In recent years Taipei has been emerging as one of Asia’s favorite travel destinations. In fact, in 2014 Taiwan had the largest growth in international tourist arrivals in the world, and the vast majority of them visited Taipei. The city’s rapid development has created tourism facilities on par with those of Tokyo or Singapore, while its much lower prices, proximity to nature and rich cultural heritage have been drawing attention in international media and gaining notoriety.
There are plenty of high-profile activities drawing visitors to Taipei, from the white sands of Baisha Beach and the hot springs of Beitou to the treasures of the National Palace Museum and the dumplings of Din Tai Feng. With the growth in tourism, locals are increasingly finding themselves crowded out of the popular spots. Here’s where they’re going instead.
Canadians are over-represented among Taipei’s expatriate population, which has resulted in one of — if not the only — Canadian restaurant in East Asia. Whalen’s, in Taipei’s Daan district, is frequented by both locals and foreigners for home-cooked, Canadian comfort foods such as poutine and Montreal smoked meat sandwiches. It’s best to try and visit at off-peak hours, or you’ll likely end up waiting for a table.
The Marco Polo Lounge at the Shangri-La Hotel
The Shangri-la is one of Taipei’s swankiest hotels and the restaurants are popular with both locals and visitors. The Marco Polo lounge on the 38th floor, however, somehow seems to have been overlooked by both of those groups. This relaxed, classy lounge has one of the best views in the city, regularly features live music and serves surprisingly premium cocktails at prices that are low-average for Taipei. It’s definitely worth a visit while you’re in town, but don’t mention it to too many people. The few locals who’ve discovered this spot don’t want the word to get out.
Ba Yan Wild Springs, Yangmingshan
Taipei’s Beitou District is filled with hot spring hotels that pump in fresh steaming water from nearby springs. But, for a more natural experience, head for the Ba Yan wild springs in nearby Yangmingshan National Park. These outdoor natural hot springs, which sit in a turquoise mountain stream beneath a canopy of jungle, are a bit off-the-beaten-track — quite literally — but are fairly easy to find with directions and are accessible to people of all physical abilities. Be warned, these springs are not officially open to the public. But, they are unofficially popular with locals and visited regularly.
Taiwan is about the last place you’d expect to be the home of the finest whiskey on earth, but this year the Soloist Vinho Barrique whiskey was named the best single-malt in the world by the World Whiskies Awards for 2015. The retro-style distillery is not in Taipei proper, but in nearby Yilan. The trip, however, is more than worth the effort for this tour, which sees around one million visitors each year (much more than any distillery in Scotland) and was shortlisted for the 2011 “Whisky Visitor Attraction of the Year” by Whisky Magazine.
The Tea Houses at Maokong
Just beyond the Taipei Zoo is one of Taipei’s finest features that’s too often overlooked by visitors: the lush tea-covered hills of Maokong. Visitors have the option of driving, hiking, or taking a glass-bottomed gondola to the summit. At the top myriad trails disappear off into the jungle and numerous traditional Japanese-style tea houses sit perched in the lush greenery on the mountainside.
Elephant Mountain is the most accessible of the Four Beasts, a series of mountains that rub up against the southeast corner of the city offering spectacular views of the skyline. The trail head is just a 15-minute walk from the nearest MRT public transit or the Taipei 101 skyscraper. The trail is steep and not for everyone, but is definitely worth the climb — especially for photographers. It’s probably the single most popular location in the city for photographing the iconic Taipei 101.
Beer & Cheese Social House
The Beer and Cheese Social House is to Taipei nightlife what Whalen’s is to lunch. One of Taiwan’s few craft breweries, this small pub in a warehouse-style space serves what many consider to be the best beer on the island paired with choice artisan cheese platters, and cheese-based sandwiches on fresh bread. It’s one of the best places in the city to mix with English-speaking locals and expats in the evening. Just be ready to stand, because seats are hard to come by.
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