One Day, One Priority
With a 24 hour layover in Taipei we knew we couldn’t do and see everything.
So we had to prioritize.
And did we ever. We completely forgot about temples, hiking, hot springs, and shopping and focused on just one thing:
Our mission that we chose to accept —and hoped our stomach could too—was to dig into as many Taiwanese foods as we could in our one-day layover. We’d heard a lot of good things about Taiwanese food and were about to put it to the ultimate test.
Here’s how it went down (our gullets) and some tips we learned that you can apply to your own layover in Taipei, whatever your priorities are. (do you need “are”)?
24-Hours in Taipei Outline
How to Plan Your Day in Tapei
We barely had time to plan our day in Taipei because we were coming from the deserts of Namibia, where we barely had any internet. Fortunately, Hong Kong’s airport did, and we had a three-hour layover there en route to Taipei.
In that short window, we managed to do all the Taipei planning we needed thanks to the following strategies:
Make a Mega List
This was the MOST IMPORTANT part of planning our layover day in Taipei.
As Kim and I skimmed through all the Taipei blogs and guides we could digest in our short planning period, we saved every restaurant, stall, and shop that looked interesting onto custom Saved Places lists right on Google Maps.
A couple of guides we found particularly helpful were Eater, which we can almost always count on, Migrationology’s Taipei Travel Guide for Food Lovers, and Nutrition Traveler‘s list of Taiwanese foods.
Dumping all these food spots onto Google Maps allowed us to visualize their locations and plan a path to hit as many of them as possible.
If you’re unfamiliar with Saved Places, it’s easy. See our post on How to Unleash the Full Potential of Google Maps Saved Places.
We didn’t get SIM cards in Taipei, so we downloaded the following while we had internet:
- Google Map. Saved for offline use, as we explain how to do in our Google Maps tips post.
- Currency app. Adding the New Taiwan Dollar to our XE app so we knew exactly how much things cost.
- Travel Guide. Downloaded the Lonely Planet Taipei Pocket Guide to my Kindle for a quick read-through on the flight over and easy reference.
- Google Translate. We didn’t need it! Even though people’s English levels weren’t as good as we’d expected, everyone spoke it well enough for us to get by without having Google interrupt our conversations.
Find the Right Place to Stay
We used the following criteria to decide on where to stay in Taipei:
- Easy access. Right by the MRT line to the airport so we could get in and out of the city as quickly as possible. For Taipei, this means being close to the Main Station.
- Free luggage storage. So we wouldn’t have to lug our luggage around. Most Airbnbs don’t offer this, so we looked for hotels and hostels instead.
- 24-Hour shower. So we could wash the grease and sweat off our bodies before getting back on the plane.
- Helpful tips. Since we didn’t have much time to plan, we counted on the staff to help us with some recommendations for places to eat in the area.
- Good price. We’re bloggers, so we can’t afford fancy things unless they’re given to us.
The Flip Flop Hostel checked all these boxes for us. There was nothing amazing about it, but if we ever do another one-day layover in Taipei we’d stay there again without thinking twice.
If you seek 5-star luxury, consider the highly-rated Palais de Chine Hotel, which is just around the corner.
Or, for something in between, the CityInn Hotel, Branch II offers perhaps the best bang for your buck.
Check the Weather
When we went in early May, the weather was rainy but warm. Since we were in Taipei on a layover and our bags were being checked through, we packed our carry-on bags accordingly.
Our hostel offered free umbrellas had they been necessary, but they weren’t. Most sidewalks in Taipei are covered anyway.
Get Hungry for Taipei by Watching Us Eat
(We missed filming two of the foods, so the video “only” has 22 of the 24 we ate during our Taipei layover.)
Tips for Arriving and Getting Into Taipei
With only 24 hours in Taipei, we didn’t want to waste any time but also didn’t want to waste any money, so here’s what we did upon arriving at the airport:
For us, this was a breeze.
Our bags were being checked through all the way to Vancouver, so we went straight to and through immigration in 20 minutes.
As Canadians, we didn’t need visas to enter Taiwan and were given 90-day entry permits upon arrival. The same applies for the USA, Australia, and most Western European countries. Check here if you have a different nationality.
Few businesses in Taipei take credit cards, even our hostel, so we needed to withdraw cash.
We worried over how much cash we’d need. Take too much and you end up losing money by exchanging your leftover TWD back to USD. Take too little and we’d run out of money before we ran out of time.
We decided to withdraw $4,500 TWD between the two of us, about $150 US. As we’ll reveal in the Total Cost section below, that ended up being too much.
Decide if You Need a SIM Card
We didn’t bother with getting SIM cards for our day in Taipei and don’t regret doing so.
Since we’d already downloaded our maps to our phones and had a list of places to eat long enough to last us a month, let alone a day, we didn’t need the internet. Plus, WiFi was widely available, including on the train into town.
