Taipei is a busy and vibrant city with incredible food, shopping and entertainment options. But for those looking for a relaxing getaway, the bustling nightlife and jam-packed shopping arcades can get a bit overwhelming. Here are a few creative ways to unwind in the city.
Due to its geographic location, Beitou is blessed with plenty of mineral hot springs a mere 45-minute MRT ride away. Soak away your stress and fatigue by bathing at the public hot spring, or make a reservation at a private in-room hot spring for a more exclusive affair. Many of the hot springs also have special packages that include lunch, afternoon tea or dinner.
One tranquil oasis in Beitou is the Marshal Zen Garden (34 Youya Road, Beitou District, Taipei City,＋886 2-2893-5336) – the former home of “Young Marshal” Zhang and his wife (and where the two were confined under house arrest after World War II). It is now a tea house and a hot spring hotel, serving healthy dishes attributed to Zhang’s modest and zen-like philosophy. There is even a beautiful garden overlooking the Beitou landscape.
Hop on the northbound MRT train at Beitou station, and in 15 minutes you’ll arrive at charming Tamsui – an offbeat small town that is not as well known to visitors.
A must-try is the Dark Palace Taiwanese Gourmet | 黑殿飯店 (8 Lane 62, Section 1, Zhongzheng Road, Tamsui District, New Taipei City, +886 2-2805-2790) near the Tamsui station, serving traditional Taiwanese dishes, noodles and rice. The signature pork chop rice is heavenly — definitely worth a ride to Tamsui for this dish alone.
Visit the Tamsui Old Street to procure all kinds of local snacks and souvenirs. A must-do is a leisure walk or bike ride along the waterfront. Alternatively, sit quietly by the shore and wait for the spectacular sunset before returning to the city.
Pingxi District is about 2 hours to the east of Taipei. (From Taipei Main Station, take a northbound train towards Ruifang Station, then transfer to the Pingxi Line by bus or train). The district’s main attraction is Shifen Old Street, a historical town that draws plenty of locals and visitors alike.
An old railway that was built to transport coal remains, nowadays occupied by lantern shops on both sides. One can visit Shifen any time of the year, but the town gets particularly festive on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year, coinciding with the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival. On the day, a sea of beautifully lit lanterns are released to the skies, and it’s an absolutely magical scene.
Sleep in, then go for a late breakfast at Hong Ji Soy Milk | 洪記豆漿 (352 Changchun Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei City, +886 2-2717-5511; open 24/7). The classic Taiwanese breakfast of silky-smooth soy milk and crispy fried egg rolls with dried shredded pork are sold here at deliciously hard-to-beat prices. Try some other local Taiwanese treats while you’re at it, like the dumplings and baked tarts that are displayed at the counter.
Sometimes, all you need is some quiet time. Taiwan is generally famous for its fine Chinese teas, but Taipei is also becoming a world-class destination for java connoisseurs. Coffee lovers can visit one of the many urban-chic cafes in the city for a relaxing afternoon. Fun fact: Taipei has spawned many award-winning baristas at international coffee competitions.
Sip up premium hand-brewed coffee from Taiwan, Africa and other parts of the world at The Island Café | 二條通。綠島小夜曲 (Lane 33, Section 1, Zhongshan North Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei City, +886 2-2531-4594) in Zhongshan District. The café is a lovely wooden Japanese-style townhouse built in the 1930s.
Speaking of cafes, in the shopping district in Da’an (near Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT station) you’ll find local gems like the Polar Café (Alley 29, Lane 205, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Da’an District, Taipei City, +886 2-2721-1520), a small coffee shop that serves the cutest coffees in town. The cafe’s signature coffee is the Polar Bear Latte, using marshmallow and milk foam to create a floating polar bear at the top of the drink.
Also try the Fujin Tree 353 Café (353 Fujin Street, Songshan District, Taipei City, +886 2-2749-5225) in Songshan District — a cozy modern coffee shop decked out in stylishly rustic furniture.