Looking for a family weekend getaway? Taipei ticks all the boxes!
My family has discussed taking a vacation to Taipei, but after almost eight years in Asia we had not managed to fit it into the holiday schedule yet. When we got an invitation from the Grand Hyatt Taipei to check out their new indoor family glamping experience, we jumped at the opportunity. We were able to squeeze in a three-night t rip just after school ended and before our other summer travel plans.
With many options for direct flights to Taipei, we had no trouble finding an inexpensive fare for the flights of only two hours each way. We opted for China Airlines. The service was basic but efficient. We went carry-on only and all went smoothly both directions.
The indoor family glamping experience is really aimed at families with younger children, but my eight and ten-year olds were very excited about it. The tent would have been a little too cozy for the two of them together, given how tall they are – it’s 150cm long and my daughter is taller than that. So the hotel arranged an extra bed next to the tent for us. The Grand Executive Suite gave us more than enough space to move around and lounge, even with the extra furnishings provided as part of the experience.
The Grand Hyatt Taipei is a five-star hotel with top notch service, great restaurants, a beautiful lobby, and a sizeable outdoor pool, right in the heart of Taipei City. Located across the street from Taipei 101, there are plenty of things to do, see and eat right nearby.
We arrived midday on a rainy Thursday and were immediately impressed at the very clean and modern city, with large efficient highways connecting the suburban airport with the center of town in about a 45-minute drive. Our check-in went quickly and smoothly and we immediately headed out to explore. Our planned first stop was the Taipei 101 Observatory with views of the city from the 89th and 91st floors. However, the entire top of the building was in the clouds and we were advised that the visibility was zero. We opted to wait for a better time to visit. While the kids were angling for some pool time, it was not quite the right weather for that either. After a little shopping in the Taipei 101 mall, all were happy to hit up the happy hour in the Club Lounge on the 22nd floor of the hotel. With some snacks and cocktails (fizzy water for the kids), we enjoyed a leisurely chat about what else we planned to see in our next couple days in Taipei.
Dinner Thursday night at Yun Jin, the hotel’s upscale but still family friendly Chinese restaurant, did not disappoint. In addition to a variety of traditional dishes, Chef Ben treated the kids to a dumpling making lesson! After a long day, we were not quite up for visiting the relatively nearby Tonghua Night Market but opted instead to turn in a bit early.
The kids got an added surprise when we returned to the room to find there was a planetarium projector that brought the night sky into the room with stars on the ceiling over their tent and bed. And my husband and I appreciated that they were safely tucked in right there in the suite’s living room while we closed the bedroom door and enjoyed a glass of wine and a room to ourselves.
Friday morning we decided not to let the rainy weather stop us from carrying on with our plans. Breakfast in the Café was an excellent start to the day, with a huge buffet spread that had plenty of choices to leave everyone sated. We then headed by car up to the Maokong Gondola and opted for the Crystal Cabin for a 15 minute gondola ride down to the Taipei Zoo South Station. The Taipei Zoo South entrance was only steps away from the gondola exit. With umbrellas in tow we worked our way down through the zoo, happy it wasn’t uncomfortably hot out!
The zoo has generous enclosures with many viewpoints to see the animals up close. We especially loved the many hippos and pygmy hippos. It took us about 2 hours to wind our way around each area, stopping to see lions, tigers, elephants, pandas, monkeys, leopards, camels, giraffes, rhinos and much more. We probably could have gone a little slower and spent another hour there, but we wanted to move on to our lunch plans! The food is definitely a major part of what drew us to Taipei.
We hopped in the car and headed to the original Din Tai Fung on the corner of Xinyi and Yongkang. As expected at prime lunch hour, the wait was about 45 minutes. We grabbed a number and headed down Yongkang Street to scout what our next stops would be. We had planned a meandering lunch, and this famous foodie street did not disappoint.
First course was scallion pancakes at the famous Tian Jin stall. We grabbed a couple of the plain variety to share as we wandered. Back at Din Tai Fung and comfortably seated upstairs we opted for some vegetables and four orders of ten of the infamous xiao long bao. They’ll bring the bamboo steamers one by one so that you’re sure to eat them while they’re still piping hot! It’s hard to say for sure, but we think the xiao long bao at the original are just a bit better than the ones we are used to at the Hong Kong locations.
Next stop was another Taipei institution – Yong-Kang Beef Noodle. My husband loves spicy food, so he opted for the Sichuan style. The kids and I shared a non-spicy beef noodle soup and ate every delicious bite down to the last slurp of broth.
We were starting to get pretty full at this point, but a visit to Yongkang Street wouldn’t be complete without dessert. The corner of outdoor counters and tables at Smoothie House was bustling. We went up and ordered our Super Mango Snowflake Ice with Sorbet and hoped a spot would open up so that we could sit down to attack this massive bowl of sugary mango deliciousness. We lucked out and managed to hover in the right area to snag four seats at a table right in front. There was plenty to go around but we polished off the whole thing in minutes!