That said, if I had my Flexiroam SIM card that was waiting for me in the mail in Canada, I would’ve bought some data. It’s only $2.70 US for 500MB (or $1.50 if I buy a few months in advance).
Talk to Tourist Info
As we always do when we arrive in a new city, we stopped by the airport Tourist Info Center. Sometimes they have tips, offer discounts, or know of special events that we wouldn’t find otherwise.
The lady gave us a handy list of Taiwanese foods to try, some of her own personal recommendations, and specific instructions for how to get to our hostel.
Take the MRT Into Town
As per the tourist info lady’s recommendation, we took the MRT train the 40 kilometers from Taoyuan International Airport to the city center. Our tickets cost 150 TWD each, and the trip took 40 minutes each way on the Express line.
The clean, modern train cars have free high-speed WiFi and even have charging ports for your phone, so we took full advantage of this time to do some last-second planning.
Tips for Exploring Taipei
Hit a Night Market
Every other Taipei blog and travel guide will tell you the same thing: Go to a Night Market. This was especially a no-brainer for us because Taipei’s night markets are all about food and that’s what we came for.
Instead of going to the biggest night market in town, Shilin, or to the best-reputed Raohe, we went to Ningxia out of convenience. It was within easy walking distance from our hostel.
Ningxia’s smaller than Taipei’s other night markets and it was extra quiet because of the drizzling rain but, seeing as we had seven dishes there (see our Eat-inerary below), we didn’t find it to be lacking in food options.
Watch Out for Opening Hours
To seize the day (and because of jet lag), we woke up early and hungrily pulled up all the potential restaurants we’d saved to our map.
And we had a problem.
All the places we’d saved didn’t open until 10 a.m. or later! It turns out only breakfast-specific restaurants open early in Taipei, so we found and added Sihai Soy Milk to our plan.
Make sure to keep this in mind when planning your own Taipei day.
Determine the Best Way to Get Around Taipei
We wondered whether or not to buy a 24-hour metro pass for $180 ($5.70 US) or a one-day pass for $150 ($4.75 US). In the end, we didn’t.
Taipei turned out to be surprisingly walkable. Unlike other Asian megacities, Taipei’s streets were quiet. Traffic was relaxed even on a weekday and the side streets were pleasantly full of plants and everyday life.
Aside from our trips from and to the airport, which the day passes don’t cover, we ended up taking only one metro trip (NT$20 each) in our 24 hours in Taipei and we walked close to 40,000 appetite-inducing steps.
If you’re not up for so much walking, rest assured that Taipei’s public transit network, taxis, and shared bikes are easy to use and readily available.
Make Unexpected Discoveries
The extra benefits of walking everywhere are flexibility and discoverability.
By flexibility, I mean that we could decide to pop into wherever we wanted to eat whatever looked tasty.
And by discoverability, I mean that we could stumble upon:
- Only-in-Taiwan scenes of everyday life like a young couple playing net-less badminton in a park
- Unusual things like a playground with way more basketball hoops than necessary and the crazy abundance of claw crane arcade games
- Tourist attractions like Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall and Dihua Street, which I’d have to say were more impressive because we didn’t expect them.
Aside from the food, this was the best part about our day in Taipei.
Be Safe (Which is Easy)
Maybe it’s because it had been programmed into us after six months living in South Africa, but at first we felt a bit sketchy walking around Taipei at night.
It didn’t take long for us to let our guard down, though. Pretty soon, it became apparent that Taipei is super safe and we had no problem walking down even the darkest alleys.
Crossing roads felt safe, too. Drivers seemed to respect pedestrians and most corners had pedestrian crossings.
Learn How to Order Food
Many of the informal eateries in Taipei use an ordering system where you tick off the items you want from the menu onto a little sheet of paper, give it to your waiter, and pay up front.
The challenge is the checkbox order sheets are only in Mandarin.
If nobody spoke English, we had to play a word search game. We’d get the Chinese characters from the laminated English menu most places had (or if not, a menu with photos), then search for the matches on the order sheets.
Get a Massage
No better way to pass time between meals, rest our feet from all the walking, and offset our stiffness from spending so much time in planes than to get massages.
Massages in Taipei aren’t Thailand-level cheap, but still 100% worth it. I paid NT$200 ($6.40 US) for a 20-minute head, neck, and shoulder massage and Kim paid NT$300 ($9.50) for a foot and calf massage of the same duration.
Don’t worry about tipping
I was surprised to see a notice saying, “Service not added to bill” beside the cashier at Taiyo Tomato Ramen. I’d read tipping wasn’t necessary in Taiwan, but this notice seemed to indicate otherwise.
When I asked the server how much I should tip, she shook her head and hands at my question, saying “No tip. No tip.”
