As one of our favorite under-rated cities in Asia, Taipei has only recently started to get mainstream attention. (Case in point: The New York Times chose it as one of the 52 Places to Go in 2014.) If you're considering a trip, here's a starter guide with some of the most-visited spots for where to eat, where to shop, what to do, and where to stay – but we've also included some beloved lesser-known alternatives where you'll find fewer tourists and lots of locals.
EAT & SHOP
Popular Eats: Shilin Night Market is one of the most widely known – and therefore most tourist-packed – night market in the city. Since the relocation of most its food vendors into one building close to the main network of shops, it’s become even more of a tourist trap. To go where the locals go...
Under-the-Radar Eats: Raohe Night Market is more far-flung among the city’s night markets, but it’s arguably the best for food. Any of the typical dishes found here – stinky tofu, oyster omelettes, crispy chicken – make it worth the trek. If it's browsing that interests you, try the less-crowded Tonghua Night Market (also known as Linjiang Night Market, because it’s located on Linjiang Street). There, enjoy Korean imports galore alongside cheap but delicious teppanyaki.
Popular Shops: Ximending is a well-worn area for cheap off-brand shopping, haircuts, and quirky food options. It’s a young and happening hub by day, but some alleys in the area can be on the unsavory side at night. Don’t feel shy in asking for cheaper prices when making purchases here; bargaining is expected. It's the clearly branded stores in the area that only offer set pricing.
Under-the-Radar Shops: Take the rail out to Wu Fen Pu, which is less than 10 minutes from Taipei Main Station. This shopping mecca is where many Ximending vendors source their items in the first place – meaning you can usually get a better price. It’s also within walking distance to Raohe Night Market, if you're ready to fuel up after an afternoon of shopping. (For closer eats, try the areas closer to National Taiwan University or Shi Da University.)
Popular: We do love the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, especially because of its 30 NTD ($1) entry price. There’s usually a great mix of contemporary and traditional art, with media ranging from paintings, to photography and sculpture.
Under-the-Radar: For an indie (and largely free) cultural experience, head over to the former industrial complex renamed as Huashan 1914 Creative Park. Renovated five years ago with a nod toward its past, this hub is home to various rotating art exhibits, eclectic shops, cafes, and landscaped spaces, all of which are free to visit.
Popular: Two of the most recognizable hotel names in Taipei are the W Taipei and Grand Hyatt Taipei; both are very centrally located, and just steps away from the Taipei 101 skyscraper. They offer all the comforts and high standards of their respective brands, but they’re hardly the best deals in the city. At the W Taipei in particular, rates hover around $325 per night throughout the year – which gets close to summer rates at the W New York and actually exceeds its winter rates by more than $100. (Though the smallest rooms in Taipei are also more than double those in New York City.) Rooms at the Grand Hyatt go for around $281 per night over the summer – the city’s low season for hotels – and about $50 more during the spring.
Under-the-Radar: Falling under the banner of affordable luxury is the sophisticated but understated Okura Prestige, part of the Okura Japanese hotel group, with summer rates from $201 and spring rates for about $40 more. Spacious, elegant rooms and warm service at the Landis Taipei start at around $165-$180, perhaps because it’s in a quieter – but still accessible – neighborhood. (As a bonus, the fine dining options at both these properties are beloved by locals.) Finally, Dandy Hotel is a great match for the thriftiest of travelers, costing from $82-$95 in summer. There are three locations, but the Daan branch is probably your best bet; the popular Tianmu property sells out well in advance, and the Tianjin location can be slightly pricier.