If you’ve ever taken a trip to Taiwan in the summer, it is no secret that the temperatures can be brutal. The humid sub-tropical climate can be unbearable, and if you are there for a good time, some days may feel like a struggle as you balance fitting in a busy itinerary and keeping your sanity through the intense heat. If you haven’t had this experience, just know that as much as I love Taipei, the summer months can be hell.
The great thing about Taiwan is that the trains can typically get you pretty close to most tourist destinations, but sometimes there will be a bit of a walk through the sea of summer humidity to get there. On those days when you can’t take the climate anymore, try these alternatives.
Spend the Day at Taipei 101
You can’t visit the capital city without seeing its iconic tower. Try taking your trip on one of those record-breaking heat days with your visit. You can easily spend the whole day inside. You may need to plan a bit ahead on busier days, but if you book your spot on the elevator early you can grab a bite to eat or some coffee before heading to the observation deck. If you have extra time to kill, there’s also a large high-end shopping complex for some window shopping or splurging.
On the observation floors, you’ll find more to do. There’s a gift shop, a coffee and cake shop, and some fantastic teas you can only get at Taipei 101. The main floor has 360º, full-wall windows which allow for unobstructed views of the entire city skyline. You can get some fantastic photos and views of everything from landmarks to the famed mountains surrounding the metropolitan area. There are also a ton of staged photo opportunities, making this an Instagram-worthy destination worth sharing.
Farther up is an open-air deck where you can use observation binoculars to get a closer look at the city from above. In addition, there are some experiences you can pay for, including a flight simulator. As a pilot, my husband was particularly excited to see this.
Don’t forget to take a moment to see the renowned dampener that helps keep the building standing on the highly seismic island.
Go on a Shopping Spree
If you love to shop, you’ll have plenty to do in Taipei. This is especially true when you are trying to escape the heat. In the United States, we have indoor shopping malls. Taipei’s department stores are pretty similar, with multiple stores set up in a single building.
You can usually find a map near the escalators to tell you what is on each floor and they are often themed: tech items will be based on one floor, gaming and pop culture on another, outdoor supplies on another, etc. These get more niche if you are somewhere like Guang Hua Digital Plaza where the market is more nuanced.
Unlike our malls, only a few stores have full storefronts. Instead, shops are set up in an open-air environment and sectioned off. It makes window shopping a bit easier as you can interact with each store more passively while strolling. You can find just about everything in these department stores too, from technology and home goods to clothing and accessories and everything in between.
Some also have an arcade floor, and no department store is complete without its food court. You’ll typically find them in the basement, with a huge variety of choices. Most also have sit-down restaurant options like conveyor belt sushi or CoCo Ichibanya (a beloved curry chain from Japan). You’ll also find some fun dessert options and may even stumble upon familiar names like Coldstone Creamery.
Taipei has some fantastic museums to add some much-needed air-con to your day while still enjoying Taiwan’s rich culture. Try opting for a large museum like the National Palace Museum or find a few smaller museums clustered closer together. For the latter option, my suggestion would be Beitou’s Hot Spring Museum, Ketagalan Culture Center, and Beitou’s Historic Station, all of which are only a short walk from each other.
The National Palace Museum is Taiwan’s most famous museum and holds the largest collection of ancient Chinese artifacts in the world. The history behind this museum’s massive collection is an article all its own, but this location is responsible for saving countless priceless artifacts during the Cultural Revolution in Mainland China in the 60s and 70s. The collection is close to 700,000 pieces and even with its 720,000m², there is not enough room to house the full collection at one time. Because of this, visiting at different times means you will get to see different exhibitions, making revisiting worthwhile.
I talk about Beitou quite a bit, mainly because it is my favorite neighborhood in Taipei Proper. There is a rich culture, heavy Japanese influence, and a feeling of a close-knit community throughout, especially in Xin Beitou (New Beitou). The Hot Spring Museum is a highlight of the history of hot spring utilization in the area. Beitou was famous for the Japanese during their occupation of the island due to the nutrient-rich natural thermal baths that run through the land. You’ll learn a lot about the history and construction of hot springs in Beitou, and even see some of the food associated with hot spring culture in the district.
