Taipei has it all - delicious food, designer hotels, art museums and galleries, Buddhist temples and
modern architecture. But the capital of Taiwan is also outstanding because it is located in close proximity to national parks, authentic traditional towns and colourful night markets. Everything is within easy reach by train or MRT. I have curated a list of the top seven destinations you can easily visit in Taiwan this spring.
1. Yangmingshan National Park
Yangmingshan National Park is considered one of the best places for hiking in Taiwan, as well as one of the first urban parks in the world. The park is famous for its volcanic activity, waterfalls and sulfur hot springs. In the region, there are 1400 unique species of plants, birds and butterflies.
The 1.5-hour drive from Taipei is worth the trip. Shuttle Bus 108 runs around Yangmingshan, so you can easily visit several areas of the park and come back to Taipei for dinner. There are more than twenty Datong volcanoes here, which have erupted over the past two million years and have shaped much of the landscape of the Greater Taipei region. You should definitely visit Qixing Mountain, the tallest dormant volcano in the country.
Every year from February to May, there is a spring calla flower festival. There are over 45 flower farms where visitors can pick up their own bouquets. The entrance to the farm costs about NT$100 and you are allowed to take home 8-10 flowers back home.
In May hydrangea will bloom in the region, making Yangmingshan the most Instagrammable place in the country.
2. Jiufen City
The charming seaside town of Jiufen is just about 40 kilometres away from Taipei. This picturesque place offers a vibrant mix of traditions and culture, beautifully contrasting with the chaotic streets of the capital.
Built by the Japanese during the gold rush, Jiufen began life as an isolated mining town. After the end of World War II, the mining business diminished, and the city became a tourist destination, dedicated to Taiwanese culture. Today Juifen has a nostalgic atmosphere with its narrow photogenic streets, retro Chinese and Japanese cafes, traditional tea shops.
It was Jiufen's unique architecture that inspired the Japanese studio Ghibli to create an animated film Spirited Away.
Although Wanli is known for its natural beauty and white beaches, it interests me more as home to one of the most mysterious architecture - the "UFO village". The collection of futuristic houses Futuro and Venturo was designed by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen and built in the 1970s.
All the UFO-shaped houses are abandoned. The exact reason why residents left the village, is still a mystery. Inside the houses, there is still original furniture from the 1970s, household items, technology and things such as video cassettes.
4. Yeliou Geopark
To further immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the unknown, you can easily combine Wanli and Yeliu Geopark to make a mystical day trip from Taipei. After walking around Wanli, continue further north along the coastal road. You can either take the bus or walk, stopping at lovely fishing villages. After 4 km you will reach Yeliu.
Due to the soft limestone composition of the rock, the area is prone to erosion under the seawater, waves and wind. The impact of these factors over time has made the geological landscape look like another planet. Yeliu is filled with bizarre rock formations, many of which resemble forms of people and animals. Some rocks were given names according to their shapes such as "Mushroom Rocks", "Sea Candles" and "Fairy Shoe".
Taiwan has the second largest number of hot springs in the world after Japan. Grab your towel and swimsuit and head to Beitou, the capital of hot springs in Taiwan. It takes about 45 minutes to get there from downtown Taipei.
The best place to start your visit is with the free hot springs museum located in a former public bath, which tells about the history of the area and its bathing culture. The beautiful 1913 building was built by the Japanese and designed in Victorian style.
Millennium public hot springs are clean, well maintained and inexpensive, but there is also the opportunity to visit private springs at spa hotels. There is a large selection of hotels in the Japanese minimalist style, where you can easily spend the whole weekend. I have chosen to indulge myself for a few days at Asia Pacific Hotel Beitou tucked away in green hills.
The northern coast of Taiwan is picturesque, here you can find many rock formations and volcanic stones covered with algae. If you liked Yeliu but don't like the crowds, then Shen-ao is a good alternative. You will find the same geological formations, but in addition to this, a beautiful view of the island Keelung.
The most famous place here is an arch, which just happens to look like an elephant, who lowered his trunk into the ocean for water. There are plenty of restaurants in the harbour serving freshly caught fish. This is a great spot to have lunch and as a bonus, you will get sea views free of charge.
7. Night markets
Anyone who has been to this East Asian country can tell you that the night markets are an important part of Taiwanese life. In many ways, it's the epitome of Taiwanese pop culture. Getting a bite, having a walk, and then playing games - a real national pastime. Food and drink in each market will vary depending on the region.
About 5 km from Shen-ao is Keelung, the main port in the northeast of Taiwan. A visit to the local market Miaokou for dinner is the perfect end to a long day, and transportation back to Taipei is very convenient. Get ready for cheap and delicious seafood. The market is known for its creamy crab. But in whatever city you choose the market, you can't leave Taiwan without trying oyster omelette, crunchy stinky tofu and gua bao bun. For dessert, try out Bubble Tea - a drink with sweet jelly balls, invented here back in the 80s.