If you’ve ever flown overseas, you may recall how incredibly boring and uncomfortable the trip can be. Hours on end sitting in one position is a nightmare, and it’s even worse when you have to change planes on the way.
You can avoid that if you book a long layover. Get out of the airport, stretch your legs, and see a new place for a few hours.
When we flew through Taiwan, we scheduled close to a whole day in Taipei for our layover. That gave us time for a Taipei city tour and sleep in a real bed. It was so worth it!
Where to stay near Taipei airport
Which brings us to the most essential part of a layover: getting some sleep. There are bazillions of places to stay in Taipei to choose from.
Here’s the thing: When catching some zzz’s between flights, you need to book a room in or near the airport. Consider it added insurance against missing a flight because you’ve slept too long. At the very least, you won’t have to fight city traffic if you’re running late!
We chose to stay at Novotel Taipei for our layover because it’s next to Taoyuan International Airport. Super convenient location for a transit traveler, plus, they have a free shuttle! That’s a big bonus.
Taipei in one day
Taipei is one of the cities that offer a free sightseeing tour to transit or transfer passengers. Anyone transiting with a 7- to 24-hour layover is eligible.
That was our plan too … until a last-minute schedule change made us ineligible. The airline bumped us to a later flight out of Taipei, and we’d be in Taiwan for slightly more than 24 hours. And even though it wasn’t our fault, they wouldn’t bend the rule.
Not wanting to miss seeing the best Taipei tourist spots (and waste valuable sightseeing time), we had two options:
- Do-it-yourself sightseeing. Find a one-day itinerary, then use Taipei’s excellent public transportation to see a few of the must-see sights on our own.
- Take a guided tour. Pay a local plan the route, handle the dining arrangements and manage the transport.
Why we chose a guided tour of Taipei
The more we thought about it, the economical DIY option seemed less sensible. Tired travelers like ourselves might not navigate a new transit system efficiently. Omigosh – can you imagine the horror of realizing you’ve gone in the wrong direction or got off at the wrong stop? What a waste of time, money and (limited) energy.
Besides, this might be our only opportunity to tour Taipei, which is Taiwan’s capital. Who knew when we might return? It’s better to see all the best places to visit in Taipei in one day, and then if we managed to make it back to Taiwan we could take day trips and see more of the country.
We didn’t want to spend our hard-earned money on a tour, but then again, it seemed that DIY sightseeing wasn’t as wise an idea as it had first sounded. “Penny wise and pound foolish,” as the Brits might say.
Anyway, we found a one day Taipei tour that would take us to 8 sights in the most time-efficient manner. I don’t think we could have seen that much if we had done it on our own, especially as first-time visitors. Besides, it’s nice to have someone share their insights and sight details.
This wasn’t a private tour, but our tour group was small: just us and one other family. Our guide introduced us to the most popular and worthwhile attractions in the city.
What to see in Taipei in a day
Our first impression was that Taipei is perfect for first-time visitors to Asia. It’s got an east-meets-west vibe, plus it’s clean and safe enough for a solo female traveler.
1. Presidential Office Building and White Terror Memorial
We began our tour with a stop at the Presidential Office Building. The building was a governor’s mansion during Taiwan’s Japanese colonization. Now, it’s used as offices, so there’s nothing to see inside. Still, it’s an important building and nice for a couple of photos.
1a. White Terror Memorial
I was more interested in a nearby memorial that our guide did not point out. Since I had never heard of the White Terror, I asked about it. She gave us a two-sentence history lesson, so I looked it up myself.
Briefly, the White Terror was a long period of martial law in which the government suppressed political dissidents and others. Triggered by an anti-government uprising, it lasted for 38 years and 57 days. Obviously, they are not proud of this period of Taiwan’s history.
2. National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
Next, we drove to the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, arguably the best-known landmark in all of Taiwan.
Built to honor the founder of the Republic of China, its main hall houses a bronze statue of the hero. Downstairs is a museum of Chiang’s life, complete with sedans and uniforms.
We arrived near the top of the hour, so we were able to watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony. Even if you aren’t into memorials, the synchronized rifle twirling is worth watching.
3. Longshan Temple
Longshan Temple is probably Taiwan’s best-known temple. Dating from 1738, it was built by settlers from Fujian province as a gathering place for Chinese immigrants. Since then it has been rebuilt many times, thanks to earthquakes, fires and even an air raid.
As we approached, our guide pointed out the dragon guarding the right door and the tiger guarding the left. Dragons represent power, creativity, wisdom, and good fortune. Tigers are powerful animals, symbolize heroism, and are believed to protect people from misfortune.
Once inside, we found the temple crowded with worshippers. On the 1st and 15th day of each lunar month, regular visitors will come to the temple to worship and petition the gods for favor.
We had arrived while a ceremony was going on. The chanting and gonging added to the experience as we walked among the faithful.
Longshan Temple is Buddhist and has a central hall with a statue of Buddha. It is dedicated to Guan Yin, sometimes called the Goddess of Mercy, who represents compassion in the Buddhist faith.
And there are side rooms with statues and altars to other Chinese deities as well. It would be interesting to learn how it all fits together in the worshiper’s mind.
4. Taipei 101
Taipei 101 is so named because it is 101 stories tall. We were scheduled to stopped there for lunch, but our guide took a short detour first. She knew we would want to photograph the landmark and knew just the place to do it.
