Wondering if there are free things to do in Taipei, Taiwan? Good news!
The short answer is yes, there are a bunch of cool and free things to do in Taipei!
The capital of this small island has seen an increasing number of foreign tourists every year. It’s no longer an extremely budget destination, although it’s still considerably cheaper than Japan. Not to worry, though. If you’re a budget traveler thinking of visiting this awesome city, there are still plenty of cheap and free things to do in and around Taipei.
Pack your walking shoes and swimming gear, it’s time to explore the lush green mountains and cool off in the hot springs that make Taipei one of the most special capital cities of Asia.
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Free Things to Do in Taipei
Hike Elephant Mountain
When I lived in Taipei, hiking Elephant Mountain was my favorite weekend activity and one of my favorite free things to do in Taiwan. I’d get up either before dawn or before sunset and run up the mountain to sit on a rock and look at the view over the city.
I’m not going to lie, Taipei itself is an ugly city, but from this height, and with the sky casting all sorts of lush colors over it, it’s lovely. The skyline is also one of a kind, as Taipei 101 towers under the rest of the buildings which sit closer to the ground, thanks to the regular earthquakes which shake the city and prevent most architects from building multi-story buildings.
Getting to Elephant Mountain: Head to Xiangshan on the MRT then follow the signs. Getting to a lookout point takes about twenty minutes from the bottom, and hiking the whole trail is a few hours.
Stuff Yourself at a Night Market
So the eating part isn’t exactly free, but you can certainly visit this market just to people watch. However, eating here won’t exactly break your budget, by any means.
Night markets are one of the most traditional features of Taiwan, and reflect how much of Taiwanese culture and socialization revolves around food. Try and go out for a drink on a Friday night and the bars are empty, because everyone is at a night market snacking on street food and playing arcade games.
Shilin Night Market is one of the largest and oldest and is also the most touristy. Watch out for the non-licensed stalls, which are all on wheels so that when an inspector comes they can make a dash for it, flattening anyone in their way.
Beitou Hot Springs
Taipei is the perfect base to day trip from, and one of the day trips you shouldn’t miss is to the Beitou Hot Springs.
The wonderful MRT will take you to Beitou at the end of the red line, and then you can walk out to the springs.
The locals will eye you curiously as you join them in the steaming water, and they’ll laugh at you when you get it wrong and turn yourself into a bright pink lobster, or accidentally freeze yourself in the plunge pool, but it’s all in good spirits and is part of the experience, making it one of the best free things to do in Taipei.
You can also visit the thermal valley a little further up the road, which has free admission.
Visit Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall
The Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall is a landmark of Taipei, erected to the former President of the Republic of China.
It’s totally free to just wander round, and although it won’t take up the whole of your day it’s unmissable. It contrasts with the general business and dirt of the rest of Taipei, and is large, white and dramatic. This should be on everyone’s list of things to do in Taipei, free or not.
Da’an Forest Park
Especially in summer, Da’an forest park, which is in the center of the city, feels like a tropical oasis. In fact, it’s possible to completely forget that you’re in the middle of a city as the greenery will distract you.
Taipei in general doesn’t have large green spaces, opting mainly for tiny parks on every corner filled with middle-aged women practicing dance routines, which makes this park something special.
Hang Out at the 24 Hour Bookstore – CLOSED
The Eslite Dunnan store was the world’s first 24 hour bookstore, which is fitting for a city filled with hipsters and arty people.
As I mentioned, trying to find nightlife on a Friday or Saturday night isn’t especially easy — at least, not a nightlife of Taiwanese. Instead, look to the bookstore at 3am. There’s a decent selection of English language books, and in the daytime the other sections are also open, including a food court, a stationary store, and artisan stalls.
It’s perfect if you’re a late night insomniac and you want somewhere to read other than your own bedroom, or if you are looking for things to do in Taipei that kill a bit of time.
Taipei Expo Park
Taipei Expo Park was originally built for the international flora exhibition and is now used for a variety of things like lantern sculpture festivals, open air film screenings, art exhibitions, and anything else that needs a large and arty open air space.
Also on the site of the Expo Park are the Taipei Fine Arts Museum which is unmissable and constantly has creative exhibitions running, and the Taipei Story house which tells the history of Taiwan in a typically cute and adorable way.
Jianguo Holiday Flower and Jade Market
Looking to pick up some jewels or Jade to take back with you? You’ll find them cheaper at the Jianguo Holiday Flower and Jade Market than anywhere else.
The experience of wandering through the market is worth the trip alone, as there are well over 600 stalls of flowers, vegetables, jewelry, and jade. Expect to haggle and bargain the price down.
It’s also where I first experienced the Taiwanese phenomenon of dogs in strollers, something that I became familiar with after a year of living there but never stopped finding hilarious. If you’re an animal lover then you should be warned, old Taiwanese women like to sell puppies outside the flower market.
Day Trip From Taipei to Houtong Cat Village
Cat lovers be warned. This is one is DEFINITELY going on your list of things to do in Taipei. Barely an hour out of Taipei, and cheap to get to on the train, Houtong Cat Village. Once a coal mine, it’s now abandoned and full of cats, and cuteness. It’s a typical Taiwan experience. It’s also beautiful, as you can see out over the valleys.
If you have more time on your hands, consider heading onward to explore Pingxi lantern town and Jiufen, the hillside town that Miyazaki reportedly based the bathing town in Spirited Away on.
Temples, Temples, Temples
Taiwan has over 15,000 temples and counting. You’ll get used to the smell of incense on every street as you walk past these tiny temples on your way anywhere.
The main religions of the temples are Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian, and you’ll notice the varying architecture depending on which is which. Taoist temples are loud, in terms of decoration and celebration, Buddhist temples are generally more reserved, and Confucian temples are walled.
Most temples are free to visit, including the largest and most famous, Longshan temple. However tired of temples you think you are, this is one you shouldn’t miss. It’s home to generations of Gods, and centuries of history, and is surrounded by Chinese medicine vendors. The experience alone is worth visiting for.
Where to Stay in Taipei
When you’re visiting Taipei, Da’an and Xinyi districts are central and interesting to stay in, and they make accessing the rest of the city easy and convenient.
Getting Around and When to Visit Taipei
The Taipei metro is clean, modern, cheap and regular, and it goes almost everywhere. October is the best month to visit, as it’s like a British summer — just the right temperature! Start planning your trip today and you’ll soon fall in love with this sweet potato shaped, impossibly safe and friendly island.
That’s it for this little guide to free and nearly free things to do in Taipei. Hope we provided you guys with a bit of inspiration for YOUR visit to this amazing city. As always happy travels, and we’ll see you on the road!
Amelia lived and worked in Taipei for a year, before she then continued wandering round the world and running a vegan solo female travel blog over at Plant-Powered Nomad. She’s currently attempting to settle and create a base in Ireland, fighting the travel bug with lots of coffee and dog cuddles.