A short hop across the East China Sea leads you to the cosmopolitan and culinary mecca of Taipei, a perfect spot for a family getaway. A 90 minute flight from Hong Kong, the route is serviced by four different airlines with flight and hotel options to suit all budgets. Access is also helped by the lack of visa restrictions for many foreign nationals.
The best time to visit Taipei is between September and November, where warm temperatures make for comfortable sightseeing. The monsoon season stretches from June to August and is probably best avoided.
Here’s how my daughters (ages seven and four) and I filled the perfect 48 hours in Taipei over a long weekend in May.
Whilst the short flight to Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport was a breeze, the subsequent one-hour queue in immigration wiped the smiles off our faces (we weren’t the only ones taking advantage of the public holiday!). Luckily the Central Business District was only 25 minutes by taxi from the airport. We were soon ensconced in the welcoming luxury of the Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel. I had chosen the hotel for several reasons: fond memories from a romantic minibreak about nine years ago, and the rooftop pool and jacuzzi. A swimming pool is always a great tool to bribe your kids into doing some sightseeing!
Our room was spacious and modern with stunning views over the city. Dominating the skyline is the gargantuan Taipei 101, one of the tallest buildings in the world standing at 508 metres. After a quick swim (clocking up the bribery points), we ventured out into the city and hopped on the Taipei Metro (MRT). The MRT is cheap, clean, efficient and signposted in English. We were headed to the Southeast area of the city, home to Taipei Zoo and the Maokong Gondola. Having had our fill of pandas in Ocean Park and Chengdu (another recommendation for a weekend away), we decided to miss the zoo and head into the hills. At over 4km in length, the Maokong gondola is the most fun way to access the Muzha tea plantations. To avoid queues, ride the gondola in the late afternoon and forgo paying extra for the glass bottomed gondola. Once at the top, the atmosphere is tranquil and the scenery beautiful. Winding paths lead you to wooden teahouses nestled amongst the trees. We loved the food carts that lined the roads offering up countless tasty local snacks. There are opportunities for hiking, but with young kids in tow and a sudden downpour, we cut short our visit and headed back into the city.
Taipei is famous for its night markets and street food, and that night we chose Lingjian Street Market, as it was the closest to our hotel. We feasted on local sausage, dumplings, fried chicken and refreshing shaved ice, only to be dragged back to the hotel by two tired little girls demanding their beds.
After a scrumptious buffet breakfast at the hotel, we took a taxi to the Chiang-Kai Shek Memorial Hall. This is an impressive monument to Taiwan’s former President. Be sure to time your visit for the hourly changing of the guards in the Memorial Hall, an amazing exercise in precision footwork!
We then jumped into another taxi to the beautiful Longshan Temple. Founded in 1738 by Han immigrants from Fujian, the temple has survived countless typhoons and bombings. Walking through the complex is a colourful experience, observing worshippers and admiring offerings shrouded in wafts of incense.
Taipei Expo Park, in the northern part of the city, is home to the Fine Arts Museum. Although there is an admission fee for the main part of the museum, the Children’s Art Education Centre on the basement floor is free. This is a fun, interactive space with intriguing exhibits to stimulate young minds. A short walking distance from the Arts Museum is the Taipei Children’s Amusement Park. The cheap rides, free playground and sandpit will keep your kids easily entertained.
We rounded off our sightseeing tour by visiting the unusual and captivating Miniatures Museum of Taiwan. For kids that love dolls’ houses, this place is an absolute must, with intricate replicas of everything from a traditional Japanese town to Buckingham Palace.
What better way to finish the day than chowing down on more street food? Although be warned, if your kids are picky eaters you may want to give them a snack beforehand. Highlighted by numerous food blogs as the most authentic in town, Raohe Street Night Market houses seemingly endless food and drink stalls. We attempted to work our way through the greatest hits of the Taipei street food scene, from Fuzhou pepper buns and deep fried milk, to succulent Wagyu beef cubes and heavenly scallion pancakes. Our favourite dish was the ‘Bomb Pancake’, a runny egg deposited inside fried dough, slathered with a sweet sauce. Having been overwhelmed by the smell, we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to try the famed ‘stinky tofu’. So we finished dinner with flavoured mochi (a sweet sticky rice cake) and sugar cane juice.
Another day, another grandiose Memorial Hall, this time to Dr Sun Yat-Sen, which houses a big bronze statue of Taiwan’s famed Father of the ‘Republic of China’. The building is located within Chung-shan Park, with some lovely gardens and views over to Taipei 101. If you didn’t get the chance to see the changing of the guard at Chiang-Kai Shek Memorial Hall, you can also catch it here.
A ten-minute walk from the Memorial Hall is the SongShan Culture and Creative Park. This is a former Japanese tobacco factory converted into a design expo park, featuring art, stores and cafes. After a stroll through the art displays, we had intended to head towards the Elephant Mountain Hiking Trail. This 25-minute walk up stone stairs takes you to a popular city viewing point for views of Taipei 101 and the city. Unfortunately, the soaring May heat, coupled with whining children, meant that we had to swap the hike with a retreat to the Shangri-La’s rooftop pool. Thankfully, the magnificent views from the rooftop pool reassured me I hadn’t missed too much!
After a final meal of luscious Taiwanese beef noodle soup, we returned to Hong Kong, exhausted but full. Taipei is an easy family getaway with so much to offer. We are already planning a return trip to visit the hot springs and, of course, sample more of the city’s amazing street food.