My 15-hour layover in Taipei, Taiwan was long. Once you hit 10 hours in a city, you reach that in-between length of time where your options both expand and contract. It’s probably not long enough to justify renting a hotel room, but that leaves you either spending your long layover at the airport—in this case at Taoyuan International Airport —or undertaking an exhausting marathon of sightseeing in Taipei.
Although my layover in Taipei was way longer than I would normally choose, I had little choice in the matter so I embraced the craziness of filling that much time without a homebase. I explored the city based on three key recommendations from my Taiwanese friend Ben (met him in Belize actually!). He suggested an itinerary that could fill about 10 of the 15 hours on my long layover, giving me time for transport to and from the airport, and to get myself all checked in again for my flight.
What to Do in Taipei During a Layover
Touring the city is the most natural answer as 10+ hours truly is too long to spend at the airport. Other reasons to visit Taipei itself on a long layover? It’s so dead simple to travel between the airport and the city, the city has fantastic transport around the major sights, and Taipei’s food scene is worth experiencing.
My three key recommendations as the baseline for any long layover include:
- The National Palace Museum for city history and context
- Taipei 101 for the sweeping views and national pride
- Shilin Night Market for culture and fantastic street eats
These three spots are a bit spread out, so if you’re on the shorter side of a long layover (say a 10 hour layover), you’ll just want to do these three things. But if you have more time to fill (as I did), then you simply spend more time in each neighborhood, and add in a few great restaurants earlier in the day (because visiting the night market is non negotiable!).
Once I got over my culture shock upon landing in Taipei, my game plan shaped up nicely. Getting around Taipei is easy—the metro system is fantastic and each of these classic tourist destinations is easily accessible from the metro system. I included transportation and travel tips alongside each site in case you find yourself on a long layover in Taipei too!
Be sure to check the current exchange rate before you leave the airport, and plan on spending about NT$1,500 for a modest day of sightseeing and eating . You can also book one-day tours from the airport but if you’re a bit adventurous it’s totally doable solo.
Getting to the City Center from Taipei Airport
Before you leave, find the lockers in each terminal and lock up any of your carry-on luggage that you don’t need for the day. If you are checked through to your next flight, your checked luggage will be handled by the airline during your layover.
Then get into the city. The express train is by far your best bet as it’s just 40 minutes and costs the same as the commuter train. There are also buses, which is how I did it years back. All options cost under NT#160, so you’re not going to break the bank any way you go. This is a good transport guide, and explains how to get an iPass or EasyCard, as well as how to use the metro system. Once you’re in the city center, you can easily use Google Maps accurately for the best routes, or grab a subway map/app.
The Taipei National Palace Museum
The National Palace Museum in Taipei holds one of the largest collections of ancient Chinese artifacts in the world, and it sits perched on a lush green hillside above the nearby gray cityscape. The museum is vast and it is truly one of those “choose your own adventure” type museums. There was no way I could (or wanted to) wander through every room, so instead I picked out those artifacts I most find intriguing.
For me, that’s intricate carved trinkets rather than pottery, and ornate ancient scripts written by the hand of people who have died hundreds of years ago. The museum has an entire room dedicated to delicately carved curio boxes (much like a women’s jewelry box of today). The drawers and doors on these were puzzles and this is where the emperors and royalty stored the valuable trinkets bestowed upon them through the centuries: ivory carved elephants, jade tigers, wooden figurines, and precious stones.
This is the “hardest” of the three layover spots to visit and that’s only because you have to transfer from the metro to the bus. But the National Palace Museum is very touristy so once I was on that side of town there was a fair amount of English spoken.
Quick Travel Tips: Taipei National Palace Museum
Where: Take the Wenhu metro line to the Jiantan stop, walk directly out of the building and straight ahead to the curb. Find the bus signs for the Red 30 or 304—take either of these two buses to the National Palace Museum stop (less than 10 minutes); it stops right in front of the museum, but sit near the bus driver and he’ll tell you when to exit. Also, if you’re visiting this before/after Taipei 101, there is a convenient 30-minute shuttle bus between the two!
When: Open between 8:30am to 6:30pm, and some Saturdays offer free extended evening hours.
