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Visitors flock to Jiufen Old Street because it encapsulates the best of Taiwan in one small package: rich history, atmospheric lanes and teahouses, breathtaking views, and distinctly Taiwanese snacks at every turn. If you’re planning a trip to the country, chances are you’ve already got Jiufen Old Street on your Taiwan travel itinerary.
Below I’m going to share everything you need to know for planning a day trip trip to Jiufen based on multiple trips I’ve made there in the last 10 years, including things to do in Jiufen, what to eat in Jiufen, the best Jiufen teahouses, where to stay in Jiufen if you decide to spend the night, and things to do in Jinguashi nearby.
Was Jiufen Really the Inspiration for Miyazaki’s Spirited Away?
In nearly every article about Jiufen ever written, it is said that the Taiwanese town was the inspiration for Spirited Away (order DVD from Amazon.com / art book from Amazon Singapore), a Japanese animated film by Hayao Miyazaki about a girl who gets lost from her parents and works in a bathhouse for the kami (spirits).
Today in Jiufen you can buy all kinds of Spirited Away souvenirs and paintings, and nobody can deny that Jiufen’s narrow staircases with red lanterns and especially Amei Teahouse look straight out of Spirited Away.
In this interview with Miyazaki, as reported in the Taiwanese news, Miyazaki directly states that Jiufen was NOT the inspiration for Spirited Away. The myth has been propagated by so many bloggers, writers, and businesses, however, that Jiufen and Spirited Away are now tied, despite the falsity of these claims.
See more details on this debate in the Reddit discussion below the video in the above link.
There’s another place in Taiwan that I personally think also looks particularly reminiscent of Spirited Away. Read my guide to Beitou Hot Springs in Taipei to find out where it is!
A Brief History of Jiufen
In the Qing Dynasty (1636-1911), Jiufen was a tiny, isolated village with nine families, who would request jiu fen (九分) or “nine portions” when ships arrived.
Gold was discovered in the area in the 1890s, resulting in a gold rush, and Jiufen developed as a gold boomtown. Jiufen reached its peak during the Japanese colonial occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945).
The town’s layout was dense, with building practically built on top of one another. Many Japanese inns from that era survive today. During WWII, the town was used as a POW camp, and after the war the gold industry declined, with the mine totally closed in 1971.
Nearby Jinguashi suffered the same fate as Jiufen, and today is the site of the Gold Ecological Park, commonly visited in combination with Jiufen.
Jiufen’s revival came in 1989, when the Taiwanese film A City of Sadness, set in Jiufen, received international acclaim. This initiated a domestic and later international tourism boom that saw the city redevelop into the tourism center that it is today.
Jiufen only seems to get more and more popular every year. It has been promoted heavily in Japan, Taiwanese people love going there on the weekend, and it is one of the top day trips from Taipei for international tourists.
If you are interested in Japanese-era architecture in Taiwan, you can find information about other Japanese buildings in Taiwan in my guides to the best temples in Taipei, historic Dadaocheng neighborhood and Dihua Street in Taipei, and places to visit in Taichung.
Things to Do in Jiufen
Here’s a detailed list of what to do in Jiufen during your visit. Spots 8-10 are in nearby Jinguashi, a 10-minute ride past Jiufen by bus. You only need about 2 hours to cover the Jiufen attractions, including stopping for food and tea, but you can easily double that if you add Jinguashi.
1. Explore Jiufen Old Street
The main reason people come to Jiufen is to explore the highly atmospheric Jiufen Old Street (Jishan Street or 基山街). The old street begins beside the 7-Eleven near the Jiufen Old Street bus stop, and meanders uphill, which numerous lanes and staircases branching off from it.
You could walk all the way up to the top of the village and back down in about 30 minutes, but most people spend a couple hours here, including some shopping, photo taking, snacks, and stopping somewhere for lunch or tea.
The old street is very touristy but still has a lot of charm. Don’t miss the staircase that leads from the Old Street down to Amei Teahouse and Shengping Theater, probably the most beautiful section.
The tourist section of the Old Street ends around Jishan Street Viewing Platform (基山街觀景臺). After that, the road leads to a collection of hillside houses that has a more local feel, where a temple, several guesthouses, and a very traditional teahouse are located.
2. Enjoy a Tea Set at Amei Teahouse
Amei Teahouse (阿妹茶樓, open 8:30 a.m. to midnight, to 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday) is the most iconic building in Jiufen, and the one everyone especially thinks looks like Spirited Away. You can find lots of Spirited Away souvenirs on the staircase leading up (or down) to it.
This beautiful wooden building once housed the only blacksmith in Jiufen, and it has been beautifully preserved and maintained.
Amei Teahouse is EXTREMELY popular. If you come during the day or early evening (especially on weekends), the line to enter may be really, really long. Therefore, it is very smart to pre-order your tea set online (minimum 1 day in advance).
I went quite early when I visited (around 9 a.m. on a weekday), and I was able to walk in and get a seat. If you come for a cocktail or dessert, you’ll be sent to the second floor, while tea drinkers get the best view on the top floor.