With our family of four pleasantly full, we hopped back in the car and moved on to our first historical site. The Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall is quite a sight at the far end of Liberty Square, flanked by the National Concert Hall and National Theater. We learned a bit about this former leader of the Republic of China, watched the changing of the guards ceremony, and took in the splendor of the buildings themselves.
As we were not yet hungry for dinner, we then stopped off at the Huashan 1914 Creative Park for a bit of shopping and meandering. The kids were especially interested in Wooderful Life, and we could have spent even longer playing in their play area or taking on a DIY project in their café area.
But back to the food…we wanted to get to Addiction Aquatic Development before the crowds arrived. Part fish market, part grocery store, part restaurant – this cool space had a hipster vibe while still being family friendly. We loved walking through the fish market to see the recently caught fish and tanks of live shellfish. Opting for a bit of time off of our feet, we grabbed four stools at the wine bar. A couple glasses of chilled white for the adults, some fizzy water for the kids, and some Iberico and cheese to nosh on proved to be the perfect appetizer. After that we were ready for sushi. The sushi bar is in a semi enclosed area in the middle of the grocery store – the buzzing atmosphere was fun but the catch was that it was all standing tables and counters. Luckily our kids love sushi and were up for staying upright just long enough to help us dig in to some excellent seafood miso soup and some shared sushi combo platters. After a long day, we didn’t have the stamina to stick around to enjoy the live music outside after our meal, so we headed back for another night of family indoor glamping at the Grand Hyatt.
Saturday morning we awoke to find that the sun was shining! While we could have had plenty of choices for breakfast in the Club Lounge, we had enjoyed the Café so much that we opted to return to it for the chance to sample some other sections of the buffet.
Our original plan was for a short hike up Elephant Mountain after breakfast for the fabulous views of Taipei, but given the clear day, we opted instead to catch the views from the Taipei 101 Observatory. The speedy elevator ride to the 89th floor was part of the fun, as was seeing and learning about the damper that keeps the building from swaying too much. Given the good weather, the outdoor observation deck on the 91st floor was also open.
Next we couldn’t help but take advantage of the great weather and head back across the street to the hotel for some pool time. The Oasis Pool was surrounded by lush greenery and plenty of comfortable lounge chairs. We relaxed and read while the kids splashed and played. Perfect!
Even though we had gone for sushi for dinner, we were excited to try the Irodori Japanese buffet lunch. The large spread ranged from fresh sushi/sashimi to tempura to grilled items and other interesting Japanese specialties. Everyone in the family found more than enough to completely stuff ourselves, including mochi ice cream for dessert!
We knew a visit to Taipei would not be complete without a bit more culture and history, so despite the beautiful day, we headed for an indoor option – the National Palace Museum. With almost 700,000 pieces in the museum’s collection, only a fraction is on display at any given time. We caught the 3:00 English tour and were glad we did. The Q&A / quiz style format of the tour helped keep the kids engaged too and we learned a lot about bronze, porcelain and jade pieces from many Chinese dynasties. We enjoyed seeing the famous Jadeite Cabbage and Meat-shaped Stone but we were even more impressed by some of the intricately painted porcelain and carved jade.
As always, part of the reason for shaping our itinerary this way was our dining plans…or grazing may be a more apt description. Next we headed to the nearby Shilin Night Market. This enormous market is full of all sorts of shops, game stalls, and of course street food! We are adventurous eaters, but there are certainly a wide range of choices for those who prefer more tame options. We snacked on beef cubes after watching them be simultaneously grilled and blow-torched. We tried quail eggs on a stick, steamed rice with peanuts and black sesame, an enormous piece of flattened fried chicken that was more than enough to share among the four of us, some of Taiwan’s famous bubble tea. And we found ourselves too stuffed to continue on even though we would have liked to try some other local specialties – oyster omelets, sausages of all shapes and sizes, pan cakes, squid and octopus dishes and skewers, stinky tofu. With a couple of tired kids in tow, we returned to the hotel for our final night in Taipei.
Once again we returned to the Café for the fabulous breakfast spread. With a car booked to take us to the airport at 10:40, we didn’t have much time left in this vibrant city. Luckily it was another gorgeous morning and we headed out on foot after breakfast. Passing through a nice public park, we arrived a few minutes later at the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall. While the name was somewhat familiar to us from Hong Kong, we were woefully ignorant about this great revolutionary. We were first drawn to this site because we could see it from our hotel room. The beautiful gardens and fountains out front pulled us in to this grand building, and we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves just in time for the changing of the guards ceremony. We then spent a few minutes learning more about Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the first provisional president and founding father of the Republic of China.
We loved our three day taste of Taipei! With plenty of other options for fun things to do in this city, we can see how a family could easily spend a week there. We did not have time to get to the hot springs just outside the city. We certainly could have done some other shopping, more museums (the National Taiwan Science Education Center looks like an interesting enough spot to fill a whole day), art galleries, parks, amusement parks, hiking, and last but not least – restaurants and street food!