Welcome to your guide to Taipei, Taiwan's capital and, for many, the gateway to this fascinating country. This dynamic metropolis always has something on the go, from bustling night markets, to a thriving music and arts scene, shopping in the bright downtown core, and verdant mountain scenery never more than a few stops away on the clean and convenient MRT. Taipei is the perfect mix of big city hustle and natural wonders in a single diverse package.
Taipei City and the surrounding area of New Taipei City (previously referred to as Taipei County), are located at the northern tip of Taiwan, covering an area of just over 270 square kilometers. Han Chinese settlement in the area began in the early 18th century, and the ruling Qing Dynasty in mainland China made Taipei the provincial capital of Taiwan in 1886. Since then the city has gone through several different eras, including a decades-long colonial occupation by the Japanese, a period of mass immigration from China following the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, and a rapid phase of modernization in the decades that followed as Taiwan evolved from a manufacturing to a high-tech based economy.
Though it might seem large at first glance, Taipei is actually fairly compact, with nearly seven million people crammed into the metro area that is housed entirely within the Taipei Basin. The fact that the city is located within what is essentially a giant bowl means weather tends to set down and linger a while in the Taipei area, making for long, hot, and humid summers, and damp, at times chilly winters. But whatever the weather may bring, convenience is the word that always comes to mind when talking about Taipei City. The city has nurtured a thriving convenience store culture, with Taiwan being home to more convenience stores per person than any other nation on earth. Nowhere is this more evident than in Taipei, where it's not unusual to see one convenience store directly across the street, or even right beside another.
But of course, you can't get to know a country by doing all your shopping and snacking at the convenience store. No, to really get to know Taiwan and Taipei, you have to do so through your stomach. And there's no better place to do so than at the city's many night markets. These are places where the diverse faces and personalities that make up Taiwanese cuisine come together. At the night markets dispersed throughout Taipei you might find Hakka food made from recipes curated in China's Fujian province, aboriginal dishes passed down from generation to generation in Taiwan's 14 culturally and gastronomically distinct tribes, and delicacies incorporating local tastes into dishes inspired by Chinese cuisine, giving them a uniquely Taiwanese flavor. One thing is certain: You'll never go hungry in Taipei.
Taipei is definitely a foodie paradise, but there's much more to do than just eat. In the Xinyi District, upscale shops and boutiques offer a treasure trove of the finest fashion brands, and of course there is the famed Taipei 101 building, offering a panoramic view of the entire basin from atop one of the world's tallest structures. And just a few minutes away on foot from one of mankind's greatest architectural feats is Elephant Mountain, offering hiking trails to low peaks boasting equally impressive views of Taipei's ever changing expanse.
Ximenting is where the city's quirky heart beats, and also the best place in town for people watching, as cosplay kids, street artists, caricaturists and all things in between go their to sell, see, and be seen. But these are just the well-worn paths. There is always something down every small alley and lane waiting to be discovered, be it a one-of-a-kind shop selling handcrafted furniture on Wenchang Street, plumes of incense smoke rising within the walls of Longshan Temple, or a hole-in-the-wall eatery selling the best beef noodles in town in an alley off Fuxing South Road. Taipei is a city that can always surprise you, no matter how many times you return.