The Outdoor Enthusiast’s Guide to Taipei

When I’m not living in Taipei studying Chinese, I’m an ecologist, so being outside and otherwise surrounded by nature is kind of my thing. Whenever I move to a new city, my first goal is to find my favorite parks so that I know exactly where to go when I want to sit and relax, go on a run, or have a change of scenery while I’m doing my homework. While I haven’t visited all of Taipei’s green spaces (there are at least a hundred small parks less than one city block wide scattered throughout Taipei), I’ve visited the largest green spaces and spend a consistently large portion of my time there.
The following post contains a list of suggestions of places to go for anyone who wants to escape the city, learn about nature, or just otherwise be outside.
This post is pretty long, so here’s a table of contents if you want to skip ahead!
·      Best Places to Escape the City Without Getting Too Far From the City
o   Maokong
o   Xiangshan (Elephant Mountain)
o   Yangmingshan National Park
·      Best Places to Learn About Nature
o   The Riverside – Huajiangyanya Nature Park
o   Taipei Botanic Garden
o   Xinsheng Park – Taipei Collective Botanical Garden
o   Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall
·      Best Outdoor Areas For Those Who Don’t Have Much Time and Just Want a Breath of Fresh Air
o   Da’an Park/Flower Market
o   Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
o   Yuanshan Park
o   Songshan Cultural and Creative Park
o   2/28 Peace Memorial Park
Best Places to Escape the City Without Getting Too Far From the City
Located at the very southern edge of Taipei City, Maokong is home to numerous tea plantations and tea houses. Located about 2.5-3 hours away from Homey, Maokong is worth the trek for tea lovers and hikers alike. Visit a tea house to taste locally grown and fermented tea varieties, and then walk the path through the fields where that tea was grown. Even if you aren’t a fan of tea, the views of the tea fields are lovely, and the area offers a tranquil, rural atmosphere that almost forces you to relax.
Tea fields across the mountainside

Soar over the mountains in the Maokong Gondola
Xiangshan (Elephant Mountain)
Taipei’s most famous hiking spot, Elephant Mountain is one of the best places to get outdoors in Taipei. Because the views of Taipei 101 and the rest of the skyline are so famous, the initial portion of the hike may be crowded and discouraging, but if you keep hiking past the popular view point, the trails open up and you can merrily begin hiking the 2-3 hour circuit through the mountains bordering the east side of Taipei. Elephant Mountain is the first mountain of the Four Beasts, a series of small mountains overlooking Taipei City that also includes Leopard, Lion, and Tiger Mountains. The Four Beast Trail Circuit takes you up Elephant Mountain, behind Leopard and Lion Mountains to the higher Mt. Thumb (Nangang Shan) and 9-5 Peak (Jiuwufen), then back down Tiger Mountain. Remote and lush with natural flora and fauna, hiking the Four Beasts makes it easy to forget how close you are to a huge city – that is, until you come to a break in the trees and catch a glimpse of the skyline! I keep talking about the views from Elephant Mountain, but they are genuinely that amazing – so amazing that I’ve been up at least five times already! Interested in climbing Elephant Mountain? Homey Hostel leads a free walking tour for guests every Friday night! (Unfortunately, if you want to hike the entire circuit, you’ll have to do that yourself).
View of the skyline from 9-5 Peak

The sunset is particularly spectacular at the top of Xiangshan

Surrounded by nature

Empty trails make for a blissful solo adventure
The national park located closest to Taipei, Yangmingshan National Park is a popular destination for hikers and outdoor aficionados. Dedicated to habitat conservation, outdoor recreation, and public education, Yangmingshan offers a variety of hiking trails, bike trails, day trips, and eco-tours for visitors to embark upon. Yangmingshan’s official website (linked above) provides an abundance of information for tourists looking to visit, including interactive maps, a 3-D online tour, information regarding their dedication to education and conservation, and suggested itineraries for day trips and ecotours.