For the tea set, you only need to choose between hot or iced tea. Each set comes with four little treats: brown sugar mochi, green bean cake, sesame crackers, and sweet plums.
The tea is served in the traditional kung-fu style, and the waiter gave me a thorough demonstration on how to do it and speaks perfect English. The tea is high mountain tea (see my full guide to Taiwan’s teas) and they provide enough to make many pots of it.
To take the classic picture of Amei Teahouse, go up the stairs of Skyline Tea House (海悅樓觀景茶坊). It’s very obvious which one it is when you get there; it’s right across from Amei.
3. Give some Love to Other Jiufen Teahouses
Even if you don’t get into Amei Teahouse (or feel you don’t have to go there), there are many other great teahouses in Jiufen to choose from.
Jiufen Teahouse (九份茶坊, 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.) is the best choice for those who want a variety of fine local tea choices and don’t care about having a view. The building’s traditional interior is especially lovely. Each person pays a water fee of TWD100, then a packet of tea ranges from NT600-1200. Don’t miss the oolong tea cheesecake!
Taiwan Sweet Potato Teahouse (芋仔蕃薯茶坊, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.) just uphill from Amei Teahouse, is a decent alternative to Amei. You have to enter through a stone tunnel from the street that miners once used to get to the Jiufen mine, which is pretty surreal!
Another Amei alternative right beside it is Skyline Tea House (海悅樓觀景茶坊, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.), which is where you can take the best photos of Amei Teahouse from. You are more likely to get a seat with a view here than at Amei (or any seat at all).
Further up the Jiufen Old Street from the staircase down to Amei, there is a section with several quieter teahouses that all have great views. Try Forgetful House (忘情小築), Ocean See (九份觀海樓民宿), or Shan Cheng Creation House/Something Easy (九份山城逸境民宿), a pottery shop with a tea room on the third floor.
If you walk all the way to the local community at the end of the road, there is a very traditional and rustic looking teashop called Tree Grove (樹窟奇木樓).
4. Go Back in Time at Shengping Theater
Shengping Theater (昇平戲院, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., to 6:00 p.m. on weekends, free entry) is a handsome theater dating to 1934, when Jiufen was prosperous. It was built with Taiwanese cypress (hinoki) in the imitation Baroque style popular in Japan at the time.
Inside, you can see old movie posters, a well-preserved concession stand, and an old movie projector. The square in front of the theater was once a bustling social center and marketplace in Jiufen.
The theater is located on Qingbian street (輕便路), an atmospheric lane running between the main highway and Jiufen Old Street. The easiest way to get there is to walk up the staircase from the Jiufen Police Station (九份派出所) bus stop, or down the staircase from Jiufen Old Street and go past Amei Teahouse.
5. Rent a Qipao for Your Photos
Visitors to Japan love renting kimonos and yukatas for their visit; now the thing to do in Taiwan is to rent a traditional Chinese qipao (sometimes spelled chipao in Taiwan) to stroll around and take photos. The easiest way to do this is to order your qipao in advance online.
Jiufen’s atmospheric old streets, hanging red lanterns, and Japanese-era architecture are the perfect backdrop for taking some photos in costume. Also, imagine the feeling of dressing up to visit one of Jiufen’s traditional teashops just like locals did 100 years ago!
If you’re wondering what the locals may think, there’s no need to worry. None of them will take offense, and Taiwanese love renting kimonos when they travel to Japan.
Another popular place in Taiwan to rent a qipao is historic Dadaocheng in Taipei; see my detailed Dadaocheng guide for more information.
6. Shopping on the Old Street
While entirely aimed at tourists, Jiufen Old Street is nonetheless a great place to pick up some typical Taiwanese products and souvenirs.
Some of the most popular items sold on Jiufen Old Street include tea, various cakes and desserts, Spirited Away and Totoro items like this one, traditional whistles, cat-related items, postcards, old-fashioned candies, pottery, and all types of typical Taiwan-themed souvenirs.
For excellent, freshly baked pineapple cakes, try 老珍香餅店, a few minutes up the Old Street from the entrance. The smell inside the shop is amazing!
For a more unusual souvenir, check out Condom World (保險套世界)!
7. Hike to Keelung Mountain Peak
Keelung Mountain (基隆山 or 雞籠山) is the 588-meter peak you see to the right when looking down from Jiufen. From the pavilion at the top of the mountain, you can enjoy an incredible view of Jiufen and as far away as Taipei 101 on a clear day.
The Mount Keelung Trail (雞籠山登山步道) begins about 400 meters up the highway from the entrance to Jiufen Old Street. The hike only takes an hour return, but it is steep, tiring, and mostly involves stairs. According to one of my readers, if you follow the trail for a few minutes up, an alternative trail branches off to the left, with less stairs and a gentle (but longer) ascent to the peak.
See more details and pictures here for the Keelung Mountain Trail.
8. Jinguashi Gold Ecological Museum
The Jinguashi Gold Ecological Museum (金瓜石黃金博物館, NTD80, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m, to 6:00 p.m. on weekends), also known as New Taipei City Gold Museum or Gold Ecological Park, is only 10 minutes past Jiufen and definitely worth adding to your Jiufen trip.