Only a short walk away is the Ketagalan Culture Center, which is dedicated to the Ketagalan People who once populated the area. Their language is now considered extinct, but an indigenous cultural revival in Taiwan has resulted in the resurrection of their culture in Beitou. You’ll be able to learn more about this rare culture at the center, with exhibitions, art galleries, and classes available for visitors.
Just across the street from the Xin Beitou MRT Station lies the Beitou Historic Station, the original train station for the area. This is a particularly small museum of only one room, but it is a great little center, especially for train enthusiasts. You’ll find plenty of historical information, relics of the past, and even some fun train-related souvenirs to bring home with you.
Make Use of Convenience Stores
Convenience stores, or 便利店 (Biànlì diàn) are a staple in Taiwanese society. They often serve as one-stop-shops for the Taiwanese commuter and offer everything from fresh food to bill pay services and sometimes package drop-offs. But beyond their convenience in products and services, many use them as a quick stop for much-needed air-con.
I’ve already written an article about 7-Eleven–affectionately known as just “Seven” by the Taiwanese–already. But while Seven remains the most popular and widespread option, there are others to look out for as well. Second to Seven Would likely be another Japanese Chain: FamilyMart. Hi-Mart (a Taiwanese company) and OK Mart (a Circle K branch in Asia) are not as common but can still be found across the city. Each store offers its own unique specialty items and everyone has their favorite. I find that Seven has the best food and drink options (City Cafe has some great sparkling coffees!), But FamilyMart is known for having incredible fried chicken.
If you want to make your rounds of the many sights Taiwan has to offer but need to escape the heat for a few minutes, these little shops offer a refuge from the sun and have plenty of treats to hold you over. Try one of their many drink selections, grab a quick bite of freshly heated snacks or meals, and relax in the cool, refreshing air of Taiwan’s convenience stores.
Take a Trip Out of the City
Specifically, I’d recommend spending a few days in the mountains. Last year, our August trip was hot, humid, and uncomfortably sweaty. Despite how much I enjoyed the country, the heat was one thing I could certainly do without. On our honeymoon, we roadtripped around the main island, and perhaps the most welcome change of pace was our trip to Alishan.
The reason I say to take a few days is because the trip to the mountain is a journey on its own. Even if you take the train into Chiayi, you will need to take a bus up the mountain which is an hours-long trip and not for the faint of heart. The mountain paths are narrow and winding and overlook steep drop-offs. But getting to the top is worth it for the incredible scenery and a much-needed chill in the air. The other reason for a multi-day trip is to get a better chance of views. The mountains and pressure shifts often result in heavy fog. The more days you spend there, the more likely the fog might clear for some incredible views from the top.
If you take a trip to Alishan in the summer, make sure you pack for the fall. While not fully frigid, the temperatures were in the teens (often around 11-18ºC), and we did not fully pack for the sudden drop in climate. I would also recommend planning for the altitude change. I wound up fatigued rather quickly due to a massive headache resulting from the pressure changes, which was a huge disappointment as I really wanted to hike all the way to the scenic area. Fortunately, busses are also available.
I plan to write more about Alishan and the many offerings it has, especially for train enthusiasts. It’s an incredible sight that deserves much more than a mention here.
The downside of a sub-tropical climate will always be the sweltering heat that comes with the summer months, but don’t let that ruin your time in Taipei. Instead, take these fiery hot days as an opportunity to see the indoor attractions you have on your list or to get away for a short time. And of course, this is only a short list of my suggestions based on my own experiences. There is plenty more to do to get inside and still see Taipei. Taiwan Scene also has a great article about ways to beat the heat as well, many of which are probably better than my own. Check them out and, in light of the record heat everyone is suffering this summer, stay cool!