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5 gems in Taipei recommended by locals

With a country as big as Taiwan, what secret spots are we missing out on? We suss out the lesser-known Taipei hotspots that locals love

Drop the words “Taipei” and “Taiwan” in any conversation and you would most likely be greeted by high praises of night markets, talented crooners and farmstays among the sprawling mountains.

Related: Top 5 cultural adventures – and how not to offend the locals there

But the locals will tell you that there are many other gems tucked into little alleys and quiet corners of the city. Here are five things hidden in Taipei that will surprise you enough to plan a whole visit around them!

1. Soak in an onsen 

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You don’t have to fly all the way to Hokkaido in Japan to enjoy the hot springs. Beitou in Taipei is home to its very own thermal valley, with villas and resorts overlooking the arresting mountainscapes that Taiwan is popular for.

Easily accessible from Xinbeitou MRT Station, the onsen in the area are mostly white sulfur hot springs flowing from the Liuhuangku Geothermal Scenic Area. You can also soak in blue sulfur and iron sulfur hot springs here, maybe while sipping a drink or two. Doesn’t Beitou sound like the perfect place for a rejuvenating spa experience?

Wulai, another town only 30 minutes from Taipei, also has some great soaking spots. It’s also a charming rustic city that looks built into the cliffs overlooking the springs – a sight worth checking out too.

2. Ride the bike trail along protected nature reserves

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There are scores of cycling trails snaking throughout Taiwan, and in Taipei alone you can enjoy breathtaking views best appreciated as you’re cruising along on a bicycle.

One recommended route is the path between Hongshulin MRT and Tamsui MRT, which runs along the protected Hongshulin mangrove wetland. You can rent a bike at Hongshulin MRT and ride past the wetland all the way to Tamsui, where you can return the bike at the MRT rental kiosk before hitting up the night market here.

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Tamsui’s night market is more popular with locals – that’s how you know where the good eats are at! Dig into seafood snacks like deep-fried mini crabs, grilled squid and soft serve for a perfect way to cap off your cycling adventure.

3. Explore the alleys near Zhongshan MRT

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For a less-crowded but equally-enjoyable alternative to Taipei’s usual night markets, pop by the area surrounding Zhongshan MRT Station. It’s abuzz with energy, with the hipster youths of Taipei milling about in some of the best cafes and stores in town.

If you head south to Section Y of the underground Taipei City Mall, you’ll find the “Otaku Street” that will call out to the anime geek in you. Here is also where you can find one of Taipei’s famous maid cafes.

And if you’re craving some street food, head north to Ningxia Night Market for a spread of snacks that reportedly beats Shilin’s. Now this is something I definitely need to test out!

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Also highly recommended in this area is Melange Cafe, which sells irresistible crepes that beckon visitors from across the country. With glazed strawberries like those above, it’s calling out to me across hundreds of kilometres too.

4. Take a bite at miniature sushi bars

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It’s no secret that Taipei’s food trends turn faster than wheels on a Grand Prix race car. Themed cafes – like Barbie and Hello Kitty – used to be the craze, but something fresh this way comes.

Now, mini sushi bars are in. From about NT$1,200 (about S$53), you can enjoy a full-blown 12-course omakase or kaiseki meal, complete with fresh crab meat, sashimi and shabu-shabu. You may ring up a higher bill if you go for dinner, so make a beeline for these restaurants during lunch hours for good bargains.

Popular choices include Shan Hua Sunflower Kaiseki, Nomura Sushi and Yun Sushi. Don’t forget to make reservations in advance!

5. Vintage finds for the quirky and artsy traveller

(Photo: kidsnews.com.tw)

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Huashan 1914 Creative Park is one of the few rare open green spaces in the Taipei city centre. It’s a haven for any vintage, arts or pop culture lover: the park has shops hawking quirky goods, a market selling home-made products, cinemas, art spaces and rotating exhibitions like 60 years of Miffy the Rabbit and the Face of Leonardo.

It’s found a way to make even a mainstream brand like Starbucks unique. Not only can you get uncommon cold-filtered coffee here, you can even see it being meticulously made in front of you. That’s a change from all the generic Starbucks experiences we’re used to back home!

By Pamela Chow