One of the things I love about Taipei, Taiwan, is not just how easy it is to get to places, but the expanse of choices you have to get there. Whether you take a U-bike, walk or just catch the MRT, the city is built to be explored without a car. And along the Tamsui-Xinyi (Red) MRT line, you can just about fulfill any touristy craving you may find, as it literally connects you from the mountains to the sea. Here are some of the places you can visit by just using this one MRT line.
We begin our journey at Tamsui Station, at one end of this MRT line, where you can hit the seaside and a pretty huge beach; it’s an easy 20 minute bike ride from the station. Avoid coming here on the weekends, however, there will always be large crowds of tourists and families so getting from A to B will be a challenge, especially by bicycle.
As you depart from Tamsui and head towards the city centre, you will come across Beitou. This is where the hot springs are. So if you find yourself needing a bit of sulphur-therapy after a long week of exploring, this is the place to go. Beitou is also known for its Jade Spring, where by some mysterious force of nature, the sulphur pond is a beautiful jade-green colour.
The Taiwanese are massive fans of baseball and have their own leagues. If you’re also a fan of baseball and are in Taiwan during the summer, you can get to the Tianmu Baseball Stadium from the Zhi’Shan station.
Further down the red line, at Shi’Lin station, is the Taipei Astronomical Museum. If you’re a space lover like me, this is definitely worth a visit. Across from here is MORE SCIENCE (!!!) at the National Taiwan Science Education Centre. One can never have enough science. Got kids? Taipei’s Children Amusement Park is just across from the NTSEC! More of a history buff? There are a few buses that will take you from the station to the National Palace Museum, where you’ll find three large floors full of ancient Chinese artifacts, from paintings to ceramics and jade. They have free tours in English, if exploring on your own time isn’t your thing.
One station away, there’s Jian’Tan station, home to the most well-known tourist night market in Taipei, though probably the most chaotic that I’ve ever been to: Shi’Lin Night Market. You’d think that you’d be able to visit the night market closer to the Shi’Lin station, but you’re wrong! Shave 10 minutes off your walking time by going from here. This is also the namesake of ‘Shihlin Taiwanese Street Snacks’ franchise who have brought favourites such as sweet plum potato fries and oyster mee sua into Hong Kong, Australian, Singaporean, Malaysian and Indonesian hearts (and stomachs).
If you’re familiar with Taiwanese movies, when you get from Jian’Tan to the next station, you’ll be able to see the Grand Hotel Taipei which was a prominent feature in the 1994 film Eat Drink Man Woman (飲食男女) as the workplace of Master Chef Chu.
Another station down and you’ll be at Yuan’Shan station, across from which you will find the Taipei Fine Arts Museum and Taipei Story House. If you like greenery, you’re in the right place, as this area has park after park after park, one of which houses the Taipei Expo Centre where exhibitions are held on a regular basis.
A station away from the Taipei Main Station is Zhong’Shan station. Here lies a huge underground shopping centre and above ground, the Taipei Film House, where you’ll find screenings of indie movies from all over the world. Here is also where you can find a Din Tai Fung, probably the most famous Taiwanese restaurants in the world and rightly so! Reader beware: don’t go to any of the chains on an empty stomach, there will always be a crowd waiting before you. You’ll be able to find a branch inside the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Nanxi Store right outside the station.
Just outside the Main Station, you’ll find one of two memorials in honour of Taiwan’s founding father: Dr Sun Yat-Sen, the other is along a different MRT line (the blue one) which you can get to from this station. Here is Dr Sun-Yat Sen Memorial House, a small Japanese-styled hotel turned small museum housed next to a pond and small park. Parks like these are another way to “get-out” of the hustle and bustle of the city, though just a station away you’ll find a bigger park.
Get off at the next station, the NTU Hospital station, and you’ll find the 2/28 Peace Park, which houses the National Taiwan Museum and the Taipei 2/28 Memorial Hall. This large park was built in memory of the February 28 Incident with multiple monuments and an outdoor stage. I’m not sure if any shows are held there, however, as I’ve never seen one myself.
Next up, CKS Memorial Hall station. Here you’ll find a huge memorial dedicated to Chiang Kai-shek, presidential successor to Dr Sun Yat-Sen. If watching a changing of guards is your thing, walk up a huge amount of stairs and you’ll find a large statue of Chiang Kai-shek with really, really, really stiff guards that change shift every hour, on the hour. When I went, one of the guards didn’t blink at all, which was both cool and creepy at the same time. If you have some time to spare before (or after) the changing of guards, you can read up on the planning and building process of the memorial in a small room just off the hall. Across the road, you’ll find the National Concert Hall and National Theatre in all its traditional styled glory. I think there’s a different show to watch every month in both venues, so if that’s your thing, keep an eye out!
Exploring on a hot day? Don’t worry coz next up: Dongmen, home to the famed Smoothie House, home to everyone’s cool-down favourite: mango shaved ice. This area is home to a multitude of trendy cafés and food places, including a popular place to get yourself a slurpy bowl of beef noodle soup, Yong Kang Beef Noodles, which you’ll find in this area too. Here is also where you can find another Din Tai Fung branch, just in case you feel like having some Xiao Long Bao instead.
If you thought the 2/28 Peace Park was big, hold onto your socks! Next station: Da’An Forest Park. It is exactly what it sounds like: a forest within the city. This park is about 2 to 3 times bigger than the 2/28 Peace Park and it also is home to an outdoor stage which I know holds regular free concerts. Perfect for a picnic date, morning (or evening) runs or just when you feel like having a lazy Sunday.
Almost to the end of the line now. Welcome to Taipei 101/World Trade Centre station! Here you’ll find the bamboo-shaped icon of Taiwan itself, Taipei 101. Up the viewing platform on a clear day, you’ll be able to enjoy a 360° view of Taipei city and some of its surrounding counties. Enjoying the sunset from up here on a clear day is also highly recommended. As you come out from the tower and head back to the station, you’ll probably come to find a large crowd by the exit. This is because here you’ll find yet another Din Tai Fung branch!
And finally we arrive at the last and final station: Xiangshan. Here you meet the station’s namesake, or Elephant Mountain in English, with a hiking trail for the nature-lover in all of us. It’s honestly not too difficult of a hike, though at the beginning the climb is a bit steep. Reward yourself with an amazing view of Taipei’s skyline once you’ve climbed to the top.
For more information on transport options in Taipei, head to Taipei Pass site or the Taipei Metro site. The Taipei Pass is available at all MRT station information counters and can be used for unlimited trips on MRT and public buses for a day or more.