7 Free things to do in Taipei

7 Free things to do in Taipei was written by travel blogger Tom McClive of A World of Flophouses.

Some years ago, I married a Taiwanese girl who grew up in Taipei. Since then, I have visited the island almost every year; the next visit will be my tenth. Taiwan is not always on people’s travel list but imagine the best Chinese food in the world (with low prices) in a modern high-tech, high-energy city, surrounded by mountains, coastlines and hot springs. Taipei has all that. It’s visitor-friendly; the people are remarkably cordial, and everything works. The capital of Taiwan (Republic of China) is a crowded but manageable city that has everything you like about Asia but not jammed with tourists. The city is cheap enough that it won’t break your bank but to further sweeten the visit consider these free things to do in Taipei that will make you happy.

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall

free things to do in Taipei - Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hal, photo Tom McClive

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hal, photo/Tom McClive

The Chiang Kai Shek MemorialHall (he was President of the Republic of China from 1928 to 1975) is set amidst a park at the east end of Liberty Square. The large white hall containing various exhibits on President Chiang’s life also educates visitors about historical events and other factors, including WWII and the Chinese Civil War, which resulted in the political and social structure of modern Taiwan. Chiang’s role in Taiwan has been hotly debated; a Taiwanese’s opinion of him may correspond with his/her political party affiliation. Guided tours are available in Chinese, at various times of the day. For tours in other languages including English, book ahead through their website. There’s also a changing of the guard on the top floor every hour on the hour, though of course one can visit without a tour. Tourists everywhere love a changing of the guard.

Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall

free things to do in Taipei - Sun Yat-Sen Memorial hall, photo Tom McClive

Sun Yat-Sen Memorial hall, photo/Tom McClive

If you can’t get enough of dead Chinese leaders, next head to the free Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall honoring the founder of the Republic of China. The hall showcases exhibits on both Sun’s accomplishments and on the history of the Republic of China. Sun Yat-Sen fused elements of western nationalist thinking with traditional Chinese culture and political reform. He is recognized as the founding father of the country and is a less controversial figure in Taiwanese history than Chiang Kai Shek. (You may turn into a Sun worshiper yourself.) There is a performance space, exhibition space, and a lecture hall, giving the hall the feeling of a community center. There is also a changing of the guard every hour. Zhongshang Park, surrounding the building, has gardens and a small pond.

Visit a night market

free things to do in Taipei - The crowded Roahe night market, photo Tom McClive

The crowded Roahe night market, photo/om McClive

A night market is, seriously, a must for Taipei; it’s non-stop sensory bombardment. Some people are overwhelmed on their first visit, some become hooked while some become aficionados. A night market is simply a small-stall market that happens in the evening, a good idea in the semi-tropical climate of Taiwan. Add the tendency of Taiwanese shops to stay open quite late anyway, and the entire area is buzzing.

Night markets sell all types of things, but this being East Asia, food is a huge part of it. Seek out some canonical foods that are almost only found in night markets such as oyster pancakes, stinky tofu (deep-fried, slightly fermented tofu) and coffin bread, a super thick slice of white bread, hollowed, deep-fried, then filled with ingredients served in a creamy sauce. Most of the small food stands have tiny tables for eating, but many items are meant to be eaten while strolling or pushing through the crowds. Shilin is the largest night market. Roahe is another good choice and better for food but there are night markets all over the city. You might simply stumble upon one.

Visit a temple

free things to do in Taipei - Longshan Temple built in 1738 is worth a visit, photo Tom McCliv

Longshan Temple built in 1738 is worth a visit, photo/Tom McClive

Like night markets, temples dot Taipei and enthusiasts have many to choose from. Longshan Temple, dating back to 1738, has one of the largest and most dramatic with waterfalls outside the entrance making it both melodramatic and memorable. It’s dedicated to Guanyi, the bodhisattva of mercy, though in typical Asian temple style there are other deities there as well, including Matsu, the goddess of the sea, Wenchang Dijun, the god of literature and Brother Guan, the red-faced ultra-fighter. There is a lot to see! East Asian temples, in general, are some of the most open religious structures in the world. No one cares who you are and they’re used to visitors. Snapping photos is fine;  you won’t be the only one doing so.

