When many think of undertaking a trip to Asia, their minds probably wander off to the immense rice paddy terraces of China, the idyllic beaches of Thailand, or the charming cherry blossoms of Japan. What they rarely imagine is to travel to Taiwan, the island off the shore of mainland China, officially known as the Republic of China. Despite being maybe one of the most underrated travel destinations in Asia, the country and its vibrant capital are easily accessible from all the main Asian hubs. After spending 4 days exploring Taipei’s most fascinating temples, I must say this country most definitely deserves greater attention: it’s easy to reach, it’s fun, it’s beautiful and it’s full of “treasures”.
A little bit more on Taiwan
Taiwan has a unique historical background and its rich culture is the result of a fascinating blend of the Chinese Confucianist culture and the aboriginal traditions, the whole enriched with Japanese, Southeast Asian and American influences.
The country is famous for its iconic Taipei 101, the highest building in the world until 2010, its top-quality “Formosa teas”, and, above all, its lively night market scene, where tourists and locals alike gather to enjoy Taiwan’s renowned “Xiaochi” (street food).
But THAT’S NOT IT!!
Taiwan is home to some of the most refined samples of Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian temples in the world! All across the country, there are over 12000 temples and I’m sure you can easily find the one that suits your personal tastes.
Don’t worry, if you’re thinking of just staying in Taipei, there’s plenty to see even there! Hidden between the modern buildings and skyscrapers there are dozens of beautiful temples that it’s hardly possible for you to see them all!
What do all of Taipei’s most fascinating temples have in common? A rich history, colorful patterns, and exquisite artworks.
Before introducing the ones I picked for you, I’d like to make a point here: Taipei’s temples are noteworthy not only among tourists, but they are actually very popular among the locals too. This makes them the best way to experience and see the local worship customs with your own eyes. And there’s actually much to see, considering the strong bond between the Taiwanese and their religious beliefs.
Here’s my list of the ones you shouldn’t miss out when visiting Taiwan’s capital city!
Taipei’s most fascinating temples
Built in 1760, Bao’an is today a very popular stop among worshippers to pray and make offerings to the gods.
The temple was conferred the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation. This comes as no surprise! The traditional decorative arts that adorn the entire structure, the wood, and stone-carved artwork, not to mention, the beautiful Jiannian mosaics are mesmerizing.
If you’re traveling to Taipei between March and June, don’t miss the chance to attend its annual folk art festival, which showcases Taiwan’s religious practices, folk customs, as well as arts and traditions through the many parades and traditional performances.
During my visit, the temple was filled with any sort of offering, from colorful flowers to food and drinks, clothing and incense sticks. I couldn’t help but perceive the strong devotion Taiwanese have towards their religious customs. The overall atmosphere was that of a warm welcoming place! A big thumbs up, since most of the times, I personally find religious sites a bit gloomy.
Located close to Bao’an, Taipei Confucius Temple was modeled after the original temple in Qufu, mainland China. It was originally built in 1879 but, after being demolished during the Japanese colonial period, it was once again rebuilt around the end of the 1920’s.
Featuring a Minnan style architecture and Fujian style ceramic decorations, the temple appears at sight very colorful but elegant at the same time. Compared with all the other temples I’ve been to in Taipei, this one is much quieter and peaceful, making it a great stop for those who enjoy meditation.
On September 28th, the temple holds a big ceremony for Teachers’ Day, which is celebrated the same day of Confucius birthday. Afterall, Confucius was one of the greatest educators in Chinese history. I did some research and it seems celebrations include the so-called Yi Dance, a dance performed by students of the area while wearing traditional Han-style costumes.
Mengjia Longshan Temple
In the heart of Wanhua District stands Taiwan’s most well-known temple. Built-in 1738 by Fujian settlers, just like the two temples I mentioned above, Longshan temple offers a fusion of Taiwanese traditional architecture and Southern Chinese elements. The temple has survived both natural disasters, as well as World War II bombings and is now a religious center where worshippers of both Buddhist and Taoist gods come together to pray.
I recommend visiting the temple early morning or late afternoon (around 5 pm) for a chance to witness the strong bond between religious practices and the daily lives of the locals. These are indeed the times when people visit the temple to make their prayers and you can, therefore, enjoy the fascinating melody of their chants.
The best part of this temple: its amazing architecture decorated with elegant samples of Chinese dragons and Fenghuang, a type of mythological bird known as Chinese phoenix in the west.
