Greater Taipei, home to almost a third of Taiwan’s 23.5 million residents, is a wonderfully diverse yet conveniently compact region.
In addition to manmade attractions like Taipei 101, the National Palace Museum, and a fabulous array of restaurants, the cities of Taipei, New Taipei, and Keelung boast mountains almost 7,000-feet high (2,133 meters), engrossing coastal views, and villages inhabited by indigenous Austronesian people. After shopping and touring 18th-century temples, visitors can relax in a luxurious hot-spring hotel. And they can do all this without having to hire a car or even hail a taxi.
Taiwan’s capital has excellent public transportation. The metro system has 108 stations on five main lines. Buses fill what gaps remain, serving hillside communities and every settlement on the north and northeast coasts.
One of Taiwan’s finest bus rides is the No.1717 route. Starting from near Taipei Main Railway Station, it heads northward through a district thick with hotels before beginning the climb into Yangmingshan National Park. Among stops served by the 14 round-tripss each day are Zhuzihu, famous for its calla lilies, and the trailhead for Mount Qixing (at 1,120 meters above sea level, its peak is the highest point in the park).
Lovers of the great outdoors may want to get off at Xiaoyoukeng. This stop is especially easy to recognize because, as the bus rounds a corner, a steam-belching fumarole comes into view. Many of the rocks around the vents bear yellow-green sulfur stains. Anyone who is relatively fit can hike from here to the top of Mount Qixing and then down to Yangmingshan Bus Station, from where various buses set off for Beitou, Gongguan, and other parts of the metropolis.
An hour and a half after departing central Taipei, the No.1717 terminates at Jinshan, a coastal town which has yet more hot springs, plus alluring scenery in the form of the Twin Candlesticks, a pair of unwieldy 60-meter-high rock columns just off the coast. Parts of Silence, the new Martin Scorsese movie, were shot here.
Having sauntered around Jinshan, bus-dependent tourists have two alternatives to taking the same road back to Taipei. They can either head north and then west, ending up in historic Tamsui, or south to Keelung, a commercial port turned cruiseship destination.
Beyond its dense, bustling heart, Keelung (population 372,000) has more than its fair share of caves, cliffs, and long-abandoned forts. Spending an entire day here is very easy, especially if one jumps on city bus No.101 to Heping Island, or takes advantage of the regular bus services to Jiufen or Jinguashi.
Thanks to the gold and copper deposits discovered in these hills, both towns thrived in the first half of the 20th century, but fell on hard times when the mines closed. Most families moved away, leaving narrow streets and pictureque low-rises that beguile those used to the steel and glass of Taipei or Hong Kong.
Buses between Keelung and Jinshan/Jinguashi stop at Ruifang, from where trains take less than 50 minutes to reach Taipei. Going the other direction, Ruifang to Houtong – site of the marvelous Coal-Mine Ecological Park and famous for its huge feline population – takes a mere six minutes by train. English-language train schedules with fare information can be found at www.railway.gov.tw.
Those who love railways will be attracted to Ruifang, as this is where two branch lines veer off the main Taipei-Yilan railroad. One is the route to Pingxi via Shifen, originally built for the sake of the coal-mining industry, and now synonymous with a tradition much loved by tourists – releasing sky lanterns on which they have written their wishes.
The other is the Shen’ao Branch Line. Mothballed for years, it was revived in 2014 to make getting to the National Museum of Marine Science and Technology (www.nmmst.gov.tw) not only faster but also more fun. The museum can also be reached by city bus No. 103 from downtown Keelung.
Because these places are so easy to reach from Taipei and its populous suburbs, they can get very busy on weekends. Visitors are advised to go mid-week if they can.
In Taiwan’s train and bus stations, English-language information is not always easy to find. Also, some travelers lack confidence when it comes to finding their way around in unfamiliar territory. In recognition of this fact, Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau has coordinated with licensed tour companies to organize excursions throughout the country under the Taiwan Tour Bus banner.
Most of these trips last a whole day, and the price often includes not only transportation to various attractions accompanied by a bilingual guide, but also an excellent lunch and sometimes fun activities. Tours must be booked in advance; full details can be found at
Travelers staying in Taipei hotels can take advantage of Taiwan Tour Bus outings to all of the places mentioned above, as well as other attractions such as Yehliu Geopark, Juming Museum, and the aboriginal district of Wulai.
Rather different from most of these outings is the one-day Taipei Cultural Antiquities Walking Tour (NT$1,100 per person). Like many other Taiwan Tour Bus journeys, it begins by picking up participants at major hotels or the Taipei Main Railway Station (which is served by HSR “bullet trains” and metro services as well as conventional expresses and commuter trains).
After looking around one of Taipei’s jade markets, participants are bussed to the Kang Qing Long neighborhood, so called because it encompasses Yongkang, Qingtian, and Longquan streets. This area has excellent eateries, inviting teahouses and little shops. Many of those who join guided strolls in this part of the city decide to return on their own later and explore in greater depth.
The tour then heads east, to Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. Part of a 1930s tobacco-processing complex, much of which was cleared to make way for the not-quite-finished Taipei Dome, the park is home to the Taiwan Design Museum and the venue of various temporary exhibitions. The pond and the foliage surrounding it nurture valuable biodiversity.
To experience another facet of contemporary urban culture, the tour culminates at Eslite Bookstores’ flagship outlet in Xinyi District. A much-loved oasis of gentility amid striking modernity, the bookstore epitomizes all that is wonderful about Taiwan’s capital.
The Cultural Antiquities Tour is not the only option for tourists who like to explore on foot with the benefit of a knowledgeable guide. A quick search on the internet will lead you to others – among them volunteers and nonprofit organizations – who lead similar pedestrian excursions.
For all kinds of travel information, visit the Tourism Bureau’s website (www.taiwan.net.tw) or call the 24-hour tourist information hotline 0800-011-765 (toll free within the country).