Tap into Taiwan’s tantalising capital city: catch a Chinese opera, luxuriate in natural hot springs, gaze at cutting-edge architecture, or admire the stunning local flora in the neighbouring national park

Chinese culture in the 21st century is finally finding its feet, with a resurgence of vitality gleaned from its ancient wisdom. And Taipei provides a dynamic picture of where this heritage is heading, as it merges cutting-edge modern business and technology with thousands of years of living tradition.

Shopping hotspots

Taiwan fashion label Shiatzy Chen, SS14 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 cluster of luxury boutiques, bespoke designers and top restaurants. Bellavita is a palatial temple to fine living, while Eslite’s flagship store is almost a Taiwan lifestyle trademark, selling books, music, technology, fine food and fashion. Its 24-hour bookshop branch, notable for its wide selection of tomes on art, architecture and design, is a popular gathering place for intellectual night owls. On a smaller scale, VVG Something is arguably one of the most remarkable and stylish bookshops on the planet. As for fashion, Taiwan designers are making waves on the international scene. Check out Shiatzy Chen’s flagship store and see her ‘neo-Chinese chic’ first-hand, or explore the innovative silk creations of Sophie Hong.

Spectacular sights

The Baoan Temple in Dalongdong District The best view of Taipei is undoubtedly from the observatory on the 89th floor of Taipei 101. Until 2010 it was the world’s tallest building, but it remains Taipei’s best-known landmark and hosts one of Asia’s most exciting New Year’s Eve firework displays. Equally colourful is the city’s religious culture – Baoan Temple in the Dalongdong District is among the finest temple architecture in Asia, with the painstaking restoration of the original structure recognised in 2003 by Unesco’s Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation. Another area of the old city having a makeover is Dihua Street – once a bustling commercial hub in the 19th century, it is being reinvigorated after decades of neglect. In addition to its long-established businesses specialising in traditional foodstuffs and textiles, a slew of handicraft shops and high-end eateries have moved in to take advantage of the unique old-world ambiance.


Where to explore culture In the hills north of Taipei, the National Palace Museum is a must-see for visitors, as it hosts some of the best Chinese artworks in the world

Cultural highlights

A Chinese opera performance at Taipei Eye The National Palace Museum is a must-see for visitors, as it showcases some of the best Chinese artworks in the world. Located in the hills north of Taipei, with cavernous storerooms dug deep into the mountains, its permanent collection contains incredible pieces spanning some 8,000 years of Chinese history. For something more contemporary, Mandarin Oriental, Taipei has a collection of some 1,700 artworks from award-winning and world-renowned artists such as Lee Jae-Hyo, Kim Chan and Chinese ink painter Zhu Wei. Taiwan has also made a name for itself in its conservation of traditional performing arts, and one of the best venues to glimpse this artistic heritage is at Taipei Eye, which has regular performances of opera, for example, by some of the country’s top groups. Glove puppets are the most iconic of Taiwan’s traditional performance arts and the Lin Liu-Hsin Puppet Theatre Museum provides an excellent entry point to this art form. This is the home of the Taiyuan Puppet Theatre Company, a group that has performed internationally and is a trailblazer in bringing its tradition into the modern era. For a look at the domestic side of Taiwanese life, check out the Lin Family Mansion and Garden, Taiwan’s most complete surviving example of traditional Chinese garden architecture from the mid-19th century.

The great outdoors

A floral clock, part of the annual Flower Festival at Yangmingshan National Park On the outskirts of Taipei is the Yangmingshan National Park, where activities range from admiring flowers to energetic cycling and trekking. Resulting from a volcanic upsurge, the mountains are known for their sulphur springs that feed hundreds of natural spas in the Beitou District. One of the biggest attractions here is the annual Flower Festival, starting off with camellias and Taiwan 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 a ride on the Maokong Gondola, a 4km journey above a renowned tea-growing region. The Crystal Cabin gondolas are equipped with transparent floors for a fantastic, alternative view of the plantations and the natural splendour of Maokong. 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), which also serves traditional Taiwanese cuisine and has a formal Chinese garden.


How to find bliss Seek out The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Taipei for luxurious journeys such as Formosa, which includes a sea-pearl skin polish and a mineral-rich white-mud body mask

Spa time

The VIP Double Suite at The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Taipei Spa treatments and massage are serious pastimes for Taipei residents. Head to The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Taipei for luxurious journeys such as Formosa, which includes a foot ritual, a sea-pearl skin polish and a mineral-rich white-mud body mask, or opt for a rejuvenating facial at Beauty by Mandarin Oriental. You can get a perspective on how important spas are to the Taiwan mentality at the Beitou Hot Spring Museum (2 Zhongshan Road), a luxury bathhouse from the Japanese colonial period that is now a celebration of the state’s elaborate, inherited bathing culture. Spas in Beitou range from the venerable, and now rather basic, Lognaitang Hot Spring Bathhouse (244 Guangming Road), patronised in 1913 by the Japanese Crown Prince Hirohito, to trendy Villa 32, whose sculpted environment blends nature and modernity.

Culinary delights

Italian restaurant Bencotto at Mandarin Oriental, Taipei Taipei is already emerging as a culinary capital, whether for Western or Asian food. The Italian Bencotto restaurant at Mandarin Oriental, Taipei, presided over by Michelin-starred chef Mario Cittadini, invites guests into the kitchen with its open design, while the MO Bar takes its inspiration from Art Deco. And the hotel’s fine dining Cantonese restaurant, Ya Ge, is already enjoying a local following for its dim sum delicacies. For a taste of local cuisine, don’t miss Dintaifung, Taiwan’s best-known culinary export, which has raised the humble soup dumpling to the level of high art. These incredibly succulent delicacies attract huge crowds from across the country – and despite a presence around the world, many still think the local version is best. Tea is central to Taiwan gastronomic culture, but few places have managed to combine fine teas and ambiance in quite the same way as Wistaria Tea House, a location known as a gathering place for intellectuals, artists and business leaders, and which prides itself on its fine quality teas and service.


Nights Out

Grilled squid on a stick at Ningxia Night Market Although inevitably the food is far from being of uniform quality, night markets are such an integral part of Taipei life that no visit to the city would be complete without at least a taste of oyster omelettes, salted fried chicken, or grilled squid on a stick. Ningxia Road Night Market is a great place for dinner or supper, or just for a stroll among the bustle of locals looking for a bite 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 now offers an outstanding sushi bar, crustacean bar and grill restaurant, is a must, providing a unique take on Japanese cuisine. Both markets are only a 10-15 minute taxi ride from Mandarin Oriental, Taipei. The city has numerous drinking establishments to see you through to the early hours. Marquee and Barcode are the favoured watering holes for local celebrities.


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