My fifteen hour layover in Taipei, Taiwan was long…fifteen hours in a city is that in-between length of time. Perhaps not long enough to really justify renting a hotel room but an exhausting marathon of site-seeing without a resting spot.
And though my Taipei layover 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 home-base and explored the city on the three recommendations from my Taiwanese friend Ben (met him in Belize actually!).
Three top spots for the widest range of experiences:
- The National Palace Museum for some history and context
- Taipei 101 for the view and national pride
- Shilin Night Market for culture and fantastic street eats.
Once I got over the culture shock of Taipei my game plan shaped up nicely. Getting around Taipei is quite easy—the metro system is fantastic and each of these classic tourist destinations is easily accessible from the metro system –transportation and travel tips included in case you find yourself on a long layover in Taipei too!
Be sure to check the current exchange rate before you leave and plan about NT$1500 for a modest day of sightseeing and eating .
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 sits perched on a green hillside above the nearby mid-level gray city-grid. 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 red 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 out in front of the museum but sit near the bus driver and he’ll tell you when to exit.
When: 8:30a to 6:30p and some Saturdays offer free extended evening hours.
How Much: Adults: NT 160, Concession: NTD 80
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 I think it may be one of the prettiest.
The building is layered in pagoda-like tiers from top to bottom almost like a very 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 and when I exited the metro stop I craned my neck upwards and wove my way through the streets to the slim and elegant building.
Observation floors ring the very top of Taipei 101 and free audio guides describe every the surrounding city buildings, hills and tunnels 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).
When: Open from 10am to 10pm (last visitors allowed up at 9:15pm).
How much: NT$400 (US $10+) – student discounts available
More details: Official site for Taipei 101
Shilin Night Market
I love markets anywhere in the world and the Shinlin Night Market doesn’t disappoint. This nightly market takes over several city blocks with mazes of food stalls, clothes booths, kitschy plastic knickknacks and people.
An ice cold bubble tea is ideal for wandering the market while you scope out where to start on street foods – the selection of meat, tofu dishes, sweets and fruit are overwhelming and the mingling scents of street eats permeate the market.
The market gets into full swing around dusk so out of the three layover activities, the night market has the shortest time frame of operation.
Quick Travel Tips: Shinlin 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’s Over, Get Back to the Airport for 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 and 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 (bus ticket: roughly NT$150). 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.
Then tell the driver your airline and he drops you off right precisely where you need to be to catch your flight to some other exotic location!
How do you spend a long-layover in a city? Sleep through it or sightsee?