As the capital of the island nation of Taiwan, Taipei is home to countless museums and memorial halls and is at the cutting edge of architecture, the pinnacle of which is Taipei 101. Taipei 101 is an astounding 101-floor skyscraper that claimed the title of world's tallest building when it opened in 2004 and is now the world's second tallest building after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Home to over 2.6 million people, Taipei is crowded, chaotic and cosmopolitan and has one of the fastest growing restaurant and nightlife scenes in Asia. It serves as the cultural, governmental and financial epicenter of the country and is located in the northern part of the island in a basin between the Yangming Mountains and the Central Mountains. The city of Taipei was founded in the early 18th century and became an important center for overseas trade in the 19th century. The Qing Dynasty in China made Taipei the provincial capital of Taiwan in 1886 and it was retained as the capital of the island after the Japanese acquired Taiwan in 1895 after the First Sino-Japanese War. The Republic of China took over the island in 1945 following Japanese surrender and after losing Mainland China to the Chinese Communist Party in the Chinese Civil War, the ruling Kuomintang resettled the ROC government to Taiwan and declared Taipei the provisional capital of the Republic of China in December 1949.
The downtown area of Taipei is culturally divided into East and West. The West side, with its narrow streets and road side vendors, is considered the center of old Taipei life, whereas East Taipei, with its classy malls, chic boutiques, and stylish restaurants and cafes, reminiscent of those found in Hong Kong, Paris or New York represents the city's transformation into a modern and international city. While Taipei may not be high on everyone's list of tourist destinations, it is a fascinating place to visit and despite its size, it does not have any rough areas that are considered unsafe, even at night, which make it appealing in itself. Whether you're looking for a great cultural experience or simply want to take in a day of shopping and sightseeing, Taipei is sure to offer something for everyone.
Here we take a look at some of the city's top attractions:
No trip to Taipei would be complete without viewing the city's most prized piece of architecture. Officially known as the Taipei International Financial Center, this 101-floor, 1,667-foot high skyscraper is in the Xinyi District of Taipei and is the second tallest skyscraper in the world. Not only is the sheer height of the structure an impressive feat, it is also rich in symbolism and was built to resemble bamboo rising from the earth. Bamboo is a plant recognized in Asian cultures for its fast growth and flexibility, both of which are ideal characteristics for a financial building. The building is also divided into eight distinct sections, with eight being a number associated with prosperity in Chinese culture. Don't miss out on looking at the ornate details on structural beams, columns, and other elements. The building also boasts the world's fastest elevators, which will zip visitors up to the 89th-floor observation deck in a mere 37 seconds. There is also an outdoor observatory on the 91st floor that offers breathtaking views of the city that aren't to be missed.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is the symbol of both Taipei and the Republic of China and its famed courtyard is the place for both national celebrations and as a platform to voice one's disapproval of the government. The memorial consists of a large bronze statue of Chiang Kai-shek, who was a famed political leader of 20th century China, and is watched over by two motionless honor guards who are replaced every hour in a rifle twirling ceremony. For those interested in Kai-shek's historical significance, there is a museum downstairs of his life, including his sedans and uniforms. Even if you are not into memorials or history, the gardens, with their Chinese style ponds, are definitely worth a visit. If you get there early enough in the morning, you can also sometimes catch locals gathering to practice martial arts, as it is a favorite spot to hang out and enjoy Taipei's semi-tropical climate.
National Palace Museum
Taipei's National Palace Museum is a must-see for any lover of Chinese history. It is home to one of the largest collections of Chinese artifacts and artworks in the world. Famous pieces from its collections include the jade cabbage, pork belly jade, and passenger boat carved from an olive pit. The museum always has a rotating number of exhibits, including The Ancient Art of Writing: Selections from the History of Chinese Calligraphy, Harmony and Innocence: Su Hanchen's Pair of Paintings on Children Playing, and Art in Quest of Heaven and Truth: Chinese Jades through the Ages. Visitors can take the sights in on their own schedule or take part in an audio tour or free guided tour in Chinese or English. Families will love their renowned Children's Gallery, which is around 4,200 square feet and includes an orientation theater, four interactive exhibition areas, and a special exhibition area. It uses the ideas of the artifacts from the Museum collection as a foundation, and designs short animations and interactive activities to help children learn more effectively.
Taipei Fine Arts Museum
The Taipei Fine Arts Museum was not only the first museum in Taiwan to feature modern art; it is also home to more than 3,000 artworks, mostly done by local Taiwanese artists. Most of the works are done after 1940 and are separated into 13 different categories. Like most other Taiwan museums, the Fine Arts Museum features both permanent and rotating exhibits, which currently include the headlining "Eye of the Times -- Centennial Images of Taiwan" exhibit. It features works ranging from precious documentary images taken by Scottish photographer John Thomson who came to Taiwan in April 1871, to contemporary digital works from 2010. 117 photographers and 271 images of Taiwan will be shown.
Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall
Taipei is home to many memorials and one of the most famous is the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, constructed in the memory of Dr. Sun Yat-sen who is the founding father of the Republic of China. It was opened in May 1972 and features majestic landscaping covering an area of some 115,500 square meters, with a park leading up to the memorial known as Zhongshan Park. On the inside, there is a 19-foot bronze statue of Dr. Yat-sen, watched over during the day by motionless military honor guards, along with a 400-seat library that stores over 1.4 millions books. The 100-meter-long Zhongshan corridor links the main hall to the four large exhibition buildings where contemporary arts and historical articles are frequently on display. The Memorial Hall has grown into a large community center and is much less touristy than the newer and larger Chiang Kai-shek Memorial, for those who want a true Taipei cultural experience. The hall also houses an auditorium that has weekly lectures and seminars on aspects of art and life and is also a popular place for public concerts.