Visit Sanxia

free things to do in Taipei - Walk Minquan Street in Sanxia, photo Tom McClive

Walk Minquan Street in Sanxia, photo/Tom McClive

Most of Taipei is so new and high-tech that walking along an old red brick street, built in the days when architecture meant something, is a pleasure. Sanxia (three gorges) is an old settlement area of the Han Chinese when they were migrating from China. Minquan Street, sometimes called “Old Street” is lined with red brick storefronts with arched hallways combined with wooden beams and columns and carved plaques. The street is great fun to wander and you’ll get great photos but this isn’t a museum. The street is full of life. The storefronts contain temples, schools, calligraphy shops, boutiques and, this being Taiwan, food of all sorts, especially treats. The assortment is random, but there’s an emphasis on older crafts such as dyes and fabrics and other handicrafts.

Check out the Maokong tea district

free things to do in Taipei - The view of Taipei from Maokong, photo Tom McClive

The view of Taipei from Maokong, photo/Tom McClive

The Maokong gondola is part of Taipei’s mass transit system. For the price of a subway ticket you can ride in a cable car, some with glass-bottoms, for the 4.3 kilometer ride to the Maokong tea district. Up top, THE thing to do is to walk around the tea plantations, grab a snack at a teahouses and enjoy the view of urban Taipei. Taiwan in general is well-known for its partly-fermented and smoky oolong tea. Buy some before you leave! The numerous teahouses in Maokong use tea not just in their drinks but in their food, including omelets made with tea leaves and noodles flavored with tea oil.

A 15-minute walk will bring you to the Taipai Tea Promotion Center for Tie Guanyin Tea and Baozhong Tea, with exhibits on the tea-production process and tea-tasting methods. On weekends there are free guided tours of the center’s tea-making area. Want a bit of a hike? The Health Trail opposite the center will take you through the woods. In addition, the Camphor and Zhanghu circular trails are to the right of the gondola station. If you can stay until dusk, the panorama from the mountain across to the skyscrapers of Taipei is splendid. Look for Taipei 101, once the tallest building in the world.

Discover Beitou

free things to do in Taipei - Hotels in Beitou have their own hot springs, photo Tom McClive

Hotels in Beitou have their own hot springs, photo/Tom McClive

Beitou, in northern Taipei, is an old hot springs area that lets you appreciate Taiwan’s mountainous landscape while still being on a subway line. The Hot Springs Museum, housed in a 1913 building in a long, narrow Beitou Park. It was built by the Japanese during their occupation of Taiwan as their original public bath house. It gives visitors a sense of those times. Plum Garden, the 1930s mansion near the hot springs, once home to famed calligrapher and former political leader Yu You-ren, is an example of Japanese occupation-era architecture. It’s a good example of Japanese occupation-era architecture. Some of Yu’s calligraphy is displayed inside. Continue up the road where you’ll find a small road leading to the Beitou Thermal Valley. It’s a place for hiking and viewing the steam rising from natural thermal pools as well as vents from in the earth. No swimming here, the water is near boiling. Ketagalan Culture Center, across the street from the park, houses exhibits on a dozen Taiwan aboriginal groups. All these attractions are free. If you want to try the green sulfuric waters of the Millennium Hot Springs (Beitou Garden Spa) in the park admission is less than $2 USD.

Taipei has what every great city needs: good neighborhoods to wander.  Longshan Temple is quite near Snake Alley, another attraction to check out. Another neighborhood, Ximending, is a shopping and eating area that is famous for its youth culture, but enjoyable for anyone. The area around the Taipei 101 skyscraper is known for high-end shopping and the variety of stores found there.  Taipei isn’t a very expensive destination to begin with (even the taxis are cheap) but the number of free things to do in Taipei makes it even better!

What are your favorite free things to do in Taipei?

Brooding and Byronic Tom McClive is the creator of A World of Flophouses, a travel blog focused squarely on good writing and photography. He lives in the Washington, DC area, where in his other life, he’s a linguist. Follow his Facebook page or Twitter feed to catch his travel essays.

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3 Responses to “7 Free things to do in Taipei”

  1. Ju P
    June 2, 2017 at 12:12 am #

    Tom, thanks for sharing. Traveling is my wish.
    This is a wonderful traveler’s guide.
    Ju

  2. Stefanie
    June 13, 2017 at 6:59 am #

    Woow, this looks really amazing,
    This is really on my have to do list before i get into my 40’s

    Keep posting,
    Kind regards
    Stefanie

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