Experience Taipei for under $200: budget travel guide

Night view of Taipei 101.
TransAsia Airways

This article first appeared on Skyscanner’s Experience Taipei for under $200: budget travel guide.

You don't need to break the bank for your Taipei getaway. Feast on Taiwan street treats at Shilin and Raohe Night Markets, get all Japanese in Ximending and be awed by views from Taipei 101 before getting your fortune told at Longshan Temple and rejuvenating at tranquil Wisteria Tea House. Experience the best attractions and food on the cheap with Skyscanner's guide to travelling to Taipei on a budget.

What to know before your Taipei trip:

When is the best time to visit Taipei?

The shoulder seasons of September to November and April and May offer the nicest weather and reasonable hotel prices. Taipei has four seasons so choose your vacation dates carefully. Budget travellers will find the greatest discounts on Taipei hotels during the winter months, though also the coldest weather. High season is the summer months of July and August when hotel prices rise rapidly and the weather is extremely sticky.

How to get into Taipei?

The cheapest option for travel from Chiang Kai Shek International Airport is the express airport bus which departs every 10-15 minutes and terminates at Taipei Main Station (S$5 / NTD125). An MRT line from the airport to town is scheduled to open at the end of 2016.

How to get around Taipei?

Taipei's MRT and bus systems are clean, efficient and excellent value. Buy a stored value Easy Card for S$4.20/NTD100 and top up as you go along (Fares start at S$0.80 / NTD20) or buy a Taipei Pass (S$7.50/NTD180) for unlimited use on buses and MRT for a day. These can be bought at 7 eleven stores or MRT stations across the city.

More about Easy Cards here.

How to experience Taipei for under S$200:

NOTE: The following budget excludes flights. The cheapest return flights to Taipei cost around S$270.

Suggested duration: 3 days/2 nights

Highlights: Shilin and Raohe Night Markets, Longshan Temple, Taipei 101, Wisteria Tea House, Wulai Hot Springs

Accommodation: 2 nights in a budget hotel start at S$58

Transport: Bus to and from the airport and 3 days unlimited transport around the city: S$32.50

Admission tickets: S$30 (bring a student card for discounts!)

Food and drinks: Around S$75

Total: S$195.50

Where to stay in Taipei: Mr Lobster's Secret Den Design Hostel

Located in the heart of town and a mere 10-minute walk from Taipei Main Station and Taipei Bus Station, Mr Lobster's minimalist den is sleek and friendly and features super-fast Wi-Fi throughout. There's a variety of rooms available, including dorms and female-only dorms and, for large groups of pals, family rooms that can comfortably fit four.

Beds start at: S$29 (NTD690)

Address: 9F, No. 22, Section 1, Chongqing Nord Road, Datong District, Taipei

How to get there: Walk from Taipei Main Station

Visit their website: Mr Lobster Secret Den Design Hostel

What to do in Taipei:

Day 1:

1a. Eat: Try a Taiwanese breakfast

Do as the Taiwanese do and join the morning queues for a scrumptious Taiwanese breakfast. This meal is a big deal in Taiwan and if you choose wisely, you'll be stuffed for hours without spending a fortune. A typical Taiwanese breakfast consists of a you tiao (deep fried dough stick), a shao bing (baked wheat cake that can be filled with beef or egg) and washed down with a glass of dou jiang (hot soybean milk). All of these foods originated in the north of mainland China and were brought to the Yonghe district of Taipei by refugees in the 1950s. Most places have additional items on the menu so pick and choose as you like and remember, get there early as all the food is prepared fresh and sells out well before noon.

Where to eat: Yong He Dou Jiang Da Wang

Breakfast starts at: S$3 (NTD 70)

Address: 102 Fuxing South Road, Section 2, Taiwan

How to get there: Walk from Daan MRT station

1b. Do: Visit the National Palace Museum

Anyone with even the most moderate of interest in all things Chinese must make a visit to this amazing museum that is home to possibly the finest collection of Chinese art on earth. The museum is spread out over four floors with artefacts dating back through the Chinese dynasties back to Neolithic times. Displays are well-marked and contain calligraphy, weapons, silks, ritual objects and an amazing jade cabbage. There's a traditional teahouse on the top floor and bargain hunters will rejoice in the free English language tours daily at 10am and 3pm.