Best Places to Learn About Nature
The Riverside – Huajiangyanya Natural Park
I’m apparently unable to write a blog post about Taipei without mentioning the Riverside, but with 514 hectares of green space lining the river, it was impossible for me to not include the Riverside in this list.
The Riverside isn’t only a nice place to enjoy the outdoors but also a great place to learn about Taipei’s wild bird populations, especially at Huajiangyanya Natural Park (located about 40 minutes SW of Homey Hostel by foot, or 20 minutes by bike). Numerous signs identifying local bird species line the path through Huajiangyanya so you can learn exactly who you’re seeing. It may be hard to spot some birds through the tall reeds, but you can also see local bird watchers set up their cameras to get the perfect shot.
A beautiful view of the river and a sign to help you learn!
I absolutely love Botanic Gardens. I’ve now been to at least 8 different Botanic Gardens in 4 different countries, and I have to say the Taipei Botanic Garden is one of my favorites. One reason for this is that it’s the only botanic garden I’ve visited dominated by tropical plants, which gives it a distinct vibe that separates it from all the others (which, full disclosure, were all located in temperate climates). Personally, my favorite areas are the Fern area, where you stroll along a board walk with a sea of ferns on all sides, and the Lotus Pond, which has been featured prominently in several Taiwanese films, including Eat Drink Man Woman (飲食男女). Regardless of where you go, the Taipei Botanic Garden hosts an amazing abundance of local flora, all labeled so that you know exactly what plant you’re looking at. Additionally, the grounds host several small historical museums, including Nanmon-cho 323 (a Japanese-style house dating back to the Japanese occupation of Taiwan), a historical Herbarium (which is the place where scientists and naturalists keep dead, dried, labelled plants that they’ve collected from the field), and the Guest House of Imperial Envoys (an administrative building from the Qing Dynasty constructed in the Min-nan style of architecture).

The palm area
Overflowing with ferns

The famous Lotus Pond
With Taipei’s summers being as incredibly hot and humid as they are, sometimes I’m caught between the conflicting desires to go outside and stay inside where there’s air conditioning. Well, Taipei has a place just for that. The Taipei Collective Botanical Garden, located in the middle of Xinsheng Park, is a large greenhouse plant conservatory that hosts over 1000 different species of plants categorized into 6 different zones: tropical flora, subtropical flora, temperate zone flora, succulents, alpine flora, and native flora. Each plant is clearly labeled with its Chinese and scientific names, and strategically placed informational signs point out which plants are of additional interest. Also, did I mention that the facility is air conditioned?
One other cool thing about Xinsheng Park? It has a garden maze you can get lost in by yourself or race your friends through!
Helwingia japonica – a sign nearby pointed out that this plant’s flowers and fruit grow on top of the leaves – how cool!

Orchids for days
No better place to be lost than a garden maze

Most notable for being a monument to Taiwan’s first president, Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall is usually at the top of Taipei’s list of tourist attractions. Less well known, however, is the Ecological Trail that winds around the back of CKS Memorial Hall. I easily spent a 45 minutes meandering along the short trail, reading all 15 signs and determining where each of the 45 highlighted plants were located along the trail. It was basically the ultimate plant-nerd scavenger hunt, and I loved it. While the signs identifying the plants are written in Chinese, they do include the Latin name and a photo that makes it easy for non-Chinese readers to spot and identify them.
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Grounds
One of 15 signs along the path pointing out nearby species…
…and hey! I found Mussaenda erythrophylla! Thanks sign!

Best Outdoor Areas For Those Who Don’t Have Much Time and Just Want a Breath of Fresh Air
Da’an Park/Flower Market
The largest park in Taipei, Da’an essentially serves as Taipei’s very own Central Park (but much smaller). As well as being a great place to take a walk and have a picnic, Da’an Park is also a social center for Taipei, serving as the rendezvous point for many groups and families and hosting regular concerts and performances in its pavilion. In the morning, I like to take some coffee and a book with me and sit on a bench by the ecological pond, watching the birds. In the evening, I’ll bring a blanket and a bottle of wine to have a picnic with friends instead!
The Jian Guo Weekend Flower Market is also located across the NE corner of Da’an Park. Dozens of vendors come to fill the space under the Jianguo Road overpass, selling a variety of plants from orchids to bamboo to bonsai trees to full grown cherry trees. The market is quite large, and I easily spent over a half an hour there visiting and admiring different plants on display. If you want to enjoy the beauty of native flowers while staying in the shade, you should definitely check it out, but remember the Weekend Flower Market is only open on, well, weekends.
Overhead view of Da’an Park
Da’an Ecological Pond
Wanna buy a tree?

