It’s hard not too since this once prosperous and booming town nicknamed “Little Hongkong” during its heyday is packed full to the edge of narrow lanes and alleyways with restaurants, teahouses, and cafes. During the two times that I’ve been, I never missed having some of the ice cream and peanut roll served to perfection in Jiufen.

Peanut ice cream roll

Peanut ice cream roll is popular fare in Taiwan and they make it exceptionally well in Jiufen.

Yangmingshan

Yangmingshan National Park is a nature spot that’s very accessible from downtown Taipei. It covers a hundred square meters of gardens, woodland, wildlife, hiking trails, and hot springs.

Formosa

While a brief visit is already fulfilling, a longer trip is even better because it gives you more time to check out this place that the Portuguese once called Formosa or “beautiful island.”

Alishan National Scenic Area

Alishan walking trails

The Alishan National Scenic Area has scenic trails that lead to ancient trees, temples, ponds, and spectacular views.

One side trip we highly recommend is to the Alishan National Scenic Area. The most popular attractions in this mountain preserve is the sunrise and sunset. Alishan sunrise and sunset viewing, however, requires staying overnight. Getting to Alishan from Taipei requires spending at least half of your day on the road.

Staying two or more nights is even better as you get to fully enjoy all that Alishan has to offer, which include hectares of woodland, uphill and downhill hiking trails, ponds, waterfalls and temples.

Taroko National Park

Another attraction that’s worth a visit is Taroko National Park. It is so big, it traverses three areas in Taiwan: Taichung Municipality and the counties of Nantou and Hualien.

Taroko features spectacular views: ravines and rivers, foot bridges, tribal settlements, temples, hiking trails through rocky and forested landscapes.

More photos of Taiwan destinations:

strawberry glaze

Strawberry and cherry tomatoes glazed with syrup and served on sticks  are popular treats at Shilin Night Market.

Ximending shopping

The Ximending District is one of the top shopping areas in Taipei.

Jiufen alley

An alley in Jiufen brims on both sides with food and souvenir shops.