The museum/park is fairly spread out amongst natural surroundings and there are some pretty incredible views to be had (even better than in Jiufen I would say).
Here you can explore the old mining facilities, touch a 220-kg gold bar that was once the large in the world, enter mining tunnels and even have a coffee topped with ice cream and gold leaf at the cafe on site!
All the buses to Jiufen continue on to Jinguashi before turning around.
9. Hike to Teapot Mountain and the Shinto Shrine
An breathtaking 1 to 2-hour hike to Tea Pot Mountain (茶壺山) begins from right inside the Gold Ecological Park. A rock pile at the top of the mountain looks like a tea pot, and you can even climb right into and through it.
To find the trail, locate Tunnel #5 (本山五坑), one of the Gold Ecology Park’s popular attractions. Just past it, take the walking bridge across the river and turn right at the end of it. It takes less than an hour to reach the tea pot.
After that, you can return the same way, or go through the tea pot and continue along a loop (2 hours total) that will bring you back to Jinguashi via the remains of a Japanese Shinto Shrine (金瓜石神社石燈籠).
If you only want to see the Japanese Shrine, it’s a 20-minute uphill stair walk, starting at the staircase just before the buildings at Tunnel #5.
10. Golden Waterfall
One of the most famous (but but slightly more difficult to get to) attractions in the Jiufen and Jinguashi area is the visually stunning Golden Waterfall (黃金瀑布). The waterfall bed’s unique color is the result of all the heavy metal deposits in the area.
Nearby, the abandoned Shuinandong Smelter or “Remains of the 13 Levels” (十三層遺址) is a haunting beautiful spot popular among photographers.
To get to the Golden Waterfall, walk for 20 minutes downhill from Jinguashi Gold Ecological Museum on country road #34, or take bus #788 or 856 from Ruifang, Jiufen, or Jinguashi, or 826 from Jiufen or Jinguashi. These buses may be quite infrequent.
What to Eat in Jiufen
You don’t have to do much planning for what to eat in Jiufen; the old street is lined with food stalls, with both traditional and modern specialties on offer. Most Jiufen restaurants are hole-in-the-wall shops with only a few tables, though some have back rooms or second floors with balconies offering great views.
The most famous thing to eat in Jiufen is taro and sweet potato balls (芋圓 and 地瓜圓). You can find these in dessert shops throughout Taiwan, but the ones in Jiufen are especially good.
The balls are fairly bland but it’s all about the chewy texture. They are served hot or on ice, in a slightly sweet syrup, and often come with a variety of beans.
The best places to try them are Lai Ah Po Taro Balls (賴阿婆芋圓) right on the Old Street and Ah Gan Taro Balls (阿柑姨芋圓) up a staircase from the Old Street. At both shops, you can usually see workers making the balls.
Another traditional specialty you’ll see in Jiufen is herbal rice cakes (草仔粿) and taro cakes (芋粿). These are thick, fist-sized dumplings that come stuffed with beans or vegetables. The most popular spot to buy them is Ah-Lan (阿蘭草仔粿芋粿).
A-Jou Peanut Ice Cream Roll (阿珠雪在燒) serves one of my favorite Taiwanese sweet snacks, a kind of wrap with traditional ice cream, peanut brittle shavings, and cilantro. It may sound like an odd combination, but they are SO GOOD!
A-Jou is really popular but extremely efficient, and because they know we all want to take photos, they even give you a moment to get a shot on their signed plate before wrapping it up.
For a proper meal, try 魚丸伯仔, a 60-year-old shop which does fish ball soup and tofu triangles stuffed with meat (豆腐包) .
Also try 郵局前油蔥粿, which specializes in you cong guo, a kind of savory cake made with rice flour and white radish. You’ll see a huge slab of it on the counter, and they cut chunks of it off and cover them with sweet soy sauce and fried shallots.
Where to Stay in Jiufen
While most people do Jiufen as a day trip from Taipei, spending the night offers you the chance to enjoy the streets before and after all the tourists arrive. Also, seeing the view from your Jiufen accommodation or a teahouse at night when the lights in town and along the road light up is breathtaking.
Below are some of my recommended hotels and hostels in Jiufen:
For the best hostels in Jiufen, try Box_Inn_Jiufen (see prices / read reviews), which is clean and modern and right on the Old Street, or My Story Inn Jiufen (see prices / read reviews), which is by the Jiufen Police Station bus stop and a short walk from Amei Teahouse.
Getting to Jiufen
There is so much information to share about this that I’ve written a separate article on how to get to Jiufen, Jinguashi, and Shifen from Taipei. For your stay in Taipei, also feel free to check out my favorite 50 things to do in Taipei and my recommended Taipei itinerary.
Well, I hope you’ve found all the information you needed in this Jiufen guide. If not, feel free to ask me questions in the comments below!
I never travel without a guidebook! I recommend these (for Amazon Singapore users, click here!)