Jian Guo Weekend Flower Market
Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall is a cultural landmark of Taipei where you can view the hourly changing of the guards around a larger-than-life bronze statue of Sun Yat-Sen himself. The rotating art exhibits are a constant attraction for any art lover as well. The hall itself, however, is located in the center of Zhongshan Park, which boasts a beautiful pond and a spectacular view of Taipei 101. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall is already a huge attraction for tourists, so why not take a brief stroll through the park as well?
Zhongshan Park

Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall
Yuanshan Park is a hub of activity in Taipei, especially on weekends, making it a great place to simultaneously experience local culture and enjoy the outdoors. Yuanshan Park has plenty of green space fit for running around or enjoying a picnic, but the main draw of the park is the fact that it is home to the Expo Dome and Maji Square. The Expo Dome is filled to the brim on weekends, dominated by families enjoying a day out together and multiple teenage dance groups practicing their moves in the reflection of the large windows. Maji Square boasts numerous international food stalls where you can buy anything from tacos to tofu, Indonesian cuisine to poutine. Additionally, every weekend, Yuanshan Park hosts the Taipei Expo Farmer’s Market, a great place to peruse locally sourced organic fruit and products and buy a delicious fruit popsicle to cool you off in the summer!
Maji Square Food Stalls

A rare picture of an empty Expo Pavilion
Taipei Expo Farmer’s Market

When you first enter Songshan Cultural Park, you are welcomed onto a boardwalk path that guides you around a serene little pond. As you walk along the boardwalk, you are immediately grasped by the sense that you’ve entered an island, a haven of green in the middle of the city. Indeed, Songshan Cultural Park is dominated by an aesthetic of contrasts – old tobacco warehouses are set against a backdrop of modern, glass skyscrapers and surrounded by lush green courtyards overflowing with native plants. The pond is a haven for multiple fish, reptile, and insect species, and a great place to sit and enjoy your day as well.
Besides sitting by the pond, Songshan also has plenty of places to visit for those interested in design and culture. Previously the Songshan Tobacco Factory, the park is composed of old industrial buildings that have been repurposed to house coffee shops, artisanal shops, the Taiwan Design Museum, and several large exhibition halls that host a variety of different design conventions. Whether you want to sit by the pond or in one of the courtyards to enjoy a beautiful day, or whether you want to visit the most recent exhibitions and art installations, Songshan Cultural Park is definitely worth a visit.
Never bored on the boardwalk

The Eco-Pond is home to several fish, reptile, and insect species.

The juxtaposition of old and new architecture
One of the old Tobacco Factory courtyards

2/28 Peace Memorial Park
Located 1km directly south of Homey Hostel, 2/28 Peace Memorial Park commemorates the February 28th Incident of 1947, in which an anti-government uprising in Taipei was violently suppressed by the Kuomingtan. The park contains several memorials to victims of the 2/28 Incident as well as a museum dedicated to the history of the tragedy. Despite its tragic background, 2/28 Peace Memorial Park is an extremely lively area. The memorials are striking, and locals often flock to the ponds to eat their lunch before returning to work.

The 2/28 Massacre Monument

Honestly, the best place to see a bit of green in Taipei is… anywhere! There are many more, smaller parks in Taipei than the ones I’ve mentioned above, often tucked away in little alleys and between apartment complexes. Even on large busy streets throughout the city, there are green wall installations that provide a nice splash of color against the concrete city backdrop (and they help absorb some of the carbon dioxide from busy car and bus traffic too!).
Plants: Helping to give us more oxygen since 2.7bya
Next week, the blog is moving closer to home as we explore the best bubble tea spots around Homey Hostel.
Your favorite Homey LTR, Angie
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