I still can’t figure out what the notice meant, but I got the message. You definitely don’t need to tip here.
We don’t want you to follow this 24-hour Taipei eat-inerary but to take inspiration from it and challenge yourself to find and eat even more and better food than we did.
Note: Prices here are listed in New Taiwan Dollars. Roughly NT$30 = $1 US.
The First Evening:
We arrived in Taipei at night and went straight to Ningxia Night Market after dropping our bags at Flip Flop. All the following foods are from there.
- Fried Taro Balls from Liu Yu Zi ($55 for 2).
- Grilled King Oyster Mushroom, lemon and pepper flavors ($100)
- Chicken rice ($30) and side of greens ($40) from Fang Jia
- Fried chicken balls ($50)
- Fried sweet potato fries ($20)
- Mochi balls, one black sesame, one peanut ($55 for both)
- Peanut brittle shavings, coconut ice cream, cilantro pancake ($45)
The Next Day
We had the whole next day, until 7 p.m, to wander from one food vendor to the next. Here’s what we ate:
- Soy milk with youtiao (kind of like savory churros) from Sihai Soy Milk
- Egg pastry thing from Sihai Soy Milk. (Total $62 for the three dishes from Sihai)
- Coffee from Wilbeck Cafe ($55)
- Two bowls of Lu Rou Fan, Taiwanese braised pork belly on rice, from Tian Tian Li ($60 each)
- Beef noodle soup from Lao Shandong ($180)
- Two mochi balls ($30) from a little stand just beside Jin Feng, where we didn’t end up getting their famous Lu Rou Fan because of the huge line and the fact we’d had it already at Tian Tian Li and were pretty full.
- Radish pancake ($30) from Wenzhou Street Radish Pancake
- Green onion pancake ($20) from Wenzhou Street Radish Pancake
- Black tea-flavored soy milk ($65 for a 600mL bottle) from a place our server said was called “Real Soya” in front of Wenzhou Park, but we couldn’t find online.
- Two Gua Bao “Taiwanese hamburgers” ($60 each) from Lan Jia Traditional Taiwanese Snack
- Two bubble teas ($40) from 陳三鼎黑糖青蛙撞奶 across the street
- Tofu pudding dessert ($50)
- Frozen mango drink ($0) gifted to us by the super friendly employee at the tofu pudding dessert place
- Hujiao bing (pepper bun) from a street vendor across the street from Ningxia Market ($40)
- Boneless (mostly) fried spare rib balls ($70) with a side of greens ($30) from Fu Zhen Crispy Spare Rib
- Large tomato and cheese ramen ($300) from Taiyo Tomato Ramen
- Bubble tea ($40 for Kim’s, $65 for mine) from Milk Shop
Our entire one day in Taipei eat-inerary food cost adds up to just under NT$1,800 (about $57 USD).
Not bad for the two of us to stuff ourselves silly for 24 hours straight!
Our only other non-food expenses were the MRT to and from the airport (NT$150pp each way, so NT$600 total), the one metro ride we took (NT$20 each), our massages (NT$200 for me, NT$300 for Kim) and our hostel (NT$1,300).
All-in, our 24 hours in Taipei cost NT$3,200, or just over $100 USD.
Taipei Attractions (That We Mostly Missed)
By prioritizing food for our 24-hour layover in Taipei (a decision we don’t regret in the slightest) we indirectly decided not to see these top Taiwan attractions.
If you’re on a diet or don’t like Asian food, check them out:
Taipei 101. Tapei’s iconic skyscraper that looks like take-out Chinese food boxes stacked on top of each other. We would’ve wasted our time and money ($600) going up because the top half was shrouded in clouds.
Other night markets. Shilin and Raohe are apparently much bigger and busier than Ningxia. We briefly considered going to Raohe just before heading back to the airport, but decided against the stress of doing so with our bags and a deadline.
Elephant Mountain a.k.a Xiangshan. Short but steep hiking trail with views over Taipei.
Free airport layover tours. We were eligible for these free half-day layover tours, and we enjoyed doing a similar one in Seoul, but since we had a whole 24 hours to spend in Taipei we made what we believe is the sound decision to tour the city on our own.
Beitou Hot Spring. Only about half-an-hour outside of Taipei, but it would have eaten away at our eating time, plus don’t they say to avoid swimming on a full stomach?
Museums and temples. Taipei has a lot of them, but we can’t honestly say we spent a second considering them so we can’t help you here.
Saveable Taipei Highlight and Food Map
Save this to Google Maps on your phone following these simple steps.
That way when you’re exploring Taipei yourself you can see them on your map and stop in if you happen to be nearby.
食福 (Chiah Hok)!
According to Google, that’s “bon appetit” in Taiwanese.
Let us know in the comments how your own day in Taipei goes and whether you manage to eat more than us.
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