Songshan Ciyou Temple
Taipei’s most colorful and adorned temple! Dedicated to Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea, this mesmerizing temple was built in 1753. Its roof adorned with several ceramic motifs, including the many Chinese dragons, is absolutely remarkable.What is even more astonishing is the fact that this pearl of a temple is actually built on 6 floors. I have to say I’ve never seen anything like this before.
Right next to it lies the Rao-He night market, one of the oldest and most popular night markets in Taipei. If you’re planning to go there, make sure to stop by this impressing temple. While Ciyou Temple is indeed beautiful during the daylight, at night, with several red lanterns and lights reflecting on its colorful decorations, it’s even more spectacular. This is definitely a MUST, especially for all those temple enthusiasts out there!
No doubt that this was my favorite.
Probably the smallest and least notable of all, Tianhou Temple hides among the crowded shops of Ximending area, making it easy to pass by it without noticing it’s even there. However, it’s totally worth paying a visit to this intriguing temple.
As soon as you step inside, you’ll find yourself under thousands of red lanterns hanging from the ceiling, which create a suggestive and sacred atmosphere.
Just like many other temples in Taipei, Tianhou Temple has been destroyed and rebuilt many times, and at some point in its history, it was also turned into a Japanese temple dedicated to Hongfa Dashi. This is why Japanese and Chinese deities still coexist here, making it one of the rare examples where worshipping both gods is possible.
When I visited it, it was a humid rainy day and I was desperately trying to find shelter from both the rain and the crowds of people walking around the Ximending shopping area. To my surprise, I came across this kind of oasis of peace. Noises and screams can’t reach the temple and so it was a nice break from the chaos of the city.
Xiahai City God Temple
Along the famous Dihua Street, which was once Taipei’s center for the commerce of Chinese medical herbs, Taiwanese tea, fabrics, and incense, you will find this small but very enchanting temple. Built in 1856, Xiahai City God temple is today another great location to witness the local worship rituals.
Unfortunately, it was under restoration during my visit, so I couldn’t really fully enjoy it. Nonetheless, locals still thronged there to make their prayers and offerings to the gods. I couldn’t help but feel an almost surreal atmosphere around me, the smell of the incense at the temple mixing with that of the many spices on sale at the shops in Dihua street.
If you’re visiting Taipei around May don’t forget to check out Xiahai Cultural Festival, celebrated on the City God’s Birthday (May 14th of the lunar calendar). You’ll find a lot of entertainment opportunities, from parades, dances and martial arts displays to theater performances, exhibitions, and workshops.
10 minutes walk away from Longshan Temple, why not make a stop to this small but elegant temple too?
Located in Taipei’s First Street, Qingshan Temple is hidden in-between two Baroque style buildings. Despite its small size, this temple is very popular as the deity enshrined there is believed to have the power to heal diseases.
The temple also offers some of the most refined examples of stone/woodworks and multicolored Jiannian mosaics, and it’s also famous for its annual festival (held on October 21-23rd), a three-day celebration to honor Qingshan God. The most interesting part of this festival is probably the unique night parade during which people holding lanterns, gongs, and horns loudly march around the district scaring away the evil spirits. This intriguing folkloristic celebration couldn’t have a better ending than spectacular fireworks. It’s definitely something you wouldn’t miss out on for any reason!
The most recent temple of this list (it was built only in 1967), Xingtian is another important center for the local folk religion and people gather here to pray for a harmonic society and the good of the community. I visited it on a Monday morning and I was so surprised to see the insane number of people there, attending a religious ceremony. No need to say how interesting this morning was!
National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine
This is actually a shrine, not a temple, but I decided to include it in this list because I actually found it very interesting and it’s definitely worth a quick visit. The National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine was built in memory of the soldiers who died fighting for the ROC. It looks more like a complex of palaces than what I pictured to be a shrine but I still found its architecture very nice and fascinating. The main attraction of the shrine is the changing of the guards, happening every hour.
The complex occupies a wide area and you can access it through a huge gate. Most people leave right after the changing of the guards but I’d recommend spending a bit more of your time there! Once, most of the people have left you can have all of that space for yourself to take some amazing pictures!!
This was my list of Taipei’s most fascinating temples. If you have any question or would like to share your favorites with me, you’re more than welcome to reach out! 🙂
QUICK UPDATE: I was recently informed by another Taipei fan that Taiwan’s capital has been selected as one of the TOP DESTINATIONS for digital nomads! How cool is that!
If you’re a digital nomad looking for your next amazing destination, check out the article at this link and scroll down to #4 to find out all about Taipei’s basic essentials for working remotely.