Family Travel to Taipei Taiwan With Kids
Taipei is “China-light”--smaller city, fewer people, cleaner air and a slower pace. It’s a great first-step for traveling to a Chinese-speaking region without the hustle/bustle of Hong Kong nor the hassle and cost of getting a visa. (China mainland requires USA citizens to obtain a visa.) We spent four full days in Taipei with our 7 and 11-year olds, (the elder speaks Mandarin) and enjoyed every moment—the food, people and sights. Four or five days is enough to cover Taipei; whereas our last spring break to Tokyo (read about it here), didn’t feel nearly long enough to see the entire city.
One reason we love vacationing with kids in Asia is the feeling of complete safety while touring the city. Whether it’s in Japan, China, Singapore or Taiwan, we have no qualms letting our children run free in malls, food courts, parks, etc. The kind of crime one worries about in urban USA just does not exist in these parts. It’s a refreshing opportunity for kids to assert their independence and enjoy travel experiences on their own, especially if learning a foreign language.
Flight from San Diego to Taiwan
Without a non-stop flight to Taipei from San Diego, we knew connecting was a must. One-stop options included via Tokyo, LAX, San Francisco or Seattle. We chose to save money and fly on a United Boeing 747 through San Francisco. That was a mistake. While 747s used to be the crème of air travel, they are now, unfortunately, just a big relic about to follow in the footsteps of VHS video. Entertainment systems, seats, etc. are antiquated, though the jets’ safety record is remarkably solid. Next time, we would pay the extra money and fly Japan Airlines’ superior 787 through Tokyo/Narita. In addition to a superior aircraft, there is just no comparison between the flight attendant service quality on JAL versus United or American. Our flight attendants on United treated passengers as commodities, on JAL passengers were…well…people. Food also is significantly better on the JAL cross-Pacific flight.
Upon landing at Taipei’s international airport, we exchanged currency after obtaining our luggage. The kiosks are conveniently located (Can’t miss them.) beyond the luggage pickup. Exchange rates were good and the lines were short. Throughout our trip, we were surprised by the lack of businesses that took credit cards. Cash is still “king” in Taiwan, so don’t expect to use your credit card much.
Taxi to downtown Taipei was quick, easy and friendly—about a 30-minute trip with a pleasant and chatty female driver. Not as many Americans visit Taipei as Tokyo, Hong Kong and other Asian cities. As mentioned above, don’t expect to use credit cards for taxi payments.
The time change and travel duration delivered us to our hotel lobby—the Grand Hyatt Taipei —around 9pm; perfect for a snack then sleep. Travel tip: Try to remain awake during the westbound flight to Taipei. The benefit is that you’ll be ready to sleep upon hotel arrival in the early night and adjusted to Taipei time the next morning. (If possible, don’t schedule an early wakeup that first morning.)
The Grand Hyatt is a fabulously luxurious and convenient home-base for families in Taipei, and is located a couple blocks from Taipei 101 Tower. We always pay a premium for the Club Floor at Hyatt Hotels to take advantage of tasty and easy meals and snacks. Breakfast at the hotel is a no-brainer feast, and we end up eating many dinners in the club too, after spending full days exploring. Food is exceptional with fresh vegetables and fruit, plenty of protein meats and many Chinese food options. Staff is exceptionally attentive and courteous. This particular club room is huge and comfortable—tables always available.
After a hearty breakfast in the club lounge, we began our exploration with a taxi-ride and visit to Lungshan Temple.
Small and ornate, it was tranquil and spiritual, but we spent all of 5 minutes inside. Prior travel to other Asian countries has diminished the novelty of temple visits for our kids (and Mom/Dad frankly). No disrespect, of course, but when traveling to USA cities, we never tour churches. Likewise, after seeing a couple of temples in Tokyo last year, the temples here, while just as beautiful, are redundant from a kids’ viewpoint.
Wearing good walking shoes, we trekked north from Lungshan along Kunming St. Unfortunately, we made the mistake of starting out in this area too early in the day, so most of the stores were closed and gated. We knew there would be plenty of shopping opportunities ahead, but the kids quickly became bored and tired without any destination in site and 8+ blocks of similar-looking closed stores. Likewise, WuChang Street is a pedestrian-only shopping road that would be interesting to tour after 11am. We continued north and stumbled upon Yuquan Park.
Within this small greenscape area is a small and simple playground for the kids. It’s amazing how a short slide and a few swings can change the mood. We took bathroom breaks inside the adjacent building then continued northeast to Dihua St.