Entrance fee: S$10 (NTD250)

Address: No. 221, Section 2, Zhishan Rd, Shilin District, Taipei City 11143, Taiwan

How to get there: Walk from Shilin MRT

Visit their website: National Palace Museum

1c. See: Test your vertigo at the top of Taipei 101

Taipei 101 really is the elephant in the room. Standing at 508 metres, this, the ninth tallest building on earth dominates the city skyline and seems to demand a visit. Hold on tight to your credit card in the luxurious mall on the first five floors and head to the ticket office on the fifth floor where you'll be whisked up to the 89th floor in a hair-raising 37 seconds. Yes, this pressure-controlled lift travels at a face-contorting 1,010 metres per second. The views from the top are outstanding. There are free audio guides available on the 89th floor and if it's not too windy, get your fair ruffled by the stiff winds at the outdoors observatory on the 91st floor. Don't forget to check out the 660-tonne wind damper suspended on the 89th floor - this helps keep the building upright and is regarded as an engineering marvel.

Pro-tip: Athletes will be pleased to know that there's an annual Taipei Run Up Race which takes runners up 91 floors and 2,046 steps. If that sounds like your cup of tea, check here.

Entrance fee: S$20 (NTD500)

Address: No.7, Section 5, Xinyi Rd., Xinyi District, Taipei City 110, Taiwan

How to get there: Walk from Taipei 101 MRT station

Visit their website: Taipei 101

1d. See: Visit Huashan 1914 Creative Park

Housed in an abandoned former wine and sake factory, the Huashan Creative Park was founded in 1997 when the beautiful empty structure was discovered by a theatre group and used for performances. Using contemporary ideas of urban regeneration, the site has evolved to become a cultural art centre with an ever changing selection of arts and theatre offerings alongside hip shops and stalls and cool bars and cafes with live music after dark. This is also the venue for TEDxTaipei talks where some of Taiwan's top minds come to share their thoughts. If you want to get in touch with the city's artsy community, this area is a good first stop.

Entrance fee: Free (charges for some exhibitions)

Address: 1 Ba De Road, Section 1, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City 100, Taiwan

How to get there: Walk from Zhong Xiao MRT

Visit their website: Huashan 1914 Creative Park

Find out more about TEDxTaipei: TEDxTaipei

1e. Do: Grab a bite at Raohe Street Night Market

Possibly the most Taiwanese of all the famed Taipei night markets, Raohe Street Night Market runs down a street for 600 metres and is packed with weird and wonderful things to buy from mobile phone cases and purses to trainers and shades. The market sells a good selection of Taiwan's famed street grub including blood cake, grilled mushrooms, stinky tofu and utterly delicious pork buns. If you're still in the mood for bargain browsing after your street fair extravaganza, take a short walk over to Wufenpu market where you can find clothes and accessories at amazingly low prices.

Street eats start at: S$0.80 (NTD20)

Address: Raohe St, Songshan District, Taipei City 105, Taiwan

How to get there: Walk from Songshan MRT

Day 2:

2a. Do: Get spiritual at Longshan Temple

You'll need to be up at the crack of dawn to get the most out of your visit to highly venerated Longshan Temple. The temple was founded by migrants from Fujian in 1738 and is still pulling in the crowds today. The temple is devoted to the goddess of mercy, Guanyin, though there are also more than 100 other deities worshipped here, so you can cover all your spiritual needs in one visit. The temple has survived wars, earthquakes and savage typhoons and today is one of the best places for visitors to get a glimpse of Taiwan's folk beliefs and temple architecture. Get here at 6am or 8am to see hordes of worshippers engaging in their morning chants. If you have any pressing questions about your future, then this area is the right place for you. The underground mall at Longshan Temple MRT is packed full of fortune tellers; get your palms or your face read or let a bird pick out the answers to your query and spend the next few hours bathing in the glow of your new found knowledge.

Entrance fee: Free

Fortune telling: Around S$4 (NTD100)

Address: No. 211, Guangzhou St, Wanhua District, Taipei City, Taiwan

How to get there: Longshan Temple MRT

2b. Drink: Get your caffeine fix in a chilled Taipei tea house, Wistaria Tea House

Sipping a glass of tea with a few snacks and having a chinwag with mates has been a part of Chinese culture for centuries. Taipei has a number of delightful teahouses worth visiting and at the top of our list is the magical Wistaria Tea House. Located in a wooden structure that was built in the 1920s as a residence for the Governor of Taiwan the building later became a tea house and social hot spot for the city's intelligentsia. Today, it is still a popular hangout for artsy types and with its lashings of 1930s style matched with calm vibes and comfy seats you can happily spend a chilled few hours here sampling the different varieties of teas which include teh Guanyin, oolong and smoky pu'er. Film geeks might notice that the tea house was used for scenes in the celebrated Taiwanese film, Eat Drink Man Woman.