Cost: Adults: NT$350, Concession: NT$150
More details: Official site for the National Palace Museum
Taipei 101: Taiwan’s Skyline Masterpiece
Nations around the world compete for the status of owning the tallest building in the world and Taiwan couldn’t stay out of the competition. Taipei 101 is Taiwan’s contribution to the tallest buildings in the world, and it may be one of the prettiest.
The building is layered in pagoda-like tiers from top to bottom—it’s almost like an Asian wedding cake, complete with a single candle-like point thrusting from the top and bringing the total height to a staggering 1,671 feet. The building dwarfs all of the nearby city buildings. When I exited the metro, I craned my neck upwards and wove my way through the streets to the slim and elegant building. There was no missing it once you’re in the neighborhood.
Observation decks ring the top of Taipei 101 and free audio guides describe all of the surrounding city buildings, hills, and tunnels, expertly sharing the evolving history of Taipei and its suburbs.
Quick Travel Tips: Taipei 101
Where: Taipei 101 is on the blue line at the “Taipei City Hall” MRT stop. There are free shuttle buses from this metro stop, but it’s actually a short walk from the metro stop (10 minutes or less). Also, if you’re visiting this before/after the National Museum, there is a convenient 30-minute shuttle bus between the two!
When: Open from 10am to 10pm (last visitors allowed up at 9:15pm).
How much: NT$600; student and military discounts available
More details: Official site for Taipei 101
Shilin Night Market
I love markets anywhere in the world and Taipei’s vibrant Shilin Night Market doesn’t disappoint. This nightly market takes over several city blocks with mazes of food stalls, clothes booths, kitschy plastic knick knacks, and heaving hordes of people. There is also an indoor portion of the night market. This is the portion of your long layover where you fill up on food before heading back to the airport. If you’re iffy about eating street food, learn the basics of eating it without getting sick, then start snacking.
An ice cold bubble tea is the ideal accompaniment for wandering the market while you scope out where to start sampling Taipei street food. The selection of meat, tofu dishes, sweets, and fruit are overwhelming, and the mingling scents of street eats permeate the market. If you’re a meat eater, you will truly have a ball sampling everything from fresh grilled prawns to “paper pork” to cow tongue pastries. That’s not to say that vegetarians can’t find fun treats, it just takes a bit deeper wanderings to find stinky tofu, sweet potato balls, and scallion pancakes. All travelers will love the jellied sweet desserts and sugared fruit.
The market gets into full swing around dusk, so out of the three long layover activities, the night market has the shortest time frame of operation. More vendors open as the night progresses, but even at dusk there is plenty to see if you’re crunched on time.
Quick Travel Tips: Shilin Night Market
Where: The Shilin Night Market is on red metro line, get off at the Jiantan stop and the walk the market (just across the street from the Jiantan exit). The market runs all the way to the next stop on the red line, Shilin so you can take that stop back!
When: Head there at dusk or later, once the sun has firmly set the market really begins to bustle.
Tips: Go hungry because there is a truly huge selection of foods to sample and make sure your camera’s battery has lasted this long for fun market shots.
Layover Success—Now Catch Your Flight !
Wherever you are in Taipei, it’s now time to catch the metro line back to the Taipei Main Station—this is the same basic place where the airport bus dropped you off, or where you metro’d into the city center as this is the central point for the metro lines.
Give yourself at least 30 minutes to get lost finding the return bus terminal for international airport-bound buses, Taipei West Bus Station. The station is tricky to find—get a map from the information kiosk in the metro before you even head out for the day and keep in mind that it’s near the underground mall K12 and Z3 exits and MRT exit M5. Otherwise take the metro to the airport if that’s your best option.
With the bus, if you tell the driver your airline he will drop you off right precisely where you need to be to catch your flight to some other exotic location! And if you still have a number of hours to kill at Taoyuan International Airport during your long layover, you can find a lot to do: themed airport lounges, Cultural Experience Areas in Terminal 2, art exhibits with pieces on loan from the National Museum in Terminal 1, a small movie theatre in Terminal 1, and more.
How do you spend a long-layover in a new city? Do you sleep through it or sightsee?