The heart of the Dihua St neighborhood is around Dadaocheng Theater. Small food stands are busy with local eaters (always a good sign), and the shops were buzzing with activity. Still, we were not hungry enough to eat but enjoyed tea at the Lee Ji Traditional Tea Shop stand/cart then browsed the bookstore behind.
Next, we ventured back south to Nanjing West Rd and walked toward the Tamsui Riverfront. (Look for the opening in the wall—you can see it on Google Streetview.) We headed north past the tennis courts and locals playing chess in Yanping Riverside Park then arrived at our feature destination for the day—bike rental shop at Dadaocheng Dock.
They have a large enough selection of gently-used bikes for kids and adults and rent helmets as well. Be sure to test ride the bike you choose before heading out to ensure the seatpost remains up, the tires are full of air, the gears work, etc. Also, payment is cash only and you will need to leave your passport or some form of identification. But it’s a trustworthy operation, so have no qualms doing so.
We are experienced bicycle riders, so our family of four headed north along the flat, riverside path for several miles.
Desiring more of a challenge, we continued north, beneath the Sun Yat-Sen Fwy Bridge then ascended a pedestrian bridge that headed east over the roads near Hulu Elementary School. We continued east on Hulu St, then east along a cool and narrow alley (Yanping) then used crosswalks and other roads to get to the banks of Keelung River, where we followed the paved path south for several miles to the Botanical Garden and Garden Maze. Along the route we stopped at a vending machine and bought what became our favorite Taipei drink—peach/orange juice. So good!
The Garden Maze was fun for the kids but don’t expect 8-foot tall shrubbery.
As you can see in the photo, bushes topped out at about 2.5 feet, so no risk of getting lost. The short shrubs left us a little disappointed, but still it was a unique destination and a peaceful stop for us to rest before getting back on the bikes. We retraced our path back to the bike rental store, stopped for a few photos, then exchanged the bikes for our identification. Cost was cheap for the several hours we had the bikes. Honestly, I don’t remember what the cost was but maybe $20-30 for all four bikes for a couple hours?
Hunger finally setting in, we walked south along the riverfront, retracing our steps back past the tennis courts and to Nanjing West Road, then headed northwest on foot to Jin Chun Fa Beef Restaurant (20 Tianshui Rd, Datong District).
Anthony Bourdain (R.I.P.) enjoyed a lunch here a few years ago, so we thought we would try too. (Note, use the street address in Google to find the restaurant because a name search directs to an incorrect location.) We were not disappointed. Tasty vegetables, flavorful noodles and a welcoming staff made it a perfect spot for our first local meal. Nothing over-the-top great and no English menus but good old fashioned beef n’ noodle shop (sign says been there for 100+ years). Many locals inside, and most important, the place looked clean. Collectively, we’d give it 3.5 out of 5 stars. A good lunch spot but we wouldn’t go there for dinner.
With full bellies, we hailed a taxi and directed the driver to the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial. Set in the middle of busy Taipei, this oasis of grandeur is an amazing sight to behold. The scale of the open space and the buildings is incredible. And, the memorial sits at the top of an imposing staircase—89 steps to be exact, representing Kai-Shek’s age at the time of his death.
Inside, guards stand duty without blinking an eye for what seems like an hour. The kids were mesmerized and so were Mom and Dad. After a few photos, we respectfully left and walked to our next destination…Yongkang Street.
A narrow street with shops and snacks lining both sides, Yongkang bustles.
We enjoyed the smells and sights of what seemed like local Taipei vs. the wide, modern, concrete cityscapes in other areas. A small playground at the end of the street was a nice play-break for the kids (and a good spot for Mom and Dad to sit and rest for 10 minutes).
The last stop of the day was Huashan 1914 Creative Park. A completely different experience than much of the city, the Creative Park is modern, spacious and unique.
Renovated concrete buildings house upscale retailers and restaurants. Live performers entertain crowds in the open spaces. It’s a stop not to be missed. Tired, we headed back to the Grand Hyatt for dinner in the Club Lounge and an early bedtime.
After a delicious breakfast in the hotel club lounge, this active family set forth to climb Elephant Mountain. We hopped in a taxi (about 5 minutes ride from Grand Hyatt) that dropped us at the XiangShan Station sign and nothing but stairs as far as the eye could see.