Pot of tea for one starts at: S$13 (NTD320)

Address: 1, Lane 16, Section 3, Xinsheng S Rd, Da'an District, Taipei City 106, Taiwan

How to get there: Daan MRT

Visit their website: Wistaria Tea House

2c. Do. Join a free walking tour

Sometimes getting to know a city takes local knowledge so we recommend looking up Tour Me Away, a group of passionate city residents that offers foreign visitors a selection of brilliant free walking tours to a selection of spots around the city. Though the tours are free, you're able to tip the guide at the end of the walk. Free tours are offered around the old parts of the city, Temple tours and chill out tours. Most tours start in the mid-afternoon. There are also a couple of chargeable evening tours including an all-inclusive pub crawl (S$29/NTD700) and local food tour (S$33/NTD800). These tours are a great way to meet fellow travellers and get the low-down on the city.

Reserve your spot and find at more: Tour Me Away.

2d. Do: Visit the Harajuku of Taipei: Ximending

If you want to see where all the cool cats of Taipei hang out, then make a beeline for vibrant Ximending. Situated in Wanhua district, Ximending came into being during the Japanese colonial period and was founded as the city's main recreation district. Fast forward almost a century and the area is still heavily influenced by Japan with its bright neon lights, cool bars and cafes and shops selling Japanese anime, clothing and books and at weekends it gets packed with 'harizu', Taiwanese lovers of all things Japanese. The area has over 20 theatres and is a popular spot for performances and, for something a little spicy, check out the unique Red Envelope Clubs, where cabaret singers belt out Chinese numbers from the 50s and get tips in little red envelopes.

How to get there: Ximen MRT

2e. Indulge yourself at Shilin Night Market

As darkness descends, make your way to Shilin Night Market for another evening of street food gluttony. The maze of alleys here is filled to the brim with roadside stalls hawking merchandise and flogging some of Taipei's most famous street snacks including huge steaks of fried chicken, oyster omelette and small sausage in large sausage. Wash all these down with a bubble tea before taking yourself off to one of the numerous karaoke bars that line the street for a night of warbling tunes.

Street eats start at: S$0.80 (NTD20)

Address: 101 Jihe Road, Shilin District, Taipei City 111, Taiwan

How to get there: Jiantan MRT Station

Day 3:

3a. Do: Iron out all your creases with a day at a hot spring

After a couple of days in the city, it's time to get out, breathe in some countryside air and dip yourself in the hot springs at Wulai, a short bus ride from Taipei. There are a number of hotels including the Gwoji Hotel where you can enjoy the hot springs, a sauna and other facilities for around S$19 (NTD450). However, the true bargain hunter will be pleased to know of the free hot springs on the opposite side of the Nanshih River. Follow the signs and go to the stairwell to the springs which are well maintained and feature a sauna and changing rooms. You can even have a swim in the clean river here. After you have soaked away your city aches and pains, you can try out one of the well-marked hiking trails in the mountains above the town for an invigorating walk or visit one of the town's famous restaurants such as renowned Taiya Po Po where you can sample some of the region's aboriginal dishes like pickled pork and mountain boar.

Entrance fee to hot springs: Free

How to get there: Take Bus 849 to Wulai from Xindian MRT. Departures every 15 minutes (S$0.65 / NTD15, bus accepts EasyCard)

3b. Eat: A bowl of scrumptious beef noodles at Lin Dong Fang

Before you head to the airport, don't forget to fill yourself up with one last tasty Taipei treat. Beef noodles are held in such high regard in Taipei that there's an annual festival devoted to the comforting delight. One of the best places to grab a bowl is at Lin Dong Fang, where you'll notice a huge bubbling cauldron of frightening cow parts. Don't run away; this is what makes the soup so darned tasty! The restaurant is a bit rough and ready and you'll first need to choose your meat to tendon ratio before this gets covered with their signature "eternally brewing beef broth". The broth can be topped up throughout your slurp and has supposedly medicinal qualities. This amazing bowl of beef noodles will have you back on the plane to Taipei in no time.

Beef noodles start at: S$10 (NTD240)

Address: No. 274 Bade Road, Section 2, Zhongshan District

How to get there: Fuxing MRT station

Visit their website: Lin Dong Fang

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