The best things to do on a Taipei layover, from stinky tofu and tea to ships and shopping
No matter if you’re stopping for three hours or 12, a layover at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport offers travellers a taste of the capital and surrounding cities
The international airport serving Taipei is expanding to go toe-to-toe with some of Asia’s most favoured transit hubs. While the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport is already a popular stopover point for people travelling between North America and Southeast Asia, it does not boast the wealth of shops or cafes seen at terminals in Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur. Taoyuan, that flies to more than 100 destinations, also sits 40 minutes from the city of Taipei. Still, a wily layover-traveller can see a bit of Taiwan. Here’s how:
Three hours: tour the airport
This gap between flights leaves too little time to leave the airport. Even taking the new airport metro into the surrounding Taoyuan city would be cutting it too close if you consider the time it takes to clear immigration and security for a connecting flight. Lines at the airport vary from a trickle to a crowd that snakes down halls and around pillars.
Instead, try spending these hours in the airport itself for a mini Taiwan tour. Convenience stores in both terminals give a taste of real life in Taiwan, where citizens use mini marts to get food, drinks, stationery supplies and health care goods. Try a stiff Americano or tea latte along with Taiwan’s adaptation of Japan’s bento box.
A flight leaving from Terminal 2 lets you tour Taiwan just before take-off. Some gates are decorated with tourist highlights such as a replica of the train that runs through the mountainous region of Alishan. A hut used by indigenous Austronesians graces the waiting area of another gate, while Hello Kitty theme rooms charm children in the airport’s check-in hall and near the C gates.
While in Terminal 2, look for a store that stays open until 11pm, selling hand-woven objects, wine bottle covers and clothing in the fashion of Taiwan’s indigenous people.
Six hours: shopping in Taipei’s satellite cities
This gap between flights offer travellers enough time to comfortably leave the airport by metro (also known as the MRT) to visit a Taipei edge city for a peek at everyday life (plus some shopping).
The metro line stops in Qingpu and Linkou well before the end of its 40-minute journey to Taipei Main Station. In Qingpu, walk a few minutes from the metro station’s exit two to Gloria Outlets, a mall that has more than 160 stores that sell clothes, luggage and food.
If riding further to Linkou, a hilly Taipei suburb, find Bade Road near the metro station and go for a wander. You’ll see modern cafes and residential towers first, then alleys leading to older Taiwanese dwellings and the highlights of a typical neighbourhood, such as temples honouring local spirits. Local people are usually keen to help tourists who need directions.
Also close to the metro station, look for the Mitsui Outlet Park on Wenhua Third Road. It works a lot like the Gloria Outlets. For travellers, Mitsui provides spaces to charge mobile phones and store luggage.
Nine hours: hike, eat and sightsee in Taipei
A layover of nine hours can get you into central Taipei with plenty of time to sightsee, shop and eat. If arriving on the airport metro train at Taipei Main Station, walk from the end of the line into the urban metro system to gain access to different areas of the city.
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“You can get to the city centre by MRT, then you can get to Taipei 101, eat snacks or some good beef noodles,” suggests Bian Chieh-min from the Taipei Association of Travel Agents.
A ride on the red metro line to the Taipei 101-World Trade Centre Station puts you within a block of the Taipei 101 tower that offers spectacular views from its observation deck on the 89th floor. A trip up in the high-speed lift from the tower’s shopping area costs NT$600 (US$20) per adult. Up top, expect 360-degree panoramic views in clear weather.
The red line’s Jiantan Station leads to a web of long hiking trails – dirt as well as paved – that take you into the rainforest-covered hills known as Yuanshan. Be sure to store your luggage at the airport. The first 10 minutes of the Jiantan hiking trail is steep.
Taipei’s popular Shilin Night Market is only a 10 minute walk from Jiantan Station, if you follow Wenlin Road. It’s open from 3pm to 1am. Look for stinky tofu, oyster omelettes, jeans, boots and children’s clothes at discount prices. Don’t forget to haggle.
A package tour offered by Taipei-based DingTaxi airport pickup service takes you to Taipei 101 and the Longshan Temple, a Buddhist landmark protected by dragon replicas in Taipei’s older Wanhua District. You will also see the memorial for Chiang Kai-shek, former president of the Republic of China. The trip takes seven hours and costs NT$5,000.
Twelve hours: in-depth Taipei tour, trip to historic mountain towns
Taking into consideration the time it takes to clear the airport, travel to-and-from Taipei and check in ready for your next flight, you are left with well over seven hours to explore the city.
You rode in on a plane, but Taiwan has depended more on the sea for fishing and marine shipping over the past century. See ship replicas and even try steering one at the Evergreen Maritime Museum just off the National Taiwan University Hospital metro station.
Take the metro to Da’an Forest Park and walk through it to Xinsheng South Road. Enjoy a cup at the Wistaria Tea House on Xinsheng South Road (Lane 16, Section three). The traditional teahouse, that’s open from 10am to 6pm, is set in former housing for Japanese officials.
A 20-minute walk from the tea house leads to the Shida Night Market just off Shida Road. The market, that’s open from noon until past midnight, is packed full of the same foods found at the Shilin market plus piles of cheap clothes. After eating, hop back onto the metro at the Taipower Building Station and reconnect to the airport line.
It’s also possible to venture outside Taipei with a 12-hour layover. DingTaxi takes people to the north-east towns of Jiufen and Jinguashi for up to six hours, for example. Japan developed them as mining hubs during its 1895-1945 colonisation of Taiwan. Today tourists go to explore the old streets lined with traditional Taiwanese architecture.
Several carriers, including Cathay Pacific, China Airlines and EVA Air, fly regularly between Taipei and Hong Kong.