Chinese culture in the 21st century is finally finding its feet, with a resurgence gleaned from its ancient wisdom. Taipei provides a dynamic picture of where this heritage is heading, as it merges modern business and cutting-edge technology with thousands of years of continuous tradition.
For many people in Taipei, shopping is an art form. At the top end of the market, the practice is focused on the Xinyi District with its upmarket stores. Bellavita
is a temple to luxury, while Eslite
’s flagship store is like a local lifestyle trademark, selling books, music, technology, fine food and fashion. On a smaller scale, VVG Something
is arguably one of the most stylish bookshops on the planet. For internationally-known Taiwanese fashion designers, check out Shiatzy Chen
’s flagship store to see her 'neo-Chinese chic' first-hand, or explore the silk innovations of Sophie Hong
Out and about
The best view of Taipei is undoubtedly from the observatory on the 89th floor of Taipei 101
, the city's most recognisable modern landmark. Alternatively, soak up Taipei's colourful religious culture at the Baoan Temple
in the Dalongdong District; one of the finest examples of temple architecture in Asia, it has been recognised by UNESCO for its painstaking conservation. Also in the old city, Dihua Street
– once a bustling commercial hub in the 19th century – has been reinvigorated, too. In addition to its long-established businesses specialising in traditional food and textiles, a slew of handicraft shops and high-end eateries have moved in to take advantage of the unique old-world ambiance.
The National Palace Museum
is a must-see, as it hosts some of the best Chinese artworks in the world. Located in the hills north of Taipei, its collection spans some 8,000 years of Chinese history. Taiwan has also made a name for itself in traditional performing arts, and one of the best venues to see this is at Taipei Eye
, which has opera performances by leading groups. Glove puppetry is the most iconic of Taiwan's traditional performance arts; the Lin Liu-Hsin Puppet Theatre Museum
provides an excellent entry point to this art form and is home to the internationally performing Taiyuan Puppet Theatre Company. For a glimpse of local domestic life and to look at Taiwan's traditional garden architecture, the Lin Family Mansion and Lin Family Mansion and Garden
is well worth a visit.
On the outskirts of Taipei is the Yangmingshan National Park
, where activities range from cycling to trekking. Resulting from a volcanic upsurge, the mountains are known for their sulphur springs that feed hundreds of natural spas in the Beitou District. The flower festivals here are also a big attraction: there are camellias and flowering cherry in January, followed by calla lily and Yoshino cherry blossom in March, peonies in April, and Formosa lilies in May. The national park has splendid scenic drives and walks, featuring lookouts with an unrivalled panorama of the city. To see a different side of Taipei, take the Maokong Gondola
on a four-kilometre journey above the renowned Maokong tea-growing region. The Crystal Cabin gondolas with their transparent floors offer a fantastic view of the plantations and the area's natural splendour. Sample a diverse choice of tea at one of the many local tea houses, such as Yuan Xu Yuan
(16-2, Lane 38, Zhinan Road, Section 3), which also serves traditional cuisine and has a formal Chinese garden.
Treatments and massage are serious pastimes for Taipei residents. Head to The Spa
at Mandarin Oriental, Taipei for therapeutic journeys like Formosa, which includes a foot ritual, sea-pearl skin polish and mineral-rich white-mud body mask; or opt for a rejuvenating facial at Beauty by Mandarin Oriental. Get a perspective on the importance of local spas and bathing culture at the Beitou Hot Spring Museum
, a luxury bathhouse dating from the Japanese colonial period. Spas in Beitou range from the venerable although now rather basic Lognaitang Hot Spring Bathhouse
(244 Guangming Road), patronised in 1913 by Crown Prince Hirohito, to trendy Villa 32
, a blend of nature and modernity.
Taipei is emerging as a culinary capital for both Western and Asian food. At Mandarin Oriental, Taipei, the Bencotto
Italian restaurant is presided over by the Milan-born chef Loris Pistillo. Meanwhile, crowds flock to Din Tai Fung
for its soup dumplings. Tea is also central to gastronomic culture here, but few places combine fine teas and ambiance like Wistaria Tea House
Into the night
Night markets are such an integral part of Taipei life that no visit would be complete without a taste of oyster omelette, salted fried chicken or grilled squid on a stick. Ningxia Night Market
is a great place for a stroll with the city's residents looking for a bite to eat before bedtime. For a rather more stylish take on Taiwan's street food scene, a visit to Addiction Aquatic Development
, a converted fish market that offers outstanding sushi and crustacean bars and a grill restaurant, is a must. As for drinking establishments, Marquee
are Taiwanese celebrity haunts, while the art deco-style MO Bar
at Mandarin Oriental, Taiwan is perfect for a cocktail.