Pacing ourselves and stopping for a few scenic photos, the ascent took 15 minutes. Travelers with knee issues or heart conditions may want to stop halfway up. You still will get a nice view without reaching the top. Taipei 101 is the main sight in the distance. Be sure to go on a somewhat clear day in order to maximize the view.
Since we traveled across much of the city on Day 1, we decided to stay closer to the Grand Hyatt today. So after Elephant Mountain, we headed over to Taipei 101, rode the elevators up, took in the views, then headed back down. Honestly, the skydeck viewing from tall buildings is becoming a bit boring to us and our kids. Seen a couple (and there are a few in the U.S. too)…seen them all. Still, they do provide a birdseye view of the city and put Taipei’s vastness on full display and in perspective.
Next stop was Taipei’s fish market. A far cry from Tokyo’s but still some good lunch options in the modernized Addiction Aquatic Development building (not the older parking-garage style building across the street).
On the roads around the market are sellers of all things seafood, but we felt safest buying/eating from the Aquatic Development building--many options from which to choose.
The sun was hot and we purposefully didn’t plan much for this day so we taxied back to the Grand Hyatt and spent some refreshing time in the outdoor swimming pool and on its fifth floor deck.
The hotel’s pool is a refreshing, 20-yard lap shape with lane lines to keep swimmers going straight. A sizable hot tub, more like a pool, is adjacent to the lapper for a more relaxing dip.
That evening we forced the kids to stay awake (primarily our 6-year old son) and ventured out to the Night Market closest to the hotel—Tonghua.
The experience was just as we read and saw on YouTube. A narrow street with vendors down the middle and on both sides, stinky tofu scents throughout, and shoulder-to-shoulder people, we strolled the approximate 4 blocks in about an hour (one-way) and hailed a taxi from the opposite entrance/exit. Tired and stuffed, we arrived back at the Grand Hyatt and quickly fell asleep. (The beds are so comfortable, by the way.)
After breakfast in the Club Lounge, we walked two blocks to the clean and easily navigable subway for a ride out to Shilin and a stop near the Taipei Science Museum and the Taipei Children’s Amusement Park. Neither were over-the-top, OMG, awesome. But, each had a few activities and rides that made the kids laugh and smile.
The highlight of the Children’s Museum was a bicycle-on-a-wire exhibit that allowed our daughter to pedal across a line five stories high (with a net below, of course).
The amusement park had several spinning and dropping rides that provided some thrills as well. It rained a bit this day so some of the rides were not open, but we still had fun nonetheless, and both were an appreciated change of pace for the kids.
An early dinner at Din Tai Fung’s original location on Xinyi Road ended the day. We put our name on the list and waited outside on the sidewalk for about 10 minutes. The dumplings were delicious (duh), but also we were impressed by the large selection of green vegetables and side dishes.
Our last adventure of the day came after riding a taxi to the W Hotel. There, we crossed the street and the girls enjoyed a Taiwanese shampoo/massage at Ming Liu International Beauty Salon while the boys walked back to the Grand Hyatt (with a stop at Taiwan’s largest bookstore along the way—Eslite Xinyi). Any reputable hair salon will do, this one just happened to be on our excursion path for the day—wherever you choose to go, plan for it at the end of your day for a relaxing treat.
Our last full day started with a walk to and through Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. After arriving, we realized that activity here doesn’t really start bustling until the Noon hour, but we still enjoyed the gardens and a few shops and larger stores.
A couple hours later we ate lunch in the food court below the highrise across the street from Taipei 101. Taipei 101 has a lower-level food-court too, but we found the offerings across the street better and more varied.
Armed with full stomachs, we ended our day’s adventure with a ride on the MRT out to Maokong Taipei Zoo station where we skipped the zoo but rode the scenic gondolas up to Maokong.
Good we brought jackets as the climate up top was cool and drizzly. Flying above the forest was a scenic experience as the greenscape is quite a contrast from the concrete urban jungle just minutes away.
All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Taipei. Four full days is plenty of time to see all of the city’s main sights. If coming here for longer, plan on touring the rest of the island and getting some beach time. No matter where you go, bring your appetite as the food is delicious and everyone is friendly.
Author’s footnote: Please understand that this writer is fully aware that travel, especially international travel, is extremely expensive and a complete luxury that many families are unable to experience. But as international travel increases, economic laws of supply/demand will continue to drive pricing down. And, if the US dollar holds its strength, many international destinations become more affordable--especially if you can be flexible with your destination. Keep Taipei high on your list. We will be back soon.