Dan and I shared a laugh when we saw a couple posing with a photographer. It seems that wherever we go we run across couples posing for their upcoming weddings!
In many countries, it is customary to hire a photography/clothing/makeup team to immortalize the event. Taiwanese can spend thousands of dollars on this part of the wedding, because outfits and locations can be quite elaborate.
Of course, Dan couldn’t resist capturing a few shots of his own.
Finally, lunchtime arrived and we headed to Taipei 101, the city’s most iconic sight. Of course we got photos of Taipei 101.
I was surprised to learn that Taipei 101 actually has more than 101 stories. There are five floors below ground level as well. I’d suppose it could easily have been named Taipei 106, but regardless, it is still one of the world’s tallest skyscrapers.
Our guide gave us an hour’s free time here. She suggested we either:
- purchase lunch in its (massive!) underground food court or
- visit the observation deck on the 89th floor.
ⓘ TIP: If the weather is hazy, don’t waste your money on a a ticket to the observation platform. The view is only good in clear weather.
Food always wins with us, so we opted for lunch. Besides, we wanted to try some of the local beef noodle soup. Taipei likes it so much that it has an annual festival of its own devoted to this one, single dish.
If you’re wondering, our restaurant wouldn’t win any awards in such a competition. It was bland.
5. Lin An Tai Historical House
After lunch we were brought to Lin An Tai Historical House. This open-air museum is about 200 years old, which makes it one of the oldest houses in Taipei. Lin An Tai is a very refined Fujianese-style home. It was built by successful immigrants from Fujian, who designed and oriented to have especially auspicious feng shui.
Maybe I’ve become jaded, but my first impression was that its front wasn’t particularly impressive. Or perhaps I don’t yet know how to appreciate empty space.
No matter, because once we passed over the threshold, I was enchanted. Please see our Lin An Tai gallery for close-ups; there are too many to share here.
The 25-building complex has a traditional Chinese courtyard behind that meh facade is amazing. You will find that it comes complete with a pond, arched bridge, stepping stones, intricate carvings, and several pavilions.
Lin An Tai House is so unique that when road construction threatened its existence, Taipei opted to move the house piece-by-piece rather than tear it down. Unfortunately, they rebuilt the house in a less auspicious location, so they needed to create an artificial mountain with a waterfall to compensate.
More wedding photos!
Yup here as well. Never would the builders have suspected that one day the Taiwanese would use it as a setting for wedding photos!
6. Beitou Hot Springs – Thermal Valley
Taiwan is a volcanic island. We next drove out to the Thermal Valley, where we spent an hour exploring the Beitou Springs area with our guide. The temperatures of the springs are in the range of 55° to 58° Celsius (131.0°-136.4° F).
Taiwan’s hot springs are very effective in healing dermatosis and arthritis. Judging from the many spas and hotels in the Thermal Valley, this looks like a popular place to go for a bit of rest and relaxation.
I made a mental Note to Self as I soaked my tootsies. This would be a great weekend getaway. I could definitely spend some time here. Not sure if we could fit a visit into a half-day layover, but I did find a day trip, which was kind of nice to know about.
Here’s the tour I found, in case you were wondering.
Ha-ha … here we go again. Can you guess what they’re doing here? (Hint: Notice the changing tent and the white dress.)
7. National Palace Museum
If you have the time, don’t miss this museum. It’s wonderful.
When Chiang Kai-shek had to flee mainland China, he managed to bring many of the country’s historic treasures to Taipei with him. Our next-to-last stop was at the National Palace Museum to see many of these paintings, calligraphy, ceramics and bronzes.
This single museum is said to house 10 percent of all the cultural artifacts from 7,000 years of Chinese civilization! That’s pretty remarkable, wouldn’t you say? We began with its most famous treasures, including the jadeite cabbage, the meat-shaped stone (created from banded jasper) and the Mao Gong Ding cauldron.
We then spent some time exploring the museum on our own. If you’d like to see more of the museum, here’s the link to our photo gallery.
8. Shilin Night Market
Our day in Taipei ended at Shilin Night Market, the largest night market in Taipei. Believe me, there are more delicious food and shopping options here than you can possibly imagine! And some you wouldn’t even dream of.
Shilin Market was the drop-off point, so everyone could stay as long as they wished before making their own way back to their hotel or next sightseeing destination. (The Jintian metro station is nearby.) However, we had all toured Shilin Night Market the night before, so they kindly offered to drive us back to our airport hotel.
Plan your trip
After spending a day in Taiwan’s capital, we are comfortable with our conclusion: If you think you can see all of Taipei in a day or two, think again. Taipei City has so much to offer that you could easily spend a week there and still not get your fill of its experiences. Take it from us: don’t be surprised if you want to return for more.
- Taiwan Tourism Bureau is a great place to begin planning your own trip.
- Visas – Citizens of 62 countries and territories can enter Taiwan visa free for 30 or 90 days. Find out if you need a visa here.
- Transportation – Rome2Rio will help you get around the city on your own.
- For more sightseeing, you’ll enjoy our Taipei photo gallery.
- Scroll around Google’s satellite photo map for a good aerial view.
Other things to do in Taipei
What if you don’t want to spend all day touring Taipei? Here are some other ideas to consider.
If you’re inspired to visit Taipei for a day, here are some related articles and books to fuel your wanderlust.
- Aussie on the Road shared his one day Taipei experience.
- True Nomads’ guide to what to do in Taipei has more ideas.
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